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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Arab World’

The Truth About Syria

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

If you are interested in reading more about Syria, you’re welcome to read my book The Truth About Syria online or download it for free.

WHY SYRIA MATTERS

“It is my pleasure to meet with you in the new Middle East,” said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a speech to the Syrian Journalists’ Union on August 15, 2006.1 But Bashar’s new Middle East was neither the one hoped for by many since Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s 1991 defeat in Kuwait nor expected when Bashar himself ascended the throne in 2000. Actually, it was not even new at all but rather a reversion, often in remarkable detail, to the Middle East of the 1950s through the 1980s. The Arab world, now accompanied by Iran, was re-embracing an era that was an unmitigated disaster for itself and extolling ideas and strategies which had repeatedly led it to catastrophe.

No Arab state had more to do with this important and tragic turnabout than does Syria, this development’s main architect and beneficiary. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Arab states wanted quiet; Iraq needed peace to rebuild itself. Even Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi, pressed by sanctions and scared by his Iraqi counterpart Saddam’s fate, was on his good behavior. Only Syria remained as a source of instability and radicalism.

Thus, a small state with a modest economy became the fulcrum on which the Middle East shifted and which, in turn, shook the globe. Indeed, Bashar’s version of the new Middle East may well persist for an entire generation. Does this make Bashar a fool or a genius? That cannot be determined directly. What can be said is that his policy is good for the regime, simultaneously brilliant and disastrous for Syria, and just plain disastrous for many others.

To understand Syria’s special feature, it is best to heed the all-important insight of a Lebanese-American scholar, Fouad Ajami: “Syria’s main asset, in contrast to Egypt’s preeminence and Saudi wealth, is its capacity for mischief.”

In the final analysis, the aforementioned mischief was in the service of regime maintenance, the all-encompassing cause and goal of the Syrian government’s behavior. Demagoguery, not the delivery of material benefits, is the basis of its power.

Why have those who govern Syria followed such a pattern for more than six decades under almost a dozen different regimes? The answer: Precisely because the country is a weak one in many respects. Aside from lacking Egypt’s power and Saudi Arabia’s money, it also falls short on internal coherence due to its diverse population and minority-dominated regime. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein used repression, ideology, and foreign adventures to hold together a system dominated by Sunni Arab Muslims who were only one-fifth of the population. In Syria, even more intense measures were needed to sustain an Alawite regime that rules based on a community only half as large proportionately.

To survive, then, the regime needs transcendent slogans and passionate external conflicts that help make its problems disappear. Arabism and, in more recent years, Islamism, are its solution. In this light, Syria’s rulers can claim to be not a rather inept, corrupt dictatorship but the rightful leaders of all Arabs and the champions of all Muslims. Their battle cries are very effectively used to justify oppression at home and aggression abroad. No other country in the world throws around the word “imperialism” more in describing foreign adversaries, and yet no other state on the globe follows a more classical imperialist policy.

In broad terms, this approach is followed by most, if not all, Arab governments, but Syria offers the purest example of the system. As for the consequences, two basic principles are useful to keep in mind:

1. It often seemed as if the worse Syria behaved, the better its regime does. Syrian leaders do not accept the Western view that moderation, compromise, an open economy, and peace are always better. When Syria acts radical, up to a point of course, it maximizes its main asset—causing trouble—which cancels out all its other weaknesses. As a dictatorship, militancy provided an excuse for tight controls and domestic popularity through its demagoguery.

2. Success for the regime and state means disaster for the people, society, and economy. The regime prospers by keeping Syrians believing that the battle against America and Israel, not freedom and prosperity, should be their top priority. External threats are used to justify internal repression. The state’s control over the economy means lower living standards for most while simultaneously preserving a rich ruling elite with lots of money to give to its supporters.

Palestinians Accuse Peace Negotiators of Treason

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

At the request of the Palestinian Authority leadership, the first round of peace talks with Israel, which was launched in Jerusalem on August 14, was held away from the media spotlight.

The Palestinian Authority leadership requested that no journalist or photographer be permitted to cover the meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

Even the location of the peace talks was kept a secret, again at the request of the Palestinian Authority leadership.

The Palestinian Authority’s request for secrecy in the peace talks does not stem from its desire to secure the success of the negotiations.

It is not as if the Palestinian Authority is saying: We care so much about the peace talks that we prefer to avoid media coverage in order to make sure that the peace process succeeds.

The main reason the Palestinian Authority does not want the media to cover the peace talks is related to its fear of the reactions of Palestinians and the Arab world.

Mahmoud Abbas is already facing widespread opposition among Palestinians to his controversial decision — which was taken under heavy pressure from US Secretary of State John Kerry — to return to the negotiating table with Israel.

When the heads of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, met in Washington earlier this month to announce the launching of the peace talks, many Palestinians and Arabs seized the opportunity to ridicule Erekat and accuse the Palestinian Authority leadership of treason.

A photo of Erekat and Livni standing together in Washington has since been exploited by Facebook and Twitter activists to hurl insults and profanity at the chief Palestinian negotiator.

Palestinian sources in Ramallah said that Erekat felt so offended by the insults and obscene language directed against him that he decided that there was no need for “photo op” with Livni or any other Israeli.

Both Abbas and Erekat are fully aware of the growing opposition among Palestinians and Arabs to the resumption of the peace talks with Israel under the terms of the US Administration.

That is why the two men do not want to be seen sitting in a room with any Israeli representative. They know that any photo of Erekat and Livni shaking hands or sitting together would provide their enemies with additional ammunition.

Those who think that the opposition to the peace talks is coming only from Hamas and other radical groups are either ignorant or turning a blind eye to the reality.

When Abbas agreed to resume the peace talks with Israel, he went against the recommendation of the PLO leadership, whose members rejected Kerry’s attempts to force the Palestinian Authority president to abandon two of his pre-conditions — namely, that Israel accept the pre-1967 lines as the basis for negotiations and freeze all construction in settlements and east Jerusalem neighborhoods.

Last week, the PLO officials once again reminded Abbas of their opposition to the peace talks.

During an August 15 meeting in Ramallah, several PLO leaders told Abbas that they remained opposed “in principle” to the idea of resuming peace talks with Israel under the current circumstances.

The only Palestinian official who has come out in public to voice support for Abbas’s move is the powerless Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah.

Abbas and Erekat know that Hamdallah’s public endorsement of the peace talks does not carry any weight. After all, Hamdallah is an unelected public servant with no grassroots support or political base.

To further complicate matters for Abbas and Erekat, several Palestinian factions are now in the process of forming a “national alliance” the main goal of which is to thwart any deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This rejectionist front will consist of various PLO and other factions and organizations and could create many problems for the Palestinian Authority.

But there is another reason why the Palestinian Authority leadership does not want media coverage of the peace talks. For many years, the Palestinian Authority has been supporting boycott campaigns against Israel, as well as organizations combating “normalization” with Israelis.

If Palestinian children are condemned for playing football with Israelis, why should it be acceptable for Erekat to be talking with Livni?

Palestinian Authority leaders can only blame themselves for the growing opposition to the peace talks with Israel. Palestinian leaders have simply not prepared their people for peace. These leaders have, instead, delegitimized Israel to a point where it has become a “crime” for any Palestinian to be photographed talking to, or negotiating with, any Israeli.

Qatar’s Risky Overreach

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Originally pubished at The Investigative Project on Terrorism.

With seemingly limitless wealth and a penchant for often supporting both sides of the argument, the State of Qatar has become a highly significant player in Middle East power-politics. Recent events in Egypt and Syria, however, have put the brakes on Qatar’s ambitions. In this second part of his analysis of its attempt to influence regional politics, Paul Alster considers how much its flamboyant foreign policy, centered on furthering the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood, might be coming back to haunt Qatar.

July 3 was not a good day for Mohammed Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood’s man was ousted from power after just a year as Egypt’s president, having lost the essential confidence of the country’s powerful military leaders. July 3 was also a black day for the State of Qatar, the country which had nailed its colors and its money firmly to the Muslim Brotherhood mast, and which suddenly found itself the target of outrage on the Egyptian street and beyond.

Morsi came to power in a democratic election, but misinterpreted the meaning of democracy. He and his Muslim Brotherhood backers – primarily Qatar – appeared to believe that having won the election, they could run the country according to their decree, not according to democratic principles as the majority had expected. A series of draconian laws, a spiralling economic crisis, and a feeling on the Egyptian street that the Muslim Brotherhood was paid handsomely by foreign forces, spurred street protests of historic proportions, prompting the military to intervene.

With Morsi gone, Qatar suddenly became “persona non grata” in Egypt.

Qatar sought to extend its influence and Muslim Brotherhood-inspired view of how countries like Egypt, Syria, Libya, and others should be. Qatar was also playing a power-game against Saudi Arabia, another hugely wealthy regional power whose vision of an even more strictly Islamist way of life for Muslims drove a wedge between the two parties.

Another seismic change hit the region just nine days before Morsi’s fall. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani – in power since overthrowing his own father back in 1995 – voluntarily abdicated in favor of his 33-year-old son, Sheikh Tamim.

Tamim, educated in England and a graduate of the prestigious Sandhurst Military Academy, became the region’s youngest leader, with the eyes of the world watching to see if he would maintain his father’s aggressive policy of extending Qatar’s regional influence. Few could have imagined that he would very quickly find himself at the center of a major political crisis as Egypt – a country in which Qatar had so much credibility and money invested – imploded before his eyes.

Within hours of Morsi’s departure, the streets of Cairo were awash with anti-Qatari banners accompanied by the obligatory anti-US and anti-Israel slogans. Al Jazeera – a staunch promoter of the Muslim Brotherhood view in Egypt – was vilified, its reporters attacked on the streets, its offices ransacked. Al Jazeera also had been hit seven months earlier after supporting Mohammed Morsi’s crackdown on young Egyptian demonstrators opposed to the rapid Islamisation of Egypt under the new government.

In the first part of my analysis of Qatar’s policy in the region, I focused on Al Jazeera’s huge influence on opinion in the Arab world and the West, portraying the Qatari-Muslim Brotherhood version of events in a way that the uninformed viewer might believe to be objective reporting. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Al Jazeera’s carefully crafted smokescreen as the moderate voice of the Arab world has taken a significant battering with the events in Egypt. That should serve as a wake-up call to those trumpeting the imminent launch of Al Jazeera America scheduled for August 20.

“There is a lingering perception in the U.S. –right or wrong – that the network [Al Jazeera] is somehow associated with terrorism, which could slow its progress in gaining carriage,” Variety Magazine‘s Brian Steinberg suggested last month.

Dubai-based writer Sultan Al Qassemi observed in Al-Monitor: “Qatar has dedicated Al Jazeera, the country’s most prized non-financial asset, to the service of the Muslim Brotherhood and turned it into what prominent Middle East scholar Alain Gresh [editor of Le Monde diplomatique and a specialist on the Middle East] calls a ‘mouthpiece for the Brotherhood.’” The channel has in turn been repeatedly praised by the Brotherhood for its ‘neutrality.’”

The Economist, reporting in January, reflected the growing dissatisfaction amongst many in the Arab world. “Al Jazeera’s breathless boosting of Qatari-backed rebel fighters in Libya and Syria, and of the Qatar-aligned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, have made many Arab viewers question its veracity. So has its tendency to ignore human-rights abuses by those same rebels, and its failure to accord the uprising by the Shia majority in Qatar’s neighbor, Bahrain, the same heroic acclaim it bestows on Sunni revolutionaries.”

In June, a vocal and agitated group of nearly 500 protesters took to the streets in Benghazi, Libya – the city where U.S Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three colleagues were killed last fall – demanding that Qatar stop meddling in Libyan internal affairs.

“Much of the opposition was directed at Qatar which protesters claimed was supporting Libyan Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Middle East Online reported at the time. “Analysts believe that Qatar is trying to take advantage from a scenario repeated in both Tunisia and Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood, which was an active participant in revolutions, seized power,” the story said.

To the casual observer, it might appear strange that the country that was perhaps as instrumental as any in helping bring about the downfall of the hated Colonel Muammar Gadaffi in Libya back in 2011 should be the target of such vitriol. Qatar, a close U. S. ally, was the main conduit through which weapons transfers were made to Libyan rebels who eventually overpowered forces loyal to the long-time dictator.

As Libyans attempt to create a new order in their fractured country, many now believe that the Qatari regime’s Salafist sympathies contribute to a growing influence of radical Islamist groups in Libya with similar ideological beliefs to the Qatari royals. Concerns had surfaced as early as January 2012.

“But with [Muammar] Gaddafi dead and his regime a distant memory, many Libyans are now complaining that Qatari aid has come at a price,” reported Time magazine’s Steven Sotloff. “They say Qatar provided a narrow clique of Islamists with arms and money, giving them great leverage over the political process.”

Sotloff quoted former National Transitional Council (NTC) Deputy Prime Minister Ali Tarhouni as saying, “I think what they [Qatar] have done is basically support the Muslim Brotherhood. They have brought armaments and they have given them to people that we don’t know.”

And then there’s the question of Qatar’s meddling in Syria’s civil war.

“I think there are two [Qatari] sources of mostly ‘soft’ power – their money and Al Jazeera,” Amos Yadlin, former head of Israeli military intelligence, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism. “They are using their soft power to advance their regional goals. In Libya it was not necessarily a negative. In Syria they are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood [allied to the Free Syrian Army].”

“Now, what you have to assess,” Yadlin continued, “is whether the Muslim Brotherhood is better than Bashar [al-Assad], and whether the Muslim Brotherhood is better than the Jihadists and the Al Nusra Front [supported by Saudi Arabia].”

Yadlin’s pragmatic view reflects the dilemma of many considering intervention on behalf of the rebel forces in Syria. Is it better to try to arm the moderate elements of the FSA and have them replace the Assad regime? Would risking weapons supplied by the West and countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia falling into the wrong hands, possibly usher in an even more dangerous Jihadist regime that could destabilise the region even further?

Qatar played on these fears by presenting the Muslim Brotherhood as a relatively moderate force, but many now fear it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and no less dangerous than the Al Nusra Front terror group, which was added to the UN sanctions blacklist May 31.

Writing for the Russian website Oriental Review.org on May 23, Alexander Orlov reminded readers that Qatar was on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism during the 1990s, and sheltered Saudi nationals who were later revealed to have contributed to the 9/11 atrocities. He suggests that the U.S. turned a blind eye to Qatar’s previous record in return for using the massive Al Udeid facility as a forward command post in 2003 for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Orlov reminds us that Qatar was a major financier of the Islamist rebellion in Chechnya in the 1990s, and that after the Islamists had been routed by the Russian army, the [now former] Qatari emir gave sanctuary to one of the most wanted leaders of the Islamist rebellion, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a figure who has inspired Chechen Islamists ever since. Yandarbiyev was subsequently assassinated by a car bomb in the Qatari capital Doha in 2004.

Qatar long ago signed up to the Muslim Brotherhood cause. It believed that this alliance would promote Qatar to being the foremost player in Sunni Muslim affairs at the expense of its main rival, Saudi Arabia. Recent events suggest that gamble may have blown up in its face.

Sheikh Tamim’s rise to power appears to have created an opportunity to mend bridges with Saudi Arabia after his father Sheikh Hamad’s antagonistic relationship with Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia was a key Brotherhood supporter from the 1950s until the 9/11 attacks. Then, in a bid to distance itself from the damning fact that 15 of the 19 bombers were Saudis, Riyadh insisted that Muslim Brotherhood radicalization of the bombers was a significant factor. Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad quickly stepped into the breach and became the Muslim Brotherhood’s biggest supporter, offering Doha as a base for spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

It is significant, then, that the new Qatari leader’s first foreign visit was to Saudi Arabia. He arrived there last Friday, reported the Gulf Times. “Talks during the meeting dealt with existing fraternal relations between the two countries and ways to develop them in various fields,” the official Qatar News Agency said.

Tamim’s outreach to Saudi Arabia suggests that the two countries may be on the verge of rapprochement. Where that development leaves the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar’s huge investment in underwriting the Egyptian economy, the funding of rebel forces in Syria, and Qatar’s previous foreign policy in the region, remains to be seen.

The choices Qatar’s newly appointed young leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, makes over the next few weeks and months may have a significant impact on regional politics and on Qatar’s future role on that stage for years to come.

“I suspect the Qataris will draw back somewhat,” former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan told Reuters. “Their infatuation with the Muslim Brotherhood has probably been dampened. They’re likely to come around to a position closer to the Saudis.”

Café el-Fishawy, Cairo

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Some 240 years ago, a man named al-Fishawy began serving coffee to his friends in an alley of Cairo’s Khan al-Khalili district each evening after prayers. The al-Fishawy’s gatherings grew larger and stretched longer, and the rest is history.

Qahwat al-Fishawi (Fishawy’s Café) is the most renowned café in the Arab world and a monument to the traditional Egyptian way of relaxing with friends—and the occasional stranger— over coffee, tea and tobacco.

We pray for the residents of Cairo to be able to emerge from their current strife and to return to their sweet and harmless (except for the tobacco thing) way.


Egypt: This Is Big

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

One way to gauge the import of the conflict erupting in Egypt is by looking at the character of media coverage in America.  Both sides of the political spectrum have been slow to advance narratives of blame.  What’s going on in Egypt doesn’t fit into any pat, off-the-shelf narratives.

There has been a curious absence of “themage” on the left: no unified narrative about this all being the fault of Bush-era failures of good fellowship, or of the plight of the Palestinians, or (my personal favorite) of warmongering arms dealers, oil mavens, or ([insert ROTFLOL here]) international banks.

Meanwhile, blame-fixing criticisms of President Obama are getting little traction on the right.  (I even saw Sean Hannity shouted down by other conservatives the other day, when he was advancing an Obama’s-to-blame theory.)  I have the sense that most on the right see – accurately – that what’s going on is bigger than either Obama’s shortcomings or America’s predicament under his leadership.  While the Arab Spring might well have never happened if the United States had had a different president in January 2011, it is more than overstating the case to say that it happened because of Obama.

It happened because of deep rifts and discontents in the Arab world.  Its progress since the initial trigger event has been shaped to some degree by the defensively triangulating inaction (mainly) of Obama’s America.  But there’s real there there, in terms of political divisions and conflict in the nations of the Middle East.

This is a genuine fight, not a series of mass protests out of which nothing will really change.  If we understand anything, it must be that.  The Western media have been reflexively – if perfunctorily – reporting the bloodshed in Egypt as a “military crack-down” on protesters.  But the truth is that, where military action is concerned, it is a strategy to get out ahead of civil war.  The Muslim Brotherhood has indicated that it intends to make a fight of this.  Its “protest camps” are not a stupid, time-on-their-hands Occupy Cairo escapade; they are bases from which to keep an armed fight going.

The Muslim Brotherhood does not care what happens to the people of Egypt: whether their streets become safe for daily life and commerce again.  It is willing to keep chaos and misery going for as long as necessary to topple the military’s interim government.  That is its present purpose.  The Muslim Brotherhood strategy is to make it impossible for the military to restore enough order and public confidence to move ahead with new democratic arrangements.  The strategy is pure Bolshevism, and we’ve seen it before, dozens of times over the last several centuries.

Reports from Friday’s fighting indicate that plenty of Egyptians are aware of this.  Citizens around the capital set up checkpoints to prevent the movement of Muslim Brotherhood formations:

Armed civilians manned impromptu checkpoints throughout the capital, banning Brotherhood marches from approaching and frisking anyone wanting to pass through. At one, residents barred ambulances and cars carrying wounded from Cairo’s main battleground, Ramses Square, from reaching a hospital.

And much of the fighting was between pro-Morsi supporters and other civilians:

Friday’s violence introduced a combustible new mix, with residents and police in civilian clothing battling those participating in the Brotherhood-led marches.

Few police in uniform were seen as neighborhood watchdogs and pro-Morsi protesters fired at one another for hours on a bridge that crosses over Cairo’s Zamalek district, an upscale island neighborhood where many foreigners and ambassadors reside.

In keeping with the astonishing mass scale of the national revulsion against Morsi’s rule in June and July, the current fight is developing as a popular one.  The anti-Morsi citizens have no intention of waiting around to see their government fall back into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.  They are taking to the streets themselves.

This will have to be remembered in the coming days, when poorly armed civilians inevitably begin dropping out of the fight.  The civil population does care, and care enough to fight with sticks, stones, and fists, if necessary, even though It will take the military to put down the Muslim Brotherhood decisively – if, indeed, the outcome ends up being defined in that manner.

It may not be.  A key organizing factor in the June and July civil protests against Morsi was the “Tamarod” movement, a pastiche of anti-Morsi forces with little to unify them other than their objection to Morsi’s rule.  Some throwing in with Tamarod are Salafists themselves (including a former leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad); others bring some element of liberalization or secularism.  They made common cause with the military during the coup in July, but they are hardly a moderate, liberal, pro-Western force; in the days since, they have called for expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, and for Egypt to withdraw from the 1979 treaty with Israel.

Tamarod movements are busting out all over the Arab world (e.g., in Tunisia, Morocco, and Bahrain), portending many more months of instability and a long fight for the futures of these and other nations.  A movement with this much internal division to it will begin to splinter in Egypt: some of its members will want to take the lead in forging a new ruling consensus – specifically, in preempting the people to do so – and my bet for this is on the Salafists.

So there are more than two factions in the overall fight; this won’t come down to just the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Whoever plays the spoiler role could put together some kind of modus vivendi linking the opposing factions.  A little bit of gesturing toward civil protections for the people; a little bit of door left open to shari’a.  It wouldn’t last long, if history is any kind of guide.  But Western observers are likely to put stock in it (and even be hoodwinked by it).

Today’s fight may not go the full fifteen rounds, but if it doesn’t, it will have to be fought again down the road.  Because there is no coexistence for soft despotism – or democracy-lite – and Islamism; there is no coexistence for anything else and Islamism.  And Islamism won’t stop fighting until it is put down decisively.

It is not actually unusual for the governments and media of the West to misread developments like these (or at least to have the “deer in the headlights” look on their faces as they witness them).  The last time there was comparative unity and accuracy of understanding about a Bolshevik moment was – well, the actual Bolshevik moment, in late 1917 and the few years following it, when Western governments sought briefly to support the White anti-Bolshevists.  Whatever the merits of that policy, the understanding on which it was based was perfectly accurate.  Bolshevism was an uncontainable threat.

Within a very few years after that, Western governments, and many in our media, had become invested in misreading or ignoring manifestations from the sanguinary arena of collectivist statism.  We were quite tolerant of Mussolini and Hitler until they declared war on Stalin, and to this day, tendentious narratives of popular support are adduced in our academies to explain the advance of Marxist totalitarianism across the map of the globe through the late 1970s.  There were major movements in the free world to define away the threat of communism incident not only to Stalin’s excesses but to Maoism in China, the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, the encroachments of Marxism on Latin America and Africa, and the standoff between East and West in Europe.

Throughout the 20th century, the bloody adventures of collectivism forced Westerners, and Americans in particular, to inspect and crystallize our view of who and what we were.  Through the “progressive,” statist movements in our own nations, we ended up being transformed away from the character we had once sought to honor and cultivate.  Yet for a time, in the late 1970s (with the election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK) and 1980s, we achieved a meaningful consensus that our liberal values had not been extinguished yet.  Acting on that consensus turned out to be enough, in that time and place, to overwhelm the failed ideology of Marxist socialism, in its totalitarian-state manifestation.

State-Islamism is doomed to inflict self-destruction and despair on its victims.  But what will we in the still-not-Islamist West do while it is organizing itself and launching its career?  We can’t go out and try to run everyone else’s county for him, after all.  And that said, we need not actively support the infliction of despotic Islamism on foreign populations.

How will we define ourselves during this process?  Will it be Islamism that has the momentum, with us defining ourselves as what we are not, in relation to it?  Or will we retake the public dialogue with our own propositions and language about liberty and limited government?  Our success in that endeavor was intermittent and incomplete, to say the least, during the Cold War.  Will we learn from that era and do better today?

Will we retain the capacity – always under attack, always fighting for its life – to define a totalitarian ideology truthfully, and let that truth be a guide to our policies?  These are questions to which we simply don’t know the answer.  There were days during the Cold War when even the most optimistic political observers would have answered them for us in the negative.

One thing we can be sure of, however – a thing we may see more clearly, I think, because we have the president we have today, and not a president who will act in a more traditional manner, according to the conventions of American statecraft.  The developments in Egypt have importance for the entire world.  They are about an ideological, Bolshevik-style assault on conventional, non-radicalized government.  That is the dynamic in play.  And, as much as they are about Egypt, the Egyptian people, and the fact that they do not want ideological “shari’a” rule, they are also, in an existential way, about us.  They are about who we are, and who we intend to be.  None of us will be the same when this is all over.

Al Jazeera: US ‘Increasingly Irrelevant’ to the Arabs

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

“U.S. policy in the Arab world has long been widely unpopular, to put it mildly,” on Sunday Sarah Mousa wrote in Al Jazeera. Although President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo were met with great enthusiasm, she continues, “the Arab uprisings transformed many peoples’ views on the role played by the US in their region. While Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did offer verbal support to most of the protest movements, hypocritical selective support, initial American hesitation in backing the uprisings and past policies bolstering dictatorships were not forgotten.”

Mousa, a graduate from Princeton University and a 2010-2011 Fulbright Scholar in Egypt, states: “More crucially, it became clear to many that the outcome of the uprisings was up to them, and not to U.S. policymakers. In the case of Egypt, U.S. statements only called for Hosni Mubarak to step down when it became entirely clear that it was inevitable. While the gesture may have been appreciated by parts of the Egyptian opposition, it was not viewed as a significant turning point.”

Obama’s visit to Israel and the PA were received coolly by Palestinians, writes Mousa. “Young activists referred to the speeches as ‘insipid’ and ‘sycophant.’ The part of Obama’s Jerusalem speech that many Palestinians paid most attention to was an interruption by Palestinian audience member Rabeea Eid: ‘Did you really come here for peace or to give Israel more weapons to kill and destroy the Palestinian people? Did you happen to see the apartheid wall on your way here? There are Palestinians sitting in this hall. This state should be for all of its citizens, not a Jewish state only.’”

We’ve all seen the clip where, as the noisy Eid was being dragged out of the hall, Obama referred to the interruption as a good display of “lively debate.”

Recordings of the incident quickly spread throughout the Palestinian Internet. Obama’s failure to effectively address Palestinian rage on the student’s points, just as Eid was being dragged away and handcuffed, made him a mockery in Palestinian eyes, argues Mousa.

“The U.S. is increasingly irrelevant to movements throughout the region,” she concludes. “In his March visit to Cairo, Secretary of State John Kerry extended invitations to meet with members of opposition parties. Many turned him down. Distour party member Gamila Ismail explained her rejection of the invitation in a scathing letter to Kerry, in which she criticized self-interested U.S. policy that has supported repressive regimes in Egypt for decades.”

Ismail also wrote Kerry: “This is a revolution that will teach the world, as Obama, your president, has said. And we want to teach the world and be a model for it. And we will become different than what you see. Your embassy reports see that we do not deserve anything except this [limited] amount of democracy. And that this [limited] amount is ‘enough’.”

Interestingly, as America is achieving a steady decline in reliance on Middle Eastern oil, American foreign policy no longer views the region with the urgency it did only a decade ago – and the Arab intelligence gets it.

How I wish Benjamin Netanyahu would get it, too.

A Cup of Soda in Hell

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

The great theme of every overrated writer in the past twenty years has been the interconnectedness of things. Butterflies flap their wings in China and famine kicks off in Africa. A man gets on a plane in Sydney and another man jumps off a balcony in Paris.

You can get your interconnectedness fix from Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column as he marvels at the flattening of the world or any one of an endless number of fictional tomes in which strangers from around the world collide and influence each other’s lives.

The interconnectedness of things is not just the theme of the next TED talk you’ll watch or the next Wired article you’ll read. It’s the theme of policy as well. Pull one string and everything changes. Policy is no longer about making things happen by doing them, it’s about finding the precursor to them and doing that and when that doesn’t work, finding the precursor to that.

The growth of government means that everything is interconnected and instead of trying to cut the cost of health care by trimming back the bureaucracy, you ban sodas to fight obesity in the hopes of eventually cutting the cost of health care. It’s the sort of thing that sounds smart when it’s made into the theme of a book that discusses how connected everything else is to everything.

It’s stupid in real life, but who pays attention to real anyway?

Public policy is wired into the next great insight into interconnectedness and the one after that. Doing things to do them is stupid. It’s the sort of thing that Bush, poor dumb ape man, would do. The smart set, the Obama set, do the things that they don’t want to do to do the things that they want to do. It’s the sort of thing that sounds stupid if you try to explain it to a cab driver, but sounds like absolute genius when explained to an audience consisting of dot com people and people who wish they were dot com people.

And sometimes it even works. Most of the time though it makes things confusing and miserable.

The opening premise of interconnectedness theory is that trying to do what you want to do is futile. You don’t make a hurricane by turning on a fan and aiming it as a cloud, you do it by getting on a plane to China and then irritating a butterfly so that it flaps its wings. And then the hurricane comes or it doesn’t.  But while you’re there you’ll probably meet a monk or a street urchin who will go you a deeper insight into life or steal your wallet which will inspire you to write the next bestselling book about how everything in life is really connected to everything else.

Wars? Naturally we don’t do them. Only dumb brute apes think that you win a war by killing the enemy. That’s a positively medieval point of view. Even Bush knew better than that. No, you win a war by dealing with the root causes of the war. You find all the links to all the events, you win over the natives with candy bars and briefcases full of infrastructure money and then it all converges together and the war is over. Or it’s not. But either way you write a book about it.

Interconnectedness is the search for causes. It’s never a mismanagement problem, because that’s not a revelation.

Tell Mayor Bloomberg that health care costs are high because it takes four administrators to a doctor to get a patient through the system and he’ll look bored. That’s obvious. Tell him that recreating every new government building so that visitors are forced to use the stairs and those cold black marbles in his head will come awake.

Tell Obama that we’re losing the war because we’re not killing the enemy and he’ll hand you a pen and excuse himself, but tell him that the war is being lost because we need to get more Muslims into space and he’ll hand you a czarship.

We are becoming a subtle and stupid society, obsessed with nuance and a mystical search for the hidden social engines of life. And while that may seem advanced when you’re reading through the latest New York Times bestseller that explains how fishermen in Southeast Asia are influenced by sales of cotton candy in Michigan and the price of coffee in Brazil, it’s actually quite debilitating.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/daniel-greenfield/a-cup-of-soda-in-hell/2013/03/13/

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