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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Israel’s Raid

Behind the BP disaster, Israel’s raid on an aid convoy of ships is the other big story of the moment.  I don’t share the view of many that this was a great use of force on Israel’s part.  It seems like they overplayed their hand from a P.R. standpoint, even if some of the people on the ship were unsavory.  It also seems they have alienated their longstanding best friend in the Muslim world, Turkey.  That said, I don’t think the U.S. should go out on a limb on this front.  The Gaza Strip has made its own bed by electing Hamas.  It is a lot to ask for Israel to even tolerate the existence of this terror-run regime right next store to it.  There is an air of unreality about Europe’s and Obama’s attempts to get the peace process begun again so long as Hamas is given any kind of respectability in the Palestinian political order.  Gaza has descended mightily under its leadership and Israel’s consequent isolation of this small piece of land.  But even someone ill disposed to Israel must realize there is no reason from its own self-interested perspective to do any business with a group that has no moderate elements and no likelihood of using any “peace process” for anything but continued low level war against Israel through kidnappings and rocket attacks.  There may be some justice in the generic Palestinian claim for a homeland and compensation for their expulsion from their native lands, but even justice must give way to reality when it asks the stronger party for an accomadation.

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David Frum has a good piece on how Obama’s convoluted rhetoric–the classic politician’s trick of trying to make everyone happy–will soon crash into reality in the Obama administration.

Consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  During the campaign, Obama like most U.S. politicians expressed the usual loyalty to Israel.  But he also suggested he’d be more hands on and effective than Bush in resolving the long-standing conflict.  The latter is highly unlikely, of course, not least because the demented Hamas leadership is in charge of the Palestinian Authority and the bitter grievances on both sides.  But now he must say something about who is chiefly at fault this time and whether the response to that fault is legitimate and proportional, and, in so doing, he risks alienating human rights activists and progressives who are typically critical of Israel’s tactics and the humanitarian problems they exacerbate and, on the other side, he risks offending supporters of Israel within and without the Democratic Party who represent a major source of domestic power.

My own nationalist position of strategic disengagement is clear, consistent, and far outside the mainstream.  But if it were widely adopted, we could judge an Obama on how he affects our own lives and not by how he sponsors one side or the other in complicated conflicts that have little to do with the United States halfway around the world, whether it’s a conflict of Russia in Ossetia, Israel in Gaza, or Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers for that matter.

From Blagojevich to Gaza, Obama is learning even before he takes office that it’s not quite so easy to govern as it is to give a speech.  But, hey, at least we have Change!

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If Obama’s foreign policy is sometimes incoherent, Hillary’s is simply Bush-lite.  Her recent essay in Foreign Affairs reveals herself as someone who does not depart substantially from the globalist paradigm of Bush and President Clinton, with the main difference being her greater faith in “diplomacy.”  In a world where many nations’ interests involve knocking America down in prestige and power, this is simply wishful thinking of the worst sort.  It’s essentially the foreign policy espoused earlier by John Kerry.  It is vague about how she will fight terrorism, focusing instead on a policy of supporting the people that will clean up the pieces in the wake of an attack, the lauded “first responders.” 

The flaws in Hillary Clinton’s basic perspective are never more apparent than in her discussion of one of the major foreign policy failure of the last decade, the payoff deal given to North Korea to cease its nuclear programs.  This deal was brokered by Jimmy Carter and signed off by President Clinton and promised North Korea money to cease its nuclear arms programs after it had essentially threatened the West with its arsenal.  She writes: 

Like Iran, North Korea responded to the Bush administration’s effort to isolate it by accelerating its nuclear program, conducting a nuclear test, and building more nuclear weapons. Only since the State Department returned to diplomacy have we been able, belatedly, to make progress.

Actually, North Korea was undertaking all these programs after the deal when it promised it would not do so.  Nothing in Bush’s “axis of evil” remark could have set off such a massive undertaking.  The money paid off by the ’94 Clinton Deal enabled the North Korean regime by giving it much-needed financial and material support.  As I wrote earlier:

I can’t say I blame Clinton for not discovering North Korea violations and weapons plans earlier. The secret North Korean regime is notoriously hard for our spies to penetrate. But I do fault him for thinking he could bribe a criminal regime like this into behaving sensibly. The basic concept of the agreement was the problem, and the end result was more or less inevitable. Even the most minimally rationally black-mailer, once he’s been paid, has an incentive to seek more. And that’s exactly what North Korea’s been trying to accomplish ever since. Clinton’s plan was all carrot and no stick. Bush has been tasked with cleaning up a mess that he did not create, where he did not fail to negotiate real security guarantees, and under the threat of a far more substantial North Korean weapons capability.

On top of its flawed concepts, Clinton’s lengthy essay provides little guidance as to when and where diplomacy is necessary or unlikely to be of use, nor does it articulate when force is needed and under what circumstances she would use it.  For instance, does she embrace the “humanitarian wars” concept of President Clinton?  Does she think a UN mandate is always necessary (after all, her husband did not in Kosovo)? Does she recognize that certain irrational players on the world stage, such as A-Jod in Iran, may not respond to the same incentives as less ideological and religiously-tinged leaders?  Finally, does she recognize any inherent or at least structural tension between the Western World and the Islamic world?  She’s either silent or vague on these issues.  The world Muslim only comes up in referring to her support for “building a Muslim democracy in Afghanistan.”

Bush has been a disaster on foreign policy because he is a liberal.  He believes in spreading democracy, the universality of American values, and the necessity of idealism in our foreign policy.  He also has been incompetent, using tough talk without backing up words with appropriate action, alienating potential friends like Russia, using democracy as a substitute for the necessity of real security in Iraq, and being diffident and inarticulate about the need for intelligence-gathering against al Qaeda.  There is no reason to think Clinton will not be worse in all these respects, even if she is accepted more readily by the Europeans. 

Let’s not forget that it is al Qaeda, China, Iran, and Russia who matter most in the next President’s foreign policy.  On all four matters, the first President Clinton, embracing a very similar view as Hillary was a disaster.  Al Qaeda grew in strength and planned 9/11 during his watch.  China grew stronger military and economically under his watch, and its increasing trade with the West did not liberalize its internal affairs as promised.  Iran continued to support terrorism during Clinton’s more mild presidency and was linked to the Khobar Towers bombing without any retaliation on his part.  Finally, Russia grew increasingly alienated from the West during Clinton and Bush’s presidency because both presidents desired to expand NATO, criticized Russia on Chechnya (where it’s fighting al Qaeda and its allies), and both meddled in Russia’s internal affairs and elections.  Clinton may not be loony on foreign policy, but liberals and conservatives alike should expect many of the same problems as Bush has had, coupled with the likely disappointments that the deus ex machina of diplomacy will foster.  These problems will persist because both Hillary Clinton and Bush use liberal ideas–the importance of the UN, democracy (including among our allies), and human rights–as guides when hard-headed realism about diplomacy and the use of force is needed.

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While I don’t always agree with him, I do think Charles Krauthammer is one of the most articulate observers of foreign policy and often makes a great deal of sense, particularly when he’s adhering to realism and not getting distracted by his monomania on certain Near Eastern countries.  His discussion of why the Democrats persisted on their Armenian gambit is quite sensible:

So why has Pelosi been so committed to bringing this resolution to the floor? (At least until a revolt within her party and the prospect of defeat caused her to waver.) Because she is deeply unserious about foreign policy. This little stunt gets added to the ledger: first, her visit to Syria, which did nothing but give legitimacy to Bashar al-Assad, who continues to engage in the systematic murder of pro-Western Lebanese members of parliament; then, her letter to Costa Rica’s ambassador, just nine days before a national referendum, aiding and abetting opponents of a very important free-trade agreement with the United States.

Is the Armenian resolution her way of unconsciously sabotaging the U.S. war effort, after she had failed to stop it by more direct means? I leave that question to psychiatry. Instead, I fall back on Krauthammer’s razor (with apologies to Occam): In explaining any puzzling Washington phenomenon, always choose stupidity over conspiracy, incompetence over cunning. Anything else gives them too much credit.

It’s really true that many of the bad things that big organizations do can be explained conspiratorially, when really a combination of bad luck, group think, and sheer stupidity often turn out to be the real causes.

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In between his paeans to folks in Bangalore wearing Nike shoes and drinking Starbucks coffee while talking on their Samsung phones, Thomas Friedman also likes to write about foreign policy. He infamously declared every six months for three years running that the situation in Iraq was critical and, by implication, that if things did not sort themselves out that the war was essentially lost. He never felt obliged to revisit his previous predications. He also quietly started speaking out against the war after positioning himself earlier as one of its most sentimental cheerleaders.

But now he’s turned a new corner. His banality and faddishness have fully joined forces with his peerless capacity for observing the mundane through the lens of a well-traveled propagandist for globalization. He basically has declared the war on al Qaeda won and the events of 9/11 over-played and, therefore, unimportant for the next election. No hidebound slave to the past, he writes:

I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.

What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.

I guess I missed that great day, some two or three years ago, where representatives of al Qaeda stood on the deck of the USS Nimitz and signed formal documents of surrender. Has Friedman not noticed the recent attacks on Glasgow airport, al Qaeda’s massacres of civilians in Iraq, the radicalization of European Muslims, the Paris riots, and the Bali, Madrid, and London bombings? We’ve not had a significant domestic attack after the various resrictions Friedman complains about were put in place. His failure to notice this bona fide success is analogous to the liberal complaint about “warehousing criminals,” even though the last decade of increased incarceration has also led to a significant reduction in violent crime. One of the worst things about Friedman, and one of his great deficiencies as a columnist, is his failure to refocus the public’s attention on important, though easily forgotten, matters of importance. He instead loves the ephemeral, as evidenced by his vulgar habit of dropping brand names to show how we all consume the same things world-wide.

Al Qaeda is real. It means us harm. Within its ranks, one finds motivated personnel who have shown a remarkable combination of cunning, high concept operations, and willingness to exploit our tendency towards forgetfulness and complacency. The post 9/11 changes on the border and outside our borders–including the establishment of GITMO and the increase of monitoring of visitors to the US–mean that American citizens can live more securely and with fewer restrictions upon ourselves. As I’ve noted before, the false freedom of open borders means less freedom of movement and security at home. Instead of coining useless new phrases–like al Qaeda 2.0–Friedman should use his powers of rhetoric to envision the results of al Qaeda’s next attack, perhaps an exploding LNG tanker in Boston or a hijacked cargo jet hitting the Sears Tower or a company of urban snipers slipping in through Mexico.

Friedman does not understand that the very openness he wants to return to was, in part, the cause of the various security lapses that led to 9/11. The government and private industry maintained a culture of willful blindness and wishful thinking. Frieman tells us we need to be more open and solicitous of the opinions of the rest of the world, and, to appease our critics, we must close GITMO and create procedures to faciliate easier access for business travellers. He intones, “Those who don’t visit us, don’t know us.” My God. Has Friedman not noticed that sometimes people visit us, hate us more, and use their visits to kill lots of us, e.g., Atta, Qutb.

It’s true, there has been a great deal of water under the bridge since 9/11 on how best to deal with al Qaeda; in particular, the strategy of forcible democratization of the Middle East seems entirely discredited by events in Iraq. But the problems of the Iraq War do not mean that al Qaeda is no longer a big deal or that we can turn our attention to the things that Friedman really gets excited about like gadgets and smart foreigners with similar, transnational values.

Friedman is the most prominent champion of globalization in the American media. He undoubtedly endures endless sleights, sincere pleading, and criticism from Davos People for America’s alleged crudeness and insensitivity. With his latest column, Friedman has guaranteed access to the finest cocktail parties in Davos and Geneva and Paris and Durban for years to come. At the same time, he has disqualified himself from being taken seriously by Americans who are concerned about American security.

There is little accountability in journalism. People make predictions that do not come true and still continue to earn a living. I want this stupid column plastered everywhere the next time al Qaeda manages to undertake a successful attack, which, sadly, is almost certainly inevitable.

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David Bernstein asks this question at the Volokh website.  He raises a number of good points, including probably insoluble ones about whether we can generalize about the ethnic character of any ideology held only by certain members of a group.  After all, most American Jews are not neoconservatives, either explicitly or otherwise. 

But his and others’ virulent opposition to such a characterization has an air of insecurity.  After all, most neoconservatives are Jewish, and they famously support Israel in all of its endeavors (other than displays of weakness or compromise).  Some explicitly defended the Iraq adventure on the grounds that it was good for Israel.

In the contentious discussion, no one acknowledged or defended the problematic application of dual standards by neoconservatives themselves.  Neoconservatives routinely criticize Muslims and Arabs as evil, speaking with forked tongues, and as disloyal to the Western World and its values. They similarly criticize Christians, most viciously in their attacks on Mel Gibson’s Passion.  Why is generalization about the ethnic and religious character of these groups appropriate, while none whatsoever is appropriate about neoconservatives themselvess, especially when such a characterization finds numerous facts in support.  After all, the neoconservatives’ flagship magazine is a publication of the “American Jewish Committee,”  and it is pretty easy to connect the dots between interests and policy in this case, particularly on the issues of immigration and Israel.

More important, if neoconservatives and neoconservatism aren’t Jewish in character, then why is it anti-Semitic to say that neocons are wrongheaded, stupid, unusually entranced by the interests of a nation with whom we have no defense treaty, and totally indifferent to America’s historic ethnic composition? I mean, can’t we just say these things on the merits without constantly being called anti-Semitic?  Since a great deal of ink is spent by neoconservatives on the Jewish Character of Jewish Thinkers, it seems fair that the Jewish character of neoconservatives and other thinkers can be looked at in less hagiographic ways.  It’s simply a debater’s trick for ethnicity and religion to be a one-way ratchet, whereby ethnicity is invoked to bestow praise and dignitas, but also used as a canard when that same identity is brought up in negative ways.

On this matter, I’ve always enjoyed this excellent and very honest contribution by Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic:

It is not true that the moral life is lived only individually, even if acts of good or evil are the work of individuals acting together or alone. Individuals belong to groups, and it is a cost or a benefit of their belonging that they are morally implicated by their groups, which are moral agents, too. One can oppose the misdeeds of one’s group, but one cannot secede from it, I mean not neatly after the fact.

For this reason, I am not hurt when I am interrogated about the misdeeds of Jews or the misdeeds of Americans, because I have chosen to be known as a Jew and as an American. I understand why they are coming to me with their questions, even with their slanders. I accept that I have some explaining (or refuting or apologizing) to do. To be sure, I am not just a member of my groups, I am also an individual whom they cannot entirely reach or entirely rule; but I cannot hide behind the fact of my individuation, behind the doctrine of individual responsibility, when the going gets rough.

So, what’s my point? It is a fairly mundane one.  Neoconservatives themselves tell us that their ideology is partly a Jewish movement that asks the old question of any policy:  “Is It Good For the Jews?” Neoconservatism is also a type of “liberalism with guts” that contains strong and influential views on foreign policy. But this variant of liberalism has especially great appeal among a group whose interests and historical way of life matched liberalism’s handmaiden, modernism itself—individualistic, mobile, unrooted to time or place. This viewpoint demands a universalist foreign policy for the nascent universalist nation, which will be made more “pure” in time with mass immigration. 

In this new “nation” that is not creedal accidentally, but is by design united in nothing else, no minority will stand out, and no minority group at home or abroad will have to go undefended. This principle of a universal obligation to protect the universal values of democratic capitalism applies most especially to the Jewish nation surrounded as it is by illiberal Arab wolves in the Middle East.  The historic American nation and people will be obliterated.  But their sins—racism, the delayed entry into WWII, the 1924 Immigration Act—will be atoned for once and for all by this new universalist entity fighting for democratic capitalist values the world over.  We’ll even have a non-American military to boot if Max Boot has his way. 

Neoconservatism is an imposter with little relationship to authentic conservatism, which is rooted in the actual and the historical.  Neoconservatism’s differences start with its fundamental liberalism.  Like any liberalism, neoconservatism  is hostile to the historical American nation and attractive to many Jews, because the historical American nation–the nation of WASP Presidents, the English language, Ivy league quotas, discriminatory private clubs, nepotism, and blue laws–is one in which Jews would always be, at least in part, outsiders and a minority. 

One can defend this ideology on its own terms.  Certainly some of its contributions are quite valuable.  But the sinusoidal embrace and rejection of the Jewish character of neoconservatism is insulting to the intelligence of ordinary people.

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