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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.

China and Latin America: Pivots and Rivets

While the United States gropes to reset its foreign policy in a “pivot toward Asia,” China’s practical leaders are putting strong rivets into an ambitious economic partnership with Latin America that will have far-reaching consequences for the region’s international relations. Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping rolled out the strategic bonding in a four-nation trip to Latin America that included high-level conferences with government and business leaders organized by the region’s top economic group, CELAC, which represents more than 30 countries. The trip began in Brazil, where Xi attended the sixth summit meeting of the BRICS, the five-nation group of large emerging countries, which used the meeting to launch a multilateral development bank and mutual currency stabilization fund with commitments of resources of more than $100 billion dollars. He then announced Chinese financing for railroads and other infrastructure projects in Brazil worth $35 billion.

A Different Germany? Maybe

The Germans are still on a high after winning the World Cup, even if the German press felt it had to express mild disapproval at the team’s performance of the “Gaucho Dance” at their homecoming demonstration in Berlin.

In the “Gaucho Dance,” team members got into a crouch and sang, “This is how the gauchos walk,” and then straightened to their full height and sang, “This is how Germans walk.” The chairman of the Bundesliga, the German soccer league, said he would write to his Argentinian counterpart to assure him that “the boys” were not gloating over their 1-0 defeat of Argentina’s national team.

But at the World Cup “fan mile,” at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, hundreds of thousands of adoring Germans cheered the players and chanted “Schland,” the hip, slang term for Deutschland that established itself among fans during this World Cup.

Meanwhile, German media (and not just the Germans) have been going through the mandatory exercise of trying to figure out the broader implications of bringing home the coveted trophy.

The Second Cold War?

“Do you believe that the US-Russian relations are now at Cold War levels?” CNN’s Candy Crowley asked Dianne Feinstein on Sunday. “Yes,” replied the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

During the same interview, on the State of the Union program, Feinstein hinted at the problems of imposing sanctions on Moscow, even in the aftermath of the murderous downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last week with a missile almost certainly of Russian origin. “It’s difficult, because you need Russian help in so many things,” she said to Crowley. “The P5+1, Syria, and it goes on and on.”

The list was not always so long.

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.

Bitter Lessons for Kyiv in South Caucasus

Following yesterday’s murder in the sky over Donetsk, global attention has returned to the tragedy of Eastern Ukraine. Russia illegally annexed Crimea six months ago, and continues to foment insurrection against the new Poroshenko government in Kyiv. Moscow is yet to meet any real opposition. When considering what comes next, it is worth recalling another forgotten conflict at the edge of the former Soviet Union.

Twenty years ago a “Line of Contact” was established around the Azeri region of Nagorno-Karabakh. This unhappy demarcation followed six years of conflict as Karabakhs fought a bitter, inconclusive war to unite with their ethnic kin in nearby Armenia. Sniper fire and raids have inflamed tensions ever since: not only on the ceasefire line, but also along the recognized international border several miles away. Twenty thousand Azeri, Armenian, and Karabakh fighters remain entrenched around the province.

How Much Are Ukrainian and Malaysian Lives Worth?

When Vladimir Putin’s proxies shot down a Malaysian Airlines jet with close to 300 passengers over eastern Ukraine on July 17th, I was shocked.

But I wasn’t shocked on July 15th, when the former head of the Ukrainian General Staff stated that 330 Ukrainian soldiers had died in the course of Kyiv’s anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine, while the press liaison of the National Security and Defense Council said the correct number was 258. Both numbers were immediately wrong, as some 10 soldiers were killed that day.

The sad fact is that I’m getting used to Putin’s killing spree.

I still remember when the first demonstrator was killed on the Maidan back in January. What a shock that was. And then the mass sniper shootings in late February. What an outrage. The victims came to be known as the Heavenly Hundred and memorials to them still dot the area around Kyiv’s Independence Square.

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.

Russia and China Shun Iranian Nuclear Talks

The big story from Vienna is not that discussions this week with Iran over its enrichment of uranium are not going well. Such a failure was virtually inevitable. The big story is who is not in town for the ill-fated proceedings, an effort to stop what many suspect is a disguised nuclear weapons program. 

US Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are all in Vienna for talks with their Iranian counterpart. The top diplomats of the remaining two members of the P5+1, the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, are no-shows, however. The foreign ministers of Russia and China, Sergey Lavrov and Wang Yi, are nowhere to be seen in the picturesque Austrian capital. Instead, Moscow and Beijing sent note-takers.

What’s Rong with Wrussia?

Everything, according to some. Many things, according to others. Nothing, according to many Russians.

Back in 2004, two US academics, Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman, wrote a controversial piece for Foreign Affairs in which they argued that statistics proved that Russia was a “normal country.” Since they focused on mostly economic parameters, such as GDP, income distribution, and the like, they had a point.

What Shleifer and Treisman overlooked was the politics. Do “normal” countries normally invade their neighbors, lop off bits and pieces of foreign territory, support unconstitutionally elected, power-obsessed strongman leaders, distrust the world and continually whine about their lost glory, take the crudest Goebbelsian government propaganda at face value, export terrorism, call democrats fascists and fascists democrats, and approve of profoundly corrupt, deeply inefficient, hyper-chauvinist, and blatantly imperialist fascist states?

Will the Palestinians Take Israel to the ICC? Probably Not.

When the latest round of conflict between Israel and Hamas comes to an end, will the Palestinians turn again to international institutions to confront Israel? More specifically, having applied to 15 UN agencies and international treaties in April, will the PA now apply to the International Criminal Court?

Ever since Palestine secured “non-Member Observer State” status at the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, that option has been open to President Mahmoud Abbas. It would be a popular move among many ordinary Palestinians and Western human rights activists. In May, 17 groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, implored the Palestinians to prosecute Israel at the International Criminal Court. “Twenty years of peace talks have brought neither peace nor justice,” said Joe Stork, of Human Rights Watch.

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

Contradictions Define Kremlin Apologists

According to the conventional wisdom, Vladimir Putin and his Western supporters propagate a uniform message throughout the world. At its most extreme, this view sees Russia as having a formidable propaganda machine that is running roughshod over the Western media and public.  

In fact, Putin and his supporters and apologists often disagree. One reason may be that the machine just isn’t as formidable as it’s made out to be. Another may be that the Kremlin’s supporters make mistakes when interpreting or anticipating the frequently contradictory or incomprehensible statements of the Delphic oracle that is Putin. A third may be that they have difficulties bridging the growing gap between reality and Putin’s oftentimes shifting views. The Putinite interpretation—one that I won’t even bother refuting—is that disagreement is the foundation of vigorous democracies such as Putin’s Russia.

China’s Collision Course with Itself

Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, has just issued a warning that Chinese leaders will not be deterred from engaging in increasingly provocative conduct. “There could be some tactical change in the direction of moderation but I cannot see any fundamental change in strategic orientation,” he told John Garnaut of the Sydney Morning Herald.

As Garnaut noted in messages to me this month, Beijing tells the world that “we will keep going and we will win.” Shi, however, has been saying that what the Chinese really mean is, in Garnaut’s words, that “we will keep going even though we cannot succeed.”

“How many times have you heard the Chinese described as pragmatists?” Arthur Waldron asked me this week. “They’re not.” At this moment, the University of Pennsylvania historian of China has put his finger on something especially distressing. Chinese policymakers work under a political system that now does not permit them to act pragmatically, cooperatively, or sensibly.

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