The Mayhem of GOP Class Politics in 2016

Majority Report Radio conversation with Michael Brooks on the piece I wrote for the National on the political insurgency in the Republican mainstream.

In America, a new era of insurgency and turbulence has just begun

When Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb that killed 168 Americans in Oklahoma City in 1995, he claimed to be avenging white extremists killed by federal agents at Ruby Ridge and members of a religious cult who died during a government raid on their compound at Waco, Texas.

McVeigh hoped he would spur like-minded “patriots” to rise up and overthrow what he called a tyrannical federal government. No such rebellion materialised in 1995, but “patriots” who share his world view may have reason to believe conditions today are conducive to fulfilling their fantasy.

The election of America’s first black president in the same year that the financial collapse plunged millions more into poverty sparked an ammunition shortage in the nation’s gun stores. The same happened after Barack Obama’s reelection.

Hundreds of new white male “patriot” groups have emerged, their members brandishing semi-automatic rifles on the streets – outside mosques to intimidate Muslim worshippers, patrolling the border areas where migrants cross from Mexico, on the streets of Ferguson, where black protesters challenge racist policing, and in taking control of a state wildlife sanctuary in Oregon to protest against government land-use policy.

No modern state can survive without maintaining a monopoly of force within its territory. Legally permitting citizens to brandish weapons on the streets independent of government authority not only demonstrates the crumbling of state power, it raises the risk of bloody confrontations – and even civil war.

Read the whole piece here

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As Egypt Goes…

You may have noticed that I don’t update this site much any more — that’s because I’m doing most of my writing on these matters on and at the National, and doing my blogging on Facebook and Twitter (follow: @TonyKaron ) I’m not going to update this often, so follow me on those platforms. But for the record, a few of my recent Egypt pieces:

What the US Loses if Mubarak Goes

The revolt that appears to have fatally undermined President Hosni Mubarak’s prospects for remaining in power is a domestic affair — Egyptians have taken to the streets to demand change because of economic despair and political tyranny, not the regime’s close relationship with Israel and the U.S. But having tolerated and abetted Mubarak’s repressive rule for three decades precisely because of his utility to U.S. strategy on issues ranging from Israel to Iran, Washington could be deprived of a key Arab ally with his fall from power.

…the Egyptian rebellion may stand as the ultimate negation of the Bush Administration’s “moderates vs. radicals” approach to the region: Mubarak’s ouster might be a loss for the moderate camp, but it won’t necessarily translate into a gain for the radicals. Instead, it marks a new assertiveness by an Arab public looking to take charge of its own affairs, rather than have them determined by international power struggles. Even that, however, suggests turbulent times ahead for American Middle East policies that have little support on Egypt’s streets.

Egyptians No Longer Tolerate a Dictatorship Backed by the US Because of Israel and Iran

On Saturday, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked a guest on his show how al Qa’eda fitted into events in Egypt. The question itself was reminiscent of Larry King a few years back asking Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to explain yoga….

Fear of Islamists Paralyzes Washington (Time to get over it!)

…Democracy movements are attractive to Washington when they target a regime such as Iran’s, but in allied autocracies, they’re a problem. There’s no way for Egypt to be democratic and exclude the Islamists from political participation. The same is true for most other parts of the Arab world — a lesson the U.S. ought to have learned in Iraq, where Islamists have dominated all the democratically elected governments that followed Saddam Hussein’s ouster. But when the Islamists of Hamas won the last Palestinian elections in 2006, held under pressure from Washington, the Bush Administration literally did a 180-degree turn on the question of Palestinian democracy…

Explaining why the U.S. continues to support Mubarak, the State Department’s Crowley on Thursday told al-Jazeera that “Egypt is an anchor of stability in the Middle East … It’s made its own peace with Israel and is pursuing normal relations with Israel. We think that’s important; we think that’s a model that the region should adopt.”

The problem for Washington is that Arab electorates are unlikely to agree. The democratically elected Iraqi government, for example, despite its dependence on U.S. support, has stated its refusal to normalize relations with Israel. A democratic Egypt, whether led by the Muslim Brotherhood or any other opposition party, is unlikely to go to war with Israel given the vast imbalance in military capability, but they’re even less likely to accept normal ties given the present condition of the Palestinians. And the most secular liberal activists in Egypt reject with contempt the argument that regional stability can come at the expense of their right to choose their government.

Egypt: Obama Caught in a Bind

The Administration is caught in a bind, but it’s more strategic than just moral: Supporting tyrants loathed by their own people but willing to do Washington’s bidding in international matters is a decades-old U.S. tradition in the Middle East, as well as in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The problem with Mubarak is not simply that his methods are at odds with professed U.S. values; it’s that his brittle autocracy appears to have entered a period of terminal decline, with the U.S. potentially on the wrong side of history.

And for old time’s sake, a piece wrote in 2003 on Egypt and Bush’s ‘democracy agenda’

…Democracy in the Middle East and nearby Muslim lands would almost certainly restrain cooperation with the U.S. war on terror. Just look at what happened in Turkey on the eve of the Iraq war: Washington had simply assumed that Ankara would jump into line once the U.S. was on the march to war — after all, the country had been effectively ruled since World War II by generals closely aligned with Washington. But Turkey is far more democratic today, and when it was left up to the elected parliament to choose, the U.S. request to invade Iraq from Turkish territory was declined. And it’s a safe bet that if Jordan and Saudi Arabia had put the matter of their own cooperation with the Iraq invasion to a freely elected legislature, the response would have been the same as Turkey’s….

…The biggest test of the seriousness of President Bush’s commitment to promote democracy will come in Egypt, which is due to hold parliamentary elections in 2005. Egypt is especially vulnerable to U.S. pressure as the recipient of around $2 billion annually in U.S. aid, as its reward for making peace with Israel in 1979. “The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East,” Bush intoned. But if Egypt were a democracy, it’s far from certain that it would still a peace treaty with Israel.

Egypt is a good illustration of President Bush’s point that the absence of channels for democratic political participation in Arab states has helped foster terrorism, which has eventually been exported. Osama Bin Laden may be Saudi, but most of the top-tier al-Qaeda leadership at the time of 9/11 were veterans of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a militant offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that turned to terrorism in response to the Sadat regime’s peace treaty with Israel, and found hundreds of willing recruits in Egypt’s middle class and in its officer corps. The Brotherhood, of course, is a far more moderate Islamist entity than Jihad, originating in early 20th agitation against British colonial rule. It enjoys a strong, some say dominant, presence among Cairo’s professional classes, and has eschewed violence. Although its activities are formally banned and it is precluded from contesting parliamentary elections, Egypt analysts suggest it may nonetheless be the dominant opposition force in Egyptian society. The impact of the U.S. invasion of Iraq on Egyptian public opinion has also seen a growing alignment in the views of the Brotherhood and more traditionally liberal democratic opposition groups, around the questions of democracy and sovereignty. Today, the overarching criticism of the Mubarak regime is that it is more responsive to Washington than to its own citizenry, and the internal demand for democratic reform is linked with opposition to, rather than support for U.S. policies….

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Who Made Netanyahu the King of the Jews?

In the spirit of Monty Python & the Holy Grail, Bibi: “I’m am your king!” Me: “I didn’t vote for you!” My latest in the National. Extract:

(Israel’s) demand for recognition of “Jews as a people, indigenous to the region and endowed with the right to self-government” is problematic, not only for Palestinians, but also for many Jews. Israeli Jews may have constituted themselves as a nation with the right to security and self-determination, but the majority of the world’s Jews have not claimed a right to self-determination as Jews. On the contrary, we’re very happy that anti-Semitism in the West has been marginalised to the point that we can freely integrate ourselves into the democratic societies in which we’ve chosen to live.

Growing up as a Jewish anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, I was often told by white racists to “go back to Israel”. The idea that Jews don’t belong among non-Jews is the traditional language of anti-Semitism – and also of the modern ideology of Zionism that emerged in the late 19th century. Zionism’s founder, Theodore Herzl, believed that anti-Semitism of the sort I encountered was inevitable and even “natural” whenever Jews lived among gentiles. He effectively concurred with the anti-Semites’ remedy: that I should “go back to Israel”.

Apartheid, by the way, denied black people the rights of citizenship on the basis that their “national homelands” were in Bantustans such as Transkei and Kwazulu – bogus “states” in which they supposedly would exercise their right to self-determination.

Jews have certainly suffered for the right to live in security and safety, but the majority have chosen to exercise that right not in a separate Jewish nation state, but instead as Americans, Argentines, British or French…

Read the rest here

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Goldberg’s Bogus ‘Ticking Clock’ on Iran

My latest, posted on TomDispatch:

America’s march to a disastrous war in Iraq began in the media, where an unprovoked U.S. invasion of an Arab country was introduced as a legitimate policy option, then debated as a prudent and necessary one. Now, a similarly flawed media conversation on Iran is gaining momentum.

Last month, TIME’s Joe Klein warned that Obama administration sources had told him bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities was “back on the table.” In an interview with CNN, former CIA director Admiral Mike Hayden next spoke of an “inexorable” dynamic toward confrontation, claiming that bombing was a more viable option for the Obama administration than it had been for George W. Bush. The pièce de résistance in the most recent drum roll of bomb-Iran alerts, however, came from Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly. A journalist influential in U.S. pro-Israeli circles, he also has access to Israel’s corridors of power. Because sanctions were unlikely to force Iran to back down on its uranium enrichment project, Goldberg invited readers to believe that there was a more than even chance Israel would launch a military strike on the country by next summer.

His piece, which sparked considerable debate in both the blogosphere and the traditional media, was certainly an odd one. After all, despite the dramatics he deployed, including vivid descriptions of the Israeli battle plan, and his tendency to paint Iran as a new Auschwitz, he also made clear that many of his top Israeli sources simply didn’t believe Iran would launch nuclear weapons against Israel, even if it acquired them.

Nonetheless, Goldberg warned, absent an Iranian white flag soon, Israel would indeed launch that war in summer 2011, and it, in turn, was guaranteed to plunge the region into chaos. The message: the Obama administration better do more to confront Iran or Israel will act crazy.

It’s not lost on many of his progressive critics that, when it came to supporting a prospective invasion of Iraq back in 2002, Goldberg proved effective in lobbying liberal America, especially through his reports of “evidence” linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Then and now, he presents himself as an interlocutor who has no point of view. In his most recent Atlantic piece, he professed a “profound, paralyzing ambivalence” on the question of a military strike on Iran and subsequently, in radio interviews, claimed to be “personally opposed” to military action.

His piece, however, conveniently skipped over the obvious inconsistencies in what his Israeli sources were telling him. In addition, he excluded perspectives from Israeli leaders that might have challenged his narrative in which an embattled Jewish state feels it has no alternative but to launch a quixotic military strike. Such an attack, as he presented it, would have limited hope of doing more than briefly setting back the Iranian nuclear program, perhaps at catastrophic cost, and so Israeli leaders would act only because they believe the “goyim” won’t stop another Auschwitz. Or as my friend Paul Woodward, editor of the War in Context website, so brilliantly summed up the Israeli message to America: “You must do what we can’t, because if you don’t, we will.”

Goldberg insists that he is merely initiating a debate about how to tackle Iran and that debate is already underway on his terms — that is, like its Iraq War predecessor, based on a fabricated sense of crisis and arbitrary deadlines.

To read the complete piece, click here

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Why are the Israelis Telling Their ‘Secret’ Iran Attack Plans to Jeffrey Goldberg?

Goldberg, left, in conversation with Michael Oren, Bibi’s man in Washington

The first question to ask when considering how seriously to take Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest alarmist screed about Israel gearing up to attack Iran, is “Why do people talk to Jeffrey Goldberg?”

In the course of an Atlantic Monthly cover story that veers all over the place but whose intended message is that if President Obama won’t bomb Iran, then Israel will — and that everyone will be better off if the U.S. does the job because it can do it so much better — Goldberg describes conversations with 40 leading decision makers in Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And all of them pretty much tell him the same thing; that Israel will give the Obama Administration’s sanctions until the end of this year to demonstrate results in forcing Iran’s surrender on the nuclear question, after which the Israelis will take matters into their own hands, launching an air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities without getting Washington’s go-ahead — because most of Israel’s key decision makers doubt whether Obama is willing to launch another war in the Middle East.

Goldberg, an early enthusiast for invading Iraq, also describes a White House meeting at which Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel appears to have convened the likes of Dennis Ross, Dennis McDonough and pretty much all of the President’s top national security advisers, all for the purpose of persuading a columnist from the Atlantic Monthly that Obama is, in fact, acting tough on Iran.

And the answer in both cases, is that people use Jeffrey Goldberg to send messages.

Goldberg, of course, operates with the conceit common to many access journalists, who assume that what they’re hearing from their sources is the unvarnished truth, told to the journalist because they presumably trust him as a confidante and recognize the value of his opinions and insights. Let’s just say that such is the conceit that makes it so easy for those in power in Washington to seduce marquee name journalists to carry water for them by anointing them as “special”, cultivating in the illusion that they’re insiders privy to the inner thoughts of the key power players.

In your dreams, Jeff: The Israelis talk to you because they want to convey a particular message in Washington; and the White House talks to you because they want you to convey a particular message to the Israelis and, more importantly, to some of their most powerful backers in America.

Goldberg says that based on his conversations with roughly 40 current and past Israeli decision makers — including Prime Minister Netanyahu — in which he simply asked what percentage chance of Israel attacking Iran, he can conclude that there is now a greater than 50% chance of Israel doing so by early next year if Iran hasn’t backed down. And then he spins a yarn of dramatic phone calls to the White House one day next spring by top Israeli officials to inform the Americans that the F-15s and F-16s are already airborn and bearing down on Iran, a dramatic decision taken to save the Jews from a new Auschwitz in the fevered fantasy world of Netanyahu (and Goldberg himself). Goldberg offers operational details of such an attack at the same time as noting that the Israeli leadership believes it’s imperative that the U.S. never learns of its attack plans until it’s too late to stop them.

I spoke with several Israeli officials who are grappling with this question, among others: what if American intelligence learns about Israeli intentions hours before the scheduled launch of an attack? “It is a nightmare for us,” one of these officials told me. “What if President Obama calls up Bibi and says, ‘We know what you’re doing. Stop immediately.’ Do we stop? We might have to. A decision has been made that we can’t lie to the Americans about our plans. We don’t want to inform them beforehand. This is for their sake and for ours. So what do we do? These are the hard questions.” (Two officials suggested that Israel may go on pre-attack alert a number of times before actually striking: “After the fifth or sixth time, maybe no one would believe that we’re really going,” one official said.)

So wrapped up is Goldberg in his inflated sense of his own importance that he doesn’t notice how his tale jumps the shark at this point. The Israelis don’t want the Americans to know they’ll attack without a go-ahead. That’s why they’re telling former IDF Corporal Jeffrey Goldberg…

Goldberg does acknowledge, of course, that there may be grounds for skepticism:

(Of course, it is in the Israeli interest to let it be known that the country is considering military action, if for no other reason than to concentrate the attention of the Obama administration. But I tested the consensus by speaking to multiple sources both in and out of government, and of different political parties. Citing the extraordinary sensitivity of the subject, most spoke only reluctantly, and on condition of anonymity. They were not part of some public-relations campaign.) The reasoning offered by Israeli decision makers was uncomplicated: Iran is, at most, one to three years away from having a breakout nuclear capability (often understood to be the capacity to assemble more than one missile-ready nuclear device within about three months of deciding to do so). The Iranian regime, by its own statements and actions, has made itself Israel’s most zealous foe; and the most crucial component of Israeli national-security doctrine, a tenet that dates back to the 1960s, when Israel developed its own nuclear capability as a response to the Jewish experience during the Holocaust, is that no regional adversary should be allowed to achieve nuclear parity with the reborn and still-besieged Jewish state.

Of course Goldberg does not want to believe that those sharing this information with him are not engaged in p.r. No, Jeff, they obviously recognize you as the special one, a deep strategic thinker they can trust with their most sensitive secrets, off the record, of course. Or maybe they just need to talk, and you happened to be there offering a sympathetic ear at the right moment. Get over yourself, Jeff. The idea that Israeli leaders discussing what appear to be strategic options of tectonic import with an American journalist are doing anything other than engaging in p.r. is just plain deluded.

The reasoning offered for the cataclysmic step of bombing Iran — Goldberg acknowledges the potentially catastrophic consequences of launching a war with Iran, and also the fact that bombing Iran may only temporary set back Iran’s nuclear program — is utterly simplistic, and clearly represents Israeli p.r. lines rather than strategic reasoning. For example, Goldberg cites the following from his White House meeting:

Emanuel had one more message to deliver: for the most practical of reasons, Israel should consider carefully whether a military strike would be worth the trouble it would unleash. “I’m not sure that given the time line, whatever the time line is, that whatever they did, they wouldn’t stop” the nuclear program, he said. “They would be postponing.”
It was then that I realized that, on some subjects, the Israelis and Americans are still talking past each other. The Americans consider a temporary postponement of Iran’s nuclear program to be of dubious value. The Israelis don’t. “When Menachem Begin bombed Osirak [in Iraq], he had been told that his actions would set back the Iraqis one year,” one cabinet minister told me. “He did it anyway.”

To suggest that in response to Iran nearing a “breakout” capacity — i.e. not having nuclear weapons, but having the capacity build them — Israel would initiate a strike that would temporarily set back Iran’s pursuit but make it relative certainty that Iran would go ahead and actually build a nuclear arsenal, is to suggest that the Israeli leadership is deranged. (Of course that might be the message they’re trying to send: if you don’t do more on Iran, we’re going to do something crazy…)

But later in the piece, he negates his own point about the Israelis being willing to risk a conflagration in order to temporarily restrain Iran:

There are, of course, Israeli leaders who believe that attacking Iran is too risky. Gabi Ashkenazi, the Israeli army chief of staff, is said by numerous sources to doubt the usefulness of an attack, and other generals I spoke with worry that talk of an “existential threat” is itself a kind of existential threat to the Zionist project, which was meant to preclude such threats against the Jewish people. “We don’t want politicians to put us in a bad position because of the word Shoah,” one general said. “We don’t want our neighbors to think that we are helpless against an Iran with a nuclear bomb, because Iran might have the bomb one day. There is no guarantee that Israel will do this, or that America will do this.”

Indeed, the rhetoric of the politicians about a new Auschwitz and so on ought to be worrying to the generals, not only because it bears little relationship with reality, but also because it creates a public expectation on which they may not be able to deliver.

Goldberg’s Israeli sources make the point that Iran is unlikely to use nuclear weapons against Israel, but that a nuclear-armed Iran is an unacceptable evening out of the balance of forces in the Middle East, and they say the prospect of an Iranian bomb will prompt many talented and smart young Israelis to leave, and fewer Jews to emigrate there. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that this brain drain is already a reality, quite simply because anti-Semitism has been marginalized in the Western world and Israel’s appeal as a “refuge” is not considered relevant in the lives of most Jews, what’s obvious even within the terms of the argument is that Netanyahu’s hysterical rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program representing a new Holocaust for Israeli Jews could have the effect he fears without Iran having to actually build anything.

And then, of course, there’s the question of why Rahm Emmanuel assembles a cadre of the Administration’s key players on Iran policy to brief Goldberg, exclusively.

The gathering in Emanuel’s office was meant to communicate a number of clear messages to me, including one that was more militant than that delivered by Admiral Mullen: President Obama has by no means ruled out counterproliferation by force. The meeting was also meant to communicate that Obama’s outreach to the Iranians was motivated not by naïveté, but by a desire to test Tehran’s intentions in a deliberate fashion; that the president understands that an Iranian bomb would spur a regional arms race that could destroy his antiproliferation program; and that American and Israeli assessments of Iran’s nuclear program are synchronized in ways they were not before.

Indeed. And why does the White House need to communicate “clear messages” to Jeffrey Goldberg? He inadvertently hints at the reason, without realizing it, elsewhere in the piece, where he recounts this exchange:

Not long ago, the chief of Israeli military intelligence, Major General Amos Yadlin, paid a secret visit to Chicago to meet with Lester Crown, the billionaire whose family owns a significant portion of General Dynamics, the military contractor. Crown is one of Israel’s most prominent backers in the American Jewish community, and was one of Barack Obama’s earliest and most steadfast supporters. According to sources in America and Israel, General Yadlin asked Crown to communicate Israel’s existential worries directly to President Obama. When I reached Crown by phone, he confirmed that he had met with Yadlin, but denied that the general traveled to Chicago to deliver this message. “Maybe he has a cousin in Chicago or something,” Crown said. But he did say that Yadlin discussed with him the “Iranian clock”—the time remaining before Iran reached nuclear capability—and that he agreed with Yadlin that the United States must stop Iran before it goes nuclear. “I share with the Israelis the feeling that we certainly have the military capability and that we have to have the will to use it… I would feel more comfortable if I knew that they had the will to use military force, as a last resort. You cannot threaten someone as a bluff. There has to be a will to do it.”

Okay, so the Israelis are tapping up major Obama donors sympathetic to Israel, obviously to get them to lean on the president in favor of adopting Israel’s solutions to the Iran issue.

TIME’s Massimo Calabresi a few weeks ago noted that the White House was coming under pressure from Congressional Democrats struggling to raise money from traditional Democratic donors worried about Obama’s attitude towards Israel.

The President has been pelted with complaints from Democratic lawmakers channeling fury among some of their Jewish constituents who accuse the Administration of being hostile toward Israel — a fury that lawmakers say has translated into fundraising problems ahead of the election. “The White House claims 80% support among Jews,” says one Jewish House Democrat. “But I tell them it’s the other 20% we’re calling every week for money.”

So why call in Goldberg? Well, quite simply, because Goldberg is one of the most influential opinion-makers among hawkish Israel backers in the Democratic Party camp. Such are his pro-Israel hawk credentials that if Goldberg can be convinced, there’s a chance you can convince the likes of Lester Crown. Not that Rahm succeeded, of course; that’s why Goldberg is pushing the line that Israel is going to do something crazy early next year. But it’s hard to take seriously, nonetheless. On the two previous occasions Israel bombed nuclear facilities in the Middle East (Iraq’s Osirak in 1981 and a suspected Syrian facility two years ago) not a word was breathed about the plan before hand. Tempting as it no doubt must have been, they didn’t even tell Jeffrey Goldberg.

(That’s enough for one night, although there’s more to say; Goldberg spent seven years on his piece, I may need another day or two to formulate a few more responses. In the mean time, read some smart responses from Paul Woodward, Amjad Atallah, Steve Clemons, the Leveretts, and Gary Sick )

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World Cup 2010

For a variety of reasons, I ended up watching the World Cup Final on a TV tied to a tree at the soccer fields in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn…

Click here to read the full set of my world cup blog posts

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The Eve of Destruction?

Last time around the U.S. encouraged this, what will Obama do?

Tuesday’s cross-border firefight between Israeli and Lebanese government forces might simply have been a misunderstanding. And the rockets fired from Gaza and the Israeli air strikes on the besieged territory over the past week could be viewed as periodic blip in business as usual on that front. By the same token, last Friday’s unprecedented joint visit to Beirut by the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Syria could be viewed simply as a move to stop the conflict between their Lebanese proxies turning nasty. And British Prime Minister David Cameron’s pleas to Turkey to keep open its communication channels with Israel’s leaders are quotidian diplomatic common sense. Viewed in a wider context, however, each of those events could be taken as signs of why many in the Middle East believe that despite the outward calm, the region may be on the brink of another catastrophic war.

A new report based on extensive conversations with regional decisionmakers released Monday by the International Crisis Group, the respected mediation organization of former diplomats, warns of the possibility of war. “The situation in the Levant is … exceptionally quiet and uniquely dangerous, both for the same reason,” the Crisis Group warns. “The buildup in military forces and threats of an all-out war that would spare neither civilians nor civilian infrastructure, together with the worrisome prospect of its regionalization, are effectively deterring all sides.” But while Hizballah and its regional backers, Syria and Iran, believe that the buildup in the Shi’ite militia’s arsenal and capabilities is deterring Israel from launching attacks on any of them, Israel views the acquisition by Hizballah of a missile arsenal capable of raining destruction on Israeli cities as an intolerable threat. “As Hizballah’s firepower grows,” the Crisis Group notes, “so too does Israel’s desire to tackle the problem before it is too late … What is holding the current architecture in place is also what could rapidly bring it down.”


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Another Remarkably Stupid NYT Op Ed on the Mideast

Okay, I don’t have much time here, it’s recycling night — and the New York Times seems to revel in recycling really tired Israeli PR lines. Today, it’s Ephraim Karsh trotting out a mish-mash of misrepresentations and tar-balls of wishful thinking to make the case that the Arab world has abandoned the Palestinians, and now that they’re on their own, they’re more likely to surrender to Israel’s terms at the peace table.

The evidence for this claim, first and foremost, is an unscientific survey by an Arab news organization that found that ” a staggering 71 percent of the Arabic respondents have no interest in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks”. Uh, Ephraim, buddy — you may not know this, but the percentage of Palestinians that have no interest in those peace talks is probably higher. Nobody outside the Netanyahu-AIPAC echo chamber believes anything will come of such talks as long as the U.S. declines to force the issue with Israel. That’s hardly the same thing as saying the Arabs have tired of the Palestinians; on the contrary, most surveys of Arab opinion find the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains their primary foreign policy concern. Arabs tiring of the Palestinians is wishful thinking.

Then we’re treated to a familiar and not particularly controversial account of the cynicism of the Arab regimes in dealing with the Palestinians, culminating in the current moment when he says they’ve abandoned the Palestinians to their fate — and that this is a good thing. “For if the Arab regimes’ self-serving interventionism has denied Palestinians the right to determine their own fate, then the best, indeed only, hope of peace between Arabs and Israelis lies in rejecting the spurious link between this particular issue and other regional and global problems.
The sooner the Palestinians recognize that their cause is theirs alone, the sooner they are likely to make peace with the existence of the State of Israel and to understand the need for a negotiated settlement.”

Actually, it was Yasser Arafat’s PLO that established Palestinian independence from the Arab regimes. And Israel has periodically cooperated with those regimes, in Jordan and Egypt, to suppress Palestinian self-determination. When Karsh speaks of the “need for a negotiated settlement” he’s being disingenuous. The Palestinian leadership has been pursuing such a settlement since the late 1980s; but Israel is demanding that the Palestinians accept terms for such a settlement that are neither just nor tolerable. And when he talks of the “spurious link” between resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other regional and global problems, he reveals his ideological underwear — even the U.S. military acknowledges that American support for Israel in the context of its treatment of the Palestinians is perhaps the most important determinant of Muslim attitudes towards the United States.

Israel and the United States are hand in glove with Arab efforts to deny the Palestinians the right to determine their own fate which Karsh so cynically touts, most visibly in their refusal to accept the verdict of the Palestinian electorate in 2006 that chose Hamas as its government (in Gaza and the West Bank), and instead set about suppressing Palestinian democratic institution, turning President Mahmoud Abbas into just another Arab autocrat with no democratic mandate and more dependent on the U.S. than on his own people. Indeed, the morbid truth, now, is that Abbas was forced to go to the Arab League for a mandate to join Obama’s peace process; he couldn’t be sure of getting the go-ahead even from his own Fatah Party, never mind from any Palestinian elected body.

There is, indeed, a regional shift underway, though: The Arab regimes on which the U.S. and Israel have relied to maintain regional stability and legitimize their endless peace process are not just tiring of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; they’re tiring, period. Spent. Their lack of legitimacy in the eyes of their own populations, exacerbated every time they’re shown to be either complicit or powerless as Israel pounds or throttles the Palestinians or its other Arab neighbors, has finally caught up with them. Soon Mubarak, longtime guarantor of the peace process, will expire, and Egypt will be in turmoil. The Saudis face succession dramas of their own. And the Arab populations, in whose hearts the cause of Palestine — rather than that of a bankrupt “peace process” — burns brightly are beginning to assert their own independence, from a regional order that has favored the U.S. and Israel for the past four decades.

Frankly, Karsh, the events of the past year over Gaza alone should have been enough to demonstrate that it’s not the Palestinians who’re on their own in the Middle East.

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On Iran, Liberals Are Enabling Another Disastrous War

Beinart chats with friends in high places: Liberal “hawks” like him played a major role in enabling the Iraq debacle

In 2003, the United States launched an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, a country that had neither attacked nor threatened it — and we, and the Iraqis, are still living with the consequences. Going to war in Iraq was made possible — easy, even — for the Bush Administration not only by Republican hawks and neocon extremists (the wannabe Army Corps of Social Engineers) baying for blood, but even more importantly, by supposedly sober and moderate liberal voices — the Peter Beinarts, Ken Pollacks, George Packers and the editors of the New York Times — not only failing to challenge the basic logic of the case for war, but providing their own more elegant (although equally brutal when stripped of their high-minded rhetoric) rationalizations for invading Iraq.

It was the liberal “hawks” and the New York Times, by failing to ask the right questions of the case for war, that did more to make the war a “thinkable” option for America than any neocon. They allowed the question to be posed simply as one of whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction or not. And because nobody could give an absolute assurance in the negative, the argument became “better safe than sorry”. The liberals and the New York Times offered no challenge, and asked no questions, of the basic assumption that if Saddam had, in fact, had a couple of warehouses full of VX gas and refrigerator full of anthrax, that necessitated launching a war that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of upward of half a million Iraqis (and thousands of Americans) and left America weaker and more vulnerable.

And the bad news is that they’re doing it again on Iran.

By asking the wrong questions on Iran, and failing to ask the right ones, the liberal media establishment and some of its key pundits are mainstreaming what is in essence an extremist foreign policy option.

The latest example comes in today’s Washington Post, where Ray Takeyh and Steven Simon essentially provide a “how-to-bomb Iran” manual for an Administration less inclined to dress its wars up in cowboy clothing than its predecessor was, but by its actions in Afghanistan showing that it’s no less committed to waging those wars.

To their credit, Takeyh and Simon note that there’s no legal basis for attacking Iran, and that the Administration would have a hard time winning U.N. Security Council authorization for such a move.

the United States has obtained a series of U.N. resolutions censuring Iran not because its legal arguments and foreign policy views have wowed the world, but simply because its European partners have feared that Washington might otherwise take matters into its own hands. These anxieties were more acute during the Bush years, but they have hardly dissipated with new occupants in the White House. From Europe’s perspective, the U.N. process is designed not just to pressure Iran but also to enmesh the United States in cumbersome proceedings that limit its choices.

It may be comforting for Washington to blame China and Russia as the key obstacles to more forceful measures against Iran, but Britain and France — where public opinion is already against participation in the war in Afghanistan — also have little appetite for striking… Washington would have to choose between an international coalition pledging rigorous containment of Iran, and the lonely, unpopular path of taking military action lacking allied consensus.

They recommend that Obama first try further sanctions, and also that he make sure he has the American people behind his decision to launch a war — and also make sure that he had the support of the Gulf Arab regimes. But the most outrageously naive and dangerous bit of logic they offer is this:

As it contemplated the use of force, the administration’s decision-making would be further complicated by the need for a plan to unwind military hostilities and make sure a confrontation did not escalate out of control. The White House would have to signal to Tehran that the U.S. military objective was not to overthrow the clerical regime but to enforce the will of the international community by disabling Iran’s nuclear program. The message would need to make clear that for the United States, hostilities would end with the destruction of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but that if Iran retaliated, Washington would press its attacks until Tehran could no longer respond.

The idea that you can bomb a country and then “make sure the confrontation does not escalate out of control” is, quite simply, bizarre. Of course Iran is going to retaliate, painfully, over years and even decades. Bombing will, as sober heads have warned, almost certainly spark a protracted war with potentially devastating consequences for Iran (its government and people, including its opposition), Israel, the United States (which has hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in Iran’s immediate neighborhood and the wider Middle East. And it’s more likely to make Iran acquire nuclear weapons than to deter it from doing so.

As the Leveretts have noted, the question of bombing Iran is on the table simply because of the fact that Iran is enriching uranium, and the apocalyptic fantasies that Israel and its most passionate backers in Washington attach to that fact. Iran is not believed by US intelligence to be building a nuclear weapon, but to be moving to “breakout capacity”, i.e. the assembly of all the components of a nuclear weapon via a civilian energy program, but not actually building a bomb — what Japan has done, in other words. And it’s not hard to see the appeal for Iran’s leaders of having such capability at hand in a context where three of its key strategic adversaries — the U.S., Israel and Pakistan — are nuclear armed.

The idea that starting a catastrophic war in the Middle East to preserve Israel’s monopoly on nuclear force in the Middle East — which President Obama publicly signed off on during Netanyahu’s recent visit — ought to be unthinkable. But the likes of Simon and Takeyh are making it thinkable. The media war party also seems to accept at face value the claim that the Obama Administration has “tried engagement” with Iran. That’s rubbish. As Gary Sick and others with some understanding of U.S. diplomacy with Iran have noted, no serious and comprehensive attempt to engage Iran in a dialogue on the full gamut of conflicts between the two powers has yet occurred. The U.S. until now has largely confined itself to talking in order to get Iran to heed Western demands on its nuclear program; the only way to stabilize Iran’s relations with the U.S., Israel and the rest of the region will be through a grand bargain that recognizes Iran’s status in the region and regulates its relations with all of its neighbors. Of course Iran’s internal dynamic has made that challenge massively complicated for both sides. But to dodge that challenge and instead launch a war that can only make matters worse seems to be to be criminally insane — insanity enabled by supposedly sober people falsely presenting yet another war of choice as some kind of necessity.

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Is War Talk Painting Obama Into a Corner on Iran?

Despite the escalating war rhetoric, conventional wisdom holds that the U.S. military establishment and even President Obama himself believe that the potential consequences of a military strike that plunges America into a third war in the Muslim world are so grave — and the prospects for such a strike preventing or deterring Iran from eventually attaining nuclear weapons so dubious — as to render it too reckless an option. Nor is there any legal basis for it; a U.N. Security Council authorization for military action against Iran is unthinkable unless Iran attacked another country or was moving to do so. And most of the international community — including most of those countries that backed the latest round of sanctions — would strongly oppose it. President Obama is an indefatigable internationalist, and if he were planning to launch a military strike against Iran, it’s reasonable to expect that he’d be engaged in the protracted process of trying to establish a basis for such action at the U.N. and in international public opinion. No signs of that, at least not yet.

Obama has, however, insisted that a military option remains “on the table.”

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