Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ellie Goulding: Burn.

Ellie Goulding; Burn. Video. EllieGouldingVEVO, July 7, 2013. YouTube.

The Tragedy of Palestinian Revisionism. By Ben Caspit.

The Tragedy of Palestinian Revisionism. By Ben Caspit. Al-Monitor, November 5, 2013.

Palestinians Protest Israeli Gentrification in Acre. By Linah Alsaafin. Al-Monitor, October 22, 2013.

Al-Monitor’s Money Wasted on Zionist Myths. By Jonathan Cook. Jonathan-Cook.net, November 6, 2013.


For those asking themselves how it can be that in 2013 the Palestinians still do not have an independent state, I would recommend reading Linah Alsaafin’s article about Acre. An intelligent read of that article might provide a telling answer to this question and optimally explain the entire Palestinian tragedy.
Let’s start with the “ethnic cleansing” which, the writer contends, befell the Arabs in Acre in 1948. So here’s a short reminder: In 1947, the United Nations adopted a historic decision to partition the land of Israel between Arabs and Jews. The Jews thought that the resolution was very bad and unacceptable, creating a Jewish state divided into three narrow cantons that were barely contiguous and also indefensible and unmanageable.
The area that was awarded to the Jews was much smaller than the area of the historic land of Israel, where the Jewish people were born and thrived according to the three religions. (After all, the Muslims also believe in the Jewish prophets and the history that preceded Muhammad).
David Ben Gurion, the leader of the Jewish Yishuv (community) in the land who later became Israel’s first prime minister, had to make a decision. He was under heavy pressure to reject the UN resolution. The Provisional State Council, which was to vote on the resolution, came to a draw. Realizing the momentous occasion and that pressure had to be brought to bear, Ben Gurion backed the resolution and declared, against all odds, the establishment of the state in 1948. He said, “Yes.”
If the Arabs had said “Yes” back in the day, what we would have seen today is a prosperous Palestinian state over more than half the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. But Arabs — as they invariably do — said, “No.” One day after Israel declared its independence, seven regular Arab armies invaded the land where some 600,000 practically defenseless Jews were living. The military force of the fledgling Israel was negligible. It had neither weapons nor soldiers. It didn’t have world powers to provide assistance. But Israel nevertheless was able to vanquish its enemies and even expand the areas under its control. The 1949 armistice lines became the “Green Line” which — to this day — is the consensual international reference point to the separation between Palestinians and Jews.
This was the Arabs’ first fatal mistake. Incidentally, even under the 1947 UN “partition borders,” Acre was part of Israel. When Linah Alsaafin calls it a “northern Palestinian coastal city of Acre” she talks in fantasies. Not facts. Palestine is a state that has never existed, and therefore there is no north Palestine. Before the establishment of the state of Israel there was no Palestine, only the British Mandate. The areas that were to be handed over to the Arabs were given to the Hashemite kingdom, to wit, the Jordanian kingdom, which held onto the West Bank until 1967.
The Palestinian people and the Palestinian state are a modern invention inspired by Israel. It has no precedent, it has no history. There were never such a people and such a state. Now, thanks to the Israeli occupation, there are.
Like many of Israel’s citizens, I fully recognize the existence of the Palestinian people, their right for independence, a sustainable state and prosperity. The problem, however, is that Linah Alsaafin does not recognize my right to have the same. This creates a tragic asymmetry that mars the attempts to resolve the conflict.
Now, let’s have a crash course in history. I am honestly unaware of the story of Khan al-Umdan. Israel — indeed the whole world — is rife with historic sites turned into boutique hotels. These tensions between progress and tourism and tradition and history rage everywhere. I would like to speak about Acre itself. It is not considered a run-of-the-mill Jewish city. Nor is it a typical Muslim city. In fact, it started out as a Hellenic city.
In 165 B.C., it was besieged by Simon Thassi, a Jewish leader, who triumphed over the Seleucid that controlled it, yet he could not conquer it. Jonathan Apphus, a member of the venerated dynasty of Jewish warriors, was murdered there 20 years later. At least two Hasmonean warriors are buried in Acre. This happened 600 years before the emergence of Muhammad — the founder of Islam — into history. Herod the Great, the Jewish king, built many public buildings in the city. The Jewish dignitaries in Acre begged the representative of the Roman Emperor Caligula not to foul the temple.
One can go on and on with the Jewish history of Acre, but I think that the point is clear. The Arabs conquered Acre in 638, but history’s pendulum swayed in the other direction in 1104 when the city was conquered by the Crusaders, later becoming the capital of the Crusaders’ Kingdom of Jerusalem. Later the Ottomans arrived, followed by the British. Then the state of Israel was founded, with Acre being part of it, according to the said United Nations’ partition plan.
One can also discuss the “ethnic cleansing” that Alsaafin ascribes to Israel, but I believe this discussion would be unnecessary and offensive. Had the seven Arab states not attacked our young country in 1948, tens of thousands of Arabs would not have had to flee anywhere. Some fled because they were scared; others were encouraged to escape. That’s what happens in wars, especially if it’s a war of existence that is imposed on you by many, much stronger enemies. You fight for your life, against all odds. The victor, in this case, wins the jackpot.
However, we must bear in mind that most of Israel’s Arabs stayed put. They were issued Israeli ID cards and today they’re full-fledged citizens, enjoying full equality before the law. The Israeli Supreme Court, in its famous Kaadan ruling, stated that the allotment of plots in a certain locality only to Jews was wrongful discrimination. Arab Israelis can settle and live anywhere they want.
However, that’s not the case for Israeli Jews. There are many mixed cities in Israel: Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, Lod and Ramla, where there is a clear Jewish majority and an Arab minority. The reverse doesn’t exist. In the Arab towns in Israel not a single Jew can be found. No Jew would dare live in Umm al-Fahm, Tayibe or Sakhnin. These are Israeli towns for all intents and purposes but to Jews are off limits. Now they’re already calling themselves Palestinians. They enjoy the bountifulness of the thriving Jewish state and the benefits of democracy, while watching their brethren being massacred in the hundreds of thousands in the surrounding countries. They enjoy the best of all worlds.
Yes, Arab Israelis are somewhat discriminated against. There are also manifestations of racism. Life in Israel isn’t perfect. Being a minority is hard and when it comes to that Jews can go to the front of the line. It’s hard to be black in America, a Muslim in Italy or a Christian in Egypt, etc. But Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy full protection under the law and under the state’s law enforcement agencies.
They also enjoy some privileges. Unlike the Jews and the Druze (and some of the Bedouins), they do not serve in the military. They are not forced to give the state the best three years of their lives. They can go to university at 18 rather than wait until they turn 21. When you look around at the Middle East and the neighboring countries, when you check the numbers and statistics, there is no doubt that Arab Israelis enjoy a quality of life, a standard of living, security and rights that are a thousandfold better compared with all the Arabs throughout the Middle East.
When the October 2000 riots broke out, the Arab residents of Wadi Ara area in northern Israel blocked this important arterial road, breaking, smashing, destroying and torching any state symbol they came across, while chanting “Death to Israel!” and calling for its destruction. The police were forced to act, as a result of which 13 Arab citizens were killed. This was a formative event in our history, which brought about the establishment of a national commission of inquiry. In similar events in the United States or Russia, many more citizens would have been killed. In a similar event in Syria or Egypt, thousands would have been killed.
When you look at the events in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Iran and in fact all around us, we realize the Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy total democracy, total freedom, equal rights, a modern, open, developed, prosperous state that provides a peaceful, carefree life. Truth be told, the road to full equality is still long, but let’s try imagining what would have happened if the situation had been the reverse — if the Arabs had won that war of independence and the Jews had been a minority in their country.
And here’s some more food for thought: When Israel was established, hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced to leave their home in the various Arab states and flee to Israel. They were subjected to pogroms, persecution and dispossession. If they had stayed any longer in their native countries, their lives would have been in danger. Fighting tooth and nail for its existence, Israel was barely able to take them in. To this day, this trying immigration endeavor is still evident.
So what — did we set up refugee camps for them? Did we demand the world to return them to their original homes?
The Palestinian refugees that fled Israel during the war became a living monument of the Arab tragedy. This monument is alive and the Arabs have only themselves to blame. These refugees could have been rehabilitated many times over if there had been a genuine desire to do so. When they continue to call an Israeli town a “northern Palestinian coastal city,” they do not recognize Israel’s right to exist. They recognize no history but their own. They whine, perpetuating their tragedy and misfortune instead of ending it.
All they need to do is to finally establish the Palestinian state. Former Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert already made them an offer to get back 95% of the area that was occupied in 1967. Their response was either negative or was not given at all — because they don’t want to end this saga. They want to continue it until the Jews tire out and leave. And that’s the sad truth.
I am part of the ever-shrinking Israeli majority that is willing to give back all the territories, sign the Geneva Initiative as is, divide Jerusalem and sacrifice our most scared values for a comprehensive peace. Unfortunately, there aren’t many on the other side willing to take this up. The belief that millions of refugees could one day return to Israel sabotages a priori any attempt to reach an arrangement.
When Arab Israeli citizens call Acre a “northern Palestinian coastal city,” I understand, sadly, that the chances that the window of opportunity for peace will be used in the little time that’s left until it shuts is not high (given that in demographical terms, Israel turns each year more religious and more extreme). What a shame.

Two Peoples, Two Standards. By Asher Susser.

Two peoples, two standards. By Asher Susser. Toronto Star, May 19, 2011.

The Two-State Solution: Getting from Here to There. By Asher Susser. Foreign Policy Research Institute, October 28, 2012. Also at Blue White Future.

Review of Jacob Lassner and S. Ilan Troen, Jews and Arabs in the Muslim World: Haunted by Pasts Real and Imagined. By Asher Susser. The Journal of Israeli History, Vol. 28, No. 1 (March 2009).

Susser [Two peoples]:

Much of the commentary on the Middle East by outsiders is based on a skewed analytical prism. For reasons that defy rational explanation, pundits do not treat Israelis and Arabs as equals. While it is widely accepted, as it should be, that Israelis and Arabs, including the Palestinians, have equally valid rights to self-determination and statehood, Israelis and Palestinians, in the eyes of these observers, do not share a similar measure of agency or responsibility for their actions.
Much of the analysis on the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation is a good example of this faulty paradigm. After years of mutual hostility, Hamas and Fatah have essentially papered over their differences to pave the way for the creation of a unity government that will make it easier for the international community to recognize Palestinian independence. This is a move directed at the UN General Assembly and is not even intended for Israel. No one on the Palestinian side, neither in Fatah nor in Hamas, would seriously regard the inclusion of Hamas in a Palestinian government as a gesture of goodwill toward Israel, or to the U.S. for that matter.
The agreement is a reflection of Fatah’s increasing weakness after the demise of its greatest Arab ally, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. The new post-Mubarak Egypt is one in which the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent movement of Hamas, is widely expected to be a dominant player. This is wind in the sails of Hamas as much as it is the deflation of Fatah. It is also reason for Israeli concern about the future of the peace treaty with Egypt, to which the Muslim Brotherhood were and are firmly opposed.
Since the agreement with Fatah, spokesmen for Hamas have given no indication of any change in their position toward Israel. They still say they will continue the fight against Israel after the creation of a Palestinian state, and they do not have any intention of recognizing the Jewish state. They are willing to accept a two-state solution subject to a referendum, they say. But this referendum is to be held not only among all the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza but in the diaspora, too. This is intended to place the issue of large-scale Palestinian refugee return to Israel at the top of the agenda.
No one in Hamas really expects the Palestinian diaspora to endorse a two-state solution without such refugee return. This was and is a non-starter for Israel and is a Hamas ploy to base the “solution” on what is no more than a euphemism for dismantling Israel as the state of the Jewish people. This is not even intended as the basis for an agreement, but only as a design for endless conflict. It is precisely the refugee issue, more than any other, that has made Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking so elusive. The recent violent incidents of “Nakba Day” on Israel’s borders, focusing on the rejection of Israel’s very creation in 1948, rather than on its withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, is as clear an indication as any of where the real obstacles lie.
Israel has offered statehood to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, with the Palestinian capital in Arab Jerusalem and a corridor linking the territory of the West Bank with Gaza. But Israel’s offer was rebuffed twice, in 2000 and again in 2008, even though the Israelis had increased their proposed withdrawal from some 95 per cent of the West Bank to 100 per cent (with land swaps). Israel’s initial proposal was met with an onslaught of suicide bombers sent by Hamas and Fatah too, not to mention the rocketry from Gaza even after Israel’s complete withdrawal from the territory in 2005. In their 2006 parliamentary elections the Palestinians gave Hamas a whopping majority. Henceforth, Fatah could not deliver without Hamas. The problem is, however, that Fatah cannot deliver with Hamas, either.
Palestinian rejection notwithstanding, Israel is still expected to reach out to the Palestinians and repeat these same offers as if nothing has happened in the interim. As if all the attacks and ongoing upheaval and rising levels of overt hostility toward Israel in the Arab world had never occurred, as if what the Arabs say and do is totally immaterial.
The Israelis should, indeed, show moderation and reach out to the Palestinians. There is no question that Israelis, for their own good, should never miss even the slimmest opportunity for peace. But shouldn’t the Palestinians, and Hamas in particular, be expected to reach out to the Israelis, too, to offer recognition, to stop firing rockets into Israeli towns, to cease referring to the Jews as “the sons of pigs and monkeys?” Surely they are also accountable for their deeds and misdeeds. Surely they have a role, too. Or don’t they? Israelis will forever be baffled by this warped logic whereby it is they alone who bear all the responsibility for the fate of their neighbourhood.

Susser [Two-State Solution]:

For Israelis and for Palestinians, the two-state issue is always relevant no matter what is happening in the Middle East.  Those of us who wish to see Israel remain as the nation-state of the Jewish people – which after all is the historical objective of the whole Zionist enterprise – must not give up on the two-state solution. There is no future for Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people outside the framework of a two-state solution. Recalling the history of Palestine, it is the Jews who wanted partition all the time, not the Arabs. The Arabs didn’t need partition and today probably need partition less than the Jews do. But over the years both sides have concluded that they must support the two-state solution; yet, despite the fact that both sides support a two-state solution and have conducted negotiations for twenty years, we have failed to get there. I would venture to guess that we are probably not going to get there any time soon through the vehicle of negotiation.
I would like to explain why we haven’t got there, why the one-state solution is not a solution, and what we should and can do to get there.
First, why have we failed? The negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, like the negotiations between Israel and the Arab states, have been based on U.N. Resolution 242. I would argue that’s the problem. 242 is a resolution that came into being in the aftermath of the 1967 six-day war. It was a resolution designed to solve the problems created by the six-day war through the equation of land for peace. Israel would return the land it occupied in 1967 in exchange for peace with the Arab states from which this land was taken. The Palestinians were not part of that resolution. They’re not even mentioned in the resolution; nor does the word “Palestine” appear there. The thought was that Israel would return Sinai to Egypt, the Golan to the Syrians and the West Bank to the Jordanians. Where exactly Gaza would go wasn’t quite clear, perhaps with the West Bank to the Jordanians. 242 is a resolution which works very well between Israel and the Arab states, and two of the three Arab states, in fact, have made peace with Israel on the base of that resolution. Jordan without the West Bank and Egypt have made peace with Israel, and we were not very far from a peace treaty with Syria as well in the 1990s.
But 242 has inherent deficiencies when it comes to the Palestinians. The Palestinians have two major grievances with Israel. One is the product of the 1967 war, the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, but the main grievance is a result of Israel’s creation in 1948 and the Palestinian refugee question that results from 1948. There are no Palestinians who think that the problem with Israel began in 1967. If you talk to the Palestinians about “end of conflict,” which is what the Israelis did, you are forcing the 1948 questions to the surface. There are two sets of issues that we have with the Palestinians. The West Bank and Gaza and the settlements and the borders and Jerusalem are only a part of the problem; they are the “1967 file,” as I call it. 242 does not relate at all to the 1948 file, which is the Palestinians’ real problem. With the Arab states we don’t have a 1948 file; there is only a 1967 problem.
The dynamic created by the Oslo Accords seemed to narrow down the whole issue of Palestine to the 1967 questions. The Palestinian authority had elected institutions, the Presidency and Parliament, both of which were elected only by the people in the West Bank and Gaza, and the Palestinian authority represented only the West Bank and Gaza, as opposed to the PLO, which represented all Palestinians everywhere. The Israelis saw this Oslo dynamic as reducing the issue of Palestine to the 1967 questions and we saw that as a very positive development. This was going to create the basis for a two-state solution, and it was on that basis that the Israelis went to Camp David in 2000. The Israelis had in their mind a tradeoff. Israel would concede on the bulk of the 1967 issues including Jerusalem, and the Palestinians would close the file of 1948 in exchange and that would end the conflict. But the Palestinians never agreed to such a tradeoff and would not agree to close the file of 1948, which is the refugee question.
On territory where the Israelis were looking for a compromise on the West Bank, the Palestinians found the idea of compromise very difficult to accept. The Israelis understood that the Palestinians as wanting all or nothing - 100 percent of the West Bank. But what the Israelis didn’t understand was that, from the Palestinian point of view, to retrieve all of the West Bank was to retrieve only 22 percent of historical Palestine. Israelis already had 78 percent. So the argument the Palestinians made on territory was in effect to say we want all of the West Bank back and how can you quibble with us on the 22 percent that is left? So both on the 1967 territorial issues and particularly on refugees, Camp David failed.
The Israeli response to this recognition of the centrality of the 1948 questions was to demand of the Palestinians since Camp David to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. That is Israel’s counterweight to continuing Palestinian demands on 1948. Israelis believe that if they can get the Palestinians to recognize that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, there will be no refugee return to the state of Israel. This makes sense from the Israeli point of view. But the Palestinians will not recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, for to do so would be asking the Palestinians to recognize that Palestine is Jewish, and they won’t. So when it comes to these 1948 questions, there has been no progress between Israel and Palestine.
When Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen conducted their negotiations in 2008 the differences were narrowed down very significantly on the 1967 issues on territory, even on Jerusalem, but not on refugees. Olmert offered Abu Mazen the return of 5,000 refugees in five years, that is 1,000 a year for five years.  The Palestinians in their private conversations with the Israelis spoke about the return of 100,000 or 150,000, which was 20 or 30 times more than what the Israelis were offering. And when these numbers were leaked – 100,000-150,000 were leaked by WikiLeaks - the Palestinians denied them and Palestinian public was unwilling to accept even the 100,000-150,000 limitation. There is no possibility in the foreseeable future that the Israelis and the Palestinians will come to an agreement that will include the 1948 issues.
So if it is so difficult to arrive at a solution of end of conflict, why not have one state? Because the one-state cure is the proverbial cure that kills the patient. I cannot think of any place on earth where two nations locked in conflict for over 100 years are offered a solution to be thrust together in a boiling pot of coexistence that would end no doubt in mutual destruction. Communities with less historical hostility have fallen apart in recent years – Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Belgium is on and off, Sudan, the Soviet Union, even devolution in the United Kingdom.
Some illustrations may be helpful: When Andy Murray won the U.S. Open, I saw an interview on the BBC with someone saying, “This is not an English victory, it’s Scottish.” Some years ago, I was in Norway and was asked how long I thought it would take until Israel and Palestine merged into one state. I replied “I bet I can give you a precise answer. It will be 24 hours after Norway and Sweden merge together in one state.” They didn’t laugh. It is amazing how people expect us to do things that they would never imagine doing themselves!
Mainly I would say the reason why this is a bad idea is because most Jews in Israel and most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza don’t want it. There are people in the Diaspora who may wish for such a solution, but they won’t face the music and probably couldn’t care less about it. A one-state solution, if there were to be such a thing, would with time transform the Jews in this future Palestinian state into a minority. Looking around the Middle East today, the most unhealthy position one could wish to be in is that of a minority in any one of the Middle Eastern states. It is not a privileged position to be in.  The Jews as a minority in Palestine? I hate to think of their ultimate fate without their own state being there to protect them.
If a two-state solution is unattainable by negotiation and a one-state solution is not a solution, what do we do? We have to begin by recognizing the limitations of the negotiating process and the limitations of Resolution 242. We, the Israelis, have to come to terms with the fact that we may have to withdraw for less than peace, that land for peace may be desirable, but not necessarily fully attainable. Why should we withdraw in the absence of full peace? If we don’t, we are allowing those who resist the idea of peace with Israel, like Hamas and company, to dictate to Israel what kind of country we will live in in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time.
If the prime objective is to preserve Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, we have to cut our suit according to the amount of cloth we have. There are nearly 6 million Jews in Israel and an Arab population in British Mandatory Palestine which is now more or less equal. There are arguments about the numbers and there is one particular source that keeps on promoting the idea that there are fewer Palestinians in the West Bank than everybody else seems to claim, but I know of no Israeli demographers, government or otherwise, who accept the figures of the minimizers.
By maintaining the status quo, Israel is undermining its long-term capability to remain the nation-state of the Jews, and if we are not the nation-state to the Jewish people, what’s the point of the exercise? What have we been fighting for the last 120 years? To become a minority in Palestine? We can be a minority in California. That would be preferable to being a minority stuck out there in the Mediterranean. It’s about being a majority. It is about being in that one place on earth where we are the majority, and if this cannot be obtained by a negotiation, then we have to think of unilateralism again. Now I know people will say, “Well, have you lost your marbles? Don’t you know what happened in Gaza after Israel withdrew?” I know what happened in Gaza. Life is about alternatives, not about the ideal.
What we have to improve is the manner in which we conduct the unilateral approach; we can’t just walk out of the territories without any coordination with the Palestinians. We should have what I call “coordinated unilateralism.” It sounds like an oxymoron, but it isn’t. Coordinated unilateralism presumes the United States is the coordinator, and that the Palestinians have their unilateral process as well. Regarding the Palestinian approach to the international community to recognize Palestinian statehood, I don’t think Israel should object, so long as the prospective UN resolution indicates that the precise borders and the status of Jerusalem and the refugee question are subject to eventual negotiation between Israel and Palestine. And as the Palestinians proceed to build the institutions of their state, we should withdraw from considerable territories in the West Bank, gradually – withdraw settlements, particularly – leave the military in many places where we still need them. Thereby we will create the possibility of what I call a “two-state dynamic” - instead of what we are presently creating ourselves, which is a one-state dynamic, which is working against our own long-term interests.
This unilateral dynamic will create a two-state reality, not peace in our time. It will look a lot more like an armistice than a peace treaty, but if you look around our relations with the other Arab states today, we are going in that direction with them too. Our relations with Egypt are beginning to look much more like an armistice than a peace treaty. The relations with Syria never were more than armistice, and in Jordan, as in Egypt, the peace treaty never resulted in full, warm relations. This two-state reality would not require a written agreement between the parties, just understandings. No written agreements would mean that neither side would have to give up their historical narratives and we would have a two-state reality on the basis of which or from which eventually negotiations will be held between the state of Palestine and the state of Israel on the outstanding issues like borders and Jerusalem and, eventually, refugees. This is the only realistic alternative to sliding down the slippery slope of an irreversible one-state reality.
Yes, the Middle East around us is falling apart, but even though that is the case, we must not allow ourselves to lose sight of what our historical objective always was. I fear for the moment where we, the Israeli Jews, will wake up in 10 or 15 years’ time and say, “The reality is irreversible, and we have lost it.” That we cannot allow to happen. It’s not in our self-interest.

NSA Reportedly Intercepting Laptops Purchased Online to Install Spy Malware. By T.C. Sottek.

NSA reportedly intercepting laptops purchased online to install spy malware. By T.C. Sottek. The Verge, December 29, 2013.

Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit. By Jacob Appelbaum et al. Spiegel Online, December 29, 2013.

One More Last Chance. By Aaron David Miller.

One More Last Chance. By Aaron David Miller. Foreign Policy, December 30, 2013. Also here.

Is John Kerry quietly on the cusp of a Israel-Palestine peace talks breakthrough?

The Dream of a Middle-Class New York. By Benjamin Wallace-Wells.

The Dream of a Middle-Class New York. By Benjamin Wallace-Wells. New York, December 29, 2013.

Is there anything Bill de Blasio can do to make the city affordable again? Maybe. But we have to want to pay for it.

Why Do Americans Like Revolutions? By Zachary Keck.

Why Do Americans Like Revolutions? By Zachary Keck. The Diplomat, December 29, 2013.


As many of my colleagues have pointed out, last week China celebrated Mao Zedong’s birthday. Mao was many things to many people. For me, he was first and foremost a revolutionary. Mao was at least as significant to revolutions in the 20th century as Vladimir Lenin, and Mao’s model of revolution—building support among the peasantry before moving to the cities—was widely emulated by anti-colonial leaders throughout the world. During his time in power, Mao also gave material support to many of these anti-colonial movements.
For these reasons, Mao’s birthday seems like an apt time to ponder why Americans are so fascinated and supportive of revolutions. Although often times despising their outcomes, Americans—particularly American elites—are predisposed to generally support revolutionary movements. This inclination has endured across time. Many American elites—particularly Thomas Jefferson—initially looked very favorably on the French Revolution. Jefferson at times even defended the French rebels’ later excesses, writing to one American critic of their actions: “Time and truth will rescue & embalm their memories, while their posterity will be enjoying that very liberty for which they would never have hesitated to offer up their lives. the liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest, and was ever such a prize won with as little innocent blood?”
Americans similarly initially cheered the onset of the Arab Spring (although none of these uprisings have produced genuine revolutions to date, the general feeling in the beginning was that they would). There was almost no reason for the U.S. to be hopeful about U.S. policy in an Arab world in which publics had a greater say, given the widespread dislike of America among Arab populations. While some in the U.S. recognized this reality, they generally cast aside these concerns. Typical was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s response, who implored that in Egypt, America should “trust that in the long arc of history those shared beliefs will matter more than the immediate disruptions that lie ahead and that, ultimately, our interests and ideals will be well served.”
It seems to me that Americans’ support for revolutions is entirely misplaced. To begin with, as a status-quo power in the international system, the U.S. has little geopolitically to gain from the instability and large-scale changes that are the hallmarks of modern revolutions.
More importantly, even the normative considerations that undergird Americans’ support for revolutions are based on misperceptions. For example, many Americans look favorably on revolutions today because America itself won its independence from England in a war that became known in the U.S. as the American Revolution. Since the American Revolution is unanimously seen as a positive, many Americans assume that revolutions today will also improve the societies in which they occur.
Despite its name, however, the American Revolution was not a revolution. At most, it was a war of national liberation. For the better part of a century before the war, American colonial elites effectively ruled the colonies under the British policy of salutary neglect. As England’s fiscal woes worsened following the French and Indian War, the Crown tried to crack down on the colonies in order to extract more benefits from its ownership of them. Most of the colonial elites objected to these policy changes, such as having to pay higher taxes to the monarch, and eventually convinced most of the colonial population to fight a war to free them from England’s increasing demands. Following the independence war, however, the same elites who governed under salutatory neglect effectively resumed ruling the now independent United States. Little of the underlying socioeconomic order was changed by the war, save for England’s nominal overseer role. And in the years that followed the American elite created a socioeconomic order that in many ways was modeled on England.
The other reason Americans support revolutions is because they believe they will transform autocracies into democracies. But this again is mistaken. Although the initial protesters may be seeking democratic changes, they almost never achieve them. This is certainly true of the major revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries—namely, the French, Russian, Chinese and Iranian revolutions.
Although some of the 20th century national liberation movements led to democracies, the vast majority only replaced the colonial powers with local strongmen. Furthermore, those national liberation movements that did lead to democracy were not very revolutionary at all. India, for example, won its independence from Britain without a major violent struggle against London. The system it adopted maintained many of the institutions of British India. Perhaps the most successful revolutions with regards to democracy were the uprisings against the Soviet Union and its satellites, which in some cases produced partially free, albeit unstable democracies. Still, the former Soviet bloc is hardly considered a beacon for democratic governance today.
The reason why revolutions do not produce stable democracies has less to do with the greed of revolutionary leaders than the nature of revolutions themselves. The rapid overhaul of political and socioeconomic orders—what Marx called the superstructure—will almost by definition need to overcome fierce resistance from those who have interests in the existing order, as well as those who have a different vision for the future. In nearly every case, this resistance can only be eliminated in the short term through violent means. Thus, one of the most common characteristics of modern revolutions is widespread bloodshed. Mao and Stalin, for instance, almost certainly killed more people while imposing their socioeconomic orders in China and Russia than died globally from World War II.
And this is why revolutions don’t produce liberal democracies. Societies torn apart by widespread violence and strife are hardly fertile grounds for democracy. For democracies to function over the long term there needs to be some shared consensuses among the major social, political, and economic actors in these countries. These necessary consensuses take time to develop and tend to only grow in relatively peaceful and stable societies. Thus, the strongest democracies today—including America’s—tended to come about as a result of evolutionary, not revolutionary, social and political change.
If the U.S. wants a world full of democracies, it must do a better job at formulating and sustaining long-term policies promoting evolutionary changes within societies, instead of holding out for widespread mass unrest to immediately replace authoritarian states with full-fledged democracies.