Commentary Magazine


Topic: United Arab Emirates

Andrew Roberts’ History Lesson

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

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The Dubai Effect

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules. Read More

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules.

Lebanon and Iraq have both been hailed as possible models for the rest of the region, but they aren’t really. Maybe they will be someday, but they aren’t today. Freewheeling Lebanon is more or less democratic, but it’s unstable. It blows up every year. The Beirut Spring in 2005 ousted the Syrian military dictatorship, but shaking off Iran and its private Hezbollah militia has proved nearly impossible. Iraq is likewise still too violent and dysfunctional to be an inspiring model right now.

Many of the skyscrapering steel and glass cities of the Persian Gulf feel like soulless shopping malls. It wouldn’t occur to anyone to suggest that one of these places is “the Paris of the Middle East,” as Beirut has often been called. Dubai’s outrageous attractions and socially liberal atmosphere, however, makes it something like a Las Vegas of the Middle East as a traveler’s destination. And it really is something like a Hong Kong or Singapore as a place to do business.

It features prominently in Vali Nasr’s compelling new book Forces of Fortune, where he argues that the Middle East may finally liberalize politically after it has first been transformed economically by a middle-class commercial revolution. Most in the West haven’t noticed, but that revolution has already begun. And what he calls “the Dubai effect” is a key part of it.

“People in the region who visit Dubai,” he writes, “return home wondering why their governments can’t issue passports in a day or provide clean mosques and schools, better airports, airlines and roads, and above all better government.”

He’s right. Most Beirutis I know look down on Dubai as artificial and gimmicky, but just about everyone else in the region who isn’t a radical Islamist thinks it’s amazing.

It’s different geopolitically, too. The government is more sincerely pro-American than the nominally pro-American governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Michael Yon put it this way when he visited in 2006 on his way to Iraq: “Our friends in the UAE want the Coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to succeed, and they are vocal about it. While much of the west, including many of our oldest allies, postures on about how the war on terror is a horrible mistake, the sentiment in the UAE is that it would be a horrible mistake not to face the facts about our common enemy, an enemy that might be just as happy to destroy the UAE as America.”

Its leadership has also stepped a long way back from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Neither Dubai nor any of the other UAE emirates have gone so far as to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but they also aren’t participating in the conflict or making it worse. Israeli citizens can and do visit, which is unthinkable almost everywhere else in the Arab world. A rotating tower designed by an Israeli architect is slated to be completed next year. There isn’t a chance that even Egypt or Jordan, both of which have signed peace treaties, would let an Israeli design one of their architectural set pieces.

Dubai has problems, of course, aside from the inevitable bursting of its financial bubble. Its government is a fairly benign dictatorship, especially compared with the likes of Syria and Iran, but it’s a dictatorship all the same. Many of its imported laborers live and work in ghastly conditions, and some are lured there under false pretenses.

It’s flawed, it’s weird, and its overall model of development can’t be ported everywhere else. Only so many cities can build ski resorts in the desert and underwater hotel rooms that go for $5,000 a night. But Dubai’s model needn’t be copied and pasted as-is, and Nasr’s “Dubai effect” is a powerful thing. The city proves to everyone who goes there that when an Arab Muslim country opens up its economy, keeps the clerics out of the saddle, and eschews radical causes, it can build places that are impressive not just by local standards but by international standards as well. If even half its foreign and domestic policies are adopted by its neighbors, the region will be a much nicer place for the people who live there, and less of a headache for everyone else.

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Finally, Embrace the Obvious

The Washington Post employs the passive voice in its lede on the newfound fondness for nuclear power:

Nuclear power — long considered environmentally hazardous — is emerging as perhaps the world’s most unlikely weapon against climate change, with the backing of even some green activists who once campaigned against it.

Considered by whom, exactly? Well, by the green activists who never had a good explanation for why nuclear power wasn’t the solution to the hysteria they were creating over global warming and to the more realistic concern about lessening our dependence on foreign oil. Now we know that it was the anti-nuclear-power forces that have managed to block plants from being built for the past 13 years. But around the world, it’s a different story:

From China to Brazil, 53 plants are now under construction worldwide, with Poland, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia seeking to build their first reactors, according to global watchdog groups and industry associations. The number of plants being built is double the total of just five years ago.

Even in the U.S., the Obami are grudgingly eying nuclear power, and some green groups are throwing in the towel on opposing a clean source of domestic power. The fanaticism of the antinuclear forces, however, has not been without a cost. After all, we’ve used all that fossil fuel and delayed the building of any nuclear plants for more than a decade. The former head of Greenpeace in Britain announces: “Like many of us, I began to slowly realize we don’t have the luxury anymore of excluding nuclear energy. … We need all the help we can get.”

Of course, we didn’t have the luxury of doing so back then either, but the politicians were cowed by groups like Greenpeace. Now we’ll have to scramble to catch up, if in fact the iron grip of anti-nuclear-power activists is broken. Perhaps next we’ll get around to developing domestic supplies of oil and natural gas. But let’s not get carried away.

The Washington Post employs the passive voice in its lede on the newfound fondness for nuclear power:

Nuclear power — long considered environmentally hazardous — is emerging as perhaps the world’s most unlikely weapon against climate change, with the backing of even some green activists who once campaigned against it.

Considered by whom, exactly? Well, by the green activists who never had a good explanation for why nuclear power wasn’t the solution to the hysteria they were creating over global warming and to the more realistic concern about lessening our dependence on foreign oil. Now we know that it was the anti-nuclear-power forces that have managed to block plants from being built for the past 13 years. But around the world, it’s a different story:

From China to Brazil, 53 plants are now under construction worldwide, with Poland, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia seeking to build their first reactors, according to global watchdog groups and industry associations. The number of plants being built is double the total of just five years ago.

Even in the U.S., the Obami are grudgingly eying nuclear power, and some green groups are throwing in the towel on opposing a clean source of domestic power. The fanaticism of the antinuclear forces, however, has not been without a cost. After all, we’ve used all that fossil fuel and delayed the building of any nuclear plants for more than a decade. The former head of Greenpeace in Britain announces: “Like many of us, I began to slowly realize we don’t have the luxury anymore of excluding nuclear energy. … We need all the help we can get.”

Of course, we didn’t have the luxury of doing so back then either, but the politicians were cowed by groups like Greenpeace. Now we’ll have to scramble to catch up, if in fact the iron grip of anti-nuclear-power activists is broken. Perhaps next we’ll get around to developing domestic supplies of oil and natural gas. But let’s not get carried away.

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Could We Have Done Worse?

In the never-ending quest to do not much of anything to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the Obami, we are told, are “walking a delicate diplomatic path.” On one hand, they are being played, and know it. (“They acknowledge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be using negotiations to limit U.N. pressure while also working to legitimize his government domestically.”) But then again, they don’t want to upset the — you knew this was coming — “moderate opposition forces inside Iran.” So they stall. Yes, yes, they’ve been stalling for some time now, pretending that the regime would show interest in a grand bargain, downplaying Qom, cooking up the flimsiest of enrichment deals to provide cover for doing not much of anything, protracting the process of being rejected, ignoring news of other possible secret sites (that would fall under the “known unknowns,” in Donald Rumsfeld parlance), and refusing to concede that we’ve gotten nowhere. It’s a lot of work doing nothing for that long.

So what’s next? They’ll get cracking on this next year. Yeah, honestly:

The officials said Mr. Obama remains committed to ratcheting up pressure early next year, and that Washington is cobbling together a coalition of allies to punish Tehran even if Beijing and Moscow balk. The U.S. has also been talking with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about how to utilize oil sales to pressure Tehran. “Our patience is limited. The president has made clear that at the end of the year we’ll be able to decide” if Iran is serious, said Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s top official on nonproliferation, last week. “April 2010 is too late.”

April 2010 is too late, but November 2009 is too early. And it seems we are already banking on the noncooperation of Moscow, whose cooperation was the rationale for doing nothing this year. (I suppose we were chumps after all for giving up the missile-defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.)

The result: we will have given Iran yet another year free of outside pressure, enabling it to proceed with its nuclear program. And along the way, we’ve helped bolster the mullahs and defund the democratic opposition. If we had tried to help the regime achieve its aims, we would have been hard pressed to do “better.” And if we were supposed to be defanging the threat of a nuclear-armed fundamentalist Islamic state and staving off a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East, we could hardly have done worse. But maybe next year will be better. Or whenever.

In the never-ending quest to do not much of anything to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the Obami, we are told, are “walking a delicate diplomatic path.” On one hand, they are being played, and know it. (“They acknowledge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be using negotiations to limit U.N. pressure while also working to legitimize his government domestically.”) But then again, they don’t want to upset the — you knew this was coming — “moderate opposition forces inside Iran.” So they stall. Yes, yes, they’ve been stalling for some time now, pretending that the regime would show interest in a grand bargain, downplaying Qom, cooking up the flimsiest of enrichment deals to provide cover for doing not much of anything, protracting the process of being rejected, ignoring news of other possible secret sites (that would fall under the “known unknowns,” in Donald Rumsfeld parlance), and refusing to concede that we’ve gotten nowhere. It’s a lot of work doing nothing for that long.

So what’s next? They’ll get cracking on this next year. Yeah, honestly:

The officials said Mr. Obama remains committed to ratcheting up pressure early next year, and that Washington is cobbling together a coalition of allies to punish Tehran even if Beijing and Moscow balk. The U.S. has also been talking with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about how to utilize oil sales to pressure Tehran. “Our patience is limited. The president has made clear that at the end of the year we’ll be able to decide” if Iran is serious, said Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s top official on nonproliferation, last week. “April 2010 is too late.”

April 2010 is too late, but November 2009 is too early. And it seems we are already banking on the noncooperation of Moscow, whose cooperation was the rationale for doing nothing this year. (I suppose we were chumps after all for giving up the missile-defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.)

The result: we will have given Iran yet another year free of outside pressure, enabling it to proceed with its nuclear program. And along the way, we’ve helped bolster the mullahs and defund the democratic opposition. If we had tried to help the regime achieve its aims, we would have been hard pressed to do “better.” And if we were supposed to be defanging the threat of a nuclear-armed fundamentalist Islamic state and staving off a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East, we could hardly have done worse. But maybe next year will be better. Or whenever.

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Taking the Gold for Hypocrisy

It’s a shame to further bust the “global community” myth of the Olympic Games–but bust I must. Ali Al-Ahmed has a piece in the Herald Tribune on how the International Olympic Committee is violating its charter by allowing Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran to send to teams to the Games.

How so? The charter states that “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

But countries like the two named above, which limit or ban the participation of women on their teams, are slated to compete in Beijing. It’s worth noting that it’s not merely sports participation from which these women are banned. When the Saudi team comes to China, you can be sure that the Kingdom’s frustrated female athletes will be among the least traumatized women in Saudi society. On the basis of gender, other Saudi women will be prohibited from obtaining basic medical treatment.

You can practically hear the cognitive dissonance of the multi-culti crowd. If accepting others is good and rejecting others is bad, what’s accepting those who reject others?

Why, it’s the way of most international bodies, of course. It’s hard to imagine an enterprise that can’t be degraded by sticking the word international before it. Once you are international, you are subject to all the whims of the international community. According to Al Ahmed, various NGO’s have been pressuring the International Olympic Committee about women’s rights for years, and there has been slow progress. But, as he writes,

[i]f the IOC is pressed to live up to its own standards, the London Games in 2012 should witness the celebration of female Olympians from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and other Muslim countries.

It’s a shame to further bust the “global community” myth of the Olympic Games–but bust I must. Ali Al-Ahmed has a piece in the Herald Tribune on how the International Olympic Committee is violating its charter by allowing Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran to send to teams to the Games.

How so? The charter states that “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

But countries like the two named above, which limit or ban the participation of women on their teams, are slated to compete in Beijing. It’s worth noting that it’s not merely sports participation from which these women are banned. When the Saudi team comes to China, you can be sure that the Kingdom’s frustrated female athletes will be among the least traumatized women in Saudi society. On the basis of gender, other Saudi women will be prohibited from obtaining basic medical treatment.

You can practically hear the cognitive dissonance of the multi-culti crowd. If accepting others is good and rejecting others is bad, what’s accepting those who reject others?

Why, it’s the way of most international bodies, of course. It’s hard to imagine an enterprise that can’t be degraded by sticking the word international before it. Once you are international, you are subject to all the whims of the international community. According to Al Ahmed, various NGO’s have been pressuring the International Olympic Committee about women’s rights for years, and there has been slow progress. But, as he writes,

[i]f the IOC is pressed to live up to its own standards, the London Games in 2012 should witness the celebration of female Olympians from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and other Muslim countries.

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Flogging on the Quads

New York magazine reports that a multi-multi-million dollar deal to set up a New York University campus in the Arab city-state of Abu Dhabi is all but closed. The Gulf campus will be a clone of the Manhattan one “but with an Arab twist,” according to Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the CEO of the government-owned investment company overseeing the deal.

What’s involved in an Arab twist, you ask? “Homosexual activity is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, and those found guilty of drug use, prostitution, or adultery can be sentenced to flogging.” There goes spring break!

John Sexton, NYU’s president and the driving force behind the deal, isn’t worried. “We have to accept the fact that, like in New York, we cannot provide immunity to students or faculty members at NYU Abu Dhabi from the normal laws of that society when not engaged in activities on our campus,” he says. And when they are engaged in campus activities–what can we expect then? “Two years ago, a foreign lecturer at a university in the emirates was dismissed for showing and discussing controversial Danish cartoons that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad.”

At a recent NYU faculty meeting, one person asked “What exactly is the status of Abu Dhabi’s relationship with Israel?” Well, it can’t be much worse than American academia’s relationship with Israel. Or can it? For starters, Israelis are prohibited from entering the country. And then there’s this:

According to the Anti-Defamation League, a 2002 symposium sponsored by a now-defunct Abu Dhabi think tank challenged the reality of the Holocaust; a speaker called Jews “the enemies of all nations.”

Sexton, once again: “I would say to any student here that wants to go to the Abu Dhabi campus, ‘Go.’ Gay students, Israeli students, I refuse to think in those categories.” (As if the problem lies in Americans thinking in those categories.) This whole thing is, for Sexton, a great big multi-culti wet kiss to the post-9/11 Arab world:

After that day, we were forced to confront the critical choice of the 21st century. What is our attitude toward ‘the other’ going to be? Is it going to be a clash of civilizations? Or is it going to be an ecumenical gift?

Do I have a vote? Because I’m willing to clash with any civilization that flogs homosexuals and outlaws Israeli visitors. By selling a degraded clone of itself to the highest bidder, NYU is doing irreversible damage to U.S. universities as a whole. This frightening love-child of Western multi-cultural lunacy and Arab oil money represents a new low. As NYU professor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco enthusiastically stated, “This is not just study abroad on steroids . . . This is really upping the ante. It will be a complete game-changer for higher education as we know it.”

New York magazine reports that a multi-multi-million dollar deal to set up a New York University campus in the Arab city-state of Abu Dhabi is all but closed. The Gulf campus will be a clone of the Manhattan one “but with an Arab twist,” according to Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the CEO of the government-owned investment company overseeing the deal.

What’s involved in an Arab twist, you ask? “Homosexual activity is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, and those found guilty of drug use, prostitution, or adultery can be sentenced to flogging.” There goes spring break!

John Sexton, NYU’s president and the driving force behind the deal, isn’t worried. “We have to accept the fact that, like in New York, we cannot provide immunity to students or faculty members at NYU Abu Dhabi from the normal laws of that society when not engaged in activities on our campus,” he says. And when they are engaged in campus activities–what can we expect then? “Two years ago, a foreign lecturer at a university in the emirates was dismissed for showing and discussing controversial Danish cartoons that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad.”

At a recent NYU faculty meeting, one person asked “What exactly is the status of Abu Dhabi’s relationship with Israel?” Well, it can’t be much worse than American academia’s relationship with Israel. Or can it? For starters, Israelis are prohibited from entering the country. And then there’s this:

According to the Anti-Defamation League, a 2002 symposium sponsored by a now-defunct Abu Dhabi think tank challenged the reality of the Holocaust; a speaker called Jews “the enemies of all nations.”

Sexton, once again: “I would say to any student here that wants to go to the Abu Dhabi campus, ‘Go.’ Gay students, Israeli students, I refuse to think in those categories.” (As if the problem lies in Americans thinking in those categories.) This whole thing is, for Sexton, a great big multi-culti wet kiss to the post-9/11 Arab world:

After that day, we were forced to confront the critical choice of the 21st century. What is our attitude toward ‘the other’ going to be? Is it going to be a clash of civilizations? Or is it going to be an ecumenical gift?

Do I have a vote? Because I’m willing to clash with any civilization that flogs homosexuals and outlaws Israeli visitors. By selling a degraded clone of itself to the highest bidder, NYU is doing irreversible damage to U.S. universities as a whole. This frightening love-child of Western multi-cultural lunacy and Arab oil money represents a new low. As NYU professor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco enthusiastically stated, “This is not just study abroad on steroids . . . This is really upping the ante. It will be a complete game-changer for higher education as we know it.”

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The Moderate Supermajority

My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.

First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.

Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.

I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.

First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.

Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.

I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

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Gulf News: “Obama Is Good for Israel”

Everyone who was on the fence about the Obama-Israel question can now breathe easy. “Obama is good for Israel.” Or so reads the headline of an editorial in yesterday’s Gulf News, a major newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. The writer is Patrick Seale, who was a friend of the late Syrian dictator Hafiz Assad and who tried to pin the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Israel. Here are some highlights from Seale’s endorsement:

At an anti-war rally in Chicago on October 26, 2002, [Obama] declared: “What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration, to shove their own ideological agenda down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne”.

Perle was then chairman of the Pentagon’s advisory Defence Policy Board and Wolfowitz was deputy Secretary of Defence. As everyone knows, their “ideological agenda” was to enhance Israel’s strategic environment by overthrowing and “reforming” Arab regimes.

They were, indeed, among the leading advocates of the view that the Arab world needed to be reshaped and remodelled by the power of the United States in order to suit Israeli strategic needs.

Name by Jewish name, Seale castigates the evil neocons before getting to why Obama is the best man for the Jewish state:

Is not overseeing Israel’s peaceful integration into the Arab world far better for its long-term security and prosperity than Bush’s bankrupt policies of making war on Iraq, threatening Iran and Syria, encouraging Israel’s wars on Hezbollah and Hamas – policies which have done nothing but create a thirst for revenge and hate for the US and Israel throughout the Arab and Islamic world, and beyond?

So: Obama will oversee “Israel’s peaceful integration into the Arab world” and there will be no more of “Israel’s wars on Hezbollah and Hamas.” I see no evidence that Obama is of like mind with Seale (though I’m not sure he’d be as outraged by these sentiments as one would like, considering they’re identical to the kind of things one hears from this country’s Left). The important thing is that this is Obama’s image in the anti-Semitic world: a toothless, jihad-friendly corrective to George Bush. Every liberal who’s ever complained that President Bush has done untold damage to American soft power should consider the views of papers such as the Gulf News. And every friend of Israel should be worried.

Everyone who was on the fence about the Obama-Israel question can now breathe easy. “Obama is good for Israel.” Or so reads the headline of an editorial in yesterday’s Gulf News, a major newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. The writer is Patrick Seale, who was a friend of the late Syrian dictator Hafiz Assad and who tried to pin the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Israel. Here are some highlights from Seale’s endorsement:

At an anti-war rally in Chicago on October 26, 2002, [Obama] declared: “What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration, to shove their own ideological agenda down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne”.

Perle was then chairman of the Pentagon’s advisory Defence Policy Board and Wolfowitz was deputy Secretary of Defence. As everyone knows, their “ideological agenda” was to enhance Israel’s strategic environment by overthrowing and “reforming” Arab regimes.

They were, indeed, among the leading advocates of the view that the Arab world needed to be reshaped and remodelled by the power of the United States in order to suit Israeli strategic needs.

Name by Jewish name, Seale castigates the evil neocons before getting to why Obama is the best man for the Jewish state:

Is not overseeing Israel’s peaceful integration into the Arab world far better for its long-term security and prosperity than Bush’s bankrupt policies of making war on Iraq, threatening Iran and Syria, encouraging Israel’s wars on Hezbollah and Hamas – policies which have done nothing but create a thirst for revenge and hate for the US and Israel throughout the Arab and Islamic world, and beyond?

So: Obama will oversee “Israel’s peaceful integration into the Arab world” and there will be no more of “Israel’s wars on Hezbollah and Hamas.” I see no evidence that Obama is of like mind with Seale (though I’m not sure he’d be as outraged by these sentiments as one would like, considering they’re identical to the kind of things one hears from this country’s Left). The important thing is that this is Obama’s image in the anti-Semitic world: a toothless, jihad-friendly corrective to George Bush. Every liberal who’s ever complained that President Bush has done untold damage to American soft power should consider the views of papers such as the Gulf News. And every friend of Israel should be worried.

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Bush’s Bahraini Fumble

In case you had any doubts, the primary target of President Bush’s eight-day sojourn in the Middle East remains Iran. Whether the President is pitching Israeli-Palestinian peace or promoting political liberalization, rolling back Iranian ascendancy is the name of the game. Bush’s strategic reasoning is as follows: if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved and liberal democracy proliferates, Arabs will reject the radical extremism that stands at the heart of Tehran’s political program and stifle Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony.

Yet in pursuing this strategy, Bush has sought out the wrong audiences. Rather than reaching out to Arab publics and explaining the benefits of peace and democracy, the President has presented his thesis before Arab monarchs and their ministers—the very individuals who have long thwarted democratic movements and undermined Arab-Israeli peace. In this vein, Bush’s praise for Israel as having “raised a thriving modern society out of rocky soil” before an Abu Dhabi conference of government and business leaders likely fell on deaf ears, while his declaration that Iran is “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror” predictably elicited no response—business-conscious U.A.E. is Iran’s biggest trading partner.

But perhaps Bush’s greatest misfire came in Bahrain. With an entrenched Sunni monarchy that rules over a 70 percent Shiite majority, Bahrain might have provided a remarkable opportunity for Bush to engage a key Shiite population and promote the benefits of human rights and democracy over the religious extremism that Iran embodies. Yet Bush did the opposite, grinning with King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, whom he lauded as standing “on the forefront of providing hope for people through democracy.” Any Shiite paying attention would have been dumbfounded. Bahrain’s constitutional monarchy holds half of all cabinet positions; controls all of the major security services posts; and appoints the upper chamber of the legislature, which has veto power over the elected lower chamber. How can an American president term such arrangements democratic?

Granted, Bush probably had little hope of winning over Bahrain’s Shiites, some of whom protested his visit in the days prior to his arrival. Indeed, having personally traveled in Bahrain, I can attest to the prevalence of Khomeini posters and pro-Hezbollah slogans that line the streets in the heart of Manama—good indicators of anti-American hostilities that few presidential addresses could reasonably overcome.

Still, for all the lip service that the Bush administration has given to empowering Arab publics through democracy, it would have been refreshing to see the President just once address some of his harshest Arab critics face-to-face, rather than continually talking over them. After all, if the freedom agenda holds the key to liberating the region from Iranian hegemony, then Bush has wasted precious time praising democracy to an unpopular monarchy.

In case you had any doubts, the primary target of President Bush’s eight-day sojourn in the Middle East remains Iran. Whether the President is pitching Israeli-Palestinian peace or promoting political liberalization, rolling back Iranian ascendancy is the name of the game. Bush’s strategic reasoning is as follows: if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved and liberal democracy proliferates, Arabs will reject the radical extremism that stands at the heart of Tehran’s political program and stifle Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony.

Yet in pursuing this strategy, Bush has sought out the wrong audiences. Rather than reaching out to Arab publics and explaining the benefits of peace and democracy, the President has presented his thesis before Arab monarchs and their ministers—the very individuals who have long thwarted democratic movements and undermined Arab-Israeli peace. In this vein, Bush’s praise for Israel as having “raised a thriving modern society out of rocky soil” before an Abu Dhabi conference of government and business leaders likely fell on deaf ears, while his declaration that Iran is “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror” predictably elicited no response—business-conscious U.A.E. is Iran’s biggest trading partner.

But perhaps Bush’s greatest misfire came in Bahrain. With an entrenched Sunni monarchy that rules over a 70 percent Shiite majority, Bahrain might have provided a remarkable opportunity for Bush to engage a key Shiite population and promote the benefits of human rights and democracy over the religious extremism that Iran embodies. Yet Bush did the opposite, grinning with King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, whom he lauded as standing “on the forefront of providing hope for people through democracy.” Any Shiite paying attention would have been dumbfounded. Bahrain’s constitutional monarchy holds half of all cabinet positions; controls all of the major security services posts; and appoints the upper chamber of the legislature, which has veto power over the elected lower chamber. How can an American president term such arrangements democratic?

Granted, Bush probably had little hope of winning over Bahrain’s Shiites, some of whom protested his visit in the days prior to his arrival. Indeed, having personally traveled in Bahrain, I can attest to the prevalence of Khomeini posters and pro-Hezbollah slogans that line the streets in the heart of Manama—good indicators of anti-American hostilities that few presidential addresses could reasonably overcome.

Still, for all the lip service that the Bush administration has given to empowering Arab publics through democracy, it would have been refreshing to see the President just once address some of his harshest Arab critics face-to-face, rather than continually talking over them. After all, if the freedom agenda holds the key to liberating the region from Iranian hegemony, then Bush has wasted precious time praising democracy to an unpopular monarchy.

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Democracy Talk in The Apolitical Emirates

President Bush supposedly ratcheted up the tough talk against Tehran in his speech in the United Arab Emirates today. However, it’s hard to tease out any substantive change in the mere repetition of charges against Tehran: that “Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere” is an undisputed matter of public record. It was somewhat more heartening to hear the President return to the democracy schema that sat on the back burner throughout the more trying phases of the Iraq War. CBS News reports:

In renewing his “Freedom Agenda” – Mr. Bush’s grand ambition to seed democracy around the globe — he declared that “democracy is the only form of government that treats individuals with the dignity and equality that is their right.”

“We know from experience that democracy is the only system of government that yields lasting peace and stability,” he added.

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal has a surreal companion piece to Bush’s speech in the form of an opinion article by Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The former ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and current vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates has penned something that reads more like a corporation’s quarterly letter to stockholders than a statesman’s declaration of policy. The fascinating document includes this gem:

“What are Dubai’s political ambitions?” Well, here’s my answer: We don’t have political ambitions. We don’t want to be a superpower or any other kind of political power. The whole region is over-politicized as it is. We don’t see politics as our thing, we don’t want it, we don’t think this is the right thing to do.

Sheikh Mohammed stresses the importance of capital investment in the path to well being. Someone should point out to him that there’s no such thing as opting out of politics, and that the Middle East doesn’t suffer from a shortage of capital, but from the lack of political institutions that enable the sharing of prosperity.

President Bush supposedly ratcheted up the tough talk against Tehran in his speech in the United Arab Emirates today. However, it’s hard to tease out any substantive change in the mere repetition of charges against Tehran: that “Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere” is an undisputed matter of public record. It was somewhat more heartening to hear the President return to the democracy schema that sat on the back burner throughout the more trying phases of the Iraq War. CBS News reports:

In renewing his “Freedom Agenda” – Mr. Bush’s grand ambition to seed democracy around the globe — he declared that “democracy is the only form of government that treats individuals with the dignity and equality that is their right.”

“We know from experience that democracy is the only system of government that yields lasting peace and stability,” he added.

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal has a surreal companion piece to Bush’s speech in the form of an opinion article by Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The former ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and current vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates has penned something that reads more like a corporation’s quarterly letter to stockholders than a statesman’s declaration of policy. The fascinating document includes this gem:

“What are Dubai’s political ambitions?” Well, here’s my answer: We don’t have political ambitions. We don’t want to be a superpower or any other kind of political power. The whole region is over-politicized as it is. We don’t see politics as our thing, we don’t want it, we don’t think this is the right thing to do.

Sheikh Mohammed stresses the importance of capital investment in the path to well being. Someone should point out to him that there’s no such thing as opting out of politics, and that the Middle East doesn’t suffer from a shortage of capital, but from the lack of political institutions that enable the sharing of prosperity.

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Mixed Message on Iran

I recently spent a week in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as part of a delegation of American policy wonks and former government officials organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. One of the big subjects of our discussions with Emiratis and Saudis, both in government and out of it, was the looming threat from Iran, which is felt keenly by its Sunni neighbors.

All agreed that Iran is a major menace. There was disagreement about whether military action is warranted; many said they dreaded the prospect of another war, but many others (including senior government officials) said that a prophylactic air strike was better than the alternative—a nuclear Iran dominating the region.

Whatever you think about the desirability of a preemptive strike, one thing is clear: it would be the height of foolishness for the United States to take that option off the table. Only if the mullahs think they face a serious military threat are they likely to slow down their quest for the bomb.

Thus it was puzzling to see Admiral William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, telling the Financial Times that, as the headline had it, “U.S. strike on Iran ‘not being prepared.’” The content of the article was a bit more complex: while Fallon was quoted as saying that a strike is not “in the offing,” he continued, “That said, we have to make sure there is no mistake on the part of the Iranians about our resolve in tending to business in the region.”

The Iranians can be forgiven for having grave doubts about U.S. resolve, however, when the senior U.S. military figure in the region is going out of his way to assure them that their threatening actions will not result in American military action.

I recently spent a week in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as part of a delegation of American policy wonks and former government officials organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. One of the big subjects of our discussions with Emiratis and Saudis, both in government and out of it, was the looming threat from Iran, which is felt keenly by its Sunni neighbors.

All agreed that Iran is a major menace. There was disagreement about whether military action is warranted; many said they dreaded the prospect of another war, but many others (including senior government officials) said that a prophylactic air strike was better than the alternative—a nuclear Iran dominating the region.

Whatever you think about the desirability of a preemptive strike, one thing is clear: it would be the height of foolishness for the United States to take that option off the table. Only if the mullahs think they face a serious military threat are they likely to slow down their quest for the bomb.

Thus it was puzzling to see Admiral William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, telling the Financial Times that, as the headline had it, “U.S. strike on Iran ‘not being prepared.’” The content of the article was a bit more complex: while Fallon was quoted as saying that a strike is not “in the offing,” he continued, “That said, we have to make sure there is no mistake on the part of the Iranians about our resolve in tending to business in the region.”

The Iranians can be forgiven for having grave doubts about U.S. resolve, however, when the senior U.S. military figure in the region is going out of his way to assure them that their threatening actions will not result in American military action.

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David Brooks Gets All Straussian About Annapolis

My friend David Brooks attended the University of Chicago with me, so it is meet and proper that he offers today a deeply Straussian interpretation of the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Annapolis.

That conference only appears to be about Israel and the Palestinians, David writes. In fact, he reveals, it has a secret esoteric meaning and purpose: The creation of an anti-Iran alliance in the Middle East.

This is the most interesting interpretation possible of Annapolis, and the most hopeful. For as David notes, Seceretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s decision to dedicate the last two years of her stewardship of American foreign policy to the Mideast peace process — at a time when the Palestinians who will be at the table have no control over half the territory they supposedly govern and the Israeli government is unquestionably the weakest in the nation’s history — has to be one of the more puzzling choices in recent memory.

He therefore adduces that she cannot actually have made that choice, and has instead made a more interesting one:

There is a feeling among Arab and Israeli leaders that an Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas alliance is on the march. The nations that resist that alliance are in retreat. The peace process is an occasion to gather the “moderate” states and to construct what Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center calls an anti-Iran counter-alliance….Iran has done what decades of peace proposals have not done — brought Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinians and the U.S. together.

But brought them together for what?

If the threat from Iran is considered dire by every one of these nations, then it is a matter of raw national self-interest for them to act in ways to retard Iran’s forward march irrespective of the status of negotations between Israel and the Palestinians.

What, specifically, does the status of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship have to do with that urgent and pressing need? The honest answer is: Very little. Unless, that is, you accept the contention that the “moderate” states need and deserve some face-saving bribery in the form of Israeli concessions to get them to act reasonably in concert against Iran.

But if they are so worried about Iran, why would they need face-saving bribery, especially considering David’s concession that “there is remarkably little substance to [the peace process] so far. Even people inside the Israeli and Palestinian governments are not sure what’s actually going to be negotiated and what can realistically be achieved.”

It might, therefore, be fair to say that the Annapolis peace conference is an even worse idea than it first appeared to be. David credits Secretary Rice with at least “trying something.” But surely, if there is an urgent need for an anti-Iran alliance that can be stymied by a poor result in Annapolis on a matter that is actually tangential to the central concern of the countries involved, then it’s Logic 101 that “trying something” presents a risk that is not worth the dream of a reward.

There’s nothing remotely esoteric about that.

My friend David Brooks attended the University of Chicago with me, so it is meet and proper that he offers today a deeply Straussian interpretation of the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Annapolis.

That conference only appears to be about Israel and the Palestinians, David writes. In fact, he reveals, it has a secret esoteric meaning and purpose: The creation of an anti-Iran alliance in the Middle East.

This is the most interesting interpretation possible of Annapolis, and the most hopeful. For as David notes, Seceretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s decision to dedicate the last two years of her stewardship of American foreign policy to the Mideast peace process — at a time when the Palestinians who will be at the table have no control over half the territory they supposedly govern and the Israeli government is unquestionably the weakest in the nation’s history — has to be one of the more puzzling choices in recent memory.

He therefore adduces that she cannot actually have made that choice, and has instead made a more interesting one:

There is a feeling among Arab and Israeli leaders that an Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas alliance is on the march. The nations that resist that alliance are in retreat. The peace process is an occasion to gather the “moderate” states and to construct what Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center calls an anti-Iran counter-alliance….Iran has done what decades of peace proposals have not done — brought Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinians and the U.S. together.

But brought them together for what?

If the threat from Iran is considered dire by every one of these nations, then it is a matter of raw national self-interest for them to act in ways to retard Iran’s forward march irrespective of the status of negotations between Israel and the Palestinians.

What, specifically, does the status of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship have to do with that urgent and pressing need? The honest answer is: Very little. Unless, that is, you accept the contention that the “moderate” states need and deserve some face-saving bribery in the form of Israeli concessions to get them to act reasonably in concert against Iran.

But if they are so worried about Iran, why would they need face-saving bribery, especially considering David’s concession that “there is remarkably little substance to [the peace process] so far. Even people inside the Israeli and Palestinian governments are not sure what’s actually going to be negotiated and what can realistically be achieved.”

It might, therefore, be fair to say that the Annapolis peace conference is an even worse idea than it first appeared to be. David credits Secretary Rice with at least “trying something.” But surely, if there is an urgent need for an anti-Iran alliance that can be stymied by a poor result in Annapolis on a matter that is actually tangential to the central concern of the countries involved, then it’s Logic 101 that “trying something” presents a risk that is not worth the dream of a reward.

There’s nothing remotely esoteric about that.

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The Price of UN Membership

As noted yesterday on contentions, Libya was elected on October 16, 2007 to the UN Security Council, a position it will assume in January. Last month Syria was elected Vice-Chair of the General Conference of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. These goings-on at the UN have been presented not only as perfectly normal but as laudable. While they have provoked strong reaction in some people, they should not come as a surprise.

The UN, we are told, is an essential institution because of its unique inclusivity. The argument goes that the goals and values of democracies on the world scene are dependent on their doing business with dictators as equals. One state, one vote. Regardless of the numbers of real people being subdued in various ways back home. Regardless of the financial contribution made by each member state to the world organization. Regardless of the extent to which the founding principles and purposes of the UN are flaunted by the member state every day of the week.

So Libya and Syria join a long list of dictatorships, despotisms, and human-rights violators in UN leadership positions—positions that entail responsibilities diametrically opposed to their incumbents’ qualifications.

Here are only a few of today’s UN authority figures:

• UN Security Council: Libya
• International Atomic Energy Agency General Committee, Vice-President: Syria
• UN Disarmament Commission, Vice-Chairman: Iran. Rapporteur: Syria
• Committee on Information: China, Kazakhstan
• UN Program of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination, and Wider Appreciation of International Law Advisory Committee: Iran, Lebanon, Sudan
• Commission for Social Development: North Korea
• Commission on the Status of Women: Qatar, Togo, United Arab Emirates
• Commission on Sustainable Development: Sudan
• Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: Libya, Russia
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Vice-President: Myanmar
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Board: China
• UN Development Program Executive Board: Algeria, Kazakhstan
• General Assembly Vice-Presidents: Egypt, Turkmenistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo
• General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, Vice-Chairman: Syria
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Seyed Mohammad Hashemi of Iran
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Member: Saied Rajaie Khorasani of Iran
• UN Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) Governing Council: Zimbabwe
• UN High Commissioner for Refugees Executive Committee: Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan
• International Labor Organization Governing Body: Saudi Arabia
• World Food Program Executive Board: Sudan, Zimbabwe

In short, membership in the UN has no price tag, although, as this list suggests, Israel-bashing and anti-Americanism are its all-but universal currency.

As noted yesterday on contentions, Libya was elected on October 16, 2007 to the UN Security Council, a position it will assume in January. Last month Syria was elected Vice-Chair of the General Conference of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. These goings-on at the UN have been presented not only as perfectly normal but as laudable. While they have provoked strong reaction in some people, they should not come as a surprise.

The UN, we are told, is an essential institution because of its unique inclusivity. The argument goes that the goals and values of democracies on the world scene are dependent on their doing business with dictators as equals. One state, one vote. Regardless of the numbers of real people being subdued in various ways back home. Regardless of the financial contribution made by each member state to the world organization. Regardless of the extent to which the founding principles and purposes of the UN are flaunted by the member state every day of the week.

So Libya and Syria join a long list of dictatorships, despotisms, and human-rights violators in UN leadership positions—positions that entail responsibilities diametrically opposed to their incumbents’ qualifications.

Here are only a few of today’s UN authority figures:

• UN Security Council: Libya
• International Atomic Energy Agency General Committee, Vice-President: Syria
• UN Disarmament Commission, Vice-Chairman: Iran. Rapporteur: Syria
• Committee on Information: China, Kazakhstan
• UN Program of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination, and Wider Appreciation of International Law Advisory Committee: Iran, Lebanon, Sudan
• Commission for Social Development: North Korea
• Commission on the Status of Women: Qatar, Togo, United Arab Emirates
• Commission on Sustainable Development: Sudan
• Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: Libya, Russia
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Vice-President: Myanmar
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Board: China
• UN Development Program Executive Board: Algeria, Kazakhstan
• General Assembly Vice-Presidents: Egypt, Turkmenistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo
• General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, Vice-Chairman: Syria
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Seyed Mohammad Hashemi of Iran
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Member: Saied Rajaie Khorasani of Iran
• UN Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) Governing Council: Zimbabwe
• UN High Commissioner for Refugees Executive Committee: Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan
• International Labor Organization Governing Body: Saudi Arabia
• World Food Program Executive Board: Sudan, Zimbabwe

In short, membership in the UN has no price tag, although, as this list suggests, Israel-bashing and anti-Americanism are its all-but universal currency.

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