Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 10, 2008

The Beeb Observes Israel’s 60th

I couldn’t help but notice the petty, passive-aggressive graphics affixed to the BBC’s online coverage of Israel’s 60th anniversary. The banner across the top of the BBC’s “special report” features a graphic that combines the Israeli and Palestinian flags. And the graphic posted on several news pages advertising the special feature is a picture of the Al-Aqsa mosque with a Star of David superimposed over it — you know, just in case you weren’t clear on the true meaning of the occasion.

I couldn’t help but notice the petty, passive-aggressive graphics affixed to the BBC’s online coverage of Israel’s 60th anniversary. The banner across the top of the BBC’s “special report” features a graphic that combines the Israeli and Palestinian flags. And the graphic posted on several news pages advertising the special feature is a picture of the Al-Aqsa mosque with a Star of David superimposed over it — you know, just in case you weren’t clear on the true meaning of the occasion.

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Israel on the Couch

Spencer Ackerman concludes his ruminations on Israel’s 60th by engaging in a bit of pop-psychology about the Israeli body politic — not “dignity promotion”-level material, but good stuff nonetheless:

Apathy by American Jewry toward Israel’s internal political psychosis — or, worse, apologies for it — is, effectively, an anti-Israel sentiment we need to confront.

And thus does a person who once visited Israel for a few days diagnose the entire country’s “internal political psychosis.” The credulosphere marches onward.

Spencer Ackerman concludes his ruminations on Israel’s 60th by engaging in a bit of pop-psychology about the Israeli body politic — not “dignity promotion”-level material, but good stuff nonetheless:

Apathy by American Jewry toward Israel’s internal political psychosis — or, worse, apologies for it — is, effectively, an anti-Israel sentiment we need to confront.

And thus does a person who once visited Israel for a few days diagnose the entire country’s “internal political psychosis.” The credulosphere marches onward.

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More On Malley

Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition responds:

“Regrettably, Robert Malley is but one of many people with troubling views advising Sen. Obama. We are still waiting for Obama to take principled action and remove Gen. McPeak – who has made disturbing and anti-Semitic comments about the American Jewish community. If Obama really wants to be a uniter, he should examine all the past associations and public comments of his advisors, and act accordingly.”

McPeak remains an advisor to Obama. As for Malley, the mainstream media has now at least restated the basic facts of Obama’s endorsement by Ahemd Yousef. But will anyone in the media pack following Obama today see fit to question him on the Malley connection with Hamas or on why he was receiving advice from Malley in the first place? You don’t even have to read the accounts to know the answer to that one.

Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition responds:

“Regrettably, Robert Malley is but one of many people with troubling views advising Sen. Obama. We are still waiting for Obama to take principled action and remove Gen. McPeak – who has made disturbing and anti-Semitic comments about the American Jewish community. If Obama really wants to be a uniter, he should examine all the past associations and public comments of his advisors, and act accordingly.”

McPeak remains an advisor to Obama. As for Malley, the mainstream media has now at least restated the basic facts of Obama’s endorsement by Ahemd Yousef. But will anyone in the media pack following Obama today see fit to question him on the Malley connection with Hamas or on why he was receiving advice from Malley in the first place? You don’t even have to read the accounts to know the answer to that one.

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“I will never allow a second Holocaust.”

John McCain uttered those words in the second half of his interview with Bill O’Reilly on Friday. The subject was whether McCain would support a preemptive strike by Israel on Iran. Although McCain provided the usual caveats that he would need to know the circumstances and would not respond hypothetically, his remark (which he repeated a few moments later), expressed the stakes in a way few politicians do. It is hard to imagine Barack Obama, who after all wants to meet with Ahmadinedjad, saying anything similar. After all “it wouldn’t be helpful.”

On the topic of Iraq, McCain restated his position that a precipitous withdrawal would result in chaos and genocide and would inevitably require that we re-enter at greater cost. McCain was asked how he’ll avoid be tagged as Bush’s twin. He reeled off a list of issues – climate change, management of the war, and spending – on which he differed with Bush. But then he evidenced a recognition ( or was it a hope?) that the real issue for voters would be about what type of change they want going forward.

McCain in a one-on-one interview setting displays the feisty combativeness that helped gain him his “maverick” label. But he also displays on topics dear to him a fluency and command of detail. He’ll need that, not only in foreign policy, if he’ll convince the voters that he’s not the clueless, indifferent caricature of a Republican whom the Obama camp is making him out to be.

John McCain uttered those words in the second half of his interview with Bill O’Reilly on Friday. The subject was whether McCain would support a preemptive strike by Israel on Iran. Although McCain provided the usual caveats that he would need to know the circumstances and would not respond hypothetically, his remark (which he repeated a few moments later), expressed the stakes in a way few politicians do. It is hard to imagine Barack Obama, who after all wants to meet with Ahmadinedjad, saying anything similar. After all “it wouldn’t be helpful.”

On the topic of Iraq, McCain restated his position that a precipitous withdrawal would result in chaos and genocide and would inevitably require that we re-enter at greater cost. McCain was asked how he’ll avoid be tagged as Bush’s twin. He reeled off a list of issues – climate change, management of the war, and spending – on which he differed with Bush. But then he evidenced a recognition ( or was it a hope?) that the real issue for voters would be about what type of change they want going forward.

McCain in a one-on-one interview setting displays the feisty combativeness that helped gain him his “maverick” label. But he also displays on topics dear to him a fluency and command of detail. He’ll need that, not only in foreign policy, if he’ll convince the voters that he’s not the clueless, indifferent caricature of a Republican whom the Obama camp is making him out to be.

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Lebanon’s Third Civil War

The third civil war has begun in Lebanon.

The first war was a short one. Sunni Arab Nationalists in thrall to Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted to attach Lebanon to the United Arab Republic – a brief union of Egypt and Syria. An even larger bloc of Maronite Christians resisted. A nation cannot hold itself together when a large percentage of its population – roughly a third – wish to be annexed by foreign powers.

The second war was a long one. This time, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization formed a state-within-a-state in West Beirut and South Lebanon and used it as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israel. Again, Lebanon’s Christians resisted, as did Lebanon’s Shias. The second civil war was actually a series of wars that were merely triggered by that first fatal schism.

The third civil war resembles both the first and the second. With Iranian money and weapons, Hezbollah has built its own state-within-a-state in South Lebanon and South Beirut which is used as a base to wage war against Israel. Hezbollah also wishes to violently yank Lebanon from its current pro-Western alignment into the Syrian-Iranian axis. Roughly one-fourth of the population supports this agenda. No country on earth can withstand that kind of geopolitical tectonic pressure. For more than a year members of Hezbollah have tried unsuccessfully to topple the elected government with a minimal use of force, but their patience is at an end and they have turned to war.

My old liberal Sunni neighborhood of Hamra near the American University of Beirut – the best in the Middle East – is now occupied by the private army of a foreign police state. Masked gunmen take up positions in a neighborhood of five star hotels, restaurants, and cafes (including a Starbucks) where students like to hang out while reading books by authors like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. They burned down Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s Future Movement headquarters building. They stormed the offices of TV and radio stations and threatened to dynamite the buildings if the reporters refused to stop broadcasting. They seized the property of Saad Hariri – son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – and they control all the exits. Member of Parliament Ammar Houry’s house is now occupied. Al Arabiya says they attacked the Ottoman-era Grand Serail, the current prime minister’s office.

Hezbollah used automatic weapons, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and sniper rifles to seize all, if not most, of West Beirut. The only weapons its gunmen haven’t deployed are its Katyusha rockets, which are useless in urban warfare, and car bombs, which aren’t.

“Hezbollah is not mounting a coup,” Charles Malik writes from Beirut at the Lebanese Political Journal. “They do not want to control ALL of Lebanon. They have no interest in controlling state institutions.”

This is mostly right. As long as Hezbollah gets what it wants, taking over all of Lebanon is unnecessary, as well as most likely impossible. But this is still a coup d’etat of a sort. What happened is, literally, a blow against the state. Until this week, Hezbollah existed both inside and beside the state. Hezbollah now exists above the state, the parliament, the police, and the army. No member of Hezbollah will be arrested or prosecuted as they would in a normal and properly sovereign country.

The army is too weak and divided along sectarian lines to protect Lebanon from internal or external threats. It was sabotaged for more than a decade during Syria’s military occupation and was staffed at the highest levels with Damascus loyalists who have yet to be purged. It is a make-believe army at best, and a part-time tool of the Syrian state at its worst.

The erstwhile prevailing mentality of fragile coexistence and anti-war has all but evaporated. The restrained rhetoric Lebanese people are accustomed to hearing from their leaders is gone. “We are in war and they wouldn’t be able to predict our reaction,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said. “Hezbollah has gained control over Beirut,” said Member of Parliament Ahmad Fatfat, “and has caused a Sunni-Shia conflict that will be extended for years.” “If no compromise is reached, we will be facing a long internal war,” said Suleiman Franjieh, Jr., a former member of parliament and leader of the small Marada militia in North Lebanon aligned with Hezbollah and the Syrians.

Lebanon is a country based on consensus between its more or less demographically balanced Christians, Sunnis, and Shias, and its smaller population of Druze. No sect is allowed by law or social contract to rule over the others. The system, when it works, provides checks and balances. Hezbollah has overthrown all of it. And when the system is overthrown, as it has been in the past, Lebanese have demonstrated that they can and will fight as viciously as Iraqi militias in Baghdad. Lebanon has no shortage of people from every sect and most political movements who will fight dirty urban warfare with little regard for unarmed civilian noncombatants.

Though Hezbollah still occupies West Beirut, the city is reportedly calm at the moment – but don’t expect that to last long. Hezbollah is a Shia army in league with the Islamic Republic of Iran, while West Beirut is mostly made up of hostile Sunnis aligned with Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States. Lebanese blogger Mustafa at Beirut Spring put it plainly: “Expect the fight for Beirut to begin in earnest later with the distinct trademark of an occupied population: Hit and run.”

Even if Hezbollah does withdraw and real calm prevails in the near term, Lebanon has crossed a threshold from which there likely will be no recovery. Quiet may resume, but it will be the quiet of cold war rather than peace.

Hezbollah has always said its weapons were pointed only at Israel, though many knew better. Hezbollah even brags (although it’s not true) that they did not turn their weapons against Lebanese during the last civil war. Both of these lies have now been exposed before the whole world.

There may be lulls in the violence, but there will be no real peace in Lebanon until Hezbollah is disarmed or destroyed.

The third civil war has begun in Lebanon.

The first war was a short one. Sunni Arab Nationalists in thrall to Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted to attach Lebanon to the United Arab Republic – a brief union of Egypt and Syria. An even larger bloc of Maronite Christians resisted. A nation cannot hold itself together when a large percentage of its population – roughly a third – wish to be annexed by foreign powers.

The second war was a long one. This time, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization formed a state-within-a-state in West Beirut and South Lebanon and used it as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israel. Again, Lebanon’s Christians resisted, as did Lebanon’s Shias. The second civil war was actually a series of wars that were merely triggered by that first fatal schism.

The third civil war resembles both the first and the second. With Iranian money and weapons, Hezbollah has built its own state-within-a-state in South Lebanon and South Beirut which is used as a base to wage war against Israel. Hezbollah also wishes to violently yank Lebanon from its current pro-Western alignment into the Syrian-Iranian axis. Roughly one-fourth of the population supports this agenda. No country on earth can withstand that kind of geopolitical tectonic pressure. For more than a year members of Hezbollah have tried unsuccessfully to topple the elected government with a minimal use of force, but their patience is at an end and they have turned to war.

My old liberal Sunni neighborhood of Hamra near the American University of Beirut – the best in the Middle East – is now occupied by the private army of a foreign police state. Masked gunmen take up positions in a neighborhood of five star hotels, restaurants, and cafes (including a Starbucks) where students like to hang out while reading books by authors like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. They burned down Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s Future Movement headquarters building. They stormed the offices of TV and radio stations and threatened to dynamite the buildings if the reporters refused to stop broadcasting. They seized the property of Saad Hariri – son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – and they control all the exits. Member of Parliament Ammar Houry’s house is now occupied. Al Arabiya says they attacked the Ottoman-era Grand Serail, the current prime minister’s office.

Hezbollah used automatic weapons, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and sniper rifles to seize all, if not most, of West Beirut. The only weapons its gunmen haven’t deployed are its Katyusha rockets, which are useless in urban warfare, and car bombs, which aren’t.

“Hezbollah is not mounting a coup,” Charles Malik writes from Beirut at the Lebanese Political Journal. “They do not want to control ALL of Lebanon. They have no interest in controlling state institutions.”

This is mostly right. As long as Hezbollah gets what it wants, taking over all of Lebanon is unnecessary, as well as most likely impossible. But this is still a coup d’etat of a sort. What happened is, literally, a blow against the state. Until this week, Hezbollah existed both inside and beside the state. Hezbollah now exists above the state, the parliament, the police, and the army. No member of Hezbollah will be arrested or prosecuted as they would in a normal and properly sovereign country.

The army is too weak and divided along sectarian lines to protect Lebanon from internal or external threats. It was sabotaged for more than a decade during Syria’s military occupation and was staffed at the highest levels with Damascus loyalists who have yet to be purged. It is a make-believe army at best, and a part-time tool of the Syrian state at its worst.

The erstwhile prevailing mentality of fragile coexistence and anti-war has all but evaporated. The restrained rhetoric Lebanese people are accustomed to hearing from their leaders is gone. “We are in war and they wouldn’t be able to predict our reaction,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said. “Hezbollah has gained control over Beirut,” said Member of Parliament Ahmad Fatfat, “and has caused a Sunni-Shia conflict that will be extended for years.” “If no compromise is reached, we will be facing a long internal war,” said Suleiman Franjieh, Jr., a former member of parliament and leader of the small Marada militia in North Lebanon aligned with Hezbollah and the Syrians.

Lebanon is a country based on consensus between its more or less demographically balanced Christians, Sunnis, and Shias, and its smaller population of Druze. No sect is allowed by law or social contract to rule over the others. The system, when it works, provides checks and balances. Hezbollah has overthrown all of it. And when the system is overthrown, as it has been in the past, Lebanese have demonstrated that they can and will fight as viciously as Iraqi militias in Baghdad. Lebanon has no shortage of people from every sect and most political movements who will fight dirty urban warfare with little regard for unarmed civilian noncombatants.

Though Hezbollah still occupies West Beirut, the city is reportedly calm at the moment – but don’t expect that to last long. Hezbollah is a Shia army in league with the Islamic Republic of Iran, while West Beirut is mostly made up of hostile Sunnis aligned with Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States. Lebanese blogger Mustafa at Beirut Spring put it plainly: “Expect the fight for Beirut to begin in earnest later with the distinct trademark of an occupied population: Hit and run.”

Even if Hezbollah does withdraw and real calm prevails in the near term, Lebanon has crossed a threshold from which there likely will be no recovery. Quiet may resume, but it will be the quiet of cold war rather than peace.

Hezbollah has always said its weapons were pointed only at Israel, though many knew better. Hezbollah even brags (although it’s not true) that they did not turn their weapons against Lebanese during the last civil war. Both of these lies have now been exposed before the whole world.

There may be lulls in the violence, but there will be no real peace in Lebanon until Hezbollah is disarmed or destroyed.

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Obama Sacks Malley After Meeting With Hamas

One of Barack Obama’s Middle East advisors Robert Malley was sacked after it came to light that he had held meetings with Hamas. The Times reports:

One of Barack Obama’s Middle East policy advisers disclosed today that he had held meetings with the militant Palestinian group Hamas – prompting the likely Democratic nominee to sever all links with him.

Robert Malley told The Times he had regularly been in contact with Hamas, which controls Gaza but is listed by the US State Department as a terrorist organisation. Such talks, he stressed, were related to his work for a conflict resolution think tank and had no connection with his position on Mr Obama’s Middle East advisory council. “I’ve never hidden the fact that in my job with the International Crisis Group I meet all kinds of people,” he added.

But Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Mr Obama, responded swiftly, saying: “Rob Malley has, like hundreds of other experts, provided informal advice to the campaign in the past. He has no formal role in the campaign and he will not play any role in the future.”

The rapid departure of Mr Malley from the campaign followed 48 hours of heated clashes between John McCain, the Republican nominee-elect, and Mr Obama, on the issue of Middle East policy.

Mr Obama, who has been trying to assuage suspicion towards him among the influential Jewish and pro-Israel lobby, spoke at a Washington reception marking the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence yesterday when he promised his commitment to the country’s security would be “unshakeable”.

But Mr McCain has highlighted the Democrat’s pledge to negotiate directly with nations such as Iran – whose leaders talk of wiping Israel off the map – and a statement from Hamas saying that it hoped Mr Obama would win the presidency.

This was denounced as an offensive “smear” by Mr Obama, who repeated earlier statements saying that Hamas is “a terrorist organisation [and] we should not negotiate with them unless they recognise Israel, renounce violence”
. . .
Today, asked if Obama campaign was aware of his contact with Hamas, he replied: “They know who I am but I don’t think they vet everyone in a group of informal advisers.”

Randy Scheunemann, Mr McCain’s foreign policy chief, suggested Mr Malley was part of an emerging pattern which has seen other advisers repudiated after throwing confusion over policies on trade and Iraq.

“Perhaps, because of his inexperience, Senator Obama surrounds himself with advisers that contradict his stated policies,” said Mr Scheunemann.

But of course this should have come as no surprise to the Obama camp. Malley has openly advocated engaging Hamas. Malley has been the subject of much discussion here and elsewhere on the blogosphere and yet the Obama campaign never previously sought to separate itself or distinguish Malley’s views from Obama’s.

And although the Obama camp would now like to create the impression that Malley’s association with the campaign was tangential they have in the past acknowledged that he did advise the campaign although not as a “formal advisor”( what makes someone a “formal advisor” is unclear, and I suspect entirely artificial). Moreover, if there were no relationship it would hardly have been necessary for Malley to contact the campaign to inform them that he was ending that relationship. (Who severed the relationship it seems is a matter of dispute.)

The decision to sack Malley raises several issues. First, did the Obama campaign know of Malley’s visits previously? Second, what advice did Malley provide Obama ( and why would his advice be sought) if Obama claims his policy regarding Hamas is identical to McCain’s? Finally, what did Malley communicate to Hamas and did Malley’s contacts with Hamas have anything to do with the endorsement of Obama by Hamas’ Ahmed Yousef?

The notion that McCain had somehow “smeared” Obama for reciting the fact of Hamas’ endorsement can now be seen for what it truly is: the tried and true political tactic of attacking your enemy when faced with a serious controversy of your own. But now that media outlets have reported the latest development in the ongoing saga of Obama and Hamas, it seems that simply attacking McCain for mentioning it will no longer suffice. Unless, of course, the media show no interest in following up and Obama is never forced to answer questions on the topic.

One of Barack Obama’s Middle East advisors Robert Malley was sacked after it came to light that he had held meetings with Hamas. The Times reports:

One of Barack Obama’s Middle East policy advisers disclosed today that he had held meetings with the militant Palestinian group Hamas – prompting the likely Democratic nominee to sever all links with him.

Robert Malley told The Times he had regularly been in contact with Hamas, which controls Gaza but is listed by the US State Department as a terrorist organisation. Such talks, he stressed, were related to his work for a conflict resolution think tank and had no connection with his position on Mr Obama’s Middle East advisory council. “I’ve never hidden the fact that in my job with the International Crisis Group I meet all kinds of people,” he added.

But Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Mr Obama, responded swiftly, saying: “Rob Malley has, like hundreds of other experts, provided informal advice to the campaign in the past. He has no formal role in the campaign and he will not play any role in the future.”

The rapid departure of Mr Malley from the campaign followed 48 hours of heated clashes between John McCain, the Republican nominee-elect, and Mr Obama, on the issue of Middle East policy.

Mr Obama, who has been trying to assuage suspicion towards him among the influential Jewish and pro-Israel lobby, spoke at a Washington reception marking the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence yesterday when he promised his commitment to the country’s security would be “unshakeable”.

But Mr McCain has highlighted the Democrat’s pledge to negotiate directly with nations such as Iran – whose leaders talk of wiping Israel off the map – and a statement from Hamas saying that it hoped Mr Obama would win the presidency.

This was denounced as an offensive “smear” by Mr Obama, who repeated earlier statements saying that Hamas is “a terrorist organisation [and] we should not negotiate with them unless they recognise Israel, renounce violence”
. . .
Today, asked if Obama campaign was aware of his contact with Hamas, he replied: “They know who I am but I don’t think they vet everyone in a group of informal advisers.”

Randy Scheunemann, Mr McCain’s foreign policy chief, suggested Mr Malley was part of an emerging pattern which has seen other advisers repudiated after throwing confusion over policies on trade and Iraq.

“Perhaps, because of his inexperience, Senator Obama surrounds himself with advisers that contradict his stated policies,” said Mr Scheunemann.

But of course this should have come as no surprise to the Obama camp. Malley has openly advocated engaging Hamas. Malley has been the subject of much discussion here and elsewhere on the blogosphere and yet the Obama campaign never previously sought to separate itself or distinguish Malley’s views from Obama’s.

And although the Obama camp would now like to create the impression that Malley’s association with the campaign was tangential they have in the past acknowledged that he did advise the campaign although not as a “formal advisor”( what makes someone a “formal advisor” is unclear, and I suspect entirely artificial). Moreover, if there were no relationship it would hardly have been necessary for Malley to contact the campaign to inform them that he was ending that relationship. (Who severed the relationship it seems is a matter of dispute.)

The decision to sack Malley raises several issues. First, did the Obama campaign know of Malley’s visits previously? Second, what advice did Malley provide Obama ( and why would his advice be sought) if Obama claims his policy regarding Hamas is identical to McCain’s? Finally, what did Malley communicate to Hamas and did Malley’s contacts with Hamas have anything to do with the endorsement of Obama by Hamas’ Ahmed Yousef?

The notion that McCain had somehow “smeared” Obama for reciting the fact of Hamas’ endorsement can now be seen for what it truly is: the tried and true political tactic of attacking your enemy when faced with a serious controversy of your own. But now that media outlets have reported the latest development in the ongoing saga of Obama and Hamas, it seems that simply attacking McCain for mentioning it will no longer suffice. Unless, of course, the media show no interest in following up and Obama is never forced to answer questions on the topic.

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Our Enemies and the Election

Are we due for an “October surprise?” Ever since October 1972, when Henry Kissinger, then Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, announced that “peace is at hand” in Vietnam, an October surprise – or the impending possibility of one – has been a perennial feature of American political life. Will a dramatic foreign-policy development tip the electoral balance this year?

Several factors have converged to make this more probable than in any recent election. I explore what they are in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Are we due for an “October surprise?” Ever since October 1972, when Henry Kissinger, then Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, announced that “peace is at hand” in Vietnam, an October surprise – or the impending possibility of one – has been a perennial feature of American political life. Will a dramatic foreign-policy development tip the electoral balance this year?

Several factors have converged to make this more probable than in any recent election. I explore what they are in today’s Wall Street Journal.

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