Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Muslim Brotherhood “Reprisals” and “Enemies of Islam.” By Andrew C. McCarthy.

Muslim Brotherhood “Reprisals” and “Enemies of Islam.” By Andrew C. McCarthy. National Review Online, August 14, 2013.


More on what Nina Shea and yours truly noted earlier today: The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamic supremacist allies – portrayed in the mainstream media as “peaceful protesters” subjected to unprovoked violence by Egyptian security forces – continue their jihad against Christians. And that jihad continues to be portrayed in the mainstream media as “reprisal” attacks, as if it were the Copts rather than the armed forces who had ousted the Brotherhood from power.
The Asia News (h/t Robert Spencer) describes a “reprisal [that] occurred immediately after last night’s clashes” in which security forces bulldozed camps that the Brotherhood refused evacuate:
The Muslim Brotherhood’s anger for the forced evacuation of the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-ins has been unleashed against Christians. In the last few hours, the Islamists have attacked seven Catholic churches and afull fifteen religious structures of the Coptic-Orthodox Church and the Protestant church. The attacks took place in Cairo and in the governorate of Sohag (Upper Egypt). The news was announced by Fr. Rafic Greiche, spokesperson for the Egyptian Catholic Church, who underlined the fact that the Western media has remained silent about the attacks. At the moment it is unclear whether any persons have been injured or killed.
It is worth noting, for the bipartisan Beltway clerisy that thinks the solution here is to move immediately to elections (i.e., the “democracy” approach — democratic process without democratic culture — that has gotten us to this point), that the reason for the Brotherhood’s smashing electoral successes after Mubarak’s ouster was its savvy in portraying all contests as “Islam versus the enemies of Islam.” As much as we wish to imagine the Egyptian population as secular and democratic, it is today exactly the same population that only eight months ago voted overwhelmingly for a sharia constitution (after overwhelming voting Islamic supremacists into control of parliament and electing Morsi president). The attacks on the Copts are not just a continuation of jihad as usual. They are a strategic effort to link the Copts in the public mind with the armed forces that carried out the coup (as well as the minority secularists who took to the streets to demand it). The military is a revered institution, but the most significant fact of life in Egypt is Islam. If the generals are seen as partners of the Copts, they end up on the “enemies of Islam” side of the narrative spun by Islamic supremacists. As we’ve seen again and again since 2011, that is the wrong side to be on in Egypt’s “democracy.”
And isn’t it just ducky that the Obama administration, instead of discrediting the toxic “enemies of Islam” narrative, has now adopted it in State Department pronouncements.


Ralph Peters on the Violence and Crackdown in Egypt.

How should the White House respond to the violence raging in Egypt? Video. Col. Ralph Peters with Martha MacCallum. America Live. Fox News, August 14, 2013. YouTube, YouTubeYouTube.

Christians “collateral damage” or targets in Egypt? Video. Col. Ralph Peters with Alisyn Camerota. America Live. Fox News, August 15, 2013. YouTubeYouTube.

This blood is on the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. By Ralph Peters. New York Post, August 15, 2013.

Peters (August 14 video):

We need to get over our narcissism and recognize what’s going on in Egypt isn’t about us. It is about the people in Egypt and other peoples throughout the Middle East struggling against the fundamentalist extremists who are our enemies too; people struggling to build modern, decent, tolerant societies. And so far the Obama administration’s helped the wrong people by and large. . . .
The bottom line is: we cannot determine Egypt’s future. The Egyptian people have to determine that. We can only play on the margins and we should try to play constructively, and not automatically assume “ooh military bad, peaceful protesters who happen to be thugs good.” I’m appalled by hearing so many Western commentators condemning the military and seemingly siding with the Brotherhood, when the Muslim Brotherhood would put these people in jail or far worse.
The Egyptian people want a little bit of freedom. The Muslim Brotherhood came to power and tried to take that little bit of hard won freedom away, and now you’re seeing the reaction. Again, I don’t like military coups but the real coup was what Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood did to that fledgling Egyptian democracy.
We need to get our priorities straight. And our priorities should be on the side of modernity, tolerance, progress, economic growth, decency. Not on the side of bigoted, medieval, primitive, hate-filled religion directed against peaceful Muslims above all. Because we should remember that the victims of radical fanatical Islam have overwhelmingly been decent everyday Muslims.

Entrepreneurs Turn Oligarchs. By Joel Kotkin.

Entrepreneurs Turn Oligarchs. By Joel Kotkin. New Geography, August 12, 2013. Also at


For a generation, most Americans, whatever their politics, have largely admired Silicon Valley as an exemplar of enlightened free-market capitalism. Yet, increasingly, the one-time folk heroes are beginning to appear more like a digital version of President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil.” In terms of threats to freedom and privacy, we now may have more to fear from techies in Palo Alto than the infinitely less-competent retro-Reds in North Korea.
Once, we saw the potential unsurpassed human liberation available through information technology. However, Silicon Valley, as shown in the NSA scandal, increasingly has become intimately tied to the surveillance state. Technology has enabled powerful firms – including Verizon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google – to channel everyone's email and cellphone calls to the national security apparatus.
“It’s as bad as reading your diary,” Joss Wright, a researcher with the Oxford Internet Institute, recently told the Associated Press, adding, “It’s far worse than reading your diary. Because you don’t write everything in your diary.”
Nor does the snooping relate only to national security. If my emails to friends and family arguably constitute a potential threat to national security, that’s one thing. The massive monitoring and largely unapproved tapping into our data for profit is quite another.
Google, which, in the first half of 2012, took in more advertising dollars than all U.S. magazines and newspapers combined, has amassed an impressive list of privacy violations, notes the Huffington Post. Even the innocent-seeming Gmail service is used to collect and sell information; Google’s crew in Palo Alto may know more about the casual user than most of us suspect.
Even Apple, arguably the most iconic Silicon Valley firm, has been hauled in front of courts for alleged privacy violations. For its part, Consumer Reports recently detailed Facebook’s pervasive privacy breaches, including misuse of information as detailed as health conditions, details an insurer could use against you, when someone is going out of town (convenient for burglars), as well as information pertaining to everything from sexual orientation to religious and ethnic affiliation.
Despite ritual denials about such invasions of privacy, the new communications moguls have little reason to stop, and lots of financial reasons to continue. As for concerns over privacy, the new oligarchs take something of a blasé attitude. Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, in 2009 responded to concerns over privacy with this gem: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
First came the engineers
These autocratic sentiments have evolved over time. Initially, Silicon Valley was dominated by engineers whose primary obsession was using information technology to make the physical world work better. Many of them from Midwestern schools, that early workforce came to the Santa Clara Valley for the same suburban, middle-class lifestyle that earlier brought millions to the aerospace hubs of the Los Angeles Basin and Long Island. They may have been nerds, but not a class apart.
The early Valley deserved our admiration for taking new technologies – semiconductors, in particular – and applying them to practical concerns ranging from machine tools to spacecraft and defense. The Internet itself was not invented by swashbuckling entrepreneurs but evolved from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – DARPA. Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg did not pay to build the Internet; the taxpayers did.
The new Valley elite are simply the latest to refine and exploit information technology for their own, often enormous, personal benefit. Nothing wrong with making money, to be sure, but this ambition is no different than those of Cornelius Vanderbilt, E.H. Harriman, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford and Thomas Watson. Each innovated in a key industry, established oligarchic control and became fantastically rich.
But even by the standards of bygone moguls, the new oligarchs’ wealth has not been widely shared. Big Oil and the Big Three automakers created hundreds of thousands of jobs for a wide range of workers. In contrast, the tech oligarchs’ contributions to American employment are relatively negligible.
Google, for example, employs 50,000 people; Facebook, 4,600; Twitter, less than a thousand, while GM employs 200,000; Ford, 164,000; and Exxon, more than 100,000. Even in the current boom, new job creation has been relatively insipid. From 1959-71, Silicon Valley produced 100,000 tech jobs; by 1990 it generated an additional 150,000 and, in the 1990s boom, another 170,000. After losing more than 108,000 high-tech jobs from 2000-08, there has been a net gain of no more than 20,000 to 30,000 positions since 2007.
The geographical area enriched by the oligarchs has also narrowed. In previous Silicon Valley booms, outlying areas such as Sacramento and Oakland also benefited; not so much this time. Nor is the population expanding much, as one would expect from an economic boom. Although the massive outflow of domestic migrants over past decade – more than 20,000 annually – has slowed, still, more domestic migrants are leaving than coming. Part of this has to do with having the nation’s highest housing prices relative to income, more than twice that of competitor regions like Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C., or Salt Lake City.
Rather than a place of aspiration, the Valley increasingly resembles an extremely expensive gated community, with prices set impossibly high particularly for all but the most affluent new entrants.
What Needs to Be Done?
Americans need to wake up to the reality of this new, and increasingly ambitious, ruling class. “The sovereigns of cyberspace,” like the all-powerful Skynet computer system in the “Terminator” series, are only recently focused on politics, and have concentrated largely in the Democratic Party (where the price of admission tends to be cheaper than in the old-money-dominated GOP). And it’s not just money they are throwing at the game, but also the skillful political use of technology, as amply demonstrated in President Obama’s re-election.
Like the moguls of the early 20th century, who bought and sold senators like so many cabbages, the new elite constitute a basic threat to democracy. They dominate their industries with market shares that would make the old moguls blush. Google, for example, controls some 80 percent of search, while Google and Apple provide the operating system software for almost 90 percent of smartphones. Similarly, more than half of Americans, and 60 percent of Europeans, use Facebook, making it easily the world's dominant social media site. In contrast, the world’s top 10 oil companies account for barely 40 percent of the world’s oil production.
Like the Gilded Age moguls, the tech oligarchs also personally dominate their companies. Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, for example, control roughly two-thirds of the voting stock in Google. Brin and Page each is worth more $20 billion. Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, owns just under 23 percent of his company; worth $41 billion, Forbes ranked him the country's third-richest person. Bill Gates, the richest, is worth a cool $66 billion and still controls 7 percent of his firm. Newcomer Mark Zuckerberg’s 29.3 percent stake in Facebook was worth $16 billion as of July 25, according to Bloomberg.
This combination of market and ownership concentration needs to be curbed. Taking a page from the Progressive Era, author and historian Michael Lind suggests that companies like Google, given their enormous market share, should be regulated like utilities. Others, within the European Union and elsewhere, look to apply antitrust legislation, once used to break up Standard Oil. One innovative approach, as Jaron Lanier suggests in his new book, “Who Owns the Future,” includes forcing companies to pay for the privilege of using your data, thereby “spreading the wealth” from a few hegemons to the wider populace.
Threat is bipartisan
These changes will require both Left and Right to change their attitudes. Progressives, for example, have tended to embrace the Valley’s population for its generally “liberal” views on social issues and the environment. They have largely ignored the industry’s poor record on hiring non-Asian minorities and the lavish, energy-consuming lifestyles of the oligarchs themselves.
Some on the left are seeing the light. Britain’s left-leaning Guardian newspaper has been in the forefront unveiling the NSA scandals and the complicity in them of the tech giants. Credit belongs to the EU, which, particularly in contrast with our government, has been asking the toughest questions about loss of privacy and the dangers of oligopolistic control. With Barack Obama secure in the White House, some American leftists have also begun to recognize the extreme inequality that has accompanied, and likely been worsened by, the ascendency of the digital aristocracy.
Conservatives, for their part, can only face up to the new “axis of evil” by stepping outside their ideology strictures and instinctive embrace of wealth. The increasingly monopolistic nature of the high-tech community, and its widespread disregard for the privacy of the individual, should concern conservatives, as it would have the framers of the Constitution.
What needs to be accepted, by both conservatives and liberals, is that privacy matters, as does the threat posed to democracy by oligarchy. Until people focus on the potential for evil before us and discuss ways to curb abuses, this small and largely irresponsible class, likely in league with government, will usher in not the promised cornucopia but a gilded-age reign of Big Brother.

Technocrats and Populists: Who Trusts the People? By Ben Domenech.

Technocrats and Populists: Who Trusts the People? By Ben Domenech. Real Clear Politics, August 13, 2013.

Liberals and “libertarian populists” are wrong: politics isn’t a zero-sum fight between corporations and the poor. By Ezra Klein. Washington Post, August 12, 2013. Also here.

In Search of a More Populist GOP. By Stephanie Slade. U.S. News and World Report, August 14, 2013.

What Is Libertarian Populism? By Conn Carroll. NJBR August 8, 2013. With related articles.

Democrats Have Become the Party of Concentrated Elite Power. By Yuval Levin. NJBR, July 31, 2013. With related articles.

The “Country Party” and the “Court Party.” By Ross Douthat. NJBR, July 28, 2013. With related articles and links to NJBR posts on libertarian populism.

GOP must woo working people chasing the American dream. By Timothy P. Carney. Washington Examiner, November 7, 2012.


I appreciate Ezra Klein’s engagement with libertarian populism, and what he views as a fraudulent perspective from the populists on the left and right. But I have a few issues with his analysis. First, I’ve seen nothing from the small cadre of libertarian populist writers out there that suggests life in America’s economy today is a zero sum game, or that bigness alone is the cause of all ills. The problem is not the bigness of the corporate Bigs – it’s that they have partnered with Big Government to insulate themselves from competition, socialize risk, and warp the marketplace in their favor by building “bigger moats,” to use Jamie Dimon’s phrase, around themselves. This exacerbates many existing problems and, in fact, inhibits the kind of economic growth that takes us out of zero-sum politics.
To pick one example totally at random, consider Jeff Bezos’s Amazon and their shift in support for an internet sales tax. Is the problem with Amazon that it’s big? Of course not. I love Amazon as a consumer, and their bigness in the past week allowed them to bring me some tasty macadamia nuts, a new watch, a new book by Jay Richards, and a streaming David Fincher film. What’s the problem with Amazon? Well, Amazon opposed the internet sales tax supported by stores like WalMart for years. Why did they change their mind? In part, it’s because they realized they could make more money providing rent-seeking services to small businesses, processing the tax for them, knowing that the regulatory burden involved would prove particularly troublesome for mom and pop shops. They saw an opportunity to suck thousands of sellers away from places like eBay and into the Amazon Marketplace, not thanks to competitive value, but thanks to a sweeping new government policy. Amazon got to where it is by being a reliable and innovative company, and they are now supporting an effort to prevent competition from local sellers of books and other goods and make it more costly for potential competitors to enter the space where they have a dominant market share.
This is why libertarian populists oppose cronyism: because we recognize that a system which uses the power of government to hold down the next Amazon – the young, innovative, hungry businesses that work to compete – has all sorts of terrible unseen outcomes, including a more stagnant economy, one with less upheaval but also less innovation, and one which allows for higher prices. Imagine the world we would live in today if Washington had put its thumb on the scale for Wang or Commodore in 1983 and smothered Microsoft, Apple, and Intel – favoring the powerful over the companies run out of garages. The tech sector would still be hugely important, but it wouldn't be what it is today – and in its absence, we would see less wealth, fewer jobs, lower productivity and more. Except we wouldn't know that’s what we missed out on.
As for Klein’s comments about the poor: the poor are doing better in this economy by many measures than they have in past recessions – while income inequality has grown, mobility measures show more consistency – but I’d argue that’s almost entirely due to private companies and the benefits of competitive arenas of the marketplace (dramatically lowering costs, expanding access, forcing innovation, etc). At the same time, the costs of energy, food, and insurance premium costs are eating up larger portions of family budgets (to say nothing of how the cost of higher education inhibits mobility). In each arena, the regulatory/subsidy state is preventing competition and profiting from the poverty of others, creating disincentives for success. This in turn creates a societal bias toward the false security of government-run mediocrity instead of the promise of liberty and prosperity.
It’s far too simplistic to say this is corporations versus the poor, and Klein is correct that this is not what's going on here. What’s going on is that the Bigs have worked in tandem to create a system where corporate rent-seekers can profit from the paternalistic technocratic state. Where do subsidies come from? And where do they go? Someone has to run the life of Julia after all.
What’s most notable about Klein’s examples is that they all represent redistributional inputs, with the actual outcomes a dubious proposition: take money from one person, funnel it through the Bigs, give it to another, who in turn gives it back to the Bigs. And is this making any of their lives better? Or, like the Oregon Medicaid study revealed, is it just providing a paternalistic sense of security? Giving poor people more money, on the condition they stay poor, to purchase government approved corporate products and services via pretend markets closed to competition from small business doesn't help the poor. Quite the opposite, in fact: the current entitlement state is designed to help the poor stay poor more comfortably, and help the Bigs profit from their poverty – a system where Big Agribusiness and Big Energy lobby for subsidies, tariffs, mandates and quotas, and then profit from the entitlement programs which direct taxpayer funds toward them through the pockets of low earners. We live in a world where the Big Wall Street banks make billions off getting a cut from the swipe fees of every food stamp debit card for 47 million people across the country.
The point of welfare should be to help poor people stop being poor. Ronald Reagan’s belief that “Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence” is completely absent from the world Klein frames. Many well-intentioned paternalists on both sides of the aisle believe the starving masses really are helpless, incapable of seeking out a better life for themselves in the absence of Leviathan’s handouts. Except this is a system which best serves the Julia Profiteers, not Julia herself. Throwing money at the problem misses the point that social capital can't be redistributed, and inputs of money don't yield outputs of mobility. Frederic Bastiat’s line about the bad economist being one who confines himself only to visible effect is apt: all the current system has to offer is the input of money sent in the direction of people, with no measure of the negative outcomes of disincentivizing success or crowding out private, voluntary alternatives to the State.
This is the difference between the technocrat and the populist, writ large: true populists trust the people – even the poor people.


Amid the search for a way forward for Republicans heading into the 2014 midterm elections, the drumbeat for “libertarian populism” has been getting steadily louder. That idea, defended by writers like the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney and The Transom’s Ben Domenech, asks the GOP to meld two strains within its ranks that have, until now, generally been seen as discrete.
Libertarianism is characterized by its support for only minimal government intrusion into the free market. Populism, meanwhile, is known for its support of anything that benefits “regular Americans” instead of powerful elites. At first blush, the two can seem uneasy bedfellows – after all, some may wonder, doesn't capitalism just serve to make richer the already rich?
The philosophy’s advocates don’t see it that way. Instead, they call for eliminating governmental programs primarily because those programs give a leg up to large, entrenched interests like super PACs, labor unions, banks and corporations. Libertarian populism is defined less by what it’s for and more by what it seeks to do away with – the reality that our current system unfairly privileges big institutions at everyone else’s expense. Setting aside that any policy prescription liberal economist Paul Krugman doesn’t like is probably worth pursuing, there are good reasons to think Carney and Domenech might be on to something.
There can be no doubt crony capitalism is a problem in America. When the biggest, richest, most powerful institutions can collude with government to rig the game in their favor, the competition that makes free markets the greatest force for freedom in the world begins to break down. Aspiring entrepreneurs are dissuaded from trying to start new businesses, because they doubt they'll be able to compete with existing ones – not on the merits, but in the big firms’ ability to buy influence with policymakers. And when producers are able to gain an unfair advantage through subsidies, bailouts, federal loan guarantees or beneficial regulations, consumers are forced to pay more for lesser products.
A great example of this is our needlessly convoluted “swiss cheese” federal tax code. Large entities have the resources to hire an army of lawyers and accountants to ensure they’re taking advantage of every possible loophole. Most individual taxpayers, well, don’t have that option. As a result, middle-income households end up paying nearly as much, and sometimes more, in taxes than the wealthiest Americans. And because big institutions can put their dollars to work lobbying the government for better treatment, the nature of the tax credits, write-offs and deductions carved into the code will skew more and more in their favor over time.
The libertarian populist answer to this problem is to flatten and simplify the tax code – not because doing so reduces the burden on the rich, but because it makes it harder for them to avoid what they owe. Fewer loopholes means less reason to spend huge amounts of money seeking out those loopholes. This does in a day what decades of carve-outs meant to benefit the middle class have failed to accomplish: It levels the playing field. And that is the crux of the libertarian populist formula: get government out so entrenched institutions can't keep using it to game the system.
At both ends of the political spectrum, Americans are hungry for an antidote to cronyism. Frustration with that aspect of the status quo is what powered both the tea party and the Occupy movements. In between, people may not quite be sure what’s wrong with the current system, but they know something isn’t right.
Therein lies the opportunity for Republicans. As the Examiner’s Carney put it, “It’s time for free-market populism and a Republican Party that fights against all forms of political privilege – a party that champions all who want to work and take risks in order to improve their lives and raise a family.”
There is ample evidence that this could be a winning strategy. As workers have struggled to bounce back from the recession, banks and corporations have been raking in the profits, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed. A report by the College Republican National Committee earlier this summer found the conservative narrative that young people most agreed with was, “We need leaders who aren’t afraid to fight existing interests like big companies and big unions in order to reform outdated and unsustainable programs.” Americans, especially young Americans, have become deeply suspicious of large institutions. More worrisome for Republicans, they have come to associate the GOP with the very institutions they mistrust.
The College Republicans asked a focus group of aspiring entrepreneurs why they voted for President Obama even though they see Republicans as the party that favors business. “The Republican Party would make it really easy to start a business and have a successful business if you already have that capital in your bank account . . . but we’re all sitting on our own various debts and our student loans, and the Republican Party isn’t helping us with any of that,” one respondent explained.

Both parties are looking to communicate that they’re on the side of regular Americans. Liberals can convey that idea by supporting wealth redistribution measures and ignoring the long-term negative consequences to the economy. But conservatives have to find a different way of proving to people they’re not just looking out for the rich and powerful. More and more it seems their only hope is by making the GOP’s raison d'être to get the crony out of capitalism.

Review of Anatol Lieven’s “America Right or Wrong.” By Emanuele Ottolenghi.

Anatol Lieven, right or wrong? By Emanuele Ottolenghi. openDemocracy, October 19, 2004.

Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. By Emanuele Ottolenghi. The Guardian, November 28, 2003. Behind much criticism of Israel is a thinly veiled hatred of Jews.

Europe’s “Good Jews.” By Emanuele Ottolenghi. Commentary, December 2005.

Making Sense of European Anti-Semitism. By Emanuele Ottolenghi. Human Rights Review, Vol. 8, No. 2 (January-March 2007).

The Real Palestinian Vision. By Emanuele Ottolenghi. Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2011.

Review of Anatol Lieven, “America Right or Wrong.” By Michael Hirsh. NJBR, January 24, 2013.

America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism. By Anatol Lieven. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Also here.

Ottolenghi (Lieven review):

Many liberals will find Anatol Lieven’s book America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism a refreshing read: in smooth style, Lieven impressively articulates familiar arguments against United States foreign policy since 9/11 – especially, but not exclusively, in the middle east.
Lieven employs a formidable armoury of qualities: wit and sarcasm, a knowledge of his critics that enables him often to preempt their likely counter–jibes; and frequent (albeit tactical) empathy for opposing views, which reveals a genuine attempt to diagnose the illnesses of US foreign policy and propose remedies.
But wit, rhetoric, and sarcasm – even when spiced with empathy – are ingredients for sermons and motivational literature, not rigorous analysis; and in the end America Right or Wrong is nothing more than preaching to the choir.
In his book, Anatol Lieven targets what might be called the usual suspects: the pro–Israel lobby, the neo–conservatives, the Christian right, and anyone disagreeing with his worldview. His solutions are equally predictable: the United Nations, liberalism, international law, a broader role for Europe, and settling the Israeli–Palestinian conflict by pressing Israel into more concessions.
These simplicities come into their own in the last full chapter of his book, “American Nationalism, Israel and the Middle East”. Here, Lieven’s argument is trite and old: nationalist Israel is a danger, primarily to itself; Palestinian terrorism is unlike al–Qaida and therefore deserves understanding; and anti–semitism is a bogey – those waving it are either paranoid or manipulative, it is a marginal phenomenon even in the Arab world, and what there is will fade once Israel leaves the territories.
The conclusion follows: if only Israel – and its uncritical American supporters –could mend its ways, the ensuing peace would pave the way to more effective policies to face the region’s problems, above all terrorism.
A failure of liberalism
The immediate question raised by Lieven’s argument relates to the defence of dissent that should be at the heart of liberalism. The Arab states and the Palestinian cause are responsible for a litany of abuses of basic civil and human rights: a lack of basic freedoms, oppression of women, criminalisation of homosexuality, widespread use of torture, active support and moral justification for terrorism, discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities, and the systematic persecution of dissent.
How, in short, can one be a liberal and broadly support the Arab world and the Palestinian cause in their grievances against the United States and Israel, two states which, with all their shortcomings, embody many classic liberal values and ideals?
Here, Lieven is hardly persuasive. He labels those liberals who happen to disagree with him – like Alan Dershowitz or Paul Berman – as “self–described liberals”; the qualifier is justified by their support for Israel, their characterisation of Islamic radicalism as “Islamofascism”, and their view of the present crisis as a war of ideas counterposing the free world against a new form of totalitarianism.
Lieven probably has a persuasive explanation for his preference, as do Dershowitz and Berman for theirs. He cites anti–colonialist feelings and the sense of grievance pervading the Arab world. He is right, but this pervasiveness neither justifies nor explains the crimes and horrors committed by post–colonial Arab regimes; liberals with anti–colonialist feelings should not be blind to the ubiquitous illiberalism of the Arab world just because of the west’s colonial past.
This puts the question about dissent and liberalism in a new light. Who is the real “self–described” liberal – Berman, Dershowitz, or Lieven himself? Lieven is free to disagree, he can easily formulate a good counter–argument, but his dismissive labelling of dissenters betrays dogmatism. For Lieven, they are “self–described” not because they are not liberals, but because they disagree with him: hardly an expression of liberalism.
Paul Berman’s and Alan Dershowitz’s case is symptomatic, and not only because Anatol Lieven’s discussion of Israel and the middle east conveniently quotes mostly Jewish sources as if the entire matter of US policy in the region impinges principally upon Jews. In a book that obsessively refers to the pro–Israeli lobby as the prime mover of things (whereas Arab pressure–groups are unmentioned) it is hardly surprising that the author’s worldview reflects the misguided, and dangerous, belief that the future of the middle east ultimately depends on what Jews and Israel will or will not do.
It may be significant that Lieven conveniently ignores Christopher Hitchens – perhaps the most glaring defector from the “left” consensus – a writer who is neither a Jew nor someone who deserves the disparaging qualifier “self–described”. But that is precisely the point: Hitchens, a former Trotskyist with strong left–liberal credentials, no sympathy for Ariel Sharon, and no love for the right, is as far from Lieven’s worldview as Berman and Dershowitz are.
Lieven’s language does not reflect a nuanced awareness of the complexities of the issues at stake. He systematically discredits opponents to dismiss their arguments, painting them as caricatures of themselves. “Bush country”, the Christian right, and pro–Israel sentiment – all are the object of much derision and little illumination. He deems America simply to be wrong, and dismisses dissenters with no hearing. A liberal who decries the polarised moral vision of George W Bush does not offer any advance in wisdom by inhabiting an equally Manichaean world. The real task is to appreciate that the moral difficulties and dilemmas we all face, liberals and conservatives alike, offer no easy answers.
Lieven’s inability to cope with dissent – his failure of true liberalism – is at the root of the permeating dogmatism of his argument. An ability to respond to complexity and dissent with seriousness might lead Lieven to the realisation that America’s foreign policy is not necessarily dictated by a cocktail of American and “chauvinist” Israeli nationalism.
It is possible (for example) to be a liberal and to have supported war in Iraq in spring 2003; to be a liberal and to support Israel; to be a liberal who is horrified at Abu Ghraib and still approve of Saddam’s overthrow; to be a liberal who sees a difference between Abu Ghraib (an aberration that will be prosecuted) and Saddam’s reign of fear (a state–sanctioned system of torture and mass murder). In truth, the argument over current American foreign policy divides the liberal community. These are serious liberal arguments and serious liberal dilemmas. Lieven’s dismissal of opponents is neither serious nor liberal.
In the labelling game, one more thing emerges. Anatol Lieven’s got this thing for Jews. His obsession, mostly latent, occasionally comes to the surface. Referring to Washington Times columnist Arnaud de Borchgrave, Lieven mentions that de Borchgrave is “in part of Jewish descent”, as if ethnic origin somehow makes opinions more or less valid.
Lieven uses de Borchgrave’s origins to support his own arguments: this Jew agrees with him, making his Jewishness a crucial asset that validates Lieven’s viewpoint. But if being Jewish lends legitimacy to opinions (itself a highly questionable implication), why is Jewish descent good only when Lieven agrees with de Borchgrave but not good when other Jews disagree with Lieven? Lieven labels Melanie Phillips a “British Jewish journalist” and Phyllis Chesler a “Jewish liberal American feminist” to insinuate the partisan nature of their support for Israel, and thus discredit their writings in its favour.
Why in these cases too is it necessary to know their ethnic affiliation and religious persuasion? The point is that being Jewish is immaterial to an opinion’s validity. Reference to ethnic origin should never appear in a serious polemic: ideas are at stake, not the skin–colour, religious beliefs, gender, sexual inclinations or ethnic origin of our supporters and opponents. To make these factors relevant to arguments reflects an intellectual confusion that dangerously borders on prejudice. Lieven’s discrediting efforts are grave enough when he labels opponents for their ideas, graver still when the label refers to their ethnic or religious affiliation.
A flawed view of the middle east
What of Lieven’s views on wider matters of peace in the middle east? On a central issue, Lieven is right: peace will come only through territorial compromise. But he errs in assuming that this compromise can only follow United States pressure on Israel, and in claiming that US support for Israel only worsens the situation in the region. In the end, Israel’s many mistakes notwithstanding, the main impediment to peace is the inability of Palestinian and Arab nationalism to come to terms with a non–Arab sovereign presence in their midst.
No, the United States should not pressure Israel. It should pressure the Arab world to take responsibility for its pitiful condition: the lack of human development, the inept elites that dominate its politics, the social injustice that feeds into terrorism, the failure to produce viable governance and economy. The US should confront the Arab world with the need to take responsibility and make choices. This embrace of responsibility, not even more evasion of it, is what the region desperately needs today from its leaders and citizens alike.
His approach on this point means that Lieven “essentialises” the Arab side and denies it agency in relation to past and current events. Blaming the victims for their own suffering leaves the perpetrators, and the socio–political and ideological milieu that gives rise to their murderous intents, without responsibility. This patronising approach is revealed in the way that Lieven expects only America and Israel to change, and mend, their ways; his demand for a different course of action from the Arab world is, by contrast, perfunctory – theirs is an inevitable, almost mechanical reaction to events.
Lieven would probably object to these last remarks, invoking (as his book does) the Arab League’s 2002 initiative on the Israeli–Palestinian issue. But he would be wrong, for three reasons.
First, the Arab League initiative left the refugee issue open (here, Lieven sides, surprisingly, with Israel).
Second, the initiative was hijacked by the Passover massacre which killed forty Jews on the eve of one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar – yet the Arab League did not condemn Hamas (after all, the prime mover of the initiative was Saudi Arabia, a key Hamas financial supporter), but denounced Israel’s military response instead.
Third, when in May 2003 the Aqaba summit included reference to Israel’s right to exist as “a Jewish state”, the Arab establishment and Arab intellectuals loudly protested.
A misunderstanding of American foreign policy
Anatol Lieven’s critique’s is most glaringly flawed in relation to changes in America’s foreign policy in the middle east after 11 September 2001. Before that date, America was a status quo power in the region, intent on dual containment vis–à–vis Iran and Iraq and connivance with authoritarian regimes. At least one of these regimes (like Saudi Arabia) were intimate allies selling oil and investing trillions of dollars in western economies and western ambassadors; some (Egypt, Jordan and Morocco) were friends and recipients of generous aid; others (like Syria) could be persuaded to become friends to improve the other policies.
America’s policy of dual containment was an abject failure: daily images of Iraqis suffering from the post–1991 sanctions regime were beamed into Arab homes for a decade, while the US was bombing Iraqi targets and enforcing no–fly zones over Iraq, but Saddam Hussein survived in power. Elsewhere, US–backed tyrants depleted their countries’ resources to fund extravagant lifestyles while repressing their domestic opposition, thus preventing the rise of an Arab civil society and leaving radical Islam as the only remaining organised social and political force. Arab regimes then brutally crushed the Islamists as they had crushed communists decades before, and the ensuing hatred for the regimes’ main patron, the United States, simmered quite independently of the dynamics of the Palestinian–Israeli peace process.
Islamic radicalism has deep historical rhythms of its own that predate and will long outlive Osama bin Laden. In the face of its recent manifestations, Lieven may well argue that American foreign policy is responsible for sins of omission and occasional commission. But to underplay its other dimensions, as he does – Saudi funding, Pakistani connivance, the self–inflicted wounds of a region that democracy has largely passed by, the dark seduction of Islamism itself at a particular moment in history – suggests that Lieven, in his urge to excoriate America’s ignorance and hubris, himself has plenty of both.
Lieven lambasts the United States’s backing for Israel on the grounds that America’s commitment to democracy – which he cites as a reason for strong US–Israeli relations – clashes with Israel’s occupation policies, thus undermining US advocacy of democratisation elsewhere in the middle east. But he does not apply the same logic to America’s close ties with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, and the Gulf principalities. Here, there is no suggestion that US aid and arms sales to these Arab countries compromises the US’s democratic credibility in Arab and Muslim eyes.
America’s “realism” before 9/11 was interest–driven, unsentimental and brutal; it was devoid of the romance, the illusions of democratisation and the benign imperialism that Lieven now criticises. Along with its annual aid to Israel, America’s generous aid packages to Egypt and Jordan (including the latter’s debt–cancellation in 1994) were stabilising mechanisms meant to strengthen middle–east peace, yet another pillar of US foreign policy in the region. The price was support for authoritarian regimes whose treatment of their subjects was not exactly in harmony with America’s commitment to democracy elsewhere.
Lieven’s approach would imply that for America to be true to its democratic principles and avoid moral incoherence, it should stop supporting its undemocratic middle–eastern allies, even impose sanctions on them or deny them aid until they reform. This would presumably apply even more to unfriendly regimes like Iran, where Lieven regrets the US refusal to engage with Tehran. If America sought confrontation with Iran, the region might descend into chaos, which Lieven would eventually blame on America; but who would pay the price of such absolute consistency of democratic principle?
Lieven decries America’s support for Ariel Sharon’s policies in crushing the second Palestinian intifada and America’s present lack of involvement in peacemaking. But in doing so, he forgets recent history: solving the Arab–Israeli conflict was also a pillar of US foreign policy, and the deep American involvement in peacemaking (itself an ongoing commitment at least since the 1950s) was shipwrecked in 2000 mainly by Palestinian intransigence. America’s disengagement in 2001 was the consequence, not cause, of diplomatic failure.
It is easy to decry American nationalism and warn against its association with what Lieven calls, without much explanation, “a chauvinist version of Israeli nationalism”. But the collapse of the peace process, to which two successive US administrations devoted ten years and much of their prestige, happened during the tenure of two of the least nationalist or chauvinist rulers, Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak. 

Moreover, Barak’s negotiating teams included the most liberal Israelis of any negotiating cycle – Yossi Beilin, Yossi Sarid, Shlomo Ben–Ami and Uri Savir. The process still blew up in their (and Bill Clinton’s) faces. To advocate now a return to the policies of the 1990s is not merely an unrealistic aspiration for current or future US leaders and policies; it involves a real failure of historical imagination.
Israel’s settlement policy was, and remains, a huge impediment to peace. But a balanced observer could not possibly reduce the failure of the peace process only to one factor: this is essentialising.
A fair observer would at least include Palestinian terrorism – and terrorism did not start with the intifada, or the Oslo process, but long precedes Israel’s conquests.
An acute observer would also add Yasser Arafat’s ambiguities with terror organisations such as Hamas. His pandering to Islamist audiences and Arab nationalists – for example his 1994 Johannesburg speech which qualified Oslo as a ruse – might have equally contributed to the collapse of the peace process.
But Lieven is not balanced, fair nor acute.
A misreading of anti–semitism
The fact that Lieven is pushing an ideological agenda successfully rehearsed only among like–minded people shows best in his treatment of anti–semitism. Lieven is right to dismiss more extreme accounts of the phenomenon that view today’s Europe as little–changed from the 1930s. This, however, does not imply that anti–semitism poses no threat; and Lieven seems unaware that between Auschwitz and a truly tolerant society there are infinite shades of grey.
Lieven falters on anti-semitism. He condemns it, true, and he recognises that it exists. But he then dismisses the vast amount of literature identifying and diagnosing it as a paranoid reaction meant to censor legitimate criticism of Israel. A serious approach to the problem would have tried to identify those forms of criticism that are legitimate - and thus attacking them on grounds of anti-semitism is disingenuous - and those forms of criticism which exploit old anti-semitic tropes to foment hostility toward Israel and its Jewish supporters in the west. 

There is much of the former, but just as much, if not more, of the latter going around. Lieven’s contribution is thus lamentable, because it only helps dismissing the problem as a form of Jewish hysteria and will push even many Jews who are uncomfortable with Israel’s current policies to defend the Jewish state no matter what.
Lieven’s treatment of anti–semitism in the Arab world further proves his lack of understanding of the problem. Though he censures the phenomenon, he cautiously suggests the solution is simple: “This tendency must be combated as part of general efforts to bring peace to the Middle East, to improve its level of education and public discourse, to lay the foundations for democracy and help it develop in other ways – and in Europe to help integrate . . . Muslim immigrants into Western society.”
This is all very well, but given Lieven’s scepticism about efforts to bring democracy to the region, how much time must pass before the ugly spread of medieval anti–semitism can be reversed? For Lieven, most incidents in Europe involve disgruntled Arab and Muslim immigrants who have reacted against “what they saw as Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians . . . Their views of these atrocities were exaggerated; but equally, their criminal behaviour was a response to events as well as the product of a warped intellectual background.”
If the Israeli–Palestinian conflict was settled, and Europe’s problems of integration solved, anti–semitism will vanish, Lieven seems to suggest. But Europe’s Jews also see violent acts committed against Jews in Israel and elsewhere (including Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians, attacks on synagogues and cemeteries, atrocities like the beheading of Daniel Pearl).
But if European Jews responded to attacks on them by burning mosques, desecrating Muslim cemeteries, or attacking Muslims in subways, would Lieven be inviting the “understanding” he seeks in relation to anti–semitism? One hopes not: humans, at least those who believe in freedom, are free agents and thus have a choice. Those who choose to vent their anger through acts of violence inspired by ancient prejudices must be held responsible for their crimes and offered no attenuating circumstances or “understanding.”
Anti–semitism thrives in today’s Arab states – the only place in the world where the old forgery of the Protocols became a popular TV series and where Holocaust denial enjoys academic status. Anti–semitism has also found legitimacy in many European forums, some of which are not as extreme and marginal as Lieven believes. Its appearance should not be dismissed as a transient phenomenon. Rather, it should be condemned forcefully and the effort made to seek to distance a worthy cause – Palestinian self–determination – from the stain of prejudice.
A blindness over nationalism
Lieven’s underestimation of anti–semitism is no surprise in the light of his characterisation of nationalism, which is unreservedly negative. This has a direct bearing on his approach to Israel: for he sees Israel’s occupation as both the result of nationalism and the cause of anti–semitism.
However, anti–semitism cannot be dismissed as an offshoot of anti–colonialism, or the product of Zionist settlement. Arab nationalism, after all, has historically been hostile to the national aspirations of indigenous people in the region who are not Arabs or Muslims. The Kurds (hardly a European settler population), the Copts in Egypt, the Berbers in north Africa, and Sudan’s non–Arab and non–Muslim peoples are only a few examples.
Arab nationalism was never open to competing national claims, and remains uncompromising to this day, regardless of whether the opposing nationalism is indigenous. Even had Jews been a majority in Palestine before Zionism, their aspirations would (like Kurdish nationalism) have clashed with the chauvinist nature of Arab nationalism, because Arab nationalism did – and does not now – recognise the rights of national minorities in its midst.
Lieven’s portait of nationalism as chauvinist might be expected to lead him to condemn Palestinian nationalism as well, and to advocate a post–nationalist middle east: after all, that is the basis of his criticism of American and Israeli nationalisms. But on Palestinian nationalism he is silent.
Lieven argues that: “More than any other factor, it is the nature and extent of this nationalism which at the start of the twenty–first century divides the United States from a largely postnationalist Western Europe.” This is surely correct, especially (if not entirely) when in defining western Europe as post–nationalist, although Europe’s “post–Christian” dimension also reveals the growing chasm between the United States and Europe.
But what Lieven misses is that the romantic vision of a post–nationalist world to which many Eurocrats and European liberals subscribe is not what isolates the United States from the rest of the world – the latter, in Lieven’s mind, is still very much Europe and little else – but what isolates Europe from the rest of the world. Even apart from the Middle East, nationalism is still a dynamic force in Russia (Lieven’s more familiar ground), the Indian sub–continent, Latin America, south–east Asia and in particular parts of Europe. It has lost its grip only in liberal Europe, and liberal Europe as usual wants to shape the world in its own image.
Anatol Lieven sees Europe’s post–nationalist identity as a response to the pernicious nature of nationalism, which sealed Europe’s tragic fate in the 20th century; and as opening the way to an era of prosperity and peaceful coexistence. But this no doubt accurate diagnosis of European success is not applicable to the middle east, or to American policy there.
Lieven is right to comment that: “The Western European elites . . . essentially decided that the correct response to Nazism and to the hideous national conflicts which preceded, engendered and accompanied it was to seek to limit, transcend and overcome nationalism.” As a result, Europeans look at Zionism with condescension and growing impatience, and demand that Zionist Israel and those still supporting it see the dangers inherent in nationalism, and make the effort to transcend it.
But this is not Israel’s problem with nationalism, it is Europe’s (and Lieven’s) problem with nationalism: the inability to understand that what did not work for Europe works for others. That is today’s challenge in the middle east – not to transcend nationalism, but to foster a form of nationalism that is not exclusive, racist, aggressive and chauvinist.
Here is the missing component of Lieven’s argument. For Israel to transcend nationalism following a European post–nationalist model, Israel would need a middle–east region that is ready, like Germany and France in post–1945 Europe, to do the same. Nobody seems ready for that, east of Jerusalem. Indeed, how can the Palestinians be expected to transcend national aspirations they have not yet realised, in order to embrace a European model with no assurance of success outside Europe?

Europe has a further problem with nationalism. Nationalism is not only a dark, negative, exclusive force, defined by “its ability to feed off a very wide range of other resentments, loyalties, identities, hopes and fears”. Nationalism is also an expression of identity, what some collective population chooses to be. It is love of the land, a sense of community, a bonding based on common stories, common memories, solidarity and a feeling of a shared fate, and a fondness for similar things.
Lieven rightly dismisses the debate about the birth of a Palestinian national consciousness: what matters now is that a strong national identity has taken roots. But he does not similarly recognise that on the Jewish side a similar process has occurred, that Zionism is not merely a product of survival instincts, what Lieven calls “the understandable but deplorable choice” made by Jewish intellectuals after 1945 in favour of nationalism.
Nationalism succeeds where there is a nation to embrace it. Artificial identities – as is currently the case with European identity – fail to develop if they fail to persuade. Thus, it was not just a tragic imperative that drove Jews to embrace nationalism, the culmination of a decades–long process of growth of national consciousness, whereas Europeans recoiled from it in fear.
What distinguishes the Jewish national cause in the last six decades, and what drove and drives many Jews across the world to identify with and support Israel, is the inner logic of a nation–based identity – not the cosmopolitan and assimilated acculturation that distinguishes those Jews whom Lieven frequently consults and sentimentally invokes. Israel is valued not for its policies – on which Jews and Israelis disagree and will continue to have robust arguments – but for its very existence and what it means to most Jews.
An old adage suggests that it takes two to tango. Lieven has plenty of dancing wisdom to offer America, Israel and their supporters, but none for their dancing partners. Are there any? Under what circumstances will they dance? Should America force them to dance? Should it teach them the steps? Should it walk away if they refuse to engage? Shouldn’t they be the ones, initiating the dance? And who’s to blame, if they do not tango in the end?
Lieven does not say, primarily because he fails to ask. And it is that failure to ask the right questions that ultimately makes this book hardly inspiring. Choosing sides, as well as policies, in the current global predicament is a matter of preferences and priorities, as such choices reflect a complex world of difficult, tragic and often impossible dilemmas, where some values are sacrificed over others in a prioritising game that will never do full justice to lofty ideals. Lieven’s tirades do no justice to these complexities and thus offer little choice and little comfort.