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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

For Israel, Better the ‘Blessing’ than the ‘Curse’

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Jewish thought has never been subtle about life and death, the “blessing” and the “curse.” For Israel, the individual Jew writ large, there exists a fixed and overriding obligation to stay alive.

Although this injunction may hardly come as any sort of surprise, and may hardly seem to merit any claim of significant insight, it does stand in notably stark contrast to the worldview of some of Israel’s principal enemies in the region. More precisely, in order to deal gainfully with a still steadily nuclearizing Iran, and with a determinedly sovereign Palestine, Israel will quickly have to understand certain alien points of view.

The sources of danger for Israel are unambiguous. In a readily decipherable hierarchy of threats, Israel now confronts death and destruction from two increasingly plausible directions: (1) the already-constituted state of Iran, which may ultimately decide to act against Israel in presumed conformance with the end-times expectations of a Shiite apocalypse, and (2) the aspiring state of “Palestine,” which, if shaped by jihadist visions of Sunni Hamas, could decide to make a common war cause with Tehran.

Singly, for Israel, the attack dangers from Iran or Palestine that could derive from any religiously based inversion of life and death, of “blessing” and “curse,” would be considerable and daunting.

Together, perhaps in various unrecognized or even unimagined synergies, the interactive effects of these two particular adversaries could portend very serious and possibly existential concerns for Israel.

These regional enemy inversions of life and death, of “blessing” and “curse,” are rendered more worrisome by (1) the international community’s ritualized unwillingness to remove Iran’s illegal nuclear weapons infrastructure; (2) President Obama’s continuing support for a two-state solution; and, (3) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grudging but official acceptance of a Palestinian state that has been “demilitarized.”

The Palestinian side (Hamas, Fatah, it makes little real difference) seeks a one-state solution. On all their maps, Israel is drawn as a segment of “Palestine.” As for a demilitarized Palestine, it would never actually happen. This is true, in part, because any post-independence abrogation of earlier pre-state agreements to demilitarize, by a now-sovereign Palestinian state, could be incontestably permissible under authoritative international law.

What shall Israel do in this increasingly confusing regional maelstrom? If Obama’s openly expressed wish for “a world free of nuclear weapons” were ever realized, the survival issue would become moot. Without its nuclear arms, Israel could not endure for very long. Fortunately, this presidential wish is not only foolish but plainly unrealistic. Inevitably, of course, Israel will insist upon retaining the critical deterrence benefits of its essential nuclear forces.

The extent of this particular benefit, however, may vary, inter alia, according to a number of important factors. These include Jerusalem’s observable willingness to take its bomb out of the “basement,” that is, to make certain limited disclosures of the country’s usable and penetration-capable nuclear forces. Also relevant is the extent to which Israel might choose to reveal selected elements of Tel-Aviv’s nuclear targeting doctrine.

From the standpoint of successful deterrence, it will make a major difference if Israel’s nuclear forces are recognizably counter value (targeted on enemy cities), or counterforce (targeted on enemy weapons, and related infrastructures). In turn, Israel’s decisions on targeting policy may be affected, more or less, by ongoing regime transformations still taking place across the Middle East and North Africa.

“For what can be done against force, without force?” inquired the Roman statesman Cicero. The use of force in world politics is not inherently evil. To the contrary, in preventing nuclear and terrorist aggressions, force, though assuredly not a panacea, is almost always indispensable.

All states have a fundamental (“peremptory,” in the language of formal jurisprudence) right of self-defense. This right is explicit in both codified and customary international law. It can be found, in part, at Article 51 of the UN Charter; also, in multiple clarifications of anticipatory self-defense, a doctrine I have discussed often on these pages.

Israel has legal right to forcibly confront the expected and possibly mutually reinforcing harms of Iranian nuclear missile strikes, and Palestinian terror.

Again, Cicero understood. Failure to use force against a murderous evil imprints an indelible stain upon all that is good. A similar point can be found in the Talmud, which asserts that by being merciful to the cruel, one may become cruel to the merciful. Any such “mercy” must be firmly rejected by both individual Jews, and by the Jewish state.

New Netanyahu Coalition Govt All Cobbled and Ready, Maybe

Monday, March 18th, 2013

On Monday evening, the Knesset will host the swearing in ceremony for Israel’s 33rd government, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s third term—second consecutive—as prime minister (his first term ran from June 1996 to July 1999).

Immediately after the ceremony, Netanyahu will convene a brief cabinet meeting, with a toast. Then the bunch (22 ministers and 8 deputies) will travel to the presidential residence, for the traditional group picture.

The Knesset session will open with the selection of the Speaker of the House. It will likely be Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, who will replace the former Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, who wanted very much to continue in his post but, unfortunately, had committed the ultimate sin of criticizing the Prime Minister’s anti-democratic tendencies, not the kind of slight which Netanyahu’s wife Sara easily forgives.

As usual, Netanyahu never shared with Rivlin his plan to depose him. In fact, as far back as a year ago, he assured the popular Speaker—who is also closely associated with the Settlement movement—that he’d have his support for the post of President when Shimon Peres completes his 7-year term, 2014.

Yuli Edelstein’s life’s story is fascinating: Born in the Soviet Union to Jewish parents who converted to Christianity (his father is a Russian Orthodox priest), Edelstein discovered his Jewish connection through his grandparents. He studied Hebrew back when that was considered a subversive act, for which, in 1984, he was sent to Siberia (the charges were drug related, but everybody knew it was the Hebrew thing). He made aliyah with his wife, Tanya, served in the army, and entered politics, ending up in the Knesset in 1996. He has switched between several parties, until finally landing in the Likud, and has held several ministerial portfolios. And if he doesn’t catch Sara’s ire, he could become as memorable a Speaker as Rubie Rivlin.

But the biggest losers, without a doubt, are the Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. They were almost literally kicked out by Yair Lapid, who stated openly that, should he be seen in the government group picture with the Haredim, his voters would abandon him. Surprisingly, Naftali Bennett, his newly found brother from a different father (Yair’s father, the late MK Tommy Lapid, was a true hater of the religion), supported the dubious position that, in order to truly help the Haredi public, government had to first be cleared of Haredi partners.

Shas, a party that depends completely on patronage for its very existence, is seething with anger over Bennett’s “betrayal.” It’s hard, however, to take seriously the victimized self-pity of Shas, whose spiritual father Rav Ovadia Yosef dubbed the Jewish Home party a “Goy Home.” Altogether, it appears that, perhaps counter intuitively, the National Religious leaders as well as the rank and file, have been harboring heaps of resentment against the Haredim. The Haredi slights of several decades, including their occupation of the Ministry of Religious Services and the Chief rabbinate, doling out jobs to Haredi officials who reigned over a population that looks nothing like them—those slighted chickens have been coming back to roost.

Take for instance Rabbi Hayim Drukman, who responded to both the Haredi pols and to Netanyahu, who accused the Lapid-Bennett axis of “boycotting” the Haredi parties. Rabbi Drukman Argued that “the Haredi public are the biggest boycotters, boycotting for years the Torah of the national religious public.”

“Any Haredi apparatchik who gets elected to the Knesset, immediately becomes a rabbi, while the real rabbis of the national religious public are noted in the Haredi press by their first names (without the title ‘Rabbi’). Is this not boycotting?” Rabbi Druckman wrote in the Saturday shul paper “Olam Katan.”

Inside Shas, the short knives have already been drawn and they’re aimed at MK Aryeh Deri, the former convict who came back from the cold to lead Shas into a glorious stalemate (11 seats before, 11 after).

“We were very disappointed in Deri,” a senior Shas pol told Ma’ariv. “He did not bring the votes he promised Rav Ovadia, there was no significant change in seats, and, in fact, Deri is responsible for our failure.”

In United Torah Judaism they also seem to regret their alliance with Shas, it’s highly likely that, in a few months, they’ll opt to enter the government without Shas.

After the Fall: What Do You Do When America Is (Temporarily) Kaput?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

If we reach the following, highly unpleasant, conclusion what are the implications?

The United States has taken a political turn which at least for the next four years will guarantee that it does not play the role of a great power mindful of and willing to protect its own true interests, supporting its allies, and combating its real foes? On the contrary, through inaction or active effort the leadership of America will take counterproductive actions that achieve the opposite result. And there are certain factors–radical ideological hegemony, a weak economy and growing debt, structural social changes, the weakness and disorganization of the opposition–that may make this situation regarding America’s international behavior and policies a long-term, partly irreversible condition.

In other words, we don’t know if America is finished as the world’s leading power but we do know that it will not take leadership and certainly not leadership in a good direction for a while and perhaps will never fully recover. Please note carefully that I am speaking here only of US foreign policy and more remarking on the domestic situation. So what do those outside the United States do to face this situation?

There are those readers who would contest the accuracy of this statement. They will say that Barack Obama is a great president or at least a decent one. There is no big problem regarding U.S. foreign policy at all. In fact, he and his team, which now includes Secretary of State-designate John Kerry, will be just fine or at least okay. They will make the point–valid but irrelevant–that the United States doesn’t control everything in the world. Of course, but what about the things it can affect?

Unfortunately, American allies and clients cannot afford the luxury of clueless optimism or wishful thinking. Some will grumble publicly and scramble to limit the damage. Others will smile, praise the president, and scramble to limit the damage. To put it another way, it doesn’t matter whether you agree with me. I’m telling you what’s actually happening.

Other readers will want to debate endlessly on the cause of the problem. Why is this happening? Is it deliberate or due to incompetence and bad ideology? Various conspiracy theories will be raised and time wasted on them. To put it another way, for the purposes of this particular article at least I don’t care who or what you blame or what you intend to do about it, I’m talking about what’s happening right now. It is fortunate that in these post-Cold War times there is no candidate to replace America as world leader. Instead, we have candidates to be regional leaders: China in Asia; the European Union already playing that role in Western Europe; Russia trying to do this in Central/Eastern Europe; and Egypt, Iran, and Turkey competing for hegemony in the Middle East.

But here’s the real issue: things look bad. What does this mean specifically and how can potential victims react? Let’s begin with a very brief survey of the world scene.

Latin America. There are now several radical regimes in the area—most notably Venezuela–alongside, of course, Cuba. America’s allies in the region are dismayed that the former group (except for Cuba) gets soft, even favorable, treatment by Washington. Fortunately, radical revolutions or major armed insurgencies don’t seem probable. So leaders in the region will worry a lot, be frustrated (why should we be nice to the United States when it doesn’t help us but rather rewards being anti-American?) but get through it. Ironically, of course, the current administration favors policies that are sure to fail in South America so to the degree Washington has influence, it will help sabotage the region’s economic progress.

Sub-Saharan Africa. What is truly remarkable is how the Obama Administration has done nothing to change U.S. policy in the area. One might have expected that given its worldview and certain ethno-racial factors and ideas in the US leadership, Obama would have wanted to make this region a showcase of how he differed from his predecessors, as a model of reparations for past colonialism and racism. No such luck for the Africans. They will continue to suffer economic and political hardship without significantly increased US help. Bad, but not a change from the usual neglect. Let them eat rhetoric!

South Asia. The pro-Pakistan policy will continue; India will be mistreated. Again, bad, but no big change. It will just be more of watching Pakistan help conceal al-Qaeda terrorists, work for a radical Islamist Afghanistan once the US forces withdraw and sponsor terrorism against India as Washington pays more billions in aid money. That Afghanistan issue might cause a crisis: Why did hundreds of Americans die there? Someone–albeit not so much in the mass media–might ask if and when Kabul is taken over by a new anti-American regime. Also slated to be killed, Afghans who helped the Western forces. They will start seeking new protectors very soon.

East Asia. The smaller countries which want US help and protection against what they perceive as an ever-stronger China won’t get it. This will make them very nervous indeed. Since I believe China doesn’t have aggressive geopolitical intentions, that situation won’t deteriorate too much in military terms. Yet in economic terms the US government is ceding a great deal to China. Much or most of Asia may become a Chinese economic zone and that will be costly to Americans since potential markets for American goods will in some cases go to China instead, further reducing opportunities for the US economy. Leaders of other countries will scramble to get in good with the new regional superpower as they perceive the United States no longer matters very much. And we all better hope that North Korea doesn’t get too confident–hopefully Beijing will restrain that wacko dictatorship–and attack the South.

Western Europe. Honk if you love Obama. Since European leadership is still obsessed with the EU project and seeks to varnish over rather than deal with their deep economic and social structural problems, they will have no big problems with Obama. He doesn’t attack them, just feeds their addictions. We are familiar with the European stereotype of Americans as the ignorant, irresponsible cowboy (applied to George W. Bush) but there is far less talk about the European stereotype of Americans as naive, blundering, would-be do-gooders who make a giant mess (Barack Obama). Yet there are elements of American decline that many Europeans and European leaders like. The day may come when they think otherwise. As I once remarked to a European ambassador, who agreed, they spent eight years trying to hold Bush back and now are spending four years trying to pull Obama forward.

Central/Eastern Europe. Here is a potential big problem. Russian leader Vladimir Putin thinks he can do whatever he wants. He will continue to turn as much as possible of the ex-Soviet now independent states into a Russian zone of influence. If he ever decided he wanted to take over Belarus or Ukraine, or to attack Georgia again, he knows this can be done without any problem from America. Similarly, the regional states know they cannot depend on American support. Have no doubt that people in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic think about this every day.

So we see in Latin America, Asia, and Central Europe that American allies have no reliable protector anymore. They are left potentially helpless to possibly voracious local powers that are more radical than themselves. And of course they are all hurt by the ongoing poor state of the American economy. Lesson: Don’t make the bad guys angry if possible; move away if possible from relying on the United States.

Some, however, will benefit from policies that ensure the export of American jobs. But the Chinese—who seem on the surface to be the main beneficiaries—are horrified to find themselves holding so much American debt as a U.S. government inflates the dollar and goes ever deeper into debt. It is a very bad investment indeed.

The thing to watch for is if there’s a crisis. How well would the United States respond to wars, coups, invasions, revolutions, economic collapses? What kind of leadership would be shown in cases paralleling, say, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait? What would Washington do if massive repression breaks out in Egypt with the massacre of Christians? Or how would Obama respond if Putin were to grab some neighbor’s territory in part or in full? You can come up with a great many scenarios that could happen. And in each case the local leaders and a lot of people both think and worry about such scenarios becoming real.

At a minimum, knowing they cannot depend on U.S. help makes moderates and democrats more reluctant to fight, more willing to concede or surrender, and certain to despair.

In short, this current (voluntary, not inevitable) decline of the United States places a lot of people at risk. The question is whether there will be crises in which bad and weak American performance makes things worse.

And this brings us to the Middle East where we know such crises will take place. I don’t want to repeat what I’ve written many times. But to put the whole thing into three sentences:

Israel, relatively moderate Arab regimes (including, yes, Saudi Arabia), and real moderate opposition movements know they cannot depend on the United States for the next four years and perhaps for much longer. To make things worse, the US government is aiding their enemies. Consequently, they must act on their own to protect themselves.

For the Saudis, this can mean supporting establishment (Bahrain’s government, Lebanese Sunni Muslims) or even Salafist forces (as in the Syrian opposition) that they feel can be turned into clients. We all have good reasons for not liking the current Saudi regime but imagine the country being run and the oil money being in the hands of someone like Usama bin Ladin or the Muslim Brotherhood, dedicated to overthrowing all the other regimes in the region and forcing out U.S. influence. For Israel, lacking a chance to build real alliances with Arab states or oppositions, it requires unilateral action.

Everyone else—including Christian minorities and women who want equality–is pretty much up the creek without a paddle. The democratic oppositions (and that includes Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon as well as Turkey and Iran) will have their hearts broken as they see their own countries as lost to a long reign of even worse tyranny and their hopes for better days dashed. Countries as diverse as Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan will have to maneuver and use force to keep Islamists from taking over. In other words, you may be very courageous but you will give some serious thought to running away as far as possible, to Europe, North America, or Australia.

It is very scary and even tragic for a lot of people.

Here, however, is the main point I wish to communicate: Americans can debate whether this shorter-term vacuum of responsibility and longer-term decline is happening. Much of the world already takes this outcome for granted.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

The Hamas Suicide Strategy

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

One of the most important things to understand about how the Middle East works is what I’ll call the suicide strategy. It can be described as follows:

I will start a war that I cannot win in order to create a situation where the other side wrecks my infrastructure and kills my people. Then I will lose militarily but win the battle. How? By the following means:

–I’ll kill some people on the other side and do some damage to it. Since they are weaker and less brave than I am they will give up. The longer the war, the more likely they are to look for a way out even if that involves many concessions on their part. Using terrorism against their civilians reinforces this tactic.

–By suffering, and magnifying that suffering using a generally sympathetic Western media, I will make the other side feel sorry for me and oppose their own leaders who will be portrayed as bullying, bloodthirsty, and imperialistic.

–The specter of war, suffering, and especially civilian casualties, will drive the “international community” to press my adversaries to give in, stop fighting (even if I continue it on a lower level), let me survive, and even give me benefits.

That’s how you stage a losing war but end up the winner.

This strategy has often worked against a Western adversary or Israel. It won’t work against fellow Arabs or Iran because those forces couldn’t care less how much damage and how many civilian casualties they inflict. Their mass media are under a large element of state control and they are not responsive to public opinion.

Hamas is now using this approach in the current war against Israel, though less effectively than in previous circumstances. True, it is getting some in the West to blast Israel as using excessive force or force at all.

Certainly, it protects Hamas from being overthrown altogether, which is the only real solution to the problem. But as long as Israel doesn’t win too big the West is ready to tolerate the current level of fighting.

And that’s the signal for Hamas to double down. Israel wants a ceasefire; Hamas doesn’t. Even the New York Times will tell you that:

Hamas, badly outgunned on the battlefield, appeared to be trying to exploit its increased political clout with its ideological allies in Egypt’s new Islamist-led government. The group’s leaders, rejecting Israel’s call for an immediate end to the rocket attacks, have instead laid down sweeping demands that would put Hamas in a stronger position than when the conflict began: an end to Israel’s five-year-old embargo of the Gaza Strip, a pledge by Israel not to attack again and multinational guarantees that Israel would abide by its commitments.

In other words, Hamas is demanding that in future it can import whatever it wants and will have the right to attack Israel without retaliation. Note that the first demand isn’t even necessary for Hamas. After all, it can now get almost everything it wants through the Egyptian-Gaza border. So this list of items is just designed as an excuse to keep the fighting going.

Now it is not usual for the losing side in world history to want the war to end . But in the Middle East, and with the entry of political and diplomatic considerations, plus the factor of public relations, these rules have been changed. The world has taught Hamas—and not just Hamas–that the more aggressive you are, the more terrorism you use, the better you will do, up to a point, internationally and the more antagonism is stirred up against Israel.

Yet as I said above, this tactic is not working so well in this case. There are several reasons why this is so:
–In contrast to some past situations (1982 war in Lebanon) there is a very high level of support in Israel for the current operation and in contrast to others (2006 war in Lebanon) there’s a sense that the army is doing a good job. Incidentally, this war has nothing to do with Israel’s January 22 election and won’t have any major effect on it.

True, there is a higher level of civilian panic about rockets and missiles, quite understandable in the areas being hit; less so in other places. Yet that won’t bring any significant pressure for Israel to give up and declare defeat, especially as Hamas runs out of things to shoot at Israel’s civilians.

–There are now so many issues in the Middle East—more of them simultaneously than at any time in living memory–that they distract both international and regional attention from the Hamas-Israel war. The Arab-Israeli and even the Israel-Palestinian conflict can hardly be said with a straight face to be the core or major issue in the region.

–The “Arab Spring” may help Hamas a lot in the long run but not in the short run. Hamas tried the old PLO gimmick of starting a war with Israel as a way to force Arab regimes to do what you want. This didn’t always work for the PLO. Given Syria and Iraq being out of the conflict due to a priority on internal issues, the potential base for this strategy has been weakened.

Iran is far away, though it can send rocket and missile motors; Jordan doesn’t want trouble; and Lebanon, even though dominated by Hizballah, is now on the Shia side and on the verge of a new civil war of its own.
–Egypt, of course, is Hamas’s great hope. Yet the Hamas leaders should have listened to their counterparts in Cairo who do not want a confrontation right now. The Muslim Brotherhood has not consolidated its power. The status of parliament is unclear, the constitution has not yet been approved, and the army is not yet fully under the regime’s thumb. Of special importance is the Islamist regime’s effort to finalize around $10 billion in aid from the European Union, United States, and International Monetary Fund.

Thus, while Egypt’s new rulers love Hamas they don’t love it enough to do more than issue passionate statements. On the contrary, Egypt and perennial troublemaker Qatar want the fighting to end.

Hamas is free to ignore its allies and go on shooting rockets, missiles, and mortars at Israeli civilians. It can hope, with good reason, that the West will stop an Israeli ground operation. And Hamas can certainly expect to survive the war no matter how badly it loses and how much damage its policies inflict on Gaza’s people. Hoping that it will be even more popular—a gambit that has often worked in the past—may be too much of a stretch this time.

Yet the gains Hamas can make by trying to force Israel to bomb it are less than the Hamas leadership expects. Even many people in the West seem to be catching on to the masquerade of staging aggression and then pretending to be the victim. Some may comprehend that it is Hamas that is responsible for the suffering of Gaza’s people even if they aren’t prepared to do anything about it by bringing to an end a regime that seized power in a violent coup, wages a war without end, preaches genocide against its neighbor, forces all Christians to flee, represses dissent, turns women into chattel, and trains children to be suicide bombers. It is possible, though, that Western regimes will try to do something that will bring about an effective ceasefire for a few years.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

As Horrific Images Outrage the Globe, Israeli Ambassador Explains Cynical Goals

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

In an interview with PBS NewsHour’s Ray Suarez, Israel Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren explained the explosion of images circulating around the world, allegedly showing dead Gazan children “targeted” by Israeli air strikes.

“They [Hamas] are  putting these rockets in schools, in mosques, near hospitals, even in homes. We have pictures of rockets in homes because they not only have a military strategy. They have a media strategy. They want pictures of civilian casualties to make the front page of newspapers around the world,” Oren said.

“We knew that terrorists in Gaza had Iranian-supplied long-range missiles. Our aircraft has managed to neutralize a great number of those missiles. Some of them were located in densely populated areas, in mosques, under schools and playgrounds,” Oren said.  ”In one case, one of our pilots targeted one of those long-range missiles and then aborted at the last minute because he saw children playing in the vicinity.”

He added that 4.5 million Israelis, including Arabs – a total of half of Israel’s population –  have been threatened by Hamas rocket fire, which has led to Israel’s strengthening of Operation “Amud Anan”, Pillar of Defense.

“And here you see the type of price we pay for trying to avert as much as possible civilian casualties.”

Oren did not address the falsification and disinformation Hamas and its partners have used to attempt to villainize Israel in the eyes of the Arab world and international community.  In one instance, the Alqassam Brigades was found to have taken an image of a crying man holding a dead child which was taken in during the Syrian civil war weeks ago and attempted to pass it off as a picture taken in Gaza.

Israel Facing Weak US Economy, Foreign Policy, Following Elections

Monday, November 12th, 2012
Originally published at Rubin Reports.
With President Barack Obama reelected there is every reason to believe that he will continue the tax, regulatory, and economic policies of his first term. That means the U.S. economy is unlikely to improve quickly, steadily, or even at all during the next four years. The problem is not just Obama’s own strategy on these issues but also the lack of business confidence in his plans.
Those doubts, along with even higher taxes, a complex and costly new health care system, and uncertainty about what new costs Obama is going to impose will keep investors, large corporations, and small businesses from investing money. Thus, unemployment will remain high and recovery slow or even non-existent.
And that will have a big effect on Israeli thinking. If Israeli policymakers–and businesspeople–view certain policies as failing in the United States they are unlikely to adapt those ideas to Israel, even if some of seem ideologically attractive to the moderate left here.
The strategy of higher taxes, high regulation, increasing government intervention, and bigger government are already unattractive in Israel and will be even more so. The Labor Party wants more effort on improving social welfare and lowering the country’s high prices yet knows the Obama-European approach has been disastrous. .
Poor performance by the U.S. economy will also have a negative effect on Israel’s own growth and trade, reducing the prospects for exports to America and by having a depressing effect on the global economy.
In contrast, a victory for Romney would have encouraged businesspeople in the United States to believe they woulf face policies more favorable to their needs. With the possible repeal of Obama’s controversial health care plan, quite costly to employers, and the likelihood of lower taxes and reduced—or at least stable—regulation, there would have been an incentive for them to invest and expand their businesses.
A booming U.S. economy would benefit Israel’s economy both directly and indirectly through its impact on the international economic situation as well. Romney’s expertise on turning around failing businesses would have provided the proper management. But that’s not going to happen.
While the similarities should not be exaggerated one could suggest that a Romney presidency would have more closely paralleled Israel’s economic strategy. After all, Israel has succeeded in recent years with an approach favoring privatization, keeping unemployment low, and avoiding large-scale governmental borrowing or debt. This policy, of course, also has costs, as the social protests of last year showed.
Generally, though no one in the United States thinks in these terms, the battle in America is between the ideas governing Israel in two eras of its history. Obama’s statism reflects the early policies of Israel. The difference, of course, is that those positions were necessary for a newly born country that had no alternatives but not for the United States in the year 2013. Romney’s approach represented more of the strategy of Israeli governments of all three ruling parties during the last two decades.
At any rate, Israel is going to have to deal with a weak American economy, as well as a weak American foreign policy, for the next four years.
Originally published at Rubin Reports.

The Broader Implications of the Petraeus Resignation: Personal Behavior and Public Office

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

General David Petraeus was the hero of the victorious surge strategy in Iraq. But he also has the distinction of becoming America’s first Politically Correct field commander. His strategy in Afghanistan was in line with that of the Obama Administration by putting the emphasis on winning Muslim hearts and minds as a higher priority than military victories or even at times the safety of American soldiers. There’s a reason why President Barack Obama made him CIA director.

Leaving aside the question of the resignation’s relationship to the Benghazi debacle, in some ways, his fall is more discouraging than the election results. Don’t these powerful people feel that their duty is more important than their personal self-aggrandizement or pleasure? We should remember, too, that Petraeus’s predecessor in Afghanistan was brought down because of some incautious things said in a magazine interview.

Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, Herman Caine, John Edwards, Ted Kennedy, Larry Craig, Richard Nixon, and other politicians supposedly represented certain ideas, policies, and the hopes and dreams of millions of people who have worked hard for them and put their trust in them. Can’t they put aside what they might also desire for the sake of those things?

I have seen with my own two eyes Kennedy drunk on the floor of the Senate and I know a lot from first-hand observation about the private adventures of former Senator Chris Dodd and Hart. And all of the above hasn’t begun to touch on financial corruption.

Of course, many do behave differently and far better. A few years ago I’d have said that perhaps the media has become too willing and able to expose the foibles of those at the top. Yet after the spectacle of a Teflon Obama and his entourage it would be more correct to say that the media only exposes those it wants to for political purposes. Then, too, Clinton and Kennedy didn’t suffer at all from their amorousness and bad driving.

If I’m not mistaken, there are now Democratic senators from Connecticut and Massachusetts who lied about their military records. The latter one, Senator John Kerry, may soon be secretary of state, which will be a global disaster of major proportions. There is also now a Democratic senator from Massachusetts who clearly lied about being a Cherokee in order to get preferential treatment in getting a job.

I have seen in the National Archives the OSS report during World War Two that a Danish journalist was a Nazi spy. And this is the woman with whom John F. Kennedy had an affair and for that reason was shipped out by his father to the Pacific front, where he would be made a hero through a combination of his bad navigation and subsequent brave behavior in the sinking of PT-109. General Dwight Eisenhower’s and President Franklin Roosevelt’s affairs during World War Two are today well known. But those were times when things remained quiet.

Why, though, are these personal matters anyone else’s business? The debate usually focuses around an argument between what is proper morality and whether Americans are too puritanical. The French, we are told, rejoice when their politicians get naughty.

But there is another far more important issue altogether that is rarely aired. If a politician or major public figure believes in what he’s doing and knows that exposure of his misdeed would destroy that mission, how can they give in to temptation if they really believe in the importance of that mission or of the importance of keeping faith with those who are relying on them?

And if they don’t care at all about those things, how can they be worthy of wielding power? It is not so much a question of personal morality as it is of character, not an issue of private life but of whether one takes seriously the concept of duty. If, for example, Bill Clinton was willing to risk his presidency for having some sort of relations–even if he could define them as not having had sex in some physiological sense–with Monica Lewinsky and then, according to the court finding, committing perjury about his behavior, that is not the sort of person one should want to be president. The fact that he escaped impeachment for the latter offense is not the point. His being willing to take that chance is the issue.

There is also something in the character of those who lust for power and fame—and I write this from long observation growing up in Washington DC—that very much distorts one’s personality. Such people almost inevitably feel superior to others, arrogant that they can get away with anything, coming to take for granted that they deserve privileges but that the rules don’t apply to them. That’s why the founders of America wanted to limit government and the power of those who ran it.

Such wisdom is even older, though it has only rarely done humanity much good. “Put not your trust in princes,” says Psalm 146. Rabbi Hillel said almost two thousand years ago that the obsessively ambitious end up by destroying themselves.

Today, it isn’t so much that Republicans are more upstanding. The difference is that they pay for their sins because the media is so quick to devour them. If, say, a Republican candidate for the Senate in Missouri says something stupid once, he’s finished. If a Democrat does so, even repeatedly racialist statements, he gets to be vice-president for another four years. That’s reality.

Before the revolution it was clearly defined in France which classes whose members could or could not be legally tortured. This distinction now applies to public figures along partisan and ideological lines as well.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Are You Thinking Clearly? (Podcast Part II)

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

How do you make the important decisions of your life, such as what to study or where to invest your money? Is there a mathematical strategy to thinking clearly? On this week’s Goldstein on Gelt show, Professor Michael Starbird, professor of mathematics and author of “The Five Elements of Effective Thinking,” talks about how we make decisions and how to think clearly.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/goldstein-on-gelt/are-you-thinking-clearly-podcast-part-ii/2012/11/08/

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