Nothing Shocking About Kerry’s Coddling of Hamas

Israel was shocked by Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic maneuvers regarding Gaza. David Horovitz, the editor of the Times of Israel, a man who takesmiddle-of-the-road positions and chooses words carefully, called it a “betrayal” of an ally. Kerry snubbed Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, closeted himself with Turkey and Qatar, Hamas’s two main Islamist Sunni backers, and produced a proposal that, unlike the Egyptian cease-fire plan already on the table, incorporated most of Hamas’s demands while ignoring Israel’s, notably Israel’s need to defang Hamas of its offensive capabilities, especially the tunnels reaching under the border.

Libya: The Next Great Betrayal?

The West’s refusal to come to the aid of Libya’s lightly-armed freedom fighters as they face planes, tanks, and heavy weapons may turn the Libyan civil war into the first great betrayal of the 21st century, reminiscent of many that stained the last century.

The classic among such episodes was the Spanish civil war of 1936–39. The morality play embedded in many tellings of this story grows blurry on second look because Communists came to dominate the Loyalist side. But this might not have been so had the West been less cowardly. As it was, while the US, France, and the UK maintained a policy of non-intervention, Mussolini and Hitler threw their own forces into the battle on the side of Francisco Franco’s Nationalists. They used Spain as a testing ground for the world war that they were emboldened to launch. Nor was the lesson of Spain lost on the heads of other states, including Stalin, who learned that if you wanted to be on the winning side, you’d be wise to follow Hitler.

Make Libya a No-Fly Zone

Muammar Qaddafi is willing to fight to the last Libyan to cling to power. The stakes in this mounting battle are bigger than Libya itself.

One of the tragic realities of politics is that while dictators do get overthrown, it is usually only the more moderate ones. Outright tyrants are harder to topple.

Yes, Mubarak’s rule rested on force and intimidation (and corruption). But Mubarak had little Egyptian blood on his hands, and in the end he went peacefully (although not of his own free will). Tunisia’s Ben Ali was more repressive, and perhaps he would have shed blood. But the army switched sides at the get-go, so this was never tested. Sadly, however, those regimes that are insouciant about killing their own citizens often prevail. “A whiff of grapeshot,” as Carlyle characterized Napoleon’s actions against rebels in Paris, usually works.

US ‘Intelligence’: Blinded by Ideology

President Obama is reported to be upset that US intelligence agencies failed to foresee Egypt’s unrest, and he has apparently ordered an accounting. Experience, however, teaches that political events almost always surprise us, and the real problem with America’s intelligence analysts is one that Obama probably does not want to hear.

True, no one predicted Egypt’s rebellion — or Tunisia’s, or Iran’s Green movement in 2009 or its Islamic revolution in 1978–79 or the downfall of the Soviet empire in 1989 or North Korea’s invasion in 1950. One could go on ad infinitum. Intelligence analysis is nothing like gazing into a crystal ball.

But there does seem to be something amiss in our spy agencies, although it confounds the Hollywood trope that the CIA is filled with rightwing super-patriots. On the contrary, it seems that the analysis divisions (as opposed to the operations people responsible for derring-do in the field) are so dominated by left-liberal ideologues that too little rigorous analysis takes place.

Egypt and the Way of Revolutions

Nothing in politics is certain. But history offers some guides to what we can expect from the Egyptian revolution.

First, revolutions are highly contagious, although the speed at which they spread varies. The American revolution of 1776 inspired the French to revolt 13 years later. In the single year of 1848, some 50 peoples across Europe rose in rebellion. Over the course of roughly a decade from the late 1970s to late 1980s, one country after another in Latin America sloughed off dictatorship for democracy. In 1989, Communism was overthrown in every outpost of the Soviet empire and then in the Soviet Union itself. The odds are that the upheaval that started in Tunis (or perhaps in Iran in 2009) and has spread to Egypt will spread farther. These infections usually travel within regions. Whether it is all at once or over the course of the next few years, no Arab regime can count on being immune, nor can the Iranian mullahs.

What Egypt Portends: Three Scenarios

The uprising in the streets of Egypt could remake our world. Turmoil is contagious. The revolt in little Tunisia kindled the timber in Egypt. If the flames are not smothered fast in Egypt, which is still the most influential country of the Arab world, the conflagration will spread across the region.

Three rough scenarios beckon. Only one is less than momentous. If the loyalty of the army holds and the protests are quashed, Egypt will go through a period of intensified repression accompanied by promises of reform that will focus on economics — although in the end they won’twork because the threat of instability will scare away investors. Mubarak will pull back from passing power to his son, Gamal, because that would cause renewed anger. The country would become more of a military dictatorship and less of a party-ruled state. And it might muddle along that way, as it has already for generations. The consequences would be sad for Egyptians, not so major for the rest of the world.

Why Tunisia’s Revolution Must Have Been a Mirage

The sudden overthrow of Tunisia’s strongman, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has inspired a spate of speculation by journalists and analysts about which throne may shake next while the controlled press of nearby dictatorships are at pains to explain why “it can’t happen here.”

Well, maybe not. But then again it couldn’t happen in Tunisia, either, and as far as I can see, no one predicted that it would. The regime, according to the ratings of Freedom House, was one of the four most repressive among the 17 states of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). And the repression seemed to have worked: all opposition parties had long since been crushed. Ben Ali had been in office for 23 years while his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, had ruled for 31, and between them that accounted for the entire history of Tunisia as a country independent of foreign rule.

More on the Epistemology Deficit and ‘Moderate’ Islamism

My last two blogs were, respectively, about the Muslim epistemology deficit and the mirage of moderate Islamism. As if the gods of punditry had pulled my name out of a hat for blessings, this week’s news is chock full of dramatic new developments in these very stories.

First, on epistemology. I had noted reports in the Palestinian press that the Israeli Mossad had trained rats to infest the homes of Arab residents of Jerusalem while passing over those of their Jewish neighbors and that a high Egyptian official had attributed lethal attacks on bathers to Mossad-trained sharks who apparently avoided Israeli tourists. Now, Saudi news organizations have reported the capture of an Israeli Mossad spy bird.

The bird is a vulture, and its exact mission has yet to be deciphered. How did the Saudis discover that this particular vulture was not a run-of-the-mill consumer of carrion, but an Israeli spy? Because the creature wore a leg bracelet on which were imprinted the words “Tel Aviv University.”

The Mirage of Moderate Islamism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s faltering attempt to repair relations with the government of Turkey brings into clear focus the uselessness of trying to deal with so-called “moderate” Islamists.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan continues to demand that Israel apologize for its part in the “flotilla” incident this May in which nine Turkish citizens died from Israeli gunfire. In an interview this week, Netanyahu again refused this request but spoke in most conciliatory terms and rebuked his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who had recently said that it is Turkey that owes Israel an apology.

Lieberman is a verbal bomb-thrower and ill-suited for the position he holds. His views toward the Palestinians make agreement more difficult. But on Turkey he was completely right. In the flotilla episode, Israel was a victim of Turkish aggression.

Epistemology to the Muslim World

In a recent article, Khaled Abu Toameh, the Palestinian journalist who moved from the Palestinian press to the Jerusalem Post so that he could practice his profession with integrity, recalled that “Mahmoud Abbas’s official news agency, Wafa, reported that Israel had released poison-resistant rats to drive Arab residents of Jerusalem out of their homes.” The Wafa report claimed that “settlers flood the Old City of Jerusalem with rats.” Abu Toameh added sardonically: “It is not clear how these rats were taught to stay away from Jews, who also happen to live in the Old City.”

The Council in Wonderland

The Council on Foreign Relations has just issued a report advocating that Washington get out ahead of the demands for adding more permanent seats to the UN Security Council by advocating an enlargement plan of its own. The Alice-in-Wonderland quality of this document is revealed in the second paragraph, which asserts that “Few subjects arouse as much passion as altering the size of the UNSC.” Right, except maybe curling, philately, and whether I should wear black socks or navy today.

Like the figures in Plato’s parable of the cave, the authors of the CFR report seem to have read the UN Charter but never observed the UN in action — or followed any other real world events of the past 65 years. The report warns that without enlargement, the Security Council will become “increasingly ineffective in addressing today’s security challenges,” which is like saying that without a paint job, Grant’s Tomb will become increasingly immobile.

Obama’s One Idea Is Wrong

Disraeli said of a character in his novel Sybil: “He had only one idea, and that was wrong.” The same sometimes seems to hold for President Obama’s foreign policy. The one idea is to pander, and it was on display again in his recent trip to Asia.

In India, he proposed to add that country to the roster of permanent, veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council.

India is a potential economic powerhouse, an exemplar of democracy in the developing world, and a country that shares our bitter experience of jihadist terrorism. Continuing to strengthen the alliance with India, as Obama’s predecessors did, is all to the good. But the last way we should want to do that is within the UN.

Free Speech and the Myth of the Slippery Slope

The Supreme Court is poised to consider a case that will once again parse one of the deepest issues of democratic government: what, if any, are the proper limits of free speech?

It is widely accepted that you cannot yell “fire” mischievously in a crowded place or directly incite violence (although you can urge “revolution” in the abstract until you’re red in the face). But are there other limits, in particular in cases where the words in question would endanger not life and property but merely people’s feelings? Would restraints on some controversial speech cast a pall over all discourse?

This issue also carries implications for debates about other constitutional rights, such as those that surround the proposed “ground zero” mosque or government eavesdropping in the name of the global war on terror.

Commies, G-Men, and Civil Rights

Ernest C. Withers, known as the “original civil rights photographer,” was “unmasked as an informer for [the] FBI” this week according to a major story in The New York Times based on an investigation by the Memphis-based Commercial Appeal. Withers, an intimate of Martin Luther King’s in the heroic days of the civil rights movement, died in 2007, and thus cannot confirm, deny, or explain the story.

If it is true, then Withers wantonly breached the trust of people who regarded him as a friend. But did he do any harm to the movement? That is very unlikely. And we might temper our judgment of Withers’s betrayal with reflections on the moral complexity of the situation, a story that is little known and often distorted.

Time’s Tic

“Auschwitz borders” was a term coined by Israel’s UN representative, Abba Eban, in the wake of the Six Day War in 1967. He was referring to the terrifying narrowness of Israel’s middle, only 8 miles separating the Arab armies at the Jordanian border from the deep blue sea into which they had been promising for twenty years to drive the Jews.

Now, Time magazine has come up with a new way to look at the same situation. “No place in Israel is more than 40 minutes from a stretch of sand” beach, explains Time’s Karl Vick. This is Time’s answer to the riddle posed on its cover this week (surrounded by a Star of David composed of daisies), “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.”


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