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Vice News Embeds With the Islamic State

I’ve just returned from a very brief summer vacation in a remote part of the Pacific Northwest without cell phone coverage or Internet access, so I’m a bit behind on what’s happening in the world. While I’m catching up, take a look at Vice magazine’s five-part documentary on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

I don’t know how they did it, but they somehow got permission to embed a team of reporters with IS in both Syria and Iraq. There is no chance I would ever trust these people with my life and my safety, but the team got in and out okay and what they came back with is extraordinary.

The Islamic State is a deadly serious army with delusional global ambitions. Someone will have to defeat it with force, and it won’t be one of the local armed forces. Not any time soon. I’m sorry to say this, but if you watch Vice magazine’s documentary I doubt you’ll come to any other conclusion.

Hamas Threatened Reporters in Gaza

The Foreign Press Association is protesting “in the strongest terms the blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox methods employed by the Hamas authorities and their representatives against visiting international journalists in Gaza over the past month."

Of course this happened. Gaza is ruled by a dictatorship and a terrorist army, and this is what dictators and terrorists do. I’d flatly refuse to believe any report that said otherwise. Hezbollah pulled the same crap with me in Lebanon, and that was during peace time, not war time. I also told my readers about it and refused to be censored. And Hezbollah, at least in some ways, is less oppressive and controlling than Hamas.

Alan Johnson published a round-up of first-person reports in The Telegraph if you want to know the nuts-and-bolts of how this actually works.

Here is just one:

Israeli filmmaker Michael Grynszpan described on Facebook an exchange he had had with a Spanish journalist who had just left Gaza. “We talked about the situation there. He was very friendly. I asked him how come we never see on television channels reporting from Gaza any Hamas people, no gunmen, no rocket launcher, no policemen. We only see civilians on these reports, mostly women and children. He answered me frankly: 'It's very simple, we did see Hamas people there launching rockets, they were close to our hotel, but if ever we dare pointing our camera on them they would simply shoot at us and kill us.'”

I understand why these reporters didn’t write about this while they were in Gaza. They could have been kidnapped or killed. Perhaps their editors back home kept quiet for the same reason, to protect their employees and freelancers.

There is a solution to this conundrum, however. Don’t send reporters to places where they are intimidated into lying by omission or commission.

The Gaza war was a huge story, of course, and it had to be covered, but it could just as easily have been covered from the Israeli side of the line. Covering both sides of the story is of course preferable whenever possible, but providing balanced coverage from Israel alongside censored coverage from Gaza is a form of journalistic malpractice. Stop it. 

Who Are the Yezidis?

The Weekly Standard asked me to write a piece explaining who Iraq's Yezidis are since I spent some time with them in 2006 and 2008. Here's the first part.

Islamic State terrorists, formerly known as ISIS, have killed at least 500 members of Iraq’s Yezidi religious minority in and around the city of Sinjar and taken hundreds of women as slaves. Some of the victims were buried alive. Their only crime: not being Muslims.

Tens of thousands bolted from Sinjar and fled to a remote mountaintop without food, water, or shelter where many more perished. If the United States hadn’t air dropped supplies or blasted the Islamic State from the skies, the number of dead Yezidis could have mushroomed to genocidal proportions.

Even so, the Islamic State’s genocidal intentions are obvious now. Christians, Jews, Druze, Alawites, Shia Muslims, and mainstream Sunni Muslims should expect precisely the same treatment if they find themselves conquered.

If war teaches us about geography, genocide teaches us about ethnic and religious minorities who might remain obscure otherwise. I had never heard of the Yezidis myself until I went to Iraq in 2006 and interviewed the president of Duhok University in the Kurdish autonomous region. He told me to go to Lalish, the Yezidi “Mecca,” where the last of the region’s ancient fire-worshippers believe the universe was born.

The place is scorching hot during the summer like everywhere else in Iraq, but I drove there through empty snow-covered land during the winter. Lalish didn’t look or feel like the center of the universe. It looked and felt like the ends of the earth. The area is as unpopulated as the Wyoming outback, which offers the Yezidis a certain measure of protection. If their “Mecca” were in the center of Baghdad—or, worse, Fallujah—they’d be in more serious danger right now than they already are.

Read the whole thing.

Why the US is Bombing Iraq and Not Syria

Cable news reporters have spent all weekend asking one US government official after another why we’re bombing Iraq and not Syria if we’re motivated by humanitarian concerns as Washington says.

I have yet to hear a straight answer, perhaps because the administration thinks a straight answer is undiplomatic. But I’m not a diplomat, and I can explain it point-blank.

So here it is. It’s real simple. The US is bombing Iraq right now because the psychopaths of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) are attacking the Kurds.

Morally and philosophically, the death of every innocent person on earth—from New York City to Gaza—carries the same tragic weight. Lopping off the heads of Kurdish children in Iraq is not more reprehensible than cutting off the heads of children in Homs or Aleppo, but Syria is hostile and the Kurds are our friends, and that difference matters to government officials and foreign policy makers. If it didn’t, friendships and alliances would mean nothing.

The Kurds of Iraq are our best friends in the entire Muslim world. Not even an instinctive pacifist and non-interventionist like Barack Obama can stand aside and let them get slaughtered by lunatics so extreme than even Al Qaeda disowns them. There is no alternate universe where that’s going to happen.

Iraqi Kurdistan is a friendly, civilized, high-functioning place. It’s the one part of Iraq that actually works and has a bright future ahead of it. Refusing to defend it would be like refusing to defend Poland, Taiwan, or Japan. We have no such obligation toward Syria.

That’s it. That’s the entire answer. Washington is following the first and oldest rule of foreign policy—reward your friends and punish your enemies.

ISIS Exterminating Minorities in Iraq

Kurdish members of Iraq’s Yezidi religious minority in Sinjar are being massacred by ISIS if they refuse to convert to Islam. They’re ancient fire-worshipers with roots in Zoroastrianism and they long predate the Koran.

More than 300 of them so far have been murdered for their religion alone.  

Killings of this sort on a large scale are called genocide.

Islam is a proselytizing religion, but converting these people at gunpoint and executing those who refuse will not fly with the Kurds who are Muslims, and not just because the Yezidis are their fellow Kurds.

The Yezidi religion is part of the Kurdish identity. Iraqi Kurdistan’s flag eschews the crescent moon so common on the flags of Islamic countries and opts for fire imagery from the Yezidi religion instead. Many years ago I interviewed the president of Duhok University in Iraq Kurdistan and he seemed to speak for the majority when he professed his affection for these people and their ancient religion. “I am a Muslim,” he told me. “But I love the Yezidis. Theirs is the original religion of the Kurds. Only through the Yezidis can I speak to God in my own language.”

Sinjar is a Kurdish town, but it’s in Nineveh province outside the Kurdish autonomous region. The armed Kurdish Peshmerga forces operating there ran out of ammunition and had little choice but to retreat in the wake of the ISIS assault. Tens of thousands of civilians fled the area and are stranded atop a remote mountain without food, water, or shelter.

Eight years ago I visited the Yezidi “Mecca” in Lalish, Iraq, inside the Kurdish autonomous region a ways south of Duhok. This is where the Yezidis believe the universe was born. Eternal flames burn forever in little shrines. Baba Sheik, their leader, showed me around and took me into their temple.

“All people in the world should be brothers,” he said. “You are welcome here for the rest of your life.”

Baba Sheik wanted to include Muslims in his proclamation of universal brotherhood, but he didn’t entirely trust them. The Yezidis have been persecuted relentlessly in the past and he knew perfectly well that they could be persecuted again, especially considering the precarious state of Iraq. And he was right. Ruthless persecution—this time by ISIS—is on.

I asked my Muslim translator and guide Birzo Abdulkadir if he was offended by Baba Sheik’s comments and he said, “Of course not. Kurds don’t get upset about religion. We aren’t like Arabs. We believe in arguments based on reason, not emotion. If people don’t agree with me about something, I’m not going to get mad at them. We will just have different opinions.”

The Kurds do, however, get mad, so to speak, at the likes of ISIS. And they’re gearing up for a counterattack. Another front in the great Middle East war is about to be opened.

A Closer Look at Gaza’s Civilian Casualties

Hamas wants you to think the Israelis are either killing people at random in Gaza or they’re so inept that can’t hit what they aim at. If either of these narratives strikes you as plausible, by all means, believe whatever you want, but Time magazine parses the fatality statistics and reveals that the number of civilian casualties is not nearly as high as reported.

Analyses of the casualties listed in the daily reports published by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gaza-based organization operating under Hamas rule, indicate that young males ages 17 to 30 make up a large portion of the fatalities, and a particularly noticeable spike occurs between males ages 21 to 27, a pattern consistent with the age distribution typically found among combatants and military conscripts. Palestinian sources attempt to conceal this discrepancy with their public message by labeling most of these young men as civilians.

[…]

Scrutiny of Palestinian figures in the current conflict reveals a spike in fatalities among males ages 21 to 27 and an over-representation from ages 17 to 30. Data gleaned from the daily reports of the PCHR show that from July 8, the start of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge,” through July 26, 404 out of 915 fatalities tallied from daily reports in which the ages were identified occurred among males ages 17 to 30, comprising 44% of all fatalities among a group representing about 10% of Gazans.

Expanding the age range from 17 to 39 and including those identified as combatants whose ages were not given increases that number to 551 fatalities, or 57% of all fatalities, even though this group represents less than one-sixth of Gazans. By contrast, adult female fatalities were less than 10% of total fatalities for a group that comprises a quarter of the total population.

Children, here defined as those under age 17, represented 194 of fatalities, 20% of the total. Any child fatality is a tragedy, but it is important to note that children make up over half the population of Gaza.

We’ll have a better handle on this when the war is over and some time has passed. As Time also notes in the article, Hamas eventually acknowledged that Israel more or less correctly identified the number of combatants killed in the last war and that previous claims about overwhelming civilian casualties had been fabricated.

Welcome to Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh would be appalled if he could see Vietnam now.

Well, perhaps not appalled—he was less doctrinaire than the likes of Vladimir Lenin and Fidel Castro, and even hard-line ideologues can become more flexible over time—but he certainly wouldn’t recognize it.

The Doi Moi market reforms that began in 1986 (a mere eleven years after the fall of Saigon and national unification under the Communist Party) and a general slackening of state micromanagement have transformed the country out of all recognition.

Theodore Dalrymple visited in the late 1980s when much of the old system was still in place but was on its way out. “Only a fortnight ago,” he wrote in his book The Wilder Shores of Marx, “there was no conveyor belt for luggage at the airport, a deficiency that had been rectified [in the meantime.] It now took only an hour to retrieve luggage instead of three.”

Didn’t take an hour for me to get mine. The entire airport procedure from beginning to end was easier than entering Canada or returning home from abroad. Friendly officials stamped me in promptly and let me bypass Customs entirely. My suitcase was waiting for me on the conveyor belt. Barely ten minutes after stepping off the plane I was already out on the sidewalk.

I did not have a journalist visa, nor did I apply for media credentials from the government. Local reporters and fixers tell me the process is a spectacularly expensive bureaucratic nightmare and that the authorities would dispatch minders to baby-sit me, so I blew it off and stuck with a tourist visa. Nobody cared. I booked interviews with government officials and even they didn’t care.

Vietnam makes a good first impression, which pleased me as a human being but challenged me as a journalist. Writing about war zones and other disaster areas is relatively straightforward. Countries on the mend are a bit tougher, and Vietnam has been on the mend for a while now.

A sign on a bridge leading from the airport into the city reads, in English, “Hanoi: City of Peace” and includes the image of a white dove. If you’re American and older than me and can remember when Hanoi was an enemy capital, don’t doubt the sincerity of that message. The Vietnam War—which the Vietnamese call the American War—has been over for almost forty years now. The Vietnamese never wanted to fight Americans anyway. I have no memory of the war and am too young to have known the country in the 1970s, but nevertheless it’s as obvious as the sky that Vietnam has changed more drastically in the meantime than any country I’ve ever visited beyond Eastern Europe.

Outside the airport I saw more construction and infrastructure projects during the first five minutes of my ride into Hanoi than I saw on my entire weeks-long trip to Cuba last year. A forest of cranes punctuated the skyline. The country is charging ahead like a bull hopped up on adrenaline, and it’s startlingly prosperous.

I’ve seen a lot of poverty in the world—especially in Egypt and Latin America—so perhaps I’m a little desensitized. The country might look a little bit poor, I guess, to someone who has never left the US or Europe, but I don’t even know about that. Average homes in Hanoi are larger than mine. Restaurants, cafes, bars, electronics stores, shopping malls, and luxury stores proliferate. Most of the city looks brand-new. If there are slums tucked away somewhere, I didn’t see any. Vietnam’s per capita income is shockingly low, but so is the cost of living, so a statistical comparison with the US or Europe is pointless.

“Nothing had been repaired in years,” reporter David Lamb wrote of Hanoi in the 1970s. “The old French colonial buildings appeared in danger of collapse. Everything was in a state of poverty and decay.”

Much of Havana and Cairo still look that way now, but there’s little visible evidence that Hanoi ever suffered through such a phase. Take heart! Ruined cities can be repaired.

Some parts of Hanoi are a bit messy, but aside from the outdated rat’s nest of electrical wires, its messes are the kind you make in your house when you’re in the middle of a remodeling project. Parts of the Old Quarter still look a little decayed, but even there the decay is like a holdover from the past that’s being blotted out with one high-end boutique store after another.

The ruling Communist Party knows better than just about anyone that communist economics are a disaster. Vietnam’s economy has been growing at light speed for a while now. I knew that in advance, and yet it still stunned me. The city trembles with industriousness and entrepreneurship. Small and large businesses are everywhere. Half the residents seem to be in business for themselves. Anything and everything you can possibly imagine is for sale, though it’s not all high-end yet. I saw a Louis Vuitton outlet next to a bootleg CD store, an elegant Western-style café next to low-end bar with hard chairs and no air-conditioning, a Body Shop next to a used clothing store with cast-off second-hand T-shirts from the West, and an art gallery next to a store selling old pots and pans.

Market economies are uneven, no doubt, but they sure as hell beat the alternative. I could hardly believe it, but when I was a kid the Vietnamese stood in long lines on the street to exchange ration coupons for handfuls of rice. Today the country is one of the world’s largest exporters of rice.

Japan and South Korea: watch out. If the economy keeps growing and the political system breaks open, Vietnam will be a country to reckon with.

*

Hanoi assaults all five senses.

The streets smell of fried food, incense, barbecue, mold and exhaust, sometimes all at once. The sounds of growling motorbike engines and banging construction are endless, and they’re punctuated by vehicle-mounted loudspeakers announcing God-knows-what all day.

And the climate: God, it is horrendous during the summer. Up to a hundred degrees Fahrenheit with 108 percent humidity and cloud cover, rain, and at times even fog. Summer is the monsoon season. Hanoi gets as much rain in one monsoon month as Portland, Oregon, gets in six. The gloomy sky looks like that of Seattle or London in January, but the air feels like Miami during a heat wave in August.

Hanoi looked to my eyes like someone had put China and France into a blender and pressed puree. (To Vietnamese eyes, of course, it just looks like Hanoi.) Parts of the city look oddly European—and I'm not referring here to the French Quarter which looks European for the obvious reasons.

Houses in the newer parts of town (which is to say, most of it) have Victorian characteristics—steep roofs, tall vertical windows, wedding-cake moldings, and balcony spindles. They’re taller and narrower than Victorian houses, though. Taxes are levied by how much street space each structure takes up, so most houses and places of private businesses build up and back as much as possible rather than sideways. 

Nearly all have slanted roofs, not to let snow slide off as in northern climates—I doubt Hanoi has ever known snow—but simply because pitched roofs like nice. They provide a certain elegance to each individual home and to the cityscape.

The city as a whole is not elegant, but it could be if it were twice as rich and four times more orderly. The former may be just a matter of time, but I'm not so sure about the latter. People are the way they are and orderly doesn't seem to be Vietnam’s style. The place is emphatically not German or Austrian. It has a frenetic energy that seems inherent and uncorkable. That a single political party managed to herd everyone into a totalitarian structure for even a short period beggars belief.

Never before have I seen such terrifying and ludicrous traffic. For nearly a decade I thought nothing could beat Beirut’s aggressive bumper-car bedlam, but I was wrong. The Vietnamese are just as aggressive, but most of them are on motorbikes instead of in cars. They take up less space on the roads, so the number of moving vehicles at any given location can be several times greater.

Red lights are suggestions. Sometimes they’re obeyed. Other times traffic moves through intersections in all four directions at once. Best of luck if you are on foot. No one will stop for you. They’ll go around, but they will not stop and they will not slow down.

So when you want to cross in heavy traffic (and traffic is heavy everywhere except after midnight) you just have to steel your nerves and step into the street even as dozens of bikes roar toward you panoramically. Everybody will ride around you. Really, they will—as long as you know what you’re doing. 

If you stop, if you change speed, or—worst of all—if you change the direction you’re moving, you could get hit. But if you pick a direction and just go at a consistent moderate speed, everyone will calculate where you’ll be by the time they get there. They’ll adjust their direction ever so slightly and miss you by a couple of inches. Traffic will swarm around you like an eddy in water. It is every bit as terrifying as it sounds. The police may as well not even exist.

It’s strange how a one-party state can look and feel so anarchic, but sometimes that’s how it goes. North Korea sure as hell isn’t like that, nor is Cuba, but the Vietnamese are like cats who refuse to be herded.

They enjoy no political freedom, but the government doesn’t hassle everyone constantly. Not anymore. The place feels free even though it technically isn’t because at this point in history, the citizens and the state have at least tacitly agreed to a modus vivendi: We won’t screw with you if you won’t screw with us. Like a cease-fire during a war, it will continue working until it doesn’t.

I have a hard time believing Vietnam ever passed through a totalitarian phase, but it’s easy to believe the phase was a brief one. Communism endured in Russia from the early 20th century until nearly the end, but it wasn’t imposed on all of Vietnam until the middle of the 1970s, and it ended in all but name before it ended in Moscow. The Vietnamese are too energetic, fearless, and naturally capitalistic to be forced for long onto an anthill.

*

I crossed a bridge to an island in Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Returned Sword) to an ancient Buddhist pagoda. It had, like all the old temples I saw, Chinese writing on the walls and the pillars. Vietnam’s current modified Latin alphabet didn’t exist before the 17th century and wasn’t widely adopted until early in the 20th century.

The temple looked ancient and felt ancient, and it also looked and felt, to me anyway, purely Chinese. Buddhism came to Vietnam from both India and China, but the temples in the north seem to be mostly Chinese.

Buddhist visitors (as opposed to mere tourists) lit high-quality temple incense and placed the sticks in a central location just outside the entrance. Inside was a quiet place for calm and repose. I saw altars and extravagantly carved tables for offerings, including cash money. The ceiling was made of brown-stained wood held in place by fat red timbers. Intricately carved representations of distinctly Chinese-looking deities stood in the back as they must have for centuries beyond where mere mortals are allowed to tread.

Most buildings and houses in Hanoi are relatively new, so the contrast with everything else in the city was striking. Unlike the medieval walled cities of Europe and the Middle East’s maze-like medinas, Hanoi doesn’t feel ancient. The pagodas do, though, because they are. And their origins lie elsewhere, in the belly of the regional hegemon that has antagonized and periodically invaded Vietnam for thousands of years. China is but a short drive away. I could feel its presence over the horizon like a vast ocean. The Vietnamese feel it too, the way Poles, Estonians, and especially now Ukrainians feel the overwhelming and massive presence of Russia.

Back out on the sidewalk a woman sold small turtles from a white plastic bucket. “When you leave a pagoda,” a local man explained to me, “you are supposed to buy an animal and set it free.”

I like the idea, but it’s a bit circular, isn’t it? The animals must first be captured and sold before they can be freed. The poor turtles would be better off if they were never caught and placed into that bucket at all.

Vietnam’s government falsely claims the majority of its people are non-religious—some communist-era habits die harder than others—but I saw signs not only of Buddhism but also of ancestor worship everywhere. Most businesses have little altars near the front for incense and gifts for the dead. The gifts are often burned so that ancestors can receive them in the spirit world. Some of the gifts are ghost offerings. I saw fake iPhones, for instance, fake iPads and fake money—even fake credit cards. Supposedly when these things are burned they float up to the afterlife where they can be used. Lighting cash on fire, then, is a spiritual Western Union of sorts. Theoretically.

“If you think about it,” one Vietnamese person said to me, “we’re actually burning real money because we have to spend real money to purchase the fake money.”

Women wearing conical hats roam the city selling fruit, fried pastries, and other items to passersby. They congregate around pagodas and tourist sites. I stopped an elderly vendor and asked for a small portion of what looked like Vietnam’s version of donuts. The woman smiled and placed a handful in a plastic bag and said “200,000 dong.”

That’s ten dollars. For a fistful of fried bread.

I laughed. 

“Come on,” I said.

Vietnam is not an expensive country. I don’t know what she would have charged a local person, but surely much less than ten dollars. She thought I was rich and therefore wouldn’t mind paying so much, but I’m nowhere near rich, at least not by Western standards. (Only a lucky few writers ever get rich.)

“200,000 dong,” she said again.

“I’ll give you 20,000,” I said. That’s about one dollar and probably more than the locals would pay.

“200,000,” she said again.

Seriously? She wasn’t even going to come down to 180,000?

“Forget it,” I said and walked away.

That night I paid six dollars for an entire meal plus a bottle of beer, so I knew the lady on the street tried to drastically overcharge me. I swore not to buy anything that didn’t have a price tag on it somewhere.

My waitress that evening correctly sensed that I had just arrived (newcomers are obvious everywhere) and gave me some advice.

“The street sellers,” she said, and pointed outside the window with her eyes, “are not good. If you’re a foreigner they’ll charge you ten times what everyone else pays.”

Indeed. It took me no time at all to figure that out. I appreciated, though, that she was looking out for me. She didn’t know me, but she was looking out for me. And she helped me out with the language—which is a pain and a half. The Vietnamese language uses six different vocal tones, and if you’re not used to tonal languages you can easily screw up saying even hello and thank you. A single syllable sound like “Ha” can be made into six different words depending on which tone you use and which markings you put above or below the letters in writing.

The Vietnamese use a modified version of the Latin alphabet, but it’s harder to casually learn a few words and read them that it first appears. You must pay attention to the tone markings, not just the letters, if you want to even begin making sense of it. and , for instance, are not the same word. They look similar and to my tone-deaf ears they sound exactly the same, but they’re different words.

I thanked the waitress for helping me out as best she could with the language, and especially for warning me about scammers prowling the streets, but no one else ever tried to egregiously overcharge me, at least not to my knowledge. Even the taxi drivers used the meter without my having to ask, which is unheard of almost everywhere I’ve ever been. Even European taxi drivers have tried and sometimes succeeded in ripping me off.

Before I left home I read all kinds of horror stories on the Internet about scam artists and hasslers of every conceivable variety in Vietnam, but I hardly ran into any of them. I don’t know if it’s because I got lucky, because I’ve learned how to not look like a sucker, or because the problem is much less severe than it used to be. I don’t know but I suspect it’s the latter. Everything else is changing at rocket ship speed, so why not the hassling?

After dinner I returned to my room in the busting Old Quarter, flicked off the lights, and heard the honking and growling of motorbikes as a bat flew past my window.

*

I awoke early and jetlagged the next morning and set out at six to find some relief from the hideous climate. The air outside was 82 degrees Fahrenheit and humid. Hardly ideal, but it certainly beat the 99 degrees of the previous day. At least I could walk around for a few minutes before my shirt soaked through with sweat.

How miserable it must have been fighting a war in this country. They say war is interminable boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. I’ve been to war zones myself and can attest to the truth of that statement. But war in the sticky and sweltering jungles must have been interminable misery punctuated by terror.

I was advised to check out Le Mat on the outskirts of the city. There you will find the Snake Village where you can pull up a bar stool and order some snake wine. The bartender will kill a cobra, pour its blood into rice wine, and drop the snake’s still-beating heart into the shot glass.

If you don’t want to drink blood, you can have it with bile instead.

I refused. Why make my stomach churn and possibly heave just so I can write about it? The description of the drink itself is enough. I went to Iraq seven times during the war, but drinking snake wine is over the line. I don’t care whether or not that makes sense. 

What I wanted was coffee. I was jet-lagged in a bad way, and if I didn’t have caffeine I’d need a nap. And if I succumbed to that nap I’d sleep for eight hours, miss most of the day, and be up all night when everything’s closed. So I headed back toward Hoan Kiem Lake during early business hours, and when a young woman on the sidewalk beckoned me over and told me about a café upstairs, I eagerly agreed to let her show me the way.

She led me inside a building that looked like a parking garage, though nobody parked there. Empty boxes, a discarded broom, and other detritus were strewn about. There was a café upstairs? Really? I felt a twinge of uncertainty. What kind of café would be above this? The building looked derelict.

I resisted the twinge of uncertainty. The young woman seemed friendly enough and she wore a shirt with a café logo on it. I followed her into the elevator. We rode up to the fourth floor, then she pointed toward a rickety-looking stairway leading up a gloomy fifth floor. The way was unlit, the walls filthy, the air hot and still. I saw no other people and heard no sounds but the traffic outside. I had a hard time believing the kind of café I wanted to hang out in was up there.

If I were anywhere in the West I would have turned around and gone back to the street, but my instincts are different abroad. I ascended the stairs, feeling curious about what I’d find though doubtful that I would like it.

I reached the top of the sweltering stairway, pushed open a glass door, and found myself in a café worthy of South Beach in Miami tucked into an air-conditioned aerie. The place was packed with comfortable sofas and chairs and stylishly dressed Vietnamese with laptops and iPads drinking from cups of Italian-style espresso. The entire south wall was made of glass from floor to ceiling and revealed a 180-degree view of the lake and the skyline below.

Almost everyone in the café was staring at a personal electronic device.

Who during the Vietnam War on either side of the conflict could have imagined that such a bourgeois place would ever appear in Hanoi while the Communist Party still ruled? Ho Chi Minh sure as hell didn't expect this. Nor would he have wanted it. Fidel Castro would hate it. Of that I assure you. Pol Pot would have wanted to murder everyone in there.

The world is becoming more and more alike everywhere. Outside of basket case countries like North Korea, Syria, and Iraq, we all seem to be heading in the same direction toward the same destination. And with everyone looking at the little screens in their hands all the time, even while sitting with friends, I have to wonder: where exactly, as a species, are we going?

Whatever the answer to that question, Hanoi is no longer an impoverished totalitarian backwater. It’s a global city now. And despite the name of its government, communism is finished. 

*

The city exhausted me after a couple of days, so I took a brief break on the coast of the Gulf of Tonkin.

I did not drive there. Vietnam is so far the one country I’ve visited where driving must be left to the professionals.

The near-ubiquitous nice housing of the city continued into the countryside. Where was the poverty? Surely there must be poverty somewhere out in the country. In the mountains, perhaps, or along the Cambodian border. But while the rural areas along the highway between the capital and the coast are less cosmopolitan and fashionable, they are not destitute. At least the ones along the main highway aren’t destitute. I saw water buffaloes and women with conical hats in the fields and three-story houses with balconies. The whole scene looked bucolic, though field work in that climate has to be brutal. 

And the coast is spectacular, especially Halong Bay roughly thirty miles south of the border with China. Hundreds of islands, most of them karst towers and cones topped with a riot of vegetation, spread out in a vast panorama that goes on for miles.

“Hạ Long” means descending dragon in Vietnamese. The bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered one of the natural wonders of Asia.

Boat tours are startlingly cheap, so I booked one and set out. The air temperature dropped 10 degrees the minute the captain pushed us away from the shoreline.

Every direction looked like the setting for an Asian fairy tale. The land formations are wondrous, even surreal, and they’re crawling with screaming insects that in concert sound like a huge whirring bone saw. There is no other sound on the water.

Sadly, though, there’s trash in the bay. Vietnam is not trashy in general, but I saw a heartbreaking amount of plastic bottles, beer cans, potato chip wrappers, and chunks of Styrofoam floating by in the water—along with jellyfish with heads the size of basketballs.

“How dangerous are those jellyfish?” I asked the captain. “What happens if they sting a person?”

“Pain,” he said. “No die, but great pain.”

The water is calm and refreshing, but don’t swim there at night.

Much of the trash is generated by people who live in floating villages made of clapboard houses floating on Styrofoam platforms far from the mainland. They have no electricity or modern amenities. These villages are objectively poor. None of Vietnam’s newfound prosperity has reached these people, but fewer than two hundred still live out there. The captain told me they lived in caves on the islands until the mid-1990s when the government ordered them out and told them to live in floating houses instead. But they’re polluting the water, so now the government is slowly phasing the villages out and relocating everyone to the mainland. In a few years they will be gone. Whether they’ll prosper after relocating or resent the state for moving them, I have no idea.

The coast was a pleasant diversion, but I found little grist for my writing mill there. It’s beautiful and relaxing, but it’s a place for tourists and poets, not journalists. So back to the city I went.

*

When I returned to Hanoi, I came back to familiar restaurants, cafes, narrow storefronts, traffic, and noise. The hotel staff welcomed me back. It was like a tiny homecoming of sorts, and it triggered a question I often ponder when traveling abroad.

Could I live there?

Lots of Westerners do. Even I could separate them from the tourists. Their motorbike helmets sometimes gave them away, but I could also tell by their ease of navigating the place, how they crossed the street with the confidence of a local and settled into cafes and restaurants as though they were regulars.

I found a cheap but pleasant-enough looking restaurant, ordered a beer and some seafood, and pretended in my own mind that I lived there. I wanted to know how I felt about that, partly to satisfy my own curiosity, but also because it’s an important question for me as a writer. It forces me to think seriously about how distressed a place is or isn’t, about the quality of life for the average person, and about the political system.

I wasn’t initially sure of the answer.

So I kept at it. I tried to look like I lived there by pretending I knew the waitress, drinking my beer with a bored confidence, and not fiddling with my chopsticks like an amateur. Whether or not I actually looked like a resident expat, I was starting to feel like one. The only air-conditioning in that particular restaurant was a fan blowing the hot air around and I didn’t mind. My body had recalibrated its thermostat. Full-on air-conditioning made me feel cold. I later got into a taxi that felt like a refrigerator and laughed at myself when I almost asked the driver to turn up the heat.

But could I live there, at least for a while? I had to know. Most places I’ve traveled it’s an easy question to answer, but in Vietnam it was not.

Could I live in Cairo? No. Baghdad? Hell no. Havana? No chance. Not while it’s under the boot heel of the Castros. Rabat? Perhaps. Beirut? I have already lived in Beirut and theoretically could do so again. But what about Hanoi?

Vietnam is a pleasant destination for tourists, for sure, but it’s also a one-party nominally communist state. I have viscerally detested communism since the first moment I learned about it as a child. No political system in the history of the human race has killed such a vast number of people. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union were the greatest geopolitical events of my lifetime. Every cell in my body rebelled at the existential heaviness of the state in Cuba on my last long trip abroad and after a week I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

I had to look it squarely in the eye in Vietnam without flinching.

Could I live there, despite it?

Yes. I believe so.

As long as I stayed out of politics.

Post-script: If you enjoyed reading this dispatch, please consider contributing with a donation. Many thanks in advance!

The Death of the Latest Middle East Peace Process

Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon have written an exhaustively detailed and compulsively readable narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed three months ago for The New Republic. We know how the story ends because it is already history, and most of us are cynical enough now that we knew how it would end before it even began, but it’s a fascinating and suspenseful read all the same because it looked for a while there like some kind of deal actually might have been struck.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas are both capable of being more flexible and reasonable than their detractors realize, and John Kerry made a genuinely serious attempt to get them to make compromises and end the conflict once and for all. He was not going through the motions just for appearances. Barack Obama, meanwhile, is less naïve about all this business than he may have been at the outset.

The Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian Authority president can’t negotiate this alone. Each has various factions that must be appeased, some of them more hard-line than others. Getting the two sides to agree on a peace deal remains extraordinarily difficult--even impossible--at the moment, but each side has softened up to an extent. Both made difficult compromises. The Palestinian Authority has come a long way since the days of Yasser Arafat, as has Netanyahu and the Israeli Likud Party. Each is less ideological than before. If you doubt it (and I certainly can’t blame you at this point) read the long The New Republic story. It’s one of the best pieces of journalism I’ve read in a year. Birnbaum and Tibon put and extraordinary amount of work into this.

But the two sides are still a long ways apart, and many of the negotiators are resigning in exhaustion. Failing at yet another doomed peace process makes everybody more cynical. Nobody can know how the next attempt will play out in detail, but none of the actors at this point is optimistic.

And that’s without factoring Hamas into the equation, which rejects both negotiations and peace out of hand and vows to wage a decades- or even centuries-long war to the finish. Hamas will gleefully sacrifice a thousand Palestinian lives to kill a few dozen Israelis because its leaders truly believe that if life becomes too precarious and nerve-wracking for Jews in the Middle East that they’ll give up and quit the region forever. It’s a fantastical bloody delusion, but it’s what they believe and they are not going to stop any time soon.

I hate to be too cynical about this myself, but as I’ve said before, the Middle East is a great teacher of pessimism. A few years ago I asked Israeli writer and researcher Hillel Cohen what he expected to see in Jerusalem 50 years in the future. “Some war,” he said, shrugging. “Some peace. Some negotiations. The usual stuff.”

Hamas Chooses Guns Over Butter

The current round of fighting between Israel and Hamas will likely wind down as soon as the Israel Defense Forces are confident that the vast network of underground tunnels has been dismantled, but until then, fat chance.

Paul Alster at Fox says the IDF has so far uncovered at least 28 tunnels with more than 60 access shafts, and Ben Piven at Al Jazeera makes it clear that these tunnels are used offensively.

“Tunnels are just one weapon used by the resistance,” Abu Obeida, a Qassam spokesman, told Al Jazeera. “They can move from a defensive position to an offensive one in any situation.”

Hamas forces traveled in the tunnels to capture Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006 and bring him back to Gaza, where he was kept prisoner for five years.

One tunnel discovered by Israel last year was 66 feet deep and 1.5 miles long. The project is estimated to have cost $10 million and used 800 tons of concrete. The dangerous digging was apparently done with mechanical pedal-powered devices, rather than with noisy electrical equipment.

The citizens of Gaza would be much better off if their government—if Hamas deserves to be called such a thing—invested its money and energy into building an economy and improving the lives of its people instead of killing Israelis and bringing violent retaliation down on everyone’s head.

But Hamas is spectacularly unlikely ever to change. What Gaza needs is internally-driven regime-change from below. When everyone is at last tired of living like this they will no longer have to.

Israel is Not Going Anywhere

An Israeli journalist gave his Palestinian cameraman a tour of Tel Aviv and this is what happened:

On the Ayalon Highway, the highway leading to the big city, he first laid eyes upon the tall buildings, Tel Aviv’s towers, the branching road system, the bridges, the lights, the life. It was all so different from Gaza, which seemed light years away to him. On the way, we passed the sites Hamas terrorists struck some years before: the Dizengoff commercial center, the Dolphinarium night club, Mike’s Place bar and others. When the astonishment faded from his face, he summarized it thus: “Hamas militants are living in a delusion; they are convinced that with a group of suicide bombers (shahids, meaning martyrs) they could overpower Israel.”

After that he had an idea, somewhat comical, somewhat practical: “If we get all of Hamas’ leaders on one bus, both the political wing and the military wing, and give them a guided tour from the Erez crossing to Tel Aviv, they will get wiser, return to Gaza and will stop threatening and dreaming that they could defeat Israel.”

I don’t know about that. Never underestimate the power of human delusion. But I can certainly believe that this particular Palestinian got a real and lasting reality check. I’ve been to Israel many times myself. The notion of destroying it with anything short of nuclear weapons is ludicrous.

Going in Circles in Gaza

Now that the Israelis have mounted a ground invasion of Gaza, casualties are climbing on each side. According to NPR, 20 Israelis have been killed so far along with more than 400 Palestinians.

Hamas claims it kidnapped an Israeli soldier, but the Israelis say no one has been taken. I don’t know who to believe, but Hamas’ claim would be more credible if its commanders had a name and photograph of the person they say they've kidnapped.

The Israelis are systematically demolishing underground tunnels leading into Israel from Gaza and are not likely to agree to a cease-fire at this point until they’re satisfied that the tunnel system is broken. It’s more dangerous than Hamas’ rocket arsenal since kidnappers and murderers can use those tunnels to sneak into Israel. As I pointed out last week, a small band of serial killers on the West Bank killed more Israelis than Hamas can manage with hundred of rockets.

By the time the Israelis finish their work, Hamas may have killed enough Israelis and fired enough of its rockets that it can save face with an empty “victory” boast despite losing so many people, despite emptying its vast arsenal with little to show for it, and despite having its tunnels collapsed. Then its leaders will agree to a cease-fire. It doesn’t matter that no one will believe Hamas won. Hamas just needs to be able to say it.

The Israelis and Palestinians won’t be an inch closer to peace after that happens, but at least the conflict will go back into the refrigerator. It will start up again at some point, though, and we’ll take another ride on the deadly and stupid merry-go-round, so savor the calm while it lasts.

Hamas is Losing and Everyone Knows it

Hamas is losing and everyone knows it.

More than 200 Palestinians have been killed so far in the current round of fighting while the number of dead Israelis amounts to a grand total of one.

That’s almost certainly the reason Hamas rejected the Egypt-proposed cease-fire agreement. So far it has accomplished practically nothing. A small band of serial killers on the West Bank managed to murder more Israelis a couple of weeks ago than Hamas can manage with its entire missile arsenal now.

It’s pathetic, really, and must be extraordinarily humiliating.

The Middle Eastern habit of declaring victory after getting your ass kicked has a long pedigree. Egypt did it after losing the 1973 Yom Kippur War. North Korea built a hysterical propaganda museum in Cairo commemorating that make-believe victory, but at least that particular fantasy is based on something. The Egyptian army did well against Israel for the first couple of days even though it lost in the end.

Hezbollah declared victory in the 2006 war despite the fact that entire swaths of its infrastructure were obliterated, but Hezbollah did inflict some serious damage and triggered a refugee crisis. Hamas couldn’t possibly base a victory boast on anything now.

The Israelis are seriously considering a ground invasion since Hamas won’t stop firing, but they’ve already proved to the population of Gaza that Hamas, even with its all its longer-range missiles, is capable of inflicting no more damage on the Zionist Entity than a lone killer armed with only a steak knife.

Year Four: The Arab Spring Proved Everyone Wrong

I wrote this essay for the print edition of World Affairs. It is now available online.

Shortly after the Arab Spring broke out at the tail end of 2010, two narratives took hold in the West. Optimists hailed a region-wide birth of democracy, as though the Middle East and North Africa were following the path blazed in Eastern Europe during the anti-communist revolutions of 1989. Pessimists fretted that the Arab world was following Iran’s example in 1979 and replacing secular tyrants with even more repressive Islamist regimes.

Both narratives turned out to be wrong, and not just because their adherents had the wrong narrative. Any narrative superimposed over this series of events was doomed to be wrong.

The Arab Spring isn’t one thing. Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are experiencing wrenching change, but unlike in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, each affected country is moving in different and sometimes opposing directions. Each has its own history, its own narrative.

Tunisia, where everything started, proved the pessimists wrong, and Egypt, which rapidly followed Tunisia, all by itself proved both the optimists and the pessimists wrong.

The mostly nonviolent removal of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from office in Tunis led to free and fair elections in 2011 that brought to power the Islamist party Ennahda, the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. But Ennahda only won forty-one percent of the vote, with a majority voting for secular parties—hardly a mandate for radical Islam. From the very beginning, Tunisia’s liberal and secular opposition resisted Ennahda so effectively that the Islamists had to abandon their push for a religious state and grudgingly accept a secular civil state. Even that wasn’t enough for the majority; in January 2014, Ennahda, exhausted by the unrelenting onslaught from moderates, liberals, and leftists, resigned from the government. Later that same month, Tunisia adopted one of the most liberal constitutions in the entire Arab world. “With the birth of this text,” center-left President Moncef Marzouki said, “we confirm our victory over dictatorship.”

So much for Iranian-style revolution.

But the optimists were wrong everywhere else.

When Egyptians dumped Hosni Mubarak, the majority didn’t vote for secular candidates in the first elections, as the Tunisians did. The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi, won Egypt’s presidential election with fifty-one percent of the vote, a slim majority but a majority all the same. Meanwhile, the totalitarian Salafist party—which is more or less the political arm of al-Qaeda—won twenty-four percent of the parliamentary vote, meaning that, unlike the Tunisians, a substantial majority of Egyptians went for Islamists of one stripe or another.

Morsi’s power grabs, his incompetence, his lunatic politics—symbolized by the appointment of a governor associated with a terrorist group that murdered fifty-eight tourists near the city of Luxor in 1997—were too much for even a nation as conservative and Islamist as Egypt. Millions of people—the overwhelming majority of them fellow Muslims—took to the streets to demand his removal from power, just as they
had against Mubarak before him.

The army took care of the rest. General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi overthrew Morsi in June of 2013 and immediately declared war against the Muslim Brotherhood. Millions of Egyptians celebrated Sisi’s coup as a revolutionary “correction.”

So while Egypt never became an Iran on the Nile, it did not become a democracy either. It’s right back where it started. The Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed all over again. The new regime and its supporters are no more liberal and democratic than Mubarak’s or Morsi’s.

In some ways, they’re worse. Sisi’s regime reeks of Stalinism these days. In March of this year, more than five hundred Muslim Brotherhood officials were sentenced to death in one swoop. Many of those sentences were commuted to life, but the regime did it again the very next day and sentenced six hundred more.

Read the whole thing.

An Excerpt from RESURRECTION

If you haven’t yet picked up a copy of my zombie novel, here’s an excerpt that might pique your interest. Be sure to read the book before the movie comes out. The studio that purchased the film option is moving ahead and has two outstanding actors attached to it. (Nothing is official yet so I cannot tell you their names.)

Like AMC’s The Walking Dead, this is a character-driven story. There are zombies, yes, but the story is about how the characters react to the zombies and to each other.

My favorite character by far is Parker, though he is not the most likeable. At best he’s an anti-hero. We are all flawed human being, but Parker is more flawed than most. And he is punished terribly for it.

*   *   *

Parker had been married once. Met his future wife at a trendy café named Spinoza’s in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. It was the kind of place Parker always hated, not only because he didn’t fit in there but because it attracted the kinds of people he wished never colonized his neighborhood to begin with—the young, the hip, the beautiful, and the moneyed. Ballard used to be an honest and slightly gritty place for men who worked the docks, the ship locks, and who made things with their hands. It was never intended for soft people who lived in undeserved luxury and made boatloads of cash clicking away on their laptops.

The only reason he went into Spinoza’s that day at all was because he needed the bathroom. But when he saw a young woman sitting there by herself with her newspaper and a latte, he couldn’t help himself. He decided to order one too and see if he could gin up the nerve to take the empty table next to her.

There was something about her, though he couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Not even after they married could he figure out what it was. She was attractive, sure, but not the most attractive he’d ever seen. She seemed friendly and approachable enough, though he had no idea why he would think that since she was just sitting there reading the paper. There was just something … gravitational about her, like she’d been engineered just for him.

He ordered awkwardly at the counter. He’d never had a latte, a cappuccino, or an Americano. He didn’t even know what they were. But he couldn’t just say “I’ll have a coffee.” They didn’t have regular coffee in those kinds of places.

The pretty woman with the newspaper sat far enough from the counter that she couldn’t hear him fumble his order, and thank heaven for that or he wouldn’t have sat next to her. She looked so peaceful and content, so at ease in the world as she flipped strands of her brown hair over her ear.

He didn’t intend to hit on her or ask her out for a date. He just wanted to enjoy the pleasure of her attention even if it only lasted a couple of seconds.

She sat by herself at a table for two. He sat next to her at another table for two and placed his drink in front of him. It looked like a dessert. He expected it to taste like one too, like a coffee meringue pie or something. Normally he drank plain old coffee, black, but the creamy and bitter whipped goodness in his mug, despite being foofy and gay, was outstanding. Wow, he thought. This exists?

“This coffee is extraordinary,” he said.

“Isn’t it?” the woman next to him said. The corners of her eyes crinkled up when she smiled over her mug.

God, Parker thought. I love this woman. He didn’t know why. He just did.

Her name was Holly and she was a regular at Spinoza’s. She had gone to school with the café owners. He told her he was new to fancy coffee and she seemed delighted to explain all the options.

They were so very different, but they were married in less than a year.

He built cabinets for a living. She worked in an office downtown as a paralegal. His friends were working class. Hers were professional. He loved the outdoors. She enjoyed fancy meals out. He drank beer. She liked red wine. Once in a while he embarrassed her when they went out with her friends, and he knew he seemed a little rough around the edges in mixed company, but she loved him and he couldn’t imagine living without her. She had a soft and gentle soul and seemed to appreciate his brusque masculine qualities—she was genetically hard-wired to do so, after all—until one day he hit her.

He didn’t mean to. Really, he didn’t. It just happened. They were arguing about money, which was a stupid because they both made plenty. He wanted a motorcycle and could afford it. She wanted to spend the money on granite kitchen counters instead.

She might have talked him into it, too, but instead she said she was tired of being a slave to his lower-class lifestyle.

He’d never hit anybody before. He looked like the type of guy who had been in a couple of fights, but he hadn’t.

He didn’t hit her too hard. It was really more like a slap. He didn’t strike her with a closed fist, didn’t break any bones, didn’t make her bleed, didn’t even leave a mark that lasted more than five minutes. But he did strike her cheek, and he’d never forget the sound or the look on her face when he did it.

Her entire life shattered in one instant.

She’d never forgive him, not in her heart, and he knew it.

He could not have been sorrier. That slap hurt him more than it hurt her. It sounded ludicrous when he said so, and she screamed that it was the most outrageous thing she ever heard, but it was true. It changed him as a person. It sentenced him to be a different kind of man for the rest of his life, the kind of man who hit women. A domestic abuser. A wife-beater. He never did it again, nor would he ever—no, really, he wouldn’t—but he would spend the rest of his days as a man who had once smacked a woman.

Eventually she could look at him again, and a little while later she could talk to him again, and eventually she even had sex with him one last time, but it ended in tears, and at that moment he knew it was over. She never slept with him again. Never even hugged him again. She left a few months later and said she was sorry but she wouldn’t be back. She cried when she left and she even said that she’d miss him, but she was true to her word. She never came back.

That was two years ago. Parker thought about her every day since. After the plague swept the world, he worried about her so hard he vomited.

What happened to her? Was she alive? Did she get bitten? Was a distorted version of her out there somewhere, diseased and warped beyond recognition? What would he do if she came at him on the street baring her teeth? Would he shoot her? Would he smash in her skull with a crowbar?

Would he smash in her face if he had to?

*   *   *

If you want to read more, you have to purchase the book. It is available now as an audio book narrated by the outstanding Steven Roy Grimsley who also narrated Where the West Ends

Hamas is the New Lesser of Evils

A resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is further away than ever. Hamas is the biggest obstacle to peace between the two sides, yet Israeli Brigadier General Michael Herzog tells Colin Freeman at Britain’s Telegraph that Hamas needs to be preserved and maintained lest something even worse takes its place.

“One way in which an Israeli military operation could backfire is by shaking Hamas' control on the ground to the point that it allowed other factions, including jihadists, to come to the fore,” he said. “At least Hamas provides an address—you don't have that with the jihadi factions. They aren't dominant right now but Hamas no longer controls Gaza as firmly as it used to, and if it was seriously weakened they could take advantage. We don't want another Somalia on our doorstep.”

He could have said he doesn’t want another Iraq on his doorstep. If a group like ISIS seized power in Gaza City during the aftermath of a war, both Israelis and Palestinians would have a brand-new deadly serious problem.

So Hamas is the “lid,” and the Israelis won’t even try to get rid of it. Right now they only want to put a stop to the rocket fire. It makes sense considering what’s happening in Syria and Iraq, but think of the long-term ramifications: Hamas is indispensable even while making an end to the conflict impossible. What does that say about the prospects for peace in the near term?

If Hamas simply wanted independence for a Palestinian state, the two sides would only have to work out the details. But Hamas wants to “liberate” and “end the occupation” not of the West Bank but of Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. It isn’t possible to negotiate a deal with these people. They aren’t interested in negotiating anything more than a temporary cease-fire. Hamas and the entire ideology behind it must be eliminated or at least marginalized before an end to the conflict will be in sight.

There is no reason to believe this will happen any time soon. An Arab Spring-like revolution against Hamas in Gaza would be an interesting development, but it’s not happening. Perhaps it will later, but it is not happening now.

The Israelis can and do change their government regularly with free and fair elections, but Palestinian politics are autocratic and slower to change. At least one more generational shift may be necessary. In any case, the jihadist factions will need to be vaporized first. And in the Levant, at least, they’re still ascending.

We could waste more time with another peace process to nowhere, I guess, but they sure do hurt when they fail.

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