Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How Did Politics Get So Personal? By Thomas B. Edsall.

How Did Politics Get So Personal? By Thomas B. Edsall. New York Times, January 28, 2015.

Why the Iran Speech to Congress is Netanyahu’s Biggest Blunder Yet. By Peter Beinart.

Why the Iran speech to Congress is Netanyahu’s biggest blunder yet. By Peter Beinart. Haaretz, January 28, 2015.


By blatantly dissing Obama, Bibi is endangering his support among the “Jacksonians” who support Israel the most.

How big a blunder did Benjamin Netanyahu commit by arranging to slam Barack Obama’s Iran policy in a speech to Congress without informing the White House first? Listen to the recent exchange between Fox News anchors Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith. Iran “is an existential threat,” declared Wallace. “Whatever Netanyahu wants to think and say about that is fine. But for him to come here to ignore the president, to not even let him know he was coming, and to sneak in to come talk before Congress with the president’s opponents to criticize the president’s policy, that’s a different thing.” Smith was even harsher: “It just seems like they think we don’t pay any attention and we’re just a bunch of complete morons, the United States citizens, like we wouldn’t pick up on what’s happening here.”

To hear Netanyahu criticized so bluntly on Fox, the conservative bastion where Israel is usually above reproach, is remarkable. Even more intriguing is the nature of that criticism. Wallace and Smith aren’t angry at Bibi for being hawkish; Wallace flatly agrees that Iran represents an “existential threat.” They’re angry at him for being insolent. For decades now, Netanyahu has alienated American progressives. With this incident, he’s alienated some American “Jacksonians” too.

In his landmark 1999 book, Special Providence, Walter Russell Mead divides American foreign policy into four traditions: Jeffersonian, Wilsonian, Hamiltonian and Jacksonian. Jeffersonians see overseas empires as a threat to domestic liberty (think Ron Paul), and thus suspect Israel of dragging the United States into wars that drain our treasury and sap our freedom. Wilsonians champion global human rights (think Samantha Power), and while some in this school champion Israel as a bastion of democracy, others condemn it for mistreating Palestinians. Hamiltonians want to make the world safe for American commerce (think Brent Scowcroft), and some in this camp resent Israel for undermining America’s relations with the oil producers of the Middle East. It is the fourth group, Jacksonians, whom Mead argues anchor Israel’s public support.

They anchor it because Jacksonians are Manicheans: They draw sharp distinctions between the civilized West and its barbaric foes. And they see Israel – because it is a democracy, because many of its people hail from Europe and because it is Jewish (many Jacksonians believe Jewish control of the Holy Land is part of God’s plan) – as the West’s outpost in hostile, Islamic terrain. Jacksonians don’t question Israel’s ruthless response to terrorism because they don’t question America’s ruthless response to terrorism. In Mead’s words, they “strongly believe that as long as Palestinians engage in terrorism, Israel has an unlimited and absolute right of self defense… If the terrorists shield themselves behind civilians, that only shows how evil they are – and is an extra reason why you have both the right and the duty to eliminate them no matter what it takes.”

Given America’s ongoing battle with jihadist terror, and the anti-Muslim feeling it has spawned on the Fox News-watching right, Jacksonians are unlikely to criticize Israel on moral grounds anytime soon. But they might criticize it on nationalist grounds. While Jeffersonians focus on defending domestic liberty, Wilsonians focus on supporting liberty overseas and Hamiltonians emphasize free trade, Jacksonians care most about national honor. They may not particularly like president Obama, but they still don’t want to see him disrespected by a foreign power.

The danger for Netanyahu is that Jacksonians come to see him less as America’s ally against a common foe and more like the guy playing us for fools. Ordinary Jacksonians may not know that after his first meeting with Netanyahu, Bill Clinton remarked, “Who the fuck does he think he is? Who’s the fucking superpower here?” They may not know that in a private meeting with settlers in 2001, Netanyahu said, “America is a thing you can move very easily.”

They may not even remember the way Bibi lectured Obama at a White House press conference in 2011 after the president proposed peace talks based on the 1967 lines plus land swaps.

But with this latest incident, the reputation for arrogance and duplicity that Netanyahu has long enjoyed among American elites is seeping out to the public at large. It’s not just Fox’s Shepard Smith who last week objected to Netanyahu treating Americans like “we’re just a bunch of complete morons.” HBO’s Bill Maher, who, while liberal on most issues, has won conservative acclaim in recent months for his critiques of Islam, said after news of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, “We’re getting very close on the Iran issue to allowing Israel to write American policy.” It’s noteworthy that Jim Webb, the former Marine, Reagan administration official and long-shot 2016 presidential candidate who has written at length about Jacksonian culture, was during his time in the senate one of AIPAC’s biggest foes on Iran.

Are most Jacksonians about to turn on Israel? Not likely. But among some, the “Israel as insolent” narrative now competes with the narrative of Israel as the West’s outpost in the Middle East. To avoid fueling it, Bibi is going to have show president Obama a bit more respect. And when you see Obama as Neville Chamberlain and yourself as Winston Churchill, that’s not an easy thing to do.

Killing Ragheads for Jesus. By Chris Hedges.

Killing Ragheads for Jesus. By Chris Hedges. Truthdig, January 25, 2015.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Time of the Assassins. By Hisham Melhem.

The Time of the Assassins. By Hisham Melhem. Politico, January 9, 2015.

The Arab world has no counterforce to the murderers in our midst.

Why Political Islam Is Winning. By Charles Hill.

Why Political Islam Is Winning. By Charles Hill. Politico, December 28, 2014.

The international system is coming apart, opening the way to anti-democratic forces.

Bye-bye, Reagan Conservatism. By Elias Isquith.

The president’s State of the Union pushed back on ’80s conservatism and ’90s neoliberalism – offering this instead.

“American Sniper” and the Culture Wars. By Andrew O’Hehir.

“American Sniper” and the culture wars: Why the movie’s not what you think it is. By Andrew O’Hehir. Salon, January 20, 2015.

Clint Eastwood’s huge heartland hit is flawed, contradictory and America-centric – but it’s not war propaganda.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Terrorism in Paris and Sydney the Legacy of Sykes-Picot. By Stephen Kinzer.

Terrorism in Paris, Sydney the legacy of colonial blunders. By Stephen Kinzer. Boston Globe, January 18, 2015.


“A LOT of the problems we are having to deal with now,” the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said a decade ago, “are a consequence of our colonial past.” That was a classic piece of diplomatic understatement. Wars in the Middle East, and their recent spillover in Sydney, Ottawa, and Paris, are the legacy of reckless colonial blunders. They teach us that although outside powers may be able to control faraway lands for a long time, the final reckoning is often tragic.

In 1921 the British diplomat and spy Gertrude Bell wrote that she was “dreadfully occupied in making kings and governments.” It all seemed quite romantic. Bell spoke Arabic, charmed sheiks, and could ride a camel for hours. Nicole Kidman plays her in a big-budget film scheduled for release later this year.

Bell was a key architect of the Sykes-Picot world, the Middle East that existed for much of the 20th century. Along with diplomats like Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot — who drew arbitrary lines creating new Arab countries after World War I — adventurers like T. E. Lawrence, and a handful of statesmen in London and Paris, she created the order that is now collapsing amid unfathomable violence. If a film about Bell had been made a generation ago, it might have been possible to give it a happy ending. Now she and her fellow colonialists may be seen as having created a long-fused time bomb whose explosion is shaking nations. The collapse of the Sykes-Picot order is the great geopolitical story of our age.

It is a mistake to see the various political and military conflicts now shaking the Middle East as isolated from each other. All are part of a broad struggle to shape a new map of the region. That map will look quite different from the one that Bell and her fellow imperialists bequeathed to us.

Some countries in the Middle East are doomed. They are unfortunate accidents of history. Lamentably, their collapse will take years, with an immense cost in human suffering.

Syria, which was created as a French protectorate, exists today only in name. Iraq, originally dominated by Britain, is likely to be the next to go. The way these countries were created — by outsiders concerned only with their own interests — all but guaranteed that they would ultimately collapse.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, Yemen is in deep turmoil. Bahrain is quiet only because its Sunni government has temporarily managed to suppress the Shiite majority. Even long-stable Oman may be in trouble after its ailing sultan passes from the scene.

Two small countries that also emerged from the imperial spasms of the 1920s, Lebanon and Jordan, may survive the coming years of war, but that is far from guaranteed. In the outer ring of the region, the long-term future of Libya is bleak, and Pakistan’s prospects are highly uncertain.

The most intriguing candidate for collapse is Saudi Arabia. For more than half a century Saudi leaders manipulated the United States by feeding our oil addiction, lavishing money on politicians, helping to finance American wars, and buying billions of dollars in weaponry from US companies. Now the sand is beginning to shift under their feet.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is in his 90s and ill. One of his half-brothers will likely succeed him, but that will be the end of the line for sons of the founding ruler, Ibn Saud. After that, a power struggle within the royal family is likely. No one can say how intense or violent it might become, but the prospect of crisis comes at an especially bad time. The region is afire and oil prices are plummeting. It would be foolish to bet that Saudi Arabia will exist in its current form a generation from now.

In a region full of fake, made-up countries, one Muslim power is sure to survive: Iran. It is the opposite of a fake country. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are less than a century old. Iran has existed — more or less within the same boundaries, with more or less the same language — for 2,500 years. Colonialists never managed to divide it, and it stands today as an island of stability in a volcanically unstable region.

The arrogance of Middle East colonialists is easy to see from the vantage point of history. Lawrence admitted before his death that they had made “clear mistakes.” Gertrude Bell wrote, “I’ll never engage in creating kings again; it’s too great a strain.” Neither could have foreseen the horror to which their decisions would lead. Today’s chaos is a result of their ignorant meddling. It is an object lesson for outsiders who today seek to shape the Middle East.