Thursday, April 30, 2009

Racism? Genocide? Hatred? Ask Your Local Supplier

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--Failure to comply with these conditions will be regarded as theft or plagiarism, depending on the circumstances.

Recently, a disreputable blog which had twice been asked previously to link properly persisted in pretending that they produced my articles. In addition, they changed the title of a recent article to something objectionable which stated the exact opposite of my beliefs. Despite the fact that the article clearly endorses the two-state solution as a principle and proper (though perhaps unattainable at this time) goal, the title implies that I want to reject such an outcome. The "editor" of this sleazy blog has refused to take down the article despite my request. Other blogs have innocently linked to this article thinking that it was "produced" by this unethical blog.

I ask you to respect the original work here and to help me enforce the conditions presented above which I believe are standard Internet etiquette.

If you would like to ask me to exchange links on the blog list please let me know.

Sincerely, Barry Rubin

Original material is copyrighted by the author, 2009.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Israel at 61: Successful, Natural, Though Not Inevitable

In examining Israel’s history, the emphasis is usually put on wars, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and diplomatic negotiations. These things are important but such a focus is completely misleading. It is true that Israel has fought to survive and has sought to make peace. But that is only a matter of the framework, what is the content?

The most important theme of Israel’s history is its success in both nation-building and society-building at a time when so many others have either markedly failed, gone out of existence altogether, or would have done so except for the fact that the international order—though this would not have applied in Israel’s case—props up existing states no matter what their sins or weaknesses.

And the same applies to its success in scientific, medical, and technological development, to taking a land that was poor in size and resources (without the benefit of oil), and, yes, making wastelands bloom.

The central theme to make about Israel on its sixty-first anniversary is as an example of successful political, social, and economic development, not only maintaining democracy but also at a remarkably high internal stability given its circumstances. The fact that the country has such a good record is all the more remarkable given its frequent demonization by others, not to mention the tremendous threats and military pressures it has faced.

Ponder the 100 or so countries created since 1945 and ask yourself how many are stable and democratic, how many have achieved high living standards for the great majority of their citizens, and how many--an even smaller number--that have contributed to the world at the highest levels of scholarship, technology, medicine, and science.

In addition, Israel has built a fully realized—though this does not mean perfect or completed—coherent society and culture. While this is the further evolution of one of the world’s oldest societies and cultures that has not necessarily made the task easier. On the contrary, religion and secularism, multiple languages, different levels of development, vastly different historical experience—not to mention a 2000-year-long interruption of sovereignty, and other factors had made it far harder than faced by more fortunate nation-states.

Oh, yes, one of the features of that society--and reasons for its success--has been relentless self-criticism. So one could add here: despite its problems and limitations and failings. But that's the point, too. In societies where nobody wants to say things like that or fears saying things like that, that country is in trouble.
The second important point is that one might in a sense say this is the three-thousand-six-hundred-and-sixty-first birthday of Israel. That specific number, of course, is not precise but merely gives an idea of what I’m trying to say here.

The idea that Jews were “only” a religious group was a mid-nineteenth century concept which was never accepted by most Jews, even non-Zionist ones. In Biblical times and up to the destruction of their country by the Romans in the first century, Jews always functioned as a nation and people, arguably the first such in history. Words like “Hebrews” and “Israelites”—used for Jews well into the nineteenth and even twentieth centuries—reflect that national identity and peoplehood beyond religion alone.

Religion was only one marker of this identity, even though many today think it was the only one. It should be noted, however, that having different religions was a hallmark of nation-states in the ancient world, not just of the Israelite one. What marked the Jews off especially even in this respect was the rejection—in principle if not always in practice—to accepting the gods and religious customs of others.

This barrier to assimilative borrowing was not mere stubbornness but an expression of the intertwining of religion with national identity. Indeed, this “red line” was what led to the Jewish revolts against the Greeks (successful) and Romans (unsuccessful), which in the end led to the destruction of the Jewish state and the exile of the Jewish people.

After the exile, however, Jews continued to function as closely as possible to a nation. They had local government, a unique calendar, language, worldview, particular foods, customs, clothing, and even occupations. They lived together and had international connections second to none, save possibly the Catholic Church, throughout the long medieval period and into modern times. To provide a personal example, my grandparents lived in a community where Jews functioned as a national people up to their departure from it in 1910, and their siblings continued to do so until the Nazis destroyed their town—two-thirds’ Jewish in population—in 1942.

The common perception that Jews were “outsiders” only kept involuntarily from full integration into the larger nations among whom they lived was the creation of the second half of the nineteenth century and was only fulfilled in many places in living memory. Of course, for the Jews of Europe in the face of the Holocaust or for the Jews of Muslim-majority countries, who never integrated and ultimately fled or were expelled in recent times, there was never such an option offered or taken up.

This pre-history of the modern state of Israel is necessary to establish the fact that it is not an arbitrary or accidental creation but the fulfillment of a long historical process. That does not mean the creation of that state was inevitable—far from it—but that it was just as logical historically as that of the establishment of any other modern state, and more so than for many of them.

Many Jews do not want to accept this definition of peoplehood—often they have not been taught very much or very accurately about Jewish history or religion. They prefer to see Jewishness as solely Judaism, as narrowly religious.

Or they prefer to assimilate into places that offer tremendous benefits to them ranging from familiarity to material benefits. And they are free to argue those are superior, though it should be remembered that the prototype for that world view was Germany.

Or they prefer to believe—though after all that’s happened in the last century it is rather ridiculous to think so—that they are going to be the vanguard for a utopian revolution which is post-national, post-religious and post-capitalist, though it should be remembered that the prototype for that world view was the USSR.

But they have no right to deny that traditional definition, that continuity, that fulfillment as a people to those Jews who wish to achieve it.

Israel, then, is the manifestation of the oldest existing national group in the world. Although it appears to be arbitrary and “constructed” to some does not reflect the reality of that continuity.

Today, the hatred and miscomprehension of Israel springs from many things, ranging from conflicting ambitions, to antisemitism, to economic profit, to a desire to disavow one’s own Jewishness.

Yet the causes specific to this time in the West have much to do with an opposition to the nation-state, to the community of peoplehood, to democracy, to freedom, to sincere personalistic (not world-conquering) religious belief, to a truly liberal society, to the mix of capitalism and social democracy that made the West so successful.

Indeed, the Israelites, hated in the previous era as an alleged threat to Western civilization, have now become hated as the embodiment of enlightened Western civilization.

And that hatred is the greatest compliment to Israel’s success.

PS: If you love Israel and this applies to you, spend the next day or two thinking about why you're not here. If it doesn't apply to you, please ignore.

Who Runs U.S. Foreign Policy and Will it be Barack versus Hillary?

Only about June will the Obama administration start functioning smoothly in foreign policy though, of course, it has already laid out major themes. There is a strong sense of wanting to start over (reset); a desire to conciliate and apologize; to put a priority on engagement with enemies (which are far from being "former enemies" and are not likely to become such).

But you know all that.

There is also an element of continuity and pragmatism which is often missed by those who hate Obama and want to make things worse than they are (things are bad enough without exaggeration!).

To some extent, the more positive features are coming from the State Department. Why is that when the department has long been identified with a lot of bad things?  Part of the answer is that in recent years, the department has sabotaged or opposed presidents who were

--more to the center or center-right, now it is holding back a man who is the most left-wing president in American history.

--wanting to make small but necessary changes (even in a moderate liberal direction). Now it is holding back a president who wants to change far too much.

Having written a book that was a history of the foreign policymaking process--Secrets of State-- which is the only one I know that tries to explain the mysteries of this system, let me say some things about what's going on now.

First, the White House doesn't have the time or staff to run foreign policy. It sets out themes and deals with high-level focal-point issues but the State Department (along with the Defense Department) have to handle international affairs. The institutional counter to that is the National Security Council but that requires a very strong national security advisor who has the president's ear plus a decisive (and it helps if he's knowledgeable) president.

Inevitably, then, 90 percent is going to be the State Department. A president may have a special interest in certain topics which have to be set out and even then he can't deal with the details. Perhaps Obama will be directly engaged over engagement with Iran and the withdrawal from Iraq. I doubt he is going to be at that level on Israel-Palestinian or U.S.-Syria relations, for example, no matter what he says publicly.

Second, there's the little matter of domestic issues and just plain politics that takes up a lot of White House time.

Third, the president tends to focus on one big thing at any given moment: a key bill in Congress, a summit meeting, and so on. Meanwhile, a hundred other things are going on.

One factor that makes people underestimate the role of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the existence of at least three special envoys to the Middle East. But this situation is far less important than it seems.

Dennis Ross is more like a roving ambassador--his role during the Bush administration--who is trying to coordinate with Gulf states on the U.S. policy toward Iran. What should be happening is his functioning as an alliance-building coordinator to put together a strong alignment against Iran. Instead, he is reduced to reassuring Gulf regimes that the United States isn't going to abandon them in order to be Tehran's friend. Ross is very able but it doesn't amount to much.

The same thing applies for George Mitchell on Arab-Israeli, or more properly Israeli-Palestinian, issues. He isn't formulating or implementing anything, just sort of shmoozing and gathering facts. He will have no lasting impact.

Richard Holbrooke is a bit different as he is supposed to be actually negotiating with Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not much appears to be happening and if either one blows up into a crisis the work will be quickly kicked up to a higher level.

The administration has not yet faced any real foreign policy crisis. When it does, actions have to be proposed, disagreements can arise and that is the point where you might see real splits between Obama and Clinton over both jurisdiction and choices..

The other key decision point is when things start going wrong, though that could take longer. What happens when it becomes clear that Cuba doesn't want to become a democracy; North Korea continues to act like a rogue elephant, Russia bashes its neighbors, Iran breaks any promises and speeds toward nuclear arms, and Syria demonstrably sponsors terrorism and bullies Lebanon?

Faced with a crisis or proof that apologies plus engagement doesn't work, will the administration change course or pretend that nothing is happening? That's when I'd expect Obama and Clinton to clash. Hillary doesn't have that much foreign policy experience but she seems to have grasped the concept of true Realism (not the nonsense often peddled nowadays under that label) and has the right personality for what's needed (tough, nasty, grasps facts, wants to get things done) while Obama seems to feel that words equate to deeds and that the world is one big community in need of organizing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Israel's Day of Memorial: Remembering Israel Gitlitz

The kindly chronicler of Belarus/Eastern Poland Jewish history, Eilat Gordin has sent me a photo and further details on Israel Gitlitz. He was born November 20, 1929  and is buried in the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery.

Today is Israel’s day of memorial for those killed fighting for the country’s independence and protecting its civilians against terrorists. Everyone thinks of people they have known who have died in wars or terror attacks.

I think of someone I never knew nor have I ever seen a picture of him. His name was Israel Gitlitz.

He was born in Dolhinov, Poland, the ancestral home of my father’s family, in 1930. His parents were Shimon and Gita Gitlitz. He had two older brothers, Aron and Nachman. On April 28, 1942, when he was 12, the Germans--helped by Lithuanian and Latvian security police, and by Polish and Byelorussian local police—surrounded the ghetto to wipe out all the remaining Jews there who they had not killed the previous month.

A shelter had been prepared for the Gitlitz’s and their relatives to survive. But there wasn’t room for everyone. Gita and Israel were among those in the shelter; Shimon, Aron, and Nachman hid outside. The three older men were all killed that day.

In the shelter, Israel heard their Polish neighbors guiding the Germans to other hiding places of Jews; the screams and pleas of captured Jews; gunshots, grenade explosions, and then deadly silence. Frozen with fear, they did not even dare to whisper. There were more screams and more gunshots, and more and more.

Twice, police and looters entered the house.

The first time, they just stole; the second, accompanied by German SS men, they probed for the hideout. All this Israel heard. He also heard it when a quarrel broke out among their pursuers about who had the right to loot the house. Then a German bugle called for assembly, the murderers left; those concealed were saved.

Yet they knew it was only a matter of time before the Germans returned. The Jews came out of the shelter and headed for a gate door they knew led from the ghetto. But it was locked. That fact, though they didn’t know it until much later, saved their lives. The door had been discovered and all their husbands, sons, and fathers who had gone through the previous day had been shot.

They returned to their hiding place. After the massacre ended, they escaped. They hid out in fields for many days but were starving. Having lost all hope, they decided to return to Dolhinov and face whatever happened.

But on their way back they ran into Gita’s nephew who persuaded them to return to the forest.

Finally, they met up with the Red Army partisans and lived in the woods for the remaining two and a half years of war. When the Nazis and their allies were finally destroyed, mother and son emigrated to Israel in 1948.

Israel joined the army of the country that bore his name and was killed in the War of Independence in 1948. He was 18 years old.

He knew what he was fighting for, and what he was fighting against.

May his memory be blessed.

[This is adapted from my forthcoming book on Dolhinov and Its Children]

Wishful Thinking 2 (Syria edition)

Fresh off discussing how the media, including Ynet in Israel, misstated what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said about a two-state solution, here we are with the new Syria version. It seems that many people want to insist that nobody can really be a radical, and the radicals are quite ready to delude them in that respect.

YNet reports that Syrian president Bashar al-Asad:

"says Hamas and Hizbullah will never threaten Israel with his country's help" in an interview in al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper.

Is that what the Syrian president said? For here is the precise quote "They both will never attack Israel through Syria under any circumstances."

Not exactly the same thing. Syria never let's terrorist groups attack from its soil--and that's been the policy more than 40 years--because Damascus knows that Israel will retaliate against Syria if that happens. So the simple alternative is: let them attack through Lebanon, which can't defend itself against either terrorists or Israel. If and when Israel retaliates against facilities on Lebanese soil, Syrian leaders don't lose much sleep.

And, of course, when Asad says that Hamas won't attack Israel through Syria, that's because it attacks Israel from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Syria supplies weapons to both Hizballah and Hamas which have been used to attack Israel.

So to say that Syria won't let anyone attack from its own territory is nothing new and is in no way saying it won't help them attack Israel. Syria gives terrorists safe haven, training, bases, equipment, guns, and money to do so, no matter where the terror squads depart from on the morning of their mission. 

Now one needs just sit back and wait for the media around the world to report that Syria has promised not to sponsor terrorists attacking Israel and is now a truly peacenik government. Let me know when you see these reports.

Update: Here Comes Hillary; There Goes Lebanon


While this is a bit more optimistic than I am, this article is an excellent introduction to Lebanon's election and a very quick read.

Suddenly, the United States has awoken to the fact that in one month Lebanon is likely to be taken over by a radical government and hijacked into the Iran-Syria alliance. Unfortunately, this apparently doesn’t mean it—or European states—are going to do anything about it.

On June 7, the odds are—though one can still hope otherwise—that either the parliamentary majority after the election will be held by a coalition backed by Tehran and Damascus or a coalition will give them tremendous power within Lebanon. Hizballah is not going to “take over” the country politically and that is a point no doubt which will be used by governments and media to prove that there’s no problem.

Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, not generally identified as an alarmist and activist, has just started sounding the alarm, "The threat that armed groups and militias pose to the sovereignty and stability of the Lebanese state cannot be overstated," he said.

The new government is likely to consist of traditional Syrian-backed politicians, the Christian forces of Michel Aoun, Hizballah, and Amal, along with various independent figures. It will take power thanks to the money and guns paid for by Iran and smuggled in by Syria. It will be anti-American and anti-Western, though it won’t go out of the way to advertise that fact in English. And, most important of all, it will be a new base for the spread of Iranian influence as well as a signal as to who’s winning in the Middle East.

President Michel Sulayman who was, people seem to forget, the Syrian candidate for that post, will go along with this new situation, though in Western eyes he will still appear to be moderate. The Lebanese army is not a reliable guard against it, though it is likely to continue receiving Western military aid.

The Obama Administration’s words may be formally proper but what was and is needed is a massive effort by the United States in coordination with Europe and moderate Arab states, including covert assistance to the Lebanese independence forces, the May 14 coalition. That group is, of course, daily accused of receiving such aid by Hizballah and company—sometimes with the help of the New York Times—but has received little help.

Now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has travelled to Lebanon, given Sulayman a letter from President Obama, and on April 26, she declared that the letter was one “expressing the Obama administration's strong support for a free, sovereign, and independent Lebanon.”

She praised the contributions of Lebanese-Americans, the country’s “courageous citizens,” and the elections as a “milestone.” It sure will be a milestone, though unfortunately probably one marking the end of the road for independent Lebanon. And then Lebanon will become a millstone around the neck of anyone who hopes for a more peaceful, moderate Middle East.

While Clinton was talking as if the Lebanese election might be free and fair, it's already clear that this has no relationship to reality. Even the UN secretary-general is warning about the "atmosphere of intimidation" being created by Hizballah.

Clinton's job is to denounce what Iran, Syria, and Hizballah have been doing. Instead, she takes up a stance of neutrality that would be more appropriate regarding elections in Belgium. The only mention of Syria was to praise that country for finally, after six decades, sending an ambassador to Beirut. There is no mention of Hizballah or Iran, in fact--as we will see at the end of this article--her statement is objectively pro-Hizballah.

Instead, we get this priceless exchange:

QUESTION: “I know you don't want to speculate about the results of the elections, but it does look likely that Syria’s allies, including Hizballah, will make a strong come-back.” Now how’s that going to affect things?

SECRETARY CLINTON: “Well, Kim, first let me say that it's a great delight to have you with me on this trip. As some of you know, Kim is Lebanese, and has been so excited about coming back to a country that she loves, and I am pleased that I could be the reason she got to come back at this particular time.”

Yes, Kim sure is excited to be coming back to a country that she loves. She just worries that it won’t be there any more in a few weeks. Obviously, Clinton could not—as she explained—“speculate about the outcome of the elections.” She said: “We hope that the election is free and fair of intimidation, we hope that the people of Lebanon make a decision that will continue the progress that we have seen over the last several years.”

Sure, I hope so also and so do a lot of newspaper readers. But you are secretary of state so what are you going to do about it?

Clinton does mention continuing U.S. support for the special tribunal” investigating the dozen politicians and journalists gunned down, all supporters of the March 14 coalition—by Syria and its friends. She also visited the memorial to former prime minister Rafik Hariri, the most prominent of those murdered. She says nice things about the Cedar Revolution which succeeded, with U.S. and French help, in throwing out the Syrians. She visited on the anniversary of that pull-out.

And, she continues (one can almost see her stamping her foot at this point):

“There needs to be an absolute end to an era of impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon. It cannot, must not, be used as a bargaining chip. When I visit former Prime Minster Rafik Hariri's memorial, I will honor his memory, and pay my respects to all those who have been killed while defending Lebanon's sovereignty and independence.”

You hear that! Stop those assassinations and intimidation, the great and powerful America says that. But Iran and Syria and Hizballah have already looked behind the curtain.*
And then Clinton continues with this dreadful bit of multicultural generality:

“It won't surprise you to hear that I think moderation is important in the affairs of states, because that gives people from all backgrounds, and all different beliefs and convictions, an opportunity to participate. So that is up to the Lebanese people to decide, but we certainly look forward to working with and cooperating with the next Lebanese government.”

It’s up to the Lebanese people to decide, making things sound a bit like the New Hampshire primary in a country full of armed militias, millions of Islamist-provided dollars (some of them counterfeited by the Syrians and their Lebanese allies). And that last sentence may come back to haunt her—or at least everyone else.

To say, in advance, that the United States looks forward to working with the next government is, in usual terms, a banal and proper diplomatic statement. But in the specific context of contemporary Lebanon it comes across as a pro-Hizballah statement.

No matter who wins, the United States will deal with them so Lebanese voters don't have to fear that a vote for Hizballah will lead to hostile U.S. action and Hizballah doesn't have to worry that if it continues terrorizing Lebanon the United States will strike back even to the minimum extent of rejecting their regime and cutting off aid.

She then promises:

“I want to assure any Lebanese citizens, that the United States will never make any deal with Syria that sells out Lebanon and the Lebanese people.”

No problem. By the time the United States makes any deal with Syria—which I believe to be unlikely any way—Lebanon will have already been sold out long ago.

She adds: “We certainly look forward to working with and cooperating with the next Lebanese government.”
But suppose that government is dominated by pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian forces; a radical Islamist militia with genocidal intent against Israel; a regime dedicated to driving U.S. influence out of the region.

I don’t want to suggest there will be a revolution with green flags flying and every woman forced to wear a chador. No. The Christian and Druze communities will be left alone, there will be no attempt to invade their turf. But Iran’s friends will control national policy and Hizballah’s militia will control the south and east of the country. Iranian and Syrian agents will flood in to use Lebanon—like the “good old days” of the 1970s and 1980s—for operations against Egypt, Israel, and Jordan.

It is even possible that the resulting parliament will be split evenly enough that there will be a coalition again, albeit with the moderate’s power steadily slipping away as Hizballah grows and strengthens its domination over large parts of Lebanese life.

The United States doesn’t need a government that proves how nice it is. The United States and the democratic and would-be democratic world needs a U.S. government that proves how capable it is of providing leadership and fighting the battle now before it.

Alas, Lebanon, the first victim of the new era in U.S. politics and policy.

Update: Obama Administration Withdraws Proposed Concessions to Hamas


Update: This has become a very interesting situation. On May 1, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in congressional testimony, reinterpreted the proposal discussed below to make it clear that the United States did not embrace the proposal (earlier raised by the French) to back a PA coalition with Hamas. She said that every individual minister of such a government would have to accept the quartet provisions that included recognizing Israel and abandoning terrorism. This would effectively rule out U.S. aid to a Fatah-Hamas coalition (which isn't going to happen any way).

This development tells us that the Obama administration is continuing to put a priority on maintaining strong U.S.-Israel relations--despite many predictions to the contrary and misinterpretations of what it has said or done. One can either view the previous initiative on Hamas as a trial balloon that got shot down or as a mistake whose correction shows the underlying main line of administration policy.

Here is the earlier posting which has now been altered by Clinton's statement:

In what might eventually become its first step directly damaging U.S.-Israel relations and injuring Israel’s interests, the Obama administration has reportedly proposed allowing American aid to go to a Palestinian Authority (PA) even if Hamas, which is designated in U.S. law as a terrorist group, would be participating in it.

Several notes of caution: this is a trial balloon; it isn’t clear that the administration is going to make a serious effort to pass this; it is probable that Congress won’t do it; and even if the change would be made it isn’t going to have any direct practical implication.

And what does all this start to tell us? It is more an incredibly stupid idea than it is a dangerous one on its own merit, but in the final analysis it is both stupid and dangerous.

Why does it reflect so badly on the administration’s judgment and understanding of the Middle East? Not for the reasons you probably think.

First, it is unnecessary. There is no immediate need or strategic gain to be made by such a step (quite the contrary, as we shall see in a moment). Hamas isn’t in coalition with the PA nor does it have any prospect of joining. The negotiations are going badly and anyone with half a brain should be able to see that Fatah, which runs the PA, won’t accept Hamas’s domination and vice-versa.

What do you call someone in Washington DC who sacrifices political capital for nothing? Answer: extremely stupid.

As the great French foreign minister Charles de Talleyrand once put it, in international affairs blunders are worse than crimes. Talleyrand was not a very nice man. He never apologized for anything. He was a very successful diplomatist.

Second, though, the proposal is dangerous. It signals Hamas that the United States is ready to give it a concession without that group changing anything. Go on, the administration appears to be saying, being terrorist, genocidal in intention, antisemitic, and incredibly repressive of your own people. Why should that stop us giving you money and recognition in future?

And it signals Fatah and the PA that the United States wants them to make a coalition with Hamas. That’s the way people think in the Middle East and U.S. officials are supposed to understand this. You can bet your real assets that at this very moment in Ramallah, Hebron, and Nablus people are saying: Obama is now backing Hamas!

As such, it gives aid and comfort to those in Fatah who think that the two Palestinian groups should join to fight Israel. And it gives encouragement to almost all of Fatah which would rather have peace with Hamas than peace with Israel.

Obama says he wants to move the peace process forward. Instead, he has just punctured one of its tires.
Note however that in a few weeks the administration may face a real situation like this. If the Lebanese election results in Hizballah participating or even dominating the government, the United States is signaling that it will continue aid there also, thus undermining the moderates in the voting.

What would a smart policy do? Insist that the United States will never ever give money to any PA government in which Hamas participated unless Hamas changed its goals and methods, that is recognize Israel's existence and cease terrorism. In other words, the same policy the United States has had up to now.

Why? Because that presses Hamas to change (even if it won't change, that should be Hamas's problem and loss), encourges the PA to stand tough, shows the PA and others that the United States rewards moderation and punished radicalism and terrorism. This encourages others to be more moderate and not to give in to extremists, while encouraging other extremists to think about changing their ways.

Of course, if a coalition was formed in spite of your efforts you can rethink your policy. You shouldn't give in but at least you have the option of taking new facts into account.

That's how policymakers are supposed to work.

Memo to administration policymakers: Leverage is an important principle in international affairs. You have something. Others want it. Make them pay for it. Don’t give it away free.

Memo 2 to administration policymakers: Every time you make a concession to your enemies, it hurts your friends who have the same enemies. They start thinking you are supporting their enemies. They become demoralized. They seek to cut their own deals.

Whether or not the administration does push forward with a change that might be called the Let’s Give Money to Hamas Terrorists Act of 2009, it is one more piece of evidence as to its very serious misunderstanding of how diplomacy works and the current state of the Middle East.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Updated: Pirates Attack; BBC Leaves Out the Facts (Until Pressured by Us?)


Update: I checked the site originally and it wasn't mentioned it. And they have now added it. I noted an unusual number of London addresses coming on to the site. Is it possible that some BBC staffers read this (and other) accounts and made a change?

As I've noted before, media coverage in certain places is often so slanted against Israel that you want to laugh at the same time as being outraged. Here's a great example.

A group of pirates attacked an Italian cruise ship off Somalia's coast. The ship was saved by a self-defense effort led by Israeli guards it had on board who fought off the pirates. This story is covered in many places but when the BBC does so, it leaves out the "I" word. Musn't say anything nice about Israelis. Congratulations to the YidwithLid blog for spotting it.

This is the kind of thing I was talking about that separates reporting and analysis from propaganda. If some Iranians, Syrians, North Koreans, or Cubans ran into a burning building and saved some kids, who'd omit the fact of their nationality in an attempt to always portay these countries and people as "bad"?

Note: The Times did cover the Israeli guard aspect of the story.

I'm told that some Dutch newspapers also omitted the I word. I would appreciate details from anyone as to the names of the newspapers and the dates of publication.

A reader added: a comment on other newspapers.

Another Step Toward Turkey's Radicalization: Joint Military Exercises with Syria

The Turkish military has announced joint military maneuvers with Syria. That means a NATO ally is working more closely--and to some extent revealing military equipment and tactics--to a country that sponsors Hamas, Hizballah and the Iraqi insurgents killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq; orders terrorist attacks in Lebanon to assassinate political and military figures there; wages war on Israel, and just got caught building a covert nuclear weapons' building installation in conjunction with North Korea and Iran.

Anyone see a problem there?

The Justice and Development (AKP) Party in Turkey presents itself as a center-right reform party, the evolution of former Islamists to support democracy. As such, it has been very attractive at least to U.S. policymakers though EU governments, for a number of reasons, are increasingly reluctant to admit Turkey to the EU.

While the AKP did start out as a reformist regime, the concern about whether it had a secret Islamist agenda has always been present. As the AKP wins election after election--due partly to the total disorganization and lack of leadership among the opposition--its Islamist aspects come out more sharply. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the current regime feels more comfortable with Iran than with the United States.

The barrier to the government's going further down this road has been both fear of voter response and the possibility that the military will some day stage a coup. The former was somewhat reinforced by the AKP's somewhat reduced showing in the recent local elections.

The latter problem is not so immediate for a number of reasons. At EU insistence, the political role of the military was reduced. Knowing how popular the government is, the officers have been reluctant to strike lest such an operation unleash a civil war. Finally, the government has been arresting and trying officers (and other opponents) accusing them, in most cases falsely of plotting a takeover.

Turkey's regime has moved toward Iran, ignoring international sanctions, in no small part due to energy needs. Yet the improvements of relations go well beyond that. The latest step in rapprochement with the Iran-led alliance is the announcement that Turkey and Syria, Iran's ally, will stage joint military exercises for the first time, April 27-29.

While Turkey is a NATO member, Syria is an Iranian bloc member and a sponsor of terrorism in its own right. This is one more step in the erosion of any serious effort to build an alignment against the growing power of the Iran-Syria alliance and should be treated seriously. Unfortunately, Western enthusiasm about Turkey as the perfect example of a Muslim-majority state being a democracy and illusions about Syrian moderation will prevent this from happening.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Wishful Thinking: Ahmadinejad and the "Two-State Solution"


Unfortunately, as I predicted, Western newspapers like the Daily Telegraph are now reporting that Ahmadinejad is ready to accept a two-state solution. Like much of what happens in the Middle East, this would be worthy satire if it weren't so tragic. Iran's president has now made a significant gain in appearing "moderate" despite his Durban-2 speech (one should not overstate this, of course). Incidentally, although I feel the points I make below are sufficient to show what Ahmadinejad actually said, I could add one more point to be considered: he is capable of lying, too, hard as that might be to conceive (irony alert).

Yes, you see. Here is the headlines in Canada for April 27:
Toronto Globe & Mail: "Iran prepared to back Palestinian deal with Israel, Ahmadinejad

National Post: "Iranian president appears to recognize Israel's right to exist for first time" (!)

And Agence France Presse: "Iran `Ready to Back Mideast Peace Deal`"

Congratulations, the conflict is over! Ahmadinejad isn't a radical, aggressive Islamist and Holocaust denier but a peacenik! [irony alert] Next step: Soon they will be asking, Since Iran's leader is so willing to make peace why doesn't Israel make lots of unilateral concessions? [intense irony alert]

Come to think of it, Ahmadinejad refuses to accept two-state solution and is cheered as having done so; Israel's government repeatedly endorses two-state solution and is accused of not doing so!

No wonder Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country is the current president of the EU states that the organization "underestimates the Iranian threat."

As always, one can only quote Shakespeare, one of the world's greatest political analysts:

"Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

Here is the original text of my blog item:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave an interview to George Stephanopoulos of ABC. He knew what he was saying but others want to insist on refusing to understand him.

First the relevant exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: If the Palestinian people negotiate an agreement with Israel and the Palestinian people vote and support that agreement, a two state solution, will Iran support it?
AHMADINEJAD: Nobody should interfere, allow the Palestinian people to decide for themselves. Whatever they decide….
STEPHANOPOULOS: If they choose a two state solution with Israel, that's fine.
AHMADINEJAD: Well, what we are saying is that you and us should not determine the course of things beforehand. Allow the Palestinian people to make their own decisions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if they choose a two state solution, if they choose to recognize Israel's existence, Iran will as well?
AHMADINEJAD; Let me approach this from another perspective. If the Palestinians decide that the Zionist regime needs to leave all Palestinian lands, would the American administration accept their decision? Will they accept this Palestinian point of view?
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll ask them. But I'm asking you if Palestinians accept the existence of Israel, would Iran support that?....
STEPHANOPOULOS: If the Palestinians sign an agreement with Israel, will Iran support it?
AHMADINEJAD: Whatever decision they take is fine with us. We are not going to determine anything. Whatever decision they take, we will support that. We think that this is the right of the Palestinian people, however we fully expect other states to do so as well.

And how did the Israeli online service of Yediot Aharnot newspaper, YNet News, play this? Here’s the headline: “”Ahmadinejad 'fine' with two-state solution.”

Well, not exactly. He refused to say that. All Ahmadinejad said was that he would support what the Palestinian people decided. What does that mean?

First, he personally believes that they would never accept a two-state solution so there’s nothing to worry about in that respect.

Second, of course, he knows that Hamas would never agree to such a thing and Hamas already controls how people vote in the Gaza Strip. One might presume that if a referendum was held there, the vote would be “100 percent” against a two-state solution. In addition, Hamas and others opposing a two-state solution would get between 30 and 70 percent of votes in the West Bank. A lot of Fatah supporters would also vote against it. The exact numbers aren’t important because whether the number is the higher or lower figure such a proposition would always be defeated.

Third, any two-state solution would only be made by Fatah. Iran supports Hamas. If Fatah and the Palestinian Authority were to make a deal with Israel, Tehran would still back Hamas in overthrowing that government, using the deal to portray its rival as treasonous. Once Hamas took over the state of Palestine, it would tear up all the agreements and invite in the Iranian military.

So in effect Ahmadinejad just said that he would never accept a two-state solution but why put that in clear words when the dumb Westerners can be left to interpret it as they wish.
But Ahmadinejad also put a little bomb in the interview which no one seems to notice. Let me repeat one of his answers:

AHMADINEJAD; “Let me approach this from another perspective. If the Palestinians decide that the Zionist regime needs to leave all Palestinian lands, would the American administration accept their decision? Will they accept this Palestinian point of view?“

What’s he saying here? “All Palestinian lands” might sound like saying the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem to Western ears, but everyone in Iran and among the Palestinians knows this means: all of Israel plus all the territories it captured in 1967.

So here’s what the Iranian president is saying: Suppose the Palestinians vote that they want all of Israel, would the United States accept that? The answer, of course, is “no” and so, Ahmadinejad is saying: I’m the one in favor of democracy and you’re against it.

(According to him, of course, Israelis have no rights to a state so they don’t get to vote.)

Ahmadinejad has built his own career on regarding the West as extremely stupid, cowardly, and easy to fool. Many or most of his colleagues in the Iranian regime agree with him.

I could write at this point that the one exception was when in the mid-1980s the United States was appearing ready to attack Iran unless it ended the Iran-Iraq war. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did so but I think he was misreading American intentions (albeit to the credit of U.S. policymakers in pulling off that bluff).

Still, I’m tempted to say that up to now that the Iranian leaders’ assumption has never proven to be wrong.

U.S. Policy Notes: Pakistan and on Special Envoys

Pakistan: It's not clear what is happening in Pakistan. So far it seems like a small-scale advance by the Taliban. Pakistan is a country with a huge extremely diverse population which includes a lot of friction and competing groups. There are Sunni and Shia, different ethnic communities, and regions where politics are pretty local. I doubt the Taliban is about to take over.

Obama's special envoys: So far they haven't achieved anything. An envoy is only good, it seems to me, to conduct an existing negotiation which has a chance of success, thus to deal with diplomats over details and very intensely.

This system seems pretty unwieldy and I wonder if it will last into next year.

I assume Mitchell is just filling in for a few more months on Arab-Israeli issues and will resign before next year.

Dennis Ross, on Iran, seems to be functioning more like a State Department official than as an independent envoy so it seems he is coordinating closely with Secretary of State Clinton.

It isn't quite clear whether Richard Holbrooke is getting anything done in Afghanistan-Pakistan. If the crisis blows up I assume Clinton and the White House will have to step in fast
MERIA Journal: The Middle East Review of International Affairs
Vol. 13, No. 1 (March 2009)

We’ve now completed publication of the March issue (it’s a long story, related to our putting in an entirely new site. Come see the articles or—better yet--subscribe

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Laurent Bonnefoy
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Patrick Clawson
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Doris H. Gray
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Panel Discussion
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Nissim Gal
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Wolfgang G. Schwanitz
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Michel Makinsky
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Dissolving in the Two-State Solution

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Ring! Ring! The Israeli prime minister’s alarm clock went off. He quickly sat up in bed and immediately shouted out: “Yes! I’m for a two-state solution!”

At breakfast, lunch, and dinner, during his talks and all his meetings, in greeting his staff as he walked down the corridor to the office, endless he repeated that phrase.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what the world seems to want from Israeli policy.

It seems a journalistic convention nowadays to misrepresenting what Israel's government (and Israelis say) and avoiding any mention of what they want.

But the fact is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted the two-state solution back in 1997 when he took over in the midst of the Oslo agreement peace process and committed himself to all preceding agreements.

This is not the real issue. The real issue is this: much of the world wants Israel to agree in advance to give the Palestinian Authority (PA) what they think it wants without any concessions or demonstration of serious intent on its part.

The first problem is that the demand is totally one-sided. Does the PA truly accept a two-state solution? That isn’t what it tells its own people in officials’ speeches, documents of the ruling Fatah group, schools, the sermons of PA-appointed clerics, and the PA-controlled media.

The second problem is that PA compliance with its earlier commitments is pretty miserable, though this is a point that almost always goes unmentioned in Western diplomatic declarations and media.

More often than not the PA’s performance could be called one of anti-confidence-building measures. In other words, what it does makes Israel and Israelis less certain that it is ever going to make a stable and lasting peace.

The third problem is that this leaves no room for asking the question: what does Israel want in exchange for accepting a Palestinian state, leaving West Bank territory, or even agreeing to a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem.

How about recognizing Israel as a Jewish state since, after all, the PA Constitution defines its country-to-be as an Arab Muslim state and the PA makes clear that all Jews who have come to live there since 1967 must leave. These stances don’t bother me in principle only the hypocrisy of doing one thing and demanding Israel do another.

How about agreeing—which any nationalist movement should be eager to do—that all Palestinian refugees be resettled in the state of Palestine.

How about accepting that a two-state solution would permanently end the conflict?

How about stopping daily incitement to kill Israelis and destroy Israel in PA institutions?

How about being open to border modifications or security guarantees like not bringing foreign troops onto Palestinian soil?

Aid to the PA is conditioned on absolutely nothing of the sort. These points aren’t even mentioned and Western diplomats and journalists don’t wax indignant about the PA’s intransigence.

In short, Israel is asked to give without getting in return.

The foreign policy of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni often consisted of ritual confirmations that yes indeed they favored a two-state solution and couldn’t wait until a Palestinian state came into existence.

That behavior didn’t bother me, though they should have raised Israeli demands more often as well. Still, the problem is—and the great majority of Israelis across the political spectrum understands this—that it brought little benefit. Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip, criticism of Israel in defending itself against Hizballah attacks in2006, and the general growing hostility of the Western intelligentsia all took place during the era of “We-favor-a-two-state-solution” repetition.

In the longer-term, the growing demonization of Israel has taken place after it pulled out of the Sinai Peninsula, south Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and large parts of the West Bank; offered to accept a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem; let the PLO come in to govern the West Bank and Gaza Strip (including bringing 200,000 Palestinians with it); and provided or permitted the arming of its security forces.Remember that recent history the next time you hear someone say that more Israeli concessions will bring it peace, security, and a good image.

In recent weeks we have still another myth born, that supposedly the Netanyahu government said progress with the Palestinians depends on action against Iran’s nuclear program. This never happened. As Deputy Foreign Ministry Danny Ayalon made clear, this government policy has three themes: negotiations with the PA, stopping Iran’s nuclear program, and improving relations with moderate Arab states.

There’s also a third myth regarding the Arab peace plan. Israeli governments welcomed the plan as a step forward but pointed out two problems preventing them from accepting it. Most important is the demand that any Palestinian who lived or whose ancestors ever lived on what is now Israeli territory can come and live in Israel. This is correctly seen as a ploy to destroy Israel. The other is that borders must be precisely those of 1967. If there’s room for discussion t Israel will discuss this plan; if it’s take-it-or-leave-it, there’s no alternative but the latter.

[A fourth myth growing partly out of the third is that the United States and Israel are at loggerheads. This is based on misrepresenting Israeli policy and misreading Obama administration statements.]

Finally, the fact that Hamas rules the Gaza Strip is no Israeli rationale for refusing concessions but a huge fact of life. How can Israel make peace with “the Palestinians” when the PA has no such mandate? And how could Israel make peace with a Fatah-Hamas PA regime when such a coalition’s effect would not be to moderate Hamas but to make Fatah even more radical.

It’s silly to assure Israel that peace will bring it greater security when it’s unclear whether the Palestinian government would be taken over by Hamas; wage another round of warfare; fire missiles and be “unable to stop” cross-border attacks; and invite in Iranian or Syrian troops. That kind of two-state solution would be far worse than the status quo.

So let’s say it again: If the PA shows itself ready to make and keep a reasonable two-state peace agreement there can be a deal. Let them get two dozen billion dollars of international “compensation” Let the Palestinian people live happily ever after in their Arab, Muslim state with rising living standards.

OK, now what’s in it for Israel?

Islamists of the World Unite; You Have Nothing to Lose Except Any Pretext of Being Moderate

It’s a development of tremendous importance not covered in the Western media but it might change the direction of Middle Eastern and even global politics.

The Muslim Brotherhoods have taken two steps—partial and limited but very significant—toward cooperation with the Iran-led alliance and especially with Hizballah. (The Brotherhoods have always had a close relationship with Hamas, which is after all itself an off-shoot of the Egyptian and Jordanian brotherhood branches.)

First, Mahdi Akef, the Egyptian Brotherhood’s supreme guide, recently intervened in a debate to speak highly of Shia Muslims for the first time. As recently as 2006, his organization was distinctly sour on both Hizballah and Shias in general. After all, in Iraq—where the Brotherhood has supported Sunni insurgents—Sunnis and Shias have been killing each other for five years. Up until now, the Brotherhood took a back seat only to the Egyptian government itself in being concerned over an Iranian (that is, Shia) drive for regional hegemony.

Secondly, Akef, has defied his own country’s government to ally himself with Hizballah. What makes this such a remarkable and high-risk step?

--The Muslim Brotherhood is Sunni Muslim; the Lebanese Hizballah group is Shia. Brotherhood leaders do not view Shia Islamists as brothers and in the past have been alarmed at the rising power of Shia forces in Lebanon and Iraq.

--Hizballah is a client of Iran’s regime. As a Shia and non-Arab power, Iran is not on the Brotherhood’s Ramadan greeting card list.

--Egypt’s government has just announced a major Hizballah effort to destabilize the country by staging terrorist attacks there. Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has openly called for the overthrow of Egypt’s regime. He has now acknowledged connections with the arrested terrorists, though he claims their mission was to help Hamas and attack Israel. The Egyptian government has rejected this justification. As a result, siding with Hizballah risks a government-sponsored wave of suppression against the Brotherhood.

--This step also makes the Brotherhood look unpatriotic in Arab and Sunni terms to millions of Egyptians by siding with Persian Iranians and Shia Muslims.

--Akef’s statement tears the chador off the pretension that the Brotherhood has become moderate. Of course, while not engaging in political violence within Egypt, it has long supported terrorism against Israel and the United States (in Iraq). Now, to this is added backing an Iran-Syria takeover of Lebanon and at least the image of accepting armed struggle against the Egyptian government by others.

--And most importantly of all, Akef has endorsed the strategic line of the Iran-Syria-Hizballah-Hamas axis in open defiance of not only Egypt’s government but of the country’s national interests as well.

What did Akef and his colleagues say that was so significant? The story is told in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 15. Put into a seemingly innocuous framework of supporting the Palestinians, the Brotherhood’s new line ends up in some shocking conclusions.

Akef said that Hamas should be supported, “By any means necessary.” The implication is, since the Brotherhood has always favored abrogation of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty that Egypt should go to war with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians. A Brotherhood government would probably do just that.

Hussein Ibrahim, deputy leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, which includes about 20 percent of the legislators, in calling for full Egyptian support of Hamas, stated, "Our enemy and Hizballah's enemy are the same." That enemy would seem to be Israel. But is Israel the only such enemy?

Akef took Hizballah’s side against Egypt’s rulers. Since Hizballah leader Nasrallah had denied he was doing anything against Egypt, everyone should take his word for it rather than that of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak.

In a statement to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Akef said there were two competing camps in the region, respectively waving the banners of “cooperative resistance” and of the “protection of the state's sovereignty." Countries like Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are rejecting Iranian influence and Islamist takeovers in the name of their own continued sovereignty.

Yet “resistance” is the basic slogan of the Iranian-led coalition. Akef insisted that he didn’t seek to compromise Egypt’s sovereignty. But asked how he could reconcile these two “axes” and why Egypt should help Hizballah he responded:

"There are two agendas [in the region]…an agenda working to protect and support the resistance against the Zionist enemy, and an agenda that only cares about satisfying the Americans and the Zionists."

Any Arab listener must take this to mean that there are the properly struggling forces—Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah—and the vile traitors—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Iraqi government.

In addition, it is obvious that if there was a large-scale Hizballah attack on Israel from Egypt—with multiple suicide bombers coming from Egyptian territory to try to commit a September 11-type attack in Israel—Cairo would be dragged into a major crisis with Israel. War could result.

This is, after all, what has happened in the past. What the Brotherhood wants from Egypt--as the PLO did in the 1960s and 1970s in Jordan and later in Lebanon--is to give up its sovereignty and act as a military base from which Hamas can do anything it wants. Such behavior not only led to repeated military clashes as Israel retaliated against Jordan and Lebanon but also to serious destabilization within those two countries.

Ibrahim made another telling statement in saying that the Muslim Brotherhood "do not see any contradiction in supporting the resistance and protecting the state's sovereignty. We are in support of the resistance, in Gaza, and Palestine, and Lebanon….”

Why, however, did he include Lebanon? After all, the overwhelming majority of Lebanese Sunnis oppose Hizballah, viewing it as an arm of Syrian-Iranian power. The apparent answer is that Hizballah is fighting Israel and that the Palestinian issue overrides every other consideration.

Yet the Brotherhood is making choices. It certainly doesn’t support the Palestinian Authority, controlled by nationalist forces, but only the Islamist Hamas. And it opposes having an independent Palestinian state created through a peace process with Israel.

Moreover, so what if both Hizballah and the Brotherhood support Hamas? One would expect that the Brotherhood would feel itself engaged in a battle of influence with Hizballah as to who would be Hamas’s patron, and that of a supposed future Islamist Palestine. Could Brotherhood leaders not have noticed that in Lebanon there is no Hamas among Palestinians there because Iran and Hizballah seek to control them directly?

Under cover of supporting “the Palestinians,” then, the Brotherhood’s priority is on backing Islamist revolution in Iraq, Lebanon, among the Palestinians, Egypt, and elsewhere. The Brotherhood doesn’t engage in violence not out of principle but because the Egyptian government is too strong, the Brotherhood is too weak, and it hopes to make gains through elections aided by “useful idiots” in the West.

If it feels the power balance shift in the future, it would have no compunction about launching a revolution. And as it gains in power, the extremism of its program will be more openly exposed.

When Ibrahim says, "Our enemy and Hizballah's enemy are the same," it sends two messages to the Egyptian government and those who oppose an Islamist Egypt. First, that enemy includes the Egyptian regime itself. Second, the Brotherhood’s friends and Hizballah’s friends are also the same.

It is far too much to say, as does the not-so-reliable Egyptian magazine Ruz al-Yousef: "The simple folk who are followers of the Muslim Brotherhood will discover that their Sunni movement is following in the footsteps of the Shi'ite Hizbullah and is subordinate to [its] leadership...."

But something is going on, even as foolish people in the West argue that the Brotherhood has become moderate. It is quite possible to conclude that the Brotherhood's idea that the leader is he who fights hardest and is most intransigent: The “resistance” led by Iran's regime, which may have nuclear weapons in a year or so as a further incentive for admiring it.

Second Thoughts About Durban-2

It is possible that I was too pessimistic about the result of Durban-2, at least in terms of the final resolution. Apparently, there were enormous changes at the very last minute in the text of the resolution. There is also an apparently valid argument that the NGO insanity of the first meeting was kept in check. So my mind is open on this point. I look forward to seeing more analyses as well, of course, as watching what happens to European policy especially in the aftermath.

I would add, though, that the Iranian regime scores propaganda points in the Muslim and Arab worlds by it s extremism without incurring any costs in the West. An expert who closely follows the Iranian media says that the criticism of Ahmadinejad for making Iran look ridiculous and stirring up hatred against it was extremely limited.

As that expert put it, "Within Iran, Ahmadinejad is like a winning football team, scoring one victory after another." That is not to understate the fact that his faction has many enemies, still does not control the country, and is not popular because of its economic failings.

The--it should be stressed very temporary--walk-out was both positive and a cover for not doing more.

The resolution was better but not great as it reaffirmed all the bad things in the previous resolution. And the extremist and dictatorial states are still in control of the process and no serious or systematic challenge is being mounted against them.

In short, I'm still outraged but only 20 percent less outraged! European governments should not have gone back to the conference and shouldn't have signed the resolution.

And most important of all there's nothing to change the process or the domination of the radicals, not the slightest hint of a lesson learned that it might not be a great idea to have the discussion of human rights, religion, and freedom of speech dominated by Cuba, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, and Libya.

His first step is reelection; his second, growing power within Iran; his third, along with the rest of the regime leadership, is primacy in the Gulf and Lebanon.

Who is going to stop him? At this moment, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, along with Israel--all acting separately--seem to be pretty much alone without a lot of help from Europe and America.

What's next? Listen to what Ahmadinejad says: a demand for the turning over of the international system to the radicals, playing on the anti-Westernism of the Third World and the anti-Americanism of the Europeans. This is his bid to be the creator and leader of a New World Order. This doesn't mean he thinks he'll get it.

And Ahmadinejad's next victory might well be a double-one: triumph in both Lebanese and Iranian elections in June.

How to Be A Good Political Analyst and Not a Propagandist


The rise of Internet has brought new challenges both for writers and readers. Supposedly, a fine [sarcasm alert] publication like the New York Times or Guardian has sharp veteran reporters and great editors (“gatekeepers”). Thus, they filter out nonsense—well at least they once did long ago--and tell you what’s most important to know about events. If you are reading these words, however, you know the system isn’t working too well nowadays.

Enter the Internet. On the positive side, it liberates the creativity of thousands of people and provides a huge diversity of information. On the negative side, how do you know what’s more likely to be true, whether you are a reader or a blogger?

This is, by the way, the kind of thing they are supposed to teach you in graduate school: how to evaluate sources, how to provide a scholarly balance, how to make it clear when you’re unsure about something, how to throw out really good stuff that you doubt is accurate, and how not to say something is fact just because it agrees with your analysis or political preferences.

Alas, a lot of these skills or ethical principles have been tossed out the window and thrown under the bus. Large numbers of academics and journalists now believe there is no such thing as truth (or at least the most accurate possible representation of it possible) and that people should be told what’s good for them rather than what’s accurate.

For them, the purpose of universities is not to pursue truth and beauty but to “fight the man,” wage revolution, or bring in the new Politically Correct, culturally diverse, post-national utopia. Here’s a good example of a very bad example.

A propagandist is not someone who merely has a point of view but rather someone who slants the facts to fit it that point of view rather than taking account of them by either explaining how they fit into the picture or modifying one's viewpoint. In short, they try to make all aspects of reality line up like a magnetic field. Naturally, this kind of simple explanation suits many people.

One aspect of this is to define who are the "good guys" and the "bad guys" and then assume that all their actions fall into these categories. This reverses the logical process. For example, many assume Israel is a bad guy. Bad guys do bad things. Bad guys commit war crimes. Therefore, Israel commits war crimes. Evidence becomes irrelevant.

Obviously, this process can be the same if one identifies Iran as the bad guy. Yet that country and its regime must be analyzed, especially because there are many choices for the government to make. There are also different factions which differ in strategy and tactics. And even then, the choices available may be the exact opposites.

For example, given the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq what will Iran's regime do? It could: A. Try to keep things quiet in Iraq thus encouraging the United State sto speed up its withdrawal or B. Heat up the violence to "show" that the United States is running away in defeat.

Even more important is to look at the interests which underlay actions. For instance, can Syria be split away from Iran? No one is qualified to discuss this issue unless they first take into account the interests of the Syrian regime and the benefits it would derive from either maintaining or abandoning the alliance. I happen to believe that the benefits of keeping the alliance far outweigh the advantages of breaking it, and note that the former are virtually never discussed in analyses assuming that the latter is obviously preferable.

In evaluating sources of information one must consider:

--Their past performance, have they been accurate before or not? By this measure, the use of such sources as the world's three most inaccurate journalists--Robert Fisk, Akiva Eldar, and Seymour Hersh--make a story very questionable. The same applies to institutional sources, like Debka.

--Is the source in a position to know what is going on? I frequently see small Gulf newspapers or even recently a publication called China Confidential as privy to the inner workings of U.S. foreign policy when even well-connected people in Washington don't know such things.

--Is the story credible on the face ot it must also be asked, but that is never sufficient alone to make something believable.

--It doesn't matter if a story coincides precisely with what you believe or is just a wonderful anecdote, the question is whether you can really put your reputation behind its being true.

--Look at the primary source material. If you are writing about U.S. foreign policy, read what Obama and Clinton actually say, not the spin put on it by those who are ignorant or have a line they want to push.

--Don't forget that not everything, especially in the Middle East, is said in English. Arabic and other regional languages are all important. Often, what is said in English is for foreign consumption. A Hamas leader speaking to a Western audience is going to pretend to be moderate but will give the real line to his own constituency. In this regard, if in no other, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a breath of fresh air.

-- Don't take words out of context. Try honestly to understand what the intention of the person is in making a statement.

--Don't forget that there are real people in the Middle East and they might not think the way you do. Anyone who says, for example, that Ahmadinejad made a big mistake by going to Durban-2 and making a radical speech forgets about the reality of appealing to an Iranian, Muslim, and Arab audience, which is more important for him.

--Examine history. Is something really a change from past patterns?

Most important of all, two final things:

First, be self-critical and ready to change your views or analysis if you see they don't accurately reflect facts or events. If you're wrong, don't try to twist the realities. Change your position and be right.

And finally, really believe in your heart of hearts that if you lie or shade the truth it will do you and your cause no good.

As Polonius wisely told Hamlet: "This above all: to thine own self be true/nd it must follow, as the night the day/Thou canst not then be false to any man."

Don't tell people what they "should know for their own good" (I've heard people say that they cannot talk honestly about Iran or Islamism because "that would give Bush an excuse to..."), or what you want them to think in order to reach your preferred goal, or what fits with your preconceived ideology, or what you would like to have happen, or wish life was like....

But what you honestly believe--after careful and honest consideration--is the most accurate possible reflection of the real world.

Now if I can just convince the New York Times, Reuters, the Guardian, Independent, AP, Reuters, all those ideologues who have done so much harm to Western academia, and a few million people in the Middle East of these points, there's hope.

But at least I hope I can convince you.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Penny Wise; Pound Foolish

Contrary to Communist mythology, the Western capitalist democracies did not try very hard to counter the 1917 Russian revolution. There were some small missions by military units but no real effort. On the contrary, motivated by other priorities, distaste for intervention, and opposition from their domestic lefts, Britain and France did little. They did not support Poland’s requests for help when it might well have brought down the new-born Bolshevik government. Nor did they aid independent republics established in Byelorussia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, and other places.

In response to this policy, Winston Churchill wrote to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George in July 1920: "We are deliberately throwing away piecemeal the friends who could have helped us. Halfhearted war is being followed by halfhearted peace. We are going, I fear, to lose both, and be left alone….We are just crumbling our power away."

By today’s standards, and even those prevalent back then, the French and British were acting nobly, letting countries (or at least those with the most guns in them) battle things out on their own, avoiding violent entanglements, acting in a “non-imperialist” manner, yet the result was a 75-year-long dictatorship over the USSR’s citizens, the creation of millions of victims elsewhere, and the costs of World War Two (Nazi Germany being a reaction against and in some ways copying the USSR; Soviet Russia and Germany being allies from the 1920s; Stalin’s alliance with Hitler giving the green light for the beginning of the war through the German-Soviet invasion of Poland)

Today, the unwillingness to counter (and often even to coddle) radical forces and ideologies—so visible in dealings with countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea or movements like Hamas and Hizballah—brings short-term self-congratulation and avoidance of trouble. In the long run, it is ensuring decades of strife and bloodshed.

About My Syria Book

"A breath of fresh air... relentless and unapologetic." —The New York Post

Acclaimed Middle East expert Barry Rubin investigates Syria: its support of the Iraq insurgency, ferocious political repression and mix of competing religious and ethnic groups. American policymakers have been wrestling with the Syria question for years, but it has gained particular urgency in light of the country’s growing tension and complex position of power in the Middle East.

The Truth About Syria looks at how the country has become the powderkeg of the Middle East and offers an insightful analysis of recent developments.

Barry Rubin is also the author of The Long War for Freedom, Yasir Arafat, The Tragedy of the Middle East, and Hating America. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Foreign Affairs, and many other publications. He has been a Council on Foreign Relations Fellow and is the editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel and Washington DC USA.

The Truth About Syria(ISBN: 0-230-60407-2) $14.95 ISBN: 0-230-60407-2

For more information or to Order


Here's a cute joke going the rounds in the Persian Gulf that shows the difference among the Gulf Arab states. I've added my analysis to explain what it all means.

DUBAI SYSTEM: You have two cows. You create a website for them and advertise. You create a Cow City for them. You sell Off their milk before the cows have even been milked to both legitimate and shady investors who hope to sell the non-existent milk for a 100% profit in two years time. You bring Tiger Woods to milk the Cows first to attract attention.

Analysis: The strength of Dubai (one of the states that make up the United Arab Emirates' federation) is that it has a strong entrepreneurial and public relations’ sense but its weakness is the speculative nature of its economy which is now starting to look like a fragile bubble.

BAHRAIN SYSTEM: You have two cows. Some high government official steals one, milks it, sells the milk and pockets the profit. The government tells you there is just one cow and not enough milk for the people. The people riot and scream death to the government and carry Iranian flags. The Parliament, after thinking for 11 months, decides to employ ten Bahrainis to milk the cow at the same time to cut back on unemployment.A

Analysis: There's a lot of corruption and a schism--a potential source of future political unrest that is sometimes exploited by Iran which supports the Shia--between a small Sunni Muslim ruling elite and a largely Shia Muslim population conducive to Iranian influence. The regime is, however, relatively effective (at least so far) in managing to control the Shia majority.

KUWAIT SYSTEM: They do not have cows. Milk is imported since no locals can or would milk a cow.

Analysis: Kuwait does well but is very much a rentier economy, not even trying very hard to diversify from its energy resources’ base.

OMAN SYSTEM: You have two cows. After a public speech declaring cow milking a bold new initiative you create a government commissionin charge of cow milking. You first spend a year doing nothing, then 1 year on planning to milk them properly and safely, another one year to get the proper ministry approval to milk them. By the time you actually get around to milking the cows, the cows are dead.

Analysis: Though successful in preserving stability, Oman is more bureaucratic and also less prone to change. In addition, it has more limited energy resources and they are likely to run out faster than those of the other countries.

QATAR SYSTEM: You have two cows. They've been sitting there for decades and no one realizes that cows can produce milk. You see what Dubai is doing; you go crazy and start milking as fast as you can. Then you realize no one wants the milk.

Analysis: Qatar tried to imitate Dubai a bit too late. The market niche was filled and the world economy soon turned downward.

SAUDI SYSTEM: Since milking the cow involves nipples the government decides to ban all cows in public. The only method to milk a cow is to have a cow on one side of the curtain and the guy milking the cow on the other.

Analysis: The Saudi interpretation of strict Wahabi Islam makes it more puritanical (an interesting mixed metaphor in religious terms!) than the others, though the Saudis do very well economically in the end.

Media Column: Unreliable Sources; Tailored "Facts"

I do a weekly media column usually focusing on Associated Press coverage. Sometimes there are good articles which I am pleased to praise but more often I'm genuinely disappointed by the contents. Here's this week's example. Not sure why I can't embed the links so I've written them out at the end:

By Barry Rubin

In reading AP dispatches on the Middle East, the bias is so obvious and the same themes are endlessly repeated that it starts to seem as if a satire.

Here’s a gem from Karin Laub’s "Palestinian teen killed by Israeli Troops" April 18, 2009. (1) The headline could just as easily have been “Palestinians attack Jewish Settlement” but somehow one can predict that AP would pick the first headline. (There’s a short account of such an attack but it is not, of course, the story’s focus.) What are we told about the main topic which AP has chosen for the story?

“A Palestinian man was killed after he was struck in the chest by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops dispersing a protest against Israel's West Bank separation barrier.

“The military said protesters had been hurling rocks at troops, but video footage obtained Saturday by The Associated Press showed a small group of protesters shouting at troops but not throwing anything in the minutes leading up to the firing of the tear gas.”

Aha! So it was an unprovoked, albeit accidental, murder? In fact there’s film of it:

“After troops opened fire, some of the protesters took cover behind riot shields, the film showed. Suddenly, 31-year-old Bassem Abu Rahmeh is seen after taking a hit to the chest, then rolling down a small incline and coming to a stop at the bottom, where he lay unresponsive, blood spreading over the front of his green Fiat shirt.”

No doubt the veteran professional journalist and camera crew from AP, handpicked for their fairness and accuracy, made this video? Not exactly:

“The film was supplied to AP Television News by Israel-based Anarchists Against the Wall. The military said Saturday that troops opened fire to disperse a violent, three-hour protest that was taking place in a closed military zone.”

Now that sounds like a reliable unbiased source, doesn’t it? In fact, it's a group dedicated to Israel's elimination. And no doubt they provided a full, accurate, and unedited film of the three-hour protest showing the demonstrators' violence.

Well, no, apparently they had a clip of perhaps five minutes showing what a highly partisan political group which wanted to make Israel look bad made for AP to see. AP has no way of verifying the video's accuracy.

The story ends by mentioning: “Israel and Egypt have kept Gaza's borders virtually sealed since the Islamic militant Hamas seized the territory by force in June 2007.”

How did I know before reading this that they weren’t going to tell you why the border has been sealed? Rockets, mortars, cross-border attacks, open declarations of war, for example.

Then there’s another often repeated theme by Karin Laub in “Palestinians ask Obama envoy to pressure Israel,” (2) April 17. Right. They know this is the only way they are going to get a state is if the United States forces unilateral concessions from Israel since the Palestinians will never make any of their own nor show themselves to be so peace-oriented as to persuade Israel to give them a lot on its own.

This one-sidedness is also apparent in how she defines the Arab (Saudi, Beirut Arab summit) peace initiative, saying that it:

“offers Israel full recognition by the Arab world in exchange for full withdrawal from occupied territories, should be part of future peace efforts.

She doesn’t mention a little provision about letting a few million Palestinians live in Israel. Nor does she mention that Israeli governments have been positive about the initiative in general but point out the full withdrawal and influx of the Palestinians are two provisions they don’t accept.

The aforementioned Laub writes a long story about every critic she can find in “Rights groups cry whitewash over army's Gaza probe,” (3) April 22. Not a shred of evidence is provided, of course. I haven’t found yet the story that fairly and accurately presents what the Probe did say and which quotes people explaining why it is accurate. But readers are being conditioned to reject it. All this might make more sense if there was any real evidence against Israel yet, despite all the wild charges and passionate denunciations, there isn't.

Oh, wait, I'm wrong, sort of. There is such an article that presents the probe. The only problem that while the Lamb article is 100 percent about condemnations of Israel and the probe, the Heller article only devotes 80 percent of its space to doing the same thing. And even the 20 percent that does discuss the probe is all spent on trying to make Israel look bad rather than the explanations of why certain events did'happen and why many claims of "war crimes" weren't true.

Precisely one sentence is devoted to the explanation of context, and even that doesn't include the probe's most important point: that there is no proof of any deliberate killings of civilians and if there was they would be fully prosecuted.

And what is the title of this article that is supposed to present Israel's statement that its army acted honorably in the Gaza Strip? Why, of course, "Israel denies violating international law in Gaza," by Aron Heller, April 22. (4)

By the way, when Heller informs us of the causes of the war he never mentions that Hamas unilaterally abrogated the ceasefire which had been in place (albeit often not observed by Hamas), triggering the crisis that led to the fighting.

Finally, who is Israel’s prime minister?

Answer 1: Benjamin Netanyahu

Answer 2: “A hard-liner when it comes to negotiating and has routinely opposed giving up territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war or sharing Jerusalem as a capital for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

If your answer is "B" you’ve been reading Steven R. Hurst, Obama invites Mideast leaders for separate talks, (5) April 21, 2009.

It makes Netanyahu sound like the mean rabbit in the Winnie the Pooh book who refuses to share his crops with his little forest friends who didn’t plant anything themselves. If Netanyahu has “routinely opposed” giving up territory why did he accept more than 12 years ago the Oslo agreements?

The real point—which the AP doesn’t want you to know about—is that Netanyahu and many others ask: Why should we give up territory in exchange for nothing? Why should we make a deal for a Palestinian state if it demands we take hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into Israel and immediately starts attacking us? There can be no two-state solution unless and until we know that this would be a permanent, stable peace.

In contrast to his distortions about Israel's stance, Hurst makes it sound as if Arab regimes are pleading with Israel to make peace:

“Arab regimes throughout the region have vowed to recognize Israel and make peace if the captured territory is returned and Jerusalem is a shared capital.”

They “vowed”? Wow, that sounds pretty sincere. No more worries on that front, I guess. If Netanyahu was just not in office the AP would have you believe that peace would be secured in a few weeks. Note also the failure to mention those three million Palestinians coming to Israel here either.

A number of newspapers ran editorials after the Durban-2 Conference decrying the boundless hatred of Israel and Jews expressed by people like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yet where does all this hatred and slander come from, in the West at least, but large elements of the media misinforming people about events in the Middle East?






Friday, April 24, 2009

Israeli Government Foreign Policy Positions

If you want to get a more accurate idea of the foreign policy of the Israeli government--extremely inaccurate articles are being published in the Western media--check out this article.

I will be posting a detailed piece Sunday night on this issue.

Power to the Power Brokers!

Remember when a big--false--story in the Western media was how mean old Israel was denying Gazans' power? There were all sorts of statistical manipulations to exaggerate the cutbacks, including the famous incident when the PA council pulled the curtains on all the windows and lit candles to make it seem they were meeting during a power blackout.

Well now it has come out that the Palestinian power company has been--even despite the war in Gaza--making huge profits. And who owns it? Why people very close to the Palestinian Authority leadership of course!

Declaration of Durban-2, Text

And if you want to read the final declaration of the Durban-2 conference, written beforehand by a committee dominated by Iran, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, and Cuba but accepted without change after the conference in only 15 minutes--no debate allowed--here is the text.

Unless your country is one of the ten that refused to attend--Germany, Australia, Canada, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, United States--or the Czech republic, which walked out of the meeting altogether--your government has now approved this document as its position on these issues.

Granting Ahmadinejad "Living Victories"

The Canadian Jewish theologian Emil Fackenheim, a rabbi and Shoah survivor, died in 2003, not so long ago. When he is remembered, it is mainly for what he called “the most important thing I ever said.”

He had, like many survivors, been unable to address the Shoah for decades thereafter. Finally, though, in a meeting just before the 1967 war—and perhaps inspired by the threat to Israel’s existence at that time—he told a meeting in New York that a central idea in Jewish life must be: “Thou shalt not hand Hitler posthumous victories.”

Fackenheim meant that Jews must continue to observe their religions and traditions so that the German dictator’s goal of wiping out the Jews would not be successful.

Fackenheim also noted that if Israel had existed in the 1930s, the Jews of Europe could have been saved.

In 1984, in furtherance of his beliefs, he went up to live in the land of Israel.

Today, including in the Durban-2 conference which began on the day of his birth, Hitler has been enjoying many posthumous victories on a smaller scale. But now there’s a new figure on the scene.

Let me modestly propose a contemporary version of Fackenheim’s idea: Thou shalt not hand Ahmadinejad living victories.

For after all the complexities of national interest, strategy, tactics, and the explanations of all their acrobatic apologists are gone through, the fact remains that the goal of the Iranian regime, Hizballah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, and all the little local permutations thereof is to wipe Israel off the map and the Jewish people off the planet earth.

And yet, there is no shortage of those who would grant them living victories.

Only hours after Ahmadinejad spoke, the majority of the world’s countries—including those of Europe—accepted a resolution drawn up by his appointed delegates and containing his proposals for the meeting.

Within a few more hours, the EU froze the upgrading of its relations with Israel demanding that country renewed negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Since the Israeli government had already announced that it intended to do so—that such negotiations were one of the main policies it was pursuing—this seemed more of a gratuitous slap than an attempt to shape events, especially since the EU almost never criticizes the Palestinian side.

Within a few hours, America's president said that engagement with Iran would continue despite the speech. The only excuse offered is that Ahmadinejad isn’t Iran’s most powerful ruler, which is true but one hardly would think that the rest of the regime didn’t approve of the political line he follows. One might also interpret the president's intervention to stop a law suit by former American hostages in Iran as a way to show Tehran how friendly he's trying to be (though there are technical legal issues involved).

And within three days, Iran’s 14th International Exhibition of Oil, Gas, and Petrochemical Industries in Tehran saw foreign attendance rise 25 percent over last year. Among the 450 companies were many from France, Germany, and Britain.

The New York Times put the burden of criticism for trying to corrupt Lebanon's election on Saudi Arabia instead of Iran, thus furnishing propaganda points for Iran's client, Hizballah for the second time in a month.

The British government cozies up to Tehran's client Hizballah, while distinguished Britons become apologists for Tehran's client Hamas.

The message this and other such developments show is clear. The Iranian regime sees that there is no dangerously serious opposition to its policies, world view, or nuclear weapons’ drive. Consequently, it takes the logical decision: full speed ahead on nuclear weapons; step up the volume of its anti-Israel rhetoric, denial that the Shoah took place, and ridicule of the West.

The problem, however, with continuing to grant Ahmadinejad living victories is that, as a result, a lot of people are going to end up dead.