Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Obama’s Middle East Recessional. By Adam Garfinkle.

Obama’s Middle East Recessional. By Adam Garfinkle. The American Interest, January 21, 2014.

Part 1: What Real Instability Looks Like.

Part 2: Syria Policy Up Close and Ugly.

Part 3: Gambling With Iran as Iraq Disintegrates.

Part 4: The President’s Mental Map.

The West’s Catastrophic Defeat in the Middle East. By Dominique Moisi.

The West’s Catastrophic Defeat in the Middle East. By Dominique Moisi. Real Clear World, January 17, 2014. Also at Worldcrunch.


Bashar al-Assad is still in power in Damascus and al-Qaeda’s black flag was recently waving above Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq. Not only has the process of fragmentation in Syria now spilled over to Iraq, but these two realities also share a common cause that could be summarized into a simple phrase: the failure of the West.
The capture, even though temporary, of the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi by Sunni militias claiming links to al-Qaeda, is a strong and even humiliating symbol of the failure of the policies the United States carried out in Iraq. A little more than a decade after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime – and after hundreds of thousands of deaths on the Iraqi side and more than 5,000 on the American side – we can only lament a sad conclusion: All that for this!

In Syria, the same admission of failure is emerging. Assad and his loyal allies – Russia and Iran – have actually emerged stronger from their confrontation with the West. Civilian massacres, including with chemical weapons, did not change anything. The regime is holding tight, despite losing control of important parts of its territory, thanks to its allies’ support and, most importantly, the weakness of its opponents and those who support them.
In reality, from the Middle East to Africa, the entire idea of outside intervention is being challenged in a widely post-American region. How and when can one intervene appropriately? At which point does not intervening become, to quote the French diplomat Talleyrand following the assassination of the Duke of Enghien in 1804, “worse than a crime, a mistake?”
When is intervention necessary? “Humanitarian emergency” is a very elastic concept. Is the fate of Syrian civilians less tragic than that of Libyans? Why intervene in Somalia in 1992 and not in Sudan? The decision to intervene reveals, in part, selective emotions that can also correspond to certain sensitivities or, in a more mundane way, to certain best interests of the moment.
Intervention becomes more probable when it follows the success of some other action; or, on the contrary, a decision to abstain that led to massacre and remorse. The tragedy of the African Great Lakes in 1994 – not to mention the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1995 – certainly contributed to the West’s decision to intervene in Kosovo in 1999. In reality, the intervention of a given country at a given time is typically driven by multiple factors: the existence of an interventionist culture, a sense of urgency, a minimum of empathy towards the country or the cause justifying the intervention, and, of course, the existence of resources that are considered, rightly or wrongly, sufficient and well-adapted.
A French example
But more than “when,” it is a question of “how” – the two being often inextricably linked. Intervening alone can have many benefits, including the rapidity of execution, which often leads to efficient operations. The French army was not unhappy to end up alone in Mali. On the other hand, although it can slow down the operations schedule, forming a coalition gives the intervention more legitimacy, and helps share the costs and risks between the various operators.
It is likely that France, which after the Mali operation has engaged in the Central African Republic in a much more uncertain conflict, would now prefer having some support – for reasons related to costs and resources as well as geopolitics. No one wants to share success, but no one wants to end up alone in a potential deadlock either.
America's failure – in Iraq and in Syria – should be considered the West’s failure as a whole, even though Washington’s share of responsibility is unquestionably the largest.
Failure is generally the result of the interaction between three main factors that are almost always the same: arrogance, ignorance and indifference. Arrogance leads to overestimating one’s capacities and to underestimating the enemy’s capacity for resistance. It is all too easy to win the war but lose the peace.
“Democracy in Baghdad will lead to peace in Jerusalem,” a slogan of the American neo-conservatives, took a disastrous turn in Iraq.
Arrogance is almost always the result of ignorance. What do we know about the cultures and histories of the populations we want to save from chaos and dictators? Yesterday’s colonial officers, who drew lines in the sand to create the borders of the new empires and states, turned their nose up at the local religious and tribal complexities. Today, the situation may be worse still. Sheer ignorance prevails.
Finally, there is the sin of indifference. Of course, the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is worrying Washington, thus leading to closer ties between the U.S. and Iran regarding Iraq. But the starting point was, in Syria, the U.S.’s refusal to take its responsibilities.
The result is clear: a double defeat, strategic and ethical, for the West. Washington has brought a resounding diplomatic victory to Moscow and has allowed Bashar al-Assad to stay in power.

Canada and Australia’s Stand for Israel and the West. By Tom Wilson.

Canada and Australia’s Stand for Israel and the West. By Tom Wilson. By Tom Wilson. Commentary, January 21, 2014.

Australia FM: Don’t call settlements illegal under international law. By Raphael Ahren. The Times of Israel, January 15, 2014.


With President Barack Obama seeming to have taken a leave of absence as leader of the free world, the task of providing such leadership continues to fall to others. Increasingly, this task is being taken up by leaders in other English-speaking democracies, and for several of them their defense of the West’s values is never more strongly pronounced than when it comes to Israel.
This has been particularly noticeable with the recent visits to Israel by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Both of these individuals have not only seen to it that their countries have taken concrete actions to defend Israel on the international stage, but they have also voiced this support in terms of standing by democratic values and doing what is just. In short, both have demonstrated a clear sense of moral clarity, where other Western governments have failed to do so.
Prime Minister Harper’s speech delivered before the Knesset on Monday was a case in point. Rightly, Harper spoke of Israel’s accomplishments, defending unequivocally its right to exist as a Jewish state and denouncing in no uncertain terms the new anti-Semitism that masquerades as anti-Zionism–or as Harper put it, “the old hatred has been translated into more sophisticated language for use in polite society. People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East.”
Ironically, when Prime Minister Harper came to rebutting the apartheid charge leveled against Israel, two of the Arab Knesset members present began to loudly interrupt him, before then promptly storming out–their very position in the Knesset, of course, serving to refute the accusation that they apparently felt so strongly about insisting upon.
This sense of obligation to speak out against such lies and bigotry clearly stems from the prime minister’s wider worldview. Harper declared unapologetically that we live in a world where “moral relativism runs rampant” and that “in the garden of such moral relativism, the seeds of much more sinister notions can be easily planted.” For, as Harper noted, “Those who, often begin by hating the Jews . . . history shows us, end up hating anyone who is not them.”
Indeed, the most important aspect of Harper’s speech was the explanation he gave for why Canada would stand by Israel. Having begun by stating plainly, “Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so,” Prime Minister Harper went on to explain that “Israel is the only country in the Middle East, which has long anchored itself in the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”
Crucially, he observed that, “These are not mere notions. They are the things that, over time and against all odds, have proven to be the only ground in which human rights, political stability, and economic prosperity, may flourish. These values are not proprietary; they do not belong to one nation or one people. Nor are they a finite resource; on the contrary, the wider they are spread, the stronger they grow. Likewise, when they are threatened anywhere, they are threatened everywhere.”
It is a similar tone that we hear when the Australian foreign minister speaks, and indeed acts. In contrast to the policies of her predecessor, Julie Bishop has twice now ensured that Australia has been one of only a handful of countries at the United Nations to resist voting in support of motions demanding that Israel halt all settlement activity. In an interview during her recent visit to Israel Bishop stated that she thought the international community should refrain from calling settlements illegal, remarking, “I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal,” and arguing, “I don’t think it’s helpful to prejudge the settlement issue if you’re trying to get a negotiated solution. And by deeming the activity as a war crime, it’s unlikely to engender a negotiated solution.”
Foreign Minister Bishop has likewise been unwavering in her opposition to boycotts, seeing to it that funding from the Australian government does not reach organizations calling for them. Of the BDS movement Bishop exclaimed, “It’s anti-Semitic. It identifies Israel out of all other nations as being worthy of a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign? Hypocritical beyond belief.”
Bishop stands out as an almost lone voice on a number of these issues, yet in doing so she echoes the Canadian prime minister’s attitude when he stated that his country will “stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular.”
With all America’s coming challenges on the world stage, Obama and Kerry would do well to pay attention to Harper’s example and remember his words when he spoke Monday of how “either we stand up for our values and our interests, here, in Israel, stand up for the existence of a free, democratic and distinctively Jewish state or the retreat of our values and our interests in the world will begin. Ladies and gentlemen, just as we refuse to retreat from our values, so we must also uphold the duty to advance them.”

Non-Intervention Has a Price Too. By Max Boot.

Non-Intervention Has a Price Too. By Max Boot. Commentary, January 21, 2014.

Palestinian Incitement: An Obstacle to the Peace Negotiations? By David Pollock.

Palestinian Incitement: An Obstacle to the Peace Negotiations? By David Pollock. The Henry Jackson Society, January 21, 2014. Executive Summary by Alice Bexson.

Al Jazeera: Why Can’t Arab Armies Be More Humane Like Israel’s? By Tom Gross.

Al-Jazeera: Why can’t Arab armies be more humane like Israel’s? By Tom Gross. Tom Gross Media, January 16, 2014.

Arab TV host touts Israel’s humanity. The Times of Israel, January 17, 2014.

Al Jazeera Arabic Admits Israel Ain’t So Bad. By David Lange (Aussie Dave). Israellycool, January 17, 2014.

Al Jazeera Arabic admits France, Israel better prevent civilian casualties. Video. Mecalecahi Mecahinyho, January 14, 2014. YouTube.


I attach a remarkable new video from Al-Jazeera (the Arabic version of al-Jazeera) in which the presenter asks his audience why Arab armies (and in particular the Iranian proxy organization Hizbullah) can’t act in a more humane way to civilians, like the Israeli and French militaries do. (The guest in the video on the right, Mr Muhammed, also agrees with him.)
Among the questions posed on air: “Why don’t they learn from the Israeli army which tries, through great efforts, to avoid shelling areas populated by civilians in Lebanon and Palestine? Didn’t Hezbollah take shelter in areas populated by civilians because it knows that Israeli air force doesn’t bomb those areas? Why doesn’t the Syrian army respect premises of universities, schools or inhabited neighborhoods? Why does it shell even the areas of its supporters? . . .
“I will also give you the example of France. All Syrians remember that the French forces, when they occupied Syria tried to avoid, when rebels entered mosques or schools, they stopped. The people would prefer that France come back! For god’s sake, if a referendum were to be held . . . if people were to be asked, who would you prefer the current regime or the French, I swear by God they would have preferred the French.”
“The Israeli army, if it wanted to break up a demonstration, would have used water cannons or rubber bullets, not rockets or explosive barrels as happens in Aleppo today.
“You mustn’t compare the Syrian army with French or Israeli . . . The Israeli army didn’t shell Aleppo University and students there. They didn’t shell the university with rockets killing dozens of students . . . The Israelis or the French didn’t kill their people. Please tell me how many of their people did the French army kill?”

You can watch the video below. One wonders when Western news outlets, such as The Guardian and BBC, which day after day single out Israel for denigration, will be as honest as this al-Jazeera anchor and studio guest?

Palestinians Divided Over Boycott of Israeli Universities. By Matthew Kalman.

Palestinians Divided Over Boycott of Israeli Universities. By Matthew Kalman. New York Times, January 19, 2014.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Speech to the Israeli Knesset.

Stephen Harper’s speech to the Israeli Knesset. Text and video. CBC News, January 20, 2014. YouTube.

Harper sees Israel light amid darkness. By Campbell Clark. The Globe and Mail, January 24, 2014.