Monday, November 30, 2009

Why Don't Western Elites and Governments Comprehend International Realities?

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By Barry Rubin

The question readers most often ask me is an extremely basic, vitally important one.

So how can we explain the world's second biggest problem today. The first is the flourishing of radical, often violent forces, committing aggression, making gains, increasing repression. The second is the refusal of all too much of the Western leadership and intelligentsia to notice that reality, then try to do something about it.

And so why does so much of the political and intellectual establishment in the United States and Europe fail to understand what's going on in the world? How do they not see that radical forces are enemies of their societies, not just misunderstood or mistreated potential friends? What prevents them from championing Western civilization's democratic, humanist, liberty-oriented, and free enterprise with reasonable government regulation system?

In short, why don’t they get it?

There are lots of answers, of course but even after one goes through the list the basic disconnect between reality, perception, and policy remains baffling. To see a society with such advantages and assets act as if it were intent on suicide, or at least with blind disregard for its survival, is a strange phenomenon. To view the stronger obsessed with making concessions, the more moral consumed with guilt, a blind inability to identify enemies who keep proclaiming their nature and intentions is just plain bizarre.

If I had to put it all in one sentence--admittedly a long, complex one--it would be this like this:

American and Western policymakers and intellectuals cannot believe or comprehend that so many would fight for bad causes out of ideological--nationalist, religious, traditionalist--worldviews, turning down material betterment in exchange for years of sacrifice, defeat, and suffering; engaging in a battle that a pragmatic assessment says they cannot win.

Much of the West has lost the ability to understand how a world view can be narrow and fantastical or, on the contrary, quite internally rational but merely designed to deal with a very different set of circumstances and society. You don't get to be the dictator of Venezuela or leader of al-Qaida or a powerful cleric in Iran by behaving and thinking like a Western democratic politician.

They don't understand what Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini tried to explain back in 1979: We didn't make the Iranian revolution to lower the price of watermelons. In other words, material deprivation doesn't motivate the revolution, and the goal is not higher living standards as the main priority. The goal is to manifest the divine will, to take over the world, to create a utopian society which invokes the absolute good against the absolute evil; to gain total victory because one is absolutely in the right.

In this political world, pragmatism is immoral compromise is treason. The situation is NOT one of business as usual.

Of course, one can find this kind of thing in Western history--including within living memory, fascism and Communism--but not today. What one does find today in Western society is insistence on an idea that renders people completely incapable of comprehension: the idea that everyone in the world thinks the same way and wants the same things.

How ironic: "multi-culturalism" denies the fact that some cultures are really very different. And Political Correctness fails to see that some politics see your well-intentioned humanitarianism and democratic values as so incorrect as to be punishable by death.

But if one shuts eyes to all of this, the remaining conclusion is that other people, groups, and countries only behave that way because they have been mistreated by the West. And the new situation—the West is very sorry and wants to make amends--hasn't been explained properly to them. There haven’t been enough apologies and self-criticism made; insufficient confidence built, not enough ingenious new plans laid and made; not enough concessions offered.

Since, too, this is the only right answer in a battle against imperialism, racism, and reactionary forces, it is the right--nay, the duty--for right-thinking journalists and professors, media and universities--to preach the good and censor plus censure the bad. Institutions thus stop doing their job of promoting debate, of questioning their own premises, as adjusting to facts or events, of ringing the alarm bell when the train is off the tracks.

Along with such an approach there is also one other indispensible element: to find a charismatic, sensitive, empathetic, Western leader (no prize for guessing who) capable of reaching out and persuading those who the “less astute” merely see as revolutionaries, terrorists, and dictators that there is no need for all of this strife. Conflicts can be settled amicably but only if we first repent and give, give, give.

Yet even when these efforts fail, as they have repeatedly, the cry goes up: Not enough! Throw in more concessions! Apologize more abjectly! Censor out the unpleasant facts as to the other side’s misdeeds and intransigence. Increase the confidence-building measures. Step up indoctrinating your people into believing that their country and system is the real problem. Down with us! Long live the other!

Is this too harsh an assessment? Well it must be, at least by its brevity and generalizations. But by how much is it excessive, and doesn’t it catch the real spirit of the problem?

Certainly, this isn’t just the result of bad ideas. Dealing with the dictators can bring good profits. It certain avoids confrontations, seems to eliminate the possibility of war, postpones crises, and makes people in the West feel good.

Then there are the punishments for those who point out these contradictions: name-calling, exclusion from powerful institutions and the glittering prizes, simply ignoring or censoring out the arguments.

And yet with each new stage, every rejection and act of aggression or intransigence from the enemies of democracy and freedom (it is revealing that merely to use a phrase like that would embarrass much of the West’s intelligentsia) it should be harder to conceal the reality that it is indeed the other side that's the problem.

Only a paradigm shift can suffice which is why specific events--the failure of the 1990s peace process, September 11 being two of the main ones--can shake people out of their cocoon of preconceptions and knee-jerk responses. The mere accumulation of failure, of cognitive dissidence will shake people up and wake people up. The pendulum will swing back.

Perhaps that is what’s happening step by step. Would that it would be happening faster!

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, November 29, 2009

Breaking News: Tehran OKs Ten Uranium Enrichment Facilities; U.S. Government Begs Iran to Negotiate

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By Barry Rubin

Iran's government announced a cabinet-level decision approving construction of ten new facilities to make enriched uranium, defying the United States and the UN. U.S. reaction so far? Please please talk with us . This is the moment for the president to make that "My fellow Americans..." getting tough and imposing high sanctions speech, showing leadership and urging Europe to follow him. Why is it one doubts that will happen?

This is not just another slap, it is a hitting over the head with a two by four. It’s getting pretty obvious that Iran doesn’t want to make nice no matter how hard the West and particularly President Barack Obama tries. There’s a broader lesson here: if you apologize, they take it as weakness. If you take too long to react, they use it as an opportunity to advance. If you make a concession they demand more. If you pass a resolution, they laugh in your face.

At some point in history, perhaps Western leaders, academics, and intellectuals will understand this. How about today?

After all, the Iranian regime has now approved a plan to build 10 new uranium enrichment facilities (start building five; start planning five more). Get it? You criticize us for building one, so our answer is to build 10. You criticize us for building one in secret, so we do it right before your eyes.

What are you going to do about it? Come and get me, copper! You don’t like it? Go drink the Nile. And a lot of other expressions which require words I don’t use but an example has two words, the first of which has four letters and the second of which is “you.”

It should be noted that this probably isn't going to happen. When the regime starts talking about 500,000 centrifuges that is a fantasy, so is the idea of building ten facilities. It's a largely--but not necessarily totally--demagogic response. Yet it also indicates the likelihood that Iran will build (is building? has already built?) more facilities.

Of course another motive is that if you build multiple facilities it is harder to bomb them and destroy your weapons’-building capability.

The key point is that we have now reached the definitive point where Iran is clearly going ahead with its project. The engagement era is--or, rather, should be--over.
But what is the American response to this and other such developments? Here it is, admittedly an interim position, from a senior U.S. official:

"If carried out, this [action] would constitute yet another violation of Iran's continuing obligation of suspension of all enrichment-related activities, including construction of new plants. There remains a fleeting opportunity for Iran to engage with the international community, if only it would make that choice,"

How about this from a senior official at Rubin Reports: “There remains a fleeting opportunity for the international community, following U.S. leadership, to stop Iran from changing the entire strategic balance in the Middle East and unleashing decades of bloody wars and revolutions, if only it would make that choice,"

Let's be generous. Up to this point it is somewhere between possible and likely that the Obama Administration didn't understand, due to its world view, what it was up against. This can no longer be true. From now on inaction must be attributed to fear of getting tough and facing a crisis.

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.

The Obama Administration’s Giant Problem: How to Get the Palestinians to Negotiations without Pressure and Threats?

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By Barry Rubin

The Obama Administration now has a huge problem in its Israel-Palestinian policy about which no one is yet speaking. Since the White House lacks the stomach to deal with it the problem won't be evident for some time, except perhaps to the readers of these words.

Here’s the issue. It’s simple. It should be obvious: How is the Obama Administration going to get the Palestinians to the table now that Israel has proved itself flexible, ready for negotiations, and willing to make peace. Because, despite President Obama's claim in his Cairo speech that the Palestinian situation is "intolerable" and they are ready to do a deal, that just isn't true.

After eight months of back and forth, Israel has agreed to freeze construction on West Bank settlements. Despite the Administration’s earlier promise to get something for Israel from the Arab side in exchange for this concession, the White House failed completely.

The White House did issue a statement setting forth its own ideas for a peace agreement which, while asking big concessions of Israel also promises several very important things that Israel wants. (On this, see here). But skepticism is understandable: Will the Administration just keep taking away from what Israel gets by adding to what it gives the Palestinians hoping to appease the latter into negotiating seriously?

The bottom line, however, is this: The Obama Administration has run out of unilateral concessions it can demand from Israel. The Palestinian Authority (PA) still refuses to do anything. It merely whines, complains, and demands more. Every time Israel makes a concession, the PA says it is worthless. Now it is insisting, just as a start, that Israel also stop all construction in Jerusalem and make the freeze permanent.

To put it simply: A pressure Israel only policy won't work because Israel won't give any more and no matter of Israeli concessions will change PA policy any way. The PA will, following its pattern, argue: you got us this much, now get us some more.

So what is the Obama Administration going to do? To get the PA to talk it must either get more from Israel, which is unlikely, or—gasp!—pressure the PA.

In principle, the PA should be eager for talks. Obama believes that the Palestinians situation is "intolerable," so aren't they eager for progress? And also the PA owes Obama big-time. The United States pressures Israel on its behalf; gives it military training; diplomatic support; and lots of money. Obama has made speech after speech promoting their cause and exalting the Palestinians without any real criticism.

He could ask for concessions. He could demand concessions. He could pressure them for concessions.

And what’s the big concession? Come negotiate and get your state, which would be the same size as all the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip, plus billions of dollars in compensation payments, pretty please?

Yet it is hard to see this happening. Why? The traditional reason for not wanting to pressure the Palestinians is that US. governments thinks it must prove itself champion of their cause in order to gain backing from the Arab and Muslim world.

With the Obama Administration, however, there is something more. First, it hates to pressure anyone (or at least anyone except Israel). Second, it is less fond of Israel. Third, it sees itself as progressive and Third World in its orientation and thus has a horror of pushing anyone perceived to be on the “left” by the strange definitions prevailing today.

Then there’s still another problem. No matter what the Obama Administration does the PA will say, “No.” And then what will the White House do? Provoke an open rift; heated criticism; cutting off aid? Not a chance. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas might even, gasp!, threaten again for a week or two that he's going to resign.

Mind you, the PA leadership can’t give in even if it wants to do so because of internal politics. Abbas knows, too, that his colleagues will broil him if he makes concessions. We already saw how this works. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas promises Obama to hang back on pushing the Goldstone report. Even more radical PA leaders attack Abbas. Abbas gives in.

Also, never forget Hamas. Fear of Hamas, combined with hope that Hamas will make an alliance with itself, also keeps the PA from doing anything conciliatory. Does the Obama Administration really think it can make a permanent full peace agreement with a bunch of genocidal-intentioned Usama bin Ladin clones sitting over in the Gaza Strip? That’s a joke.

Then, too, the chickens are coming home to roost on the Obama Administration policy of being so determined not to scare anyone. If Abbas stubbornly refuses to do anything, he  knows that Obama won’t do anything to him. Is he going to rush to go off to Camp David under these conditions? If this is going to happen at all the administration is going to have to spend about six months intensive effort on this project.
What’s left? Can the U.S. government go back to Israel and demand it stop building in Jerusalem in exchange for nothing? This will tear up a U.S.-Israel agreement just made, reducing American credibility to zero.

Remember that Israel has frozen construction for ten months. Will any progress be made, or the PA make any compromises, before that deadline expires? And having achieved nothing is the U.S. government going to demand an extension? (Probably, but will Israel give it one; and will the Administration, having failed to pressure the Palestinians or obtained any compromise from them really punish Israel for saying that the experiment had failed and it is returning to normal construction?)

So unless you hear about tremendous U.S. pressure on the PA to back down, setting off an angry anti-American reaction in Palestinian politics, don’t believe that the administration is serious about advancing the peace process. And if you do hear about such things, don't believe they will get anywhere. 

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

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The “Coup” in Iran and What it Means

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By Barry Rubin

For a couple of years it has been visible; for months the opposition has been talking about it. What’s happening is the gradual takeover of a huge amount of power by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Iranian government has generally been radical since the revolution, 30 years ago. But now the most extremist faction of all has taken over, pushing out its rivals.

Of course, Spiritual Guide Ali Khamenei is the most powerful man in Iran. But obviously he has no problem with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being president and the IRGC becoming the power behind the throne.

This is important because the IRGC is the most fanatical and risk-taking part of the regime. It is very much committed to expanding the revolution and maintains the regime’s links with foreign revolutionary and terrorist groups.

Oh, and it will also be the institution that will have actual possession of Iran’s long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.

Not only are these people nobody can make a deal with, but they are also the ones most likely to make a war some day.

The BBC reports that the IRGC now controls one-third of Iran’s economy, either openly or through front groups. This is probably too high. But more than one-third is controlled either by the IRGC or foundations under the control of regime hardliners so the basic idea isn’t far off. Moreover, Ahmadinejad has been appointing former IRGC commanders to a lot of top jobs, including cabinet ministries and provincial governorships.

Now the group has won a $2.5 billion contract to build a big railroad project. And the IRGC is taking control of intelligence, running key prisons, and taking custody of political prisoners.

This is one reason why foreign observers can underestimate the regime's stability. With the IRGC playing such a central role, so well-armed, united, and ready to fight, any serious threat of a revolution or internal collapse would be blocked, no matter how much bloodshed it takes. The opposition and those critical of the regime are also aware of that fact.

Another reason why this is important regards Iran's intentions after getting nuclear weapons. Whether or not it would fire off such armaments, Iran will certainly use them to become more powerful, threatening, and influential throughout the region. The loser here will be the United States, its interests, and policies.

Judging from his statements, President Obama seems to have the following picture of Iran: There are many factions; the supreme guide really runs the show; Ahmadinejad is just a noisy front-man without much power. Iran should be judged by its past record, which has often shown caution. In this conception, it is possible to engage Iran, appeal to its interest, and find some relative moderates or pragmatists who will make a deal.

One could argue this position two years, perhaps even a year ago. But it no longer applies. The Iranian regime has changed to become far more hardline and risk-taking.

My personal view is that Khamenei is preparing for his departure from the scene by putting the revolution into the hands of those who he trusts not to dilute it. While Iran is a country of endless factional bickerings, this analysis means that the power of Ahmadinejad and the IRGC will grow greater in the coming years. That provides still another reason why soft diplomacy won't work and that a world where Iran--meaning Ahmadinejad and the IRGC--have nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is far more dangerous.

That doesn't mean that Iran will immediately attack Israel with nuclear weapons. Even in the radical worldview that would be foolish. What is more likely is that Iran will systematically try to turn much of the region into Islamist satellite states, putting off any confrontation with Israel to the future. (This is parallel to the strategy of Arab nationalist regimes--despite their 1967 miscalculation and 1973 attempt at revenge--over the last half-century.)

Do you think the Arab states will choose to appease Iran or stand firm in the belief that President Barack Obama will go to war on their behalf?

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, November 27, 2009

Hillary's Bombshell: Obama Administration Subtly Launches Dramatic Policy Change on Peace Process

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By Barry Rubin

In a one-paragraph statement welcoming Israel’s ten-month-long freeze on building apartments in existing West Bank settlements, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a major statement. The dramatic new U.S. stance on Israel-Palestinian Authority peace agreement is camouflaged by  brevity and subtle wording. But make no mistake: this is one of the most important foreign policy steps the Obama Administration has taken.

Here is the statement in full:

"Today's announcement by the Government of Israel helps move forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."

Clearly, this approach builds on the 2000 Camp David meeting and the December 2000 plan of President Bill Clinton. Ironically, the latter is called the Clinton plan, so the name need not change since now it is renewed and extended by another Clinton.

These 77 words are worth analyzing in great detail. First, there is what the United States is offering the Palestinian side:

“The Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps…”

One should first ask, which Palestinians? Hamas and Islamic Jihad don’t favor this approach and Hamas still runs the Gaza Strip. To pretend that Israel can or should make a peace treaty with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) which has no authority over the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is ludicrous. Whatever deal Israel makes with the PA, it could—indeed, probably would--be attacked by Palestinians from Gaza the next day. The conflict cannot be ended by anything the PA does by itself. Without a real commitment to overthrow Hamas the United States can never make peace.

The second issue is that what Clinton lists is not the entire Palestinian goal since the PA also demands a right for all Palestinians to go and live in Israel, thus subverting that country and destroying the state. This is no mere throw-away line but a very strongly held demand. Anyone who thinks that the PA is just going to drop it—no matter how much land or money it is given—knows nothing about Palestinian politics.

The word “based” in the phrase, “based on the 1967 lines” is carefully chosen to imply flexibility as to where the exact border would be drawn. In fact, the PA has always said that it must get the 1967 boundaries completely, never mentioning the word “swaps.” Therefore, when Clinton says that this is a Palestinian “goal” she is wrong.

It tells a great deal that the idea of “swapping land” so that the PA gets the equivalent of the same number of square miles as Jordan ruled before 1967 is an Israeli idea, another example of Israel’s willingness to compromise. Remember that the original Israeli position was that it annex about four percent of the West Bank.

 Hence, by whittling down the demands she is making the typical negotiators' error of putting forward a false stance and then finding out the negotiation fail. But at the same time, however, Clinton is trying to define how the United States sees a reasonable Palestinian demand that it will accept. In other words, she is implying: this is all you're going to get.

There is also Clinton’s formulation of what Israel gets:

“The Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."

This incorporates several Israeli demands:

--“An outcome which ends the conflict”: Israel insists that any peace treaty will explicitly end the conflict. Makes sense, right? But the PA refuses to agree to this principle. The reason is, of course, that it does not view getting an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem as an end to the conflict but only as stage one of a longer-term effort to wipe Israel off the map.

-- “Jewish state”: Israel wants Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Why: To show a real acceptance on the Palestinian side. In addition, though, it has a very practical side, avoiding a Palestinian claim to recognize “Israel” and then doing everything possible—like flooding it with Palestinian Arabs—to transform it into an Arab and/or Islamic state. (“Binationalism” is just a cover word to hide a step in that direction.)

--“With secure and recognized borders”: Israel wants borders recognized as a sign that full peace exists. The word “secure” here implies security arrangements to prevent future attacks.

--“That reflect subsequent developments”: This is a fascinating and new phrase. What can it mean other than this: Since so many Jews have moved into settlements, this new factor must be taken into account in shifting the borders. This is the Obama Administration’s version of its predecessor’s idea that Israel could keep “settlement blocs,” large towns built up along its border like the Etzion bloc and Maale Adumim. It could also be applied to Jerusalem, though that sensitive word is not mentioned in the statement.

--“And meets Israeli security requirements”: Another and stronger reference to security guarantees.

How will this statement be received in Israel? This raises a fascinating question: Was it coordinated with the Netanyahu government as part of the freeze deal? If so, the Netanyahu government has certainly proved itself to be flexible and peace-oriented. Certainly, there isn’t everything Israel wants in this statement yet it does encompass some important points taken out of the cabinet’s position on peace arrangements.

The more I think about this point, the more it makes sense to me that the position is a gesture toward Israel. This is a statement that favors Israel's position while still offering the Palestinians, in the mind of the administration, enough to make them happy (wrong) and enough to show the world that the United States is even-handed (right for Europe; wrong for the Arab world).  It isn’t a blatantly pro-Israel stance but does incorporate key elements of what Israel wants to an extent greater than where the United States has gone before.

It also offers the Palestinians, or at least the PA, what it says it wants. Well, not exactly but in a way that Americans think is reasonably close. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the PA thinks. For more than thirty years the United States has been trying to formulate plans on the basis of what it thinks will satisfy Palestinian goals—the first Camp David meeting, the Reagan plan, the second Camp David meeting, and a thousand plans, conferences, statements, and initiatives in between.

Each time they fail because they aren’t addressing what the Palestinian leadership really wants. And today that is further complicated by there being two Palestinian leaderships.

The United States has endorsed the Israeli position that the PA must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, this is a big step forward and a victory for Israel.

ps: (in response to a reader's question asking if this means the United States demands that Israel return to the 1967 borders):

It does NOT say the 1967 borders. Israel's  formula for the last 15 year has been: "with minor modifications" to the borders.  I definitely don't think this will lead to any breakthrough--the Palestinians will reject it and there is no treaty in sight for decades. In that sense, what it offers the Palestinians is not important because they will say no to everything short of all they want without their making any concesions.

Compare this statement to the Israeli government's own program as well as to Israel's position in the 2000 Camp David meeting and the subsequent [Bill] Clinton plan in December 2000. It is quite comparable. It includes recognition of the Jewish state, security arrangements satisfactory to Israel, changing the border, and end of conflict are four of the main six points. The fifth, resettling Palestinian refugees in a Palestinian state--no return, is unquestionably going to be endorsed by the United States. The sixth, a demilitarized Palestinian state, is also not mentioned either way.

Of course, Jerusalem is an important issue not explicitly mentioned here. But Clinton statement of  ["that reflect subsequent developments"] also must apply to Jerusalem, thus legitimizing post-1967 Israeli neighborhoods there. This is very significant.

As I said, this is not a statement endorsing everything Israel would like to have. But it is the best conceivable position that the United States, and especially the Obama Administration, could conceivably take.

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.

The Trouble with Soft Diplomacy: Endless Resolutions on Iran, No Resolution of the Issues

By Barry Rubin

In its own view, the Obama Administration has won a considerable foreign policy victory in the International Atomic Energy Agency vote to condemn Iran’s nuclear program. Winning such triumphs is the whole goal of a patient policy by the Obama Administration to cultivate wide support for criticizing Iran. The problem is that this is not the same thing as doing something about Iran.

The key development is that only three countries—Cuba, Venezuela, and Malaysia—supported Iran. China and Russia backed the U.S. position. It is being implied that this signals the possibility that they might support material sanctions against Tehran.

But that’s not true and thinking otherwise shows a real structural failure in how even supposed experts nowadays think about international affair. Voting for a resolution is a substitute for taking action, a fact that might prove to be the bane of the Obama Administration.

In addition, while the resolution is being touted as tough, it I based on an incontrovertible set of simple facts. Iran was criticized for two things: continuing to defy the previous UN resolutions by enriching uranium and building a secret nuclear facility.

It’s like passing a resolution to criticize, rather than arrest, someone you just saw pump a half-dozen bullets into a murder victim and then being pleased that it was nearly unanimous.

What’s really significant is that it is now clear the United States, having missed its September deadline for raising sanctions, is now going to miss the December deadline as well. The question is whether that process will even have begun before 2009 ends.

Iranian delegate Ali Asghar Soltanieh, in his response, told us everything we need to know about Tehran’s position and future developments:

"Neither resolutions of the board of governors nor those of the United Nations Security Council...neither sanctions nor the threat of military attacks can interrupt peaceful nuclear activities in Iran, [not for] even a second."

I believe him, except for the “peaceful nuclear activities” part. But guess what? This supposedly tough resolution doesn’t exactly contradict that point. It only expresses "serious concern" that Iran's refusal to cooperate with inspections means "the possibility of military

dimensions to Iran's nuclear program" cannot be excluded.

So that’s it. In November 2009 the United States after almost a year of effort by the Obama Administration persuaded a UN to vote that Iran might be developing nuclear weapons but it can’t tell and insists that Iran abide by promises it made years ago.

What makes this important enough for you to be reading about at this moment is that it is a model for the kind of multilateral, soft diplomacy that is now in fashion. Indeed, the U.S. government has not even announced yet that Iran is obviously refusing to make a deal. Statements by Western countries indicated that Tehran was being given one more chance for the one hundredth time.

At some point in the not-distant future, the idea is that President Obama will make one of those, “We interrupt this program to bring you a special message from the president of the United States” moments that begin, “My fellow citizens…” In other words, he springs into decisive real action and does something tough.

One is beginning to suspect that this moment will never come on any international issue.

As a British officer said after the Battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolution, one more victory like this and there may be no one left to report it. After a certain point, someone who believes that soft power is sufficient must be soft in the head.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The US-Israel Construction Freeze Deal and What it Means

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By Barry Rubin

Finally, we know the long-awaited terms of the U.S.-Israel agreement on freezing construction on settlements. It is a good plan and represents a considerable, but well-crafted albeit unilateral concession by Israel. No licenses will be granted or apartments started on the West Bank for the next ten months. And Israel doesn’t consider east Jerusalem to be part of the West Bank.

The U.S. government praised the decision, after all it was pretty much what President Barack Obama has been trying to obtain for nine months and has worked hard to negotiate. "We believe the steps announced by the prime minister are significant and could have substantial impact on the ground," said George Mitchell, Obama’s special mediator.

But, of course, it will have no impact whatsoever. On the contrary, the Palestinians and Arab states will complain that it isn’t enough, that it doesn’t mean anything, and that they have more demands. Their openly stated demand is that Israel just hand over all the West Bank and east Jerusalem in exchange for nothing.

In giving something in exchange for no material gain or even a gesture from the other side, Israel can only hope that the president appreciates this gesture and remembers that he did not deliver on his promise to get some concession from the Arab side to match it.

But will it be appreciated and even kept by the Obama Administration? Will the world, or even Europe, give Israel any credit for taking one more effort to show that it wants peace? Is it going to be widely understood as demonstrating—unfortunately—that the other side doesn’t? Is this going to affect the knee-jerk media view of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “hardline”?

Well, probably “no” but it’s worth a try. Obama will be president another three to seven years and he should be shown that Israel wants peace and is willing to cooperate with his efforts to a reasonable extent.

But that’s also why there’s a time limit. It’s not a high price to pay or keeping the United States happy and showing President Barack Obama that Israel wants peace, is cooperative, and is willing to make him look good.

Certainly, it won’t please the Palestinians, for reasons different from what you might think, Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas is not so happy. He’s complained in an interview that Obama is "doing nothing right now" regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"I hope he'll take a more important role in the future," Abbas said. The Palestinians "are waiting for the United States to put pressure on Israel so it respects international law, so it takes up the road map….It can do two things: put pressure on the Israelis so they reject settlements, and put pressure so they accept withdrawing to the 1967 borders."

Can you see the humor in this? Here’s Obama who campaigned and continues to say that his predecessor was “doing nothing” on the issue and that’s why it hadn’t been solved. Could Obama have possibly tried harder? He made it his most outspoken issue, talked about it constantly, met with leaders, put forward plans, pressured Israel, reached a deal with Israel that involved considerable Israeli concessions, and asked for—but didn’t receive—Arab help.

Could the lesson be more obvious? The problem isn’t Obama or Netanyahu; it’s Abbas. He is the one refusing to negotiate with Israel and is making a president who promised talks within two months look bad. He betrayed his promises to Obama not to try to turn the Goldstone report into a mob to lynch Israel.

Why is Abbas behaving this way, because he’s frustrated that progress isn’t being made? This claim is rather ironic since he’s the one blocking progress. The real reason is that he wants Obama to get him everything he wants without him making any compromises or concessions.

It isn’t going to happen. And the Palestinians, Arabs in general, and lots of Muslims will blame Obama. This must be a shock to him since he tried so hard and leaned over backwards to make them happy. And this disrespect is coming from Abbas, leader of the group which Obama has tried hardest to help in the whole world.

Ironically, too, this is the first real foreign policy success for the Obama Administration after ten months in office. Yet the White House isn’t eager—or not likely to be successful—in so claiming since so many people never want to credit Israel’s compromises. Once Arab sources criticized Hillary Clinton’s enthusiasm, the administration backed down in its praise and looked for still new, albeit small, ways to show that it is tough on Israel.

Objectively, though, bilateral relations are good, due in no small part to this step.

If the Palestinian side was sincere about negotiating seriously and making peace, it would respond rationally. Ok, they could say, it is only for ten months but we can use that period to make so much progress that it will be extended. Even better, they could understand that if they made a peace treaty and got a state there wouldn’t be any more settlements in the territory they would be ruling (though there would be on land swapped with Israel).

But, of course, Abbas and the PA don’t intend to do anything serious diplomatically in the next ten months, or twenty, or thirty. All he wants is that the United States force Israel to “accept withdrawing to the 1967 borders" and give up demands for settling Palestinians only in Palestine, not Israel; ending the conflict forever; having an unmilitarized Palestine; and insisting that it recognize Israel as a Jewish state rather than an impending victim.

Let’s all watch, see, and draw appropriate conclusion about what actually happens. And for those who didn’t learn this lesson the last half-dozen times—most importantly from the fate of the 1990s’ peace process, Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon, Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip—this can be a less costly way of understanding that it is the Palestinian side that is blocking peace and that support for Israel is the proper response to this situation.

PS: Read Netanyahu's statement which has a number of interesting points.

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, November 25, 2009

End of the Honeymoon: The World Starts Blaming Obama, Some Justly, Others Unfairly

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“There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down.”

--“For What It’s Worth,” Buffalo Springfield

By Barry Rubin

And so it begins. One might call it the end of the honeymoon with President Barack Obama, whose term is almost 25 percent finished. Seemingly universally acclaimed, loved, admired, given the Nobel Peace Prize for good intentions, the U.S. president is now starting to face a growing, multi-headed hostility. Abroad, many are starting to blame the U.S. president for their own shortcomings, because they hate America generally, or due to the fact that they really are becoming scared about what his presidency means for their own interests, and even survival.

Some of it is coming from America’s enemies, who will naturally pile on the loathing of anyone who leads the United States. The message is that those who hate and want to destroy you, who view themselves as adversaries and as the inheritors of your wealth and power will not be won over by kind words, a desire to do good, and the renunciation of coercion.

Some of it is coming from America’s friends, worried that they will not be protected by their senior ally or patron. It is like the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” George W. Bush was too hard; Barack H. Obama is too soft. Does that mean that George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton were about just right?

Some of it is coming from the inevitable fact that any decision you take—or no decision at all—will make a sizeable portion of humanity angry at you. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can make some of the people happy all of the time, and all of the people happy some of the time, but you can’t make everybody happy all of the time.

And then there are those who want to blame their own mistakes and misdeeds on the United States.

Here are four examples but there will be many others.

First is Palestinian “president” Mahmoud Abbas. He complained in an interview that Obama is "doing nothing right now" regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"I hope he'll take a more important role in the future," Abbas said. The Palestinians "are waiting for the United States to put pressure on Israel so it respects international law, so it takes up the road map….It can do two things: put pressure on the Israelis so they reject settlements, and put pressure so they accept withdrawing to the 1967 borders."

Can you see the humor in this? Here’s a president who campaigned and continues to say that his predecessor was “doing nothing” on the issue and that’s why it hadn’t been solved. Could Obama have possibly tried harder? He made it his most outspoken issue, talked about it constantly, met with leaders, put forward plans, pressured Israel, reached a deal with Israel that involved considerable Israeli concessions, and asked for—but didn’t receive—Arab help.

Could the lesson be more obvious? The problem isn’t Obama; it’s Abbas. He is the one refusing to negotiate and he is the one who betrayed promises he made to the president. And why? Because he wants Obama to get him everything he wants without him making any compromises or concessions.

It isn’t going to happen. And the Palestinians, Arabs in general, and lots of Muslims will blame Obama. This must be a shock to him since he tried so hard and leaned over backwards to make them happy. And this is coming from the leader of the group which Obama has tried hardest to help in the whole world.

[By the way, the terms of the U.S.-Israel deal have just been publicly announced. Israel will start no new apartments and grant no licenses for West Bank construction over the next ten months. East Jerusalem is not considered by Israel to be part of the West Bank. This is quite reasonable in terms of the Obama Administration's goal and a gain for the Palestinians. But of course Abbas has no intention of doing anything serious diplomatically in the next ten months so he just wants a permanent unconditional stoppage.]

The second example is not surprising but is very important. It comes from Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, considered a moderate. He argued that Obama is trying to “trick” Iran by offering a deal:

"One should not fall for U.S. smiles and tactics. Americans sometimes talk about peace and sometimes they smile at the Islamic republic's officials... but they have hidden daggers behind themselves….It is a big mistake if we think they will change their behavior just because there is a change in administration."

That’s a fancy way of saying that Obama is just like Bush. The problem is not this or that individual. The problem is America. No U.S. policy shift, kind words, or diplomatic engagement will reduce the Iranian regime’s unrelenting hostility or slow its nuclear weapons’ drive. And this is coming from a relative moderate.

Here’s the third one which is the most surprising. It isn’t just that British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth is angry at Obama; the point is that he’s so angry that he says so publicly. Here is a leading official of America’s closest ally criticizing that country’s most popular president.

Speaking to a House of Commons’ committee, Ainsworth complained that Obama’s inability to make up his mind about Afghanistan is undermining popular support for the war. Of course, he said it in a polite manner but he was clearly ticked off. And this is coming from a Labour Party minister

Finally, there is Hamad al-Majed, a Saudi human rights activist and expert on educational issues. He wrote an op-ed which mourns what he sees as America’s collapse, writing that Obama may soon be president of “United Collapse of America.”

He gives four examples of why this is supposedly true: Obama’s confusion about what to do in Afghanistan; Abbas’s “frustration” that Obama isn’t turning over all of the West Bank to him this week; the economic situation; and the defeat of what he sees as the American-backed president of Somalia at the hands of radical Islamists.

Behind the scenes there is much more thinking like this with a whole variety of examples being cited. Arabs are both unhappy that Obama doesn’t bully Israel into surrender, credibly defend them against Iran, and stoutly stand up against the radical Islamists who menace them. Central Europeans are scared that he won’t defend them against Russia. Western European governments feel that Obama is too soft and unreliable. East Asians worry that Obama isn’t going to manage the U.S. economy very well. Perhaps Latin American rulers fear that Obama isn’t going to stand up for them against the new radical regimes, Venezuela and Bolivia.

This is only the beginning. Almost everyone in a responsible position dealing with international affairs, outside the United States at least, knows that nice guys finish last. They are afraid that Obama is going to drag them with himself.

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 and Hizballah Get Hillarycare: Two Mistakes That America's Enemies Notice and Act On

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By Barry Rubin

People are aware—at least those people who don’t get all their news from certain sources—that the Obama Administration is messing up a lot on foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. What is often missed, however, are the little things that have big consequences. Because even if these go without attention in the United States, people in the Middle East are paying very close attention.

So here’s a wonderful example of what happens due to two seemingly small errors, shown during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s appearance on the Charlie Rose interview show.

She stated:

“The Iranians not only worry us because of their nuclear program, they worry us because of their support for terrorism, their support for the military wing of Hezbollah, their support for Hamas, their interference in the internal affairs of their neighbors, trying to destabilize gulf countries and other countries throughout the greater region.”

This was in the context of a relatively tough statement, right? But note two things: a tiny detail in the paragraph above and later on in this article (patience, please, it will be worth it) the explanation of U.S. policy she made immediately after.

Can you find the error? Ok, I’ll tell you: the words “military wing of Hezbollah.” This is a gimmick used by Hizballah [my transliteration] and Hamas, too, to fool people in the West. It is used by advocates of engagement with these radical Islamist terrorist groups in places like Britain.

Sure, they say, there is a military wing and a political wing. The latter is moderate or becoming so and thus you can negotiate with them separately. This is rubbish. There is no such differentiation except for normal administrative purposes. The same leadership and doctrine runs both.

So one could interpret this slip—and I do believe it was a slip—as a change in U.S. policy toward Hizballah. Don’t think so? Well, it happened.

The public manifestation of this came from Sami Moubayed, who may have the distinction of being the smartest of the Syrian intellectuals who serve as a flak for the regime. In an article, he wrote:

“Clinton's statement on the Charlie Rose show came only 24 hours after Sa'ad Hariri had formed a cabinet of national unity [in Lebanon], which includes two members of Hezbollah. “Clinton was seemingly offering a life jacket to Hariri by saying that while the US frowns on the military wing of Hezbollah that engages in war, the political branch is acceptable.

“Never since the US declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization in 1999 has a senior U.S. official made such a groundbreaking statement about Hezbollah.

“The US has obviously realized that no breakthrough is possible in Lebanon unless Hezbollah is represented in the Cabinet. Some call it pragmatism; others say that it was a difficult reality that Washington has had to digest.”

In other words, this shows that the Syrian regime is using the statement to reinforce Hizballah’s power, and thus its own and that of Iran. Even the Americans are ready to accept Hizballah in government (or sell you out) is the message given to the moderate March 14 forces, which would rather eat snakes and scorpions than have a coalition with that group.

But what choice do they have? The West didn’t help them; the United States is engaging with Lebanon’s would-be hegemons, Iran and Syria. There’s nothing to do but give up. In the end they gave Hizballah control of 12 cabinet positions, more than they’d planned to turn over.

What the Syrians and their Lebanese allies are saying is sort of the equivalent, so to speak, of what Japanese soldiers yelled at Americans across the trenches in World War Two:

“GI Joe! Give up! You can’t win! Hillary is with us! Surrender and we’ll give you a nice bed, a hot meal, and a ticket out of this war.”

When you make friends with dictators, you sell out their victims, thus strengthening the dictators. So now Hizballah and Syria are trying to leverage this into putting into the government platform a statement that the regime supports “resistance,” that is, Hizballah keeps its guns in order to fight Israel whenever it pleases.

But that’s not all. Here’s Clinton’s analysis of U.S. policy toward Iran:

“Iran has given us many reasons to worry about their motivation and their action, but I think what President Obama has tried to do since becoming president, is to create a dynamic where, look, we don't have to trust or love each other to understand that it is in our interest to try to stabilize the world. It is not in Iran's interest to have a nuclear arms race in the Gulf where they would be less secure than they are today. It is not in Iran's interest or the Iranian peoples' interest, to be subjected to very onerous sanctions, so the president has reached and has really gone the extra mile to try to engage with the Iranians. If they cannot overcome their mistrust and their internal political dynamic, then we have to do what we think is in our best interests.”

Let’s consider her argument. It is in Iran’s interest to have nuclear arms when others don’t have them, believing that there won’t be a “nuclear arms race in the Gulf” since it’s doubtful the Saudis will obtain them and certain that Iraq and the smaller states won’t. So she’s wrong there.

It is in Iran’s interest to deal with constantly postponed and watered-down sanctions, which Russia and China will circumvent, to get nuclear weapons. So she’s wrong there also.

And by being so weak it is the Obama Administration itself that signals Iran that she’s wrong and that it is a correct rational calculation to disregard American threats, play for time, and do whatever it damn well pleases.

The interviewer then says to her: “They'll have to deal with the consequences.”

And Clinton replies: “Well, yes, of course. I mean, that's the way the world works.”

But is that the way the world works with Obama’s policy? No. Indeed, the interviewer then states:

“Is there anything that we can do to say to them, `We understand your fear. We understand your paranoia. We ask you what…can we do to convince you that nuclear weapons are not in your interest?’”

And, of course and correctly, Clinton replies: that’s what we’ve been doing.

But here’s what the interviewer does not ask her, I made this up:

“Is there anything that we can do to say to them, `We are going to increase your fear. We are going to play on your paranoia. We are going to make life really miserable for you with constant verbal attacks, applying very big sanctions right away, help the opposition subvert you, and have credible power to make you tremble that we might attack in order to convince you that nuclear weapons are not in your interest?”

See the difference? This, to quote Clinton, is “the way the world works.” Yet we only hear about carrots, never very much about sticks.

And then Clinton says something that might be an effective technique on a school playground but not in international diplomacy:

“If this were a confident leadership, they would accept the Tehran research reactor deal. They would not be worried about it. This is not a confident leadership because of the pressures that are coming from within Iran as well as from outside.”

Say what? If they are confident they’d give up but if they are really scared then they’ll defy the world? She has it backward: It is because they are so confident that they can say to America, if you don’t like it go… [You can fill in the blank since this is a family-oriented G-rated blog].

But do you see what’s wrong with this formulation of Clinton’s? If the reason Iran is so aggressive because it is really scared and insecure, the way to succeed is to comfort, soothe, and make the regime feel that America loves it and wishes it well.

But if the reason Iran is so aggressive is because it is really confident (drunk on ideology and assessing that its enemies are cowards) then what is required to succeed is to scare, pressure, and punish it.

And on the failure to understand that distinction, Obama’s foreign policy is going down big-time.

PS: Bacin in August, the Obama Administration issued a statement saying it had not changed its policy on Hizballah after John Brennan, the president's terrorism advisor (see here and here) strongly implied that Hizballah had  a peaceful political wing.

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, November 23, 2009

Why the Terrorist Trial in New York Will Be a Disaster in the Middle East and for U.S. Interests

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By Barry Rubin

What will be the impact on the Middle East of putting September 11 plotters on trial in New York? As usual most of the debate in America revolves around the effect within the United States: how will New York react, might the defendents get off. But what's really important, and largely ignored, is what the trial will mean for the Middle East and U.S. interests there.

Isn't it ironic that the Obama Administration, which is more ethnically and racially diverse probably than any previous U.S. government, is proving to be so incredibly ethnocentric? By that I mean, having the least understanding of how other nations and cultures think and behave.

One possible explanation is that since they see themselves as non-white or so exceptionally sensitive, such people then take the next "logical" step and assume that someone from a distant land thinks precisely the same way as they do. Of course the difference is the society and world view you grow up in and have to function within in your life.

Ironically, their own ideology should make them understand this better in some ways. Take two identical twins separated at birth. One grows up in a middle class family in the United States and attends the finest universities. The other grows up in, say, Saudi Arabia.

Now if the racist theory were true, the twins would be exactly alike! But if multi-cultural, Politically Correct, anti-racism were to be true, then they would be very different, right? Because the whole rejection of racism is based on the argument that environment is more important than inherited traits. Of course, this is a simple presentation but the basic point holds true.

The Administration's doctrine also holds that ideas are all-important. If you change someone's world view then you can perform marvels and transform society. So shouldn't they understand that if someone believes in Islamism, or at least non-moderate Islam, and Arab nationalism, and conspiracy theories, etc., that they are also going to think differently than an American?

In the trial, the terrorists will almost certainly base their defense on the concept of "defensive Jihad." They will argue that the Islamic world was acting in self-defense in retaliating. They will give a long list of real or alleged American misdeeds, long lists of civilians killed (in Afghanistan alone they could come up with thousands), alleged sufferings during the embargo on Iraq when Saddam Hussein was rejecting his commitments after the Kuwait war.

This defense will inflame large numbers of Muslims. It will provide a great platform for the defensive Jihad theory which, most recently, persuaded Major Khalid Hasan to kill 13 American soldiers. There will be specific terrorist attacks inspired by the speeches made in New York.  People will join Islamist and terrorist groups, not necessarily al-Qaida, as a result of this inspiration. You can bet on it.

In addition, the high-profile of the trials could well inspire terrorists to seize Americans as hostages to exchange for the imprisoned Jihadists. The terrorists don't have to expect the United States to make such a deal. They want the publicity and will be quite happy to kill the hostages and blame it on the Americans' stubborness.

The Arab regimes won't like it because the defendants will spend a lot of time blasting Egypt and Saudi Arabia as American puppets and urge their overthrow. Of course, the terrorists will bring in Israel, too. It will be interesting to see how much time is devoted to each of the many topics they will use to attack America.

Naively, the Administration apparently believes that this show of American fair play, equal justice for all, innocent until proven guilty, trial by a jury of their peers (if the entire jury isn't Muslim, of course, most Middle East Muslims won't accept that notion), and the rules of evidence will impress Muslims worldwide about how great a system the United States has and what great people Americans are.

Yes, a few highly educated Arab liberals will write about such things but that will appeal to less than five percent. By the time the trial is through the masses to a large extent will not conclude that the defendents are dastardly people who murdered 3,000 innocent victims but that the prosecutors and the government behind them are dastardly villains who have murdered millions.

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.


The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What’s It Really About and Why Does it Continue?

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By Barry Rubin

It is always the same theme: Palestinians are the victims of Israel. They want an end to the “occupation,” which in a real sense has not existed for 15 years, and are desperate for a state of their own. Help us! Help us! Help us!

But the funny thing is that it doesn’t turn out that the Palestinian political leaders behave as if they actually believe this stuff. Between 1948 and 1988, the Palestinian leadership explicitly rejected negotiations with Israel, rejected any two-state solution, and openly sought total victory. This was true for two decades after Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Indeed, in 1979, for example, when local Palestinian notables indicated an interest in negotiating with Israel for a state (in the framework of the Egypt-Israel Camp David agreement), PLO leader Yasir Arafat told them they’d be traitors and die if they did any such thing.

In 1988, the PLO said it wanted a state of its own but did so with such double-talk language that it was all too clear this was intended only as a springboard for a second round in which Israel would be destroyed. Then the PLO opened a dialogue with the United States based on its agreement to stop terrorism. Though the United States bent over backwards to ignore terrorist attacks (it’s only a specific member group in the PLO attacking so it doesn’t count, said the State Department), Arafat so blatantly broke his promise that the dialogue was broken off.

Then Arafat supported Saddam Hussein of Iraq in his invasion of Kuwait and the Palestinian leader expressed the hope that Iraq would defeat the United States.

What followed at the PLO’s moment of weakness—Saddam defeated; the angry Kuwaitis and Saudis cut off his money—was an act of what they hoped would be enlightened generosity by Israel and America: now that the PLO was so defeated, they reasoned, it would see that victory was impossible and make peace. The result, the Oslo peace process, proved the Palestinian leadership didn’t want a stable peace with a two-state solution. Arafat repeatedly broke his commitments.

And when the moment of truth came, both at Camp David and in the Clinton plan during 2000, the Palestinian leadership (now the Palestinian Authority, PA) turned down offers of a state. Instead, Arafat launched an armed terrorist assault on Israel that went on for five years until the Palestinians were defeated.

Other than Hamas taking over the Gaza Strip, which cripples the PA’s negotiating capacity, nothing much has happened since then. The Palestinian leadership has not even begun to prepare its people for accepting Israel’s existence and peace. On the contrary, it has become even more extreme, preparing them for endless warfare and a refusal to accept Israel’s existence but rather bring it to an end.

I reluctantly present the above history because it is all too generally forgotten today. Why is reality reversed, with the Palestinians the alleged victim of an Israeli refusal to make peace?

The answer is that if one only looks at a snapshot of the present on the basis of either very little knowledge or a set of stereotypes, that interpretation makes sense. Israel wins; the Palestinians lose. Israel is strong; the Palestinians are weak. Israel is prosperous and the Palestinian economy is a mess.

And so many Westerners reason as follows: No one would voluntarily keep engaging in losing wars, choose poverty and occupation, and not want a state of their own. Therefore, the Palestinians must be forced into this situation by Israel. And the solution is more talks, more Israeli compromises, some clever new proposal about Jerusalem or borders or some other detail.

That makes sense in terms of Western sensibilities and politics but not in terms of Middle Eastern ones. The Palestinian leadership—which is quite well off materially, of course, you should have seen their villas in Tunis and now in the West Bank which are much nicer than your home—doesn’t care about its people. State? They are running things already. Poverty? They aren’t poor. Suffering? Well, they aren't suffering and that others keep suffering is preferable to treason against Islam and giving Arab rights to the whole country, isn’t it?

And besides, material improvement makes people soft (that’s their view of the West). If Palestinians do have a state and higher living standards they will be seduced by materialism and not want to fight on. This kind of thinking is far clearer with Hamas but is also in the saddle with Fatah and the PA.

Even today, with the Palestinians divided into two separate regimes, Israel getting steadily stronger, the main strategy being discussed by Fatah and the PA isn’t compromise but escalation. Thus, Saeb Erakat, one of the most relatively moderate people in the PA leadership (and the only one of the pre-1994, old West Bank notables still in any position of responsibility) said, in effect, that the more Palestinians lose, the more they demand:

“With the continuation of settlement activities, the two-state solution is no longer an option."

Continuation? There have been no new settlements in 15 years or in general—there might be small exceptions—but the territorial expanse of settlements has not increased. Eraket said this after Israel announced it would finish 3000 apartments being built now and then freeze construction. His words do not correspond with reality, now more than ever.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton responded with logic: "Getting into final status negotiations will allow us to bring an end to settlement activity." True, but indeed there is an even better answer: Getting a Palestinian state would end the “occupation” and remove all the settlements on Palestinian territory.

Yet that was a decision the Palestinians could have made in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, as well as throughout this almost completed decade.

Note the Western thinking—if you want a concession you must compromise to get it—with the Middle Eastern approach—give us what we want or we’ll hold our breath till we turn blue.

Instead, Erakat proposes that the Palestinians "refocus their attention on the one-state solution where Muslims, Christians and Jews can live as equals." No doubt this means “equals” in an Islamic and Arab state, with the Israelis turning over all they’ve created and earned for 60 years to a dictatorship of those who have spent their time in trying to kill them rather than by engaging in productive labor.

This would never happen, of course, unless Israel was either militarily defeated, collapsed from within, was destroyed by international action, or some mixture of the above.

But in fact the Fatah leadership, with a few exceptions, never accepted the two-state solution.

A Western observer would respond that these things are not going to happen and therefore the Palestinian leadership could not possibly believe such nonsense. Well, they do believe it—or at least they partly believe it and know that this is the only permissible public stance in Palestinian society. This view is the basis for their political behavior, a factor viewable on a daily basis and one that they understand completely.

To recall how little progress Palestinians have made in thinking about this issue, remember that what they are talking about now was a program first proposed in 1968 and adapted by the PLO in 1974. After 35 years, they are still in the same place. As for the word “refocus,” Erakat is well aware that this has always been the focus.

A few years ago, Erakat was addressing a visiting Western delegation and told them that the Palestinian program was nonsense and could never succeed. After basically denouncing the real mistakes the Palestinians have made, he looked around nervously and said, “I didn’t say any of that.”

In his more recent interview, Erakat said. "This is the moment of truth for us."

Yes, it is always the moment of truth. The problem is that at the moment of truth you always tell lies.

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, November 22, 2009

Life in an American Fourth Grade: Self-Made Villains, Teaching American Kids that They're the Bad Guys

By Barry Rubin

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After the readings of books on African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native-Americans, Hispanic-Americans (your choice, three books of four); the book on the African-American runner; and the book on the internment of the Japanese in World War Two, it’s time to study the…Native Americans.

And the plot line is clear. As my ten-year-old summarized the teacher’s explanation: The Native Americans welcomed everyone to America and said, “It’s all of our land. Let’s share it.” The settlers tricked them and stole it.

From everything I’ve heard so far, that is probably an accurate summary of what was taught. Even though the teacher supports this approach, of course, it comes from the county and state level as the curriculum.

Look, the bottom line is not: let’s rectify the exaggerations in the other direction from the past. These ten-year-olds were not brought up on John Wayne films, after all, and years of indoctrination that America is always right. For example, the film "Tell Them Willie Boy is Here" appeared in 1969; "Little Big Man" came out in 1970--that's 40 years ago! And since then Hollywood hasn't produced a single film in the cavalry-good-Indians-bad-genre.

What's going on now is merely putting other propaganda in place of the old propaganda.

In short, it gives the following message:

Proposition One: America is evil and born in sin.

Proposition Two: America is racist.

Proposition Three: Everyone else are innocent victims. It is therefore reasonable to assume that they are better than American, Americans, or at least the dominant system of the United States. The United States owes them big time and has a lot of apologizing to do. According to this, the best policy would be to say: We're really sorry and the check is in the mail.

Proposition Four: The assertion of U.S. interests, especially by the use of force, is a bad thing.

And so the conclusion is, to paraphrase President Barack Obama’s former religious mentor: God damn America/ land that I hate/Don’t stand beside her/Deride her/And may defeat and suffering be her fate.

Exaggeration? Well, that depends on whether the kids accept or ignore what they are being told—and not told. How are they going to know better—by instinct?—anything else?

By the way, I unfortunately purchased and read a recent biography of Ulysses Grant which had won a major prize. I was shocked at how bad the book was, almost openly propagandistic on behalf of current agendas. The basic argument was that the Grant Administration had been unfairly criticized for corruption by those who opposed its support for Reconstruction and African-American rights. This is ludicrous. It was arguably the most corrupt presidency in American history.

The corruption and mismanagement of Reconstruction governments was also a major reason why this worthy in principle effort to bring racial equality to the South failed miserably, antagonizing many who might have been won over by a fairer and more honest rule even despite the racial antagonism element. (The book was also largely plagiarized from Grant's superb autobiography.)

While we're on the subject, Grant might make a wonderful case study of how history can be balanced. Grant, judging by his autobiography, was a decent man very typical of the American character. He was modest and hated pomposity. He understood the need for war--and in his case the need for a particularly bloody strategy to win the Civil War--but regretted it and felt very personally the casualties he was responsible for incurring.

He was well-meaning but naive and hence fell prey to those who wanted to abuse an expansion of government and spending for their own private gain. The general was also a strong opponent of the Mexican war, which violated his sense of fair play, but helped fight and win it. He made clear his admiration for Mexicans as a people and for their culture.

Grant was a proud American but open to the world. He tried to help African-Americans achieve their rights but had a terrible policy toward Native Americans, despite the fact that one of his very closest friends and aides was one of them, a show of a great personal lack of prejudice on his part. In his personal life, he was very close to his wife who was one of his most trusted and heeded advisors.

In short, Grant's life and actions show a complex situation in which choices had to be made.  He also showed that past Americans, even generals, were not a bunch of racist, sexist monsters.

But back to the fourth grade. When I recounted the story about what's going on in this classroom to a friend, who is relatively conservative by today’s standard, he immediately replied that he had been taught that the cowboys were good and the Indians bad. Yes, that’s what this teacher also said had been her experience. For the record, that isn’t what I and many others were taught at all.

When I pointed out the absurd degree to which the pendulum had swung in the opposite direction, however, he quickly agreed. Still, it is easy to see how already there are built-in reflexes toward accepting a view of the United States and its history that is no more balanced than that of the most extreme nineteenth-century super-patriot. It's just in the exact opposite direction.

How should one respond to this?

First, the way to deal with past indoctrination is not to replace it with a new form of indoctrination. For me, the idea of liberalism is to be open to understanding that history and reality must be seen in a three-dimensional way, non-cartoonish way. Remember, this is the same teacher who when my son referred to Native Americans as war-like, replied huffily that there was no evidence for saying this. Obviously she never heard of the Plains Indians, Apache, or Iroquois. They were busy building their own empires. Tribes were not notably tolerant of each other, though according to the teacher the Iroquois were very "nice." Of course, her statement would be true for other tribes, especially the agricultural-oriented ones.

Underlying this kind of teaching, however, lurks the idea that only whites or Europeans can be aggressive or racist. In fact, while Europeans generally won, those they defeated were not necessarily saints. The Spanish Conquistadors were ruthless but the reason a tiny number were able to conquer Mexico and Peru is that the subject tribes hated the Aztecs (who we should remember carried out human sacrifice with them as victims on a massive scale) and the Incas so much that they allied with the Spanish.

At most, then, we do not discover that the American settlers behaved so badly as that people often behave badly in general. All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But this is not the message of the radical left because it must insist that while capitalism is bad their utopia will be perfect.

A belief in human nature and the limits of social engineering are doctrines that promote conservatism. That’s why the left’s narrative must be: some people and systems are just plain bad but others are good. The underdogs are good; the winners are bad, and we will create a perfect system. And thus, we had seventy years of disastrous Communism in the USSR, which continues in such places as Cuba and North Korea, as well as in a different version in places like Iran, Syria, Libya, and Venezuela.

Second, while the old style of teaching may have been indoctrination, its goal was to portray America as a great country. Inculcating love of one’s country—especially when it is a democratic one that has always tried to do the right thing and made tremendous progress—is a good thing. Understanding that there are flaws or mistakes does not detract from the fact that this is a worthy goal. Teaching kids to hate their country can only end in disaster.

Third, a central part of American history is the fact that there have always been debates over what to do in which many Americans--often a majority--took stances quite in line with today's approved positions. Most obviously, there was the Civil War in which tens of thousands of whites died fighting against slavery. But there are many examples. Few people know what George Armstrong Custer was doing before heading off to meet his fate on the Little Bighorn. He was testifying in Congress against the government’s policy which he said was unfair to the Indians.

In American society, problems have been raised; conflicts fought; solutions found. The system has proved itself to be strong, flexible, and open enough to fix problems. That is why the capitalist and democratic systems have succeeded. Not because they are perfect but because they can deliver freedom, prosperity, and adjust as necessary.

At some point one would hope--but I doubt it--students will be taught about the disaster of Communism so they will have something to compare their system with. They might learn about dictatorship and Islamist totalitarianism. Then they could say: Despite whatever problems that exist in America we are far better off here! But I sort of doubt that also.

In addition, history should always be taught with an understanding of the prevailing norms at the time. This might be hard to believe, but in the future students may be given horrifying and hilarious lessons about how insane what's going on today will seem.

Fourth, necessity and conflict are part of life. Children should be taught the idea that conflicts exist. It is a tough world and sometimes one must decide what side he’s on.

While one can certainly find rationalizations for Native American actions—attacking the Jamestown settlement; massacring civilians; siding with the French in the Seven Years’ War or the British during the revolution—these positions did put them into conflict with the Americans in which the settlers had to defend themselves, fight, and win or, alternatively, die.

If one only acts with perfect morality on their side, one doesn’t act at all and thus one loses to people who are far worse.

And finally, if people really believe the kind of thing they are teaching, then they should leave the United States and go someplace where the land wasn’t "stolen" like: South America (Spanish and Portuguese colonialism); continental Europe (Germanic invasions, centuries of conquests by just about everyone); Great Britain (Normans 1, Saxons and Celts 0); most of the Middle East (Arab Muslim Jihad); etc.

In history there are tragedies, conflicts, and shades of grey. They are not the same thing as crimes and conspiracies. That’s how this history should be taught.

And also don't miss the funniest satire ever on how American history is being taught today.

Barry Rubin holds a PhD in U.S. history and has taught the subject in universities. He 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.

Important Step? Hamas Declares New Ceasefire; Launching Bid for Massive Aid for Gaza Strip

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By Barry Rubin

Israel’s operation into the Gaza Strip last January and the embargo on aid has had an effect. Hamas is now announcing that it will stop attacks on Israel. This, in effect, ends Hamas’s renewal of the fighting a year ago. Here’s the problem: Is Hamas just stopping long enough to get the aid money?

An important press conference by Hamas’ Interior Minister Fathi Hamad has said the group made an agreement with all the Palestinian factions that they will stop firing rockets into Israel except in retaliation to Israeli operations. And since Israel usually attacks in response to rocket firings, that means a new ceasefire may occur. The press conference came immediately after a rocket was fired into Israel on November 21 that didn’t hit anything.

That announcement seems like good news but here are the problems:

--Hamas will continue smuggling in arms, including parts for more advanced missiles which can strike further into Israel. If Israel were to attack the tunnels to try to interdict this smuggling, this would be made to appear as Israel initiating hostilities.

--The main issue will be a Hamas bid, which will find some support in the West—but how much?—to start large-scale aid to Gaza, as has been promised by the Obama Administration among others. Western statements insist that the money won’t go to Hamas or its front groups and no doubt a sincere effort will be made to implement that plan. But of course it will be difficult to succeed as Hamas will steal resources and, of course, benefit from the increased money and supplies, both directly and through increased popularity.

Hamad himself signaled this effort in his statement. "We don't want to curb the resistance and are not preventing the acts of the resistance" but want to let Gaza residents have some “breathing room and enable the Strip’s reconstruction.”

--No doubt there will be more voices in the West that Hamas is now becoming “moderate” and engagement should begin. This will probably be ineffectual, though.

The press conference set off a great deal of talk about the possibility of an imminent deal to release Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of captured Hamas gunman. I rather doubt that—though it could be true—but it is not the most significant aspect of this new development.

But guess what? And this shows why you can't believe what Hamas and such groups say, and you can't negotiate with them either. Immediately after the announcement, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad said they never made any such agreement and considered themselves free to attack Israel whenever they wanted. And Hamas had already said that if the deal wasn't unnimous they wouldn't enforce it.  So now all the Western media has reported a Hamas-enforced ceasefire and...there probably isn't one.

Thus it is likely, given the way the Middle East, terrorism, and Hamas work, that a rocket could be fired into Israel and the whole thing fall apart. But otherwise the aid flow and reconstruction of the Gaza Strip may now commence. It will be argued that Hamas would not encourage this rebuilding only to go to war and wreck everything again. Those who say such things don’t know much about Hamas.

Obama's General Says: Syria Allied with Al-Qaida, Attacking U.S.; White House Says: Is that a Problem?

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By Barry Rubin

Does anyone read the newspapers in the U.S. government? How about checking out the dispatches coming from its generals in the field? Here’s a news story which tells all.

A Reuters’ dispatch from Iraq interviews the commander of U.S. forces there. What’s he say?

Al-Qaida is joining forces with Saddam Hussein’s supporters.

And where are both al-Qaida’s forces fighting in Iraq and Saddam’s backers headquartered with lots of money stolen from Iraq? Syria.

Syria? So Damascus is now allied with al-Qaida, the perpetrators of the September 11 attack to kill Americans and defeat the United States in Iraq? Is that right, general?:

“Investigations into massive suicide bombings in Baghdad on Oct. 25, in which more than 150 people died, indicated that explosives or fighters were coming across from Syria, U.S. General Ray Odierno also said.”

So, again, Syria is letting al-Qaida and Saddamist terrorists come in, get armed and trained, cross the border in Iraq, and run back for safe haven. Right, general?:

“The U.S. commander's comments reinforced accusations by the government of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that al Qaeda and former Baathists were working together to undermine improved security and elections expected to be held in January. Maliki's government has also accused neighboring Syria of giving a safe haven to Baathists plotting attacks in Iraq.”

Yes, that’s what I said, right? And do remember that the Obama Administration has refused to support Iraq’s complaints against Syria. Are the Syrians helping kill a lot of people?:

“Overall violence in Iraq has fallen sharply in the past 18 months and November so far has experienced one of the lowest civilian casualty levels since the 2003 U.S. invasion. But attacks by suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents like al Qaeda remain common. The twin suicide bombings in Baghdad on Oct. 25 devastated the Justice Ministry and the Baghdad governorate headquarters, while two similar suicide bombings on Aug. 19 killed almost 100 people at the foreign and finance ministries.”

So violence is continuing. As U.S. forces withdraw someone is trying to wreck the situation there so that the U.S. departure looks like defeat. Wonder who?

"`We believe that there will be attempts to conduct more attacks between now and the elections because they want to destabilize those,’ Odierno said.”

And who might be making those attacks, general?

"`My experience is there probably was some movement of fighters or explosives coming from Syria,’" he said when asked if the investigations had indicated any links to Syria.”

Thank you. So, the Obama Administration’s military commander says Syria is behind massive attacks and working closely with Usama bin Ladin’s guys.

Has the president of the United States said anything about this? Has he made any criticism of Syria? Is he ready to break off engagement efforts with the dictatorship? Has he backed up Iraqi government requests for backing in demanding Syria stop facilitating such attacks and turn over those Iraqis responsible?

No, no, no, and again no.

If the Obama Administration is fighting a war against al-Qaida why is Syria, today that group‘s main organizational and military base in the Middle East getting away with allying to the people who murdered 3,000 Americans on September 11?

If the Obama Administration is fighting a war in Iraq why is it doing nothing about the main ally of the insurgents killing American soldiers and so many Iraqi civilians, trying to wreck your policy?

Not to mention Syria trying to take over Lebanon, allying with Iran, sponsoring Hamas and Hizballah, being a major sponsor of international terrorism, and trying to build nuclear weapons’ facilities secretly?

There is an old expression about fighting with one hand tied behind your back. The Obama Administration is waging a foreign policy with both hands tied behind its back, plugs in its ears, and a gag over its mouth.

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, November 20, 2009

When it Comes to Iran, President Obama Won’t Hear “No” For an Answer

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By Barry Rubin

Question: What does Iran have to do to get across the fact that it isn’t making a deal on its nuclear program?

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton says she doesn’t consider the Iranian foreign minister’s statement that they aren’t making the deal to be “the final word.” The Obama Administration will give Tehran a few more chances—and probably a few more months—to stall in order to race ahead in their atom bomb program and to build up ways of overcoming any sanctions that are some day applied.

Indeed, the United States and five other powers are holding still another meeting to, in the words of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's spokeswoman "review the latest developments on the Iran nuclear issue." But since no one is concluding Iran is saying no, they won’t take one step toward higher sanctions.

Higher sanctions, you might remember, were supposed to come about in September 2009 under the Obama Administration's own original time table. You know when the deadline was for the multi-year European negotiations with Iran was? September 2007.

Now at the earliest sanctions probably wouldn’t come before, what, March 2010? Victory for the Iran regime.

Another great power statement says that Iran has "not responded positively" to the plan, "We are disappointed by the lack of follow-up," and "Iran has not engaged in an intensified dialogue and in particular has not accepted to have a new meeting."

I think Iran is trying to tell you something, guys. But since it isn’t in writing yet, well, they claim they can’t do anything. And of course the Iranian regime will--with U.S. government cooperation--draw this out as long as possible.

Memo to world leaders: Do you think they might be stalling for time?

Note something important here. It isn’t as if the minute they declare that Iran rejects any compromise or serious negotiations there will be stronger sanctions. Oh, no. At that point, the United States and Europeans will start meeting to figure out what sanctions to put on. Of course, they will disagree, the Russians and Chinese will water it down. The plan is also to bring in the entire EU which means, for example, that Spain or Sweden could slow down the process or force a reduction in the planned pressures on Tehran.

Now what is the president of the United States's response to all this? Hold onto your syntax:

"Iran has taken weeks now and has not shown its willingness to say yes to this proposal...and so as a consequence we have begun discussions with our international partners about the importance of having consequences."

Can you imagine what would have been said if President George W. Bush, that fumblemouthed clown so unlike the brilliant articulate Obama had said "the importance of having consequences"? What does that phrase mean? Translation: I refuse to threaten Iran. I am reluctant to put on sanctions. I don't want to admit that engagement has failed. Where's the teleprompter?"

Now a new voice has been added asking for Obama to take tough action. that of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, international spokesman for Iran's main opposition movement. He urged Obama to increase  public support for Iranian dissidents and stop the regime from getting nuclear weapons.

Recall that Obama's claim that a tougher stance would hurt the opposition was a major reason for him refusing to condemn the election theft, speak out forcibly against the repression, and hit the regime harder. Well, obviously that's untrue.

But even Makhmalbaf, former campaign spokesman for presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, thinks the regime won't make a deal because, in his words, "If they agree not to pursue a nuclear bomb and start negotiations, they will lose their supporters. Definitely dialogue is better than war. ... But can you continue your dialogue without any results?"

Answer: Apparently yes.

Now here's where it gets really disgusting.

In 1983, 241 U.S. servicemen were killed in the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in an operation backed by Iran and Syria, carried out by Hizballah and other Iranian agents. Two yars ago, a federal court ruled that Iran was indeed responsible and ordered that Tehran pay $2.65 billion in damages to families of those killed.

The Justice Department is arguing that implementing the decision "can have significant, detrimental impact on our foreign relations, as well as the reciprocal treatment of the United States and its extensive overseas property holdings."

Really? What is Iran going to do, seize the U.S. embassy and hold everyone hostage? Oh, they already did that. Support terrorist attacks against Americans in Iraq. Oh, they are doing that, too. Hold anti-American rallies and call the United States "the Great Satan?" Oh, too late.

What this Administration doesn't understand is the value of pressure, leverage, credibility, and lots of other diplomatic techniques. What it should do is: let the court decision be implemented and put on sanctions now. That would be a much better situation:

--Under more pressure the likelihood of its slowing down the program and bargaining will increase. Sure, they won't really make a deal but at least they will be more scared and cautious.

--If sanctions are increased, Iran's ability to move ahead quickly with the program and its other aggressive designs will be weakened.

--Seeing the West being tougher and the United States showing some real leadership, Arab and other states will take heart and will resist more themselves. Otherwise, they will rush--as is already happening--to appease Iran.

Otherwise, the U.S. government will just go on holding "discussions with our international partners about the importance of having consequences."  Unfortunately, for Iran Obama's policy has no consequences.

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.