Saturday, October 31, 2009

How Herman Melville Explains Contemporary U.S. Foreign Policy to Us

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Moby Moderate

By Barry Rubin

And so the captain ordered the entire ship’s company was assembled. Suddenly, Ahab cried out to them, “What do ye do when ye see a Middle East conflict, men?"

"We negotiate!" was the rejoinder from a score of the sailors.

"Good!" cried the captain, "And what do ye next, men?"

“We offer unilateral concessions!”

"And what tune is it ye sing as ye give them, men?"

"The Peace Process Chanty!"

More and more strangely and fiercely glad and approving, grew the countenance of the captain at every shout; while the mariners themselves began to get excited, especially the Conflicts’ Management Officer.

Ahab pulled out a huge Spanish gold coin from his vest with his good hand and took a heavy hammer in his hook hand. Pivoting on his wooden leg, the captain held up the broad bright coin to the sun.

"Look ye! d'ye see this Spanish ounce of gold? Do you see it, Starbuck?” Starbuck nodded. He was wildly popular among the crew because he made the best coffee you’ve ever had.

Ahab nailed the gold coin to the mast, exclaiming, “Whosoever of ye raises me a Moderate Islamist with a wrinkled brow and a promise not to get nuclear weapons or seize state power and create a radical, anti-American, aggressive regime shall have this gold ounce, my boys!

"Huzza! huzza!" cried the seamen.

“But captain!” cried out Stubb, one of the other mates, “there is no such thing as a Moderate Islamist!”

The harpooners, Tashtego, Daggoo, and Queequeg, who had looked on with even more intense interest and surprise than the rest, could no longer remain silent.

"Captain Ahab," said Tashtego, "that whale you thought was the Moderate Islamist must be the one we spotted near the coast of far Iran but he turned on us and stove in the port side of the ship.”

“Yes,” chimed in Daggoo, “you thought you saw him near Turkey but he turned on us and knocked in the starboard side of the ship.”

“Aye,” added Queequeg, “and off of Gaza, did not this whale you mistook for the Moderate Islamist not take off your left leg?”

"Who told thee that?" cried Ahab. "Aye, my hearties; it was the search for the Moderate Islamist that brought me to this dead stump I stand on now.”

“Oh,” cried Starbuck, “and off of Lebanon you thought you saw him but instead he chomped off your right arm!”

“Well, sure,” said Ahab angrily. “But that’s nothing much to worry about. I’m sure it’ll work this time.” Turning to the crew, he shouted: “What say ye, men, will ye find for me the Moderate Islamist!”

“Aye, aye!" shouted the harpooneers and seamen.

"God keep me!—keep us all!" murmured Starbuck, lowly. But in his joy Ahab did not hear his foreboding invocation.

Adapted from Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

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.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Life in the American Fourth Grade: Don't be too Scary

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By Barry Rubin

In the United States, mainly, there is a holiday called Halloween which involves dressing up in costumes. The holiday has a bit of a morbid side to it, often focussing on things related to monsters and death. Today, the school had the kids wear the costumes to class, which is not necessarily the best use of time in academic terms.

However, and I never heard of this happening before--my 10-year-old son Daniel reports from the front--that certain costumes are forbidden, that is those deemed too scary for the younger children to see. For example, a student wearing a skeleton costume was asked to take it off, while others were forbidden from wearing masks thought to be too frightening.

I can think of a lot of political figures whose visage is far more scary than any imaginery goblins and ghouls. But I digress.

Is this don't-be-scary decree too petty to notice? Perhaps or probably so. But isn't it in line with the tendency toward zero-risk, excessive caution, passion for ensuring that young people be protected from competition or any sense of failure (which is unpleasant but can be used to teach people to do better).

Of course, despite all the efforts of the school program, bullying, low-level violence, and even non-Politically Correct rhetoric goes on among the students. Dare I say that there is such a thing as human nature and it is not so easily altered?

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.

Iran Rejects Deal on Nuclear Weapons’ Issue: Engagement is Dead but the Obama Administration Won't Admit It

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By Barry Rubin

The great experiment of engaging Iran seems to be over but the Obama Administration refuses to admit it.

This shouldn't be a surprise. As the Iranian regime's record shows, it stalls, maneuvers, gives vague promises and then doesn’t deliver, but only after they’ve taken your concessions. Do you know how many years the talks with Iran have gone on without yielding fruit and letting Tehran develop nuclear weapons every day? Answer: Seven.

Do you know when the “deadline” originally was for Iran to stop its nuclear program “or else”? Answer: Approximately September 2007.

But the Obama Administration doesn't want to admit that the new Iranian counter-offer is unacceptable because it would have to give up its dreams of a deal and actually do something in response.

Even the New York Times headlines its story: Iran Rejects Nuclear Accord, Officials Report

Here’s the best article on the subject of the current deal/no deal from the sober Financial Times. The headline is “Tehran seeks big changes to nuclear deal.”

It concerns Iran’s response to questions about whether it would transfer two-thirds of its enriched uranium outside the country to make into a special non-weapons material that can only be used for medical purposes. (Note: it can be changed back into weapons-usable uranium in about four months or so.)

After interviewing officials, the newspaper concludes that the Europeans are ready to reject Iran’s demands now as “unacceptable” but the United States isn’t. It writes:

“The comments indicate the US remains more willing to show patience than either Britain and [sic] France. While London and Paris have at times made known their reservations about the agreement, it is seen in the US as a test of President Barack Obama's policy of engagement.”

In other words, the U.S. government is now lagging behind Britain, France, and presumably Germany on this issue. So who is the United States trying to keep on board if the key European allies are all saying: forget this nonsense, we have to put on more pressure!

I suggest there are three answers:

--President Barack Obama’s world view which insists that all problems are resolvable by talking and making concessions, and which fears confrontation.

--The president’s domestic constituency and colleagues (not all of them) who simply don’t comprehend that Iran and radical Islamism are threats.

I am positive, given some of her public statements, that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton knows this is all sheer nonsense. And just as the U.S. government has fallen behind its European counterparts, the White House has fallen behind the State Department.

--Someone else. Here’s the hint:

"We remain unified with our Russian and French partners in support of the IAEA draft agreement - it is a good and balanced agreement," said the US, signaling Washington's hope that Iran could yet agree to the original deal.”

That’s right, Russia. But we know that Russia won’t ever agree to sanctions and serious pressure on Iran. For one thing, everyone in the world but the Obama Administration knows that the Russian leadership wants America to fail internationally. And for another thing, Russia is Iran’s ally.

So America’s policy is being held hostage by a president with no experience or understanding of international affairs, a set of ideas that makes failure inevitable, trying to please a country which is an ally of the adversary, and a dictatorial regime whose president believes that his country is going to conquer the whole Middle East (and on some days, the world).

And here’s a good joke: It was only--what?--four years ago that U.S. officials under the Bush Administration were making fun of Europe as wimpy and incapable of taking a tough stance on international issues. Now the goo is on the other foot!

What a mess. BUT how long into 2010 can they spin this before Washington is going to have to recognize the talks are going nowhere?

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.

Unforeseen Consequences: Western Good Intentions Plus Repressive Dictators Equals Mass Suffering

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By Barry Rubin

When intellectuals and officials in democratic countries deal with ruthless dictatorships not only do they often get fooled but their well-intentioned actions have effects they never could have envisioned. Consider the following story.

It’s the summer of 1921, the Bolsheviks have seized power in Russia but there is also a civil war and due both to years of warfare and Communist policies people are starving. Vladimir Lenin, the revolution’s leader, has sworn that there will be no organization permitted to exist in the country outside the Communist party’s and Bolshevik regime’s control. But the situation is desperate.

And so Lenin accepted the writer Maxim Gorky’s proposal to establish a famine relief committee consisting of respected intellectuals, independent humanitarian figures, liberals, and non-Communist socialists. There were Bolshevik members on the committee, too, including its chair, the leading Communist Lev Kamenev.

The commission was established and members contacted their friends abroad. And so, out of humanitarian intentions, Herbert Hoover, head of the American Relief Administration, wrote Gorky expressing willingness, even eagerness, to save Russians from starvation.

In exchange for being allowed to operate freely (and Soviet release of imprisoned American citizens), Hoover promised his group would feed people “without regard to race, creed, or social status.” Rather “progressive” stuff for 1921, especially coming from a conservative Republican.

So what happened? Well, Americans gave their money and grain to save millions of Russians. But Lenin and his colleagues now saw that the committee had done its work and was no longer needed.

Thus, when the next meeting was scheduled, Kamenev and all the Communist members didn’t show up. As the other members waited, secret police occupied the room. Five names were called out—a few needed experts and respected revolutionaries of the past—and then everyone else was arrested. They were thrown in the dreaded Lubyanka prison. Gradually, the minor members were released; the major ones were charged with treason and sentenced to death by firing squad.

Gorky, outraged to find himself manipulated into being a Judas Goat, complained bitterly and managed to have the sentences commuted mainly to exile. If not for Gorky's special relationship with Lenin, his courage, and a little luck, the non-Communist leaders of the committee would have been mowed down even as the food they had helped bring was saving the country's people and the Bolshevik regime itself.

But the last even partly independent group in the USSR had been destroyed and real civil society would not reappear for almost 70 years.

Indeed, less than a decade later, the Soviet leadership would seize all the peasants’ lands and trigger yet another famine. And during the Second World War the Soviet leadership would set up another such group to win foreign support, the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, albeit with no real autonomy. Secure that he would enjoy U.S. support and full aid, later in the war Joseph Stalin dissolved this group and arranged a mafia-style hit (he was run over by a car in an apparent accident) for the committee’s leader.

Today, a wide variety of dictatorships continue with such policies. And the good intentions of Westerners, their humanitarian impulses, and their gullibility continue to be manipulated. Governments like Bolivia, Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and to a lesser extent countries like China, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, along with others, repeat these kinds of games with great success.

But when the cameras turn off, the congressional delegations leave, and the concessions are digested, the secret police close in to kill and torture, secure in the knowledge that the West won’t do anything about it. Indeed, as we have seen recently in Iran, it doesn’t even matter if the cameras are still filming when they crush the demonstrations.

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, October 29, 2009

Israel's Response to the Goldstone Report: Exposing a Politically Motivated Fraud

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By Barry Rubin

If you've been following the Goldstone Report controversy, you might be interested in the response done by Israel to specific points raised by the report. 

The Goldstone report bashes Israel regarding the Gaza war for alleged crimes and misdeeds based solely on the unchallenged testimony of almost totally pro-Hamas and universally anti-Israel Palestinians who live under an Islamist dictatorial regime. On close examination, a very large number of the accusations dissolve into nothingness.

Judge Goldstone keeps repeating in interviews--and the media lets him get away with it--that nobody has challenged the substance of his report. This is blatantly untrue as this response shows. He and the commission have not even attempted to respond to any part of these critiques.

Equally, much of the Western media has not reported on any of these detailed critiques, for example the demolition of the number of civilian casualties claimed, achieved by reclassifying Hamas gunmen as civilians.

Meanwhile, the report passed the UN Human Rights Council and is now being discussed in general debate. At some point, the UN will try to pass some sort of anti-Israel resolution--with or without material sanctions--and the United States and Europeans will have to decide how to vote or veto. The report will also be used in the coming years repeatedly to portray Israel as an evil and illegitimate state that should not be allowed to exist.

There are also broader implications, as the response shows. If the concepts used in the report are adopted, democratic countries facing terrorist attacks will be unable to respond without international political and perhaps legal condemnation. For example, the U.S. attack into Afghanistan after September 11 would be subjected to war crimes' charges.

Here's a sample from part of the response:

Selection of Incidents

Like the prescreened and selected witnesses permitted to appear in the Mission's public hearings, the incidents covered in the Report appear to have been carefully cherry-picked for political effect. For example:

Despite Israeli and independent sources confirming that the Southern Command Center of Ismail Haniyeh had been located in the Shifa Hospital in Gaza, the Report states that it did "not investigate the case of Al-Shifa hospital and is not in a position to make any finding with regard to these allegations"[¶ 466].

Similarly, despite widespread reports of the use of mosques to hide weaponry and terrorist activity, the Mission examined only one incident involving a mosque and found no evidence that this mosque was used for the storage of weapons or any military activity by Palestinian armed groups[7]. The Mission then absolves itself of any responsibility to examine allegations of the abuse of mosques elsewhere in any other instance:

"As far as this mosque is concerned, therefore, the Mission found no basis for such an allegation. However, the Mission is unable to make a determination regarding the allegation in general nor with respect to any other mosque" [¶ 463].

A troubling insight into the approach of the Mission in selecting the incidents it wished to address was provided in response by Justice Goldstone to an enquiry asking why the Mission had ignored requests to invite witnesses such as Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an adviser to the UK cabinet, and a recognized expert in the field of warfare in conditions similar to that in Gaza[8]. In an open response dated 21 September 2009 explaining the refusal to invite Colonel Kemp to testify, Goldstone admitted that the Mission had deliberately selected incidents so as to evade the complex dilemmas of confronting threats in civilian areas:

"[t]here was no reliance on Col. Kemp mainly because in our Report we did not deal with the issues he raised regarding the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas and second-guessing decisions made by soldiers and their commanding officers "in the fog of war". We avoided having to do so in the incidents we decided to investigate."[emphasis added]

Evidentiary double-standards

Hamas launched thousands of rocket and mortar attacks on Israel and admitted embedding itself within the civilian population of Gaza. But the Report strives mightily to avoid finding that Hamas bears any responsibility for deaths and destruction in the Gaza Strip. In contrast, the Report is quick to blame Israel, presuming guilt absent compelling evidence to the contrary. Throughout, the Report deems statements of Israeli officials inherently untrustworthy, except where it misuses them to support its ordained conclusions. By contrast, the Report regularly credits statements by the “Gaza authorities” - i.e., the Hamas terrorist organization - as legitimate evidence, except where such statements admit wrongdoing or justify Israeli actions. Moreover, despite overwhelming evidence that Hamas and other terrorist groups operated from densely populated areas and from within hospitals and mosques, booby-trapped civilian areas, and sought to blend in with Palestinian non-combatants, the Report fails to investigate the most egregious and publicly known examples of such conduct, and even goes so far as to raise doubts regarding the intentionality of Hamas’ tactics.

Presumption that Israeli military sources are untrustworthy. Routinely treating Israeli statements as inherently unreliable, the Mission discounts even the veracity of photographic and satellite image data supplied by the IDF, on no more basis than the fact that the Mission did not have a means to verify the data independently. (¶ 449) The Report also points to Israel’s reliance on newspaper reports rather than its own intelligence to explain its conduct of the operation as an admission that IDF sources are unreliable (¶ 612), failing to recognize that, in many circumstances, intelligence information -- no matter how compelling -- simply cannot be disclosed to the public. Perhaps most tellingly, the only circumstance in which the Report appears to accept and emphasize Israeli statements is where it finds such statements useful to condemn Israel.[9]

Refusal to accept even the most direct admissions by Hamas as evidence of guilt. The Report cites the admission[10] of a Hamas official that Hamas “created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the mujahideen, against the Zionist bombing machines.” (¶ 475) The Report then states, incredibly, that it does not consider this confession “to constitute evidence that Hamas forced Palestinian civilians to shield military objectives against attack. ( ¶ 476) The Report cites the admission of a fighter for Islamic Jihad that “the most important thing is achieving our military goals. We stay away from the houses if we can, but that’s often impossible.” (¶ 451) The Report then states, incredibly, that this admission of using civilian homes where needed for military objectives, “suggests the absence of intent.” (¶ 451)

'Reinterpretation' of Hamas statements. In seeking to support its assertion that the Hamas police were not involved in terrorist activity, the Report prefers to gloss over has to deal with the admission of police spokesperson Islam Shahwan who that the police had been given orders "to face the [Israeli] enemy". The Mission unquestioningly accepted his explanation that the intention was that in the event of a ground invasion the police would continue ensuring the movement of foodstuffs and upholding public order(¶ 414). The Mission is similarly accepting of an interpretation given by the director of the Police that by "resistance fighters" his intention was that they would develop into a law enforcement force (¶ 416). At the same time, the Report dismisses posters and photographs of policemen praising their involvement as members of the terrorist groups, arguing that this does not mean that these individuals "were involved in resistance in any away" and suggesting that they had been "adopted" post-mortem by terrorist groups(¶ 421). Beyond these reinterpretations of the evidence, the Report claims that no other evidence has been presented against "the civilian nature of the police in Gaza" (¶ 417), quite simply ignoring numerous explicit statements in Israel's report: The Operation in Gaza – Factual and Legal Aspects, which it quotes on many other matters. Among the many statements cited, ignored by the Report, is the admission by Hamas police chief Jamal al-Jarrah that "the police took part in the fighting alongside the resistance".

Picking and choosing its sources for political effect. At times even the same source is regarded by the Report as reliable insofar as its criticism of Israel is concerned but is discounted to the extent that it indicates wrongdoings by Hamas. The group of Israeli soldiers, "Breaking the Silence", for example, is quoted authoritatively throughout the report for its criticisms of Israel (¶ 457, 725, 800, 949, 996, 1022, 1088 – this last paragraph admitting "the soldier does not appear to have been a direct witness to the incident, but rather heard it from others ", 1089, 1183 and footnotes 362, 558), and yet the statements of the group are given no weight when they confirm that Hamas booby trapped civilian buildings[11]. (¶ 460)

Selective quotations regarding goals of the operation. The Report relies on uncited quotations in an NGO report as questionable support for its assertion that “[s]tatements by political and military leaders prior to and during the military operations in Gaza leave little doubt that disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy.” (¶ 1211) Yet the Report ignores repeated statements of Israel's leaders emphasizing that, to the contrary, Israel's aim was to spare no effort to avoid or minimize civilian casualties.[12]

Misrepresentations of fact and law

Beyond the adoption of evidentiary double-standards, and the creative interpretation of inconvenient evidence, the Report frequently presents explicit misstatements of both facts and law. For example:

Misstatements of fact:

The Report accuses Israel of discriminating against its non-Jewish citizens by not providing shelters to protect Arab towns and villages from the rocket attacks. (¶ 1709, 1711(1)). In fact, the relevant decision[13] of the Government of Israel made no such discrimination, and provided all municipalities up to seven kilometers from the fence with a budget to cover the building of shelters. Municipalities located further away from the fence, which included non-Jewish villages as well as the Jewish cities of Be'er Sheva and Ashqelon, did not qualify for this funding.

The Report repeatedly misrepresents historical facts, particularly in the context of 'explaining' Israel military operations. It states that Operation "Hot Winter" was launched by Israel in February 2008 following a rocket attack towards the city of Ashkelon that caused 'light injuries' (¶ 196). In fact, Roni Yihye, aged 47, a student at Sapir College, was killed after sustaining massive wounds to his chest. Similarly it states that Operation "Days of Penitence" was launched in September-October of 2004, in retaliation for the firing of rockets against the town of Sderot and Israeli settlements, but fails to mention the deaths of Yuval Abebeh (aged 4) and Dorit (Masarat) Benisian (aged 2) of Sderot, killed by a Kassam rocket fired into Gaza while playing in the street. In both cases Hamas claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Misstatements of law:

The description of Israel's military courts system (¶1599-1600) contains numerous errors and inaccuracies. For example, its description of the appeals process relies on provisions which were amended in 2004 and are no longer in force today.

In support of its assertion that the Gaza Strip is to be regarded as occupied territory, even following the withdrawal of all Israeli forces and all 9000 Israeli civilians in the Disengagement Initiative in 2005, the Report cites as authority UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (footnote 163 to ¶277). But this resolution makes no such assertion. In fact, in the negotiations prior to the adoption of this resolution, a Libyan draft which sought to insist that Gaza was still occupied was specifically not adopted by the members of the Security Council.

Simplistic approaches to complex military challenges

The Report fails to consider the realities of the conflict and in particular the mode of operation of terrorist organizations which deliberately endanger civilians and make urban areas their battlefield of choice. It makes no reference to the recruitment and exploitation of children by Hamas and the smuggling of weapons and ammunition through tunnels, and ignores clear evidence of the abuse of mosques and hospitals. At the same time, it makes unfounded assumptions regarding military options and so places unrealistic and unworkable demands on any State seeking to protect its civilians from terrorist attacks.

The Report pays lip service to the established international law principle that the legality of military action must be assessed based on the information available to a “reasonable military commander” at the time of each individual targeting decision, and not based on hindsight. But the Report nonetheless repeatedly reaches sweeping conclusions about “war crimes” without ever examining such real-time information. The Report does not examine what information was available to the commanders in the field, how they might have perceived the immediate threats to themselves and their soldiers, what weapons were available at that moment on the ground, and what information was available about potential risks to civilians. Instead, time and time again, the Report substitutes its own hindsight judgment. For example:

Second-guessing choice of weapons and tactics without knowledge of available resources. The Report concludes that with respect to one particular incident, Israeli forces should have used different weapons to further limit the risk to civilians in the area, and is untroubled by the fact that it has no information regarding the available troops, weapons or intelligence. The Report observes that forces had 50 minutes in which to respond to a significant threat (the time used by the force to accurately identify the source of fire), and opines that given this time, “it is difficult to believe that mortars were the most accurate weapons available” (¶ 696). Displaying a troubling disconnect from the reality of urban fighting on many simultaneous fronts, it suggests that the forces in the field should used "helicopters and fighter jets", assuming that these are readily available to commanders in the field.[14]

Second-guessing what commanders should have anticipated. The Report concludes with respect to another incident that Israeli forces should not have been surprised that they were faced with anti-tank missile fire in the vicinity of a UNRWA installation, and therefore should have taken different steps to respond to this hostile fire, other than applying the commonly used technique of smoke screening (¶ 588). Again, the Report seeks to substitute its judgment for that of the commanders in the field, without any of the information necessary to conduct a proper analysis under the applicable law.

The Report also ignores Israel's extensive efforts, even in the midst of fighting, to maintain humanitarian standards and protect civilians. It makes no mention, for example, of IDF precautions such as cross-verification of intelligence prior to targeting or the numerous incidents in which operations were aborted due to concerns about disproportionate civilian harm[15]. And while the Report does, reluctantly, acknowledge Israel's "significant efforts" to issue warnings before attacks, it dismisses these as not having been effective (¶ 1717(2)).

Minimizing terrorist threats – and vindicating terrorist tactics

21. The Report adopts an approach that encourages armed terrorist groups worldwide to adopt the strategy of hiding behind civilians and civilian infrastructure. The Report strongly condemns as unlawful Israel’s attacks on terrorists - even those actively engaged in combat - when the latter were in the vicinity of civilians. Under the Report’s view of appropriate rules of engagement, any State would be virtually powerless to target a terrorist group that operates in densely populated areas and seeks to blend in with the civilian population. The Report also suggests that the members and infrastructure of a terrorist organization enjoy protected status under international law so long as the organization exercises de facto control over a civilian population. Presumably, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the FARC in Colombia, and other armed groups unlawfully controlling territory in any part of the world would enjoy similar protections under the Report authors’ worldview, which differs materially from the established principles of international law.

The following are examples of the Report’s logic:

Justification for terrorism. The Report supports the so-called "right" of Hamas to use force against Israel in the name of self-determination (¶ 269), while ignoring the consistent approach of Hamas – as evident in its Charter and the statements of its leaders - which not only rejects the peace process agreed by Israel and the PLO but explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel. The Report describes the rocket attacks from Gaza, including those which immediately followed Israel's withdrawal of all forces and civilians from the area, as “reprisals” (¶109, ¶1662-1665(2)), in clear contradiction to the decisive position of the international community that terrorist acts are "in any circumstances unjustifiable".[16] At the same time, the Report fails to acknowledge that stopping the rocket attacks was a valid objective and discusses the rocket attacks almost as an afterthought. (¶1212).

Minimizing the impact of terrorist attacks on Israel. The Report seeks to limit the scope of a State's response to terrorist threats by downplaying and minimizing the effects of such attacks. For example, describing rocket and mortar attacks on the Israeli town of Ashdod, the Report describes the impact as "a brief interruption to [its] economy brought about by the temporary displacement of some of their residents"(¶ 107), simply ignoring the death and injury to Ashdod's residents caused by missile attacks.

Finding that use of force against terrorists operating in proximity to civilians is unlawful.
The Report effectively suggests that Israel was not permitted to fire upon terrorists located in proximity to civilians (¶ 42, ¶ 520, and ¶ 698). In reaching this conclusion, the Report effectively validates the terrorist tactic of hiding behind the civilian population. Moreover, the Mission acknowledges that Hamas fighters mingled with the population (¶ 35), but then, disregarding the explicit admission of a Hamas officials of the use of human shields, and the overwhelming corroborative evidence, the Report concludes that the Mission “found no evidence to suggest that Palestinian armed groups either directed to civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of attacks.” (¶ 492)

Legitimization of Hamas based on its de facto control over civilian activities in the Gaza Strip. The Report scarcely acknowledges that Hamas is a terrorist organization and instead refers to its leaders as “Gaza authorities” (e.g. ¶ 380-90)[17]. The Report states, that even if military components of Hamas are terrorist, the organization has “distinct political, military and social welfare components.” disregarding the determinations of the European Union and other countries drawing no such distinction. With regard to the targeting of Hamas infrastructure, the Report fails to investigate the multitude of military uses to which Hamas has put ostensibly civilian targets (¶ 384-389). Furthermore, the Report has refused to give any weight to the fact that the targeting of infrastructure by Israeli forces has been consistent with a number of engagements, such as those by NATO forces in Yugoslavia, that have been found to be lawful in the past. (¶¶ 1197-98).

Here's another detailed assessment done by Camera.

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.

Media Coverage of the Middle East: Just the facts versus context

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By Barry Rubin

One of the most perplexing paradoxes of the media is the battle of facts versus context. We want the media to be as objective as possible—“Just the facts, ma’am,” as police sergeant Joe Friday famously said on the Dragnet American television series of the 1950s and 1960s. Yet on the other hand we want some reasonable degree of context without which the “facts” are not only confusing but misleading.

Nowadays the problem is much more with the “context” than with the “facts.” Newspaper articles, and even more television news, are full of what is called “analysis,” which means the reporter’s own opinion. Since almost all the journalists seem to think along pretty similar lines this intensifies the problem.

And on top of that still another contemporary problem is the self-censorship of the journalists since they want to direct your thinking toward things they believe to be “good” and away from what they consider to be “bad.”

Aside from personal bias is the desire to be perceived by others as holding the “proper” opinions combined with the fact that journalists know they will no longer be punished for crossing the line in slanting stories—no matter how outrageous they do it as long as they stop short of provable plagiarism. (I was going to add outright fabrication, too, but even that is almost always successful.)

While total objectivity is impossible to obtain, if there was such a thing as a scientific Objectivity Meter its level in the Western media would have been going steadily downward.

The fact that bias has now become conscious and deliberate makes matters far worse.

Two of the most common examples I’ve seen—and I’ve actually heard journalists and academics admit that they lied “in a good cause” here—are the following. First, deliberately understating the misdeeds and extremism of Iraq and later of Iran “so as not to give [George W.] Bush an excuse to attack them.” Second, they have deliberately understating the misdeeds and extremism of the Palestinian leadership or groups so as to “help” the cause of peace. I call this: the Lying for Peace movement.

Yet sometimes stories, too, cry out for more context. True, these two reporters should be praised for doing their job in presenting the facts plus a limited reasonably accurate context and balance. Still, the reader must learn how to do his or her own analysis. So I have selected two relatively banal pieces to illustrate this point.

Philadelphia Inquirer, October 25: “Palestinian elections scheduled” by Ben Hubbard, Associated Press:

“”Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday that his government would hold presidential and parliamentary elections on January 24, regardless of whether it reaches a power-sharing deal with the extremist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.”

Really? On January 24 are we going to be watching the elections? Of course not. As long as the Palestinian Authority (PA) doesn’t control the Gaza Strip it will never hold elections. And the problem is that the way things are going it will never control the Gaza Strip which will remain in Hamas’s hands.

As an aside, it is truly amazing that the world seems set on consolidating Hamas’s control over that territory even though it is a Taliban-like, terrorist, and openly antisemitic regime whose policies will leads repeatedly to violence and block any hope of there being peace. Condemnations of Israel for defending itself, the appropriation of massive amounts of money for reconstruction, and other steps protect and preserve a regime which is up there with Libya and North Korea on the scale of repression.

“Hamas criticized the announcement, deepening the rift between the Islamic group and Abbas' secular Fatah movement, which have led dueling governments in Gaza and the West Bank for the last two years.” Later the article does say: “Hamas seized by force in 2007.”

Well, actually Hamas seized power by violence. You will hear over and over again that they won the elections. They did, made a government coalition, and then seized total power, wiping out all opposition. Consequently, the regime in Gaza did not come to power by elections.

The article correctly states—and this is perhaps the context most needed—that this is “a vote that many see as unlikely to happen, given Hamas opposition.”

Then, too, the article notes:

“The latest round of Egyptian-brokered reconciliation talks fell apart…when Hamas refused to sign a reconciliation agreement after Fatah accepted it.”

So the burden for the failure is put on Hamas. Yet is this something in the Palestinian Authority’s favor? As I have often noted—and as the PA continually demonstrates—the PA is far more interested in making a deal with Hamas than with Israel, and it is impossible to have both.

The second article is “Jerusalem rocked by clashes: Israeli police fought Palestinian protesters near the Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City,” by Richard Boudreaux, October 26, originally appearing in the Los Angeles Times:

“Israeli police stormed the grounds of Al-Aqsa mosque yesterday, using clubs and stun grenades to subdue stone-throwing Palestinians in the worst clashes in a month of unrest in and around Jerusalem's Old City.”

But then the article does, what happens so often, a false balance at the cost of misstating the facts by saying:

“The rioting…sprang from rising tensions stoked by Jewish and Islamic extremists that could keep Jerusalem and its contested holy sites on edge for weeks.”

In the history of the conflict—with its many riots in Jerusalem—there has never been one that has less to do with any Jewish action. The riots were called for by the PA’s ruling party, Fatah; Hamas, Hizb al-Tahrir, and the radical Islamic movement among Israeli Arabs. These statements were made publicly.

So what part did Jewish extremists play? Well, there was a group of French (not Israeli and probably not even Jewish) tourists who were taken on a tour of the Temple Mount. Radical groups spread the false story that these were Jewish extremists trying to pray there and this was used to trigger riots.

By the way, Fatah and the PA needed riots to “prove” their militant credentials after they committed the unforgivable sin, in the eyes of the radicals who dominate the Palestinian movement, of accepting President Barack Obama’s request to let others take the lead in pushing an anti-Israel report at the UN.

Oh, did I say that false rumors were spread by Fatah, Hamas, Hizb al-Tahrir, and the Islamic Movement? I should have added that false rumors are also being spread by the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In fact, it endorses the following slanders:

“It is also expected to keep Israel on the defensive against international criticism like that registered yesterday by Egypt, Jordan, and the Arab League over what they called Israeli provocations at Islam's third-holiest shrine.”

Well, sure Israel will be kept on the defensive if you join in the chorus of falsehoods.

Kindly, the article adds, “Israel denied starting yesterday's trouble.” Since you have no facts whatsoever to the contrary you perhaps should attest to the accuracy of that denial.

Again, these are small routine articles, but they are just a small part of the daily waterboarding of Israel in all too much of the Western media in all too many stories.

It’s no wonder that people in the West don’t understand the Middle East very well.

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 George Orwell Can Teach Us About Contemporary Antisemitism

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By Barry Rubin

In 1945, George Orwell wrote a long article entitled “Antisemitism in Britain.” Like many other English writers, in his younger years Orwell had himself been an antisemite. In his novel on Burma, written in the 1920s, for example, he had written that the only ones who had profited from the British Empire had been Jews and Scotsmen, another group he disliked.

It is interesting to note that in his article for the Contemporary Jewish Record he doesn’t mention his own past antisemitism. Later, though, he regretted this and became a firm opponent of antisemitism, an issue he wrote about regularly in World War Two.

England was a strange mix of tolerance and intolerance in earlier years. Orwell wrote that all the Jews he knew when he was younger “were people who were ashamed of being Jews, or at any rate preferred not to talk about their ancestry.” While “The Jew who grew up in Whitechapel [a working class area] took it for granted that he would be assaulted” or at least insulted if he entered any Christian area. He notes also though, that things considered formerly acceptable in literature and elsewhere were no longer so.

Orwell noted that anti-Semitism had been driven underground by the war and that the authorities and media went out of their way to avoid offending Jews in order to establish their credentials as not being antisemites. He recounts how, for example, a man he knew as an antisemite and former fascist was eager to attend a ceremony in a synagogue on behalf of the Jews being persecuted in Poland.

Two-thirds of a century later, Orwell’s article has some interesting things to tell us in an era when antisemitism is reviving throughout the world. Sometimes, the word “Zionist” or “Israeli” is substituted for the word “Jew.” But the tip-off is that the accusations continue to be basically the same ones: allegedly hating and deliberately oppressing non-Jews, greed, conspiracy, mysterious power, irrational behavior, and the goal of world conquest.

The first point Orwell’s article reminds us of is that no Jew really has a good sense of the extent of antisemitism at any given place or time. This is so simply because anti-Semitic attitudes and remarks will or won’t be expressed mainly behind his back. My personal experience bears this out: overwhelmingly, the main expressions of antisemitism I experienced personally did not come from direct expressions but from words I overheard accidentally in nearby conversations or things non-Jewish friends told me about.

In this context, Orwell begins the article with seven cases of antisemitic thinking he witnessed personally during World War Two, coming from a wide variety of classes and educational levels of English people. They include: a desire to avoid Jews, Jews getting extra goods as merchants under rationing, Jews getting extra goods as customers, Jews as pushy and selfish, Jews as cowardly and greedy or as lazy and intellectual.

A second thread relevant to today in common among these anecdotes is that Jews are mainly responsible for their own sufferings. This ploy neatly ensures not only that mistreatment doesn’t matter but that it actually counts as proof of the Jews’ own misdeeds.

Another theme is the need of antisemitism to camouflage itself. Notes Orwell, “Above a certain intellectual level people are ashamed of being antisemitic and are careful to draw a distinction between `antisemitism’ and `disliking Jews.’” Today the same role is played by the effort to make a distinction between the systematic hatred and slander of Israel and its supporters, and antisemitism. There always has to be some rationale for why it is an acceptable slur or hatred.

Here, too, Orwell pointed out that this hatred is not easily combated. “To attempt to counter them with facts and statistics is useless.” He views antisemitism as an emotional choice not shaped by rationality. Of course, there might be more hope affecting those who are not so determined in their views.

Of special note is the coinciding of antisemitism with an era of history where a wider conflict focuses on an anti-Jewish aspect. He writes that World War Two “has encouraged the growth of antisemitism and even, in the eyes of many ordinary people, given some justification for it” because it can be portrayed as “a Jewish war.”

Today, too, there is a war that frightens many in the West that can be called a “Jewish war,” in that if it were not for Israel’s existence one might believe there wouldn’t be international terrorism or a threat from radical Islamism.

Conspiracy theories are also a mainstay of antisemitism. In 1942, for example, when a near-by bomb frightened people into a stampede near a London shelter and more than 100 people were killed, the rumor quickly spread that “the Jews were responsible.”

One thing that has changed generally is that in Orwell’s day most antisemitism was from the right--though he cites antisemitic statements from a Communist fellow traveler and a Labour party leader, too--in reaction to the perceived leftism of Jews:

“Antisemitism,” Orwell wrote, “is rationalized by saying that the Jew is a person who spreads disaffection and weakens national morale….There is some superficial justification for this….The disaffected intelligentsia inevitably included a large number of Jews. With some plausibility it can be said that the Jews are the enemies of our native culture and our national morale.”

Today, while this kind of thing still exists, the main thrust (certainly publicly) of antisemitism comes from the left. It is incontrovertible that antisemitism in the United Kingdom today is higher than at any point since World War Two began. Jews are targeted because of being allegedly too conservative, too religious, too nationalistic. If antisemitism isn’t now acceptable in much of British life it certainly is close, albeit with at times the word “Zionist” merely being substituted for “Jew.”

In a lot of English Jewish behavior and in American Jewish intellectual circles there is an obvious undercurrent of fear lest they be thought not sufficiently “progressive” and thus become or be seen as part of the old enemy on the right, either collectively or individually.

To assess this factor, in watching conservatives today I applied a test. How do they deal with the fact that so many Jews were on the left, among their greatest enemies? Would they again resort to antisemitic explanations?

To my relief, with few exceptions, they’ve largely adopted a different explanation: that the leftist Jews were not embodying the Jews true nature but were acting against their own people’s real interests. If they were traitors to anything, it was not to America or Britain but to their own people.

Antisemitism is still seen as a shameful thing and thus it must be disguised by rationalizations, which today focus on Israel and those who support it. At the same time, though, it draws on all the traditional images and themes and is much more common than is thought.

Orwell reminds us that things haven’t changed all that much. But perhaps it would be correct to say that they seemed to have changed for a long period after the fall of the Third Reich but that this era has proven merely temporary.

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, October 28, 2009

Containment of a Nuclear Iran: Sounds good but it's a risky and possibly losing strategy

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By Barry Rubin

It is truly disconcerting (a fancy word for scary) to see that those charged with the protection of the West, democracy, and the world are so resolutely barking up the wrong tree. In this case, this involves the U.S. strategy toward Iran nuclear weapons.

The short-term goal—whether it is being implemented well enough is another matter entirely—is to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. If this fails, however, the United States discards any military response and goes to containment.

Containment means that the United States would strengthen missile defenses in Europe, which is nice but will have no actual effect on any real-world situation. The second and more important policy would be to strengthen relations with Gulf states, notably Saudi Arabia, threatened by Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons.

A typical defense of containment comes from General John Abizaid who commanded U.S. forces in the Middle East between 2003 and 2007. Iran, he explained, would make rational judgments. "The historical evidence would suggest that Iran is not a suicide state. So it's my military belief that Iran can be deterred."

There are three problems with this overall strategy.

First, for containment of Iran to work, the United States must have credibility with both allies and enemies. That means the Iranian regime has to believe that any use of nuclear weapons or aggression will bring a full-scale American military response including even the use of nuclear weapons. Does a government led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believe that about a government led by President Barack Obama given everything it has done or said? The answer seems closer to “no” than to “yes.”

Equally important, the Gulf Arab states must believe—and believe it very very firmly—that the United States is going to be reliable as a protector. Can the Saudis and the others hold that view of Obama’s administration? Remember that it doesn’t matter how many speeches Obama makes about how he loves Arabs, Islam is great, and he cares a lot about the Palestinians. They don’t want to know that he will apologize; they want to know he will fight.

Which is why one Arab from a Gulf state remarked privately: We don’t want Obama to act like an Arab. We want him to act like an American.

Faced with the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, Gulf Arabs are going to hedge their bets and hedge them heavily with appeasement. They will reduce cooperation with America while simultaneously demanding it will protect them. They won’t do anything to offend Iran, including any real steps toward peace with Israel.

The second problem related directly to Abizaid’s statement. Yes, on balance it seems more likely than not that Iran is not a suicide state, but would you bet your life on it? The statement is equally true that the Iranian regime will be by far the closest thing to a non-rational state of any major power during the last 60 years. If any country in the world today is a suicide state it’s Iran—though Libya and North Korea are in contention.

What Abizaid expresses is at best a greater likelihood and most likely a hope rather than a firmly established proposition. And of course the Tehran regime may think it has found a way around the “suicide” problem, say by providing weapons of mass destruction to a terrorist group. In addition, given the highly factional nature of Iran’s regime, a specific group within the overall structure might be ready to take greater risks.

Remember that the nuclear weapons will be controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the most fanatical of the fanatical and those responsible for maintaining liaison with terrorist groups. And who is the top man? The Iranian minister of defense, that’s who, and he also happens to be a wanted terrorist in his own right.

So this arrangement is far less secure than U.S. policymakers are pretending. You can literally see the inner workings of their brains: Iran is rational; balance of terror will work; American credibility is great. Hey, no problem! Wrong.

Third, and perhaps ultimately most important, Iran’s increased power in having nuclear weapons will not consist merely of firing them off. The mere possession of such weapons will bring Arab and European appeasement to hitherto unprecedented heights.

Moreover, the picture of Iran as a great power before which the rest of the non-Muslim world trembles will be a massive recruiting incentive for Islamists, both pro- and anti-Iran ones throughout the Middle East and Europe. The level of internal instability in each Arab state will rise, while terrorism would probably go up in Europe as well. Iran would be seen as the wave of the future by hundreds of thousands of Muslims, a bandwagon onto which they would want to jump.

To pretend then that Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons will be neutralized by U.S. guarantees to Gulf Arab states is a fantasy.

After all, this line of reasoning would have you believe as follows: Iran never intends to use nuclear weapons any way but U.S. containment would prevent them from using these weapons. But the Iranian regime knows all of this already, so why is it spending huge amounts of money, stupendous political capital, and at the greatest costs. Why?

It’s true that part of the rationale is defensive, to ensure that the United States (which has no intention of doing so any way) doesn’t attack. Yet a large part of the reasoning to make such a risky choice is the idea that having nuclear weapons will make Iran a far more powerful player in the region, able to project its influence better. That’s the main aspect and will take effect even if there is an effort at containment.

In addition, perhaps extremist fanaticism, or pure miscalculation, or a small crazed faction would lead to nuclear war in the Middle East and massive deaths. If anyone is capable of getting into a nuclear war by such means, it’s Iran’s government.

That’s why it is so important to stop Iran from ever obtaining nuclear weapons. If this does happen, as appears likely, the entire regional picture will change and it will require a lot more than assurances to Gulf Arab states to keep the situation from eroding further.

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.

Nuclear Tourism: An Average Guy Checks out Syria's Secret Nuclear Facility

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By Barry Rubin

Here's a fascinating piece of citizen journalism. A well-informed individual decided to explore for himself whether Syria had built a secret nuclear reactor in an isolated location, in cooperation with Iran and North Korea, that was bombed by Israel. At some risk, after a detour from his tourism in Syria, he concluded that this was in fact what had happened. While the author rightly recommends that people shouldn't put themselves and others at risk, it shows how much average people can do nowadays to check up on media coverage and government stances while shaping our understanding of what's happening.

Gorky Parks; Lenin Drives: What does Gorky’s Critique of the CP have to say to the era of PC?*

By Barry Rubin

If most people know of Maxim Gorky today it is as Vladimir Lenin’s favorite writer; a novelist, playwright, and journalist of such towering reputation that even Joseph Stalin never touched him. But it is forgotten—and deliberately so, buried by the Soviet Communist government—that Gorky, like many Russians on the left in 1917 and early 1918, was horrified by the Bolshevik revolution and became in the early days its most articulate critic. (Oh, and also Moscow’s most famous park is named after him, hence Gorky Park.)

Why should this matter to you? Because Gorky’s problem is that faced by many today who are from left of center yet disgusted at dominant world views and mistaken policies that claim to be progressive and to serve the interests of the people and social justice. (If patriotism is the last refuge of [right-wing] scoundrels, social justice is the first refuge of left-wing ones.)

Like Lenin, but without the violent repression, the currently dominant worldview silences critics or opponents in two ways by proclaiming them to be reactionaries: first, by discrediting them with their potential audience (don’t listen to him he’s an icky conservative or a racist); second, by making them fear for their reputations if they speak out. No left-of-center intellectual wants to be labeled a reactionary, after all as that also challenges his own self-image, a fate worse than death in psychological terms.

Of course, the contemporary situation is far different from the tyranny unleashed by the Communist revolution—and all exaggeration should be avoided here, even though tall yokes from little acorns grow. We live in a post-Marxist, post-Communist world, though there are those who want a transformation of existing society in the name of their version of utopia based on an ideology which they believes tells them all truth.
Still, some of the things Gorky wrote in his column, “Untimely Thoughts,” and experiences he had may be applied to our era. Two lessons in particular are worth recounting: the arrogance of those claiming to be the tribunes of the people and the way they disarm criticism.

The first of these is the cold-blooded arrogance of those who make changes that look good in their ideology but damage the real interests of actual people. In an appeal to the Russian working people discussing that era’s charismatic leader, Gorky wrote:

“Lenin is only carrying out some sort of experiment on [your] hides….He is of course a man of exceptional powers….He possesses all the characteristics of a leader, among them…a genuinely lordly lack of compassion for the life of the popular masses….Life in its complexity is unknown to him. He does not know the popular masses, for he has never lived among them. Out of books, he has learned…by what means to whip up their instincts most easily to a fury.”

Second is the demonization of anyone who disagreed with him. Lenin saw such people as merely clinging to religion, or antipathy to the proletariat, or anti-nationalization of the means of production sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations. He reacted to Gorky’s rather humanistic religiosity with frenzy:

“Every religious idea, every idea of any little unutterable vileness,” wrote Lenin to Gorky.

It was this basic disrespect for the basis of morality and for individual human dignity, Gorky warned, that was the real danger from people who “have not the slightest idea of the meaning of freedom of the person.” The new rulers claimed that they represented the working people and yet, “The proletariat has not won a victory in anything or over anybody.”

Nevertheless, after opponents, many of them workers, demonstrated against the Soviet government, the state-supporting media, Gorky complained, lied: “When it writes that the demonstration…was organized by the bourgeoisie, bankers, etc.”

Gorky was denounced as a reactionary, strikes were organized in his newspaper’s printing plant; demonstrations were assembled calling him a supporter of the old ruling class. But Gorky refused to be cowed: “We will continue our polemics with the government which is leading the working class to its ruin.”
On July 16, 1918, Lenin ordered that Gorky’s newspaper be closed down, the last one not in the state’s hands. It was sort of a fairness doctrine since the Bolsheviks viewed all media to have been in the hands of the bourgeoisie and hence not free.

Even then, Lenin was able to win over Gorky, which offers a further lesson for our time.

How? First, since Gorky’s newspaper was shut down and the rest of the media, all controlled by the Communists, wouldn’t publish him, the great writer had to choose between being silenced and seeing his career end or going along with the regime. It would be like someone today knowing that unless he toed the line he’d never get a university position, a good publisher, or access to writing for leading newspapers.
Second, he appealed to Gorky’s pride in having been for so long a fighter on behalf of the downtrodden people of Russia. “Who is not with us is against us,” Lenin told him. “People independent of history is a fantasy….No one needs them.”

Third, Lenin persuaded Gorky by warning that the Communist government’s enemies were rightists, who were repugnant to him. Did he really want to be allied with those who wished to restore the Czar?
Incidentally, that’s a key reason why the opposition wasn’t able to overthrow the Communist revolution in its first years. The “White” Russian armies and Cossacks would have nothing to do with the liberals (Cadets), populist pro-peasant leftists (Social-Revolutionaries), or the democratic socialists (Mensheviks), and vice-versa.

The refusal of the “conservatives” to work with the democratic left-of-center forces, reacting against the revolution by moving even further to the right, was catastrophic. The real liberals—supporters of democracy—often reacted by joining forces with the Communists as the lesser of two evils.

And so a regime representing a minority managed to consolidate power, stayed in office for 70 years, go far beyond what even most of its original supporters wanted or expected, and dragged the country into disaster.
Naturally, most of this has nothing much to do with contemporary conditions in the West, but if you want to perceive some lessons, be my guest.

*Note on title: CP= Communist Party; PC= Political Correctness

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, October 27, 2009

In the Middle East: Slanders Outrun Apologies Every Time

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By Barry Rubin

Eric Severeid, one of the greatest American journalists of the twentieth century, once said that it is impossible to protect your reputation against someone determined to misinterpret you. That is also true in international affairs. There are honest misunderstandings, and then there’s deliberate slander or at least the predisposition to hate and lie.

These reflections arise from what is, in its own terms, a small story about an Afghan protest against an alleged desecration of the Koran by U.S. troops. What makes it particularly interesting was that the march ended by burning an effigy of President Barack Obama.

Obama, of course, has done everything possible to be popular among Muslims. Yet the best-laid lands of mice and men often go awry. What goes wrong?

--People who have limited sources of information, highly politicized and sensationalist media or are used to getting data through word of mouth are more likely to believe wild rumors without checking them further. In contrast to Western authority figures, who usually promote more moderate behavior among those they influence, opinionmakers in Muslim majority countries are often ideological militants or demagogues who encourage militancy.

--Those having conflicts of interest with you and/or ideological predispositions are more likely to believe bad things about you on limited or no evidence.

--Forces that hate you and want to defeat and perhaps destroy you will tell deliberate lies to manipulate others, cleverly formulated so that the others believe them.

--When there are profound cultural gaps people cannot understand how you behave, your motives, and what makes sense or is ridiculous. How would the average Afghan or Palestinian have any notion about how the American system works or how Americans behave?

--Societies lacking the scientific method, Western-style critical education, and Enlightenment values won’t do basic things like comparing sources, examining a story for internal contradictions, demanding specifics and documentation, etc.

Now this is not true only of Third World societies. It is not hard to discuss parallel things in Western countries—especially in history (witch trials, for example)—or ideas—belief in superstition amd myths--yet this proves the argument.

First, such events took place in past times when modern Western society and its institutions were less developed.

Second, they most often take place among people with little power or influence over national governments or major decisionmaking.

Third, opinionmakers try to combat false information and extremism. Efforts are made to check the facts accurately.

Fourth, institutions like the media, schools, and others promote tolerance and moderation. Of course, these things are not always true—Nazi Germany being the foremost example—but they generally prevail in 2009.

Indeed, despite hysteria over “Islamophobia,” the treatment of diverse groups and immigrants, in the United States at least and generally speaking in Europe has been remarkably tolerant given what might be expected or what could have happened.

Yet despite Political Correctness ignores the fact that these problems are far more present in Third World—and especially in Muslim-majority societies than they are in contemporary Western ones.

This is hardly the first lynch mob situation set off by rumors. Indeed, such things have been happening for centuries, previously around such claims as that a Christian or Jew had cursed Muahmmad, defiled some Muslim text or object, attacked or insulted an individual Muslim, or kidnapped a Muslim woman.

The reason why such stories are almost always false is that even if a Christian or Muslim had been inclined to do any such thing he would have been too afraid to ever do such a thing knowing that the outcome would be mass violence against his community and his own death. Indeed, these communities with few exceptions—the Christians of Lebanon being one of the few—had completely adapted themselves to always showing deference and keeping a low profile, in practice accepting dhimmi status.

When such outbreaks did occur, however, the situation could end in a pogrom or forced conversion (the alternative being death) by the victims. In more recent times—often in Egypt--one sees many cases in which a Coptic Christian man is accused of dating a Muslim woman or some other rumor spreads which leads to anti-Christian riots. What usually follows is that the police don’t interfere and then arrest as many Christians as Muslims, followed by media reports (echoed in the Western press) that both sides started the fighting.

By the way, what’s it called if someone gathers together lots of people who hate you, lie about you, and want to see you dead; let’s them talk without criticism or investigation of their wild, contradictory, and unproven claims; and then uses this testimony to condemn you? Answer: the Goldstone Commission report.

In this latest Afghan case, U.S. officials denied that any Koran desecration occurred and instead—probably accurately--accused the Taliban of deliberately spreading lies to make people hate America. Nonetheless, demonstrators insisted that they believed that U.S. troops had desecrated a Koran in some place near the capital even though they didn’t have a specific time, place, or details of the event.

By the way, the demonstration began at Kabul University, which makes it likely many of the participants were college students, not uneducated peasants.

The beliefs that Westerners or Israelis hate and want to destroy Islam; are deceitful enemies, and similar such things have been deeply inculcated by families, religious training, and political indoctrination. It is not easy or lightly overcome. If American soldiers sacrifice to liberate Iraq from a dictatorship or help Afghanistan; if the United State provides massive economic aid or development assistance or diplomatic support, these efforts will not be seen as generous but imperialistic.

There is simply no way to overcome such perceptions. Even those most directly benefitting from assistance—say the Egyptian political elite—will not only denounce the United States or West frequently but in fact have an even greater need to do so precisely to “prove” they are not Western or American lackeys and to mobilize mass support for themselves.

The idea that a concerted effort to show respect—generally unreciprocated—act unselfishly, praise Islam, gain popularity, or follow policies that will satisfy such populations is going to have a major effect in changing the behavior of Middle Eastern countries or peoples is quite na├»ve.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t better and worse strategies or that it is futile to try to build links, but respect for strength, strategic credibility, and material leverage are going to be far more important than gratitude.

Finally, there is the basic diplomatic reality that any decision will inevitably lead to hostility. No matter how much U.S. policy tries to distance itself from Israel, it won’t be far enough for many or most. Whether the United States leaves or stays to fight in Afghanistan will make enemies. Consider how little strategic or military benefit the United States has received from saving Kuwait in 1991; saving Saudi Arabia from Iran in the 1980s and Iraq in 1991; becoming patron of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority; or pouring billions of dollars into Egypt in aid.

How many more times will Obama be burnt in effigy by the very people he has bent over double-backwards to please, appease, or apologize to so often?

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, October 26, 2009

Where does Terrorism Come from In Iraq: Hundreds killed but there's no mystery

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By Barry Rubin

You know that two car bombs hit three government buildings in Baghdad on October 25 and killed 132 people. You probably know that this was a devastating hit against the effort to stabilize the country, which in turn is a precondition for U.S. withdrawal. Many analysts viewed this as an attemt to discredit the January election and to pull the rug from under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who has staked his job on reducing violence to a minimum.

But here's what you don't know: Where did the bombs come from? Where did the terrorists come from? Where did the orders to stage a very politically focused attack come from.

The Iraqi government has now answered these questions with one word: Syria.

Remember that the Iraqi government has been warning about this for months, blaming Damascus for specific attacks based on evidence and interrogations. When this last happened in September, the U.S. government refused to take Baghdad's side. Nor was there any break in the move to engage Syria. Nor was there any interruption--in fact, the exact opposite--in the European move to make a partnership agreement which would pump more money into Syria.

Nothing. No denunciation. No UN resolution. No international investigation. No U.S. efforts to punish those responsible.

Just as with the 241 American soldiers killed in Beirut in 1983 through similar means.

So what is the result of Syria being involved in sponsoring, financing, organizing, and facilitating terrorist attacks on Iraq without any cost?

More attacks on Iraq. U.S. policy unintentionally sent Damascus a signal: you can do whatever you want and not fear retribution from the United States or its European allies. Naturally, the Syrians stepped up attacks.

This has happened before, notably in 1990, when a soft U.S. stand in defending Kuwait convinced Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein that he could invade and take over that country without the United States reacting.

Iraq was wrong in 1990--the George Bush administration did fight back and defeat Iraq--but Syria might well get away with aggression in 2009, and of course what Damascus is doing now is more subtle and thus easier for Washington to ignore.

True, the Obama Administration has declared the "war on terror" to be over and stated that only al-Qaida and its allies would be the target of American wrath.

But wait a minute! Isn't al-Qaida the group that is being based in Syria and carrying out many of these attacks? Doesn't that make Syria an ally of al-Qaida?

When one of my readers raised the issue in a university class on the Middle East, his professor said, no, not so, it is very complicated.

Well, how complex can it be? Al-Qaida terrorists operate in Syria with the government's approval. They get money, arms and training there. They cross the border into Iraq to launch attacks and at times cross back into Syria.

Can anyone refute that? Why then is Syria getting away with murder at no cost, not even verbal denunciation?

More people die; U.S. efforts are destabilized. There's a very serious mistake being made here. American soldiers and Iraqi civilians are paying the price. Think about that when you hear news coverage about these attacks and all the attacks to come.

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.

Europe Sells Out to Syria and Gets Slapped: A Middle East Case Study in Begging to Give Something for Nothing

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By Barry Rubin

Ugarte: “But think of all the poor devils who cannot meet Renault’s price. I get it for them for half. Is that so parasitic?”

Rick: “I don’t mind a parasite. I object to a cut-rate one.” --From the film “Casablanca” 1942

Wow what a great lesson in Middle East politics! Bear with me. The issue seems obscure but the story is a treasure house of dark humor and educational value.

For many years the European Union has talked with Syria about a trade treaty giving Damascus lots of benefits. For some time, the EU balked, insisting that Syria make some commitments on improving human rights in the country. Yet step by step, while Syria did nothing in the way of concessions, the EU gave in until it offered to sign the treaty unconditionally.

And guess what happened? When the EU was ready to sign, Syria said “No!” Get it, the Syrians are getting a big concession which will help their country but they turn it down as insufficient. They get the other side to beg them to accept goodies by merely saying no repeatedly, even though the EU had nothing and Syria had everything to gain.

See any parallels to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Western negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons, and many other examples?

Before we go any further, ask yourself these questions:

--Who’s stronger economically, Europe or Syria? Europe.

--Who’s in need of this agreement in purely economic terms? Syria.

--Who’s blocking peace in the Middle East, sponsoring terrorism in Iraq, trying to take over Lebanon, helping Iran to get nuclear weapons, repressing dissidents with torture, and responsible for murdering the former Lebanese prime minister and other officials in that country? Syria.

--So who’s making all the concessions and acting as the weaker party? The EU!

Talks have been going on for 5 years. At first, the EU went slow because the United States wanted to isolate Syria, and the EU wanted Damascus to promise not to develop weapons of mass destruction. Since Syria said it would not do so, however, the EU dropped that demand.

Next, the EU conditioned the deal on Syria making promises to observe human rights. Again, though, since the Syrians refused, the British and French became desperate to concede on that issue as well. Why? In large part, they want to play a bigger role in the region. The Netherlands objected but was assuaged with the pledge that if Syria became far more repressive the agreement might be suspended. Don’t hold your breath.
So finally, on October 26, the deal was going to be signed. With the EU pulling out its pens, the Syrians said: Wait a minute, we want to think about it some more.

What a humiliation for the EU but did anyone notice? A Syrian analyst close to the regime explained that Syria is gambling on EU weakness in hopes of getting an even better deal and to show its own power.

The agreement’s benefits for Syria are clear: more aid and investment; better access to EU markets. Given its own weaknesses, Syria’s Soviet-style economy is in bad shape and really needs the deal. In addition, the link with Europe would be a real political victory and a breakout from the regime’s isolation.

True, there are two problems for Syria in the deal but each of them are sort of exceptions that prove the rule.

First, Syrian companies would face increasing competition from EU imports. This proves, however, that the argument about Syria or Iran making nice with the West in exchange for economic openings is not at all necessarily true. Moreover, the more Western investment and interaction there is the weaker the regime’s hold over its own society.

Second, in order to qualify for the deal, Syria has to drop subsidies and alter its tax structure. These changes didn’t hurt the elite but the majority suffered under rising prices. This shows not only how the dictatorship protects its own but that the EU efforts actually hurt average Syrians rather than helped them.

For more details see here and here.

The bottom line is that the West trades off advantages in exchange for little or nothing in the belief that it will moderate extremists. The radicals won’t give an inch, grabbing the benefits and refusing anything in return. If extremist behavior is met with Western concessions, this enforces radicalism rather than encourages moderation: the exact opposite of the policy’s stated intention.

This reminds me of an old psychiatrist’s joke:

“Hit me,” says the masochist.

“No,” responds the sadist.

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.

America on the Children's Crusade: Think they're attacking you because they really want to make a deal?

By Barry Rubin

A friend of mine who used to be a high-ranking U.S. government official made a very interesting remark: Intelligence does not settle disputes in government, theories do. In other words, no matter how badly an enemy acts, you can interpret it as their building up bargaining chips to make a deal. They are hitting you to force you to offer them a good bargain.

The bottom line is, therefore, that even if you can prove that a country is sponsoring terrorism, subverting peace, and shouting, “Death to America” every day, that doesn’t prove anything about needing to get tough.

Another friend of mine with a similar background said something that fits nicely with that which I will put into my own words: the bureaucracy generally follows the president’s framework, especially if their boss is someone who the president appointed in tune with that policy.

Today, that second aspect doesn’t hold completely true since both the secretary of state and secretary of defense have a somewhat independent standing—the former a power in her own right who doesn’t agree with the chief executive deep down; the latter, a holdover from the previous administration who is a career professional.

Still, the bureaucracy is partly “Obamized,” to coin a phrase or, to do a play on words, the troops know who pays the rent on their Barack’s (barracks). Sorry about that one. Ok, back to being serious.

It’s funny that so many people in the administration have a view about the behavior of the “other” which is so contradictory to their own concept of foreign policy. After all, they think that Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Bolivia, Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Russia plus China, too, among others, are playing hard ball in order to reach a compromise. Yet they don’t play hard ball themselves but just seek the compromise straight out.

How do they reconcile that difference?

I guess they don’t.

So to return to the theme, they think that Iran is rushing to get nuclear weapons only to gain leverage for a deal that respects their defensive needs, or that Syria is helping terrorists go into Iraq to kill Americans just in order to gain normal relations with the United States and power over Lebanon.

Yes, this does parallel the world view of the British and French when they gave away Czechoslovakia in 1938. But Obama Administration officials don’t think of it as appeasement but as being smart and saving time. Let’s cut out the middle man of threats, intimidation, and violence—they say in effect—and just cut to the check-writing.

Or as Bob Dylan put it in "Like a Rollin' Stone" when discussing the issue of diplomatic engagement with ruthless dictatorships:

"You said you'd never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And ask him do you want to make a deal?

What are the problems in this conception of foreign policy? They can be summed up by saying a belief that everyone is the same. In more detail the misunderstanding includes:

--The theory is that they want material benefits like statehood, money, higher living standards and consumer goods, along with apologies for past mistreatment and respect in the future. In short, they can be bought off. You don’t beat them up again to win, rather you apologize for having beaten them up in the past to create a situation in which everyone wins.

But not everyone can be bought off.

--The theory assumes that the other side thinks the best it can achieve is a tie. In fact, for a variety of reasons, the enemies of freedom believe they will achieve total victory. Among other things they attribute this to the tide of history, a “scientific” ideology, the help of the deity, their own greater ruthlessness, a belief that democracies are soft, and other such reasons. Read Mein Kampf or Communist writings and you find parallel arguments, sometimes word for word identical to those of radical nationalists, neo-Marxists, and Islamists today.

But they think they can win.

--The theory ignores the other side’s profound belief in ideology. Pragmatism means you think about what yields the greatest benefit; ideology means you think about what is right in terms of your idea system. You may discount the most profitable course or just disagree about what that route might be.

(I’ll never forget as a kid seeing a somewhat comic American war film in which the Japanese officer in World War Two, when asked whether he was prepared to die for his country laughed and ran to save himself instead. More recently, that fascinatingly dreadful film “Don’t Mess with the Zohan” (which deserves a serious analysis in itself) has the main terrorist character have the real ambition of wanting to own a chain of fast food restaurants. Sure, it’s a comedy but it really does reflect American expectations, that’s why the audience laughs in recognition of what it already thinks.)

--Finally, (well there are a lot more points but your time and patience are no doubt limited. If you want read my book Modern Dictators) the theory doesn’t understand the nature of dictatorships. The realism school of international affairs claims that dictatorial governments are guided by relatively unchanging and rational concepts of national interest. In fact, they are guided by rational concepts of regime interests, that is of their own selfish interests even if these severely damage their people and country. The Syrian government genuinely doesn’t care whether the economy goes to hell as long as it controls the economy and uses it to stay in power.

Even in dictatorships, public interests public opinion is of some importance but the regime certainly doesn’t have to deliver goodies like a democracy does. Sure, it wants to avoid reaching a situation in which it is overthrown, but it can get away with a lot more than it could if the problem being faced was to ensure victory in the upcoming election.

At this moment, I can’t help think of all those proud graduates in political science, international relations, and conflict management who have been systematically educated to misunderstood all the points mentioned above.

It is all like the fabled Children’s Crusade of the thirteenth century, in which European Christian clerics organized children to march forward into the Holy Land and conquer it from the Saracens through their innocence. (Note: the Muslims had conquered the same land and attacked Christianity countries ever advancing their frontiers, today, however, people are taught the aggression all came from Europe.)

I knew that someone must have written a poem about this appropriate for our present circumstances. And sure enough Henry Wadsworth Longfellow did. Here’s the opening verse:

“Children in the flower of youth,
Heart in heart, and hand in hand,
Ignorant of what helps or harms,
Without armor, without arms,
Journeying to the Holy Land! …

“O the simple, child-like trust!
O the faith that could believe
What the harnessed, iron-mailed
Knights of Christendom had failed,
By their prowess, to achieve,
They, the children, could and must!”

In their case, when the children reached the Mediterranean, however, the monks who recruited them sold them into slavery. Things are much better now: they’ll just sell others into slavery instead.

"Ignorant of what helps or harms," wrote Longfellow. What a perfectly applicable image of so many foreign policymakers in the Middle East today and sorcerer's apprentice academics. He who believes very much in soft power is soft in the head.

Make no mistake of it: this is not the way your enemies think. When they hit you over the head with a two-by-four they aren’t negotiating, they’re trying to kill you.

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, October 25, 2009

Turkey's Islamist Regime: Who Will Stop the Reign?

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By Barry Rubin

So I’m talking to a Turk who’s feeling desperate about her country crumbling away from under them, trying to figure some way out. What hope can I offer? What help will the United States give to prevent one of its historically most important allies from going over to the other side?

We run through all the specifics:  takeover of the media or intimidation of newspapers and television stations into shutting up or being shut down; the pressure on the educational system and the granting of equality for theological studies to university degrees; the cozying up to Iran and Syria; women being pressured into wearing Islamist dress to avoid harassment in their neighborhoods; and far more.

Then there’s the growing repression. On this, you can  read Gareth Jenkins, “Between Fact and Fantasy: Turkey’s Ergenekon Investigation,” published by the Johns Hopkins University Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program. But I‘ll summarize it for you:

In the last two years, 142 people have been arrested and thrown into prison on the claim that they are part of the Ergenekon conspiracy to overthrow the government. The indictment covers more than 4000 pages yet never actually defines what this supposed organization is or anything actually done by it.

Jenkins writes:

“The more elusive the concrete evidence for Ergenekon’s existence is, the more desperate the attempts to discover it become. Rather than convincing the investigators that what they are looking for does not exist, this elusiveness appears merely to make the organization more fearsome and powerful in their minds; and further fuel their desperation to uncover and eradicate it.”

Basically, the whole affair is an excuse for the AKP Islamist-oriented government to arrest whoever it wants and intimidate others into knowing that they, too, can be arrested if they become too critical.

As for foreign policy, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone out of his way to make it clear he stands with Tehran, not Washington, on the nuclear issue. He called Iran’s nuclear program a peaceful one and said that the country has a right to have nuclear weapons. This statement was cheered by Iran’s client, Hizballah, and shocked European Union diplomats who called the Turkish leader clearly pro-Iran.

This is not the Turkey we have known for decades. The dissidents—people who were in the mainstream for many decades and now find themselves marginalized--are desperate to find some way out. The democratic margin is steadily narrowing. Ideally, the opposition parties would forget their differences, unite, make a broad appeal to the nation and stop the slide toward a Turkish version of Islamism.

In fact, though, the Turkish opposition politicians are among the world’s most incompetent. The social democratic party is led by an arrogant buffoon—every time his party loses an election he blames the voters—while the nationalist right is narrow and unimaginative. There is no international lobbying effort against the AKP regime to inform the West what’s going on in Turkey.

The traditional hope is that the army would step in to preserve the secular republic but it has been too weakened (ironically, in large part due to European Union pressure to get it out of politics) and knows it wouldn’t enjoy Western support. The AKP is also popular enough to make the prospect of a coup seem like the road to civil war. And as time goes on, perhaps the army will not be able to depend on its own troops and officers.

What about decisive U.S. action? Now the U.S. government will have to make important decisions on two controversial sales to Turkey: AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters being sold off by the Marines, and an armed unmanned plane called the MQ¬9 Reaper, used in counterterrorist operations. The Obama Administration will probably approve both sales, presumably without any conditions. Certainly, the argument can be made that the Turkish military should be helped to remain strong, for both strategic and political reasons.

Still, one of the underappreciated aspects of the contemporary world scene is the extent to which there are many people like this Turkish liberal who are feeling deeply concerned or even abandoned by current U.S. policy.

While a lot—too much, actually—of focus has been put on Israel, the same thing can be said to an even greater extent of Central Europeans and Caucasus people (Azerbaijan, Georgia) who , fear being appetizers for the Russian bear, pro-democratic Arabs, freedom-seeking Iranians, desperate Turks, and many others. There are also Arab rulers and regime supporters who wonder if they can depend on America to defend them from Iran.

Even in British, French, and German ruling circles there is more concern than is being generally appreciated. True, they saw President George W. Bush as a cowboy, but now they see Obama as a cowed man.

Then there are those who are neutral or antagonistic who just can’t quite believe what they are seeing. I was told by a good source that a non-government person who works for Obama a lot showed up in Pakistan and gave the Pakistanis a lecture about how they should give up nuclear weapons and everyone in the world also wouldn't have them any more.

Can you imagine how Pakistanis thought of this proposal when they see nuclear weapons as their trump card against India, and don’t necessarily trust Iran or China that much either? Such people either think, the Americans are engaged in some incredible conspiracy or are so naive that it defies belief.

Americans are used to the idea that others may see them as irresponsible, overbearing imperialist bullies. Yet just as powerful a stereotype is that idea of Americans as sweet, well-meaning childlike creatures who are too nice to survive and have no idea what the real world is like.

Few understand that when Graeme Greene wrote a book entitled The Quiet American about why Americans are so often held in contempt it was the latter stereotype, not the former, he presented. The main character an American who is well-intentioned but makes a mess out of things holds the philosophy that the United States encourage underdeveloped countries to pursue a third way, different from capitalism or communism and based on local traditions. He sounds more like Obama than George W. Bush.

When Otto von Bismarck, a consummate political realist, was reported to have said, "There is a providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, and the United States of America,” the conception of Americans as well-intentioned naive people rather than aggressive bullies is what he, too, had in mind.

So in Turkey there is no way out, except for one possibility: That the AKP returns to being more cautious. Caution has been the basis of its success, portraying itself as a center-right reform party, honest and good at managing the economy. Not going too far and doing even that slowly was a strategy that succeeded in preserving the government’s image. When it won the national elections last year, for the first time achieving a majority, however, the party became emboldened and began to move faster and in a more repressive manner.

Yet without large-scale foreign criticism or pressure (the European Union is giving Turkey the death by a thousand cuts in sabotaging its membership application but none of these conditions or demanded changes focus on the truly dangerous developments), why should the AKP renew its camouflage?

But, of course, not everyone thinks like this. There are experts on Turkey who continue to take the regime at its word. They scoff at everything I’ve written above, insisting that nothing significant is changing. Yet one thing they don’t do: provide specifics. They never refer to the actual events happening inside Turkey, though it is broadly hinted that this is nothing new, that all parties put their own people into jobs. Business as usual.

If Kamal Ataturk were to arise from the dead 70 years after his passing, I don't think he would have much trouble explaining how this was precisely the fate for Turkey he was trying to avoid when establishing the republic. Of course, times change and adjustments are needed.
The problem in this case, however, is that what's going on in Turkey is a systematic, structural shift intended to ensure that the clock can never be turned back.

Advocates of complacency tend to look only or mainly at Turkey’s new foreign policy, which can be attributed to merely balancing relations with different forces. (This is arguably in Turkey’s interest but for a NATO partner to be cooperating closely with Syria, Iran, Hizballah, and Hamas should still be a matter of great concern.)

And as a last resort they simply talk as if the problem is only one of Turkey-Israel relations which can be resolved if Israel is nicer to the Palestinians and uses Ankara as an intermediary with Syria.

The shift away from Israel, however, started well before the Gaza war of last January. While Israeli companies won big Turkish military contracts between 1995 and 2005—going as high as $1 billion a year—the figure for new orders in 2007 and 2008 was only $80 million each. No big contract has been obtained since the current government came to power in Turkey.

With Turkey, as with so many issues, the bell is tolling loudly. And through many Western chief executive mansions and foreign ministries, the officials are hitting the snooze buttons.

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 as well as Turkish Studies 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.