Category Archives: Trends in American Foreign Policy

What If…?

What If…?

What if “right-wing” Israel is right about why the peace process has failed?

What if negotiations repeatedly failed because the Palestinians used every occasion to demand concessions from Israel and broke them off rather than reciprocate?

What if, when Palestinians say “the Occupation,” they mean all Israel?

Does it make sense to use language like, “the whole world thinks the occupation is the problem”? and wring one’s hands over the (imagined) loss of viability of the (imagined) two-state solution?

And then attack us?

What if the reason that the peace process has failed for so long is because Westerners (including Israel) think positive-sum, and Palestinian Arabs play hard zero-sum?

They want it all, and so do their jihadi brethren the world over – infidels must be dhimmi, starting with Israel.

What if Israel is fighting a common enemy with you liberals and progressives, Caliphaters who want to subject or convert infidels the world over?

Why would you side with your enemy against us?

What if your jihadis are watching and studying the deeds of our jihadis, to turn them against you?

Does it make sense for you to cheer them on when they’re hitting us, and then wonder why they’ve hit you?

Does it make any sense to desire a two-state solution, passionately, and, when one side acts in bad faith, you take his side against the side that did try, did sacrifice, and lost big in the failed deal(s)?

Zionist propaganda, you say? Perhaps. And you’ll find no lack of Jews and Israelis eager to confirm your disdain. But given that most of your information replicates Palestinian propaganda, that should hardly disqualify it as a source.

What if it’s not just a “right-wing” point of view as you’re told, but a realistic one, unhappily accepted by liberals and progressives who refuse to be seduced by unrealistic hopes, and who actually cherish and want to protect progressive values, endangered by misplaced trust in enemies of those values?

Do you help yourself by dismissing our war narrative as useless and adopting the Palestinian one? Or should you at least run through a “what if ‘right wing’ Jews are right” scenario.

Imagine all the people… getting it badly wrong….

Nah, emperor’s new clothes scenarios are just kid’s stories, not real.

And if you decline the invitation to even do that “what if…”, are you not becoming a proleptic dhimmi who rejects speech – even thought – that might upset Triumphalist Muslims?

Own-Goal Cognition, anyone?

Policy Perspectives from the World of Apocalyptic Honor-Shame

I recently received a challenge from one of my less avid fans on a list-serv that I participate in. He challenged me to answer a series of policy questions from the perspective I irritatingly espouse – namely current Western policy concerning the Middle East and Islamic nations is useless at best, self-defeating, even suicidal, at worst because it ignores what I call the HSJ paradigm that focuses on honor-shame dynamics and their current vehicle, apocalyptic Jihad.

I post here my answers.

Dealing with Islam:

Right now in the West, the reigning prime directive reads: “Don’t piss them off.” We think it’s the “vast majority of Muslims” that we thus soothe, but we also encourage the triumphalists, especially with the extent of our placation, our appeasement.

Instead of thus empowering triumphalist aggression, we should pick our fights and target triumphalism. There are so many places the cultural Maginot Line of a robust civil society have crumbled, so many places to start getting serious about what Muslims ask of us and we ask of Muslims. (For a good view of one of the early collapse see, alas, France after 2ooo in The Lost Territories of the Republic.) We need to arm progressive Muslims in their fight with the forces of triumphalism, not concede repeatedly (often with a post-colonial objective) to triumphalist aggression.

Without reciprocal relations, free societies cannot exist, much less aspire to the near utopian hopes of global progressives.

Educate about Islam, not just the masses but the policy folks. I’ve spoken to an audience of 400 people in homeland security and only 1/10 of them claimed they knew what dar al Islam and dar al Harb is. If you don’t know that, you’re historically and religiously illiterate about a crucial element of our current predicament. And 15 years after 9-11, and 26 years after Khoumeini’s fatwah against Rushdie extended Shari’a to the West?! We can’t afford that ignorance.

Right now, we are babes in the woods. As much as I want to believe what you [another list member] say about this administration [being fully aware of the problem], everything I see and hear indicates the opposite: it is overprotective of the “99.9%” of Muslims who, they tell us on their behalf, “reject the extremists.” Where does Obama come up with this stuff? How on earth can serious people take this seriously? Unless of course, they’re in such denial about the problem we face that they’ll take the pablum.

But part of our predicament has been we believed that these indulgences in moral posturing (PC) – Moral and Tolerant Europe Triumphant, The Passionate “cause” of the Palestinian Underdog – were somehow cost free. (If “tout flatteur vit aux dépens de celui qui l’ecoute,” then how damaging is self-flattery, which can be endless?)

On the contrary, these moral postures have allowed the Jihadis to maneuver the progressives into suicidal positions, into a proleptic dhimmitude where the GPL sees itself salvific warriors bringing world peace through self-abnegation, even as it submits to Muslim triumphalist demands that they not only dare not criticize (triumphalist) Muslims, but, rather, they must adopt the Muslim enemy (Israel).

Syria

(Let’s just hope it’s better than criticizing the Obama Administration for not giving enough aid to the Free-Syrian Army).  American troops?  How about Israeli troops  (no, that wouldn’t work); Turks?  (strike that);  Iran (Never, never).

Syria is a symptom of a breakdown of a political culture. The Arab “Spring” was actually a quake that hit a very weak political culture – Lee Smith’s Strong Horse. Those political dynamics reflect a broader, heavily authoritarian (patriarchal honor-murders) culture, and these social dynamics make it virtually impossible to launch and sustain a democratic political culture.

Instead it was springtime for Jihad and tribal warfare.

As for policy, our our journalists and academics and talking heads, systematically misinformed us about the situation beforehand, as well as during. With foolish expectations borne of the “post-colonial” paradigm, we thought – and were encouraged to foresee – a wave, from Tunisia to Syria of more democratic, vibrant, civil societies. Muslim Brotherhood? “Moderate,” and “almost secular.”  So whether we intervene (Libya) or don’t (Syria), it works to the advantage of the Jihadis because they are the most brutal in a brutal culture, and we are clueless. And when they fail, as all such brutal efforts do, they – at least under current conditions – just prepare more wretched chaos to fuel the next round of violence.

To think differently about this means having an appreciation of the impact our behavior has on others (allegedly a Western specialty).

In 2003, when the GPL and European countries (led by Chirac) had such a grand time turning Bush into the Antichrist, I got an email from a medievalist who was in Tunisia. “The Arabs think the French are weak. They side with their enemies and humiliate their friends.” By that logic, I can assure you that triumphalist Muslims think the Left is weak.

I’m not saying, “don’t oppose the Iraq War just because you don’t want to look like a wuss,” but rather “be cognizant of the impact of what you’re doing in terms of how your enemy (triumphalist Islam) perceives you.” The public mutual contempt the Left and Right have expressed for each other has done terrible damage.

In the 11th century, it was emperor and pope attacking each other publicly for fifty years that loosened revolutionary forces; and among the beneficiaries of that open hostility, were the free towns, the urban communes of the later 11th and 12th centuries. In the 21st cn, however, by far the greatest benefactor of public hostilities between twin poles of public discourse (in this case right-left, rather than royal-papal) has been the Jihadis… by comparison with a progressive 11th cn, the 21st cn looks alarmingly regressive.

We can’t even begin to think strategy much less tactics as long as we can’t talk about this larger massive politico-cultural failure/dysfunction in the Arab and Muslim world. And yet, thru some alchemical process operated by a particularly irresponsible branch of post-modernism, it has become “racist” to address cultural and religious problems.

Iran –Let’s hear the deal/threats or  bombing policy that you recommend and why?

I’d go very strong on rallying collective hostility to Iranian claims, use every kind of pressure to get them to stand down. i wd have been blown away if you had told me in the 1980s that the nuclear disarmament crowd would not say a word in the 21st century about re-starting a nuclear arms race, this time in the highly volatile Muslim world, i’d have said, “don’t be absurd.”

Of course, if you told a signer of the Hamas Charter, with its genocidal paranoid participation in a movement for global Islamic dominion, that within twenty years, infidels would be marching in the streets with their banners, shouting “we are Hamas!” he would have responded, “Only Allah can make infidels that stupid.”

Iraq  (Can’t be working with Iranian, Shi’a militias, right?)

Air Guitar Foreign Policy

air guitar foreign policy

 

Lookin good (in the mirror) H/T Human Rights Voices

 

 

American Vanity and Ambition Plays the Fool in Middle East Political Culture

I’ve posted some items on the upcoming “negotiations.” Here I just want to draw your attention to three recent analyses on key American players in this charade of negotiations: Kerry and Indyk, both of whom consider messing with the only relatively stable situation in the Middle East an extremely short-sighted career “win.” Talk about making others pay for your fifteen minutes of fame.

Indyk: Noah Pollak, “What does Martin Indyk Believe

Between 2006 and 2009, no relevant facts on the ground in the Middle East had changed: Iran was still pursuing nuclear weapons, Bashar al-Assad was still the dictator of Syria, and Hezbollah was still entrenched in Lebanon. Only one fact had changed, and it was a Washington fact: Barack Obama had become the president, and he had made “engagement” with Syria a pillar of his Middle East policy. Indyk dutifully discarded his previous objections to the idea.

Give him his due: His shameless positioning and audacious reversals have been successful where they were intended to count – not in making “the cause of peace his life mission,” as Kerry said about him yesterday, but in advancing his career. Step one was showing his loyalty to Obama after betting on the wrong candidate in 2008; step two was burnishing his image as a tough-minded veteran of the Middle East who understands why things went wrong in Obama’s first term and can be counted on to get it right in his second term. On the substance, it’s been an awful, tawdry display. But as a matter of Washington careerism, Indyk’s press conference yesterday, where he was introduced and praised by the secretary of state, is inarguable proof of success.

Kerry: Lee Smith, “Requiem for the Peace Process

The peace process has entered its mannerist phase—it is nothing but a series of empty elegant formalisms. Does Martin Indyk, Kerry’s newly named Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, really need to add a sequel to his memoirs of the peace process, Innocent Abroad—Again?

Bill Maher, High Priest of rekaB Street

UPDATE: Ben Smith has a fine analysis of just how bad Maher’s performance was.

Watching Bill Maher with Cory Booker, Eva Longoria (!) and Jackie Kucinich discuss matters. “The Republicans have disappointed me this week, which I never thought could happen.” How? By giving Hillary Clinton a hard time last week and then Chuck Hagel this week. Maher then proceeded to give a potted, bowdlerized version of who Chuck Hagel is, that didn’t give a clue as to why anyone might object. So why did they do it?

“Apparently Obama’s cooties are so bad that when Obama picks you, even when you’re a Republican now all the Republicans hate this guy.”

 

And Maher is supposed to be one of the more intelligent commentators on TV. And he’s surrounded himself with people who, also intelligent, are essentially yes-men and yes-women for whom the easy funny answers are just fine… cooties? seriously?

Hillary Clinton, rekaB Street Statesperson

I heard Hilary Clinton’s angry remarks about American dead on the radio the other day and couldn’t help but think rekaB Street.

With all due respect, the fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference — at this point — does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.

What an extraordinary statement! (And note the complete reversal disguised as “the point” in the final sentence.)

What an aggressive assertion of a complete lack of interest in understanding what’s going on. At least, she could have given the two plausible scenarios – protest over a movie, or well-planned Jihadi attack on the anniversary of 9-11. Instead, she used a ridiculous alternative – “guys out for a walk.”

It’s as if, faced with objections to the plausibility scenario that she was offering, the Secretary of State lashed out against looking closely. In so doing, of course, she pitched to our sensibilities, invoking the sanctity of life,  of American life, over which she had already shed a tear: so greatly do we mourn, that it’s sacrilegious to inquire to closely why they died.

On the contrary, it matters why it was done, precisely in order “to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.” Indeed, it matters hugely: it is the hallmark of any investigation that aims at inspiring a learning curve to look precisely into the details, unflinchingly.

Hence, our suspicions, as responsible citizens, should be aroused by anyone who told us that it doesn’t matter. Even if one wants to claim emotional stress, in which, under the rude questioning of Senator Ron Johnson, Hillary used a ploy to win that exchange, we’re left with the residue of that maneuver, namely a humiliatingly foolish statement. (This is not sexist, men also use ploys and say stupid things when on the defensive.) But when you do it in public, and you’re the Secretary of State, you do have to keep your wits about you when you fight back. This “comeback” was, alas, witless.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Apparently the indignation at Clinton’s call to auto-stupefaction and the analytic dissection of the folly behind the remarks  took place largely “on the right,” while, in the mainstream media, Clinton’s remarks were greeted with great admiration. “Good for Hillary,” she showed those guys on Capitol Hill a thing or two.

Here Diane Sawyer and Martha Raddatz team up to present her “riveting” testimony.

It would be harder to find a better illustration of the workings of rekaB Street than to cheer on such a principled – indignant! -refusal to examine the evidence. There must be a Simpsons or Family Guy or South Park routine that illustrates this kind of behavior. And apparently, alas, we need a term to designate the performers of such triumphalist folly.

Chelmnikim? Nasreddinim?

After all, if there weren’t real danger, this would be simply comic.

If you can’t vote for Romney, Don’t vote for Obama: An Open Letter to Americans of all Faiths and Skepticisms

If you can’t vote for Romney, Don’t vote for Obama:

An Open Letter to Americans of all Faiths and Skepticisms

I hesitate to take a public stand on national elections, never have, never thought I would. But exceptional times call for exceptional measures. I write because I think that the choice of Barak Obama could have dangerous consequences, not only for the United States (where I grew up, teach, have family, and which I greatly admire as both a nation and a culture), and for Israel (where I live, have family, write, and which I greatly admire as both a nation and a culture). I think another four years of President Obama would seriously endanger the culture of openness, tolerance and productivity that has made our current age such an astonishing one in world history.

I have become increasingly alarmed, in the course of the first decade of the 21st century, about what seemed to me an inexplicable loss of ground in a critical battle for moral integrity with a politicized religious movement which we loosely refer to as Islamism. Many of those who believe that Islam should exercise political sovereignty wherever it exists, also manifest alarmingly aggressive, regressive traits. Since political Islam clearly violates the idea of the separation of church and state, a pillar of free democracies, it did not occur to me that the products and developers of modern liberal culture would lose such a debate to people whose sharia-imposed utopia involves patriarchy and its attendant misogyny, imperialist politics and its hate-targeting of scapegoats, violence and its threat in order to silence critics.

To my shock and horror, I have felt like a witness to a self-destructive generation, bent on pursuing the mirages that John Lennon invited us to Imagine, no matter what the cost, no matter who we tried to reach by throwing off all our identity boundaries. Damn the regressive icebergs, full speed ahead to making the world “a much better place” by embracing the “Other.” Ignore those violent Islamists and what they’re doing; they’re all part of the great experiment in global consciousness in which we all participate.

Not only that, our critics from within and without insist, but “we” Eurocentric Westerners should take responsibility for any problems that arise. Ask not, “what do they believe to hate us so?” but rather, “what have we done to make them hate us so?” It was one thing for Chomsky to respond to 9-11 by declaring the US the worst terrorist, it was madness for a generation of idealist/activists to take Chomsky as their moral compass. The result: when Islamists accused us of terrible and malevolent crimes, and held us to standards of human rights for them, that they themselves would never grant to us, we responded, “Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. We deserve the hostility we get. Perhaps, if we atone and show respect to you, we can all move on to a better, more equitable world.”

Who but the most perceptive prophet in the 1990s could have imagined this marriage of pre-modern sadism and post-modern masochism? And who, upon seeing it take shape, would have imagined the powerful (even hegemonic) voice it commanded in the public sphere in the next decade? Who but a pessimistic William Blake could have dreamed of so perverse an Emperor’s New Clothes dominating public conversation even as a remorseless enemy builds strength?

Losing the Cognitive War in the 21st Century: The 9-11 US Embassy Episode

This item appeared in my Daily Telegraph Blog, where there are now over 350 comments, some of them worth reading.

Losing the Cognitive War in the 21st Century: The 9-11 US Embassy Episode

The West continues well into the teens of the 21st century to lose the cognitive war with the Islamist camp. The latest catastrophe of international proportions has been the attacks on 9-11 against US embassies in Libya and Egypt (two places that went through major changes during the “Arab Spring”). A combination of well-planned rocket attacks used the cover of outrage at an inflammatory movie about Islam, to kill an American ambassador and three other embassy officials. The Muslim street in the Arab world has turned violently hostile to the US, and their own leaders, when not helpless to resist, are in cahoots, even with nuclear Iran. Angry Muslim demonstrations riots spread all over the globe, and American (and Western) policy in the region is “in tatters.”

The results have made clear how poorly we Westerners conduct ourselves on the global stage, and how the news media self-inflicts some of those wounds. At the heart of the drama stands a President of the US, who plays win-win checkers against enemies who play I-win-you-lose three-dimensional chess; and at the same time a Western news media which rushes to publish as news, the poisoned meat of lethal narratives.

Let’s look at what happened from the perspective of a-symmetrical cognitive war, in which weak aggressors use non-violent methods to at once put a much more powerful enemy in a position where he cannot use his own force, and then maximize the use of their own force, largely (at the early stages) for symbolic effect. Here al Qaeda affiliates make a daring assault on US sovereign territory, killing an ambassador. Their cover, a movie made that outrageously insults the prophet, and predictably arouses the angry violence of the crowd. The US loudly denounces the film and protests the riots, but does not make any moves to even demand the punishment of the perpetrators. Crowds who have no fear, knowing that neither the US nor government troops will not shoot back, gather outside other US Embassies in the Arab world. The riots spread to other countries.

This massive symbolic attack, on 9-11 – if you will, this global insult to the Peace of Westphalia and the basic principles of the UN – comes off almost as brilliantly as 9-11. You couldn’t script a movie better. The POTUS loses face on a massive scale, especially in the Muslim and non-aligned world, where matters of face have enormous cultural capital. He looks like a dismaying fool to the Europeans, who are struggling with both crises in their ambitiously high-minded (win-win) projects, and their increasingly restive and aggressive Muslim immigrant populations who have failed/refused to assimilate (i.e., they, like their co-religionists back home, will riot at perceived insult).

Thank you, Edward Saïd: Wikileaks, Linkage, and the Appalling State of Western Understanding of the Arab World

This is an essay I wrote back at the time of Wikileaks, and it got rejected from two different journals. I got distracted by my book, and forgot about it. I just got a nice email from a fan who asked me where I wrote the following:

The problem with middle eastern studies in the USA (a fortiori in Europe) is that it’s been colonized by Muslim and Arab scholars who have politicized the field and intimidated western scholars into “respecting” Islam (which means giving it the honor that they feel it deserves). this hegemonic discourse makes it impossible to speak of honor-shame, the very hegemonic principle that has made Islamic studies such a retarded field.

If Western academics had done this with their own culture and religion, we’d have no academics. The appalling propaganda that passes for scholarship today — Finkelstein and abu el-Haj come immediately to mind — that would get tenured from faculty and administrators in thrall to a political correct discourse that is, to use the Marxist term, “objectively” a form of cowardice and dhimmitude, is what drives sound people to take extraordinary measures.

Today’s middle eastern studies more closely resembles the kind of atmosphere that dominated the late medieval university (inquisitorial) than a free and meritocratic culture commited to honesty. the only difference is that in pursuing this oppressive and ultimately dishonest form of “academic discourse” the people who admire “scholars” like F and e-H, actually betray the very culture they pretend to uphold.”)

It was in response to an article about tenure in Middle Eastern Studies in Inside Higher Ed. He also asked me if I’ve developed those thoughts, and I wrote back that in addition to my essay on Edward Said, there’s the following essay, which I post here.

Wikileaks, the Middle East and Edward’s Said’s Legacy

One of the most interesting revelations in the cache of recently released Wikileaks  documents concerned Obama’s Middle East policy. Remarks from several and varied Arab countries confirmed in a rather dramatic way, what some experts had claimed earlier: that the Arabs wanted the US to “cut off the head of the snake,” and that for these Arab leaders the head was Iran.

On one level, this wasn’t groundbreaking news; anyone paying attention knew that Sunni Arab leaders were terrified of the power of Shiite Iran.  But somehow this awareness had failed to penetrate Obama’s policy circle, which had consistently argued that in order to gain the support of the Arab world to move against Iran, the US had to “solve” the Palestinian problem. Obama explained this policy of linkage to Netanyahu in their April meeting of 2009: by swiftly reaching a “two-state solution” that gives the Palestinians a viable state, Obama could win the favor of the Arab world and the global community, enabling him to tackle problems like Iran.

Linkage had widespread approval not only in academic and policy circles, and among global “elders” like Jimmy Carter, but also among newspundits like Tom Friedman, who considers it “very logical.” A cynic might call this the narcissistic messianic approach: let’s make everyone love us, have peace prizes all around in Denmark, and then calmly and collectively tell the Iranians: “Oh, behave!”

Of course others have argued against this Rube Goldberg machine (Kramer, Shavit, Ceren, Rubin, Phillips, Weinthal). What strategy would hold urgent diplomacy (Iranian nuclear ambitions) hostage to solving a problem that has resisted the most energetic diplomatic efforts for generations? And just what kind of solution to the Palestinian problem could Obama come up with that would a) leave even a diminished Israel in peace and security and b) so enthuse the Arab world that they’d now rally around America’s banner? It’s one thing to think you can squeeze some kind of grudging truce out of that adamantine conflict; it’s quite another to think you can, in a couple of years, produce a peace that will inspire the Arab world to renounce its resentment of American hegemony.

And (predictably) as soon as Obama implemented linkage, it backfired; indeed the Palestinians saw linkage as a reason to become intransigent: no direct talks without total settlement freeze. Asked why they insisted on this, if the Palestinians had earlier negotiated peace agreements while settlement construction went on throughout the West Bank, Nabil Shaath didn’t claim they said yes (as the MSNM would have us believe), but rather responded, “We have to say ‘no’ sometime” (5:15).

And why just now? Because, as Shaath went on to explain, with linkage the Palestinians saw themselves in a position of strength and Israel in a position of alienating Obama:

Isn’t President Obama impatient with what the Israelis have done? …Wasn’t Mr. [sic] Obama’s strategy that, [by] starting with the Palestinian-Israeli peace, [he] will really get America a better image in our area, will help America achieve what it really wants to do, disentangling itself from Iraq, resolving problems in Pakistan and in Iran and in Lebanon? Isn’t that what he said? Doesn’t that make him impatient of what Mr. Netanyahu has done to him? (6:57-7:30).

Did Obama and his advisors really think that everyone in the Middle East was just waiting for the right gesture, the positive-sum magic that will make everyone happy? Have they contemplated the opposite possibility: that Arab leaders do not want an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and that our linkage may play right into their version of linkage: Blame Israel for the misery they themselves inflict. Our linkage – Israeli concessions before and in place of Palestinian concessions – enables and empowers Arab scape-goating; it aggravates the belligerent forces in the region.

Some accordingly argued that Obama should reverse the sequence: If he really wants peace (rather than a quick take-down of Israel) then taking care of the critical problem – Iran – will make it easier for Israel to make the highly risky concessions Obama wants from them. Put the pressure on the most radical and, by the standards of a community committed to peace, the least “rational” actor on the scene, undermine the culture of apocalyptic violence they encourage among their proxies in the region (Hamas, Hizbullah), so that Palestinian moderates, who want to put an end to their own people’s suffering can rally support for the difficult concessions necessary for peace.

So when the Wikileaks documents revealed no hint among the Arab leaders of a Palestinian state as a prerequisite for dealing with Iran, many noted how they undermined the rationale behind Obama’s insistence on a linkage that went, via Israeli concessions, to Arab and world cooperation against Iran. On the contrary, these cables give the impression that Obama had a strong hand to play against Arab intransigence: “if you want me to attack Iran, then these are the things I want from you.”

One might imagine that Obama had his strong hand in mind when, a day before his speech in Egypt, he visited King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, asking for a gesture towards Israel in response to their concession on settlements. Such a Saudi concession might have a powerful impact on the mood in the Arab and Muslim world; it certainly would have added dramatic luster to his Cairo speech. And yet, when King Abdullah went into a tirade at the mere suggestion, Obama played none of his strong cards. Instead he went to Cairo empty-handed and disgruntled. Tough cop is not a role Obama seems comfortable playing.

Those who follow the honor-shame dynamics here understand that the weaker the Israelis look to the Arabs, the more intransigent they become. One need not be an insider with access to high-level intelligence to understand the basic pattern that the last two decades of peace diplomacy have revealed: Israeli concessions elicit no hint of reciprocity towards a positive-sum solution. On the contrary…

And yet none of this had even a slightly sobering effect on the giddy optimism of the administration. Only two months after Abdulla’s tantrum, in August of 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a peace settlement within a year, and in January 2010, after four further fruitless months, Presidential envoy George Mitchell prognosticated “within two years.” Either these folks were pulling some clever feint (the predominant belief in the Arab world), or they are genuinely clueless (the most generous reading).

Others, more knowledgeable about the political players can try to figure out why neither Obama nor Clinton (who’s husband got burned by this Peace debacle in a most spectacular fashion in 2000) permitted any of these developments – the Arab urgency about Iran, the king’s temper tantrum about Israel, the backfiring of Israeli concessions – to disturb the main lines of their version of linkage.

Having just reread with students Edward Said’s Orientalism and some of his critics, I was struck by the role that his epigones have played in formulating this counter-intuitive strategy. In The Ivory Tower, Martin Kramer writes about the strong impact the book had on a generation of Western students, eager to dissociate themselves from any participation in American imperialistic hegemony, to empathize with, rather than “other” Arabs.

After all, had not Said, even as he illustrated the point, insisted that to “other” necessarily involves invidious comparison, “either in self congratulation (when one discusses one’s own) or hostility and aggression (when one discusses the “other”)…” Saïd appealed to our “common humanity” to do away with this us-them mentality to shift our attention from “cultural, religious and racial differences” towards “socio-economic categories [and] politico-historical ones (p. 325):

At all costs the, the goal of Orientalizing the Orient [what post-colonialists more generally call “othering” someone, RL] again and again is to be avoided, with consequences that cannot help but refine knowledge and reduce the scholar’s conceit. Without “the Orient” there would be scholars, critics, intellectuals, human beings, for whom the racial, ethnic, and national distinctions were less important than the common enterprise of promoting human community (328).

Never mind that most Oriental scholars had a passion for their subjects and extended far more empathic effort in understanding the objects of their study than did Saïd did in critiquing the Orientalists themselves. And never mind that Arabs tend to “other” on a scale the beggars Saïd’s complaints about Western tendencies.  On the contrary, Saïd, demonstrating his asabiyya, his loyalty and solidarity with the Arab cause, had no problem “othering” those he accused of the sin:

It is therefore correct [sic] that every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric (p.68).

But these flaws had no discernable effect on the enthusiasm with which the field of Middle Eastern studies embraced his critique of its forebears, and remade itself along post-colonial lines. A pervasively flawed book became canonical for a generation, inspiring a paradigm shift that shaped Middle Eastern Studies in the USA.  As a result, the field virtually became committed to not seeing what was before them. They could thus see vibrant civil societies everywhere (Syria!), even in Islamist NGOs (Hamas!), that promised democracy soon. After all, if they were humans like us, why not?

It greatly assisted all these scholars who hailed the thriving proto-democratic, civil-society movements in the Middle East, men and women who could proudly claim they were not Orientalists, that they, like their mentor Saïd, detected few traces of the imperialism that so marks the first thirteen centuries of Islam. It made sense that those who could ignore or downplay the patriarchal ferocity so dominant in the Middle East, could also turn a blind eye the enduring culture of Muslim imperialism, and the strong odor of frustrated ressentiment in the Arab discontent with modernity. For the Saïd’s post-colonial epigones, the Arabs were the innocent subaltern victims of our imperialism; not exasperated failures at implementing their own. History may have gone wrong, but post-Orientalist scholars made a profession of believing that the wrong turn was when Western imperialism prevented Arab societies from being (naturally) free, not that the Arabs had failed to maintain and expand their empire.

This approach, divorced from reality even as it spoke of the “variegated” and “layered” phenomena it tried to represent, ended up anticipating developments and concocting strategies so fantastic, that just contemplating their spread and acceptance in policy circles gives insight into the dynamics of how a certain legendary emperor could parade before his people naked. As “I will make a lot of peace in the Middle East,” the spoof animation inspired by Wikileaks– has the US spokesman say in defense of linkage, “We have consulted with many foreign policy experts, they have many Ph.D.s about the Middle East.” Along with the spectacle of Europeans acclaiming Noam Chomsky as the great American intellectual, few things better illustrate the failings of this generation of Western intelligentsia than Orientalism’s profound impact on Middle Eastern studies and beyond.

Amongst the many noxious effects of Orientalism on our scholars’ ability to understand the Arab world, was the ban it put on discussing “honor-shame” culture, so strong an elective affinity in Arab culture that even Islam’s disapproval has failed to prune back the “honor-killings” of daughters and sisters by their family. Said’s moral scorn for the patent racism involved in this cultural approach made “honor-shame” itself a shameful discourse to hold in academic circles. As Jerrold Green noted “the mere recognition that cultural factors matter labels specialists as anti-scientific heretics by their more dogmatic colleagues.” According to a reliable source, this singularly successful political correctness has even invaded intelligence services, where one had to refrain from suggesting honor-shame motivations in analyzing the data!

The greatest irony of this accomplishment comes from the fact that Saïd himself illustrates the honor-shame dynamic. The second half of his career embodies the very “oriental” traits that he forbade us to discuss. On a very basic level, Orientalism represents an aggressive effort to “save face”: Westerners have no right to look critically at the Arab world. Noted Kramer:

Instead [of serious analysis], Said skimmed across its [Oriental scholarship’s] surface in search of the most offensive quotes, presented as the core or essence of orientalism, whose gravitational field no Westerner could hope to escape.

And the offenses were precisely those that were most wounding to Arab pride.  On some level, Orientalism is a cri de coeur of someone whose amour propre has been wounded by the opinion outsiders have of his people. And the generation of scholars who adopted that book as the Bible (as one of my students described another professor’s attitude), considered their most important task not to upset those for whom honor and shame meant everything.

And yet, if we don’t understand that some cultures (not only Arabic or Islamic ones) accept, expect, even require that one shed someone’s blood for the sake of one’s honor, then we don’t understand how people in those cultures “reason.” Our initial (and abiding) response, coming from a culture that has fought a long hard battle with the tendency towards violent retaliation for insult, views this behavior as irrational, as self-destructive – “their own worst enemies.” But to think along these lines turns us into “the apogee of Orientalist confidence,” guilty of the “racism” Saïd so despised.

For Westerners aspiring to study the Arab world without becoming colonial collaborators, that meant an anti-Orientalism every bit as distorting as the Orientalism Saïd condemned among the scholars. The new, non-“othering” dogma insisted that Arabs can and would behave rationally (i.e., positive-sum), in roughly the same way the Europeans did in creating the European Union.

So why not “land for peace”? It makes sense. This conflict, the “very logical” argument goes, like all others, is about “rational” grievances. Presumably it will respond to the appeal of positive-sum solutions that call for mutual self-sacrifice in order to achieve mutual gain, and bury the hatchet. Israel gives land and the Arabs give recognition and an end to the state of war produces “peace.” Win-win.

In a Saidian conversation, one cannot, without heavy moral opprobrium, suggest that it’s not about boundaries but existence, not about rational grievances, but much more about honor and shame, about the humiliation of a tiny Israel fighting off the combined might of the Arab empire, about the blasphemy of a dhimmi people, throwing off their yoke and daring to be “a free people in our own land,” in the heart of Dar al Islam. I mean, how can you solve a problem like that?

It’s a lot easier to believe that poverty causes terror (rather than vice-versa): at least we know how to generate wealth… and we dare not think about the way some cultures generate poverty. And we certainly dare not ask the obvious question: If they will kill their daughters for shaming them in their communities, and they burn dozens of homes of dhimmi Copts when one of them dates a Muslim woman, imagine what they want to do to Israel for blackening their face and shaming their religion before the eyes of the world community and of history?

Thus we end up with a foreign policy based on fantasy, mired in denial, a community of experts that refuses to process feedback that contradicts cherished truths, people who cling to PC “grand” narratives with the ferocity of true believers. Of course, they might say off the public record, everyone knows about touchy Arab honor, especially when it comes to Israel! Arabs themselves admit that Israel is a psychological problem “in the genes of every Arab.” The very notion that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most fundamental issue in the Middle East, constitutes a acknowledgment of that massive Arab “hang-up” on an area that is a mere .002 of their own, deeply troubled portion of the globe.

Our experts and academics understand this, and even have policy solutions: do everything to avoid situations where it becomes a problem. That, of course, means leaving Israel out of as many situations as possible. In other words, whenever honor-shame dynamics rear their ugly head, back down. Like Yale University Press or the New York Met, don’t confront, don’t provoke violence.

Similarly, we never confront them on their double speak: When the positive-sum, peace oriented liberal cognitive egocentrists hear Palestinians complain about the occupation, they think “Green line,” while the zero-sum, honor-comes-from-revenge oriented Palestinian spokesmen think “shoreline.” (NB: I’m not essentializing, not talking about “the Arabs,” but specifically about those who are in thrall to an irredentist mind-set that we have difficulty imagining.) If we knew this, and worked around it without confronting it, that might make sense; but to ignore it, to make plans based on our projected understanding, to pressure Israel into concessions based on these fantasies, is either criminal negligence or malice.

Not surprisingly, with such anti-Orientalist flaws at the base of their thinking, the Obama administration’s Middle East foreign policy team got everything wrong. They expected long-term rationality in solving the Arab Israeli conflict (a quick positive-sum solution), and short-term irrationality (we won’t do anything about Iranian nuclear weapons until something is done about Israel). Instead we encountered the opposite: short-term rationality on Iran, long-term irrationality on Israel. Indeed, the take-home message of Arab behavior is that the Arab-Israeli lies at the heart of their most self-defeating behavior: it is the hardest and last thing we’ll resolve, not the first. And the idea that, if only Israel were gone, the self-destructive belligerence of Arab political culture would disappear is as loopy a messianic hope as being carried off by aliens on December 21, 2012 by hanging out in Bugarach, France.

Maybe the cultural relativists are right: Who says Westerners behave rationally?

Gleanings, 03.03.11

Barry Rubin: Muslim Brotherhood’s New Campaign: Seize Control of Egypt’s Islamic Institutions (MUST READ!!)

This is of gigantic importance (see if anyone else covers it). MEMRI has pointed out the opening of a Muslim Brotherhood campaign to replace Egypt’s current clerical hierarchy with its own people. If that happens…you can imagine. Once Islamists are in place making the “official” decisions on what constitutes proper Islam, an Islamist state cannot be far away … “God-fearing” imams means Muslim Brotherhood cadre. The president of Egypt “must be subordinate” to al-Azhar means an Islamist state. This strategy also suggests that the Brotherhood is recognizing that it will not choose Egypt’s next president–who is more likely to be the nationalist Amr Moussa–so it must start building an independent base of support outside of the government’s and president’s control for its long march toward Islamism at a later date.

Barry Rubin: New York Times’ Promoting Muslim Brotherhood; Hilary Clinton Promoting al-Jazira: It’s Beyond Satire! (MUST READ)

I have pointed out several times how the New York Times has been whitewashing the Muslim Brotherhood, including the publication of a terrible set of lies by Tariq Ramadan. Now, without having to my knowledge published a single piece pointing to the Muslim Brotherhood’s radical Islamism, anti-Americanism, antisemitism, and terrorism, we have still another op-ed by a Muslim Brotherhood leader in the newspaper. Once again we are told they are great, moderate guys … Things have gone beyond anything I ever would have believed. With Secretary of State Hilary Clinton holding up al-Jazira as a role model for the American media, I think I’ve seen just about everything wrong being said and done. Is she aware of how al-Jazira slants the news? I still remember their reporting that the United States had used a nuclear weapon in Baghdad during the 2003 war.

The Telegraph: Large Arab gifts to universities lead to ‘hostile’ teaching

Between 1995 and 2008, eight universities – Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, University College London, the LSE, Exeter, Dundee and City – accepted more than £233.5 million from Muslim rulers and those closely connected to them … The donors claim that they want only to promote understanding of Islam – a fine goal for any university. But the man who gathered the earlier figures, Prof Anthony Glees, argues that their real agenda is rather different: to push an extreme ideology and act as a form of propaganda for the Wahhabist strain of Islam within universities. They push, he says, “the wrong sort of education by the wrong sort of people, funded by the wrong sorts of donor”.

MARK HELPRIN: The Decline of U.S. Naval Power

Last week, pirates attacked and executed four Americans in the Indian Ocean. We and the Europeans have endured literally thousands of attacks by the Somali pirates without taking the initiative against their vulnerable boats and bases even once. Such paralysis is but a symptom of a sickness that started some time ago.

Victor Davis Hanson: Our Schizoid Foreign Policy

Are we stupid abroad by accident or design?

Walter Russell Mead: The Mead List: World’s Top Ten Gaddafi Toads

History, however, will not forgive those who, either from greed or a shared interest in promoting tyranny, colluded with, bribed, defended and helped this grotesque parody of a national leader rape and ruin his own unhappy land while he strutted ludicrously across the tawdry stage of world politics for forty pathetic years.

To name and shame everyone who colluded with this nasty piece of work — and a few are still standing by him now — would take far too long.  But this moment in world history should not pass without a shout out to the worst of the worst: the top ten Gaddafi enablers who gave gratuitous aid and comfort to this murderous nutjob.

Paul Hollander: The Left’s Converging Political Misjudgments: Communism and Radical Islam

Why do people on the Left, and especially intellectuals — often motivated by high ideals and good intentions — so often make poor political judgments, especially about the adversaries of the United States? … Islamic movements came to be viewed with a degree of sympathy by numerous American intellectuals and those on the Left, who were convinced of the worthlessness of their own society, and were irresistibly drawn to “the enemies of their enemy.”

Adi Schwartz, Only one side of the story

I thought it would be interesting, and so I found myself about a month ago on a tour with 12 journalists: 9 from Sweden (4 of them Jewish and one Palestinian who’d emigrated from Syria), one from Russia, one from Turkey and one from Germany. The printed media, radio and television were all represented. The first three days were devoted to a seminar at “Yad Vashem”, the holocaust memorial museum. One day was spent in Hebron, another in Bethlehem, another in Tel Aviv and another in Sderot.

I quickly felt that the experience was a microcosm of everything that goes on between Israelis, Palestinians and agents of all nationalities in the international arena. I found the criticism, the accusations and the dynamics within the group to be marred with harsh intellectual violence. Naturally, I couldn’t respond and react to everything, but I put my thoughts and impressions down in writing. I am now publishing a diary of sorts for those days, which differs in essence from the format of a straightforward journalistic account, yet is of just as much value, in my opinion.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Time on the J Street Ward

While attending the J Street conference I wondered whether I had entered some alternative dimension, where facts known by the rest of the world, and basic principles of reasoning, just didn’t operate in quite the same way as they do on the rest of planet Earth.  I think I know what’s operating.

Psychologists teach that an obsession is “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.”  There is a persistent theme on J Street: a Palestinian State must be created RIGHT NOW (“PSRN”), and it’s almost as if there is a complete memory block about the refusals of varying forms of the state, including the original offer by the United Nations of yet another Arab State in 1947.

Harold Rhode, Regime Change in Iran: A Win for the Gulf and the West

Many Middle Eastern experts, especially in the U.S. government, have argued for years that Sunni fundamentalists such as Osama bin Laden and the Muslim Brotherhood hate Shiites and could never work together. But nothing could be further from the truth. Sunni Brotherhood leaders and members of bin Laden’s family have made appearances in Tehran over the years, many times in full public view. These Sunni and Shiite fundamentalists share a common goal of eliminating the West from the Muslim world. Thereafter, they could work out their deadly differences. If things continue as they are, these upheavals could well amount to a huge win for this passionately anti-Western Iranian regime.

Imagine a situation where the Shiites of Bahrain manage to overthrow their Sunni authoritarian rulers, and their freedom inspires the Shiites of Saudi Arabia to push for the same. Imagine how Iran’s current rulers would view this situation. The Iranians would undoubtedly pressure their fellow Shiites to push the Americans out, and consequently hold the entire world hostage to their dictates. Moreover, while we wish the Egyptian people well, imagine a situation where the Iranian-allied Muslim Brotherhood eventually takes over the Egyptian revolution, just as Khomeini took over the Iranian revolution from the hands of the secularists. America and the world would end up with the short end of an Iranian victory.

But things do not have to end up that way. There is irrefutable evidence that the Iranian people want regime change. They have used every opportunity to make their views known, often putting themselves at great danger. Just as the young Arabs have shown us in the past few weeks, these Iranians too have had enough of the tyrannical rulers, who, if left to their own devices, could easily inflict upon their people the same fate as Mr. Gaddafi is inflicting on his own people.

Jonathan Freedland, Antisemitism: the hatred that refuses to go away

Similarly, Jews are unnerved when they read learned essays by foreign policy experts alleging the domination of US affairs by the “Zionist lobby” – seeing in such arguments a veiled, upmarket form of the perennial conspiracy theory. They feel similarly alarmed by claims that the hidden hand behind all world events is really Israel – that it was Israel that pushed George W Bush to invade Iraq (when, in fact, Israeli policymakers were warning that Iran posed the greater threat, or that Israel is the reason why Britain has long backed despots in the Arab world, when Britain has plenty of self-interested reasons of its own for its policy in the region. Viewed like this, Assange’s remarks don’t look so distant from Oliver Stone’s assertion last year that there is “Jewish domination of the media”, to say nothing of Richard Dawkins’s breezy statement that “the Jewish lobby . . . more or less monopolise American foreign policy”.

What makes all this terrain so tricky is not only that every inch of it is vigorously contested but that many of those who resort to anti-Jewish tropes when tackling Israel do so apparently inadvertently, even at the very same time as they fiercely denounce antisemitism. Because they don’t lapse into Galliano-esque abuse, they believe they must be free of all prejudice. To many, it comes as a shock to discover the provenance of the imagery they have just deployed.

The Contempt of the “Right-Thinking” Peacock Rhinos: J-Street goes after Wiesel.

HT/David Winick

Elie Wiesel published a major ad, “For Jerusalem,” in several US newspapers, prompting President Obama to meet hastily with him and reassure him that he understands the importance of Jerusalem to the Jews. Jeremy Ben-Ami of J-Street responded with his own ad featuring a counter-attack by Yossi Sarid, one of the unrepentant architects of the Oslo process, that dismissed Weisel as misinformed, misled, deceived, and, worst of all, “imbuing our current conflict with messianic hues.”

This last accusation is particularly significant. Any religious affection for Jerusalem on the part of Jews appears on J-Street’s radar as messianic attachment, and since, by J-Street’s analysis, compromise on Jerusalem is a sine qua non of achieving peace, such feelings are impediments to reaching a “rational” solution.

Now one of my greater gripes with J-Street concerns the inconsistency with which they apply their principle that pressure should be put “on both sides.” When in doubt, their motto seems to run, squeeze Israel. I am open to correction, but I am unaware of one formal position that they have taken in which Palestinian concessions are the principle target of their actions or declamations.

So here, the fact that the Muslim claim to Jerusalem is not only historically weak, but filled with messianic overtones, indeed Jihadi messianic ones, at the core of an unrestrained apocalyptic struggle, has no bearing for him.

Only the Jews should be restrained from messianic urgings; indeed they should restrain their messianic yearnings to make room for those of the Muslims. Then we’ll have peace.

Barry Rubin, in a brilliant study of Assimilation and its Discontents, pointed out how Jews, eager to succeed in the modern world, found their talent for self-denial one of their most valuable tools, and, for example, would champion any people’s liberation cause but that of their own people. J-Street steps right into the mold, and in so doing, reveals just what levels of contempt it feels for anyone whose sensibility gets in the way of their own sure-fire recipe for peace.

And what if… what if such a strategy of self-denial and sacrifice for the sake of peace ends up backfiring? The fact that J-Street would have Israel carve up its capital to make Palestinians happy, without any attention to the religious stakes for Palestinians, speaks eloquently for a perspective I think as cruel to Jews as it is unwise.

For J-Street, Palestinians need not compromise on Jerusalem as their “capital,” despite the fact that when it lay in Arab hands, Palestinians showed no interest in making it their capital. It matters not that their attachment is part and parcel of a violent and irredentist demand for Palestine from the “river to the sea” for both Fatah and Hamas. It matters not that, in their demand for control of the sacred precincts of their “third most holy city,” Muslims treat Jewish claims with dismissive contempt.

Question for Jeremy and Yossi Sarid, and all the other believers that unilateral compromise will bring peace: What if Israel’s agreement to share Jerusalem, pressured by the Obama administration, produces the opposite effect on Palestinians? What if, rather than empower the moderates to produce matching Palestinian concessions, as you seem to fervently believe, it strengthens the position of the irredentists who argue “East Jerusalem today, Palestine from the River to the Sea” tomorrow?

J-Street: Is there a plan B here?

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Obama? Guest blog from Uzi Amit-Kohn

I just received the following piece from a friend in Israel. I post it here at his request not because I endorse it, but because I think it’s important to think out of the box, and that’s precisely what he does. Comments and criticism welcome as always.

Unlike our brethren in the diaspora, most Israeli Jews – myself included – had no illusions about then presidential candidate Barack Obama being a friend of Israel. But even I did not foresee that Obama would team up with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to subject Israel to a “good cop- bad cop” routine, and with Iran in the role of the “good cop”, no less.

By now, even many well known figures in US Jewry have come to recognize President Obama’s undisguised hostility toward the Jewish State. Ed Koch, Alan, Dershowitz, and Martin Peretz are just three of the more prominent American Jews who have publicly broken with Obama over his treatment of Israel. Here in Israel, distrust of Obama has reached such staggering heights that this Passover, at Seder tables throughout the country – or so my extrapolation from the experiences of my friends and acquaintances leads me to believe – Barack Obama’s name came up when the Haggadah (ritual reading) came to the text of “Vehi she’amda”, which –in English translation – reads:

“This is what has stood by our fore- fathers and by us! For not just one [oppressor] alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Almighty rescues us from their hand!”

Barack Obama seems to me a person full of self-regard but totally lacking in self-awareness, so at the White House “Seder” that he hosted, he probably had no sense that those words – written in reference to such villains of Jewish history as Pharaoh, Amalek, Nebuchadnezzar, Titus and Hadrian and more recently associated by one and all with Adolph Hitler – were now being recited with a picture of Barack Obama in people’s minds. It took real skill for an American president, elected with 78% of the Jewish vote, to be recognized by millions of Jews as a potential destroyer of the Jewish People.

It has been reported that the Obama administration’s intention in creating an artificial crisis in US – Israel relations was politically to weaken Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and to force him either to form a new coalition with the Kadima party and its leader Tzippi Livny, or to engineer a situation in which Livny will form a new government. The most recent manifestation of Obama’s hostility seems to be a recent report in the Washington Post, that Obama, encouraged by his own National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, and such past – unfriendly to Israel – National Security Advisors as Zbigniew Brezinski and Brent Scowcroft – plans to try to impose a settlement on both Israel and the Palestinians, and will “link” Israel’s cooperation on that violation of our sovereignty to action on the Iranian nuclear issue.

To help forestall this possibility I recommend that Israel-supporters in the United States start being very vocal, and preemptively equate any attempt to impose a settlement on Israel with 1930’s era appeasement. Ed Koch has already applied the “M-word”, writing of Obama’s foreign policy “There is a foul whiff of Munich and appeasement in the air.” We may as well start using the “NC-word” (i.e. – “Neville Chamberlain”) in this context as well.

Obama is already tanking in the polls and is suffering the most rapid decline in his presidential approval rating of any first term president since polling began. He might decide that whatever benefit he had hoped to gain, by imposing a “peace settlement” on Israel, would not be worth the additional damage to his image and political standing.

The most mystifying aspect of this report is that Obama wants to make American action against the Iranian nuclear program contingent on Israel accepting the imposed settlement. The underlying premise would seem to be that Iran is only Israel’s problem, and that America’s friends and allies in Europe and the Middle East – let alone the United States itself – are in no way threatened by a nuclear armed Islamic Republic of Iran.

No More Messiahs: Kerstein on Obama at Oslo

A provocative, well-written and thoughtful essay by Benjamin Kertsein on Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech with some very sharp perceptions on the human condition and the necessary limits of messianism. Comments welcome. HT/oao (who’s not commenting much these days here)

Obama in Oslo: No More Messiahs
by Benjamin Kerstein

There is a fairly well-known phenomenon among alcoholics referred to as the “moment of clarity.” It is the momentary lifting of the haze of intoxication and denial, giving the drinker a sudden and often shattering insight into the stark reality of their situation. There is a strong possibility that President Obama’s December 9 Nobel Prize acceptance speech has given us a glimpse into a remarkable and somewhat unprecedented variation on this phenomenon: a political moment of clarity — one taking place, or at least publicly announced, on a global stage.
It must be said at the outset that the speech was also unprecedented in the context of Obama and the Obama phenomenon. It was both the first time Obama has said anything of substance, and certainly the first time he has displayed anything resembling political courage. It should also be noted that much of the speech was all but guaranteed to alienate both the president’s far-left base (already incensed by his decision to expand the war in Afghanistan) and his bien-pensant Scandinavian hosts.

Indeed, a great many of Obama’s greatest admirers consider the war on terror to be a malicious imperial project whose purpose is to enforce American hegemony on the world. Obama, however, referred to Afghanistan, now once again the major front in that war, with refreshing accuracy as “a conflict that America did not seek,” and “an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.” He also emphasized that “I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation.” For a president who has often seemed disturbingly addicted to irrational adulation, this willingness to invite derision deserves, at the very least, some measured praise.

More tellingly, Obama’s speech also included several statements that cannot be described as anything other than thinly disguised restatements of the Bush Doctrine. Assertions like “as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation…. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world,” represent precisely the kind of unnuanced moral absolutism that the Bush Doctrine’s critics – including Obama himself – explicitly denounced and rejected.

Obama, Peace Prize, Cognitive Egocentrism, yadayadayada

I haven’t written about Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize because it’s too silly for words, but then I just have to put up a couple of pieces that cover the subject quite nicely.

First, Christopher Hitchens, who, TUI, is still sharper by far than any of his MSNBC interlocutors, takes on the topic. Best line: It’s like giving an actor an Oscar in the hopes he’ll make a good movie.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Second, a great piece from the Onion on Obama’s diplomatic efforts to get a wildfire to put itself out (HT/EP).

This one is especially apt for me since Henri Desroche, in his book on millennialism (Sociology of Hope), compared apocalyptic movements to wildfires.

As the Nobel Committee, laying claim to being the current headquarters for liberal cognitive egocentrism, said in its remarks (HT/ZP):

His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

Good luck with that.

Walter Cronkite: Avuncular Advocacy Journalist and the Origins of the MSNM’s Augean Stables

There’s been much to-do about Walter Cronkite’s recent decease, and I’m getting emails with articles from a wide range of perspectives, from the adulatory “mainstream” and the disgruntled “right”, people who think he was a wonderful model of what journalism should be like — trusted and trustworthy — and people who think that, behind his verneer of “objectivity,” lay a committed World Federalist eager to put an end to “The American Century” and move on to a UN-run one-world government.

The kudos come from journalists who considered him their model (Mike Wallace, Bob Schieffer, Dan Rather), and from people like President Obama:

He invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down… This country has lost an icon and a dear friend, and he will be truly miss.

Icon indeed, and well worth a bit of criticism, particularly since we now live with the toxic waste of his interventionist, advocacy reporting. I highly recommend the carefully researched posts of Neo-Con on this subject, posts she had put up a couple of years ago, and has now updated to reflect Cronkite’s passing. Below some choice passages:

Cronkite earned his trust the hard way: by reporting the unvarnished news. In this 2002 radio interview (well worth listening to for insight into his thought process at the time) Cronkite describes his orientation towards his job prior to that watershed moment of the Tet offensive broadcast.

Previously the top brass at CBS, as well as the reporters there, had understood their function to be reporting “the facts, just the facts.” Editorializing was kept strictly separate; at CBS, it was a function of Eric Sevareid, and clearly labeled as such.

The president of CBS news, Dick Salant, was a man of almost fanatical devotion to the principles of non-editorializing journalism, according to Cronkite’s interview. Cronkite said that, till Tet, he “almost wouldn’t let us put an adjective in a sentence” when reporting, he’d been such a stickler for “just the facts.”

But, according to Cronkite, as the Vietnamese War had worn on, and because of the confusion of the American people about the war, reflected in letters to the station, Salant sent Cronkite on a trip to Vietnam with the idea of doing a piece of opinion journalism when he came back, in order to help the American people “understand” what was going on by explicitly editorializing and advising them.

One can speculate long and hard about why Salant decided it was time to make such a drastic change. From Cronkite’s interview, it appears that the brass at CBS was part of the turmoil of the 60s with its “question authority” ethos. If you listen to Cronkite (and he expresses not a moment’s ambivalence about his actions), you may hear, as I did, an anger at a military that seemed heedless of the difficulties of the Vietnam endeavor, and too sanguine–similar to the “cakewalk” accusation towards the present Iraq War.

Flushing out the Honor Madness: Palestinian Leadership responds to Netanyahu’s Speech

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the Jews in a major city in the southern USA. He told me that by and large what they got in Sunday school was the classic AIPAC-style narrative: “The Arabs won’t accept Israel and want to destroy it; Israel’s efforts to make peace fail because the only thing they understand is strength, and if you make concessions they’ll interpret it as weakness and press for more.” After a moment of silence in which, presumably, I was supposed to cluck at the hopeless backwardness of such a “narrative” (which as readers of this blog know I call the Honor-Shame Jihad Paradigm and consider fairly accurate), I asked, “So where do you find this narrative inaccurate.”

His response was so perfect that I wrote it down to use in my book.

    The vast of majority everywhere want a roof over their heads, to sleep peacefully at night, enjoy their families, food in their bellies and to say good morning to their neighbors and spouses.

Now how was this a response to my question? It had nothing to do with real data from the Arab world, nothing from the various responses of Arab leaders to various concessions Israel has engaged in since 1993. It’s his liberal cognitive egocentrism, raised to the level of an axiom of human nature (confusing human and humane), and then applied as a negation of any evidence to the contrary. If all people are like this, then the Arabs can’t be like that narrative. QED. PCP. The whole world is like us.

I cited for him the comment of one of the Arab rioters in 1936 to the Peel Commission’s question about why he so hated the Jews, if the Zionists have made the land far more prosperous than it had been before they came:

“You say we are better off: you say my house has been enriched by the strangers who have entered it. But it is my house, and I did not invite the strangers in, or ask them to enrich it, and I do not care how poor it is if I am only master of it” (Weathered by Miracles, p. 207).

He responded: “Do you think they all think like that?”

Good question. I say yes, I sound like a bigot. If I say no, then where are we?

Do they all think that way? Or is this irredentism “merely” an expression of the male mafia, the alpha males who crave vengeance, the political/religious leadership, “the Arab street”? What about the “vast, silent majority.” I’m not sure. I think that many… most… maybe even the vast majority would accept my friend’s lovely depiction of a prosperous and peaceful life. (It is, after all, at the core of the messianic promise.)

What I do know is that as long as honor-shame culture, with its demanded solidarity — asabiyyah — prevails, and as long as it’s enforced with such vicious brutality, whatever your “average Palestinian” thinks, he or she will have no ability to change the dynamic of the HSJP narrative. And when mothers can be driven to killing their daughters by a merciless community that demands it for the sake of family honor, then it can’t just be a problem of elites.

I give this anecdote as a preface to the following post on Palestinian reaction to Netanyahu’s speech, because so much of the dynamics we disagreed upon show up in unvarnished form. Netanyahu clearly struck on honor-shame chord.

If it were a chess game, Netanyahu’s speech would be a “?!.” “?” because if the Palestinians had responded intelligently — even while retaining their desire to destroy Israel — they could have said, “Fine. Let’s get on with it.” Then, when they got their demilitarized state, they could go ahead and militarize and no one could stop them. It’s a “!” because, true to form, Palestinian “pride” trumps (what we define as rational) self-interest at every turn. As a result we have the spectacle of unvarnished zero-sum Arab irredentism in response to a speech that called for basic mutuality — two states for two religious communities. Short of everything, it’s Palestinian suffering.

Below are a series of responses from Palestinian leaders that display all the elements of an honor-shame culture under conditions of humiliation which needs to be fixed by shedding blood — at once childishly violent in rhetoric, and violently malevolent in intent.

There are two questions here: 1) Is this the real reaction, or posturing? Even as posturing, it’s significant. Why take these mad postures? As bargaining tools? Possibly.

2) Is the West listening and registering this? And if so, do they have the wisdom and foresight to tell the Palestinian leadership to grow up and, as Obama might put it: “join the 21st century.”

Palestinian Reactions to Netanyahu’s Speech
‘Akin to a Declaration of War’; ‘Netanyahu is a Liar and a Crook’; ‘The Speech is Worthless and Warrants a Determined Response’; ‘Not In a Thousand Years… Would [He] Find a Single Palestinian’ to Agree to His Conditions

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s June 14, 2009 speech was met with hostility by all Palestinian factions. The Palestinians called Netanyahu “a liar and a crook,” stated that the only purpose of his “hollow” speech was to placate U.S. President Barack Obama, and claimed that he was effectively ruining the chances for peace. Senior Palestinian Authority officials called on theU.S. to force Israel to implement the two-state solution, and on the PA to toughen its positions. Hamas called on PA to stop security coordination and to reassess their position on negotiations with Israel.

Following are excerpts from reactions in the PA press to the speech:

PA: Netanyahu’s Speech Has Ruined the Chance for Peace

Palestinian Authority negotiations department head Saeb ‘Ariqat stated: “The peace process can be compared to a turtle, and now that Netanyahu has turned it over, it’s lying on its back. Not in a thousand years will Netanyahu find a single Palestinian who would agree to the conditions stipulated in his speech. The speech is a unilateral declaration ending the political negotiations on permanent status issues.” [1]

This is an eloquent expression of the arrogance of prime divider elites. They will speak for their people without the slightest hesitation. Essentially, ‘Ariqat [also known as Erakat], the main expounder of the Jenin Massacre in 2002, is condemning his people to decades if not generations of suffering, but he not only doesn’t care, he makes no room for the slightest dissent. No proud Palestinian would stand for this (and I guess, by implication, no one shameful enough to accept the deal, is a Palestinian). So Erakat’s implicit answer to my friend’s query is: “Yes! Every Palestinian thinks this way.” (NB: Erakat’s considered a moderate, not a racist who demeans Palestinians by thinking they’re all war- and hate-mongers.)

Is this Obama’s Jimmy Carter Moment?

Am I getting this right? Are there hundreds of thousands of protesters in Iran — up to a million people in the streets — against an insane, medieval theocracy on the verge of getting the nuclear bomb, which is firing on the crowds, and Osama hasn’t said anything?

Déjà-vu all over again.

Joe Lieberman (not Avigdor) has this to say (HT: Michael Totten)

[T]hrough intimidation, violence, manipulation, and outright fraud, the Iranian regime has once again made a mockery of democracy, and confirmed its repressive and dictatorial character.

We as Americans have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with people when they are denied their rights by repressive regimes. When elections are stolen, our government should protest. When peaceful demonstrators are beaten and silenced, we have a duty to raise our voices on their behalf. We must tell the Iranian people that we are on their side.

For this reason, I would hope that President Obama and members of both parties in Congress will speak out, loudly and clearly, about what is happening in Iran right now, and unambiguously express their solidarity with the brave Iranians who went to the polls in the hope of change and who are now looking to the outside world for strength and support.

I guess one of the problems for Obama is that he forgot there was a reason that we didn’t try and make friends with Iran besides the fact that they didn’t like us. Cozy up to nasties in the hope of charming them — Carter again! — and you end up on the wrong side of history.

The Problem is the Settlements: The Lack of Palestinian Ones

President Obama has fingered the settlements as his first item of business, a strategy of dubious merit except insofar as it uses the issue as a pawn sacrifice. As for the ways the Palestinians need to “belly up to the bar,” it’s fairly vague. Israelis, of course (and, I’d argue, anyone who’s paying attention), are worried that despite the Arabs’ extraordinary ability to position themselves as the proponents of the “two-state solution,” are not at all committed to what Western PCPers assume — i.e., that they accept Israel as a Jewish state with a right to live in peace.

On the contrary, too much evidence suggests that they are committed, one way or another, to the destruction of the state of Israel, and that the “two-state solution” is just another term for the “Phased Plan” for eliminating Israel.

I’d like to propose something that can test Palestinian intentions in concrete terms that will not only reassure Israelis profoundly, but benefit the Palestinian refugees. To my mind, the greatest sign that the Palestinian Authority had no intention of pursuing Oslo as a way to achieve peace, but as a Trojan Horse, is the fact that, once they had control of significant tracts of land in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, they never made the slightest move to get Palestinian refugees out of the camps and into real housing. The scandal of how the Arab and Palestinian leadership have treated their refugees is the most revealing story in the long and allegedly complex conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis.

I suggest that President Obama demand, publicly, and in the same strong terms with which he addresses the Israelis, that the PA begin immediately building settlements for Palestinian refugees on the lands available to them in the West Bank, so that they can begin living decent lives. This would be an enormous boon to the Palestinian economy, it would mobilize the significant talents the Palestinians have in the building industry, and would signal to the Israelis that the “right of return” — i.e., the demand that Israel commit demographic suicide — is not lurking in the background of the “Arab Peace Plan.”

Nothing prevents the Palestinians from doing this. They would surely get a great deal of (Western) funding to do it. And it would embody President Obama’s call for Arab governments that are “by the people and for the people.”

UPDATE: Noam, from the Blog Promised Land posted the following on my suggestion:

This idea is somewhat disconnected from the reality of the West Bank, let alone Gaza: one can’t really build anything – certainly not a city for hundreds of thousands of people – without Israel’s consent, and Israel doesn’t allow the Palestinians to do any significant work outside the major cities (which are overcrowded as it is). And in Gaza, Israel doesn’t allow any sort of building material in – amongst many other things, from books to pumpkins – so that the Palestinians there can’t even rebuild the houses that were destroyed during operation Cast Lead.

But if we leave all that aside, what is Prof. Landes really asking? The way I see it, he demands from the Palestinians to give up one of their major claims before Israel has even considered to end the occupation, and just in order to prove that their heart is pure. Why should they agree? I don’t support a return of all the 48′ refugees, but I do understand the Palestinian demand to solve this issue on the negotiating table, much in the same way Israel refuses to define its borders until its security concerns are dealt with.

(Having said this, I agree that from a humanitarian point of view, the refugees problem should be solved ASAP, but we are discussing here the political implications of the issue).

As for the “demographic suicide” – well, Israelis should certainly be worried about that, but not because of the Palestinian refugees, but due to the possibility that the ideas of those who oppose the two-state solution – like Prof. Landes – will prevail, and Israelis will be left with the entire land from the sea to the Jordan river, but also with the choice between an Apartheid state and a non-Jewish one.

To which I responded with the following comment:

    Thanks for the post on my suggestion.

    Altho you do have a “humanitarian concession” clause, I find your position on Palestinian refiugees as “bargaining chips” to be fairly horrific. Should Israel have kept their 800,000 refugees from 1948 in refugee camps for the last 60 years as a counter-bargaining chip?

    The Palestinian and Arab leadership’s treatment of their refugees — the camps are really prison camps — is nothing short of scandalous. It’s index of their malevolence: the misery of their own people is a weapon aimed at destroying Israel. it shows the Palestinian people as the sacrificial victim on the altar of Arab hatred.

    So i don’t think it’s “giving up one of their major claims” to start settling the refugees, i think it’s renouncing one of their most heinous policies. It doesn’t prove their heart is pure, it just proves its not black as night, it proves they’ve stopped the revolting practice of inflicting misery on their own people in order to attack Israel and plan her destruction.

    I think if Israel were to engage in anything even remotely similar to this — say not building shelters in Sderot so they could point to children killed by gaza qassams for international sympathy — you’d be outraged. So what I suspect is going on here is an example of a fairly widespread unconscious progressive racism in which the Palestinians are not expected to behave decently even towards their own people, much less Israel. It’s the soft bigotry of low expectations: just as you don’t scold your cat for catching a mouse, you don’t scold the Palestinians for abusing their own people.

    In the final analysis, getting rid of the refugee problem is not a bargaining chip, its an anti-bargaining chip. If the Palestinians renounced the claim to return, they would bring peace much closer, by reassuring Israel they were serious about real peace.

    Finally, on the subject of the two-state solution — I’m not against the idea, I’m against it now (i’m a member of peace-when, not peace-now). Eventually, when Palestinian leadership show signs of willingness to be a civil polity rather than a rogue and malignant state, I’m all in favor. (And this is something they can start doing right away.)

    Now, “two-states” is not a “solution” but a recipe for war. Does that matter to you, in your support of the ‘two-state “solution”‘?

His response is interesting. I encourage readers here to go to his blog and respond — respectfully. I don’t think the way to argue is to call names. His response to my almost calling him names shows a good capacity for self-criticism.

Obama and the Settlements: Narcissistic Patterns?

One of the characteristics of a narcissist is that, being deeply in need of approval but not feeling they deserve it, they try endlessly to get the approval of those who don’t give it — i.e., those who see through them and need, therefore to be won over — and show contempt for those who like them because they are stupid enough to be fooled by their show and not see how worthless they are deep inside. So the classic narcissistic pattern is to suck up to enemies and dump on friends.

On the other hand, there are just people who are cowards, and suck up to people who might hurt them and dump on people they can depend on not to.

What’s going on here? Narcissism or cowardice? (HT/Steven Antler)

The Settlements Myth
By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, June 5, 2009

President Obama repeatedly insists that American foreign policy be conducted with modesty and humility. Above all, there will be no more “dictating” to other countries. We should “forge partnerships as opposed to simply dictating solutions,” he told the G-20 summit. In Middle East negotiations, he told al-Arabiya, America will henceforth “start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating.”

An admirable sentiment. It applies to everyone — Iran, Russia, Cuba, Syria, even Venezuela. Except Israel. Israel is ordered to freeze all settlement activity. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton imperiously explained the diktat: “a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions.”

What’s the issue? No “natural growth” means strangling to death the thriving towns close to the 1949 armistice line, many of them suburbs of Jerusalem, that every negotiation over the past decade has envisioned Israel retaining. It means no increase in population. Which means no babies. Or if you have babies, no housing for them — not even within the existing town boundaries. Which means for every child born, someone has to move out. No community can survive like that. The obvious objective is to undermine and destroy these towns — even before negotiations.

To what end? Over the past decade, the U.S. government has understood that any final peace treaty would involve Israel retaining some of the close-in settlements — and compensating the Palestinians accordingly with land from within Israel itself.

That was envisioned in the Clinton plan in the Camp David negotiations in 2000, and again at Taba in 2001. After all, why expel people from their homes and turn their towns to rubble when, instead, Arabs and Jews can stay in their homes if the 1949 armistice line is shifted slightly into the Palestinian side to capture the major close-in Jewish settlements, and then shifted into Israeli territory to capture Israeli land to give to the Palestinians?

Fareed Zakaria: Poster Boy for Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism

I haven’t posted a lot on Iran because it’s not really an area I know a great deal about. But what I can recognize is the predictable tropes of cognitive egocentrism, and that’s what this latest by Fareed Zakaria is full of. I’ve been following his program on CNN segments of which we’ll be posting soon at the new Second Draft site for comment and criticism. There, it’s hard to know what he thinks aside from how he chooses his guests — Gerges is less of an analyst than an advocate, but Zakaria doesn’t seem to notice — but in this piece he’s wearing his colors loud and clear.

Lorenz Gude, one of our regular commenters here notes:

    I found myself pretty surprised by Fareed Zakaria’s piece on Iran in Newsweek entitled “They May Not Want the Bomb.” It is an example of apologetic propaganda that reminds me of hagiographies of Stalin.

Emerging Iran

Inside a land poised between tradition and modernity

How’s that for a start. It may be somewhere between the two conceptually, but to call it poised between them is to suggest those are its two possible (and imminent) directions. On the contrary, Khoumeini’s “Islamic Republic of Iran” is a terrifying experiment in anti-modern apocalyptic Islam. To leave that out of the picture already marks Zakaria’s (or is it the Newsweek editor’s) conceptual framework as critically deficient.

How about: Inside a land hijacked by anti-modern Islamists on the painful path from tradition to modernity

By Fareed Zakaria | NEWSWEEK
Published May 23, 2009
Religion Versus Reality
Everything you know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Take the bomb. The regime wants to be a nuclear power but could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program (which could make the challenge it poses more complex). What’s the evidence? Well, over the last five years, senior Iranian officials at every level have repeatedly asserted that they do not intend to build nuclear weapons.

And they wouldn’t lie to us, would they? Zakaria seems to think that having nuclear weapons is like having dessert — something you can take or leave. Does he really mean this? Is this deliberate misinformation or just breathtaking naivete? As the kept woman said to the court when told that her senator lover denied having any knowledge of her, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has quoted the regime’s founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who asserted that such weapons were “un-Islamic.” The country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2004 describing the use of nuclear weapons as immoral. In a subsequent sermon, he declared that “developing, producing or stockpiling nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam.” Last year Khamenei reiterated all these points after meeting with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. Now, of course, they could all be lying. But it seems odd for a regime that derives its legitimacy from its fidelity to Islam to declare constantly that these weapons are un-Islamic if it intends to develop them. It would be far shrewder to stop reminding people of Khomeini’s statements and stop issuing new fatwas against nukes.

Of course they could be lying. And they could be doing that for the sake of Islam. After all, the Shiites are the original practitioners of Takkiya. As the Supreme Leader Khoumeini put it:

    Should we remain truthful at the cost of defeat and danger to the Faith? People say, “don’t kill!” But the Almighty himself taught us how to kill… Shall we not kill when it is necessary for the triumph of the Faith? We say that killing is tantamount to saying a prayer when those who are harmful [to the Faith] need to be put out of the way. Deceit, trickery, conspiracy, cheating, stealing and killing are nothing but means… (Murawiec, The Mind of Jihad, p.43).

Are these statements made in English and broadcast to us, or in Pharsee and broadcast to the Iranian public. Could it just be fodder for dupes?

And then, what about this:

    Iran’s hardline spiritual leaders have issued an unprecedented new fatwa, or holy order, sanctioning the use of atomic weapons against its enemies.

    In yet another sign of Teheran’s stiffening resolve on the nuclear issue, influential Muslim clerics have for the first time questioned the theocracy’s traditional stance that Sharia law forbade the use of nuclear weapons.

    One senior mullah has now said it is “only natural” to have nuclear bombs as a “countermeasure” against other nuclear powers, thought to be a reference to America and Israel.

    The pronouncement is particularly worrying because it has come from Mohsen Gharavian, a disciple of the ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is widely regarded as the cleric closest to Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    Nicknamed “Professor Crocodile” because of his harsh conservatism, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi’s group opposes virtually any kind of rapprochement with the West and is believed to have influenced President Ahmadinejad’s refusal to negotiate over Iran’s nuclear programme.

    The comments, which are the first public statement by the Yazdi clerical cabal on the nuclear issue, will be seen as an attempt by the country’s religious hardliners to begin preparing a theological justification for the ownership – and if necessary the use – of atomic bombs.

Does Zakaria know about this and doesn’t think it’s relevant? Is the Daily Telegraph misreporting?