Friday, August 30, 2013

U.S. Attack on Syria Won't Change Anything

By Barry Rubin

Forget about the hysteria of an impending U.S. attack on Syria. Forget about the likely self-congratulatory backslapping by policy makers and the chanting of “USA!” by Syrian citizens. A U.S. air assault on Syria will not change anything for the benefit of U.S. interests or even for the well-being of the Syrian people.

Clearly, it will not change the regional problems, including the U.S. support for an Islamist government in Egypt, the unstable Islamist government in Tunisia, the grim expectations for a “peace process,” the constant betrayal of the United States by the Turkish government, and the Iranian nuclear race. But beyond that, it won’t change the Syrian crisis.

Would the attack determine the outcome of a Syrian civil war, either in favor of the Iranian backed government or the Islamists favored by the United States? No. Would it by itself increase the prestige and credibility of the United States in the Middle East? No.

Let’s consider the three motives for the potential Syrian attack. One, the humanitarian motive. After perhaps 100,000 people in Syria have been killed, this addresses one percent of the casualties (namely those by chemical weapons). That might be worthwhile but leaves unaddressed the 99 percent of other casualties.

Is it really true that the Syrian government somewhat, without motive, used chemical weapons? And finally, is it really humanitarian since the rebel side is likely to be equally ferocious against minorities and people it doesn't like? The humanitarian motive, while sincere, really doesn't amount to very much but merely tells the Syrian government the proper way in which people can be killed.

Second, what message does America’s potential attack in Syria really send? That American power, which will be limited, is not going to be sufficient to change the course of the war. So the United States will not determine who wins and that, after all, is only thing that everyone is really interested in.
The third motive is to send a message to Iran that it won’t be able to succeed in aggression. But in fact, this too can be said to send the opposite message: that in the words of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, “the United States cannot do a damn thing.”

What are the possible outcomes of this mission? The Syrian government will not be overthrown nor saved. The fate of the civil war is going to be totally outside this operation. Perhaps it will make the outcome more likely to be a diplomatic one. But again, that Russia and Iran will agree to have its client deposed is simply unlikely. One could argue that the attack will lead to a lower estimation of American credibility, since not much will have changed afterward, although this is not what the media will say. Imagine that the U.S. policy doesn't even have Britain on board! Obama cannot even line up America''s closest historic partner. How's that for credibility?

It is interesting to note that in confronting Saddam Hussein, the Clinton Administration attacked Iraq at least four times in 1998 alone. But of course Hussein was only overthrown six years later by a controversial decision by another administration.

What would the best beneficial outcomes for the Obama Administration be? First, that Obama will congratulate himself on his daring use of force and not backing down to anyone. But so what? Aside from the newspaper headlines and the bounces in public opinion polls, the effect will be merely psychological and domestic. In friendly capitals, it will only show that he is willing to support the Sunni Islamists and oppose the Shia ones. In enemy capitals, there will be derision of the limited means at Obama’s disposal for affecting events.

What would be the best outcome for America? That the war will go on long enough until one side wins and that side will not be the regime. But basically, the civil war is going to be fought out.
It might well be said that strategically, it would be better if Iran didn't win the victory by saving the regime, but frankly, a victory by radical Islamist rebels and al-Qaida is hardly a bargain. Don’t forget that in practice, an American intervention would not be on the side of easing the lot of Syrian civilians but on the side of an extremely oppressive and unstable future government winning. In other words, it is not that there are no easy answers, but there are no good answers.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

America's Impending Defeat in Syria

By Barry Rubin

It’s really pretty simple. The American people understandably don’t want to go to war with Syria -- not to mention with Syria’s patron, Iran -- and especially not for the goal of putting the Muslim Brotherhood and murderous Islamists into power there. Going to war is a serious matter, to say the least. There’s no assurance how long it will take, how many lives it will cost, and what turns it may take. And the Middle East has just had several examples of these wars.

Iraq and Afghanistan cost a lot of money and lives as they extended for a much longer time than had been expected. In addition, they derailed the Bush administration’s electoral fortunes and domestic programs. With the main emphasis of the Obama administration being a fundamental transformation of America, such distractions are not desired.

There is one other important consideration: the Obama administration does not accept the traditional diplomatic and great power strategies. It believes that it can reconcile with Islamist states, it does not comprehend deterrents, it does not keep faith with allies, and it does not believe in credibility, the belief that only power exerted can convince a foe of seriousness.

Of course, that wouldn't rule out a one-time targeted attack. But even if that were to be done, is America going to fight a full-scale war on the ground with allies--including al-Qaeda --which will never be satisfied and will always be eager to stab them in the back?

The administration has trapped itself with two problems: the rebels who are being supported in Syria are extreme radicals who may set off bloodbaths and regional instability if they win; and a challenge has been given to the very reckless forces of Iran, Syria, and Hizballah. When the United States threatens these three players, the response is always: “Make my day!”

So this is the situation, and the Obama administration is bluffing.

It does not want to exert force and probably won’t. Iran and Syria would be quite willing to fight a war, but the United States--people and government--do not have the will to do so.

What is the best option for the Obama administration? To try to negotiate -- as unlikely as it is -- a deal in which some kind of interim or coalition arrangement would be arranged with Russia and Iran to make a transition from the current regime. Mainly, this means a stalling tactic. This could work, though, if the regime does not actually win the war. Aid to rebels and some gimmicks perhaps, but no decisive action.
There is, however, still a problem -- the two Syrian sides want to wipe each other out.

Why should the Russians and Iranians make a deal if they have a winning hand? No diplomatic arrangement is possible. In fact, the diplomatic option is fictional. To put it flatly, there is no alternative.
It is not inconceivable that the White House would consider easing sanctions on the Iranian nuclear program to have a chance in Syria. What is likely then is stalling, with the probability that the civil war will settle into stagnation for several years and thus a de facto partition of Syria.

The United States simply can’t win given what it is willing to do. And in a great power standoff, that’s a very dangerous situation. Remember, though: Iran cannot be said to have won as long as the civil war is continuing. The administration can simply depend on denial, which should be sufficient for domestic purposes.

Finally, ask yourself one question: will the United States under Obama dare a confrontation with Iran, Syria, and Russia to keep up American credibility, deterrence, and the confidence of allies who it is already opposing on Egypt? Of course not.

This is a president who could barely decide to kill Osama bin Laden.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Truth About Syria

If you are interested in reading more about Syria, you’re welcome to read my book The Truth About Syria online or download it for free
“It is my pleasure to meet with you in the new Middle East,” said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a speech to the Syrian Journalists’ Union on August 15, 2006.1 But Bashar’s new Middle East was neither the one hoped for by many since Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s 1991 defeat in Kuwait nor expected when Bashar himself ascended the throne in 2000. Actually, it was not even new at all but rather a reversion, often in remarkable detail, to the Middle East of the 1950s through the 1980s. The Arab world, now accompanied by Iran, was re-embracing an era that was an unmitigated disaster for itself and extolling ideas and strategies which had repeatedly led it to catastrophe.
No Arab state had more to do with this important and tragic turnabout than does Syria, this development’s main architect and beneficiary. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Arab states wanted quiet; Iraq needed peace to rebuild itself. Even Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi, pressed by sanctions and scared by his Iraqi counterpart Saddam’s fate, was on his good behavior. Only Syria remained as a source of instability and radicalism.
Thus, a small state with a modest economy became the fulcrum on which the Middle East shifted and which, in turn, shook the globe. Indeed, Bashar’s version of the new Middle East may well persist for an entire generation. Does this make Bashar a fool or a genius? That cannot be determined directly. What can be said is that his policy is good for the regime, simultaneously brilliant and disastrous for Syria, and just plain disastrous for many others.
To understand Syria’s special feature, it is best to heed the all-important insight of a Lebanese-American scholar, Fouad Ajami: “Syria’s main asset, in contrast to Egypt’s preeminence and Saudi wealth, is its capacity for mischief.”2
In the final analysis, the aforementioned mischief was in the service of regime maintenance, the all-encompassing cause and goal of the Syrian government’s behavior. Demagoguery, not the delivery of material benefits, is the basis of its power.
Why have those who govern Syria followed such a pattern for more than six decades under almost a dozen different regimes? The answer: Precisely because the country is a weak one in many respects. Aside from lacking Egypt’s power and Saudi Arabia’s money, it also falls short on internal coherence due to its diverse population and minority-dominated regime. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein used repression, ideology, and foreign adventures to hold together a system dominated by Sunni Arab Muslims who were only one-fifth of the population. In Syria, even more intense measures were needed to sustain an Alawite regime that rules based on a community only half as large proportionately.
To survive, then, the regime needs transcendent slogans and passionate external conflicts that help make its problems disappear. Arabism and, in more recent years, Islamism, are its solution. In this light, Syria’s rulers can claim to be not a rather inept, corrupt dictatorship but the rightful leaders of all Arabs and the champions of all Muslims. Their battle cries are very effectively used to justify oppression at home and aggression abroad. No other country in the world throws around the word “imperialism” more in describing foreign adversaries, and yet no other state on the globe follows a more classical imperialist policy. In broad terms, this approach is followed by most, if not all, Arab governments, but Syria offers the purest example of the system. As for the consequences, two basic principles are
useful to keep in mind:2
1. It often seemed as if the worse Syria behaved, the better its regime does. Syrian leaders do not accept the Western view that moderation, compromise, an open economy, and peace are always better. When Syria acts radical, up to a point of course, it maximizes its main asset—causing trouble—which cancels out all its other weaknesses. As a dictatorship, militancy provided an excuse for tight controls and domestic popularity through its demagoguery.
2. Success for the regime and state means disaster for the people, society, and economy. The regime prospers by keeping Syrians believing that the battle against America and Israel, not freedom and prosperity, should be their top priority. External threats are used to justify internal repression. The state’s control over the economy means lower living standards for most while simultaneously preserving a rich ruling elite with lots of money to give to its supporters. Imprisoning or intimidating liberal critics means domestic stability but without human rights.
Nevertheless, the regime survived, its foreign maneuvers worked well much of the time, and Syrian control over Lebanon was a money-maker as well as a source of regional influence. But what did all of this avail Syria compared to what an emphasis on peace and development might have achieved? Thus, this pattern might be called one of brilliantly successful disasters. The policy works in the sense that the regime survives and the public perceives it as successful. But objectively the society and economy are damaged, freedom is restricted, and resources are wasted. Unfortunately, this type of thing is thoroughly typical of Arab politics.
Syria, then, is both a most revealing test case for the failure of change in Middle East politics and a key actor—though there is plenty of blame to go around—in making things go so wrong for the Arab world. If Damascus had moved from the radical to the moderate camp during the 1990s or under Bashar’s guidance, it would have decisively shifted the balance to a breakthrough toward a more peaceful and progressing Middle East. Syria’s participation in the Gulf war coalition of 1991, readiness to negotiate with Israel, severe economic and social stagnation, and strategic vulnerability, all topped off by the coming to power of a new generation of leadership, provoked expectations that it would undergo dramatic change.
It was a Western, not an Arab, idea that the populace’s desperation at their countries’ difficult plight would make Hafiz al-Assad, Syria’s president between 1971 and his death in 2000—and Saddam, PLO leader Yasir Arafat, and other Arab or Iran’s leaders, too—move toward concessions and moderation. But the rulers themselves reasoned in the exact opposite way: faced with pressure to change they became more demanding.
Often, at least up to a point, this strategy worked as the West offered Syria more concessions in an attempt to encourage reforms, ensure profitable trade, buy peace, and buy off terrorism. Of course, they were acting in their own interests but what is most important is that these included solving the issues which had caused conflict, building understanding and confidence, and proving their good intentions toward the peoples of the Middle East.
Yet to the dictatorial regimes this behavior seemed not the result of generosity or proffered friendship but rather from Western fear of their power and an imperialist desire to control the Arabs and Muslims. Frequently, too, it is seen as a tribute to their superior tactics which fool or outmaneuver their adversaries. This perception encouraged continued intransigence in hope of reaping still more benefits. Eventually, this process destroyed any possibility of moderation, though not always Western illusions.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

American Culture: How to Reconcile the Brutal and the Effete?

By Barry Rubin

I’m deeply confused about American culture. Let me cite two incidents as examples and then talk about some attitudes I hear about from my son's reports on visits with friends. Perhaps readers can explain this contradiction between the effete and the brutal.

Arriving in the United States, I go to the nearby Trader Joe’s food store. It is of course very PC. At the checkout counter, the clerk asks, “Have you returned anything?” I did a double-take. Is this a bid for higher taxes? A taunt to the 1 percent who shop there?

No, he explains that they have some kind of program about bringing back bags. “The people in Bethesda,” he smugly asserts, “are the smartest!”

By coincidence, I had just heard some article saying that using returned bags is potentially dangerous since there can be some food remnants that rot and may breed bacteria. (I certainly don’t know what is true scientifically.) Unable to resist, and out of curiosity, I said, “Maybe they are not the smartest,” and explained my concern.

Instantly, he changed his attitude, snarled and said, “They’re the smartest!” No contradiction would be tolerated. Anyway, he started it. But given all the waste involved in a supermarket business--let’s start with the packaging--the small but highly right-thinking-people gesture of reused bags strikes me as a laughable symbol. Not to mention the fact that Trader Joe’s isn’t giving out food to the poor or opening stores to take big losses in what Michelle Obama calls, “food deserts.”

Is this salvation on the cheap, like those in wealthy California coastal cities that take away the farmers’ water to save some obscure fish and then congratulate themselves on their enlightenment?

About the same time, I sit in a sandwich place and a song comes on the radio. My jaw drops. A female singer repeats the lyric, “I said drive, bitch,” apparently it’s a car-jacking?  She just keeps going over and over again in a very aggressive tone. At the end, the sound effect indicates that the female driver has been shot and fell down dead.

I sat there speechless. I simply couldn’t believe what I was hearing. If there is a “war on women” isn’t it actually waged most vigorously in certain sectors of popular music? The same could be said of the music of the much honored Jay-Z or many others.

Now perhaps this is a silly taking of two extreme phenomena, and I’ll accept that verdict if that’s what you think. But it symbolizes perhaps a bigger thing. On one hand, American culture today (should I say popular culture?) is one of watch your language,  goody-goody, we are just so virtuous. There is rap music and the message given to children in Politically Correct lessons.

On the other hand, though, on film, television, literature, music, and public discourse it is intolerant and at times proudly brutal. Is that a valid observation? And if so how is this tension reconciled?

During a visit to the United States, conversations among young teenage boys, who in school were subjected to intense indoctrination,  run like this:

--They make fun of alleged gays among them, flinging the charge as insulting but then quickly adding, not that there's anything wrong with that.

--They show very vile disrespect toward girls of their age. It doesn't seem that there is any change over the decades, but there certainly isn't a reduction of "sexist" attitudes. They discuss them far more openly. The concept of gentleman or even restrained behavior is gone, perhaps in conjunction with the musical examples. Attitudes that would once have been derided as "low-class" by the elite have now become common place. So how is there then an elite setting a good example?

--They use far more racial epithets and negative stereotypes of others than my generation, though it is covered by frequent accusations that this or that is racist. Dubbing of something as racism is used as a weapon, a description of something one doesn't like.

--They see themselves as part of some downtrodden class even though they are financially well-off. For example, they talk about rich white people but when pointed out that they live in big houses, they say the houses are bigger in some other neighborhoods.

--They assume that nobody could possibly consider not voting for Obama.

--They said that "rednecks" and "racists" should be sent to fight in Iraq, not recognizing any merit in the military or in the people who serve in it, whom they look down on. A baby is punishment, as Obama (punished with a baby) memorably explained and so is serving one's country, as Kerry did (drop out of school, end up in Iraq). What does that serve but producing deep cynicism; 50 million abortions and no service?

--Since I don't want to reveal who they are, two left-wing Democrats in private shocked me by saying bigoted statements against ethnic groups. I have never heard this before. One told someone else that a certain child should not speak audibly in criticism of Obama in public.

Whether this is typical, I have no idea, but it repeats the contradiction of giving lip service to all sorts of PC ideas but really not truly accepting them at all. I think it is possible that this high school generation may actually be more homophobic, racist, and sexist than predecessors because they are so cynical about these things.

As I said, I don't say these are typical, and I'd like to hear more views. And of course the country is quite big and things differ in various places. Still, I wonder if there is such a thing as vast amounts of unseen indoctrination when I hear of a 14-year old who explaining that his parents sold their house and moved, explained "with a sneer that "a rich white couple" bought it.

He may see himself as an oppressed Hispanic, but his ancestors come from Italy and both of his parents are senior officials at a large bank.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Second-Term Obama Agenda: Part 1: - Why U.S. Policy Betrayed the Moderates

By Barry Rubin

In 1848, the new Communist movement issued a manifesto. It began with the opening line: 
“A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of Communism.”

For our purposes today, this threat might be reworded as:
“A specter is haunting the Middle East—the specter of America."

For example, about a year ago Dubai’s police chief addressed a major international Gulf Arab security conference. He said that there were about three dozen security threats to the Gulf Arab countries. But this well-respected security expert said the number-one threat was the United States.

Since that time, this American specter has become vivid. For instance, The New York Times had a recent editorial which stated that the only protection for Egypt’s democracy--meaning Muslim Brotherhood participation in the next Egyptian government--was the United States and Europe. The Egyptian regime, Israel, and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states were bad for wanting to protect their societies from Islamic ideology, revolution, and anti-Western Sharia states!

Might the  United States and its allies rather be expected to battle Turkey, Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Hamas or might it otherwise support Islamists while Saudi Arabia fought Europe’s and America’s response as too soft on Hizballah?

But what if a crazy notion seizes policymakers, blessed with the mush of ignorance about the Middle East, that they can take control of the troublemakers? Perhaps Germany (World War One and Two jihads), or the Soviet control of radical nationalist regimes in the 1950s and 1960, or the French rescue of the Palestinian leadership in the late 1940s, or Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran during the 1970s, or  America in the 1950s (Arab nationalism), or the 2010 Muslim Brotherhood would turn nominal extremists into friends?

Imagine, dunderheads in Washington, London, Paris, and so on thinking they are masterfully preserving stability, making peace, and harnessing Sharia in the cause of boosting democracy!

How smug would be the smiles when those who perpetrated September 11, 2001, were supposedly defeated by those mentored into power a decade later by the West in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, or in the Arab Spring or the Syrian revolution!

Look at it through the eyes of the Arabs, Iranians, Turks, Kurds, and Israelis who think they will try to impose a new order in the region.

Consider a famous speech by Winston Churchill at Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946. In contrast to the Communist Manifesto,100 years later, Churchill began, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain is descended across the continent.” It might be strange that to compare these two statements to the current situation in the Middle East. But such a comparison actually makes sense.

The intention of great powers seemed to impose one (European) system on the region. In the first case, it was Communism. In Churchill’s case, it was anti-Communism he advocated, which in parallel would be Anti-Islamism.

But today, what is the system that Arabs, Iranians, Turks, and Israelis think they will try to impose on the region? The answer for those who have been watching in recent years is revolutionary Islamism.

It might seem strange that this is the thinking, but it isn’t. The question is whether there is a system that Western Europeans want to impose on the Middle East to ensure  its hegemony; and the answer that the Arabs, Persians, and Turks usually give today--although this does not mean it has to be true--is Islamism. The Islamists themselves view Western policy, however, of as a sign of their own victory and of Western fear and weakness. 

Incidentally, Churchill's title was "the Sinews of Peace," and he favored a policy of leading a coalition of the Free World, which would be welcome today.

To summarize, in the 1930s, Churchill favored anti-fascism and advocated a united front against Nazi Germany. After World War Two, he supported an alliance of the Free World against the Iron Curtain.

Where is the Churchill of today?

Well, his bust was quickly chucked from the White House because he was the symbol for Obama of Western colonialism.

Who was the genuine symbol of anti-colonialism for Obama? The left wing anti-Western revolutionary ideological movement represented by the Muslim Brotherhood or Chavez, and other demagogues.

If you favor Islamism--a U.S.-sponsored movement except for the extremists of al-Qaida--you cannot be accused of Islamophobia. Not liberals or real pro-democrats or conservative traditionalists or nationalists or communal nationalists, but Islamists.

That also means that non-Islamists can also be the enemy in Western eyes. Moderates are actually less desirable friends to terrorists and extremists. The West seems to view its three main threats as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel; its three main friends as Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Syrian Islamist rebels.

Consider this: In Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Turkey, and other countries, Western powers and especially America were seen to be behind Islamist governments. And in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and even Iran, they were portrayed in this way with perhaps somewhat less justice. But here is the bottom line: The overwhelming majority of Arab governments and the Turkish-Iranian democratic opposition had many reasons to think that the Western countries, and especially the United States, were actually supporting their Islamist foes. In 2013, that view became even more accurate.

It should be understood in the current regional picture that the Western world, and especially the Obama Administration, have taken the Islamists’ side in the battle between these forces.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dinner in New York; Breakfast in Tel Aviv

By Barry Rubin

Around 10 p.m. in our New York Hotel room, I heard a strange voice and decided to investigate. It was actually a television monitor in the hallway showing the news. Much to my surprise, it was Republican Senator of Arizona John McCain, who had obviously been taped on a Sunday morning television talk show. The sentence McCain was saying as I came up to the television monitor was, “Yes but because of a U.S. alliance, Israel can defend itself." I immediately retorted out loud, "Yes, but supposedly the United States is supposed to act so that Israel--and other allies--is supposed to, given the alliance, have less need to have to protect itself, not more and not to have to face disadvantageous risks and foolish policies."

Republican Senator of Arizona John McCain

I spent the next few hours flying from Newark, NJ, to Israel on a long, boring trip. And I reflected how certain and yet wrong the understanding of the Middle East was in New York and in Washington.

I spent the next half-dozen hours traveling to Israel, specifically Tel Aviv. Once I had arrived, I walked in the bright sunlight. I couldn't help but overhear a group of about six men who were drinking coffee and talking about politics: “Americanim lo mevinim et hamizrach hatichon” [“Americans don’t understand the Middle East”], one of them said, and the others nodded. It struck a clear point. When he said, "Americans don't understand,” it wasn’t just a policy statement but the heart of the problem. There can be no lasting coalition between the Islamists and their opponents. One must decisively defeat the other and their fellow traveling allies, too. Every coffee drinker between Morocco and Kabul knows that.

I got up and went to the next table and said in Hebrew, “Excuse me for interrupting you,” although I knew that the act of apologizing marked me as not being native-born. I continued, “I have studied the Middle East for almost 40 years and cannot believe how many naive, determined, and influential people support the Muslim Brotherhood, America’s impassioned enemy."

These men understood exactly what they were saying, knowing what radical Islamist thought is really like, the fanaticism of that doctrine, its long record, and the extent to which its adherents go to spread violence, revolution, and that doctrine.

Indeed, everyone in the Middle East knows it, no matter which side they are on. American policy is no longer in the ballpark. It has changed sides--something that would have been shocking even a few years ago. Washington is no longer an ally of Israel, nor of Egypt, Jordan, nor of the moderates in Syria, Tunisia, and Lebanon; nor even of the democratic movements in Iran or Turkey.

I sighed and looked down the block where the Egyptian embassy flies its flag from the roof. Who knew that one day Egypt and Israel would have to cooperate against Washington, which is so far away from the interests, knowledge, and experience of them both.

Thanks t0 Josef Kaner for the transcription.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How Western Intellectual Values Have Gone Haywire

By Barry Rubin

"First make sure you're right, then go ahead." --Davy Crockett, 1836

For almost two months I  have been talking and traveling through America trying to understand the country. Soon I will begin a dozen-part series called "Lost" about the  reminder of the Obama term in the term in the Middle East and how friendly countries and national interests can survive.

Meanwhile , though, it is adding insult to injury for defenders of the U.S. policy to claim that I or someone else would have more credibility if I didn't write for a “right-wing site.” This is an extraordinarily important way that the debate is being narrowed and dummied up.

First, of course, I would never make a parallel argument. What matters is whether the claims have credibility. Does it make sense? Is it internally consistent? Does it correspond with otherwise known information? This is the path of logic, of the Enlightenment. Reputation of the author might be a useful factor, too.

An argument from al-Qaida can be quite correct regardless of where it comes from. Thus, this approach is part of the de-rationality of Western thought today. It is a weapon: disregard everything that comes from a source that disagrees with you on other issues.

Incidentally, while some have told me that my language is too intemperate at times in criticizing Obama, I note that they have not been any more successful in changing views or even--whenever they speak out clearly--getting their ideas (as opposed to technical expertise) to the public.

Second, if I wanted to write about the so-called demographic threat (which I can prove in five minutes is nonsense) or write that Israel must make peace right away I can publish it in the NY Times.

So first they bar certain arguments from the mass media and then they say that if you persist in making certain arguments this proves bias because of the few remaining and smaller places you are allowed to appear. In other words, first you bar people and arguments; then you say that the fact that they are barred proves that they—not you—is the biased one.

Let me tell you a story. In 1991 Senator Charles Percy, a man who was then highly regarded and considered himself something of an expert on the Middle East, said he didn't understand why the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein didn't withdraw from Kuwait. After all, said Percy, wouldn't some intelligence chief or general tell him that he was going to be defeated?

This was abject ignorance. If someone had done so—told Saddam he was wrong—the man would be lucky if he were only fired, and still pretty lucky if he wasn't thrown into prison, tortured, and had his family punished or executed.

The supposed advantage of democracy is that the media, academia, and others speak—where did I hear this before?—truth to power. If you know you are not just going to be ignored, not just that you are going to be punished, but that nobody is going to hear you that is a disincentive to doing so.

But this goes far beyond liberal or conservative, it sabotages the whole advantage of democracy. You can’t be an anti-fascist or anti-Communist in the 1930s until the elite officially accepts that? Maybe it would have been better to voice these concerns and have them heeded before December 7, 1941 or before September 11, 2001. Maybe it would have been better to have done something about it before tens of thousands of lives had been snuffed out internationally, blighted domestically, resources wasted, and society set back by decades.

Is this really the best we can do in 2013?

Personally I am a social democrat/liberal/centrist/conservative, reading from left to right. What works works; what is true is true; what is wrong is wrong. Forgetting that rather basic fact has been very bad for the West. It’s called honest pragmatism.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Supporting the "Peace Process" and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: Misinformation

By Barry Rubin

There's an Arab proverb that goes like this: When an enemy extends his hand to you cut it off. If you can't, kiss it. Who do you think is being classified as the cutting or the kissing treatment today?
In contrast to the let's-empower-our enemies approach, two of the best Middle East expert journalists in the world have just written from different perspectives on the real Middle East and the results are refreshing. But in other media the odds are fixed at four to one against sanity.

First, at one think tank, Khaled Abu Toameh has published, “Ramallah vs. the `PeaceProcess.’” He puts peace process in quotes to show his sarcasm. He tells the story of two Israeli Arab businessmen who wanted to open a Fox clothing store in the West Bank (like the one I shop at in Dizengoff Center).

Although given Palestinian Authority (PA) permission and having already made a big investment, they found themselves the target of attacks and calls for firing bombing the store. The assaults were even organized by PA journalists. So they gave up, costing 150 jobs for West Bank Palestinians. I could easily tell the same story a half-dozen times.

As Abu Toameh concludes: “This incident is an indication of the same`anti-normalization’" movement which [PA leader] Abbas supports will be the first to turn against him if he strikes a deal with Israel.” But, of course, for both the reason that this is a powerful radical movement and the factor that he is one of the leaders of the anti-peace camp, Abbas won’t make a deal ultimately. 

Does John Kerry's Peace Process Have a Chance? asks Aaron David Miller. And in subtle terms he answers: No. He writes:
“Neither Abbas nor Netanyahu wants to say no to America's top diplomat and take the blame for the collapse of negotiations. This 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.

“Unfortunately, right now, the U.S. owns this one more than the parties do. This is not an ideal situation. It would have been better had real urgency brought Abbas and Netanyahu together rather than John Kerry.”

In other words, Kerry wants and needs these talks; Netanyahu and Abbas don’t.

I mean it literally when I say that there are only two sensible people given regular access to the mass media on the Middle East, one is Miller the other is Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post. (If I have left someone out please remind me. But remember I said, regularly.)

If you want to know the real attitude consider this recent  exchange in Israel’s Knesset:

Jamal Zahalka of the Arab nationalist Party, Balad,: "We, the Arabs, were here before you (the Jews) and we will be here after you!"

The prime minister asked permission to approach the podium and said in answer, "The first part isn't true, and the second part won't be!"

Remember that he Communist Party is the most moderate of the Arab parties. Fatah and  the PA are more radical and their leaders would not hesitate to repeat |Zahalka’s statement  Second, Zahalka wasn’t afraid to invoke genocide because he knew he was protected by democracy.

That's the real situation. The Palestinian leadership's goal of wiping out Israel has not changed. Only if it ever does will there be any chance of a two-state solution.  

Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation the Washington Post has no less than four op-eds or editorials  in one week on why the  United States should support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

In Robert Kagan, “American aid Makes the U.S. Complicit in the Egyptian Army’s Acts” gives the realpolitik version. This is ludicrous. Was the U.S. thus complicit in the doings of every ally, including Egypt from 1978 to 2011? Should one dump good allies because of things they do, a debate that goes back to the onset of the Cold War.

And any way U.S. support for the army would be popular. Indeed, U.S. policy was “complicit” with the army coup against Mubarak and was complicit to the Mursi Islamist regime which it helped install, too!

Then we have the liberal human rights/democracy project view in Michele Dunne: "With Morsi’s ouster, time for a new U.S. policy toward Egypt," because a U.S. policy supporting human rights must ensure that the totalitarian Muslim Brotherhood is part of the government (and no doubt would encourage stability) 
And we have, third, Reuel Marc Gerecht: "In Egypt, the popularity of Islamism shall endure," which gives the conservative version for why we need the Brotherhood in power. Yet after all, just because the enemy can endure is not a reason to refuse to fight them. On the contrary, it is necessary at minimum to ensure it doesn't become stronger. 
Finally we have an editorial,The Post’s View: Egypt’s military should hear from Obama administration, which demands that the Obama Administration also pressures the military. Let's be frank: the Egyptian army did a great service not just to Egypt's people but also to the U.S. government because it saved its strategic balance in the Middle East. 

Only one op-ed piece, Jackson Diehl: "Egypt’s ‘democrats’ abandon democracy,'' pointed out a rather salient issue. The moderates themselves stopped supporting the status quo and begged for a coup! They support the government now! They want the Obama Administration to back the military regime! Good grief.

Friday, August 2, 2013

What the Benghazi Leaks Mean: What Difference Would it Have Made?

By Barry Rubin

Image this. It was well-known that in 2011 the United States was facilitating the weapons supply to Syrian rebels. The weapons were paid for by Qatar and Saudi Arabia and delivered through Turkey.

We have known for more than a year on this traffic. There were two big UN Reports on this traffic.( By the way this meant that the United States was arming Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups.)

What wasn’t known was a simple detail: the United States was also collecting and shipping the weapons.

That’s it! This is what was being concealed. After all, it was openly known previously that the Libyan rebels against Qadhafi were armed by the United States.

The whole mess was unnecessary!

If it was s known that the CIA guys in Turkey weren’t just watching the weapons supply but delivering it, to quote Clinton what difference would it make?

Would Congress have stopped the weapons’ traffic? No, they wouldn’t even do anything about the arms to Mexican drug gangs that killed Americans?

Would Americans rise in revolt? No.

Would it have cost one percent of the votes in the election? No.

Sure, some bloggers would have talked about parallels to Iran-Contra and a handful of members of Congress would have complained but the massive media machine would have ignored it and the majority of Republicans would have snored.  

Did President Obama have to lie in a UN speech saying the ambassador was just there to supervise a hospital and a school? No.

Did a video have to be blamed  so as to blame Americans and Islamophobia for the attack? No.

Was the cover-up necessary even to defend the administration’s “perfect” record against terrorist attacks on Americans”? No.

The expose of this arms’ supply channel would have bothered few and changed nothing. But since we knew already that the administration was helping arm anti-American, antisemitic, anti-Christian, and homophobic, and anti-women Islamist terrorists I don’t think the difference was huge.

Did the cover-up have to lead to the refusal to defend properly American personnel to prevent what they were doing from leaking out? No.

In short this program of lies and deception and cover up wasn’t even necessary. Those Americans may have been rescued and those lies might have been avoided with no harm to the administration.

I think that tells a lot about how the Obama Administration treats and manipulates the American people.  And it also tells about its very profound incompetence and ignorance.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

America’s Real "Dangerous Slide" is to be on the Wrong Side in the World

By Barry Rubin

Would you ever imagine that the leading American newspaper would openly advocate siding with radical Islamist forces in the Middle East against all of America's allies and friends, and I mean with eyes wide open and with full awareness that it sought to overthrow them? Well, the day has come.

How has the argument for this strategy, which the Obama Administration is already pursuing being made?
New York Times July 30th editorial entitled “Egypt’s Dangerous Slide” shows a real catastrophe for the United States. What is amazing is that it takes less than five minutes to deconstruct Obama Administration’s Middle East policy.

But be wary since if you do this—even once—you will be barred from 95 percent of mass media and academic jobs. [Note: What’s amazing about the previous sentence is that it is in fact accurate. That’s why the public debate is so bad.]

After all, we are at a moment when Israel-Palestinian talks haven’t even agreed on pre-conditions (a point which is usually reached before the two sides even begin talks) yet Secretary of State John Kerry predicts success within nine months (and the mass media quotes him without snickering).

“Deadly blundering by Egypt’s military rulers is making a bad situation much worse,” starts the editorial.

One of the most blatant, arrogant views of the American foreign policy establishment today is the frequency with which its members insist that leaders know nothing about their own countries. Thus, Obama, a man who has spent a few hours in Israel and has no empathy with it, can dare to say that he knows better what the country needs than does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Last weekend’s massacre of marchers supporting the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, will make national reconciliation and a return to democracy far more difficult.”

No kidding. First of all, there was never going to be conciliation. Second, the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t exactly eager to get national conciliation, a point  the editorial and the Obama Administration never mention.

Third, the military wants massacres because it seeks to intimidate the Brotherhood. That’s how things work in Egypt. In fact, that’s what happened last time, when the Brotherhood was crushed in the 1950s and 1960s, with its leaders sent to concentration camps, tortured, and hung. And that's what the Brotherhood would be doing to its opposition if its regime had survived.

The Brotherhood is portrayed simply as the victim.

In other words it is not Egypt’s leaders who don’t understand Egypt but rather America’s current leaders.
“The stakes are too high for any country to give up on the search for a peaceful resolution.”

No! Egyptians know that the stakes are too high not to give up on the search for a peaceful resolution. This is the Middle East. And this is true just like as with the Syrian civil war, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and every secular/nationalist/traditionalist versus give up on the search for a peaceful resolution and battle the Islamist in the region.

But fourth the Brotherhood is also provoking a lot of violence which is neither reported or protested by the U.S. government. The Brotherhood is portrayed simply as the victim. That's why millions of Egyptians now say they hate Americans. See here. And here. And a brutal murder of an anti-Mursj demonstrator here.

Al-Ahram writes: "The current misinformation campaign bears the hallmarks of a fully-fledged psychological warfare campaign aimed at deceiving the population.'' Funny, it hasn't fooled Egyptians but it has fooled the American elite.

By the way, we should notice that Yusuf Qaradawi, the leading Sunni Islamist in the world, has just accused the military government of recruiting Egyptian Christians to kill helpless Muslims. Look for massacres of Christians in other Arab countries and Egypt. Perhaps the Obama Administration better worry about that. It is already happening.

In other words it is not Egypt’s leaders who don’t understand Egypt but rather America’s current leaders.

“Washington’s leverage has been limited, despite…its good intentions undermined by years of inconsistent American policies. President Obama urgently needs to rebuild that trust. And he cannot hope to do so by maintaining a cautious diplomatic silence while the Arab world’s most populous and most important country unravels.”

Where to begin! First, American policies have not been undermined by inconsistent policies. Doesn’t anyone know Egyptian history?

1952-1956: America supported the Egyptian military coup and even saved the regime! Only when President Gamal Abdel Nasser behave aggressively—not so much toward Israel but by conservative Arab states--and allied with the USSR, did America turn against him.

1956-1973: An anti-American regime allied with the Soviet Union and aggressive against America’s friends was opposed.

1974-2011: The United States was allied with a moderate regime.

Get it? It must be hard for the current establishment to understand so let me capitalize it and put in bold:


 As for “good intentions” may I remind you that Obama did not have good intentions at all. Just like any British or American imperialist in a previous century, Obama has sought to overthrow regimes and replace it with a Muslim Brotherhood and thus inevitably Sharia regime.

How’s that for “good intentions?”

And if Obama wanted to rebuild trust--as opposed to protecting the Br0therhood's interests--he would rebuild trust with the Egyptian army and people by supporting the  new government rather than seek to empower an anti-Christian, anti-Western, antisemitic, anti-American, homophobic, genocidal, anti-woman totalitarian-destined regime.

The editorial continued:

“Whatever Egypt’s new military strongman, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, thought he was doing by summoning people to Tahrir Square last Friday to demand a `mandate’ to fight terrorism, the result was to undermine Egypt’s prospects for stability even further. Whatever self-described pro-democracy groups thought they were doing by endorsing his call, the result was to strengthen the military and inflame raw divisions between civilian parties.”

He knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted to build and mobilize a civilian support base. And the civilian parties weren't "inflamed," they hate each other and know they are engaged in a life-and-death struggle.

“And whatever the Muslim Brotherhood leaders thought they were doing by urging followers to challenge security forces, the result was to add to the bloodshed and give the military new excuses for repression.”

Same patronizing tone. The Brotherhood knows what it is doing, too: it doesn’t want conciliation; it wants revolution.

“And things are likely to get worse until the military can be persuaded to hand over power and return to the barracks.”

Wrong again. They will get worse if the military does hand over power. For every day—except a few disastrous weeks under Mursi—during the last 61 years the army basically held power even if it was in the barracks.

“Other Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and its allied Persian Gulf emirates, are unlikely to help. They are more concerned with stamping out any potential political threat to their own autocratic rule at home than in encouraging democracy in Egypt.”

Of course because they understand Arab politics! And are they wrong? Listen to them. A Brotherhood takeover of Egypt would increase the political threat to them! Now you want to overthrow Saudi Arabia and any other remaining American friends in the Arab world?

“Israel has its own legitimate security concerns, mostly centered on preventing threats from Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula and Hamas-ruled Gaza.”

And in parallel you want to further undermine Israel’s security?

“That leaves the United States and the European Union.”

Right. If Egypt, the Arab states, and Israel don’t undermine their own security the United States and the EU will. People, think what you are saying here! Consider what insanity you are advocating!

In other words, the pro-Islamist forces are the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists (and in a sense the Taliban and al-Qaida) backed by the EU and United States, ([plus Turkey and Qatar along with Iran, Syria,  and Hizballah); while the anti-Islamist forces are the Arab countries and Israel?

Does that seem strange? .

“But Washington has been doing less than its share. Excessive concerns with maintaining good relations with Egypt’s generals and fears that a loosened military grip on Sinai and the Gaza border might throw off nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have wrongly muffled America’s public voice.”

I’m not believing this stuff. Let’s get tough with the generals, not the Islamists? And the best way to help peace talks is to return an Islamist regime in Egypt? That will surely quiet Hamas and the jihadists in Sinai and make Israel feel real secure. Oh by the way, the main threat to even the Palestinian Authority (PA) is Hamas! No doubt the PA will thank you, too.

“Most of all, President Obama needs to clarify what America stands for as Egypt struggles over its future."
He sure does. By changing sides away from the Islamists and toward others, including Israel.

This article is published on PJMedia.