Posts Tagged US
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times, republished today in The Australian:
Almost 10 years ago, idealists young and old congregated in capital cities all over the world to protest against the forthcoming invasion of Iraq. “Stop the War”, read the banners. “Not in my name”, called out the demonstrators. Kony 2012 is, essentially, a “Start the War” march. Millions of idealists are gathered on the internet shouting “not in my name” at Kony and calling on the US to send military advisers. Just advisers? That’s what John F. Kennedy sent to Vietnam.
The emotional impact of the campaign is achieved by linking the film-maker’s young son with a young boy in Uganda who was a victim of Kony. The two children, the film points out, are the same, and deserve the same protection. It is hard – impossible – to argue with that.
The internet and television make friends out of strangers, bring foreign people in faraway places into our bedrooms and lounges, and make it unbearable to watch them be starved or murdered right there in our houses. The “Start the War” movement – Libya, Syria, Zimbabwe, Kony – is going to gain force as every year passes. Politicians will spend their time explaining to idealists why it’s too hard, expensive or dangerous to do anything.
That is why Kony 2012 is a “moment”; why it matters, for all its rather gooey emotionalism. Calling on people to become “advocates of awesome” sounds silly – all right, is a bit silly – but the impression of silliness recedes when one reflects that it has already prompted President Barack Obama to send advisers to Uganda.
There is a huge debate going on at the moment in the blogosphere about the term “Israel Firster”, which it turns out was made popular by neo-Nazis and spread through the antisemite network before making it into mainstream discourse. From what I gather, the whole debate started when Ben Smith wrote in Politico about the controversy in the Democrat party surrounding the Centre for American Progress (CAP). CAP is a think tank with close ties to Obama and a marked antipathy towards Israel (emphasis added):
The daily battle is waged in Media Matters’ emails, on CAP’s blogs, Middle East Progress and ThinkProgress and most of all on Twitter, where a Media Mattters official, MJ Rosenberg, regularly heaps vitriol on those who disagree as “Iraq war neocon liar” (the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg) or having “dual loyalties” to the U.S. and Israel (the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin). And while the Center for American Progress tends to walk a more careful line, warm words for Israel can be hard to find on its blogs.
… Another recent column on the CAP website, one of several to prompt behind-the-scenes outrage from the powerful pro-Israel group AIPAC, featured Eric Alterman accusing AIPAC of campaigning for war in Iran, which Alterman described as its “big prize.”
Over at Media Matters, Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer turned apostate, labels American Israel hawks “Israel-firsters” and recently blasted Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, for pushing a sanctions on Iranian civilian aviation that would be “the most ugly expression yet of this country’s almost bizarre obsession with punishing Iran, its people along with its government.”
The debate that I have been following closely began when Salon writer Glenn Greenwald tried to elicit from Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg a confession that he (Goldberg) swore to put Israel first when he joined the Israeli Defence Forces. Goldberg’s response was an understandable “I don’t think I did that but so what if I did? It was 25 years ago”. Unperturbed, Greenwald still attacked Goldberg for his alleged victimisation of the poor guy, who keeps being “silenced” by people who don’t like his opinions.
Jeffrey Goldberg, who plants himself in the middle of every one of these orgies of anti-Semitism accusations, trotted out every trite accusatory line from the tired neocon playbook to attack me explicitly as an Israel-hater and, he strongly implied, as an anti-Semite (none of these accusations are accompanied by a single word I’ve said or even a link to anything I’ve written).
… As I said, these attacks are as boring and clichéd as they are predictable: every person who deviates from orthodoxy on Israel and opposes these neocon smear campaigns is automatically subjected to them. Israel-hater. Anti-Semite. Self-hating Jew. Etc. etc. I’m boring myself even summarizing it.
That Greenwald even wrote this is very revealing of his character. Goldberg is not widely liked amongst the more right-leaning of Israel’s supporters. For instance, here’s him writing to the Israeli PM, advocating for a withdrawal from the West Bank and calling Avigdor Lieberman an “international embarrassment”, hardly the orthodox pro-Israel line:
… Yes, risking your coalition means you would have to induce Tsipi Livni’s opposition Kadima party into the government, but now seems as good a moment as any. At the very least, you’ll gain a foreign minister who isn’t an international embarrassment. And you might convince at least a few settlers — those outside the security fence, especially — that it would be best for them to move back to Israel and reinvigorate Zionism.
It is hard to see how Goldberg could possibly wage a “smear campaign” against “every person who deviates from orthodoxy on Israel” when he himself deviates from said orthodoxy and is not generally one to self-deprecate.
The irony of Greenwald automatically labelling people “neocons” for not agreeing with his anti-Zionist orthodoxy while at the same time claiming that anyone who disagrees with the pro-Israel orthodoxy is automatically labelled “antisemitic” is apparently lost on Greenwald, but not on Spencer Ackerman.
If what Rosenberg and the others on the left want is a debate—by which I understand them to mean a debate about the wisdom of a war with Iran, and about the proper role of the U.S.-Israel relationship—great. The left, I think, will win that debate on the merits, because it recognizes that if Israel is to survive as a Jewish democracy living in peace beside a free Palestine, an assertive United States has to pressure a recalcitrant Israel to come to its senses, especially about the insanity of attacking Iran.
But that debate will be shut down and sidetracked by using a term that Charles Lindbergh or Pat Buchanan would be comfortable using. I can’t co-sign that. The attempt to kosherize “Israel Firster” is an ugly rationalization.
As Goldberg notes, the truly concerning point about the “Israel First” moniker is explained by Adam Kirsch in Tablet. Kirsch points out that the discourse surrounding supporters of Israel has changed over the past few years, largely thanks to the much-criticised The Israel Lobby by Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer. While Walt and Mearsheimer did not create the idea of a “pro-Israel Lobby” controlling US foreign policy, they definitely introduced it into the popular lexicon, giving a new way for antisemites and their sympathisers to speak of the age-old Jewish conspiracy in a slightly less transparent way than pointing at the ZOG (Zionist-Occupied Government).
But if The Israel Lobby has not changed American politics, it has had an insidious effect on the way people talk and think about Israel, and about the whole question of Jewish power. The first time I had this suspicion was when reading, of all things, a biography of H.G. Wells. In H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life, published in the U.K. in 2010, Michael Sherborne describes how Wells’ contempt for Nazism went along with a dislike for Judaism and Zionism, which he voiced in deliberately offensive terms even as Nazi persecution of Jews reached its peak. “To take on simultaneously the Nazis … and the Jewish lobby may have been foolhardy,” Sherborne writes apropos of Wells in 1938.
There’s no way to prove that Sherborne’s “Jewish lobby” is the intellectual descendant of Walt and Mearsheimer’s “Israel lobby,” but the inference seems like a strong one. Wells, the term suggests, was not attacking Jews, a group that in the Europe of the 1930s was conspicuous for its absolute powerlessness in the face of the evolving Nazi genocide. Instead, he was bravely standing up to a powerful “lobby,” an organization designed to punish critics of the Jews, and whose influence was on a par somehow with that of the Nazis.
What is disturbing in the Sherborne example is the way Walt and Mearsheimer’s conception of Jewish power is projected into a historical moment when it could not have been less accurate. In France during the Dreyfus Affair, it was common for anti-Semites and anti-Dreyfusards to speak of a Jewish syndicate that secretly ruled the country. Now, in the 21st century, it has once again become possible to speak of a Jewish “lobby” that it would be foolish to cross. One of the central premises of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy is that it takes unusual courage to oppose the Jews, since they use their power to ruthlessly suppress dissent in both the political world and the media. Walt and Mearsheimer place themselves on the side of the angels when they attack the Israel lobby’s “objectionable tactics, such as attempting to silence or smear anyone who challenges the lobby’s role or criticizes Israel’s actions.”
The problem with Walt and Mearsheimer is not that they are prima facie antisemitic, it’s that their theories come so close to antisemitism that genuine antisemites can use the cover of The Israel Lobby to mask their opinions. They provided a new platform for ancient conspiracies about Jews manipulating world affairs. For example, George Orwell once cited a common trope in British society in the 1940s that WWII was a “Jewish war” and Britain was only fighting it because of the Jewish Brits. This bears striking parallels to the Walt and Mearsheimer trope that the so-called “Israel Lobby” was responsible for America invading Iraq – something that was never an Israeli policy and is of questionable benefit to Israel in the first place. It also provides a way to begin questioning American Jewish loyalties to their country of residence.
For example, many of these accusatory articles accuse Haim Saban of being an “Israel Firster”, where he is painted as an American Jew who unwaveringly supports Israel and openly announces that Israel is his number one issue (for example, see Andrew Sullivan here), ignoring the fact that Saban is staunchly pro-Democrat and that he was raised in Israel and only emigrated to the US in his 20s.
There is undoubtedly a line between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism and it is important to bear this in mind. One of the easiest ways to tell whether something is genuinely antisemitic is to replace the word “Israel” or “Zionist” with the word “Jew” and see if it brings to mind any ugly stereotypes. That the “Israel Lobby” is increasingly becoming the “Jewish Lobby” should come as little surprise; it may be only a matter of time until “Jew First” becomes an acceptable epithet.
Mark Landler gives a run-down on the Naval face-offs that are starting to kick-off around the world. This is something that has not been such an issue for the last couple of decades, mostly because America had (and still does have) unassailable hegemony over the waters. That said, the Chinese have just built an aircraft carrier and Turkey is definitely posturing for dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean – provoking Israel in particular.
A couple of observations:
- It’s lucky that the US is taking this seriously, that needs to continue. The US cutting defence spending would give China carte-blanche to dominate the South Pacific and forcibly take all of the oil and natural gas fields there.
- This poses a direct threat to Australia. It is very much against our interests to have the Chinese navy pushing us back from South-East Asia. It is imperative therefore that we maintain a strong military alliance with the US.
- Obviously the world’s energy problems and the attendant violence is now moving away from the Middle East (or at least no longer isolated to that region). Again, this is concerning for Australia – our immediate neighbourhood could well be the next major conflict zone if the world goes the wrong way.
- The infographic from the article was also pretty good.
For China, the South China Sea has long been crucial as a supply route for oil and other raw materials to fuel its economy. China’s claims have deep historical roots, dating from the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists drew a dotted line in the shape of a cow’s tongue extending south of China, embracing most the sea and two disputed island chains, the Paracels and the Spratlys.
Quarrels over these hunks of volcanic rock wouldn’t matter much, except that China, Vietnam and the Philippines are running into one another in the race for oil. Last spring, in two separate incidents, Vietnam accused Chinese vessels of deliberately cutting the seismic survey cables of an oil exploration ship. A former American official said his nightmare scenario would be a Chinese warship’s firing on an Exxon oil-drilling ship.
If the South China Sea is simmering, then the eastern Mediterranean is seething. There, claims to huge natural-gas reserves off the coast of Cyprus and Lebanon have raised tensions with Turkey, which occupies half of Cyprus, as well as with Israel. Cyprus and Israel are drilling for gas, angering Turkey. The militant Islamic group Hezbollah, in Lebanon, has threatened to attack Israeli gas rigs.
Apparently this video has caused a worldwide controversy, because it shows — wait for it — SMOKING!!
Clearly the media has missed the fact that a guy with a serious moustache can’t give a real badass look into the camera without exhaling a lungful of carcinogens. Has no one ever seen a Clint Eastwood movie?
Meanwhile, if anyway can find a video with he iconic Simpsons moment referenced in the title, please post it in the comments or something. It seems surprisingly hard to come by.
I’m told there has been some kind of big stir in America because Mitt Romney said “corporations are people”. Take this for example:
In his quick, casual reply—corporations are people—Romney had seemed to give something away, though it wasn’t immediately clear what. The press chose to play the episode as a “gaffe,” as ABC’s Jake Tapper described it, a moment in which the weakness in Romney’s political pitch, the gap between his own privileged experience of the world and that of working-class voters, had been exposed. MSNBC, in a spate of giddy incredulity, seemed to keep the clip on loop for a week. But Romney’s own campaign managers did not try to obscure the episode at the state fair, to say he had been misunderstood or to secret it away. Instead they promoted it, as an advertisement of principle, and made the confrontation the centerpiece of a solicitation to supporters. A few days later, Romney’s communication director, Gail Gitcho, told the press that the exchange had raised $25,000 within 24 hours.
The incident, in retrospect, did less to peg Romney as a creature of privilege than it did to reveal something deeper. For Romney, the corporation has long been an object of a certain idealism. It is something he has spent much of his adult life—first as a management-strategy consultant, then as CEO of the private-equity firm Bain Capital—working to perfect, to strip of its inefficiencies until it might function as a perfectly frictionless economic unit.
Of course, everyone missed the point. It seems like the entire US press has overlooked something that any second-year law student could tell you. That is, corporations are people.
Don’t believe me? Here’s something Lord MacNaughten said in Salomon v Salomon  AC 22:
The company is at law a different person altogether from the subscribers to the memorandum; and, though it may be that after incorporation the business is precisely the same as it was before, and the same persons are managers, and the same hands receive the profits, the company is not in law the agent of the subscribers or trustee for them.
This goes right back to basic principles of what a corporation is – an entity designed to be separate from the people running it. It has its own interests and it is responsible for its own actions. Remember that a “person” is not the same as a “human”.
It is perfectly understandable that a retired priest wouldn’t have a strong grasp of this legal technicality, but the entire US media? For shame.
There are still too many people talking about Israeli intransigence. In the best rebuke that I have seen of Netanyahu’s various statements in the US last week (as in, the only one that didn’t read as if the author had presupposed that Bibi was wrong and then gone about finding reasons why), former mayor of Jerusalem Jeff Barak writes on why Bibi’s statements made negotiations and a peace deal look further off than ever. And to an extent, he’s not wrong.
This is inevitable, and it’s also the right move for those who wish to maintain Israel’s capital as a Jewish city. There is no escaping it.
As Jerusalem’s former mayor, I know this well, and it’s possible. Those who refuse to discuss it terminate the chances for a peace process. One can speak nicely, stir up rightist radicals and draw applause from the settlers, yet this will not bring peace, genuine negotiations or global understanding [of Israel’s position].”
INDEED, NETANYAHU’S remarks on Jerusalem slammed the door shut on any hope that his government had the slightest intention of entering into negotiations with the Palestinians. His stirring phrases might have boosted his standing in the opinion polls, but opinion polls do not change reality.
That said, there have been a lot of events spurring this supposed intransigence – there are some very good reasons why Israelis are giving up on peace. Elliot Abrahams, a prolific Middle East analyst from the Council on Foreign relations, has outlined all these, shedding light on exactly how far weak Palestinian leadership and confused policy from the Obama administration have allowed the situation to deteriorate.
The incoherence of U.S. policy is summed up in this passage from Obama’s AIPAC speech: “We know that peace demands a partner—which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist. . . . But the march to isolate Israel internationally—and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations—will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative.” So Israel cannot be expected to negotiate and it must start negotiating.
That is where the president stands after two years of involvement in Middle East peacemaking, and his problems are largely of his own making…We would not be where we are had all three men—Abbas, Netanyahu, Obama—not given up on each other, a striking failure in American diplomacy.
As Abraham points out, this is causing the Israeli public to feel increasingly isolated and jaded, rallying them around those who seem to be taking a principled stand against the pressure that they are receiving from all sides.
British novelist Howard Jacobson summed this up well on Australian TV recently, observing that everyone points fingers at Israelis without trying to understand exactly how they feel and why they do what they do.
The Israeli Government has to deal with the problem that the people with whom it must negotiate – some of the people with whom it must negotiate say you’ve got no right to exist. You do not have any. So they’re frightened. Well, blow me the Israelis are frightened. It’s not often understood how frightened Israelis are. They are there surrounded on all sides by people who would like them not to be there.
As Larry Derfner wrote in the the Jerusalem Post, this sense of fear and isolation leads to exactly the policies that then spark further condemnation, which continues the spiral toward further fear.
Remember the hysteria over the coriander menace? Until a year ago, we were stopping coriander and God knows how many other edibles from entering Gaza – in the name of national security! Then the Mavi Marmara sails for Gaza, we shoot it up, the pressure’s on again, and suddenly a long list of previously banned foods – yes, even coriander – is moving into Gaza, and suddenly no one wants to remember how mindless and sheep-like they were to take the army’s and government’s word that this insane policy was necessary to keep Israel safe.
This is the problem with all of the pressure on Israel and the relentless condemnation of everything Netanyahu does – ironically, rather than forcing Israel to make concessions and advancing whatever vestige of hope there may be for a resumption of negotiations, it only increases the Israeli public’s sense of helplessness and drives public opinion to the right. As Abrahams points out, Israelis have made concessions in the past not under fierce condemnation, but rather when they feel that whoever is asking for concessions is on their side and that they are not the only side being forced to do so.
All of this makes life harder for Israel and in a way easier for Prime Minister Netanyahu. When a deeply sympathetic American president asks for concessions and compromises and appears able to cajole some from the Palestinians, which was the Clinton/Rabin and Bush/Sharon combination, Israel must respond. When a president most Israelis regard as hostile pushes them while the PLO leadership turns to Hamas, most Israelis will back Netanyahu’s tough response.
It is absurd to suggest that peace is ebbing away because of Netanyahu. He may have been a factor, but there has been a dramatic failure from the Palestinian Authority and the US to do anything conducive to a dialogue or compromise. At the moment, it looks like the best idea would be to top trying to make peace…and rather, start trying to prevent a war from breaking-out.
Now that the celebrations are dying down (and it’s not often that a death is such cause for celebration), we need to be a little more grounded about the implications of this assassination. There have been a lot of claims thrown-around recently – verging from a little naive to downright stupid. Let’s set a few of the facts straight here:
(Note: I’m not going to bother proving that Bin Laden was behind 9/11. If you believe this to be false, please seek help).
1) al-Qaeda is not finished
This is the unfortunate reality that we have to face. Bin Laden was the co-founder and leader of Al Qaeda, but he was not directly behind every terror attack in the world.
Unfortunately, the damage has been done already. Bin Laden’s “contribution” to the Islamic world was the idea of distinguishing between the “enemy nearby” and the “enemy far away”. To summarise a very complex history, Nazi propaganda attributing all of the world’s ills to the Jews was translated into Arabic and given Koranic justifications by the Grand Mufti of Palestine in the 1930s and 40s as part of his alliance with Hitler. This formed what is now Islamic Antisemitism – previously in the Islamic world, Jews had been viewed as weak and cowardly, but combined with Nazi ideology, there was now a European-esque notion of a global conspiracy to destroy Islam being orchestrated by a malicious cabal of Jews (for more on this, see The Flight of The Intellectuals by Paul Berman.)
These ideas then permeated the early Islamist ideology and gestated to the point where half a century later, Bin Laden used them to boost his ailing organisation by declaring a Jihad on the West (see al Qaeda In Its Own Words by Gilles Kepel and Jean-Pierre Milelli). He imagined a “Zio-Crusader alliance” controlling the (as he saw them) “infidel” regimes in charge of the Muslim states. He spread the idea that to truly re-establish the Caliphate (Islamic superstate), Muslims must strike not at their immediate enemies, but those allegedly pulling the strings – the US and their allies.
Al Qaeda has been decimated as an organisation since 9/11 and for many years has not been a centralised structure, but rather a “franchise” with offshoots in various regions (for a discussion of this, see How al-Qaeda Works by Leah Farrell for Foreign Affairs). The reality is that Bin Laden can be quickly replaced by his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Al Qaeda can continue to inspire and fund various partner organisations around the world.
So while this is a great symbolic triumph and may have some long term impact, we can’t start packing-away the metal detectors and arranging flights out of Kandahar just yet. In fact, in the short term, this assassination could well spark a series of reprisals around the world. We need to be weary.
2) Pakistan is dangerous
As Bruce Loudon observes in The Australian.
But after years of the ISI double-dealing with terrorists and now the revelation that bin Laden was living in the heart of a garrison town virtually next door to the nation’s military academy and only a couple of hours’ drive north of the capital, Islamabad, Pakistani authorities cannot expect to escape the sort of questions that are now being asked.
There are conflicting opinions over whether or not Pakistan was actively harbouring Bin Laden, but I am pretty convinced that this is the case. Again from The Australian‘s excellent analysis, Greg Sheridan observes that:
Obama naturally praised Pakistan for its co-operation in the operation against Osama. Frankly, what else could he do? The Pakistanis have perhaps a hundred nuclear weapons. No US president can afford to alienate them altogether.
…It is utterly implausible that any international figure of note could hide in a mansion near Islamabad without the knowledge of the Pakistani intelligence services. Completely impossible.
If the Pakistani government did not know, it is the most incompetent government in the world. If it did know, then it was intentionally sheltering the most dangerous and infamous terrorist of our time.
The double-game being played by Pakistan is a major problem in the world today – it may even be the biggest threat to global security, given that Iran has not yet developed a nuclear weapon and America has not quite lost its dominant position. Pakistan is a nuclear power, so must be dealt with very carefully – but it seems to be slipping further and further into Islamism. If the Pakistani Taliban get hold of a nuclear weapon, the consequences don’t bear thinking about.
Bin Laden’s assassination had many benefits – it was a strong warning to all terrorists that the US can get them anywhere at any time. It was a symbolic victory for the West in general and the US in particular and will raise morale in dark times and vindicate our efforts to rid the world of the ideological plague that Bin Laden spread. Most importantly, justice has been served. That said, we can’t lose sight of the dangers still facing us and must continue to fight Bin Laden’s ideology of hatred and violence wherever it may be found.
(Photos: Foreign Policy)