Thursday, December 31, 2009

Obama's 2010 Policy and Iran: Misconceptions Guarantee Failure

By Barry Rubin

A friend of mine is angry, saying I’m too tough on President Barack Obama and that nothing he does pleases me. Well, I wish he’d do more that pleases me, and disconcerts America’s enemies.

True, he has done three good things lately: his Nobel speech, which sounded like it was actually given by a U.S. president; his remarks on the demonstrations in Iran (better six months late than never), and his tough verbal stance about investigating the mistakes that led to the near disaster (though I worry they’re less about dramatic change and more just a show to reassure the public that something will be done). I also pointed out that the administration’s relationship with Israel was pretty good overall.

Yet on the single most important Middle East issue, Iran’s nuclear program and its aggressive ambitions, hints about his policy are getting worrisome both because of what this administration isn’t doing and what it’s obviously thinking. The year has now ended with no major public move toward imposing serious sanctions.

True, there are a few statements you can dig out indicating a turn in that direction. Yet what should have happened was a major public speech by December 31 about the administration’s sanction plans. After all, it set that date as a deadline for action ten months ago yet let it pass with no visible action.

There are other bad signs that the administration still doesn’t comprehend the problems it faces. The likely sending of Senator John Kerry to Tehran is a terrible idea. It signals to the Tehran regime U.S. desperation to make a deal and chooses a highly unqualified envoy with too big an incentive to get some hint of agreement at any price. (Meanwhile, further weakening the Western hand, an 11-member EU parliamentary delegation is visiting Tehran and will make clear how eager the Europeans are to make concessions in exchange for Iran offering some kind of deal.)

Of even more concern is the strategy revealed by officials in interviews with the Washington Post: that the sanctions are focused “against discrete elements of the Iranian government, including those involved in the deadly crackdown on Iranian protesters….” In other words, they’ll put sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its front companies.

"We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy," a senior U.S. official told the Washington Post, adding, "We have to be deft at this, because it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation--whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame."

In other words, Obama Administration sanctions on Iran (if they ever arrive) will have three functions. First, as a public relations’ campaign “to avoid alienating the Iranian public” while striking at their rulers. Second, to “force the Tehran government to the negotiating table, rather than to punish it” for being an oppressive dictatorship or for seeking nuclear weapons. Third, it will supposedly bring the most fanatical group of rulers to their knees by attacking their pocketbooks.

It would be hard to devise a worse strategy, other than doing nothing at all. The U.S. government thus signals the Iranian regime in advance that it won’t go too far because it wants to avoid making the regime too angry to negotiate. In addition, the strategy encourages Iran’s rulers to manipulate American eagerness for talks in order to stall for time. Then, too, it makes clear that there won’t be a serious effort to undermine the country’s economy. So why should Iranians pressure the regime to change course due to sanctions since it isn’t costing them anything?

Finally, the strategy “hits” the current rulers in their least vulnerable spot. Once again we see the West’s absolutely classical mistake in dealing with revolutionary Islamism: the belief it is responsive to materialist punishments. What are the Revolutionary Guard and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the supreme guide going to say: Oh, my! The Americans are reducing my income! Unless I give up nuclear weapons I won’t be able to buy that new country house, that sports car I’ve been eyeing and the Paris original evening gown for my wife!

Sigh. No matter what sanctions the United States focuses on the Iranian elite that group will still have enough money from within the country to buy whatever it wants.

But there’s more. Ordinary people may not understand the uses of sanctions yet leaders of great nations should. Of course, the ideal is to use sanctions to force the target to change its policies. Just because sanctions don’t succeed in doing that, however, doesn’t mean they failed because there are other goals involved:

--Sanctions seek to weaken the target so that it might be more easily defeated or fall in future.

--Another purpose is to deny the enemy resources, making it less able to carry out its programs.

--Still another is to show one’s own allies a high degree of resolution in containing and countering a threat, thus encouraging their own defiance of the mutual foe.

--Sanctions seek to isolate and discredit the target, denying it allies and the help of others.

For example, sanctions against South Africa and the USSR failed to force directly any major policy shift yet by succeeding in the other categories they eventually contributed to the regime’s downfall

The administration is ignoring all these functions to focus merely on one—which will inevitably not work—of getting the Tehran regime to make a deal. But we know they won’t back down, which is precisely why the regime should be weakened and made to face a tougher challenge to succeed in getting nuclear weapons at a relatively low cost.

Then there’s the idea that sanctions will rally Iranians to believe that America is on their side because they won’t affect the lives of the masses.

Can the United States really determine what the Iranian people are going to think by such methods? If they support or believe the regime they will hate America no matter what it does. If they oppose the regime, they will blame it for Iran’s troubles any way and want a tougher policy against it, though they still might be anti-American despite these calibration efforts. Like the bumper sticker says: Never apologize. Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it any way.

In fact, the administration’s sanctions strategy could have the opposite effect. By being afraid of even non-violent confrontations, Washington would be showing Iranians the power of the regime, its ability to defy the United States which is either afraid or unable to fight back effectively. This could make more Iranians support the government.

Equally disconcerting is that the U.S. government continues to believe that much of the regime wants a deal in which it will give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, it’s just too divided and busy dealing with internal conflict to make a decision.

Whatever back-channel intelligence has been handed out—remember the 1996 scandal when the Iranian regime fooled the Reagan administration into thinking it was divided in order to get American missiles to use in the Iran-Iraq war?--this Iranian regime is not split between moderates and radicals. How has the United States scared regime elements to the point they want to make a big concession? Does any Iranian politician still in power believe he can give up on the nuclear campaign and still stay in office given the views of that country’s supreme guide and president?

Two other fantasies on the administration’s part add to the mess. One is the idea that the engagement effort has somehow undermined the regime because it is so attractive to some leaders and the masses. An official told the Post that the effort to engage "has had an unsettling effect on people in the regime. It has made it more difficult to demonize the United States and say it has been the root of all evil." This is a fantasy.

In addition, the administration is still pretending that its strategy of engagement has won over Russia and China for tougher sanctions, despite the constant statements from these two countries that they aren’t interested.

One “clever” technique was Obama telling the Chinese that they should support tough sanctions since if Iran did get nuclear weapons Israel would then attack and China’s own energy supply would be jeopardized. The Chinese opposition to sanctions runs deep: fear of antagonizing Iran, of jeopardizing their energy supplies right now, and of setting a precedent that might someday be used against itself.

When the U.S. government so clearly misunderstands the situation and how countries interact with it, the odds of Washington’s policy being effective are zero. If you want a guarantee that there will be lots of violence and defeats for U.S. interests, follow the Obama Administration’s strategy.

Here’s what needs to be done: show the revolutionaries that the West is courageous, that they cannot win, isolated them and deny them of every possible asset. The United States should not attack Iran, except with words, aid to its own allies and the opposition, and sanctions that weaken the regime. If you want an alternative to war this is the one to pursue.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Victims of Dictatorship Unite: Why Central Europeans, Jews and Israelis Should Cooperate, Not Compete

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By Barry Rubin

Note: This article is a response to an op-ed by Ephraim Zuroff in the Jerusalem Post. To show my respect for Mr. Zuroff, I gave a blurb which is on the back cover of his latest book. But it is necessary to rethink the relationship between Jews and the peoples of Central Europe—including Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and other countries—regarding the events of the World War Two era. Rather than compete over our sufferings in that period, we should join forces in exploring and exposing the traumas of that period.

Central to Mr. Zuroff’s argument is the claim that any emphasis by Central European countries regarding their own sufferings during World War Two—especially if it focuses on the oppression of the Stalinist USSR—is somehow a challenge to the uniqueness and importance of the mass murder of Jews in those countries. Indeed, it is implied that this effort borders on or even exemplifies antisemitism.

I think this argument is fallacious and a strategic mistake. It is never a good idea to concea history. Due to the existence of the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc until 1991, the truth about the terrible oppression of Lithuanians, Latvians, Poles, Ukrainians, and others was hidden away from the world until recently. As part of their national reassertion, these peoples want to highlight what happened to them and the full horror of their sufferings.

They have every right to do so. And why should we oppose this as long as it does not come with the ignoring or justification of the Shoah? Is our highest priority to set up a competition of suffering , in which we define these oppressions as conflicting rather than mutually reinforcing? Instead, we should fully participate, as Jews and Israelis, in this process for several good reasons.

One factor is that many Jews were among the victims of Soviet repression. In the Lithuanian museum in Vilnius housed in the former KGB headquarters, it is pointed out that about ten percent of those deported by the Soviets in 1940-1941 were Jews. One of them was Menahem Begin. Although being sent to Siberia saved those who survived those camps, this was not the intention. Almost 1,000 Jews were massacred by the KGB in the Katyn forest along with thousands of Poles. Is the blood of these Jews and the tens of thousands who perished in the Soviet Gulag of lesser value than those murdered by the Germans?

Indeed, even if it came a very distant second to the Nazis, the Stalin regime also targeted Jews and greatly contributed to their suffering. If it had not been for the Soviet-Nazi alliance, Hitler might not have been able to start the war in the first place. Stalin turned over some Jewish leaders to the Nazis and being a Zionist was a criminal offense under the Soviet regime, including in the countries conquered by Moscow during the war.

A second reason why we should join with Central Europeans in commemorating and revealing the true extent of this repression and mass murder is to help Jews and others understand today that antisemitism is not a monopoly of the political right. This is of high importance at a time when the main source of antisemitism along with hatred of Jews and Israel in the West is from a left which justifies itself by claiming that it is immune to that contagion.

Third, the idea that Jews should only deal with Central Europeans nowadays by demanding they endlessly proclaim their guilt over the Shoah is counterproductive, likely to produce resentment rather than acknowledgement by them of responsibility and true repentence. By merely demanding they acknowledge guilt over our suffering—often at their hands--while refusing to heed their historic suffering at the hands of others is setting up a conflict exploited by antisemitic elements. We should engage in a dialogue in which we respect their historical experience, which is also that of many Jews as well. On this basis of solidarity against totalitarianism, we can stand together as friends.

In fact, these are precisely issues on which we need to cooperate today. At a time when nationalism is viewed as an unacceptable evil, we should affirm the importance of our shared belief in the preciousness of our peoplehood. We share, too, the experience of knowing that the threats of those who would wipe us off the map must be taken seriously.

These are complex issues. To cite my family’s experience, the Soviets imprisoned my Zionist uncle in a cell with members of the Polish and Lithuanian anti-Soviet resistance; some relatives were deported to Siberia, others were saved from the Nazis by Polish collaborationist police who were secretly members of the Polish nationalist underground; still others were turned in by their Polish neighbors, and some were murdered by Lithuanian security police units; while others were saved by Red Army partisans but then kept as prisoners in the USSR for 12 years.

Mr. Zuroff ridicules the Lithuanian foreign minister for asking “How could it be that while some Lithuanians were risking their lives to save their Jewish neighbors, others were committing crimes by sending them to death?" Mr. Zuroff is right in saying that far more were committing crimes than saving neighbors. But the foreign minister is asking a central question: How did people in each of these countries choose sides and what can we learn from this process?

Finally, there is the question of the Jewish Communists, some of whom tortured and murdered local people—including other Jews—in the service of the Soviet secret police. Antisemites use this to stir up anti-Jewish hatred, just as the Nazis did (a point well made in Latvia’s museum on both the Shoah and their oppression by Germans and Soviet occupiers) . By refusing to deal with this issue we only help them do so. We should discuss this issue honestly. Just as the action of Nazi collaborators did not turn whole countries into war criminals, all Jews should not be held responsible for the deeds of a tiny minority. Moreover, these people did not act as Jews but as enemies of the Jewish people.

It is an important lesson for Jews to understand how some of their number betrayed them. Jewish Communists led the way in destroying the Jewish religion, language, and culture in the Soviet Union and satellite states. This is an important lesson for today where Jewish extreme leftists smear Israel and endeavor to hurt or destroy it.

In short, it is in our moral and political interest to join with Central Europeans in seeking to understand the truth about the past and its significance for the present. That includes acknowledging their suffering from both the Nazis and Stalinists during World War Two, and the latter for the half-century thereafter. One important element here is teaching about the costs and crimes of Communism in Western schools as well as the depredations of Nazism.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

There Are Lots of Lessons from the Detroit Flight Terrorist Attack: Why is No One in Government Paying Attention?

By Barry Rubin

In his reaction to the attempted terrorist attack on the flight for Detroit, President Barrack Obama gave his analysis:

“This incident, like several that have preceded it, demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist."

If this means that only one extremist was on the plane, then certainly he could be overpowered by courageous passengers. But the “isolated extremist” concept has been used by the administration in two other ways. First, the government has hit on the idea--used repeatedly from the Los Angeles airport shooting of people at the El Al counter, to the Fort Hood attack--that if it can argue a terrorist attack was carried out by an individual, it just doesn’t count as real terrorism. While there was no question in this case about defining the attack as terrorism, this is still an important point regarding the misuse of this concept with other incidents.

Much more important, however, the president and the administration have often suggested that those who carry on Islamist terrorism are marginalized heretics, isolated extremists, small groups which enjoy little mass support. In fact, though, this is part of a systematic war conducted by radical Islamists who enjoy lots of funding, popular support, and safe havens.

To be fair, the United States is conducting a real war against these extremists in Yemen, as well as Afghanistan. Here's what Obama said:

"We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland."

I don't know whether one should make too much of his list of countries, though it might be analyzed. These are all countries were al-Qaida is active and this list poses no political problems. Presumably, the terrorists from Pakistan are basically Afghan Taliban while Yemen must be included since it is the place where the latest attack came from. But the list might include, for example, Saudi Arabia, the place where the September 11 hijackers and some of the leaders of the Yemen-based attackers came from.

At any rate, the latest attack on an airliner is in part retaliation for that U.S. offensive. Shouldn’t the American people know about this connection between attacking their enemies and being hit in return? After all, for example, isn't the profiling of airline passengers appropriate if the assaults are all coming from revolutionary Islamists of largely Middle Eastern origin?

And most important of all, shouldn't the government be aware of the implications of fighting a powerful movement which is seeking control of many individual countries, the Middle East, and even the world as a whole?

Let’s look at the list of information, supplied by ABC News, CNN, and Reuters

--He told FBI agents that there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon. He also said that he was trained in Yemen and given the explosives there.

--In a tape released four days before the attack, the leader of al-Qaida in Yemen stated, "We are carrying a bomb to hit the enemies of God."

--The Muslim cleric who advised Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood terrorist, is now with al-Qaida in Yemen. But to talk honestly about that, the president would have to describe Hasan as a radical Islamist terrorist. Nothing could be more obvious; yet the obvious—to the danger of everyone—is denied.

--Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has since claimed responsibility for the attack. This is linked to the larger al-Qaida which is being protected by U.S. “ally” Pakistan and which operates also in conjunction with Syria in attacking Americans in Iraq.

--Two of the four leaders allegedly behind the plot were released by the United States from Guantanamo prison in November 9, 2007, sent to a Saudi rehabilitation program. They are prisoner #333, Muhammad Attik al-Harbi (now known as Muhammad al-Awfi), and prisoner #372, Said Ali Shari. The Saudis certified them as rehabilitated and released them. This provides some lessons about the reliability of the Saudis and the fact that it is better to keep such people in prison rather than release them (or send them to Illinois?)

--In Funtua, Nigeria, Abdulmutallab's hometown, they blame his wealth and foreign education for his becoming an Islamist revolutionary. A local student said, "We the children of the masses in this country, we don't know anything about terrorism because our parents are poor.” Another resident added, "My only advice to the elite is to allow their children to mingle with the children of the masses so that [they] will have some of the traditional morals and values….”

This is an extraordinarily important statement. Ideology, systemic failure of their own regimes and societies, and fear that the very attractiveness of Western life will transform them into similar modernized, secular societies—not poverty and Western foreign policy--are the real problems.

In addition, traditional Islam in most places was socially reactionary but also relatively moderate. While jihad was part of the sacred texts, no one was advocating that it be carried out. Suicide attacks were viewed as a heretical activity.

But just as leftism has succeeded in reinterpreting liberalism in many places, so has revolutionary Islamism reinterpreted conservative traditional Islam. Both movements have used deep-seated beliefs and values, but also made them into something quite different.

The Obama Administration should acknowledge that the United States confronts a huge—but not united--revolutionary movement which has major assets. Elements control Iran, Syria (not Islamist but allied with it), Sudan, the Gaza Strip, and now in part Lebanon, too. There are major elements in the Pakistani and Turkish governments that lend it aid and comfort. It is also fueled by Saudi Wahabi Islam and money. It is fighting in two dozen countries, from Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and Thailand in the east, to Morocco and even within Europe on the western flank. That movement is also challenging for authority in every Arabic-speaking country and trying to destroy Israel.

For some reason, however, I don’t think that admission and requisite polici shift is going to happen. As a result, the United States is handicapped from defending itself.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Monday, December 28, 2009


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By Barry Rubin

Of all the questions readers ask, there’s no question about which are the two most frequent. First, is Israel about to attack Iran or when will this happen? Second, do President Barack Obama and his entourage hate Israel and will there be a major confrontation or some kind of sell-out.

The first two questions are pretty easy to answer, the third less so.

Israel and an attack on Iran: Israeli policy is quite clear. Its current emphasis is on supporting strong sanctions. There is, of course, skepticism as to whether strong sanctions will be applied and whether such a step would work, but that’s not the determining factor. It is recognized that the West must thoroughly try diplomatic means to satisfy itself that everything short of an armed attack has failed.

Only when the sanctions have been seen to be ineffective at stopping Iran’s march to nuclear weapons would Israel even begin to go into an attack phase but even then there are two major considerations.

One is that Israel will only attack when Iran is on the verge of getting weapons. Not only would that situation make the decision about responding an immediate task but also because that would be when Tehran has the maximum equipment installed and the most damage can be done. There is no sense bombing half-empty buildings.

The disadvantage is that this would give the regime more time to disperse the facilities. And that introduces the other problem. An Israeli cabinet meeting would be held to determine whether an attack could be carried out, whether the political and security costs would be acceptable, and whether an attack would succeed in setting back the Iranian program by a big margin.

Is Israel capable of launching an effective attack? Without going into all the complex details, the basic answer is “yes.”

If destroying Iran’s nuclear capability is an existential imperative could Israel weather the diplomatic criticism and terrorist or other attacks? Again, yes. Hamas and Hizballah would escalate and launch rockets but they could be deterred or defeated.

It is the last point, however, that is critical: Would an attack achieve considerable success in putting back Iran’s nuclear program by years? That cannot be taken for granted. In military action lots can go wrong. Planes can crash; mechanical breakdowns or bad weather may cause failure. The distances involved are huge; the margin of error very fine.

What if the bombs miss and hit civilians? (Yes, Israel cares a lot about this despite all the slander and lies regarding its behavior.) Will dispersion of facilities mean that only a small portion of Iran’s facilities will be damaged or destroyed?

In short, is it worth launching an attack that only inflames the situation further, costs lots of diplomatic capital, and doesn’t do any good?

This is a question that can only be raised and decided in a cabinet meeting at the proper time. There is no determined choice already made and that is as it should be.

The second question relates to Obama and Israel. In my opinion, Obama has absolutely no warm feelings toward Israel at all and, if anything, his instincts are hostile. But previous American presidents—notably Richard Nixon—have followed pro-Israel policies despite being personally unfriendly. What is important is that Obama and his entourage have learned two things.

One of them is that bashing Israel is politically costly. American public opinion is very strongly pro-Israel. Congress is as friendly to Israel as ever. For an administration that is more conscious of its future reelection campaign than any previous one, holding onto Jewish voters and ensuring Jewish donations is very important. There will almost certainly not be a visit of Obama to Israel in 2010, he’ll wait until it will do him some good at the polls (which is a good thing since the less attention he pays to this issue the less harm he’ll do.)

The other point is that they have seen that bashing Israel doesn’t get them anywhere. For one thing, the current Israeli government won’t give in easily and is very adept at protecting its country’s interests. This administration has a great deal of trouble being tough with anyone.

If in fact the Palestinians and Arabs were eager to make a deal and energetic about supporting other U.S. policies, the administration might well be tempted to press for an arrangement that largely ignored Israeli interests. But this is not in fact the case. It is the Palestinians who refuse even to come to the negotiating table—and that is unlikely to change quickly or easily. Arab states won’t lift a finger to help the United States on Iran, Iraq, or Arab-Israeli issues. So why bother?

Moreover, no matter how much noise the administration makes about being engaged on the Israel-Palestinian front, it knows that not much is going to happen. Its envoy, Senator Mitchell, will run around and make plans but the top brass in Washington isn’t going to devote all that much time to this issue.

The hostility to Israel of the administration’s overall personnel can also be exaggerated. A couple of names come to mind of officials who are hostile, but there are also many—arguably more in number--who are reasonably friendly, including the secretaries of state and defense.

The idea that David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel constitute some anti-Israel cabal is misleading, too. If there were a serious peace process, they’d certainly push Israel harder to make more concessions than others would do but they are focused on domestic affairs and also know that this issue is a non-winner for them in terms of success, glory, or political advantage.

These two factors form the basic framework for understanding the Middle East in 2010. Putting down a smokescreen of diplomatic activity and proposals, the U.S. government is likely to place the “peace process,” whose non-existence is too real to ignore, on the back burner. Meanwhile, Israel is doing the same thing with an attack on Iran. The next year’s events in the region will come from other crises and issues.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.


How to Get Western Intellectuals to Support Dictatorships and Totalitarian Ideas

By Barry Rubin

In 1937, at the peak of the purge trials (when thousands of people were arrested, tortured into making false confessions, and shot), after the government-made famines (when hundreds of thousands of people died), and as literally millions were being sent to concentration camps, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was interviewed by Lion Feuchtwanger, a German anti-fascist but non-Communist author.

Stalin did the five things needed to fool a Western intellectual into supporting totalitarianism: he flattered Feuchtwanger; ensured his works were published and lavishly praised; professed devotion to social justice; attacked capitalism; and made sure he was well paid for his literary efforts.

Here’s some of what Feuchtwanger wrote after his interview with Stalin:

“Stalin…is extremely sincere and modest….He knows the needs of his peasants and workers, he is one of them….He gave the Soviet Union a new democratic constitution and has solved the nationalities problem….Soviet citizens have plenty of food, clothing, movies, and theaters….Scientists, writers, and actors live well in the Soviet Union….Writers who deviate from the general line are not oppressed….In the near future the Soviet Union will become the happiest and strongest country in the world.”

Feuchtwanger was a free man, not subject to Soviet law. He had been one of the most courageous in exposing the Nazis, forced to flee Germany for Paris. He could have been the model for the heroic Victor Laszlo in “Casablanca.” But he believed that supporting Stalin would promote social justice and fight evil political movements on the political far right. And if such behavior also benefited his own material interests, that was all the better.

One of Feuchtwanger’s points about the USSR’s glories is that “Soviet newspapers do not censor my articles,” which was understandable since they only praised the dictator and the regime.

Hence Feuchtwanger, like many Western intellectuals was so aware—and rightfully so, of course--of the sins of Nazism, was blind to those of Communism. In part, he believed that the existence of one evil justified his lying about people regarding another. In 1937 that was quite understandable given the size of that first evil. In 2009, however, the same philosophy--to tell the people only what those who think they know better believe will push them in the right direction--is still in force.

But he was no fool. When it came time to flee from the advancing Nazi army, he fled to America, not the USSR. But there was an East German postage stamp issued in his honor. If you wanted intellectual freedom America was the best bet; if you wanted intellectual prestige, Communism was the ticket.

The sin of anti-Communism, deterring opposition or honest evaluation by accusing those who spoke up of being a reactionary bourgeois supporter of imperialism, has been replaced by accusing someone of being guilty of Islamophobia, Political Incorrectness, or racism. Nonsense is defended by a wall of vituperation and ridicule.

Boris Bazhanov, whose extraordinary life is unfortunately largely forgotten today—as is true of most of those who exposed the true nature of Communism, while the apologists for it are celebrated--knew better than most about this subject. As a young man, this Ukrainian nationalist decided to infiltrate the Soviet leadership and even succeeded in becoming Stalin’s private secretary for several years during the 1920s. He defected in 1928 to France and survived two assassination attempts by his former boss. In 1978, a few years before his death by natural causes, he wrote:

"You know, as I do, that our civilization stands on the edge of an abyss...Those who seek to destroy it put forth an ideal. This ideal has been proven false by the experience of the last sixty years….If the West [develops its] confidence and unity, [it] can win the battle for our civilization and set humanity on the true path to progress…."

Communism’s failures, deceptions, and victims aren’t studied much nowadays in Western schools and universities, where fascism is presented as the sole evil totalitarianism in history, well maybe along with capitalism in many places. But it might be useful for students to know how both ends of the political spectrum—and not just the right-wing one—have their shortcomings. This might be especially important now that Western civilization is once again under assault.

Incidentally, while the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century was a beneficial liberal reform movement that produced such leaders as Theodore Roosevelt, by the 1930s the Communist Party in the United States, looking for a good cover label to conceal its attempts to take over liberalism and the Democratic Party, settled on the word “Progressive.” When the Communists formed a front political group in 1948 they called it the Progressive Party.

Oh, by the way, in the USSR during the Stalinist era they invented a term to describe when someone adhered to the regime’s line. It was called “political correctness.”

Today, however, instead of teaching young people to be wary of both extremes in politics; to know how ideals like social justice can be manipulated by tyrants and demagogues; and to see that the Federalist Papers, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights have far more wisdom and valid prescription than all the works of Marxism or “liberation theology” and various other contemporary far left nostrums, the implicit doctrine conveyed is that there can be no enemies on the left. After all, what could possibly be worse than George W. Bush, slavery, and the internment of Japanese in America during World War Two?

See how much you learn when you study real history? See how much you don’t learn when you don’t?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sending Kerry to Iran? A Thoroughly Bad Idea

By Barry Rubin

The story of the United States and Iran regarding sanctions and pressures reminds me of Woody Allen's joke in the film "Sleeper" after he awakes following 2000 years asleep: My analyst was a strict Freudian and if I'd been going four times a week all this time I'd be cured by now.

The proposal to send Senator John Kerry to Iran is one more signal that the Obama Administration seemingly will do anything to avoid, or at least postpone, increasing sanctions on Iran because of that country's nuclear weapons' drive. Such a move can only be taken by Tehran as further proof--in its eyes--of American cowardice. Obviously, this gambit would gain nothing.

In addition, the choice of Kerry is a very bad one. Despite his distinguished appearance and unearned reputation for international sophistication, Kerry is known in the Senate as one of its dumbest and least accomplished members. In 30 years, he has not initiated a single idea, piece of legislation, or even memorable speech.

And, of course, he would be eager to make some—almost any--deal for his own personal glory and reluctant to be really tough lest he, and the Obama Administration which he supports, would appear to be a failure.

This is a terrible choice and it sends a dangerous signal. Hopefully, Iran's regime will reject it. Nowadays we are reduced to hoping that our enemies' arrogance and intransigence will force democratic governments to get a backbone.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Arabic-Speaking World in 2010

By Barry Rubin

The politics of the Arabic-speaking world are going to face some serious challenges during 2010. Probably none of them, however, will have anything to do with the Arab-Israeli issue, despite the overwhelming attention and exaggerated importance usually given to that question by outside observers.

Unquestionably, the leading problem will be dealing with an increasingly powerful Iran and its sidekick Syria which aren’t being contained by the United States. The Arabs, after all, live in the neighborhood and if they conclude that America can’t or won’t protect them, they’ll have to cut their own deal combined with finding some way to defend themselves better.

Already we’ve seen huge gains for Iran in 2009 which U.S. policymakers seem largely to ignore:

--The Saudis have reduced their level of confrontation with Iran and Syria, especially abandoning their attempt to block Tehran’s influence in Lebanon.

--The Lebanese moderate May 14 movement has bowed to Iranian-backed Hizballah in setting up a government which won’t do anything Tehran doesn’t like.

--While the full extent of Iranian intervention in Yemen is not clear, it seems like Tehran is backing a tribal revolt which is extending its influence into a new area.

--Western reluctance to raise sanctions and the ease with which Iran fooled and made fools of the West over the nuclear weapons’ issue seems to show that Iran holds the stronger hand. Russia and China are basically defending Iran’s interests in avoiding international pressure. Despite the Obama Administration having set dedlines of September and December, as 2010 begins, the implementation of higher sanctions is still months away.

--While many think that opposition demonstrations and protests have weakened the regime, in a real sense it emerged as stronger. Other factions were forced out of the leadership; Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leaders occupied more positions of importance. The spiritual guide accepted both the IRGC role and the reelection of President Ahmadinejad, despite his past economic mismanagement and the supposed international or domestic costs. In other words, the regime proved how tough it was which in that part of the world is a major asset.

--Iran seems to have stepped up efforts to extend its influence in southwestern Afghanistan, despite the U.S. military presence there.

Will this march continue in 2010? One of the things that the Obama Administration doesn’t realize is that it’s obvious unwillingness to confront Iran is demoralizing its allies in the Arabic-speaking world whose lives are on the line. If the United States won’t even use tough rhetoric or sanctions how could it be possibly counted on if things get really rough?

Consequently, it’s hard to see Arab states taking a tougher stand during 2010, though if Iran provokes them by getting caught doing internal subversion in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, for example, they could feel forced to take a stand.

A potential crisis is succession in Egypt. Will this be the year that President Husni Mubarak has to stand down? If so, there would be the long-awaited transition, forcing a final decision on whether or not the ill-prepared Gamal Mubarak is going to become president. Gamal is in many ways the West’s dream of an Arab president, Westernized and a technocrat, but could that mean he lacks the skills to keep Egypt stable?

Another issue to watch is the power balance in Lebanon, a delicate mechanism to say the least. Will Hizballah be content to get a long list of things it wants: a free hand for its militia, unlimited weapons’ imports, the country’s servility to Syria, a green light to attack Israel whenever it wants (though it is unlikely to do so this year), and an end to investigations about its own (and Syria’s) involvement in terrorism and murders within Lebanon? Or will it push harder to seize hegemony in the country?

Finally, there is Iraq, whose government is still fighting a terrorist war sponsored by Syria and Iran. As the American withdrawal proceeds will those two countries step up the violence in order to make it look as if the United States is running away in defeat? Here, the Obama Administration has not backed Iraq’s complaints about Syrian involvement in terrorism, thus undermining another ally. Baghdad’s current policy is, however, to remain on good terms with both Washington and Tehran if possible.

If this list makes it sound like nothing good is going to happen in the Arabic-speaking world in2010 then you’ve read it correctly.

For Israel, Good Prospects in 2010

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By Barry Rubin

In contrast to my rather gloomy assessment of the Obama Administration’s prospects in the Middle East, Israel’s prospects look rather good. This is granted, of course, that the chances for any formal peace (note the word “formal”) with the Arab states or the Palestinians are close to zero. In addition there are two longer-term threats in the form of Iranian nuclear weapons and Islamists one day taking over one or more Arab states.

But let’s enjoy ourselves while we can. It’s also important to remember in the Middle East, optimism does not mean forecasting blue skies but merely ones only lightly overcast.

It’s funny, though, how much better Israel’s situation is than it’s generally perceived. Consider the pluses:

--The potential of a clash with the United States has been averted, most likely for the remainder of President Barack Obama’s term. All the lessons received by the United States in the region—to whatever extent it learned them—are favorable to Israel, showing how ready Israel is to help U.S. efforts at the same time as demonstrating how hard it is to get peace and how limited is the other’s side’s cooperation or flexibility. The possibility of U.S. rapprochement with Iran or Syria has been destroyed by the latter

--On the surface the situation with Israel looks dreadful but where it counts the support is sufficient. France, Germany, and Italy have friendly governments while in Britain an acceptably positive regime is about to be replaced by a warmer one. (It helps to have low expectations.)

--Despite their rhetoric, Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders are basically satisfied with the status quo. Their strategies for forcing more concessions from Israel without giving anything leave them smug but without prospects for success. The danger of a Hamas takeover has been averted. The economic situation on the West Bank is about as good as it’s ever been. And the PA rulers prefer to avoid renewed violence. That’s not nirvana but it ain’t bad either.

--Hizballah doesn’t want renewed war this year, seeking to carry out revenge terrorist attacks away from the Lebanon-Israel border. Hamas is probably cowed enough by the early 2009 fighting (outside observers still don’t realize the extent to which its gunmen broke, ran away, and hid behind civilians, but the Hamas leadership knows), though this can’t be taken for certain.

--While the international economic slump has hit Israel, the country has been more insulated than one might have dared hope from its negative effects. Its remarkable technical innovation on hi-tech, science, medical, and agricultural technology continues to make rapid progress.

--Israel has a government with a high level of popular support which really seems—after so much ineptness and ingenious plans that didn’t do much good—to be on track. There is, by Israeli standards, a high degree of national consensus.

--Iran still doesn’t have nuclear weapons.

That’s not at all a bad list. There are many who think that Israel cannot flourish, perhaps cannot even survive, without having formal peace with the Palestinians or perhaps also Syria and the Arabic-speaking world in general. This is simply untrue. The lack of a signed peace treaty with everyone (not to mention that such documents exist with Egypt and Jordan) is not the same as war. From the usual standards of no war, no peace this is a pretty good one.

Of course, there are negatives yet they really don’t amount to anywhere near as much as it seems on a superficial glance. The virtual defection of Turkey’s regime from the Western alliance (yes, it really is that bad) and the end of the special relationship between Jerusalem and Ankara is a bad thing. But the Turkish semi-Islamist rulers are restrained by their desire to play a role in regional peacemaking and not to make the Americans or Europeans too angry.

Most distressing of all is the noise. The virulent hatred of Israel by large sections of the American and especially European intelligentsia goes along with the endless outpouring of academic, media, and EU sniping can be dispiriting. Yet even here there is some silver lining. The more extreme and outright crackpot the attacks, the less credible they are. Public opinion polls, especially in the United States where they are through the roof, are not so bad. In addition, the lies and screaming have little material effect on the region itself. Something to worry about but don’t lose sleep.

What’s most important of all is this: A willingness to assess your problems accurately, guided by reasonable expectations. Not being crippled with ideology, blinded by misconceptions, swayed by bad international advice and the desire to be popular. And with determination and courage to implement policies that do the best with the hand you’ve been dealt.

If only others were doing the same thing, the world—and especially the Middle East—would be a better and more peaceful place.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dramatic New Evidence On Major Nidal Hasan and the Fort Hood Terror Attack

By Barry Rubin

This story seems to blow the lid off the killings at Fort Hood. Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric who is a U.S. citizen now living in Yemen, says that the mass murdering major, Nidal Hasan, asked and was given by him a religious ruling authorizing him to shoot the soldiers. This would prove premeditation, a rational decision based on Islamic law, and the Jihadist motivation of the attack beyond any ability to conceal it.

Awlaki’s al-Jazira interview is translated by MEMRI which, it should be noted, does not at all sensationalize the story. While Awlaki could be talking big or “taking credit” for the terrorist operation, he was the imam at Hasan’s mosque in the Washington DC area for some time. His account is credible though it obviously should be investigated closely.

According to the interview, Hasan sent Awlaki an email on December 17, 2008, in which he asked, in Awlaki’s words whether “killing American soldiers and officers…is a religiously legitimate act or not."

After an extensive correspondence, Awlaki complied, blessing the attack three days before it happened:

"Because Nidal's target was a military target inside America, and there is no question about this. Then, also, those members of the military were not regular soldiers; rather they were prepared and preparing themselves to go to battle and to kill downtrodden Muslims and to commit crimes in Afghanistan…."

This information is of the greatest importance. Hasan went to his imam, asked to be assured that shooting his fellow soldiers was a recommended deed under Islamic law, and was told to go ahead. Incidentally, Awlaki has thus become an accessory to the crime and U.S. authorities should ask the Yemeni government to ensure he can be interviewed and extradited.

The ABC network's coverage claims that it was not clear from the transcript whether Awlaki gave Hasan a green light to kill his fellow American soldiers. While Awlaki doesn't say in so many words that he told him to go ahead, it is quite clear from the transcript that this is precisely what he did do.

Some reports of a Yemeni government air attack on an al-Qaida meeting claim that Awlaki was one of the targets.

Once again, MEMRI has done excellent work and you might consider making a donation to them. The full text of the interview can be obtained by writing or with the words "Al-Awlaki Interview" in the subject line.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

For Obama, 2010 in the Middle East Looks More Like the Precipice of Doom Than of Achievement

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By Barry Rubin

The year 2010 is going to be interesting. Well, all years in the Middle East are interesting; many of them are far too interesting.

For the Obama Administration, I’m going to predict, it will not be a fun year. True, the best face will be put on things. Since it is protected—perhaps next year to a lesser degree--by the media, the administration has a special advantage over its predecessors. Yet there are two huge and two potentially serious problems which it cannot solve.

The first unsolvable problem is the Arab-Israeli conflict. Last January, President Barack Obama promised a quick solution to the issue. Then he promised that an Israeli freeze of construction on settlements would lead to a diplomatic breakthrough. A few months later, he promised he’d get some Arab concessions in response to an Israeli freeze. In September he promised that final status negotiations would begin in two months.

None of these things happened.

In fact, Obama’s policy sabotaged progress. After all, if he was bashing Israel to some extent and demanding a freeze, why should the Palestinians give Israel a way out by negotiating and accept anything less than a total freeze? U.S.-Israel relations have now improved considerably and are good, but there’s no talks going on because the Palestinian Authority is saying “no.”

Remember in his Cairo speech, Obama said the Palestinian situation was “intolerable.” The Palestinians disagree with him. They know they are doing pretty well materially, the world is criticizing Israel, and they don’t have to make any concessions.

But here’s where it gets interesting: there is a very serious prospect of no direct or any serious Israel-Palestinian negotiations during all of 2010. And in late September, Israel’s ten-month freeze ends. No progress, no continued freeze.

There is literally no way out for the Obama Administration. The only route to getting talks is either to get more unilateral concessions from Israel (isn’t going to happen) or to pressure the Palestinian Authority (also isn’t going to happen). Checkmate; deadlock; no way out.

The Obama Administration is not likely to say: We were wrong. This is tougher than we thought. Nor are they probably going to put the issue on the back burner openly. Nor are they going to criticize the Palestinian Authority. So they will pretend to be working hard, sending their envoy zipping around, looking for some opening to leap into action. But isn’t this going to be pretty obviously a charade? Well, only if the media wants to say so.

Then there’s Iran. Originally, the administration was going to increase sanctions in September. That was moved back to the end of December. Now it is too late to meet that deadline. At best, we are going to see negotiations in January and maybe—maybe—increased sanctions in February. But who knows?

That’s not all. The administration keeps pretending that it has China and Russia on board for sanctions. Anyone who actually reads Chinese and Russian statements should know this is untrue. Can this be kept secret for very long in 2010? Either there will be no sanctions, ridiculously weak sanctions or sanctions without these two. Once again, there is no way out for the administration from looking like a failure.

And by the end of the year or earlier it will be clear that any sanctions applied aren’t working. The year 2010 is the make or break year for stopping Iran. Not hard to guess which it will be.

I’m not chortling over this as I’d greatly prefer the administration would be brilliantly successful in bringing peace—a good one, of course, not just any deal—and ensuring Tehran didn’t get nuclear weapons. But it’s not going to happen.

Two other issues may cause problems but are not likely to bring benefits in 2010, though they are designed to bring political dividends for when Obama is up for reelection in 2012. Iraq will be a headache if the Iranians decide, in part due to their more belligerent mood and as a response to sanctions, to escalate the violence. Syria, unhappy that the United States has not caved in to them, may also do so. This could lead to higher casualties making the troop withdrawal look either like running away or at least ineffective.

The same basic point holds for Afghanistan, where Obama’s version of the surge will be in full implementation. The Taliban might decide to make America look defeated; Pakistan isn’t going to help. Again, there could be high U.S. casualties and the appearance of failure.

Then there’s the chance that Obama’s vaunted popularity will crack. Palestinians will claim he isn’t giving them everything for nothing; Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah will try to make short work of making America look bad. What if, for example, Obama has to veto some far-out UN Security Council resolution that, for example, demands that Israel return to the 1967 borders? Maybe he’ll be able to get it watered down but that could happen.

There’s always the chance of a major terrorist attack against some American target succeeding.

In short, 2010 does not look good at all for Obama. Is there any chance of a big success in the region for him? (Your eyes dart around the room trying to think of something. Finally, you give up and give the inevitable answer.) No.

The most critical question of all is whether the administration will learn from its experience. There are a lot of mistaken conceptions to learn from:

The Palestinians aren’t desperate to make peace. Moving away from Israel doesn’t bring you any material gains and indeed makes it even harder to get progress toward peace. Arab states won’t help you. They aren’t going to lift a finger to stop Iran while demanding you do so. Engaging Iran and Syria doesn’t work. Being popular among Muslims and Arabs is a fragile thing and doesn’t get you much more than a cup of coffee when you visit the Saudi king. Apologizing makes you look weak and everyone will then take advantage of you. Shall I go on?

Usama bin Ladin says that everyone wants to bet on the strong horse. Obama’s policy makes America look like a dead horse. And, yes, Middle East dictatorships and revolutionary Islamist groups love flogging a dead horse.

Shall Obama hope that 2011 comes fast? Well, that’s the year Iran will probably get nuclear weapons.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Seventy Years Ago, Palestinian Arabs Threw Away Chance to Prevent Israel's Creation; Following the Same Policies Today

By Barry Rubin

The greatest opportunity ever to prevent Israel’s creation and instead make the entire land a Palestinian Arab state took place in 1939, specifically on May 17, 1939, seventy years ago.

What is truly remarkable is that the debate at that time and on that specific day was almost precisely identical to the situation on the day you’re reading this article. If you can understand these events, it is possible to comprehend why the conflict has ended this long with no end in sight.

Let’s set the scene. The British knew that another war was on the horizon with Germany and Italy ready to disrupt their control of the Mediterranean and Middle East. Fearful of Arab revolts in alliance with their fascist enemies, London was ready to give lots of concessions to them.

On the Palestine issue, the British government was so desperate that it offered an amazing deal. A single Palestine state (the British had conceded to Arab opposition over the word "federal") would be established in ten years with an Arab majority. Land sales to Jews would be prohibited in most of the country and Jewish immigration would be strictly limited. If the Arabs had agreed, Israel would never have been established. As it was, the British implemented the immigration restrictions any way, dooming hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe to horrible deaths.

But the Arabs in Palestine rejected the proposed political deal to put them in charge of the government with a timetable for turning the country over to them. They walked out of negotiations with Britain, ostensibly over the ten-year waiting period. Most importantly, they believed that their goals could be achieved more quickly and completely through a combination of an Arab uprising and an Axis military victory in the coming war.

The Egyptian government thought this was a terrible mistake and urged the Palestinian Arabs to make the deal. On May 17, Egyptian Prime Minister Muhammad Mahmoud and Ali Mahir, who would be the next one to hold that job, met the Palestinian Arab delegation to try to talk them into changing their minds.

Mahir told them that they should accept the British plan. The reason the Jews were so much against it, he explained, was that it was so favorable to the Arab side. Most important of all, it was a tremendous opportunity: the best deal the Arabs could obtain. Cooperation with Britain was better than being, “At the mercy of the Jews.” Once the Palestinian Arabs had a state, sympathetic Arab regimes would help them ensure their total control.

Getting an independent state, Mahir continued, required training administrators, preparing for defense, and achieving "legitimacy” on the international scene. A transitional period, Mahir suggested might do the same for the Arabs. The best way to win was to advance step by step. It was like a war in which, “One army is vacating some of its front trenches . Would you refrain from jumping into them and occupying them?"

But like a Greek chorus, the Palestinian representatives retorted, "If we accept, the revolution will end."

So Mahir tried again to explain reality to them. "Do you believe,” he asked, “that Great Britain is unable to crush your revolution, with all its modern satanic war inventions? Is it not better for you to come nearer to the British authorities and get them to forsake the Jews?" Then the Arabs wouldn’t have to ask London to stop Jewish immigration, they’d control it themselves and not even a single Jew could enter the country. The Arabs would control key positions in the government and after a few years in a parliament as well.

Next Mahmoud weighed in with his arguments. If they made a deal right now, he insisted, the Palestine Arabs could have their way but soon there would be a war and they would be in a weaker position. Britain would lose patience and invoke martial law. Arab countries would be too involved with their own problems to help. In fact, Mahmoud and Mahir could not have been unaware that the Arab revolt which had begun two years earlier, was being stamped out by a British offensive and was almost dead.

Again the Palestine Arabs said “no”: "When the revolt started, we had aims in view to attain. We cannot now tell our people, ' Stop the revolution because we got some high posts …."

"You can tell your people," Mahir answered, "that you shall be able to control your country's government; to stop persecution, deportations, and harsh measures” by the British "You could set Palestine's budget, limit the Jewish population to one-third, and point to the Arab governments ' advice for your accepting the deal.” The Palestine Arabs would not even have to sign anything, but would merely have to agree to cooperate with the White Paper. None of his arguments made any headway.

There can be no doubt that the 1939 White Paper did go a very long way toward satisfying Arab demands. If they had agreed, taken over much of the government, and worked closely with the British, there never would have been a partition and the Palestine Arabs would almost certainly have won. Instead, their leaders—including Amin al-Husseini—collaborated with the Germans against the British. Nothing constructive was done by them, no real preparation for statehood, no cooperation with the British or the White Paper framework. In 1948, they would make the same mistake and reject getting a state of their own. And many times thereafter.

Today, the Egyptian government is still trying to explain reality to the Palestinians. They are still rejecting anything short of everything. They have largely thrown away the opportunity to build an effective and popular government on the basis of the 1993 Oslo agreement. They said “no” at Camp David and to the Clinton plan in 2000.

Indeed, the philosophical and strategic lines of argument have basically changed not at all since 1939, almost down to the smallest detail.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.


Monday, December 21, 2009

How the Auschwitz Sign Claiming that `Work Makes Free’ Embodies Current Western Thinking and Policy

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By Barry Rubin

The theft and then recovery of the famous sign at the entrance of Auschwitz—Arbeit macht frei, work will make you free—has brought that artifact of the Holocaust to international attention once again. Merely dismissing the sign as, “cynical,” few understand the meaning of the sign in context and its underlying implications for Jewish thought and Israel today.

At the time--and this was very clear in Eastern European towns like that of my grandparents in Poland-- Jews were used by the Germans for forced labor. While many were involved in road repair (an extremely important task during the war when highways were heavily used by the Nazis for military purposes), tree cutting, or other manual labor, others labored in their usual professions.

The Germans, of course, wanted to win the war, which they were waging, despite their victories, against difficult odds. Even after the French were defeated and the British retreated across the Channel, the combat was ferocious against the Soviets and the United Kingdom fought on. In pragmatic terms, the Germans needed Jewish labor. After all, too, they could hardly be receiving it under better circumstances. The Jews were not paid for the work, they were denied consumer goods, and their food rations were minimal.

In short, the German strategy toward the Jews—focusing on forced labor—made sense in pragmatic terms. And Western civilization is governed by pragmatism. One does what is beneficial to one’s material self-interests. The German behavior made sense.

It was not hard to explain, for the overwhelming majority of the Jews under German occupation as well, the killings of Jews that they knew about. Here, it was a reprisal for Germans killed by partisans; there, it was a pure act of cruelty or the deeds of a sadistic officer. Or it could be perceived by the pragmatic German goal of keeping the Jews intimidated or to appeal to local anti-Semitic Christians themselves under occupation or actions against Jews who were known for anti-Nazi views.

Whatever it seems to those looking back from a time of much greater knowledge, this pragmatic understanding did make sense in terms of all past history (including Jewish history) and the events people knew about. True, Hitler had written about the extermination of the Jews but this was considered to be just ideology. In Western society, people had become cynical about ideology or at least of ideas that went against immediate self-interest. This was just rabble-rousing.

Thus, it could be expected that if Jews really did work hard and did not cause too much trouble, they would survive, at least the great majority, as had happened during so many previous persecutions. That was their life experience and their historical experience. Of course, it was richly supplemented by wishful thinking, sometimes a wishful thinking that promoted blindness to events that were clearly visible, but this line of reasoning gave an ample logical basis to that wishful thinking.

And so, work makes free. It was not just a sarcastic act of derision but an actual control measure. If the Jews believed they were in Auschwitz to work hard in exchange for their lives, they would be more docile and far easier to manage. The sentiment was meant to be taken seriously, and almost always, at least until late in the war, it was.

To understand all of this is of vital importance for historical reasons. The Jews who became victims were not just cowards or fools or sheep but people who often believed they were using their wits to survive once again a terrible but ultimately passing pogrom. No matter how much they were starved or mistreated, they could take the hunger and put up with the beatings with the confidence that one day this, too, would end. Of course, they often had no choice and they wanted to believe this, yet it was quite rational for them to do so, certainly before the middle of 1942.

At this point, I hesitate to continue. The analogy of the Holocaust has been too often used, and misused. Moreover, many will think that I gratuitously or lightly exaggerate what I’m about to say. But consider this explanation seriously and you will better understand our own era.

The key here is the Western obsession with pragmatism, the dismissal of ideology, and the wishful thinking that believes conflict can be negotiated away or at least whittled down to the tolerable level by patience and concession. These were also the fundamental ideas that motivated both most European Jews and the expectations of most Western leaders and observers regarding the treatment of the Jews during the war (and in many cases, German intentions before the war as well). This mode of thinking is still very much with us.

Thus, it is disbelieved that radical Islamists, and in many cases militant Arab nationalists or various others, really mean what they say. Instead, it is expected that they will act according to narrow and individual personal interests. They would rather be rich than right, or revolutionary. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, architect of Iran’s Islamist revolution, derided this concept as thinking the revolution was made for the sake of lowering the price of watermelons.

Western deception and self-deception is also reinforced by the fact that the main contemporary experience in this regard has been with a tired and cynical Communism, long bereft of its revolutionary fire. It was well symbolized by a Soviet regime that was mainly interested in self-aggrandizement and staying in power. This was followed by the dealings with a Chinese Communist regime which seemed to be fanatically revolutionary but later settled down to making money and avoiding trouble abroad. The answer to Khomeini was the statement of Deng Xiaoping, the architect of that turn, who expressed the following view of ideology: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.” One can argue, with some justification, that after fifty years this has happened to Arab nationalism.

So, yes, revolutions do moderate, get tired, and settle down to redecorating with expensive furnishings. This is precisely the fate that the current Iranian regime is struggling to prevent for itself. Then there is the belief that the Supreme Being is guiding their steps. Then there is the belief of the Islamists—both pro- and anti-Iran ones--that they haven’t been trying that long and will win eventually. And the belief that their enemies are weak and close to surrender while they have such secret weapons as suicide bombing and soon nuclear weapons.

While, then, it is easy to believe that they don’t really mean what they say, that they would never do anything “anti-pragmatic” this is not likely to be true, at least not unless they are contained for many decades first. Or if they perceive they have failed or been defeated, which generally is nowhere near happening. Does Syria’s regime prefer Western aid to an alliance with Iran? Will Iran be responsible in its use of nuclear weapons? Is Hamas or Hizballah eager to be moderate? Are the Palestinians on the verge of making peace with Israel? Can American dollars buy off the Taliban in Afghanistan?

The answer that appeals to most Western leaders and intellectuals to all these questions is “yes.” After all, “they” must be just like “us” and it is allegedly arrogant or even racist to think otherwise. Needless to say, the Germans were much more like the Americans or British yet what happened did indeed happen. To put it bluntly, ideology and demagogic leadership turned the lovers of Mozart into the builders of Auschwitz.

It is easier, less painful, a much quicker solution that makes the problem go away. Underlying those thoughts, however, is the idea that they must not believe their own ideology and that they wouldn’t do anything that went against their interests or material well-being.

Let me underline the point here. I am not saying that radical Islamists or Arab nationalists or those holding various other extreme ideologies today are “fascist” or “Nazi.” That is simplistic, not credible, and misleading in its own way. They have their own history, world view, ideology, and goals. But they also have certain specific things in common: an ideology they really believe; profound genocidal hatred of others; readiness to sacrifice on behalf of these principles; and a profound belief they will win even though their enemies think this is ridiculous.

Of course, the Germans lost World War Two and their anti-pragmatism hastened that defeat. This, too, is worth keeping in mind. That is a factor to be used in the setting of strategy by democratic states and in the thinking of their people. Assuming they will act in the opposite way will not, however, strengthen that resistance.

Yet the greatest threat to the West of all is the mistaken belief that if we are really polite and avoid giving offense, that if we make concessions or work really hard we will be free of their threat. We have set up our own signs at the entrances to our universities and foreign ministries that are the precise equivalent of Arbeit macht frei.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Afghanistan: The Obama Administration's Trust in Pakistan is Going to Get Americans KIlled

By Barry Rubin

Prediction: One day some enterprising author or former intelligence officer is going to write a best-selling book about the hunt for Usama bin Ladin. Readers will be horrified to find how the Pakistani government and military sabotaged the effort to catch or kill the al-Qaida leadership.

Meanwhile, reading Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s December 10 interview with al-Jazira, it's striking how much she speaks in a totally American psychological and political context. Perhaps it is always like that with U.S. governments. But an administration claiming to be multi-cultural, open to the world, seeing the other side’s viewpoint, and criticizing its predecessors for insensitivity, still sounds like a bunch of naive Americans who don’t quite seem to grasp what other parts of the world are like.

What better example than Afghanistan and Pakistan, countries as different from the United States as you’re going to get. She states:

“We’ve admired the way Pakistan has pulled together to go after those elements of the Taliban that are directly threatening them. And I think that the people of Pakistan are so unified now in support of this military action”

Consider this bizarrely self-subverting first sentence. Isn’t it great, she says, that Pakistan is fighting those Taliban types who are trying to take over the country and kill them. Well, of course they are! Is it hard to understand that they don't want to be murdered and overthrown?

[A digression: What's truly amazing is that other people don't seem to notice stuff like this nowadays. The media keeps missing the essential points, whether it be in Clinton's reaction to Israel's construction freeze which set out a new U.S. policy or in her statement during the Spanish foreign minister's visit when she signalled the start of the sanctions' campaign.]

But the problem, of course, is that Pakistan isn’t going after those elements of the Taliban that are not "directly threatening" them. In fact, as most recently attested by a freed New York Times reporter who the Taliban had been holding hostage, Pakistani intelligence is helping the Taliban and other terrorists who want to kill Americans or Indians!

It is remarkable that the secretary of state can put the issue in such a backwards manner. Tens of thousands of American soldiers are about to be risked in Afghanistan, depending on Pakistan to guard the back door and stop terrorists who want to kill them. But in fact Pakistan will do the minimum possible, thus placing those troops and their mission at risk. Meanwhile, the administration sending them there is pretending the problem doesn’t even exist.

With all due respect, the idea of Pakistanis as “unified” and ready to be “pulled together” sounds like a rather out-of-touch way to describe an incredibly divided nation full of anti-Americanism, packed with many thousand radical Islamists, mired in corruption, hovering on the verge of anarchy, and where armed factions shoot at each other daily.

It is a country whose government just one year ago sponsored a massive terrorist attack on Mumbai and got away with it at no cost whatsoever, not even any international criticism!

As for Afghanistan, all the atmospherics make people miss the point that the administration sounds strikingly like that of the Bush presidency. After all, they both claim to be able to take another country, create a democratic system there, help build a responsible government, and ensure there's a strong military that will be able to defeat the terrorist forces.

The irony is that Bush had by far the better situation. First, Iraq is far more promising raw material than Afghanistan.. Second, Bush was willing to tough it out when things looked bad; Obama has already announced a short-term time limit publicly.* Third, Bush could depend on his main local allies--Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey--to oppose the enemy while Obama can't rely on Pakistan for anything in that regard.

If George W. Bush erred in seeing parts of the world as being ready for democracy when they definitely were not, Barack Obama, and the administration for which he sets the tone, seems to think of itself as a community organizer pulling together those who really do want to play nice. Even at the Copenhagen summit such tactics led to the diplomatic equivalent of a barroom brawl.

In public at least--and whatever differently they think in private doesn't manifest itself in their policy--this administration seems to believe in a fantasy Pakistan packaged like some slightly exotic version of a Hollywood film set or some idealized American image of everyone pitching in to raise money in order to save the farm.

This is the kind of thing people make fun of today when they describe how innocent Americans once thought about a country named Vietnam.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books  To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

*Yes, I know that he also said he would take into account conditions at the time of the deadline but he also implied he will pull out regardless and Obama doesn't seem like the type to fight a war against tough odds and domestic criticism, does he?

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Madness and Lessons of the Copenhagen Summit

By Barry Rubin

Does man-made global warming exist? There’s still room for debate, but that’s not what’s most important.

Is man-made global warming a leading problem facing humanity? Maybe, but a still higher level of proof is needed. That’s more important but not what's most important.

Is man-made global warming so obviously proven, so quickly increasing, so realistically solvable, and such an imminent threat that hundreds of billions of dollars should be spent to deal with it; the economies of all industrial countries should be reorganized completely; Western living standards pushed down; and Third World countries turned into welfare cases rather than helped and urged to develop, postponing even further their people’s hopes for a better life? Now that’s what is most important of all.

There is a disturbing hysteria over this issue in which people are intimidated and the most basic principles of science—that questions should remain subject to debate—are violated by both sides. Again, though, here’s the missing link that goes beyond the highly partisan, somewhat hysterical debate:

The truly critical issue is not just whether man-made global warming exists but whether this is such an imminent threat to human existence that absolutely nothing –no amount of money, no change of life style, no other threat--should stand in the way of making this the globe’s main priority and going to any lengths to combat it. Assuming it can be stopped.

It seems that a lot of scientists who believe that climate change is real also view this as a longer-term development, not something about to end the world as we know it. It is one thing to ridicule people who deny the existence of climate change but quite another to demonize those who ask if every other problem should be shoved aside, vast amounts of resources should be spent on this rather than to battle other scourges plaguing humanity, and still more obstacles should be added to the efforts of the world’s worst off people to have better lives.

There is tremendous irony here. If all the world’s states want to come together and do something drastic, tighten their belts and open their wallets, wouldn’t it be better to focus on poverty, hunger, disease, and improved education? The hidden factor, of course, is that the developed world’s leaders and elites have become convinced that their own survival is at stake. Thus, self-interest is disguised as noble altruism.

Yet isn’t this a new form of imperialism in which smug rich people congratulate themselves as wonderfully virtuous by telling poorer countries they cannot develop because it’s bad for the planet? Or perhaps, to salve their consciences, they will also pass out billions of dollars which dictators will put in their Swiss bank accounts.

To put it bluntly, after decades of failing to be moved by ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-schooled children, the West has been galvanized into action by concern over polar bears.

Once again—because there are many who will deliberately misunderstand and distort the argument being presented here--people can certainly argue that man-made global warming is real based on specific evidence. But how rational is it to say that unless the world is drastically changed as fast as possible and no matter what the cost that horrible disaster is going to ensue? This should be the real debate which brings together people whose views on the scientific issue may be the exact opposite to react in horror at these policy decisions.

Meanwhile, the Copenhagen summit is another landmark in the failure of the Obama conception of international affairs.  We are now told that a great victory has been achieved: key countries say they will try to keep emissions below a certain level. Wow! And in a number of years we'll be able to say they failed unless, of course, a massive recession cripples their industry, wipes out jobs, and lowers living standards, in which case we can cheer because people may be starving but at least carbon dioxide emissions are lower than they might be.

This is pure speculation but worth considering: might not the outcome be that the U.S. government adheres to its promise at incredible cost while the other countries don't try very hard to keep to their quota? Might this mean that American costs of production go up even higher making U.S. products even less competitive in terms of price with those of other countries, meaning fewer jobs, less income, more inflation, and more foreign debt?

But didn't Obama in his speech stick to his plan? Yes, that's precisely the point.

By stoking up a situation that got so far out of hand--the hysterical plugging of the issue, raising expectations, signalling weakness, worshipping consensus, apologies, and all that--to the point that he had to pull back or go over a cliff, Obama intensified the level of conflict unnecessarily and looked very foolish. Indeed, he may have destroyed his much-vaunted popularity without making any gain in return.

In the most telling Freudian slip or example of Bushian fumblemouth of his presidency, Obama said that he was "on the precipice" of achieving health care reform. A "precipice" is defined by the dictionary as "a very steep or overhanging place::" or "a hazardous situation." The same applies to government spending, Iran's nuclear weapons' drive, and climate change. First, you are on the edge of the precipice; then you "achieve" falling a long way to be smashed by the rocks below.

Here's a short list of the fallen pillars of the Obama world view:

--The importance of popularity: Both Obama himself and his supporters regularly list his international popularity as the administration’s greatest achievement. But aside from the fact that this factor has little or no material benefit, it is also something that evaporates overnight. In a sense, popularity is a bad thing in international affairs because it indicates one is giving a great deal and getting relatively little in return. The moment the United States asks others to do something that love is all gone. Plus the fact that such things wear off with familiarity.

It is like the effervescent popularity of a child who gives away all his toys and expects to gain the permanent gratitude of the other kids. More likely, of course, they won’t come back and express their love but rather will demand more and be quite angry if they don’t get it.

--Rejecting leadership for consensus: In the 1960s, utopian concepts led people to say that meetings should have no organization, groups no discipline. Of course, it quickly became apparent that anarchy was the most common result. By shedding leadership, the Obama Administration won some quick popularity but there is a high price to be paid as bickering erupts and nothing actually gets done. The Copenhagen summit mess seems to offer a case study in this phenomenon. Other examples abound during the first year of the Obama presidency.

And so other countries can say to Obama: You want to know what we think? We think it's all your fault. Listen to us and do what we say or we'll hate you, criticize you, and perhaps attack you.
--Weakness and apology: The Copenhagen meeting has brought a barrage of insults leveled at Obama and the United States. Now, after showing so much humility, the United States gets to be insulted by Eritrea and Zimbabwe, Iran and Syria, Colombia, and lots of other countries.

If you act in a weak manner, announce you will not take tough measures, and apologize for having done so in the past, you are setting yourself up for being pushed around. Iran is acting like a schoolyard bully, kicking dirt in the face of a passive America government that accepts all insults with no reaction except repetitive statements which amount to frowns. Iran has violated promises, changed the terms of agreements, announced it secretly built a major nuclear facility, proclaimed it is going to build more (sources with access to non-public information tell me this has already happened), launch long-range missiles, thrown out a steady barrage of insults, stolen an election, repressed all opposition, and more. Never before in its history has an American government so proudly embraced being a pitiful, helpless giant. If the U.S. government doesn’t respect America how can it expect others to do so?

America has sinned by being rich and its intellectuals say the money has been stolen rather than gained through the ingenuity of capitalists, the innovations of scientists, the hard labor of workers, the risk-taking of small businesses, and the benefits of its economic and political system? Ok, so pay it all back and lots more. No matter how much you hand over you aren't doing them a favor since you've told them that they are entitled to receive it.

--The discounting of conflict: Rather than being due to misunderstandings, past American sins, or the personality of George W. Bush, conflict is structural and endemic. People and other countries do resent the United States because it is rich and powerful, rather than merely because Bush is president. Not everyone thinks alike; not everyone wants the same thing. Yes, millions of people throughout the Muslim-majority world want to live under radical Islamist dictatorships (at least until, as in Iran, they’ve actually experienced such regimes for a while). Nationalism is a powerful phenomenon in most of the world even though it has ceased to be so in much of the West. Ideologies, dreams of power, and revenge seethe in many places. Dictators and demagogues promote hatred; pocket the money; bring economies to stagnation; and blame the West.

Regarding climate change, a lot of countries want free money and no matter how much they get they'll want more. Obama has unleashed the self-proclaimed victims to pick America's pockets and they won't stop doing so just because he hands over a big roll of bills as a start.

--Who is at fault?: The main reason why poverty and oppression exists in so many parts of the world is not due to Western evil imperialism but to local political culture, lack of democracy, anti-pragmatic ideas, and dictatorships. Until this is thoroughly understood and beneficial change takes place within other societies, their situations won’t improve. What happened with all the massive financial aid provided over past decades?

Naturally, many would deny all of the above. But guess what? As long as they do so their actions will continue to fail visibly.

Not only all Americans should want their government and president to succeed, there are scores of countries full of people desperately hoping this will happen. Indeed. their survival depends on it. But Obama won’t succeed unless he changes his policies. He won’t change his policies unless he changes his thinking. And he won’t change his thinking unless he perceives the failure of his current actions and hears massive criticism. The last item on that list is our responsibility.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

What's Really Going on in Palestinian Politics: Springtime for Abbas

[Thanks to those of you who have subscribed; please, to those of you who haven't yet done so]

By Barry Rubin

There’s a new trend worth noting in the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority (PA): a sense of satisfaction. While the Western media generally reflect the rather false-front public relations’ campaign waged by the PA—bitter, frustrated, victimized, and eager for peace—that’s not what’s really going on right now.

Mahmoud Abbas’s government has to weather some difficult politicking along the following lines:

--He has extended his own term in office indefinitely and cancelled January 2010 elections without receiving much criticism from within the PA. After all, Hamas won’t let any balloting happen in the Gaza Strip and who knows which side might win a fair vote?

--The PA has been rounding up Hamas activists and keeping security on the West Bank while—with a lot of help and some pressure from Israel—preventing cross-border attacks.

--The economy is doing well with relative prosperity on the West Bank, though this could collapse in hours if the PA let’s violence reappear.

--Abbas has contained intensive criticism from his colleagues about his being too “soft” in his dealings with President Barack Obama.

--He has worked out a way to refuse negotiations while blaming it on Israel.

--No matter what the PA does international media coverage, support from Europe, and a lack of criticism from the U.S. government seems assured.

There are plenty of things to be pleased about even though the peace process is dead, there’s no realistic prospect of a state, and Hamas looks set to govern the Gaza Strip forever.

The media angle is especially amusing. Abbas can reject Obama’s demand that negotiations resume without a single adjective of criticism while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is regularly said to be “defying” Obama because he only invoked a total freeze on non-Jerusalem construction. You can’t buy publicity like this.

But never overstate the importance of image. What’s really true—though often misunderstood in the West—is that a no war, no peace option suits the PA just fine right now. There is a question of whether hot-heads among Abbas’s colleagues, Hamas sabotage, or some accidental event will set off a new confrontation. Yet that doesn’t seem too likely in the short- to medium-run.

Finally, while Fatah and the PA can’t wean themselves—indeed, they aren’t even trying—from a basic strategy whose main goal is destroying Israel some day, that doesn’t mean they can’t get along with Israel on a current basis. Behind the scenes, things aren’t so bad.

Indeed, when Abbas speaks privately, he is likely to spend much of his time attacking Hamas and urging higher sanctions on Iran. He knows who his real enemies are, even if most Western observers take him at his (public and propagandistic) word.

Back on the air

This blog is back up after being taken down by Google briefly. I actually received a letter from Google when they returned it which said: Your blog is not in violation of our rules so we're deleting it.  I want to thank all of you who wrote me and those who protested to Google.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Palestinian Authority Sets its New Strategy: Tempts Obama Administration with Instant Peace if it Pressures Israel

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By Barry Rubin

We now have Mahmoud Abbas’s answer regarding short-term Palestinian Authority (PA) strategy. He says that if Israel stops all construction now—in Jerusalem and the 3000 apartments being completed—and accepts in advance the 1967 borders and there will be peace within six months. This is the basic story we’ve been hearing since around 1988: one or more Israeli concessions and everyone will live happily ever after.

This is clearly bait being dangled for President Barack Obama, offering him an “easy” way out of his dilemma of not having any peace talks after almost a year in office: pressure Israel to give up more and you will look good, with plenty of photo opportunities of you presiding over Israel-PA talks.

Of course, what Abbas wants to do is to remove one of the main points of Israeli leverage, the borders to be agreed upon and the status of east Jerusalem. Moreover, is leaving out both the additional demands he will be demanding (all Palestinians who want to can go live in Israel) and all the Israeli demands he will be ignoring (recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the end of the conflict and dropping all Palestinian claims, security guarantees, an unmilitarized Palestinian state, settling all refugees in Palestine).

In addition, of course, he can’t speak for about half the people and territory he claims to represent, that is, the Gaza Strip. And by not holding elections and unilaterally extending his term, Abbas leaves the door open for some future Palestinian leadership saying he had no legitimate mandate to negotiate and therefore any agreement he made isn’t binding.

Finally, he made one very big misstatement of fact, hoping—as usual—that the West pays no attention to what’s said in Arabic. He claims that the PA has stopped incitement against Israel, in terms of urging violence and rejecting Israel’s existence. While the PA is, of course, far better than Hamas on such matters, a very large dossier can be compiled on how that is a lie.

The question is what will the Obama Administration do? Is it going to press Israel for still more unilateral concessions so that the PA will come to talks and President Obama can claim a success? Will it try to get the PA to do something in terms of confidence-building measures or to talk without preconditions? Israel is certainly not going to accept the 1967 borders with absolutely no change before even talking with the PA (and probably not even as part of a peace agreement).

Indeed, it is now Obama administration policy that there need to be minor border modifications to accommodate the post-1967 changes on the ground. Moreover, Israel can say that if it stops all construction immediately, including in Jerusalem, the PA still won’t talk so what’s the point?

Incidentally, Abbas admitted that he never asked for an Israeli construction freeze before but is only doing so in the context of the Roadmap Plan. However, even after the Road Map, Abbas never made this a big issue until after Obama demanded the construction freeze. In objective terms, the president has no one to blame but himself for this mess, but of course he isn’t going to blame himself. He has to blame either Israel or the PA. Which will it be?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.