Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Middle East, Where Happiness Goes to Die. By Jeffrey Goldberg.

The Middle East, Where Happiness Goes to Die. By Jeffrey Goldberg. Bloomberg, July 18, 2013.


OK, here’s today’s geopolitical challenge: Go find one scrap of positive news out of the Middle East. Just one. Good luck.
Yes, I’ve heard the reports that Secretary of State John Kerry may manage to restart peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, but since I give those talks a near-zero chance of succeeding, I don’t count this as positive news, especially because failed peace talks have often led to increased violence in the past.
I put this challenge to a couple of my regular Egyptian interlocutors – people on the non-misogynistic, anti-anti-Semitic, non-Christian-hating, pro-modernity side of the political ledger, which is to say, people who are provisionally happy with the recent turn of events in Cairo.
They just saw their enemy, the hapless Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, removed from office by millions of demonstrators (and quite a few tanks), and they cast this coup – and yes, it was a coup, though a popular one – as an unalloyed victory for freedom and progress. The Middle East only has four things in abundance: oil, sand, hummus and totalitarian leadership cults, and it’s never a bad thing to see the fascists on the run.
Except: They’re probably coming back. Even my liberal friends in Egypt admit that the Muslim Brotherhood has a wide base of support, and some of the stalwarts look to fulfill the promise of the group’s motto: “Jihad is our way, and death for the sake of Allah is our highest aspiration.” Many Egyptian soldiers, too, would like to help the Brothers reach their celestial goal. My friends couldn't quite convince me that the coup was unalloyed good news.
It’s hard to imagine a happy short- or medium-term outcome for Egypt. The army will continue to make and break governments, the liberals will continue to be disorganized and the Brotherhood will find someone cleverer than Mursi to serve as its public face.
Things are so bad in Egypt that even William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of state who visited Cairo earlier this week, issued what was for him – the most soft-spoken and decorous of U.S. diplomats – an apocalyptic warning: “It is hard to picture how Egypt will be able to emerge from this crisis unless its people come together to find a nonviolent and inclusive path forward.”
Burns is a Middle East expert (he is, among other things, a former ambassador to Jordan). He knows that “inclusive paths” aren’t a prominent feature of regional politics.
Neither, of course, is nonviolence. There have been many violent incidents over the past week or two that I could cite, but here is maybe the most consequential: The fight, last weekend, between rebels of the Free Syrian Army and the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant for control over a key checkpoint in Aleppo. It was only a matter of time before different members of the fractious coalition – if that is even the word anymore – of forces arrayed against the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, began to kill each other. The rebellion is now being driven in large measure by al-Qaeda sympathizers and affiliates, not by the more moderate Free Syrians.
The rebels haven’t been effective in battling Assad, his Iranian sponsors and his Hezbollah foot soldiers. Don’t expect this to change. I’ve been critical of President Barack Obama for not providing the rebels with adequate weapons fast enough, but this weekend’s news makes the administration’s hesitancy more understandable.
And finally – I could go on, but I’m trying to keep these posts digestible – there was this Twitter message (of all things) from the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a few days ago: “The will to win and the ability to break the opponent and instill in him a fear of death at the decisive moment – this is how battles are won.”
There are at least four ways to interpret this statement. The first is that it’s a brush-back pitch aimed at Assad, who has suffered through several mysterious explosions recently that the world thinks were caused by the Israelis. The second is that Netanyahu has decided to forgo striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, and instead plans to wage war against the ayatollahs via social media. The third is that he’s telling the Israeli public, and the Obama administration, that he’s ready to strike, should Iran cross the red line on uranium-enrichment he described last fall. And the fourth is that he’s upset that the concurrent chaos in Egypt and Syria is drawing attention away from the matter he thinks is most urgent: a nuclear Iran.
In addition to taking to Twitter (which is really an undignified way to start a preventive war against a near-nuclear regime that has threatened the annihilation of your country), Netanyahu told Bob Schieffer on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” that he “won’t wait until it’s too late” to act, adding, “We have our eyes fixed on Iran. They have to know that we’re serious.”
This last statement suggests that his Twitter message was directed as much at Obama as it was the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Netanyahu is worried that the White House has lost focus, and he is even more worried that the newly elected president of Iran, Hassan Rohani, who has been touted as a “moderate,” will convince the West that there is no cause to worry. Rohani isn’t in charge of the nuclear portfolio – that is the preserve of the supreme leader – nor has he expressed a pronounced desire to see Iran move off the path of nuclearization.
It’s hard to blame the Obama administration for putting some distance between the U.S. and the Syrian rebellion. It’s somewhat easier to blame the administration for creating conditions in Egypt that have led both the Islamists and liberals to share a profound mistrust of the U.S. It will be much easier still to blame the administration if, in a fit of fatalism or inattention, it allows Iran to cross the nuclear threshold.
Because if it does, well, then the Middle East will be an exponentially unhappier place, as hard as that is to imagine at the moment.

The Zimmerman Trial as Rorschach Test. By Peter Wehner.

The Zimmerman Trial as Rorschach Test. By Peter Wehner. Commentary, July 18, 2013.

Deconstructing Reality and Zimmerman. By Peter Wehner. Commentary, July 16, 2013.

The Rolling Stone Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Article. By Janet Reitman.

Jahar’s World. By Janet Reitman. Rolling Stone, July 17, 2013.

He was a charming kid with a bright future. But no one saw the pain he was hiding or the monster he would become.

Explaining the Rolling Stone Cover, by a Boston Native. By Matt Taibbi. Rolling Stone, July 19, 2013.

Why the “Rolling Stone” Cover Has Angered People. By John Podhoretz. Commentary, July 18, 2013.

Rolling Stone’s New Heartthrob. By Bethany Mandel. Commentary, July 18, 2013.

Baby Steps on Israel/Palestine. By Walter Russell Mead.

Baby Steps on Israel/Palestine. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, July 20, 2013.

Kerry merits support, and a new strategy. By Rami G. Khouri. The Daily Star (Lebanon), July 20, 2013.

PA’s hesitance to jump at Kerry deal reveals Arab League’s loss of clout. By Herb Keinon. Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2013.

Palestinian leadership displays grassroots mindset that time and world opinion is on their side, and will eventually wear Israel down.

Kerry’s Illusion of Momentum. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, July 17, 2013.

The High Price of Kerry’s Pyrrhic Victory. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, July 19, 2013.


There appears to be some movement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue due to the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry late this week. The New York Times is reporting that face-to-face negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians may resume soon pending the release of several Palestinian prisoners by Israel’s government—a deal Kerry apparently reached with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu late Friday night. This agreement, however, is far from set in stone:
But officials who have been briefed on the negotiations, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do otherwise, said the prisoner release — and the larger agreement to resume talks — depends on a vote in the coming days by an Israeli leadership that has been bitterly divided over the issue.
In announcing Friday that Israelis and Palestinians had established “a basis” for resuming direct peace negotiations, Mr. Kerry included a caveat. “If everything goes as expected,” he said, chief negotiators for each side will convene in Washington “within a week or so.”
While some might scoff at these developments as inconsequential, it is on balance good news as far as it goes. All things being equal, the US benefits when Israelis and Palestinians are talking, and the collapse of the peace process when President Clinton turned it into an “all or nothing” choice in the closing months of his presidency was a major setback to US foreign policy. Ever since then, we’ve been trying to recreate what Clinton—who to his credit had brought it along for many years—threw away.
The cold hard truth is that a final peace between the two sides remains very far off. But that doesn’t mean that developing a political framework through negotiations between the two sides is useless. Concessions and agreements can improve living conditions for people in both groups, chip away at the big problems that continue to block a final agreement, and help build the knowledge and trust that could one day be the basis for a final agreement.
But to get to that elusive final agreement, two things have to happen. First, there needs to be a framework that gets the two sides sitting down at the table at all. And then there needs to be a way to keep that framework viable even as it becomes impossible to ignore the reality that the two sides aren’t ready for a final deal. Kerry is getting close to the first, but is still far from the second. We’re glad it’s happening and we applaud the skill that is at work.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from the biggest problem the Middle East currently faces: the metastasizing Sunni-Shiite war, the failure of political and economic development in much of the Arab world, the Iranian nuclear challenge are all bigger issues. But this is still a good step and very much in US interests. It’s also a sign of how much both Netanyahu and President Obama have learned about working with each other since the tumultuous beginning of the administration. The two leaders need each other and both have gotten better at managing the relationship.

Tobin (Pyrrhic Victory):

After weeks of looking silly chasing his tail in what appeared to be a futile attempt to revive Middle East peace talks, Secretary of State John Kerry is looking like a winner this afternoon as he was able to announce that he had been able to “establish a basis” for a new round of negotiations of between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Assuming the Palestinians actually show up next week in Washington as Kerry thinks they will, this will be something of a victory for a secretary who has gone from humiliation to humiliation during his brief term in office. Even if all it amounts to is a photo op, Kerry can claim it is evidence of the diplomatic prowess he thinks he possesses. But before he starts writing his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (if it isn’t already composed at least in his head), we need to understand that it is highly unlikely that anything good may come of this initiative. Even worse, the price the United States has paid for getting even this far may be far higher than any possible good that could come from this event.
It should be understood that the tentative and highly conditioned agreement to return to negotiations was only won by an American agreement to accept Palestinian preconditions that President Obama had already rejected and that would, in no small part, tilt the diplomatic playing field against Israel:
Ahmed Majdalani, a PLO executive committee member, told the Associated Press that Kerry has proposed holding talks for six to nine months focusing on the key issues of borders and security arrangements. He said Kerry would endorse the 1967 lines as the starting point of negotiations and assured the Palestinians that Israel would free some 350 prisoners gradually in the coming months.
This came after President Obama phoned Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday to pressure him to cooperate with Kerry. Israel had already agreed to talk without preconditions, but apparently the president wanted Netanyahu’s assurance that he would not protest the way the secretary had buckled to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s conditions. But having arrived at negotiations in this manner, neither Kerry nor Obama seems to have considered what comes next. The Palestinians have already made it abundantly clear that they won’t actually negotiate in good faith but will only show up expecting the U.S. to deliver Israeli concessions to them on a silver platter. Even if he wanted to sign an accord, Abbas hasn’t the power to speak for all Palestinians. Since that is a certain formula for failure, it is incumbent on Washington to understand that another breakdown in talks could serve as a new excuse for Palestinian violence.
The reason why rational observers have been so wary of Kerry’s initiative is not just the fact that the Palestinians had no interest in returning to negotiations they’ve been boycotting for four and a half years. Both Israel and the Palestinians didn’t wish to obstruct Kerry’s desire for talks. He might have left off once the Palestinians demonstrated their lack of interest, but since he persisted in this manner, they felt they had no choice but to show up.
But Abbas and the PA are too weak to agree to any deal that would conclusively end a conflict that neither Hamas nor much of Fatah actually wants to end. Recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn, is something that no Palestinian leader can afford to do at this point in history. The culture of Palestinian politics that has revolved around the delegitimization of Israel and Jewish history makes it impossible. That’s why they’ve already rejected three Israelis offers of a Palestinian state including almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem. So even if Netanyahu were foolish enough to agree to withdrawals that would, in effect, recreate the independent Palestinian terror state that already exists in Gaza in the West Bank, Abbas still can’t say yes.
But by forcing this confrontation at a time when conditions simply don’t exist for a resolution of the conflict, Kerry is not just occupying himself with an issue that is clearly less pressing that the other crises in the Middle East like Egypt, Syria or the Iranian nuclear threat. Since failure is foreordained and the Palestinians are likely to bolt the talks at the first opportunity, what will follow will be far worse than merely a continuation of the present stalemate. The Palestinians will treat any outcome—even one created by their intransigence—as an excuse for either an upsurge in violence against Israel or an effort to use their status at the United Nations to work to further isolate the Jewish state.
Just as damaging, by again putting the U.S. seal of approval on the Palestinian demand for the 1967 lines as Israel’s borders, Kerry and Obama have also worsened Israel’s position once the talks collapse. Any outcome other than total Israeli acquiescence to Palestinian demands would also serve as justification for more European Union sanctions on Israel, even, as is likely, if such a surrender were to fail to be enough to entice the Palestinians to take yes for an answer.
Netanyahu will be criticized by many in his party for going along with what is likely to be at best, a farce, and, at worst, a dangerous trap. But having already rightly said that he was willing to negotiate with Abbas under any circumstance, he must send representatives to Washington. But neither he, the people of Israel, nor the Jewish state’s friends in this country should be under any illusions that what will ensue from Kerry’s diplomatic experiment will be helpful.
As much as Israel wants and needs peace, the conflict is at a stage when the best that can be hoped for is that it be managed in such a way as to minimize violence and encourage Palestinian development. Though Kerry is offering the PA lots of cash, there is little chance it will be used appropriately or get the desired result.
Next week’s talks may be heralded as an unprecedented opportunity for peace, but the odds are, we will look back on this moment the way we do foolhardy efforts such as President Clinton’s Camp David summit in 2000 that set the stage for a bloody intifada that cost the lives of over a thousand Jews and far more Palestinians. The agreement to talk about talking is a pyrrhic victory for Kerry. Those who cheer this effort should think hard about who will bear the responsibility for the bloodshed that could result from Kerry’s folly.

Paul Krugman’s Nasty and Inane Attack on “Libertarian Populism.” By Nick Gillespie.

Paul Krugman’s Nasty and Inane Attack on “Libertarian Populism.” By Nick Gillespie. The Daily Beast, July 19, 2013.

U.S. Meritocracy Has Given Way to Aristocracy. By Erick Erickson. NJBR, May 30, 2013. With related articles.

The Libertarian Populist Agenda. By Ben Domenech. NJBR, June 6, 2013. With related articles.

The Beltway Burkeans vs. Heartland Populists. By Ben Domenech. NJBR, July 2, 2013. With related articles.

Paul Krugman’s Delusions About the GOP and Populism. By Robert Tracinski. NJBR, July 16, 2013. With related articles.

Fear of Rand Paul’s Rise. By Ben Domenech. NJBR, July 20, 2013.


The Times columnist no longer bothers to engage with his opponents, writes Nick Gillespie, but simply calls names and makes sweeping declarations.

It’s got to be a pretty good gig to be Paul Krugman. He’s rich enough to bitch to The New Yorker about not being able to afford a home in St. John so, sigh, St. Croix has to do. He’s got tenure at the second-best college in New Jersey, an equally secure gig at the second-best newspaper in New York, and he’s even copped a Nobel Prize (economics, but still). He’s asked for his opinion on pop bands in a way that I’m pretty sure Milton Friedman or John Kenneth Galbraith never experienced (thank god for small favors). “The New Pornographers are probably technically better than Arcade Fire,” he’s solemnly sworn to Playboy. “But what the hell? It’s all good.”
The man also known as Krugtron the Invincible is able to utter such fallacious conventional deep thoughts as “the Great Depression ended largely thanks to a guy named Adolf Hitler” and that the 9/11 attacks were just the ticket to goose the soft early-’00s economy in lower Manhattan (“All of a sudden, we need some new office buildings,” he actually wrote in the Times on September 14, 2001) and still be taken seriously. He’s repeatedly called for a bogus alien invasion that occasions even more super-stimulative spending than we’ve seen already in this awful 21st century—an idea presumably lifted, unacknowledged, from the Watchmen comic books.
Best of all, Krugman has attained that rare level of eminence where he doesn’t even have to engage the very opponents he dismisses as beneath contempt. Like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, he just needs to wave his hand, mumble vague abjurations, and rest assured his devoted minions will finish his work for him.
Krugman’s latest target is “libertarian populism,” which he summarizes thus: “The idea here is that there exists a pool of disaffected working-class white voters who failed to turn out last year but can be mobilized again with the right kind of conservative economic program—and that this remobilization can restore the Republican Party’s electoral fortunes.”
This ain’t gonna happen, chuffs Krugman, because . . . because . . . because . . . Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)! Despite the fact that the former Republican vice-presidential nominee and marathon-time amnesiac is nobody’s idea of a libertarian or a populist, Krugman insists that libertarian populism is doomed precisely because  to “the extent that there was any substance to the Ryan [budget] plan, it mainly involved savage cuts in aid to the poor. And while many nonwhite Americans depend on these safety-net programs, so do many less-well-off whites—the very voters libertarian populism is supposed to reach.”
Had Colonel Krugman ventured outside his ideological compound, he might have happened upon the writings of Tim Carney of The Washington Examiner. To the extent that libertarian populism has a policy agenda, it’s mostly thanks to Carney, who likes to write books attacking right- and left-wing crony capitalists. He’s libertarian in that he consistently believes that freer markets function more fairly and more efficiently, and he generally thinks people should be left alone when it comes to economic and personal freedom (he’s not an absolutist on most things). He’s populist in that he is basically obsessed with what he sees as concentrations of power and wealth among elites who rig markets, status, and more against the little guy.
Unsurprisingly, Carney’s libertarian-populist policy agenda has precious little to do with starving poor people to death or stoking white working-class resentment against dusky hordes (Carney is pro-immigration). Unless by dusky hordes, you mean Wall Street banksters and well-tanned pols such as Speaker John Boehner.
For better or for worse, it’s filled with prescriptions such as “cut or eliminate the payroll tax” (that’s the one that hurts low-wage earners the most); “break up the big banks and/or place stricter safety and soundness rules on them” (hmm, how does that help the Rothschilds again?); and “end corporate welfare” (Carney specifically name-checks the awful Export-Import Bank and subsidies to Big Sugar, which both receive bipartisan congressional support).
You can take or leave some or all of Carney’s libertarian populism—what sort of crazy, pie-eyed dreamer not only thinks that “second homes shouldn’t get a mortgage deduction” but that the deduction for first homes “should be capped at $500,000” and then reduced more in the future?!?!—but to confuse it with Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity is a sign that Krugman needs to get out more often. Intellectual shut-ins are a dime a dozen these days, and they all stink just as bad as the next one.
Earlier this year, in fact, Krugman managed to offend some of his staunchest ideological confreres. In a blog post meditating on why he is always right (a curse, really, I’m sure), Krugman briefly considered the remote possibility that he was stacking the deck by either unfairly cherry-picking data or opponents to his own advantage. Naw, the super-scientist concluded, before offering up this irrefutable hypothesis: “Maybe I actually am right, and maybe the other side actually does contain a remarkable number of knaves and fools.”
Such pompous jackassery moved one of Krugman’s biggest fans, Bloomberg’s Clive Crook, to declare, “A line has been crossed when the principal spokesmen for contending opinions have no curiosity whatsoever about their opponents’ ideas and radiate cold, steady contempt for each other . . . This is America’s biggest political problem—and Krugman’s not part of the solution.”
I think Crook is a being a bit melodramatic (especially for a Britisher), but he’s on to something that Krugman exemplifies perfectly when it comes libertarian populism, the possible benefits of a fake alien invasion, and, to be honest, the relative merits of Arcade Fire. In opting out of engaged conversation in favor of an extended monologue in the theater of his mind, Krugman and all other similarly self-blinkered public intellectuals of whatever bent or camp or ideology do us all a real insult.