Members of Congress may be searching across the aisle for dates for the State of the Union speech tonight (Yes, we’re talking about you, Eric Cantor — there has to be somebody other than Nancy Pelosi for you to sit with!), but readers of CONTENTIONS don’t have that problem. Tonight at 9 p.m., join CONTENTIONS contributors Alana Goodman, Abe Greenwald, and Jonathan Tobin for a live-blog session during President Obama’s State of the Union speech. See you tonight!
Topic: Jonathan Tobin
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.
In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.
That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.
As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.
Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.
That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.
It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.
Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.
I agree with Jonathan Tobin: the predicted delay in Iran’s achievement of a working nuclear weapon is the mildest of good news. For one thing, the year 2015 has figured in the CIA’s outside projection for over a decade. U.S. intelligence estimates have hewed to a time frame of 2009-2015 since 1999. Even the infamous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate used that as the projected period in which Iran was most likely to succeed in weaponizing a nuke.
This means that reference to the year 2015 has been a factor in every step taken by the U.S., the P5+1, and the UN over the past decade. We have made our policy on the basis of that year. It’s not a new planning factor or a signal that our basis for policy should change. We have always assumed it could take Iran until 2015 to have a working nuke. And even when it became clear that a working nuke wouldn’t emerge in 2009, the year 2015 nevertheless justified urgent concern. We will only get closer to it from here.
It also bears reiterating that Stuxnet is irrelevant to Iran’s progress toward weaponization. The assassination of nuclear scientists is on point when it comes to weaponization; the operation of Stuxnet is not. The virus can delay the accumulation of an arsenal, but its design and purpose are not geared to the weaponization process.
It’s not clear to me why Meir Dagan’s summary was made available to the media. Outgoing leaders usually celebrate the successes of their organizations as they take their leave, but the risk is high that these particular successes, as framed in the Dagan report, will be misinterpreted. Complacency about the time available to us is dangerously misguided: to date, delaying our decision deadline for effective action has only allowed Iran to achieve greater success and self-sufficiency in its nuclear pursuits.
Perhaps American journalists eager to apologize to the world for America’s Islamophobia should take note of the following. According to the AP, “An Islamic centre has been firebombed in Berlin — one of more than half a dozen arson attacks on Islamic institutions in the city this year — prompting a Muslim official to demand police protection for all mosques in Germany.”
If New York City had seen six arson attacks on mosques in one year, Manhattanites would probably be under something like open-ended martial law. A handful of peaceful protests brought presidential pronouncements, sensational front-page scare stories, and New York Times apologias. One oddball Florida preacher mentioned his intention to burn the Koran and figures from all spheres of American leadership, including David Petraeus and Hillary Clinton, stepped in to dissuade him.
As Jonathan Tobin pointed out last week, the newest FBI data on hate-crime in the U.S. this past year shows “931 anti-Semitic incidents, compared with 107 anti-Islamic incidents, a ratio of better than 8 to 1.” There’s your great Islamophobic America for you. If someone really wants to have fun, they should compare the number of anti-Islamic incidents in the U.S. to figures for the rest of the world.
Reporting on yet another remarkable archaeological finding in Jerusalem, Jonathan Tobin writes today that:
This matters because many influential archaeologists, as well as Palestinian propagandists, have dismissed Jewish ties to Jerusalem by claiming that the Kingdom of David mentioned in the Bible was an insignificant entity and that its capital in Jerusalem was nothing more than a village.
I could not agree more. But his sentence triggered a thought and a reminder of post-Zionist mirror-climbing about when the Palestinian nation was born. The exercise is, of course, aimed at disproving the argument that Palestinian national identity is largely a consequence, a response, and, therefore, a by-product of Zionism and Israel’s establishment. The argument suggests that part of the reason why Palestine never came to exist as a nation-state is because those for whom the nation-state was meant to be established did not see themselves as a distinct nation until much later in history – when it was too late.
Even if one takes the absurd claim that the birth date of Palestinian identity goes back to 1834 – as argued Joel Migdal and Baruch Kimmerling in their book, The Palestinian People: A History – the notion that “Jerusalem was nothing more than a village” would more aptly apply to Jerusalem at the time of the Palestinian nation’s “birth.” Though still prevalently populated by Arabs in the early 1800s, Jerusalem’s population counted about 2,000 – out of a whopping 8,750. By 1870, Kimmerling and Migdal would have you believe that most Palestinians had a well-formed national consciousness. Still, most Arabs could neither read nor write. They had grown in number, surely, but so had the Jews. Jerusalem still looked like a village, albeit a larger one – 22,000 people, half of whom were Jews – and the main means of communications to propagate the messages of national identity from Jerusalem to the rest of the world were pigeons and smoke signals (plus the mail, carried by horse and donkey). The village, incidentally, was not the capital of anything.
Clearly, those who make the silly claim about Jerusalem having been a village back when, in fact, it was already an important pre-Israelite centre, don’t realize that in much more recent times, when the centrality of Jerusalem would serve their argument, Jerusalem was… well, nothing but a small village, and too full of Jews to play the magnet for nationalism that some pro-Palestinian propagandists now attribute to it.
Jonathan Tobin is right to be concerned about the thinking evinced by the CENTCOM Red Team about Hezbollah and Hamas. But it doesn’t surprise me that much. It’s a natural outgrowth of the operational situation CENTCOM has been in since 9/11, fighting ground wars in two Muslim nations, establishing new bases in others, and maintaining military-to-military relations with every Muslim nation in the region except Iran and Syria. CENTCOM’s daily foreign contacts in the “AOR” — area of responsibility — are with Muslims, virtually all of whom are, in the context of their personal and professional lives, politically moderate and pragmatic. When they shake their heads over the problem of Israel, they don’t foam at the mouth or burn flags in the street. It becomes natural to accept that their view of things governs their behavior and requires accommodation, even if we don’t hold that view.
This is especially true because the one nation CENTCOM does not interact with is Israel. Israel is in the European Command’s (EUCOM’s) AOR. This separation between AORs is deliberate. It’s not unique: CENTCOM and the Pacific Command (PACOM) also divide Pakistan and India between them. Both AOR divisions were undertaken for the purpose of easing U.S. relations with the nations in confrontation on either side of the divide. In the case of CENTCOM, the influence of the Muslim side in each confrontation is the one our officials engage with daily. CENTCOM is tasked with maintaining effective military relations and getting a set of jobs done — and in its AOR, that means working with Muslim militaries and populations.
For a number of reasons, I have long favored the arrangement that keeps Israel in the EUCOM AOR. For one thing, Israel is a Western nation with strong cultural ties to Europe and the U.S. There are reasons remaining, which prevent us from putting together an effective AOR that includes both Israel and all the Muslim nations of the Middle East. Our ability to engage with Israel should not be subject to de facto vetoes by the Muslim nations that would deal with our officials in the same regional headquarters.
But during the flap earlier this year over General Petraeus’s comments about Israel and the Palestinians, one key point got little play outside of the foreign-policy wonkosphere, and that is that Petraeus actually requested the transfer of the West Bank and Gaza to the CENTCOM AOR. The reasoning was that doing so would improve the appearance of the U.S. engaging with the problem dearest to the hearts of the region’s Muslims. The reasons not to do this are, of course, obvious: the U.S. has endorsed no division of Israel and should not do anything to imply such an endorsement while a solution for the Palestinian Arabs remains to be negotiated.
Israel is a foreign-policy issue that requires top-level national thinking — like Russia, China, global terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. Even so sound a tactical thinker as David Petraeus took a limited regional view of Israel and the Palestinians when he weighed in on CENTCOM’s preferences. This isn’t surprising, really — and if we asked EUCOM to address Hezbollah and Hamas, we could probably expect a different answer from the one advanced by CENTCOM’s Red Team.
For once, I need to strike a discordant note with my colleague Jonathan Tobin about soccer (or, as most of us call it, football). The real irony of the entire NPR newsroom bursting in enthusiastic cheers as the U.S. team scores is not about US exceptionalism vs. Third Worldism and a UN-driven mentality. This is what the World Cup is about: it is the triumph of primordial nationalist allegiances over the internationalist blah-blah of the NPR newsroom (and all their traveling companions across the enlightened liberal world). If I were a Marxist, I’d attribute their enthusiasm to false conscience; since I am sane, I can only explain their outburst of national pride as evidence that their false conscience is their commitment to internationalism — a silly ideological pose whose fallacy just a game of soccer (football) can expose.
Just think about it — the first World Cup tournament took place in 1930 — the height of nationalistic jingoism in world history. Until the tournament had to be suspended because of a world war, the World Cup saw three tournaments — one in South America (not the beacon of democracy at the time) and two in Europe — in Italy and in France. Benito Mussolini took enormous satisfaction at the sight of his team winning twice in a row. Since then, the biggest soccer (football) event in the world is the World Cup — a competition between national teams that brings out the wildest and most primitive form of national allegiance one can imagine, especially among all those feckless UN fans, liberal internationalists, postmodern “let’s make love not war” crowds who scorn nationalism every single day of the four years in between one cup and the next as the root of all evils. And then, as if by magic, they dump their self-righteous moral indignation against the flag and all it stands for to wrap themselves in it with pride, joy, and not uncommonly with silly paints on their faces and all matters of bizarre and fashion-challenged clothing. Just to say they stand during the month of the World Cup for everything they loathe the rest of the time.
Just think about it — the French national team leaves in shame after it implodes due to ferocious disagreements with the coach and an abysmal performance on the pitch. France’s lead player is immediately received by the president of the republic, Nicholas Sarkozy, while the coach and the team are crucified in the press. Not by the president of the national football federation — by the president of the republic! Winners are bestowed medals, titles, national recognition, and, in cases like Pele (Brazil), Roger Milla (Cameroon), Platini (France), Beckenbauer (Germany), and Paolo Rossi (Italy,) they reach iconic status as national heroes.
All this is the quintessential expression of nationalism — that spent force Europe has turned its back to, the Third World has rhetorically fought against as the ultimate manifestation of imperialist aggression, and the NPR newsroom presumably blames for most global ills — starting, no doubt, with Israel (special dispensation to Palestinian nationalism notwithstanding).
Whether national team sport, as opposed to club sport, is “sheer humbug” is of course a matter of taste. But there is no escaping the fact that most international competitions in all sports (with the few possible exceptions of cycling, skiing, tennis, and the martial arts, which are very individualistic disciplines) attract far more attention and excitement than club sports. And that the U.S. has never sat alone and apart, isolated and removed by its exceptionalism, in such disparate disciplines as basketball, volleyball, water polo, and the likes, not to mention athletics, where in all tournaments that count, it is the national flag that matters, and not some local team or training gym.
Watching the US team join the big ones in soccer (football) should mean something else altogether (and should disturb all the useful idiots that root for American decline in the world); it means that even in a sport where America always lagged behind and ranked far below, we may see a time where American DOMINANCE takes over the world of soccer (football) as well. For this is one aspect of the exceptionalism of America — the ability to lead, excel, and triumph against the odds, to master foreign things, perfect them, and make them its own, without jingoism, chauvinism, or the cultural baggage that nationalism can have elsewhere. Three cheers for the U.S. team then — and a prayer that, before long, America’s players will conquer the heights of what once was a quintessentially European form of proud expression of national prowess.
Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit has picked up on the April 4 – Easter Sunday – greeting to the Palestinian people of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In it, Fayyad promised that next year, the people will hold the (Islamic) Holy Fire vigil in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, “capital” of the Palestinian state.
Fayyad, of course, has made his reputation over the last decade as a Western-friendly moderate, praised by Thomas Friedman for advocating that the Palestinian Arabs focus on building their institutions to prepare for viable statehood rather than on armed struggle against Israel. Friedman calls this approach “Fayyadism,” but as Jonathan Tobin pointed out in March, Fayyadism is a policy without a constituency among the Palestinian Arabs. It isn’t something that can be counted on or appealed to in the clutch.
Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting is a reminder that it could be more problematic if Fayyadism did have a constituency. The statehood proposal announced by Fayyad in August 2009 might de-emphasize armed resistance, but its provision for unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state with the June 4, 1967, border is hardly uncontroversial.
One element of such a declaration – to be made in 2011, according to Fayyad’s two-year timetable – would be unilaterally assuming Arab control of Jerusalem’s Old City, the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the rest of East Jerusalem. The text of Fayyad’s April 4 greeting could hardly be more pointed regarding the import of that. His words are a reminder of the years 1948 to 1967, when Jordan’s occupation force destroyed dozens of synagogues in the Jewish Quarter and denied Jews access to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. More than half of Old Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants left the city during that period because of religious restrictions and harassment.
Today, the ancient iron key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is kept and wielded daily by a Muslim family under a centuries-old charter from the Ottoman Empire. While Israel administers civil life in the Old City, this is merely a tradition with an aspect of historical charm to it. Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting reminds us, however, that under Arab Islamic rule, this tradition represents the power to prohibit the free exercise of religion.
Fayyad’s provocative greeting can’t be dismissed as meaningless demagoguery. He has already put forward an actual plan to declare East Jerusalem part of a Palestinian state in 2011, the “next year” referred to in his greeting. He himself may or may not be the leader around whom Palestinians and their foreign sponsors can coalesce, but he has for the first time overlaid the Palestinians’ long-vague aspirations with the organizing agent of a true, state-oriented strategy.
Thomas Friedman is typical of Western observers in welcoming this as a sign of seriousness. But we would be perilously shortsighted to mistake the Fayyad strategy’s de-emphasis on the tactics of armed insurgency for a moderation of Palestinian objectives. Palestinian leaders continue to promise a great deal they either can’t deliver, or could only deliver if conditions were radically different. Approaching immoderate objectives with a revised strategy isn’t actually a sign of moderation.