Commentary Magazine


Topic: Martin Kramer

Foreclosure Sale: Syrian Presidential Palace

My former Pentagon colleague David Schenker points me to this excellent photo essay compiled by Martin Kramer, who provides great commentary as well. Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words.

Now, many American officials convinced themselves that Bashar al-Assad wasn’t such a bad guy; rather, he was the eminently reasonable Western-educated doctor. They argued ferociously in the halls of Congress and in the corridors of the State Department that the problem in U.S.-Syrian relations was simply a lack of dialogue, and that the United States was too shy about doing business with Bashar.

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My former Pentagon colleague David Schenker points me to this excellent photo essay compiled by Martin Kramer, who provides great commentary as well. Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words.

Now, many American officials convinced themselves that Bashar al-Assad wasn’t such a bad guy; rather, he was the eminently reasonable Western-educated doctor. They argued ferociously in the halls of Congress and in the corridors of the State Department that the problem in U.S.-Syrian relations was simply a lack of dialogue, and that the United States was too shy about doing business with Bashar.

Many of these officials are now retired (Nancy Pelosi not included, alas). Now that Arlen Specter–the proud sojourner of almost two dozen trips to Syria–is no longer working in Washington, perhaps he can bid on this must-go villa to which he was so embarrassingly frequent a visitor? For his sake, let’s just hope Edward Djerejian, the former ambassador to Syria whose positions boarded on apologia, doesn’t start a bidding war.

In all seriousness, the frequency and enthusiasm in which officials once traveled to Damascus to be received at the palace pictured did harm to the American image and its position in the world. Symbolism matters. Assad was conscious of it, as Kramer highlights in his commentary. Perhaps it’s time American officials recognize it as well.

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Obama’s Faulty Middle East Vision

Lee Smith has a two-part series featuring different takes on the Middle East. I previously highlighted Elliott Abrams’s concise summary in part one of Obama’s multiple failings. Martin Kramer offers this insight on the region more generally:

In the Middle East, power is a zero-sum game, domination by a benevolent hegemon creates order, and the regional balance of power is the foundation of peace. It’s the pax Americana, and while it may be stressful to uphold it, the alternative is more stressful still. And as the impression of American power wanes, we are getting a foretaste of “post-American” disorder. A struggle has begun among the middle powers—Iran, Turkey, and Israel—to fill the vacuum. Iran floods Lebanon with rockets, Turkey sends a flotilla to Gaza, Israel sends an assassination squad to Dubai—these are all the signs of an accelerating regional cold war. Each middle power seeks to demonstrate its reach, around, above, and behind the fading superpower.

The response in Washington is to huff and puff, imposing settlement “freezes” and “crippling” sanctions. This is the illusion of power, not its substance. The Obama Administration is bringing the United States out of the Middle East, to a position from which it believes it can “contain” threats with diplomacy, deterrence, and drones. As the United States decamps, its allies will feel insecure, its enemies emboldened. The Middle East’s stress test has begun.

It is a zero-sum game that Obama understands not at all, for his strategy — give the aggressors more respect and our ally Israel more grief — is one that will encourage our enemies. And Obama and his advisers have missed the importance of the Iranian Green movement. Ramin Ahmadi, founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (which the Obama team defunded), observes:

The administration had looked at Iran’s democratic revolution as an inconvenience, and yet it didn’t seem wise to make concessions to an appalling regime that was falling apart. The Green Revolution is a powerful display of “people’s power,” and yet it has not toppled the regime after a full year, effectively putting all the possible rapprochement initiatives on hold. It exposed the brutality and corruption of the regime in Tehran and the lack of a cohesive Iran policy here in Washington. It took Obama some time to voice any support for the Green Revolution and when he finally did, it was too little too late.

Obama fancies himself a sort of Muslim expert, a far more informed observer of the region that was his predecessor. But it turns out that the Obama Middle East policy has been operating with ideological blinders, oblivious to the realities on the ground. You can’t practice “smart” diplomacy if you haven’t a clue what’s going on. And so America’s influence recedes, and the region becomes more dangerous and unstable.

Lee Smith has a two-part series featuring different takes on the Middle East. I previously highlighted Elliott Abrams’s concise summary in part one of Obama’s multiple failings. Martin Kramer offers this insight on the region more generally:

In the Middle East, power is a zero-sum game, domination by a benevolent hegemon creates order, and the regional balance of power is the foundation of peace. It’s the pax Americana, and while it may be stressful to uphold it, the alternative is more stressful still. And as the impression of American power wanes, we are getting a foretaste of “post-American” disorder. A struggle has begun among the middle powers—Iran, Turkey, and Israel—to fill the vacuum. Iran floods Lebanon with rockets, Turkey sends a flotilla to Gaza, Israel sends an assassination squad to Dubai—these are all the signs of an accelerating regional cold war. Each middle power seeks to demonstrate its reach, around, above, and behind the fading superpower.

The response in Washington is to huff and puff, imposing settlement “freezes” and “crippling” sanctions. This is the illusion of power, not its substance. The Obama Administration is bringing the United States out of the Middle East, to a position from which it believes it can “contain” threats with diplomacy, deterrence, and drones. As the United States decamps, its allies will feel insecure, its enemies emboldened. The Middle East’s stress test has begun.

It is a zero-sum game that Obama understands not at all, for his strategy — give the aggressors more respect and our ally Israel more grief — is one that will encourage our enemies. And Obama and his advisers have missed the importance of the Iranian Green movement. Ramin Ahmadi, founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (which the Obama team defunded), observes:

The administration had looked at Iran’s democratic revolution as an inconvenience, and yet it didn’t seem wise to make concessions to an appalling regime that was falling apart. The Green Revolution is a powerful display of “people’s power,” and yet it has not toppled the regime after a full year, effectively putting all the possible rapprochement initiatives on hold. It exposed the brutality and corruption of the regime in Tehran and the lack of a cohesive Iran policy here in Washington. It took Obama some time to voice any support for the Green Revolution and when he finally did, it was too little too late.

Obama fancies himself a sort of Muslim expert, a far more informed observer of the region that was his predecessor. But it turns out that the Obama Middle East policy has been operating with ideological blinders, oblivious to the realities on the ground. You can’t practice “smart” diplomacy if you haven’t a clue what’s going on. And so America’s influence recedes, and the region becomes more dangerous and unstable.

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RE: Petraeus on Israel

Aside from the factual question of what Petraeus did and did not say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the incident has touched off a round of mild gloating among many liberals. They think that one of their cherished beliefs — that the conflict seriously undermines America’s ability to pursue its interests elsewhere in the Middle East — has been confirmed by a hero of the very people who reject this belief.

Martin Kramer has subjected this idea — often called “linkage” — to rigorous criticism, but it doesn’t tend to matter, because its popularity is grounded more in politics than in scholarship: once it can be claimed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects everything, then the conflict vastly increases in importance, and the need for intervention and an imposed “solution” becomes intense.

The linkage debate reminds me of George F. Kennan’s famous 1947 essay, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” which began life as “The Long Telegram,” sent by Kennan when he was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The State Department was interested in what today would be called an engagement policy with the Soviets, and Kennan thought this was not just foolish but also impossible. His missive argued that the United States could not have productive relations with the Soviets because of the very nature of Communism and authoritarianism. He wrote:

There is ample evidence that the stress laid in Moscow on the menace confronting Soviet society from the world outside its borders is founded not in the realities of foreign antagonism but in the necessity of explaining away the maintenance of dictatorial authority at home.

One of the obvious problems with linkage is that the objection of the Iranian-Syrian “resistance bloc,” not to mention large segments of Arab public opinion, is not that the Palestinians don’t have a state — it’s that the Jews do have one.

But a less obvious problem with linkage is its prediction that the resolution of Palestinian grievances will mollify the regimes that are so deeply invested in antagonizing Israel and keeping Arab publics in a state of anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) fervor.

As Kennan pointed out, such regimes must cultivate “fear societies” in order to justify their rule, deflect popular anger, and prevent the emergence of civil society (that is, sources of power outside the regime). In a region like the Middle East, which also happens to be Muslim, this means that authoritarian regimes are always going to channel rage toward the ultimate “other” — Israel — ensuring an endless list of grievances and a perpetually restive Arab street. The fact of the matter is that anti-Israel and anti-Semitic fervor are no lower in Egypt and Jordan, which both have peace treaties with Israel, than they are elsewhere in the region — fervor that is eagerly promoted by the regimes. Linkage thus will never die because antagonism toward Israel is a permanent requirement of authoritarian Arab politics.

Aside from the factual question of what Petraeus did and did not say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the incident has touched off a round of mild gloating among many liberals. They think that one of their cherished beliefs — that the conflict seriously undermines America’s ability to pursue its interests elsewhere in the Middle East — has been confirmed by a hero of the very people who reject this belief.

Martin Kramer has subjected this idea — often called “linkage” — to rigorous criticism, but it doesn’t tend to matter, because its popularity is grounded more in politics than in scholarship: once it can be claimed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects everything, then the conflict vastly increases in importance, and the need for intervention and an imposed “solution” becomes intense.

The linkage debate reminds me of George F. Kennan’s famous 1947 essay, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” which began life as “The Long Telegram,” sent by Kennan when he was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The State Department was interested in what today would be called an engagement policy with the Soviets, and Kennan thought this was not just foolish but also impossible. His missive argued that the United States could not have productive relations with the Soviets because of the very nature of Communism and authoritarianism. He wrote:

There is ample evidence that the stress laid in Moscow on the menace confronting Soviet society from the world outside its borders is founded not in the realities of foreign antagonism but in the necessity of explaining away the maintenance of dictatorial authority at home.

One of the obvious problems with linkage is that the objection of the Iranian-Syrian “resistance bloc,” not to mention large segments of Arab public opinion, is not that the Palestinians don’t have a state — it’s that the Jews do have one.

But a less obvious problem with linkage is its prediction that the resolution of Palestinian grievances will mollify the regimes that are so deeply invested in antagonizing Israel and keeping Arab publics in a state of anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) fervor.

As Kennan pointed out, such regimes must cultivate “fear societies” in order to justify their rule, deflect popular anger, and prevent the emergence of civil society (that is, sources of power outside the regime). In a region like the Middle East, which also happens to be Muslim, this means that authoritarian regimes are always going to channel rage toward the ultimate “other” — Israel — ensuring an endless list of grievances and a perpetually restive Arab street. The fact of the matter is that anti-Israel and anti-Semitic fervor are no lower in Egypt and Jordan, which both have peace treaties with Israel, than they are elsewhere in the region — fervor that is eagerly promoted by the regimes. Linkage thus will never die because antagonism toward Israel is a permanent requirement of authoritarian Arab politics.

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MJ Rosenberg’s “Smear Intifada”

MJ Rosenberg has a serious problem: He is congenitally dishonest regarding the beliefs of his political opponents. His latest drive-by is his claim that Martin Kramer advocates genocide — yes, genocide — for the Palestinians. This, he says, is because Kramer criticized the “pro-natal subsidies for Palestinians with refugee status” in the Gaza Strip, as part of a larger presentation about the links between extraordinarily high population growth and political radicalism. The “culture of martyrdom,” pointed out Kramer, “demands a constant supply of superfluous young men.”

Note, of course, that you’ll never hear Rosenberg criticize actual supporters of genocide, such as the religious and political leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah.

This kind of calumny is a specialty of Rosenberg’s. He has done it repeatedly to Jeffrey Goldberg (see here and here), and to Barry Rubin as well.

MJ Rosenberg has a serious problem: He is congenitally dishonest regarding the beliefs of his political opponents. His latest drive-by is his claim that Martin Kramer advocates genocide — yes, genocide — for the Palestinians. This, he says, is because Kramer criticized the “pro-natal subsidies for Palestinians with refugee status” in the Gaza Strip, as part of a larger presentation about the links between extraordinarily high population growth and political radicalism. The “culture of martyrdom,” pointed out Kramer, “demands a constant supply of superfluous young men.”

Note, of course, that you’ll never hear Rosenberg criticize actual supporters of genocide, such as the religious and political leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah.

This kind of calumny is a specialty of Rosenberg’s. He has done it repeatedly to Jeffrey Goldberg (see here and here), and to Barry Rubin as well.

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NIAC’s PR Offensive

As the NIAC and Trita Parsi story unfolds in the wake of Eli Lake’s bombshell story, it is interesting to note just how it might be that many on the Left are simultaneously reaching the same conclusions (e.g., it’s all a neocon conspiracy, Parsi is besieged by an MEK agent).

On Parsi and NIAC’s side is Brown Lloyd James, a PR firm with much experience in this area. The firm’s website tells us: “Brown Lloyd James handled the international launch of Al Jazeera English.” And we also know from news reports that “Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm with offices in London and New York, has opened an office in Tripoli. It is reported to have placed articles by Colonel Gadaffi in American newspapers.” So they have the best of the best when it comes to representing these sorts of clients.

It should come as no surprise then that even before the Washington Times story was released, NIAC was laying the groundwork to scream foul. Back on November 3, Parsi sent out a fundraising letter, which tipped the hand on the upcoming defense and those who would be telling a sympathetic tale:

Dear NIAC Friend,

When we launched the Truth out 2010 Campaign two weeks ago, we never expected the overwhelming response we got. Our sincere thanks to all those who responded. Clearly, our many supporters are just as tired of the smear campaign against NIAC as we are.

One thing that those behind the smears seem to have in common is a belief that Iranian Americans shouldn’t have a say in America’s approach to Iran simply because they are Iranian Americans. Not only is this ridiculous and offensive, it has a racist undertone with innuendos of dual loyalty.

See for instance what ultra-conservative Martin Kramer said at an AIPAC conference in 2009. Kramer argued that Iranian Americans tend to still have family in Iran and are therefore easily intimidated into backing Tehran, saying: “[W]e have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian Diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran. Many of these communities desperately want access to their own country. And it dramatically tilts their analysis toward accommodation.”

There has been a flurry of articles by fair-minded American journalists in the media that defend NIAC, push back and do not allow these smears to go unanswered.  Just today, the Huffington Post published an article uncovering the true motives behind the smears — stating that they “were dishonest at best and defamatory at worst,” and “as NIAC’s voice grew louder in foreign policy circles, so too did the vehemence of its critics.”

Other influential journalists have also rejected the allegations against NIAC:

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic:

“The implication that [Trita Parsi] is somehow a tool of the regime is unfair, untrue and malicious.”

Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:

“Any American reporter who paid any attention to the U.S. debate over the Iranian election quoted Parsi and NIAC, constantly, denouncing Ahmadinejad.”

Matt Yglesias, Think Progress:

“What can be seen, right out in the open and on the record, is that NIAC has consistently criticized human rights abuses by the Iranian government and agitated for liberalization, fair elections, and decent treatment of the population of Iran.”

Daniel Luban, The Faster Times:

“Why, then, is [Parsi] being attacked as a stooge for the Iranian regime? The answer is simple: while Parsi has harshly criticized the regime’s actions, he has joined Iran’s leading opposition figures in opposing the use of sanctions or military force against Iran, on the grounds that they would be likely simply to kill innocent Iranian civilians while strengthening the regime’s hold on power. For the Iran hawks, this is a mortal sin.” Read More

As the NIAC and Trita Parsi story unfolds in the wake of Eli Lake’s bombshell story, it is interesting to note just how it might be that many on the Left are simultaneously reaching the same conclusions (e.g., it’s all a neocon conspiracy, Parsi is besieged by an MEK agent).

On Parsi and NIAC’s side is Brown Lloyd James, a PR firm with much experience in this area. The firm’s website tells us: “Brown Lloyd James handled the international launch of Al Jazeera English.” And we also know from news reports that “Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm with offices in London and New York, has opened an office in Tripoli. It is reported to have placed articles by Colonel Gadaffi in American newspapers.” So they have the best of the best when it comes to representing these sorts of clients.

It should come as no surprise then that even before the Washington Times story was released, NIAC was laying the groundwork to scream foul. Back on November 3, Parsi sent out a fundraising letter, which tipped the hand on the upcoming defense and those who would be telling a sympathetic tale:

Dear NIAC Friend,

When we launched the Truth out 2010 Campaign two weeks ago, we never expected the overwhelming response we got. Our sincere thanks to all those who responded. Clearly, our many supporters are just as tired of the smear campaign against NIAC as we are.

One thing that those behind the smears seem to have in common is a belief that Iranian Americans shouldn’t have a say in America’s approach to Iran simply because they are Iranian Americans. Not only is this ridiculous and offensive, it has a racist undertone with innuendos of dual loyalty.

See for instance what ultra-conservative Martin Kramer said at an AIPAC conference in 2009. Kramer argued that Iranian Americans tend to still have family in Iran and are therefore easily intimidated into backing Tehran, saying: “[W]e have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian Diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran. Many of these communities desperately want access to their own country. And it dramatically tilts their analysis toward accommodation.”

There has been a flurry of articles by fair-minded American journalists in the media that defend NIAC, push back and do not allow these smears to go unanswered.  Just today, the Huffington Post published an article uncovering the true motives behind the smears — stating that they “were dishonest at best and defamatory at worst,” and “as NIAC’s voice grew louder in foreign policy circles, so too did the vehemence of its critics.”

Other influential journalists have also rejected the allegations against NIAC:

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic:

“The implication that [Trita Parsi] is somehow a tool of the regime is unfair, untrue and malicious.”

Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:

“Any American reporter who paid any attention to the U.S. debate over the Iranian election quoted Parsi and NIAC, constantly, denouncing Ahmadinejad.”

Matt Yglesias, Think Progress:

“What can be seen, right out in the open and on the record, is that NIAC has consistently criticized human rights abuses by the Iranian government and agitated for liberalization, fair elections, and decent treatment of the population of Iran.”

Daniel Luban, The Faster Times:

“Why, then, is [Parsi] being attacked as a stooge for the Iranian regime? The answer is simple: while Parsi has harshly criticized the regime’s actions, he has joined Iran’s leading opposition figures in opposing the use of sanctions or military force against Iran, on the grounds that they would be likely simply to kill innocent Iranian civilians while strengthening the regime’s hold on power. For the Iran hawks, this is a mortal sin.”

Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com calls NIAC’s attackers “neocon character assassins.”

As part of our Truth in 2010 Campaign, we are providing a Facts vs Myths section on our website. It’s a great resource to find out the truth about NIAC’s work. Make sure you study it and tell your friends — nothing is more effective in fighting smear than the truth!

Your loyalty and support is what has gotten our community this far — so, please don’t stop now. Please continue to support NIAC by donating $20.10 or more to the 2010 Campaign — and remember, all your donations are tax-deductible.

But don’t just donate. Make sure you email the Huffington Post article and this email to all your friends. Post it on your Facebook status. Tweet about it. And talk to your friends about the work NIAC is doing!

Momentum is building in our favor, but that doesn’t mean our work is over. We have to continue our offensive in order to meet our commitment to you of dispelling myths and falsehoods by 2010.

As always, thank you for your support. We look forward to sharing more good news with you in the near future!

Sincerely,

Trita Parsi, PhD

Weeks before the story actually broke, the  groundwork for the defense was being laid. And it is interesting that just after the story did break, Andrew Sullivan rushed forward with the very same “dual loyalty” argument. Luban stepped up to smear a Parsi critic as a terrorist. And so it went as some in the Left blogosphere struggled mightily to paint Parsi as the innocent victim and somehow the friend of the Greens (neatly sidestepping the conspiracy to defund the same). That sort of smooth-running rebuttal doesn’t just happen on its own, it is fair to conclude, and you can’t say Parsi and NIAC aren’t getting their money’s worth from their PR team

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Juan Cole: Illogic :: Michael Jordan: Basketball

Professor-cum-blogger Juan Cole’s habit of producing illogical analogies to evaluate events in the Middle East is legendary. As Martin Kramer has noted, Cole’s faulty analogies have been employed misleadingly to compare such dissimilar phenomena as the caliphate to the papacy; Saudi Arabia to Amish country; and the Sunni-Shiite divide to the Catholic-Protestant one.

Well, Cole is at it again:

Israeli ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman called Carter a bigot for his diplomacy. Gillerman called Hizbullah, an Arab party, “animals” in summer of 2006. Would he like to expand the reference to include other races? … For Likudniks to call Jimmy Carter a “bigot” is sort of like the Ku Klux Klan denouncing Nelson Mandela for racial insensitivity.

Just in case you missed it, Cole’s stunning logic goes something like this: the Likud Party is to Jimmy Carter what the KKK is to Nelson Mandela. Or, as it would have been written on the old version of the SAT, “Likud: Carter :: KKK: Mandela.”

Still don’t get it? Let me help. To make sense of Cole’s analogy, one must accept the bizarre premise that denouncing Hizbullah–a militant group representing one extreme faction within one of twenty-one Arab states–constitutes KKK-like racism against all Arabs (and possibly against many other peoples). It therefore follows logically that, in protesting the anti-Hizbullah “Likud Light” Israeli government, Jimmy Carter is actually protesting KKK-like racism, much as Nelson Mandela did in South Africa.

Yet, for Cole, the notion that criticism of Hizbullah constitutes anti-Arab racism is dangerously revealing of his true intentions. After all, Cole has often railed against the exact same logic when applied to Israel, arguing that accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s most vitriolic critics–such as himself–are “designed to silence.” Indeed, by accusing Dan Gillerman of racism for denouncing Hizbullah, Cole’s own internal logic suggests that he is trying to stifle one of Hizbullah’s most prominent detractors–an aim consistent with Cole’s legacy of apologias for radical Islamists.

Of course, Cole’s pollution of the blogosphere is nothing new. But, insofar as Cole’s students now hail from a generation that no longer studies analogies in preparation for the SATs, his distortions may be more dangerous than ever before.

Professor-cum-blogger Juan Cole’s habit of producing illogical analogies to evaluate events in the Middle East is legendary. As Martin Kramer has noted, Cole’s faulty analogies have been employed misleadingly to compare such dissimilar phenomena as the caliphate to the papacy; Saudi Arabia to Amish country; and the Sunni-Shiite divide to the Catholic-Protestant one.

Well, Cole is at it again:

Israeli ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman called Carter a bigot for his diplomacy. Gillerman called Hizbullah, an Arab party, “animals” in summer of 2006. Would he like to expand the reference to include other races? … For Likudniks to call Jimmy Carter a “bigot” is sort of like the Ku Klux Klan denouncing Nelson Mandela for racial insensitivity.

Just in case you missed it, Cole’s stunning logic goes something like this: the Likud Party is to Jimmy Carter what the KKK is to Nelson Mandela. Or, as it would have been written on the old version of the SAT, “Likud: Carter :: KKK: Mandela.”

Still don’t get it? Let me help. To make sense of Cole’s analogy, one must accept the bizarre premise that denouncing Hizbullah–a militant group representing one extreme faction within one of twenty-one Arab states–constitutes KKK-like racism against all Arabs (and possibly against many other peoples). It therefore follows logically that, in protesting the anti-Hizbullah “Likud Light” Israeli government, Jimmy Carter is actually protesting KKK-like racism, much as Nelson Mandela did in South Africa.

Yet, for Cole, the notion that criticism of Hizbullah constitutes anti-Arab racism is dangerously revealing of his true intentions. After all, Cole has often railed against the exact same logic when applied to Israel, arguing that accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s most vitriolic critics–such as himself–are “designed to silence.” Indeed, by accusing Dan Gillerman of racism for denouncing Hizbullah, Cole’s own internal logic suggests that he is trying to stifle one of Hizbullah’s most prominent detractors–an aim consistent with Cole’s legacy of apologias for radical Islamists.

Of course, Cole’s pollution of the blogosphere is nothing new. But, insofar as Cole’s students now hail from a generation that no longer studies analogies in preparation for the SATs, his distortions may be more dangerous than ever before.

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More on “Experts” Power and Malley

This weekend, the New York Times covered the trials and tribulations of Samantha Power and Robert Malleyformer and current Obama advisers, respectively, whose remarks on the Middle East have drawn fire. Unsurprisingly, much of this coverage trivialized their critics: a Daily News headline deriding Power as “Pretty Dumb!” was portrayed as representative, while Malley’s detractors were dismissed as “a handful of Jewish bloggers.” As I wrote last week, one need not be Jewish to observe that Malley has frequently called events in the Palestinian political sphere blatantly wrong, while Noah Pollak and Martin Kramer’s dissections of Power’s statements demonstrate that the attacks on Power have been substantive, rather than ad hominem.

Yet the real story behind Power and Malley’s poor public receptions should have little to do with their critics. After all, we were merely responding to their previous statements. Rather, the scrutiny that Power and Malley have faced should provide a cautionary tale regarding the limits that aspiring experts must obey if they value their credibility.

Let’s start with Power. Prior to achieving “top adviser” status on Barack Obama’s foreign policy staff, Power had established herself as a certifiable expert on genocide: from 1993 to 1995, she covered the Yugoslav wars as a correspondent in Bosnia, and she later traveled to Rwanda. Her first book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, drew on these experiences, exploring American responses to the genocides of the 20th century. Yet as her star kept rising, Power seemed to forget the limits of her true expertise, acting as if her study of genocide had imbued her with expertise in just about anything foreign policy-related. Downright ignorant statements on Iran, Iraq, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict followed, with critics rightfully questioning her depth as a consequence.

Malley’s story is different: although he has limited his statements to his area of expertise-the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-his writings frequently reflect the triumph of ideology over analysis. In this vein, Malley has continually furthered the myth that Palestinian national unity is an attainable prerequisite for Israeli-Palestinian peace, thereby advocating policies that have ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined U.S. interests. For example, as I noted last month, Malley supported the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections, and later predicted that the 2007 Hamas-Fatah Mecca Accord-which ended with Hamas seizing Gaza barely four months after its signing-would likely hold. Indeed, the scrutiny that Malley has faced is not a matter of pro-Israel bloggers vocally disagreeing with a pro-Palestinian expert on key assumptions. Rather, at issue is how Malley’s gushing over Yasser Arafat has motivated bad policy analysis.

In short, two lessons can be drawn from Power and Malley’s poor public receptions. First, aspiring “experts” should stick to their areas of expertise. Second, they should avoid the interference of political sympathies with policy analysis. Sadly, neither Power-who argued that her critics were really just attacking Obama-nor Malley-who thought that revealing his Jewish identity would allay his detractors’ concerns-seems to understand this.

This weekend, the New York Times covered the trials and tribulations of Samantha Power and Robert Malleyformer and current Obama advisers, respectively, whose remarks on the Middle East have drawn fire. Unsurprisingly, much of this coverage trivialized their critics: a Daily News headline deriding Power as “Pretty Dumb!” was portrayed as representative, while Malley’s detractors were dismissed as “a handful of Jewish bloggers.” As I wrote last week, one need not be Jewish to observe that Malley has frequently called events in the Palestinian political sphere blatantly wrong, while Noah Pollak and Martin Kramer’s dissections of Power’s statements demonstrate that the attacks on Power have been substantive, rather than ad hominem.

Yet the real story behind Power and Malley’s poor public receptions should have little to do with their critics. After all, we were merely responding to their previous statements. Rather, the scrutiny that Power and Malley have faced should provide a cautionary tale regarding the limits that aspiring experts must obey if they value their credibility.

Let’s start with Power. Prior to achieving “top adviser” status on Barack Obama’s foreign policy staff, Power had established herself as a certifiable expert on genocide: from 1993 to 1995, she covered the Yugoslav wars as a correspondent in Bosnia, and she later traveled to Rwanda. Her first book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, drew on these experiences, exploring American responses to the genocides of the 20th century. Yet as her star kept rising, Power seemed to forget the limits of her true expertise, acting as if her study of genocide had imbued her with expertise in just about anything foreign policy-related. Downright ignorant statements on Iran, Iraq, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict followed, with critics rightfully questioning her depth as a consequence.

Malley’s story is different: although he has limited his statements to his area of expertise-the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-his writings frequently reflect the triumph of ideology over analysis. In this vein, Malley has continually furthered the myth that Palestinian national unity is an attainable prerequisite for Israeli-Palestinian peace, thereby advocating policies that have ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined U.S. interests. For example, as I noted last month, Malley supported the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections, and later predicted that the 2007 Hamas-Fatah Mecca Accord-which ended with Hamas seizing Gaza barely four months after its signing-would likely hold. Indeed, the scrutiny that Malley has faced is not a matter of pro-Israel bloggers vocally disagreeing with a pro-Palestinian expert on key assumptions. Rather, at issue is how Malley’s gushing over Yasser Arafat has motivated bad policy analysis.

In short, two lessons can be drawn from Power and Malley’s poor public receptions. First, aspiring “experts” should stick to their areas of expertise. Second, they should avoid the interference of political sympathies with policy analysis. Sadly, neither Power-who argued that her critics were really just attacking Obama-nor Malley-who thought that revealing his Jewish identity would allay his detractors’ concerns-seems to understand this.

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Hezbollah and Mughniyeh

Hezbollah’s very public display of affection for assassinated terrorist Imad Mughniyeh represents a stunning about-face. As Martin Kramer notes on the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog, Hezbollah has broken from previous denials regarding its connections to Mughniyeh, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah eulogizing him and a Hezbollah flag draping his coffin—clear symbols that Mughniyeh ranked highly in the Hezbollah chain. Indeed, its ties to Mughniyeh were so profound that Hezbollah appears prepared to fight Israel in response to his killing, hinting that it will attack Israeli interests abroad.

But Hezbollah isn’t the only Levantine player willing to engage Israel over Mughniyeh’s death. Yesterday, at a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “Whoever assassinated Imad Mughniyeh has assassinated any peace efforts”—a statement clearly aimed at Israel. Critically, al-Moallem seemingly echoed Mottaki, who had proclaimed at Mughniyeh’s funeral earlier in the day, “The freedom-seeking nations … have millions of such fighters, who are ready to join the fight against the terrorists who perpetrate such the unmanly crimes.” Following the funeral, Mottaki had arrived in Damascus for “brotherly talks,” meeting with al-Moallem and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to discuss the developing situation in Lebanon.

In the days and weeks ahead, it will be important to monitor whether Hezbollah-Syrian cooperation is strengthened as a result of their unified defiance in the wake of Mughniyeh’s assassination. Of course, sustained Iranian involvement makes this quite likely.

Still, domestic Lebanese politics could intervene and force Hezbollah to downplay its Damascus contacts. At a massive rally held to commemorate the third anniversary of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination yesterday, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri castigated the Syrian regime as an “Israeli product.” Yet even as he lashed out against Syria—the regime that murdered his father—Hariri showed rare respect for Hezbollah, ending his rally at 2 PM so as to not interfere with Mughniyeh’s 2:30 funeral. Hariri further appealed to Hezbollah to negotiate a peaceful solution to the ongoing presidential crisis—a sharp break from his comments last week, when he accused the Hezbollah-led opposition of “destroying Lebanon.”

The big question is thus whether Hezbollah might see itself as having enough popular Lebanese support in the aftermath of Mughniyeh’s assassination to avoid relying on Damascus, a regime that is still reviled by a substantial portion of the population. Or, alternatively, Hezbollah could quickly return to Levantine politics as usual, taking its cues from Iran with Syria’s active consent.

Hezbollah’s very public display of affection for assassinated terrorist Imad Mughniyeh represents a stunning about-face. As Martin Kramer notes on the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog, Hezbollah has broken from previous denials regarding its connections to Mughniyeh, with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah eulogizing him and a Hezbollah flag draping his coffin—clear symbols that Mughniyeh ranked highly in the Hezbollah chain. Indeed, its ties to Mughniyeh were so profound that Hezbollah appears prepared to fight Israel in response to his killing, hinting that it will attack Israeli interests abroad.

But Hezbollah isn’t the only Levantine player willing to engage Israel over Mughniyeh’s death. Yesterday, at a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “Whoever assassinated Imad Mughniyeh has assassinated any peace efforts”—a statement clearly aimed at Israel. Critically, al-Moallem seemingly echoed Mottaki, who had proclaimed at Mughniyeh’s funeral earlier in the day, “The freedom-seeking nations … have millions of such fighters, who are ready to join the fight against the terrorists who perpetrate such the unmanly crimes.” Following the funeral, Mottaki had arrived in Damascus for “brotherly talks,” meeting with al-Moallem and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to discuss the developing situation in Lebanon.

In the days and weeks ahead, it will be important to monitor whether Hezbollah-Syrian cooperation is strengthened as a result of their unified defiance in the wake of Mughniyeh’s assassination. Of course, sustained Iranian involvement makes this quite likely.

Still, domestic Lebanese politics could intervene and force Hezbollah to downplay its Damascus contacts. At a massive rally held to commemorate the third anniversary of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination yesterday, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri castigated the Syrian regime as an “Israeli product.” Yet even as he lashed out against Syria—the regime that murdered his father—Hariri showed rare respect for Hezbollah, ending his rally at 2 PM so as to not interfere with Mughniyeh’s 2:30 funeral. Hariri further appealed to Hezbollah to negotiate a peaceful solution to the ongoing presidential crisis—a sharp break from his comments last week, when he accused the Hezbollah-led opposition of “destroying Lebanon.”

The big question is thus whether Hezbollah might see itself as having enough popular Lebanese support in the aftermath of Mughniyeh’s assassination to avoid relying on Damascus, a regime that is still reviled by a substantial portion of the population. Or, alternatively, Hezbollah could quickly return to Levantine politics as usual, taking its cues from Iran with Syria’s active consent.

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Two Months After Annapolis

Today marks two months since the Annapolis conference. Officially, the conference was intended to demonstrate broad Arab support for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. However, given the many factors that made Israeli-Palestinian peace extremely unlikely, the implicit goal of the conference was always far more important: building a unified Arab front against Iran and its regional proxies.

But maintaining Arab unity against Iran has been challenging. As I previously noted, Iraq, Libya, and Egypt have all improved their relations with Iran since Annapolis, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt have engaged Hamas and sought to reconcile it with Fatah. As Martin Kramer observed, Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking—in which “…the Jew will be at your door, demanding ‘normalization,’ and the Palestinian, as usual, will repay generosity with ingratitude”—is undesirable to most Arab states, and thus provided a false premise for the failed anti-Iran front. Most disturbingly, in heavily promoting its doomed Israeli-Palestinian strategy against Iran, the Bush administration has overlooked a far more authentic source of broad Arab concern: Syria’s bid to strengthen Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The front against Syria is nearly unanimous. Yesterday, all but one Arab foreign minister—Libya’s—rejected Syria’s demand that Hezbollah’s coalition be granted ten seats in the next Lebanese cabinet, and thus veto power. With their support, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa will soon return to Lebanon in search of a new plan for ending the tumult, which has already built towards violent confrontation: eight were killed during yesterday’s protests.

In short, countering Hezbollah in Lebanon provides a realistic premise on which the U.S. can frame its diplomatic strategy against Iran. This will require that the Bush administration become more engaged in the Lebanese political crisis, perhaps supporting the Arab League’s efforts while keeping a close eye on General Michel Suleiman—the near-consensus choice for Lebanese president who leans toward Syria. It will also require that the administration reconsider its rapprochement with Libya, holding it accountable for supporting Syria’s pro-Hezbollah plan. Most importantly, it will have to use this front to patiently chip away at Iran’s position, first by redressing Hezbollah’s political power in Lebanon, and then squeezing Syria to back away from Iran.

Today marks two months since the Annapolis conference. Officially, the conference was intended to demonstrate broad Arab support for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. However, given the many factors that made Israeli-Palestinian peace extremely unlikely, the implicit goal of the conference was always far more important: building a unified Arab front against Iran and its regional proxies.

But maintaining Arab unity against Iran has been challenging. As I previously noted, Iraq, Libya, and Egypt have all improved their relations with Iran since Annapolis, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt have engaged Hamas and sought to reconcile it with Fatah. As Martin Kramer observed, Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking—in which “…the Jew will be at your door, demanding ‘normalization,’ and the Palestinian, as usual, will repay generosity with ingratitude”—is undesirable to most Arab states, and thus provided a false premise for the failed anti-Iran front. Most disturbingly, in heavily promoting its doomed Israeli-Palestinian strategy against Iran, the Bush administration has overlooked a far more authentic source of broad Arab concern: Syria’s bid to strengthen Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The front against Syria is nearly unanimous. Yesterday, all but one Arab foreign minister—Libya’s—rejected Syria’s demand that Hezbollah’s coalition be granted ten seats in the next Lebanese cabinet, and thus veto power. With their support, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa will soon return to Lebanon in search of a new plan for ending the tumult, which has already built towards violent confrontation: eight were killed during yesterday’s protests.

In short, countering Hezbollah in Lebanon provides a realistic premise on which the U.S. can frame its diplomatic strategy against Iran. This will require that the Bush administration become more engaged in the Lebanese political crisis, perhaps supporting the Arab League’s efforts while keeping a close eye on General Michel Suleiman—the near-consensus choice for Lebanese president who leans toward Syria. It will also require that the administration reconsider its rapprochement with Libya, holding it accountable for supporting Syria’s pro-Hezbollah plan. Most importantly, it will have to use this front to patiently chip away at Iran’s position, first by redressing Hezbollah’s political power in Lebanon, and then squeezing Syria to back away from Iran.

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Walt and Mearsheimer at Princeton

The Israel Lobby duo is speaking at Princeton tonight, and the indispensable Martin Kramer has a few prefatory thoughts on what it might be worth asking them about:

In [their] book, Mearsheimer and Walt admit that Israel was pushing for Iran over Iraq. And yes, they say, Israel only joined the Iraq bandwagon when the Bush administration seemed set on Iraq. But they haven’t dismantled their thesis–far from it. Instead they’ve come up with the new and improved Mearsheimer-Walt thesis, and it goes like this: the Iraq war must still be blamed on Israel, because in the lead-up to the war, Israel and its lobby worked overtime to ensure that Bush didn’t get “cold feet.”

Believe it or not, this the new Mearsheimer-Walt twist: the “cold feet” thesis of Israel’s responsibility for the Iraq war. For example, page 234: “Israeli leaders worried constantly in the months before the war that President Bush might decide not to go to war after all, and they did what they could to ensure Bush did not get cold feet.” And this, page 261: “Top Israeli officials were doing everything in their power to make sure that the United States went after Saddam and did not get cold feet at the last moment.”

Mearsheimer and Walt bring not a single footnote, in their copiously footnoted book, to substantiate this new and bizarre claim. You have to be pretty credulous to imagine that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld would waver “at the last moment” when they had Saddam squarely in their sights. You can read Bob Woodward forward and backward and find no evidence of wobble. Nor is there any evidence of Israeli worries that the Bush administration would waver on Iraq. Mearsheimer and Walt just made it up.

The Israel Lobby duo is speaking at Princeton tonight, and the indispensable Martin Kramer has a few prefatory thoughts on what it might be worth asking them about:

In [their] book, Mearsheimer and Walt admit that Israel was pushing for Iran over Iraq. And yes, they say, Israel only joined the Iraq bandwagon when the Bush administration seemed set on Iraq. But they haven’t dismantled their thesis–far from it. Instead they’ve come up with the new and improved Mearsheimer-Walt thesis, and it goes like this: the Iraq war must still be blamed on Israel, because in the lead-up to the war, Israel and its lobby worked overtime to ensure that Bush didn’t get “cold feet.”

Believe it or not, this the new Mearsheimer-Walt twist: the “cold feet” thesis of Israel’s responsibility for the Iraq war. For example, page 234: “Israeli leaders worried constantly in the months before the war that President Bush might decide not to go to war after all, and they did what they could to ensure Bush did not get cold feet.” And this, page 261: “Top Israeli officials were doing everything in their power to make sure that the United States went after Saddam and did not get cold feet at the last moment.”

Mearsheimer and Walt bring not a single footnote, in their copiously footnoted book, to substantiate this new and bizarre claim. You have to be pretty credulous to imagine that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld would waver “at the last moment” when they had Saddam squarely in their sights. You can read Bob Woodward forward and backward and find no evidence of wobble. Nor is there any evidence of Israeli worries that the Bush administration would waver on Iraq. Mearsheimer and Walt just made it up.

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The “Israel Lobby” Strikes Again

It’s hardly a secret that Israel was always skeptical about the war in Iraq, as this commentary from the eminent scholar Martin Kramer shows.

Now, for those tempted to dismiss Kramer as a tool of the Zionist conspiracy, there’s this recent, widely circulated report. It repeats the points Kramer made: Israel warned the U.S. against an Iraq invasion in 2002, and Israelis were adamant in their objections to the war. This time, however, the news comes from an unimpeachable source: Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff. (I’d like to see people paint him as a lackey of the neocons.)

And all this time, I thought the war in Iraq was launched at the behest of the Lobby, to serve Israel’s interests.

It’s hardly a secret that Israel was always skeptical about the war in Iraq, as this commentary from the eminent scholar Martin Kramer shows.

Now, for those tempted to dismiss Kramer as a tool of the Zionist conspiracy, there’s this recent, widely circulated report. It repeats the points Kramer made: Israel warned the U.S. against an Iraq invasion in 2002, and Israelis were adamant in their objections to the war. This time, however, the news comes from an unimpeachable source: Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff. (I’d like to see people paint him as a lackey of the neocons.)

And all this time, I thought the war in Iraq was launched at the behest of the Lobby, to serve Israel’s interests.

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Against the Boycott

The presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Brown, conspicuously absent from the original list of signatories, have since posted assurances that they join the almost 300 American college and university presidents who signed a statement earlier this month protesting the vote of Britain’s University and College Union to impose a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!” read the American counter-declaration, composed by Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger. “[We] do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish.”

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The presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Brown, conspicuously absent from the original list of signatories, have since posted assurances that they join the almost 300 American college and university presidents who signed a statement earlier this month protesting the vote of Britain’s University and College Union to impose a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!” read the American counter-declaration, composed by Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger. “[We] do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish.”

It is heartening to see such unanimity among academic leaders who normally shun group protests or statements; still, it is less heartening when one considers that these leaders may have found it easier to denounce an outrage overseas than to tackle prejudice in their own institutions. President Bollinger and his colleagues know that anti-Israel venom is widespread on American campuses. The real test of their resolve to preserve academic integrity will occur here, at home.

Anti-Israel sentiment penetrates American campuses at both the student and professorial levels. Every year the average campus welcomes Arab and Muslim students for whom Israel’s illegitimacy is a matter of faith, conjoined in most instances with plain anti-Semitism. The Pew Research Center finds that Muslims hold unfavorable views of Jews at astonishing levels: Jordan, 100 percent; Lebanon, 99 percent; Morocco, 88 percent. Arab and Muslim students inculcated with these prejudices from birth see no harm in promoting them. To the contrary, since they regard Israel as the root of evil, agitation against it is for them often a matter of cultural self-expression. Dissenters from this norm are often afraid of being ostracized—or, worse, of not being able to return to their native communities should they stray from an ideology that unites the Arab world.

The campus ethos of all-embracing multiculturalism aggravates the problem by refraining from distinguishing between a culture of aggression and a culture of accommodation—two opposites trapped in a philosophy of equivalence. Ignored are the radically divergent histories of Arabs and Jews that produced today’s preposterous global imbalance between 1 billion-plus Muslims on the one hand, and 13 million Jews (4 million fewer than in 1939) on the other. Historically, Jews have been the no-fail target of innumerable aggressors; since the 1870′s they have been the ideological butt of anti-liberal movements everywhere.

Indeed, Middle East-style anti-Semitism plays a larger role in the international arena today than its European-style equivalent did a century ago. But our universities provide almost no academic or extra-curricular opportunities to discuss the issue. If anything, as the scholar Martin Kramer has shown, the hate-ridden attitudes within the Arab world find a natural reflection in the highly prejudicial bias of the academic discipline known as Middle East Studies. The current director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Harvard, as well as a number of others who teach in the field, were among the signatories of a Harvard-MIT petition urging divestment from Israel—a petition meant to echo and give a highbrow patina to the currently fashionable calumny of the Jewish state as an “apartheid” regime. Sami al-Arian may be the only U.S. professor convicted of conspiracy to help Islamic Jihad, but others support Arab antagonism in their own ways.

The protest against the British academic boycott published in the New York Times was framed strictly as a defense of academic freedom and solidarity with Israeli colleagues. It avoided any mention of the ideology of hate that fuels this boycott. One might as well condemn cancer without investigating its cause or doing what one can to prevent its spread. Having once joined in symbolic action, these presidents of American colleges and universities would do well to appoint a committee from within their midst to investigate the spread of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel prejudices on their own campuses and within their own curricula, where it does the most damage. As in medicine, prevention is the best cure.

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Prague, Part III

In addition to the very interesting speeches delivered by President Bush and Senator Lieberman at last week’s Prague Conference on Democracy and Security, there were some noteworthy moments during the panel discussions.

The most touching came during the remarks of Mithal Al-Alusi, a liberal secularist member of the Iraqi legislature. “We are fighting for you in Iraq,” he said, “because what we are fighting against is part of the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hizballah axis.” Then he added that Iraqis were aware of and grateful for the losses of American sons and daughters in Iraq: “we have lost children, too.” What he was too dignified to mention was that he, himself, lost two grown sons to terrorists who were attempting to assassinate him after he had attended an anti-terrorism conference in Israel. He has somehow found the strength to continue the struggle to make his country peaceful and free.

The most welcome moment came during the remarks of Egyptian intellectual and leading dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Ibrahim has been an advocate of dialogue with Islamists ever since his prolonged jailhouse exchanges with Muslim Brotherhood prisoners during his own long incarceration. Last summer, however, during the war in Lebanon, Ibrahim appeared to veer toward a closer embrace of Islamists, freely granting their democratic bona fides, a position I criticized in COMMENTARY.

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In addition to the very interesting speeches delivered by President Bush and Senator Lieberman at last week’s Prague Conference on Democracy and Security, there were some noteworthy moments during the panel discussions.

The most touching came during the remarks of Mithal Al-Alusi, a liberal secularist member of the Iraqi legislature. “We are fighting for you in Iraq,” he said, “because what we are fighting against is part of the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hizballah axis.” Then he added that Iraqis were aware of and grateful for the losses of American sons and daughters in Iraq: “we have lost children, too.” What he was too dignified to mention was that he, himself, lost two grown sons to terrorists who were attempting to assassinate him after he had attended an anti-terrorism conference in Israel. He has somehow found the strength to continue the struggle to make his country peaceful and free.

The most welcome moment came during the remarks of Egyptian intellectual and leading dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Ibrahim has been an advocate of dialogue with Islamists ever since his prolonged jailhouse exchanges with Muslim Brotherhood prisoners during his own long incarceration. Last summer, however, during the war in Lebanon, Ibrahim appeared to veer toward a closer embrace of Islamists, freely granting their democratic bona fides, a position I criticized in COMMENTARY.

In Prague, happily, the old Ibrahim seemed to be back. In addition to fighting the regime, he said, “we are also fighting against the darkness of the theocrats.” He added that because Arab democrats have to fight “both of these enemies,” they were up against a problem that “dissidents in other regions don’t face.”

Despite this problem, Ibrahim was hopeful. In Egypt’s most recent People’s Assembly election, the “autocrats” (i.e., the ruling National Democratic Party) won 19 percent of the vote; the “theocrats” (i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood) won 4 percent; while 77 percent of the electorate did not vote. This “silent majority,” he argued, cared for neither the autocrats nor theocrats. In America we know that the non-voters usually differ little in their preferences from those who make it to the polls. But in Egypt, who knows?

Finally, I continued a long-running debate with Martin Kramer, of the Washington Institute, about democracy and the Arabs. (I am a democratic universalist, while Kramer takes a view more common among Israelis, who fear that free voting among Arabs will only stoke radicalism.) In Prague, Kramer coined a useful term—“consensual authoritarianism.” He was alluding, I inferred, to Egypt and the various monarchies of Jordan, Morocco, and the rest of the Persian Gulf, all of them stable and moderate, and almost none of them viciously tyrannical. My response was that to encourage the overthrow of these regimes would indeed be counterproductive. Rather, we should press them to democratize at a measured pace.

But in the region’s trouble spots, the very places where democratization efforts have come in for most criticism, there is and was no “consensual authoritarian” option. Could we have installed a dictator in Iraq instead of trying to build democracy? Perhaps, but every one of the problems dogging us there today would be worse. In Lebanon or Afghanistan, would the installation of dictators have caused less or more resistance than the current governments are facing? The answer is obvious. And what about the Palestinian territories? There, we did in fact help install a “consensual authoritarian.” His name was Yassir Arafat. And he is more responsible than any other person for the sorry state in which America, Israel, and the Palestinians now find themselves.

Just as I conceded part of Kramer’s point, he, I believe, conceded part of mine. No doubt, our debate will continue.

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No “Plan B”

In one of the more insightful assessments of the Jewish situation of late, Martin Kramer (of the Washington Institute, the Shalem Center, and Harvard University) stated:

[T]he geopolitical situation of the Jews hasn’t ever been stable. As a people, our geopolitics are one part our preferences, and two parts historical forces. These forces never rest. Seventy years ago, the Jewish world was centered in Europe. Now we mostly just fly over it.

The United States and Israel are today the poles of the Jewish world, because some Jews sensed tremors before the earthquake. When the earth opened up and Europe descended into the inferno, parts of the Jewish people already had a Plan B in place. We are living that Plan B.

Today the Jewish people is in an enviable geopolitical position. It has one foot planted in a Jewish sovereign state, and the other in the world’s most open and powerful society. One is tempted to say that never in their long history has the geopolitical situation of the Jews been better. Jews did have sovereignty before, in antiquity, but they did not have a strategic alliance with the greatest power on earth. And since it is difficult to imagine a better geopolitical position, the Jewish people has become a status-quo people.

Kramer then lays out five scenarios that would seriously undermine this desirable status quo: the waning of American influence; the “subtraction” of Europe from the power of the West; the emergence of Iran as a regional power on par with Israel; the disintegration of Arab states into Iraq-style internal conflict, producing multiple Hezbollah’s on Israel’s borders; and finally, the failure of the Palestinians as a nation, leading to the collapse of the two-state paradigm.

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In one of the more insightful assessments of the Jewish situation of late, Martin Kramer (of the Washington Institute, the Shalem Center, and Harvard University) stated:

[T]he geopolitical situation of the Jews hasn’t ever been stable. As a people, our geopolitics are one part our preferences, and two parts historical forces. These forces never rest. Seventy years ago, the Jewish world was centered in Europe. Now we mostly just fly over it.

The United States and Israel are today the poles of the Jewish world, because some Jews sensed tremors before the earthquake. When the earth opened up and Europe descended into the inferno, parts of the Jewish people already had a Plan B in place. We are living that Plan B.

Today the Jewish people is in an enviable geopolitical position. It has one foot planted in a Jewish sovereign state, and the other in the world’s most open and powerful society. One is tempted to say that never in their long history has the geopolitical situation of the Jews been better. Jews did have sovereignty before, in antiquity, but they did not have a strategic alliance with the greatest power on earth. And since it is difficult to imagine a better geopolitical position, the Jewish people has become a status-quo people.

Kramer then lays out five scenarios that would seriously undermine this desirable status quo: the waning of American influence; the “subtraction” of Europe from the power of the West; the emergence of Iran as a regional power on par with Israel; the disintegration of Arab states into Iraq-style internal conflict, producing multiple Hezbollah’s on Israel’s borders; and finally, the failure of the Palestinians as a nation, leading to the collapse of the two-state paradigm.

Each of these scenarios, Kramer suggests, requires a Jewish “Plan B.” He continues:

Now one would have to be a grim pessimist to believe that all five of these trends could merge into a perfect storm. But one would have to be an incurable optimist to believe that that we won’t be lashed by any of these storms. And what I am arguing is that we should anticipate conditions that will make storms more frequent than they have been in the last few decades.

Kramer does not suggest what our “Plan B” should be, except to say that “Israel will have to make alliances, strike targets, and redraw borders—and they won’t necessarily be the familiar ones.” What he does not offer is the scenario that has the only real chance of success, which is to stop “Plan A” from falling apart.

We are at war, a war between the liberal democracies and totalitarian Islamism. If we lose this war, many scenarios can be added to Kramer’s five, far worse than the ones he has devised. If we win, all of his bad scenarios can be prevented or accommodated.

We gain nothing by planning to lose. America, Israel, and Europe will not be safe in such a scenario; there is no “Plan B” that avoids catastrophe. Our only viable plan is to use all our resources to ensure the West’s victory. Those resources are substantial—and are nowhere near full mobilization.

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Weekend Reading

The ascent of Hamas to power in January 2006 has brought sharply into relief the intransigent rejectionism at the heart of much Palestinian politics and the disingenuousness of those who argue for a “right of return” as if the concept did not entail the destruction of the existing state of Israel. One of the leading Western proponents of Palestinian extremism was the cultural theorist Edward Said, a professor at Columbia and the author of Orientalism, a study of the supposedly racist Western attitude toward Muslims as revealed in the branch of scholarly knowledge devoted to the understanding of Islam.

That Said wildly distorted and misrepresented European scholars and their work has been definitively documented in a recent book, Dangerous Knowledge, by the British historian Robert Irwin (reviewed by Martin Kramer in the March COMMENTARY). As Irwin points out, Said’s book, despite its blatant falsifications, helped destroy the once-rigorous and prestigious academic discipline of Orientalism. But it did far more. Under the banner of “anti-colonialism,” it created a respectable-sounding framework for leftist Western intellectuals seeking to excuse, defend, or endorse the bloodthirsty activities of the PLO in its drive for power and international validation. Said himself served as a close adviser to the PLO leader Yassir Arafat, breaking with him only when Arafat signed the Oslo peace agreement in 1993.

Said’s own widely-vaunted moral authority derived in part from his status as himself an alleged victim of Jewish “imperialism”: he and his family, he wrote, had been uprooted from their home in Jerusalem by the armed forces of the nascent Israeli state. In 1999, Justus Reid Weiner, a scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, published a lengthy article in COMMENTARY picking apart and unmasking this story of Said’s early years. “My Beautiful Old House and Other Fabrications by Edward Said” unleashed a flood of violent criticism and denunciation, which Weiner went on to answer point for point. This weekend we offer Weiner’s September 1999 article along with the voluminous letters it provoked and his thorough-going and devastating reply.

The ascent of Hamas to power in January 2006 has brought sharply into relief the intransigent rejectionism at the heart of much Palestinian politics and the disingenuousness of those who argue for a “right of return” as if the concept did not entail the destruction of the existing state of Israel. One of the leading Western proponents of Palestinian extremism was the cultural theorist Edward Said, a professor at Columbia and the author of Orientalism, a study of the supposedly racist Western attitude toward Muslims as revealed in the branch of scholarly knowledge devoted to the understanding of Islam.

That Said wildly distorted and misrepresented European scholars and their work has been definitively documented in a recent book, Dangerous Knowledge, by the British historian Robert Irwin (reviewed by Martin Kramer in the March COMMENTARY). As Irwin points out, Said’s book, despite its blatant falsifications, helped destroy the once-rigorous and prestigious academic discipline of Orientalism. But it did far more. Under the banner of “anti-colonialism,” it created a respectable-sounding framework for leftist Western intellectuals seeking to excuse, defend, or endorse the bloodthirsty activities of the PLO in its drive for power and international validation. Said himself served as a close adviser to the PLO leader Yassir Arafat, breaking with him only when Arafat signed the Oslo peace agreement in 1993.

Said’s own widely-vaunted moral authority derived in part from his status as himself an alleged victim of Jewish “imperialism”: he and his family, he wrote, had been uprooted from their home in Jerusalem by the armed forces of the nascent Israeli state. In 1999, Justus Reid Weiner, a scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, published a lengthy article in COMMENTARY picking apart and unmasking this story of Said’s early years. “My Beautiful Old House and Other Fabrications by Edward Said” unleashed a flood of violent criticism and denunciation, which Weiner went on to answer point for point. This weekend we offer Weiner’s September 1999 article along with the voluminous letters it provoked and his thorough-going and devastating reply.

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