Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Tragedy of American Foreign Policy. By Robert D. Kaplan.

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy. By Robert D. Kaplan. The National Interest, August 1, 2013.


For over two years, the civil war in Syria has been synonymous with cries of moral urgency. Do Something! shout those who demand the United States intervene militarily to set the situation there to rights, even as the battle lines now comprise hundreds of regime and rebel groupings and the rebels have started fighting each other. Well, then, shout the moral interventionists, if only we had intervened earlier!
Syria is not unique. Before Syria, humanitarians in 2011 demanded military intervention in Libya, even though the regime of Muammar Qaddafi had given up its nuclear program and had been cooperating for years with Western intelligence agencies. In fact, the United States and France did lead an intervention, and Libya today is barely a state, with Tripoli less a capital than the weak point of imperial-like arbitration for far-flung militias, tribes, and clans, while nearby Saharan entities are in greater disarray because of weapons flooding out of Libya.
The 1990s were full of calls for humanitarian intervention: in Rwanda, which tragically went unheeded; and in Bosnia and Kosovo where interventions, while belated, were by and large successful. Free from the realpolitik necessities of the Cold War, humanitarians have in the past two decades tried to reduce foreign policy to an aspect of genocide prevention. Indeed, the Nazi Holocaust is only one lifetime removed from our own—a nanosecond in human history—and so post–Cold War foreign policy now rightly exists in the shadow of it. The codified upshot has been R2P: the “Responsibility to Protect,” the mantra of humanitarians.
But American foreign policy cannot merely be defined by R2P and Never Again! Statesmen can only rarely be concerned with humanitarian interventions and protecting human rights to the exclusion of other considerations. The United States, like any nation—but especially because it is a great power—simply has interests that do not always cohere with its values. That is tragic, but it is a tragedy that has to be embraced and accepted.
What are those overriding interests? The United States, as the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere, must always prevent any other power from becoming equally dominant in the Eastern Hemisphere. Moreover, as a liberal maritime power, the United States must seek to protect the sea lines of communication that enable world trade. It must also seek to protect both treaty and de facto allies, and especially their access to hydrocarbons. These are all interests that, while not necessarily contradictory to human rights, simply do not operate in the same category.
Because the United States is a liberal power, its interests—even when they are not directly concerned with human rights—are generally moral. But they are only secondarily moral. For seeking to adjust the balance of power in one’s favor has been throughout history an amoral enterprise pursued by both liberal and illiberal powers. Nevertheless, when a liberal power like the United States pursues such a goal in the service of preventing war among major states, it is acting morally in the highest sense.
A telling example of this tension—one that gets to the heart of why Never Again! and R2P cannot always be the operative words in statesmanship—was recently provided by the foreign-affairs expert Leslie H. Gelb. Gelb noted that after Saddam Hussein had gassed close to seven thousand Kurds to death in northern Iraq in 1988, even a “truly ethical” secretary of state, George Shultz, committed a “moral outrage.” For Shultz basically ignored the incident and continued supporting Saddam in his war against Iran, because weakening Iran—not protecting the citizens of Iraq—was the primary American interest at the time.
So was Shultz acting immorally? Not completely, I believe. Shultz was operating under a different morality than the one normally applied by humanitarians. His was a public morality; not a private one. He and the rest of the Reagan administration had a responsibility to the hundreds of millions of Americans under their charge. And while these millions were fellow countrymen, they were more crucially voters and citizens, essentially strangers who did not know Shultz or Reagan personally, but who had entrusted the two men with their interests. And the American public’s interest clearly dictated that of the two states, Iran and Iraq, Iran at the time constituted the greater threat. In protecting the public interest of even a liberal power, a statesman cannot always be nice; or humane.
I am talking here of a morality of public outcomes, rather than one of private intentions. By supporting Iraq, the Reagan administration succeeded in preventing Iran in the last years of the Cold War from becoming a regional hegemon. That was an outcome convenient to U.S. interests, even if the morality of the affair was ambiguous, given that Iraq’s regime was at the time the more brutal of the two.
In seeking good outcomes, policymakers are usually guided by constraints: a realistic awareness of what, for instance, the United States should and should not do, given its finite resources. After all, the United States had hundreds of thousands of troops tied down in Europe and Northeast Asia during the Cold War, and thus had to contain Iran through the use of a proxy, Saddam’s Iraq. That was not entirely cynical: it was an intelligent use of limited assets in the context of a worldwide geopolitical struggle.
The problem with a foreign policy driven foremost by Never Again! is that it ignores limits and the availability of resources. World War II had the secondary, moral effect of saving what was left of European Jewry. Its primary goal and effect was to restore the European and Asian balance of power in a manner tolerable to the United States—something that the Nazis and the Japanese fascists had overturned. Of course, the Soviet Union wrested control of Eastern Europe for nearly half a century following the war. But again, limited resources necessitated an American alliance with the mass-murderer Stalin against the mass-murderer Hitler. It is because of such awful choices and attendant compromises—in which morality intertwines with amorality—that humanitarians will frequently be disappointed with the foreign policy of even the most heroic administrations.
World War II certainly involved many hideous compromises and even mistakes on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s part. He got into the war in Europe very late, he did not bomb the rail tracks leading to the concentration camps, he might have been more aggressive with the Soviets on the question of Eastern Europe. But as someone representing the interests of the millions of strangers who had and had not voted for him, his aim was to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in a manner that cost the fewest American soldiers’ lives, and utilized the least amount of national resources. Saving the remnants of European Jewry was a moral consequence of his actions, but his methods contained tactical concessions that had fundamental amoral elements. Abraham Lincoln, for his part, brought mass suffering upon southern civilians in the last phase of the Civil War in order to decisively defeat the South. The total war waged by generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant was evidence of that. Simply put, there are actions of state that are the right things to do, even if they cannot be defined in terms of conventional morality.

Amoral goals, properly applied, do have moral effects. Indeed, in more recent times, President Richard Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, rushed arms to Israel following a surprise attack by Arab armies in the fall of 1973. The two men essentially told the American defense establishment that supporting Israel in its hour of need was the right thing to do, because it was necessary to send an unambiguous message of resolve to the Soviets and their Arab allies at a critical stage in the Cold War. Had they justified the arms transfers purely in terms of helping embattled post-Holocaust Jewry—rather than in terms of power politics as they did—it would have made for a much weaker argument in Washington, where officials rightly had American interests at heart more than Israeli ones. George McGovern was possibly a more ethical man than either Nixon or Kissinger. But had he been elected president in 1972, would he have acted so wisely and so decisively during the 1973 Middle East war? The fact is, individual perfection, as Machiavelli knew, is not necessarily synonymous with public virtue.
Then there is the case of Deng Xiaoping. Deng approved the brutal suppression of students at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. For that he is not respected among humanitarians in the West. But the consolidation of Communist Party control that followed the clampdown allowed for Deng’s methodical, market-oriented reforms to continue for a generation in China. Perhaps never before in recorded economic history have so many people seen such a dramatic rise in living standards, with an attendant rise in personal (if not political) freedoms in so short a time frame. Thus, Deng might be considered both a brutal Communist and the greatest man of the twentieth century. The morality of his life is complex.
The Bosnia and Kosovo interventions of 1995 and 1999 are frequently held out as evidence that the United States is most effective when it acts according to its humanitarian values—never mind its amoral interests. But those who make that argument neglect to mention that the two successful interventions were eased by the fact that America operated in the Balkans with the balance-of-power strongly in its favor. Russia in the 1990s was weak and chaotic under Boris Yeltsin’s incompetent rule, and thus temporarily less able to challenge the United States in a region where historically the czars and commissars had exerted considerable sway. However, Russia, even in the 1990s, still exerted considerable sway in the Caucasus, and thus a Western response to halt ethnic cleansing there during the same decade was not even considered. More broadly, the 1990s allowed for ground interventions in the Balkans because the international climate was relatively benign: China was only just beginning its naval expansion (endangering our Pacific allies) and September 11 still lay in the future. Truly, beyond many a moral response lies a question of power that cannot be explained wholly in terms of morality.
Thus, to raise morality as a sole arbiter is ultimately not to be serious about foreign policy. R2P must play as large a role as realistically possible in the affairs of state. But it cannot ultimately dominate. Syria is the current and best example of this. U.S. power is capable of many things, yet putting a complex and war-torn Islamic society’s house in order is not one of them. In this respect, our tragic experience in Iraq is indeed relevant. Quick fixes like a no-fly zone and arming the rebels may topple Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, but that might only make President Barack Obama culpable in midwifing to power a Sunni-Jihadist regime, even as ethnic cleansing of al-Assad’s Alawites commences. At least at this late juncture, without significant numbers of Western boots on the ground for a significant period—something for which there is little public support—the likelihood of a better, more stable regime emerging in Damascus is highly questionable. Frankly, there are just no easy answers here, especially as the pro-Western regime in Jordan is threatened by continued Syrian violence. R2P applied in 2011 in Syria might actually have yielded a better strategic result: it will remain an unknowable.
Because moralists in these matters are always driven by righteous passion, whenever you disagree with them, you are by definition immoral and deserve no quarter; whereas realists, precisely because they are used to conflict, are less likely to overreact to it. Realists know that passion and wise policy rarely flow together. (The late diplomat Richard Holbrooke was a stunning exception to this rule.) Realists adhere to the belief of the mid-twentieth-century University of Chicago political scientist, Hans Morgenthau, who wrote that “one must work with” the base forces of human nature, “not against them.” Thus, realists accept the human material at hand in any given place, however imperfect that material may be. To wit, you can’t go around toppling regimes just because you don’t like them. Realism, adds Morgenthau, “appeals to historical precedent rather than to abstract principles [of justice] and aims at the realization of the lesser evil rather than of the absolute good.”
No group of people internalized such tragic realizations better than Republican presidents during the Cold War. Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush all practiced amorality, realism, restraint  and humility in foreign affairs (if not all the time). It is their sensibility that should guide us now. Eisenhower represented a pragmatic compromise within the Republican Party between isolationists and rabid anti-Communists. All of these men supported repressive, undemocratic regimes in the third world in support of a favorable balance of power against the Soviet Union. Nixon accepted the altogether brutal regimes in the Soviet Union and “Red” China as legitimate, even as he balanced one against the other. Reagan spoke the Wilsonian language of moral rearmament, even as he awarded the key levers of bureaucratic power to realists like Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz and Frank Carlucci, whose effect regarding policy was to temper Reagan’s rhetoric. The elder Bush did not break relations with China after the Tiananmen uprising; nor did he immediately pledge support for Lithuania, after that brave little country declared its independence—for fear of antagonizing the Soviet military. It was caution and restraint on Bush’s part that helped bring the Cold War to a largely peaceful—and, therefore, moral—conclusion. In some of these policies, the difference between amorality and morality was, to paraphrase Joseph Conrad in Lord Jim, no more than “the thickness of a sheet of paper.”
And that is precisely the point: foreign policy at its best is subtle, innovative, contradictory, and truly bold only on occasion, aware as its most disciplined practitioners are of the limits of American power. That is heartrending, simply because calls to alleviate suffering will in too many instances go unanswered. For the essence of tragedy is not the triumph of evil over good, so much as the triumph of one good over another that causes suffering.

America – Never An Empire. By Conrad Black.

America – never an empire. By Conrad Black. National Post, August 2, 2013.


It is generally recognized that the United States is steadily withdrawing from several areas of the world where it has had a large military presence for many years, especially the Middle East, Western Europe, and parts of the Far East.
It is, in fact, engaged in a broad strategic retreat. But this must not be misconstrued as the collapse or permanent decline of that country. It remains an extremely rich nation, with the most productive workforce in the history of the world, and a relatively motivated and overwhelmingly patriotic population. The great majority of Americans are proud of their country and are capable of fighting and sacrificing for it in a plausible cause. Courage is valued and revered; and the performance of the United States armed forces in recent wars has been exemplary.
The United States has never been an aggressive power. Only when the Germans insanely attacked American commercial shipping on the high seas did the United States enter World War I, just as Russia was defeated and left the war. The Americans provided the final margin of victory for the beleaguered French, British and Italians (who took 4-million war dead and nearly 7-million wounded between them). The Americans then turned their back on Wilsonian internationalism and their president’s League of Nations, and emerged from isolation only once Franklin D. Roosevelt, who spoke German and French and knew Europe well, and whose family’s fortune was earned in the Far East, concluded that the United States alone could keep the British Commonwealth in the war, ensure Stalin did not make a separate peace with Hitler (as he attempted to do with the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939), and prevent Japan from overrunning the entire Western Pacific and Far East.
As America led the Allies to victory, Roosevelt developed atomic weapons and founded the United Nations to convince his countrymen that the world was a safer place than they had formerly thought — and to have an international cover for the exercise of America’s dominant post-war influence in the world, as Britain and its Dominions, and the Latin American countries, could all be reasonably assumed to vote with the United States in a permanent American-led majority.
Soon after Roosevelt died, it became clear that Stalin was promoting world-wide communist subversion, was striving for atomic weapons and nuclear parity with the United States, and was violating all his commitments to Churchill and Roosevelt to withdraw from Eastern Europe within Soviet borders. Nine consecutive American presidents, starting with Truman, imposed a containment policy on the Soviet Union, until, without a shot being exchanged between the competing alliances, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics collapsed, and international communism imploded noisily into Marx’s proverbial dust-bin of history.
In the 22 years since the Cold War ended, there has not been a serious external threat to the United States. And so it is not entirely surprising that that country gradually has receded back toward its former, Americo-centric (and not very globally preoccupied) self. The outrages of terrorists provoked the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the terrorists did not threaten the existence of America, as Soviet missiles and the alliance between German Nazis and Japanese imperialists did.
The United States successfully deterred any national aggression against it after Pearl Harbor by maintaining a mighty defense establishment, projected latterly by a force of approximately a dozen gigantic aircraft carriers and a large number of accompanying vessels and pre-positioned forces and supplies in strategic areas. All of this still exists. But Americans are taking less and less interest in the upheavals of other countries, or the sundry minor aggressions between them. Even foreign terrorism is receding as an issue for Americans: Almost everyone who was even remotely connected to the atrocities of the 9/11 attacks has been hunted down and killed with commendable thoroughness and efficiency.
The Cold War-era claim of the left, that Americans were malign imperialists, was always rubbish. Americans never cared a jot for overseas expansion. The United States could have taken over every square inch of the Americas if they had wished, and all they did was seize a chunk of Mexico that that country could not settle and didn’t really occupy (Texas, Arizona, California, etc.) — and that was 150 years ago. It would have been better for everyone, especially the Cubans, if they had hung on to Cuba when they evicted the Spanish from the island in 1898.
George W. Bush had the idea that if he could spread democracy a little farther, it would end terrorism because democracies don’t make war or commit terrorist acts. But though the premise (which was hardly “imperialist,” whatever anti-war protestors claimed) was correct, turning Afghanistan and Iraq into democracies was not so simple, given that they had no history of freedom, nor any institutional structures on which to base such an effort.
Apart from hammering America’s declared enemies, the Iraqi and Afghan Wars haven’t accomplished much and have not justified their cost. This fact has emphasized and accelerated the retirement of the American people from their country’s former active participation in the affairs of every region in the world.
The real threat to the United States is an internal one: the disintegration of their society. One hundred million Americans have inadequate health care for citizens of a rich country, public education is not competitive with the systems of at least 20 other countries, the constitutional system is in permanent gridlock and has not dealt effectively with any major national public policy priority since the Republican leaders in Congress jammed through welfare reform 15 years ago, and only Reagan’s tax reforms in the 30 years prior to that. The criminal justice system is just a conveyer belt to the bloated and corrupt prison system for anyone targeted by omnipotent prosecutors. And the national debt, which was 10-trillion dollars in 2009, is 17-trillion dollars today.
Richard Nixon famously said that “North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.” They are doing it, and America must come home and change course.
Note: Thanks to readers who have pointed out that the bust of Sir Winston Churchill was not sent back from the White House to Great Britain, but has instead been moved from the Oval Office to the residential quarters. That does not alter the point I was making in this column last week, but I apologize for my error.

The Epic Arab Trek Between God and Gun. By Rami G. Khouri.

The epic Arab trek between God and gun. By Rami G. Khouri. The Daily Star (Lebanon), August 3, 2013.


Hold on to your seats, for the four most powerful and influential Arab countries – Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – are all experiencing significant, sometimes violent, internal changes that touch on the most basic elements of identity, power and national authority. What happens in those countries in the years ahead will shape the Middle East for generations perhaps, creating new patterns of stable statehood on the way. Saudi Arabia is not experiencing the upheavals of Iraq, Syria and Egypt, but its new internal dynamics portend historic changes underway in that country and throughout the Gulf – because some citizens no longer accept blindly to follow the rules of the foundational tenets of Saudi-Wahhabi doctrine.
The worsening carnage in Syria, the sharp increase in bombings and ethnic cleansing in Iraq in the past few months, and the confrontation between the armed forces and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are stark reminders of where the modern Arab world stands today on its road to modern statehood. Syria, Iraq and Egypt embody the leading political challenges the Arab world faces: how to shape a stable and equitable pluralistic society; how to achieve an acceptable balance of authority among military and civilian forces; and how to assert religious values in daily and public life without falling into the trap of theocratic autocracy or artificially imposed secularism from above.
That these three historical Arab powerhouses all are experiencing deep conflict or uncertainty is the inevitable consequence of our recent history since the 1950s. We are today dealing with the national wreckages, social carcasses and political diseases of several generations of security-based state-building that provided a thin veneer of stability, but never buttressed this with the durable substance of genuine citizen-anchored nationhood.
The surge in killings in Iraq – over 1,000 people died in July – is most troubling for revealing the combination of weak state security capabilities in the face of resurgent attacks by groups that largely kill their victims on the basis of their sectarian identity. The inability of the Iraqi state to protect its prisons or defend its own citizens is bizarrely juxtaposed against the determination of much of the Iraqi state’s and society’s determination to send troops and support the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. This completes a linkage between Iranian, Iraqi, pro-Assad Syrian, Hezbollah and Hamas-Islamic Jihad parties that have been working together for some years to maintain their collective regional interests.
The battle in Egypt brings into the open an important fault line that has been lying beneath the region for the past century: This is simply about whether individuals and society are shaped by the divine promise of religious values, or by the post-1770s temporal handiwork of civic-political-national institutions that have been hijacked by security agencies in the modern Arab world.
God or the gun, in fact, is really only basic choice that Arab citizens have faced in recent generations, and it is both unfair and unworkable. The big tragedy is that faced with opportunities that they have had to date in the Middle East and South Asia, religious and military leaders have proven to be fully and embarrassingly incompetent at promoting productive, just and stable societies.
Egypt now reveals the determination of tens of millions of typical Arab citizens seeking that elusive middle ground between gun and God, which is simply pluralistic citizenship and accountable governance under the rule of law. Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt offer different examples of the hard, slow quest for this goal. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states offer another example, which defines citizenship primarily as consumerism, with unaccountable governments spending hundreds of billions of dollars to provide their nationals with every possible material need.
Yet more and more Gulf states’ nationals also seek that elusive middle ground between living in a perpetual shopping mall and having no right to vote or express a political-social opinion on how the state spends its money at home or abroad. Hundreds of Gulf citizens are being jailed or indicted in court for actions such as expressing an opinion on Twitter or Facebook. The sharpest recent example was last week’s decision by a Saudi court to sentence Raif Badawi to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for creating a website where Saudis could share their views on the role of religion and other such issues.
In their own ways, some Saudi and other Gulf citizens have embarked on that epic journey from a traditional, patriarchal, collective society defined mainly by faith and family, to one in which individual citizens have many more rights and options in living out their lives.

Fort Hood Shooter Nidal Hasan “Left Free” to Kill. By Jon Swaine.

Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan “left free” to kill. By Jon Swaine. The Telegraph, August 4, 2013.

America’s Misguided Wilsonianism. By Josh Kiernan.

The “war on terrorism” and the Cold War. By Josh Kiernan. Jerusalem Post, August 3, 2013.


Perhaps the lesson from the Cold War is that building democracies requires patience, moral compromises and, at times, putting national interests above lofty Wilsonian ideals.
There are parallels between the current “war on terrorism” and the Cold War. By learning from the West’s experiences during the Cold War, we can apply the lessons to the current conflict, particularly in the context of the Arab Spring.
During the Cold War, the US faced the dilemma of supporting anti-communist dictators and undermining democratic values on the basis that the alternative, supporting local populist movements, would result in the emergence of Soviet-sponsored communist regimes that themselves would repress any democratic movements.
In the end the US “won” the Cold War and in places like Latin America democracy ultimately emerged triumphant, although the US paid a moral price for its often ambiguous and sometimes hypocritical policy. One might thus conclude that US policy during the Cold War in supporting anticommunist regimes was a necessary evil.
In the war on Islamic extremism, the US faces a similar dilemma. Should it support democratic movements seeking to overthrow secular autocratic or dictatorial regimes when there is a significant risk that assisting in the overthrow of such regimes will simply give way to the emergence of hard-line anti-democratic Islamic regimes? The US is often blamed for creating the conditions that give rise to Islamic extremism through its support of dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, its support for Israel and its perceived failure to promote democratic values. However, the sources of Islamic extremism are far more complex and actually have less to do with US policy and more to do with local and regional factors. And there is no doubt that Islamic extremism is the greatest threat facing the West since the Cold War.
The problem the US faces in supporting democratic movements in the Arab world is similar to that faced during the Cold War since such support carries with it a high degree of risk that it will ultimately backfire. As has occurred in Egypt and elsewhere, democratic movements have been hijacked by Islamist forces who ultimately use the tools of democracy to destroy it.
Islamists do not believe in democracy. To them, democracy is an anti-Islamic Western creation that undermines their ultimate goal of creating an Islamic Caliphate guided by Sharia law. Sharia is their model constitution. When the Islamists come to power they gradually restrict civil liberties, demonize and persecute religious minorities and eventually do away with Western-style concepts of democracy.
This is what was happening in Morsi’s Egypt, this is the same struggle that is taking place in countries like Libya and Tunisia. We have even seen how Islamist tendencies are starting to erode Turkey’s democratic values.
Far worse consequences are likely to unfold in Syria if the Assad regime falls. This despite the fact that this regime is dictatorship at its worst, its forces responsible for unspeakable atrocities and its allies Hezbollah and Iran, like itself, sworn enemies of the US and its allies Israel, Saudi Arabia and others. Even in Israel they speak of the “devil you know” and many policy makers would prefer to see Assad stay in power considering the likely alternative of a failed state increasingly taken over by al-Qaida-affiliated forces with no red lines, no limits.
Radical Sunni Islam is an extreme machine of murder and violence. It preaches piety but engages in barbaric acts of violence, murder, rape and ethnic cleansing, openly promotes genocide and proudly displays its handiwork on YouTube; to it, these are badges of honor.
If these groups obtain nuclear or chemical weapons, they will have little to no hesitation in using them. As non-state actors, the “MAD” paradigm, Mutually Assured Destruction, does not apply. If the Assad regime falls, the al-Qaida affiliated groups will likely get their hands on some of Assad’s massive arsenal of chemical weapons unless the US and/or its allies undertake a complicated military operation requiring boots on the ground, since an air attack would create an unacceptably high risk of dispersal.
So, in determining whether to undermine autocratic or dictatorial regimes with the idealistic goal of promoting democracy in the Middle East, the US needs to ask the difficult question: are Middle Eastern societies really ready for democracy? At the end of the day, one has to make a judgment call as to the likelihood of democracy emerging in a given country before rushing to support the overthrow of the likes of Mubarak, Gaddafi and Assad.
While this requires a country-by-country analysis, there does appear to be a significant risk that in many of these countries, an idealistic policy of undermining the “old” regimes in an effort to promote democracy will backfire and the US will inadvertently end up facilitating the emergence of much more hostile Islamist theocratic and antidemocratic regimes. Perhaps the lesson from the Cold War is that building democracies requires patience, moral compromises and, at times, putting national interests above lofty Wilsonian ideals.

Return of the Jesus Wars. By Ross Douthat.

Return of the Jesus Wars. By Ross Douthat. New York Times, August 3, 2013.

Aslan’s Jesus Is a Failed Muhammad. By Stephen Prothero. Washington Post, August 2, 2013.

Son of Man: Review of Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. By Scott Korb. Los Angeles Review of Books, July 26, 2013.

Reza Aslan Misrepresents His Scholarly Credentials on Fox News. By Matthew J. Franck. NJBR, July 29, 2013.

Kerry “Using Europeans to Blackmail Israel.” By Aaron Klein.

Kerry “Using Europeans to Blackmail Israel.” Threat targets Jews in Jerusalem, biblical territories. By Aaron Klein. Klein Online, August 2, 2013.

No Woman Born. By C. L. Moore.

No Woman Born. By C. L. Moore. The Best of C. L. Moore. New York: Ballantine Books, 1975. Also here. Summary and discussion at jennre, April 30, 2012.

Feminism, Technology, and Art in C. L .Moore’s “No Woman Born.” By Thomas L. Wymer. Extrapolation, Vol. 47 No. 1 (Spring 2006). Also here.

“Neither Norman nor Human”: The Cyborg in C. L. Moore’s “No Woman Born.” By Susan Smith. Femspec, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2010).

The Fate of the Sons of Usnach. By Lady Augusta Gregory. Cuchulain of Muirthemne. London: John Murray, 1911. Also here.

Four Poems: Deirdre. By James Stephens. Irish Review, Vol. 4, No. 38 (April 1914). 

Deirdre. By James Stephens. London: Macmillan and Co., 1923. 

The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu. Early Irish Myths and Sagas. Translated by Jeffrey Gantz. New York: Penguin Books, 1981.

An Anti-Obama Belly Dance Video by Egyptian Singer Sama ElMasry.

This Is The Most Entertaining Anti-American Video From Egypt You’ll Ever Watch. BuzzFeed, August 3, 2013. YouTube.

At Last: An Anti-American Arab Rant That Republicans Will Love. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, August 3, 2013.

Whoa! . . . Wildly Popular Anti-Obama Belly Dance Video Takes Egypt By Storm. By Jim Hoft. The Gateway Pundit, August 4, 2013.

Anti-Americanism/Obama Ridicule on the Rise in Egypt (Video). By Lori Lowenthal Marcus. The Jewish Press, August 4, 2013.

Her hips don’t lie: Egyptian belly dancer protests President Obama in music video. By Leslie Larson. New York Daily News, August 5, 2013.

Egyptian Belly Dancer Sama El Masry’s Salacious Video Mocking Muslim Brotherhood Goes Viral. By Mahmood Salem. TechPresident, November 19, 2012.

Sama Al Masry on Facebook.

Sama ElMasry: Obama, Your Mother, Your Father. Video. mmado mado, July 30, 2013. YouTube.

Sama ElMasry: Act Thuggish. Video skewering the Muslim Brotherhood. Dahlia Wahba, November 14, 2012. YouTube. Also here, here.

Sama ElMasry: Danse pour Morsi en nikab. Video. sindiSS3, June 18, 2013. YouTube.

Ramallah vs. the “Peace Process.” By Khaled Abu Toameh.

Ramallah vs. the “Peace Process.” By Khaled Abu Toameh. Gatestone Institute, August 1, 2013.

Abu Toameh:

If Mahmoud Abbas does not have the power or courage to allow an Israel-based clothing shop to open branch near his residence in Ramallah, how will he ever be able to make peace with Israel?
This is the question some Palestinian businessmen have been asking during the past few days in light of an organized campaign to prevent the Fox clothing chain from opening a store in the city.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s strenuous efforts to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority led two Israeli Arab businessmen to take the initiative and open the first Fox store in the West Bank.
After investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations and the training of employees, the two businessmen soon found themselves at the center of a protest organized by “Anti-normalization” activists and journalists.
Facing daily threats, the two entrepreneurs decided to call off the project, which would have provided jobs to nearly 150 Palestinians.
Although the Palestinian Authority gave permission to the two businessmen to open the Ramallah Fox branch, it was yet unable to do anything to protect them against the threats, including calls for fire-bombing the store.
The opening of a clothing store in Ramallah may be a minor issue, especially compared with the major and explosive issues facing Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
But this incident, in which a clothing shop is forced – under threats – to withdraw plans to open branch in a Palestinian city, is an indication of what awaits Abbas if and when he dares to reach any agreement with Israel.
The same “anti-normalization” movement that Abbas supports will be the first to turn against him if he strikes a deal with Israel.
Although Fox clothes are immensely popular among young Palestinian men and women, the fashion retailer did not have a branch in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.
While many Palestinian merchants have been quietly selling Fox clothes in several Palestinian cities, they are particularly afraid of the strong “anti-normalization” movement that prohibits any form of contact with Israelis.
Ironically, this movement is fully supported by the same Palestinian Authority and Fatah leaders whose leaders do not hesitate to conduct public meetings with Israelis, in addition to security coordination with the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank.
Just this week, senior Fatah officials were invited to the Knesset for talks with Israeli colleagues about peace and coexistence; and earlier, Fatah leaders in Ramallah hosted scores of Israeli politicians, including members of the Likud and Shas parties, to an event organized by the joint Israeli-Palestinian Geneva Initiative group.
The campaign against the opening of a Fox store in Ramallah also coincided with the launching of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Washington.
While Palestinian activists were busy threatening the owners of the clothing store, their representatives, Saeb Erekat and Mohamed Shtayyeh, were sitting with Israeli minister Tzipi Livni in Washington and talking about ways of achieving peace and coexistence between the two sides.
What Kerry and the U.S. Administration need to understand is that Abbas has failed to prepare his people for the possibility of peace with Israel. Abbas may be conducting peace talks with Israel, but at the same time he is also backing campaigns that promote boycotts and hatred of Israel. It is important to talk peace. But it is even more important to educate people about peace – something that neither Yasser Arafat nor his successor Abbas has done for the past two decades.

Does John Kerry’s Peace Process Have a Chance? By Aaron David Miller.

Does John Kerry’s peace process have a chance? By Aaron David Miller. Politico, August 1, 2013.

Israeli-Palestinian talks won’t fix the Middle East’s problems. By Ian Bremmer. Reuters, July 31, 2013.

Mideast peace deal seems far off. By Dan Perry. AP, July 29, 2013.

Israel, Palestinians deeply divided despite renewed peace talks. By Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Ali Sawafta. Reuters, July 31, 2013.


In the history of the world, nobody ever washed a rental car.
As the champagne corks pop at Foggy Bottom celebrating Secretary of State John Kerry’s hard-earned success in launching Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, he’d be well advised to keep this piece of homespun philosophy in mind.
People really care only about what they own. And right now, Kerry has more ownership of this effort than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, or U.S. President Barack Obama, for that matter.
It is an inconvenient truth. But having started this process, the United States will be on the hook for trying to finish it. If it’s not prepared for that, the negotiations will fail. And the idea of a two-state solution will remain just that: an idea.
To reach this point, Kerry has combined his own relentless and willfulness (six trips to the region in four months) with something else: Neither Abbas nor Netanyahu wants to say no to America’s top diplomat and take the blame for the collapse of the process. James Baker, one of Kerry’s most successful predecessors, used this tactic effectively – threatening to leave a proverbial dead cat on Israel’s and the Arabs’ doorstep if they refused to attend the Madrid peace conference in 1991. Kerry’s effort is also aided by the fact that both Abbas and Netanyahu worry that without a process of some kind, events on the ground could easily deteriorate.
These factors proved sufficient to get them back to negotiations, but more will be required to keep them there, let alone to reach an accord. Right now, neither has enough incentives, disincentives, and an urgent desire or need to move forward boldly. The gaps on both process and substance are wide, and the mistrust deep. Abbas wants a comprehensive effort to resolve all the core issues; Netanyahu knows his politics and ideology can’t handle one and would prefer to go slow. If you took Kerry out of the picture, there would not even be talks about talks.
In fact, the process Kerry has launched is backwards. Unlike the Egyptian-Israel breakthrough that led to Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem or the Israeli-Palestinian one in Oslo, some tough decisions were made by the parties themselves long before the United States got involved. Unfortunately, right now, the U.S. owns this one more than the parties do. And there’s a good chance, given the gaps and mistrust on each side, that owning it themselves will be much tougher than anyone imagined. It would be nice to assume that once involved in talks, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will just sit down, work out the details themselves, and take the necessary steps on the ground that will create a better environment at the table. And bucked up by all kinds of bells and whistles – prisoner releases and economic aid for the Palestinians and security assistance and Arab state recognition for Israel – they’ll somehow find one another and come to own the negotiating process.
But who are we kidding? This is the Arab-Israeli conflict. What can go wrong will go wrong. And because there’s still very little traction right now in the talks, the U.S. will need to be all over them like a cheap suit. This is not an ideal situation. It would have been better had real urgency brought Mahmoud Abbas and Bibi Netanyahu together rather than John Kerry.
That doesn’t mean Kerry is doomed to fail. But if he is to succeed, not only will the two sides have to own up, Kerry too will need to readjust his thinking and consider a more active strategy.
Laying out parameters: Right now, as far as we know, there are no agreed terms of reference governing the talks. If these negotiations were happening a decade ago, you might not need any, particularly if the process focused on interim issues. But this is a major-league peace process, dedicated to the end game. Without some kind of parameters to guide the talks — say, June 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps or an agreement that Jerusalem will be the capital of two states — the negotiations will wander and likely break down.
U.S. bridging proposals: These, too, will be necessary. The two sides may well succeed in narrowing the gaps. But more than likely they will be unable to close them. It will take U.S. ideas and bridging proposals to move matters along. And these U.S. ideas must take into account the needs and requirements of both sides. The last time we tried this, at Camp David in July 2000, American proposals were much more to Israel’s liking.
The president’s role: Then there’s Barack Obama, a risk-averse president whose priority isn’t the Middle East but the American middle class. If a deal is to be done, it will have to entail a major role for Obama and a tough struggle with Abbas, but particularly with Netanyahu over issues such as borders and the final status of Jerusalem, where the American position is much closer to the Palestinians than to the Israelis. (On security and refugees, the Americans are closer to Israel). Will the president want to undermine his carefully calculated “reset” with Israel earlier this year for a risky bet on Middle East peace? Legacy pulls hard. But legacy cuts both ways: You can be the hero and the goat, too.
Is some kind of Israeli-Palestinian agreement possible? Perhaps. But it will take the kind of leadership, courage, and commitment that we haven’t seen from any member of the Big Three – yet.

The Outrage Gap. By Gil Troy.

Netanyahu on “Final Resolution”: Not “A Single Arab on Our Lands.” By Gil Troy. The Daily Beast, July 30, 2013.


Of course, Benjamin Netanyahu did not say that—or any such thing. Netanyahu, as the leader of the Jabotinskyite Likud movement understands that Israel must remain a Jewish and democratic state that respects all its citizens, including Arabs, many of whom serve honorably in the courts, the Knesset, and elsewhere. But imagine the outrage if Netanyahu had said such a thing—we have seen how when third-string Knesset backbenchers make even less offensive remarks it generates New York Times headlines and much Jewish handwringing about supposed Israeli “racism,” when, of course, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a national one not a racial one at all.
By contrast, when Mahmoud Abbas, briefing “mostly Egyptian journalists,” according to the report reprinted in the Jerusalem Post, imagined an Israeli-free (but let's face it, basically Jew-free) Palestinian state, few mainstream media outlets decided this was news. This Outrage Gap, this magical ray that renders Palestinian bigotry and hate-mongering invisible, has perverted the so-called “peace process” for decades, and has already caused imbalance in this latest round of negotiations—which, despite my frustrations and fears, I desperately hope will succeed.
To be fair, this is Abbas’s full sentence: “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli—civilian or soldier—on our lands.” This is, of course, one of the fundamental assumptions guiding peace talks for decades, that the Jews will leave what the Palestinians have convinced the world is their territory exclusively, while Arabs will stay in Israel. That assumption follows the guidelines of the original British Mandate after World War I, which created a Jew-free Transjordan, east of the Jordan River, and envisioned carving out some territory west of the Jordan for a Jewish state.
Let me be clear. My vision of Israel’s future includes all of Israel’s current citizens and their future descendants, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. Moreover, I understand that a future Palestinian state will require displacing more Israelis from some territory, as was done with Yamit after the Egyptian Peace Treaty and was done in Gaza—and we forget—part of the West Bank, with the Disengagement. I also believe that the most viable arrangement with the Palestinians will respect current demographic realities as much as possible, trying to draw viable boundaries that minimize the amount of inconvenience to people living on both sides of the Green Line—that improvised boundary from 1949.
But the free pass given Abbas on these remarks, like the free pass given to his odious dissertation trying to Nazify Zionism and minimize the Holocaust, tells a deeper, darker tale. There are vast armies of Palestinian enablers in the West who exaggerate every Israeli imperfection and soft-pedal serious Palestinian evils. This asymmetry results in always blaming Israel—even when the Palestinians turn from negotiating back to terror in 2000—and always putting the onus on Israel to make the first move—as evidenced by Israel’s major concession this week in freeing murderers with blood on their hands. This outrage gap holds democratic Israel, with all its imperfections, to an impossibly high standard, while rarely holding Palestinians up to even the most minimum standards when it comes to judging their undemocratic procedures, their appalling human rights record, their hostile attitudes toward gays, women, Jews, or any non-Palestinian, non-males.
Clearly, this imbalance hurts Israel, undermining Israel’s standing, alienating bystanders, putting extra-pressure on Israel even from natural allies in the United States and Europe. But this imbalance hurts Palestinians too, in at least two central ways.

First, I think reflects what I call liberal condescension. I hold Palestinian politics and society up to high standards out of respect; giving Palestinians a free pass, be it when they terrorize or demonize, shows contempt for them, assuming that somehow they cannot live up to basic standards of decency.
Second, all this enabling feeds Palestinian extremism and Israeli extremism as well. Indulging Palestinian bigotry, oppression, fanaticism, and violence helps make the Middle East more incendiary, undermines Israeli moderates, and fuels the fanatics.
Just as many critics of Israel insist they are true friends trying to save Israel’s soul, true friends of the Palestinians in the West would start by publicizing Abbas’s remarks—and then repudiating them as contrary to the kind of country he should be trying to build and the kind of tone he should be trying to set in negotiations.