Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Europe’s Refugee Crisis Isn’t About Economics—It’s About Culture. By Robert W. Merry.

Europe’s Refugee Crisis Isn’t about Economics—It’s about Culture. By Robert W. Merry. The National Interest, November 4, 2015.


In discussions of immigration in America and Europe these days, the focus most often is on the economic impact. But fundamentally it is a question of culture, as it has been through history.

The New York Times featured a piece on November 3 by foreign correspondent Adam Nossiter, writing from Béziers, France. Béziers, Nossiter informs us, is the country’s “largest city under far-right control,” and he is intrigued by its mayor, Robert Ménard, once a “fearless defender of freedom of the press on four continents and a hero to free-speech advocates.” But now Ménard has turned against the influx of foreign immigrants flooding his city. He says he doesn’t want Béziers to become majority-Muslim, doesn’t want it to adopt a Muslim identity and doesn’t want it to lose its French heritage and sensibility. “This is a problem of numbers,” he says.

Given these sentiments, writes Nossiter, Ménard has become “a symbol of right-wing extremism in France.”

That’s a curious characterization, particularly in light of Nossiter’s suggestion elsewhere in his article that Ménard’s city is being watched by others throughout the country to determine if he represents a serious body of political sentiment. Nossiter quotes a university political scientist, who says that “Béziers could really become a political symbol.” In other words, Ménard’s anti-immigrant sensibility seems to be growing and could become a mainstream sentiment.

All this raises a question that doesn’t get asked without a bit of historical perspective and perhaps a commitment to evenhandedness. Nossiter doesn’t ask it. The question is: Why is it “right-wing extremism” when a person wants to preserve his cultural heritage, but not extremism when one wants to see it destroyed or is indifferent to its fate? What Nossiter’s piece lacks is any perspective on just what’s happening in Europe today, with a flood of immigrants that threatens to transform the continent and its Western heritage.

On the same day that Nossiter’s piece appeared, the Washington Post ran a front-page article headlined, “Tempted to close the doors: As migrant tide reaches a new high, pressure builds for Europe to seal its borders.” Included was a graph showing that 2015 migrant arrivals numbered 218,394, while arrivals thus far this year exceed 744,000. An official from tiny Slovenia reported, “We have received more than 100,000 migrants in just two weeks.” He explained that that number represented 5 percent of the country’s population.

But many of those migrants don’t want to stay in Slovenia, which is poor and where prospects for governmental largesse are small. They particularly want to get to Germany, which is rich and has a national leader (for now) who has laid down a welcome mat. Just in the last nine months, Germany has taken in 500,000 immigrants, according to the Post story. For the year, this will likely approach 700,000. A comparable influx into the United States would be nearly 2.8 million. Does anyone doubt that such an influx here in such a brief time would spur a major backlash?

Of course, the backlash would generate allegations of “right-wing extremism” and even racism from the country’s liberals. But is it really racism or extremism to want to protect your national borders, or prevent the societal and cultural chaos that ensues when the flows of immigration swamp a society’s absorption capacity? It seems that, for the nation’s elites, the answer to that question is yes. There doesn’t seem to be any level of immigration that raises concerns on the part of some of these people.

But the hinterland view is something else again. In the United States, the elite media can’t understand how such a crude figure as Donald Trump could be getting the poll numbers that, so far in the presidential campaign, have buoyed his candidacy. But part of the answer is that he has tapped into this concern on the part of people who don’t consider themselves racists or extremists and who resent being characterized as such.

They know instinctively what the elites wish to ignore—namely, that a very large part of world history is the story of invasions and migrations, and that it often isn’t so easy to tell the difference between them. It is also the story of resistance to invasions and migrations. Consider the Great Wall of China, built in various stages over centuries to protect the core Chinese civilization from massive numbers of nomadic tribesmen from the Eurasian Steppes.

Europe has been under serious threat from Islam on three occasions. The surge of religious fervor unleashed by Mohammed in the seventh century led to a territorial explosion in succeeding decades, as Islam took over the entire Middle East, then pushed up through Spain under Moorish auspices, and crossed into France by 732. That’s when a European force under Charles Martel defeated the Moors at the Battle of Tours and began a centuries-long pushback, culminating with the Moors being expelled from Spain in 1492.

It’s worth pondering: What would have been the fate of Western civilization had the Islamic forces defeated Charles and overrun the European heartland? What would have happened to the slow Western development through what Will Durant called the Age of Faith, then the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the emergence of capitalism and liberal democracy, flying buttresses of the Gothic cathedrals, the art of the Dutch Masters with their use of light and shadow to bust through space and time, the advent of soaring Western music, the Romantic poets and great novelists, the global expansion, and all the grand triumphs and tributes to the human experience that came also, inevitably, with the downside of abuse that always seems to be part of the human story?

Perhaps the answer is: Who cares? That seems to be the answer of many in the West these days. But that is not the sentiment of a healthy and robust civilization.

Eight centuries after Charles Martel’s victory saved Europe, the great Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to Vienna, in what many historians believe was part of a design to take Europe. Already the Ottomans had taken the Balkans and for a century had been moving up the Danube, conquering central Hungary and Transylvania. Suleiman’s failure to take Vienna in 1529 represented the Ottoman high point in Europe, and when a subsequent siege in 1683 also failed, that expansive empire began a slow, inexorable decline, culminating in the total Ottoman collapse with World War I.

But the impact upon Europeans was to last for centuries. “The Turks ruined the Balkans,” wrote Dame Rebecca West in her magisterial book on the Balkans, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, “with a ruin so great that it has not yet been repaired.” The terrible bloodshed in the region during the 1990s can be traced back to the Ottoman disruptions upon European soil starting in the fourteenth century.

In discussions of immigration in America and Europe these days, the focus most often is on the economic impact, the question of whether there are enough schools, the burden upon the welfare state or whether wages will decline. Sometimes it turns to fears of crime attending the influx of people with no resources. But fundamentally it is a question of culture, as it has been through history.

For some reason, the elites of the West don’t want to see it that way, and they are well positioned to label those who do as extremists or racists. That’s essentially the Adam Nossiter outlook, as reflected in the tone and slant of his Times piece. But in Europe now, as likely in America some years from now, this represents a crisis of the first order. And the people will demand of their governments that the crisis be addressed. That’s the significance of Robert Ménard and his town of Béziers, France.

Donald Trump, American Nationalist. By Colin Dueck.

Donald Trump, American Nationalist. By Colin Dueck. The National Interest, November 3, 2015.


Donald Trump’s real niche, carved out in his own strange way, is simply American nationalism. And this is a powerful force among Republicans.

In the Republican presidential race, while Donald Trump’s star has faded a little , he continues to lead nationally in most polls. To be sure, he is not going to be president. Trump is more of a circus barker than a plausible commander-in-chief. But his continued polling success should indicate something about his appeal that observers from both parties would best understand. And partly, believe it or not, this has to do with U.S. foreign policy.

Trump has staked out a combination of foreign policy positions that leave him with a distinct niche, however unwelcome to elite opinion. He opposes free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and favors draconian punishments for illegal immigrants. He says it’s time to get tough with China and Japan on trade—and “beat Mexico,” while we’re at it. He supports a strong U.S. military, including increased defense spending. He claims to have opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He declares that America has little to show for its years of intervention within the Middle East, and suggests that if Vladimir Putin wants to engage more deeply in Syria, he’s welcome to it. In fact Trump says he could get along very well with the Russian leader. At the same time, Trump favors a much more aggressive U.S.-backed campaign against the Islamic State.

Obviously Trump is neither a liberal internationalist nor a conservative one. His critics call him an isolationist, but that’s not quite right either. Genuine isolationists on both left and right, however wrong-headed, tend to be more high-minded, principled and pristine than The Donald. Trump’s real niche, carved out in his own strange way, is simply American nationalism. And this is a powerful force among Republicans.

As I describe in my book The Obama Doctrine, the Republican Party is today divided between three main foreign policy impulses. The first is conservative internationalism, the belief that the United States should be active and engaged overseas, militarily, economically and diplomatically. The second is conservative or libertarian isolationism, favoring strict avoidance of foreign wars, reductions in defense spending and cuts in U.S. bases and alliances overseas. The third impulse is conservative nationalism—and this is where Trump has found his not inconsiderable niche.

Conservative nationalists in the Obama era are deeply skeptical regarding the benefits of U.S. foreign aid, nation-building and multilateral humanitarian interventions. At the same time, GOP nationalists continue to favor bolstered armed forces and an unyielding stance toward America’s adversaries overseas. They oppose diplomatic concessions to hostile dictatorships and favor robust counterterrorism. Internationally, they favor sticks, not carrots.

Historically, conservative nationalists used to vote Democrat. Based in the Southern, Western and Greater Appalachian white working class, these anti-establishment voters were drawn to FDR’s economic populism, even as they backed muscular foreign policies under his Democratic successors, from Truman to LBJ. The left turn taken by the Democrats on cultural, fiscal and national security issues by the 1970s alienated this constituency and encouraged them to become Reagan Democrats. Now, after seven years of Barack Obama, they are simply Republican—and while often derided as a shrinking demographic nationwide, in fact, within the GOP they’re as important as ever.

After 9/11, conservative nationalists were entirely on board for the war on terror announced by President George W. Bush, and they remained staunch supporters of his to the end. In the Obama era, however, they became far more skeptical of the benefits of well-intended pro-democracy interventions within the Middle East. When convinced of a real security threat, as with ISIS, conservative nationalists are still as ready to fight as anyone. They believe that reputation matters, and that weakness invites aggression. In a word, they are hawks. But where the case for intervention seems abstract or convoluted, they have become considerably more cautious.

Conservative nationalists matter in 2016, especially in the coming GOP primaries, because they form something like a plurality among Republican voters today. The numerical weight of strict non-interventionists at the grassroots level is often overestimated by outsiders, and has certainly been reduced over the last year or so as international threats appear to gather. Conservative internationalists, for their part, have historically taken the lead in Republican foreign policy, and their numbers by comparison are often underestimated. But it is the third group, conservative nationalists, that form the median within the GOP today on the issue of foreign policy, and they will certainly help to determine the next Republican nominee. So it might be worth at least listening to what conservative nationalists have to say, even though they are sometimes mistaken, because they can smell elite disrespect from a mile away—and will punish it.

Which brings us back to The Donald. To say that Trump is a flawed representative of the conservative nationalist persuasion would be a gross understatement. For one thing, there is nothing in his background to suggest he’s even a genuine conservative, or that he has any principled commitment to limited government as a governing philosophy. Where most candidates try to offer at least some semblance of a program, The Donald simply offers… himself. Just put him in charge, he winks, and all your problems will be solved. This is not any kind of true conservatism. It’s Tom Sawyer, trying to get the other kids to paint the fence while paying him for the privilege.

Trump’s foreign policy statements are a similar collection of trickeries, as soon as you get into any detail. If you watch him during TV debates or interviews, it soon becomes obvious that much of the time he literally does not know what he’s talking about. His idea of foreign policy preparation is apparently to read through press clippings regarding himself. He blurts out applause lines with enough force to cheer his supporters, and taps into deep resentments with considerable showmanship. But when asked to go beyond the most superficial one-liners, he becomes hostile, defensive, contradictory and confused. It’s the political equivalent of Tourette syndrome: instead of serious conversation from The Donald, we get explosive tics.

Even if Trump offered intelligent, well-informed ideas on foreign policy issues from his chosen position, the conservative nationalist impulse would still not be adequate in itself. Strict nationalists tend, for example, to underestimate the value of America’s unparalleled alliance system. The great need today isn’t to “beat” core allies such as Mexico and Japan, while working with Vladimir Putin. On the contrary, the urgent need is to constrain aggressors such as Putin, while supporting core U.S. allies like Mexico and Japan. Nationalists also tend to underestimate the utility of U.S. foreign policy carrots such as foreign aid and trade agreements. If the United States is going to engage overseas, as it sometimes must, then it really will need to utilize non-military foreign policy instruments more effectively than Obama has done. Trump offers no plausible proposals on any of these matters. His protectionist, anti-immigrant stance, combined with his own sheer ignorance on the issues, takes a flawed foreign policy strain and makes it even worse.

Historically, the GOP’s nationalist impulse has been most effective and beneficial when integrated into a broader Republican coalition under conservative leadership that is fundamentally constructive, forward-looking and prepared to actually govern this country. The obvious example is Ronald Reagan. Today however, the party’s nationalist strain has turned in a sour, cramped and defeatist direction, describing the United States of America—in Trump’s exact words—as a “hellhole.” Trump compares himself to Ronald Reagan, but it is impossible to imagine Reagan talking or thinking in this way.

It should go without saying that if nominated, which is very unlikely, the obnoxious, unwelcoming, and adolescent posture struck by Trump would be defeated by Hillary Clinton next fall, and badly. The ultimate loser would then be conservatives, since Clinton would be empowered to implement another four years of liberal policies following on Obama’s.

Having said all this, Trump isn’t wrong about absolutely everything, and neither are his supporters.

For one thing, he seems to be having a good time. Policy wonks tend to miss the attraction of this. Voters don’t want a candidate who views their support as a tiresome obligation.

More importantly, by whatever route, Trump has bluntly expressed a few key truths about American foreign policy today, and his supporters know it. When Trump says that the U.S. doesn’t seem to win wars anymore, that we need to rebuild our military, that we’re not defeating ISIS, that the Iran nuclear deal is a disaster and that America is less respected by its adversaries under President Obama, he’s not wrong. Nor is he wrong to point out the painfully half-baked nature of so many U.S. interventions during recent years. These views are all shared by conservative nationalists, and they’re an accurate description of international realities in the Obama era.

The GOP’s conservative nationalists may be wrong to undervalue foreign policy carrots, but they’re right to say we need sticks. Any serious national security policy will utilize and integrate the two better than Obama has done.

The Republican candidate that can best recognize, incorporate and articulate what’s right about conservative nationalism, while leaving behind what’s currently wrong with it, will not only win the Republican nomination: they will deserve to win it.

It just won’t be Donald Trump.

What the Palestinians Think Matters. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

What the Palestinians Think Matters. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, November 2, 2015.

What Do Palestinians Want? By Daniel Polisar. Mosaic, November 2, 2015.


On Saturday night, speaking at the memorial for Yitzhak Rabin twenty years after his murder, Bill Clinton challenged Israelis by telling them “it is up to you” to decide whether there would be peace with the Palestinians. As I noted yesterday, this was a remarkably obtuse statement from the former president. He has spent the last 15 years complaining that it was Yasir Arafat that robbed him of a Nobel Peace Prize by refusing an Israeli offer of statehood and peace. Nowhere in his speech or in the remarks delivered by President Obama via a video was there a mention of the fact that it had been the decisions of the Palestinians that blocked each attempt to broker a compromise over the course of the last century. Indeed, most of those who speak about the conflict never even consider what it is that the Palestinians are thinking as they focus solely on attempts to try and force Israel to make concessions that might enable peace.

The dynamic of the process has always been like this as, in effect, Israel has tried with a predictable lack of success to make peace by itself. An answer to the sort of tunnel vision that Clinton exhibited would be if someone sought to clarify exactly what it is that the Palestinians think about peace, terrorism, or Israel and the Jews in order to see whether the concessions demanded of Israel would solve the problem

But now someone has done just that. Shalem College’s Daniel Polisar has written an analysis of Palestinian public opinion for Mosaic Magazine. He studied over 330 surveys taken of Palestinians by the four major Palestinian research institutes over the course of the last two decades. As he notes, the four bodies have different points of view and are independent of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas as well as that of Israel. Taken as a whole, their results provide a statistically significant sample of Palestinian beliefs on key issues about the peace process. As such, his findings published today ought to be must-reading for anyone who cares about the future of the Middle East. More to the point, the results should inform the policy decisions being made by the United States as the Obama administration prepares for what may be a final drive for a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Some elements of this study are, to a certain extent, understandable. After a century of conflict, nobody should expect the Palestinians to love Jews or Israel. Nor is it particularly surprising that they tend to blame Israel for all their problems, even those that are the function of internal politics and disputes, such as those between the Fatah that runs the PA in the West Bank and the Hamas rulers of Gaza. Though it is disconcerting, it should also not shock anyone that Palestinians tend to think of Israel as always being in the wrong or that it starts wars and deliberately targets civilians, even if the demonstrable truth is just the opposite. The willingness to see the enemy in a war as always in the wrong is not an exclusively Palestinian trait.

But when it comes to specifics and general attitudes toward Jews and Israel, Palestinian opinion goes further than that. Indeed, among the most puzzling of Polisar’s findings are those that require the Palestinians to ignore obvious political facts about Israel that they are in a position to know are not true.

For example, survey after survey shows that Palestinians think most Israelis oppose a two-state solution when, if they are paying any attention to Israeli TV, to which many, if not most of them have access, they would know that just the opposite is true. The same goes for the dispute about Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the issue that has been the focus of recent violence. Only a tiny minority of Palestinians thinks Israel will preserve the status quo there that discriminates against Jews visiting Judaism’s holiest spot even though Israel has not changed it and has preserved it for 48 years.

Even crazier is the finding that shows that at least three out of five Palestinians actually think Israelis plan to annex all of the territories of the West Bank and Gaza and then expel their Arab inhabitants as well as the nearly 20 percent of the Israeli population that is Arab. Were they paying the least attention to the Israelis, they would know that such views are the preserve of a tiny minority of Israeli Jews and that those who advocate it are not allowed in the Knesset.

Basic attitudes about Jews that come through in polls of Palestinians are sobering. Large majorities think Jews are violent, clever, and untrustworthy; a compilation of nasty beliefs that match up with traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes.

That is unfortunate, but Palestinians might be able to compromise with Jews even if they didn’t like them. The surveys also show how their beliefs serve, however, as the foundations of a conflict that may not be solved by a rational deal.

As Polisar writes, more than 70 percent of Palestinians deny any historic ties between the Jews and any part of the country, let alone Jerusalem. No survey ever taken of Palestinian opinion has ever shown that a majority of respondents accepted a division of Jerusalem that would allow them to claim a part of it as their capital. Since that is the concessions that most of the world believes must be forced on the Israelis, it’s not hard to see why Israelis who see these results would think such a move wouldn’t bring peace.

Indeed, taken in aggregate, the polls show that 80 percent of Palestinians believe Jews have no right to any part of the country, inside or outside the 1967 lines. A two-state solution seems like the rational response to this situation. But once we understand that Palestinians would view even the most generous partition as an injustice, there is no reason to believe such a deal would end the conflict.

Faith in the efficacy of a two-state solution is also undermined when you read that three-quarters of Palestinians think Israel will disappear in the next 30 to 40 years. That is a belief that is inextricably tied to the notion that they will continue the war for its destruction even after a theoretical peace deal is signed.

Nor can peace advocates take any comfort from the fact that overwhelming majorities of Palestinians believe that violence against Israelis is not only necessary but praiseworthy in virtually every circumstance. Indeed, not even the most despicable of crimes aimed deliberately at innocent civilians — such as the suicide bombing at the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv in 2002 that killed 21 young Israelis out dancing — can even be called terrorism. Just as bad is the fact that Palestinians don’t just avoid condemning such acts but find them praiseworthy. Huge majorities think terrorists who kill Jews are heroes worthy of great honor, a stance that is validated by the actions of the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority.

And lest Americans think this bloodthirsty attitude is restricted to Israeli Jews, they should also note that Polisar finds that a majority of Palestinians also think the 9/11 attacks were not terrorism. A solid 60 percent also thinks attacks on Americans are justified anywhere.

What conclusions can we draw from Polisar’s work?

The fact that Palestinians feel this way doesn’t mean that peace is not a laudable goal. Moreover, even when advocates of Israeli concessions admit that the Palestinians have turned down peace and continue to support hate, they still think Israel can change their minds with sufficient kindness.

But the numbers pour cold water on the nonsensical optimism of the peace processers who keep telling us compromise is possible. As much as it would be nice to think it was so, Palestinians attitudes toward peace, terrorism, and the existence of Israel have not changed for the better in the last generation. More importantly, nothing Israel has done, whether it was signing Oslo and granting the PA control of much of the territories or even the complete withdrawal from Gaza, convinced them that Israel wanted peace.

As Polisar points out, the Temple Mount dispute is a case in point. For 48 years, the Israelis have tried appeasement of Muslim sensibilities there, even to the point of enforcing rules against Jewish prayer on the Mount. But Palestinians, whipped up by hate speech and incitement from their leaders who have played the same cynical game for generations, still believe the worst of the Jews.

To the contrary, such actions seem to have only solidified Palestinian belief in Israel’s eventual destruction. That majorities of Israelis have always supported compromise only seems to convince them that the Jews lack conviction and will eventually be defeated.

Polisar’s study shows that those who think Israel can decide on peace are not paying attention to the Palestinians. Only when their attitudes shift will peace be possible. Though I doubt President Obama will take Mosaic’s findings to heart, anyone who thinks seriously about the peace process should read them.