Donald Trump – Prescript

Donald Trump – Prescript

by

Howard Adelman

Tom Friedman, a leading columnist at the New York Times, has suggested the Republicans should have gone into bankruptcy protection instead of allowing Donald Trump to succeed in his unfriendly takeover of the party. For the GOP had become morally bankrupt. It had allowed Tea Party extremists to dictate a non-engagement in the politics of dialogue and compromise in favour of political blackmail and extremist rhetoric. Existing representatives who did not toe the extremist line were attacked mercilessly in primaries.

The Republican Party had become a movement intolerant of dissent and differences, whether the issue was gun control, climate change or the nuclear deal with Iran. It is now reaping what it has sown. This was a direct challenge to Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, who declared that Donald Trump is “not going to change the Republican Party” or “the basic philosophy of the party.” Ironically, he may have been correct because the GOP no longer seems to have a basic philosophy.

It once did. It was a party that stood for fiscal conservatism, that is, only spend what you take in from taxes and try to reduce the tax burden, But Ronald Reagan destroyed that trademark, though the principle continued to persist rhetorically. Conservatives, especially Ronald Reagan, were committed to Pax Americana and America as the leading policeman of the world, George W. Bush practiced the principle in excess and destroyed the brand. Trump has buried that principle for he believes in bludgeoning allies and not just retreating from alliances, in making deals and toadying up to tyrants in a world sewn together by money rather than trust and relationships that promote security and world order. Conservatives were committed to limited government and emphasized individual liberty; Donald Trump has demonstrated that he respects might and bullying not rights and respect. Further, he has openly advocated spying and reporting on neighbours you regard with suspicion. If people do not do this, they should be penalized.

The GOP was committed to moral conservativism, upholding traditional values and reinforcing the centrality of the family as the core of Republican virtues. Narcissism is not a conservative virtue. Competing for boasting rights is not a conservative virtue. Donald Trump with his irreverence for any establishment, with his shatter gun attacks on individuals, with his appeals to fear rather than any sense of honour or dignity, with his malicious malignancy, is in the process of incinerating this last foundation of Republican conservatism. Donald Trump is the dancing champion of all champions, a Muhammad Ali, but of mendacity rather than courage and truth.

Now fiscal and traditional conservatives have a hard time grasping and even supporting Donald Trump as their presumptive candidate, someone who attacks both free trade and minorities with his populist ethnic nationalism – or really, anti-ethnic nationalism – while promoting a foreign policy that, at one and the same time, lauds a strengthened America but agrees with President Obama that America should abandon its role as the world’s policeman as he encourages nations in troubled areas to assume responsibility for their own self-defence. Together, Donald Trump and Barack Obama have destroyed the vision of Pax Americana that has governed American foreign policy for the last sixty years. Obama preaches the policy cautiously. Trump does so recklessly, but even then few notable Republicans – Mitt Romney and David Johnson, an Iowa state senator – can be counted among the few exceptions to show the emperor has no clothes.

But the largest acts of self-destruction have come in domestic policy as a blowback from President Bush’s invasion of Iraq as a response to the 9/11 Islamic extremist terrorist attacks on American soil. A news item published by Arutz Sheva this morning (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/213567#.V1-1J_krJyE) was headlined, “Canadian PM ignores Islamic identity of Orlando shooter.” It began, “Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an official statement condemning the ‘mass shooting’ in Orlando, but avoided mentioning the fact that the terrorist was a devout Muslim who apparently had ties to terrorist organizations.” Of course, it is not a fact that Omar Mateen was a devout Muslim, though he did attend his local mosque fairly regularly. Interviews with friends and acquaintances on CNN indicated that, in many senses, he did not seem to be devout at all. Further, it is also not a fact that he had ties to terrorist organizations, even though he declared his loyalty to ISIS and ISIS took responsibility for the slaughter. The Orlando investigation thus far suggests that there is, “No clear evidence that he was directed externally.” Early indications point in the direction that he was a lone wolf, perhaps inspired by radical Islam, but a definitive answer will await the full investigation.

Trudeau called the attack a “domestic terror attack targeting the LGBTQ community.” It was domestic in two senses. The attack took place on American soil rather than overseas. The attacker was born in the U.S. By avoiding the reference to Islam (both Trudeau and Obama), these leaders want to avoid the equation of terrorism with Islam and reinforce the view that the vast majority of Muslims are law abiding citizens. Their message also has a foreign policy dimension. They both recognize that both Muslim moderates and Muslim dissidents who aspire to achieve democracy and rights for millions of Muslims offer the best defence against Islamic extremists. Dissidents and moderates only desire to practice their faith without being threatened by non-Muslims who would paint the whole community with an extremist brush. The same members of the Muslim community do not want to be led down the pathway of destruction of both their community and fellow-citizens by bowing before the dictates of Muslim fanatics.

Even though I do not avoid the phrase, “Islamic radicals,” I understand why a political leader might do so, particularly when one candidate for the presidency of the United States blatantly justifies keeping all Muslims out of the United States because some are terrorists and, even more, insists that Omar Mateen was foreign-born in spite of the widespread news already out that he was born in New York. He also promotes neighbour surveillance of Muslims. As Michael Oren, a current Kulanu member of the Knesset and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., has said, the LGBTQ club massacre will be used to strengthen and reinforce Donald Trump’s anti-Islam message even though the LGBTQ movement and Muslim organizations were allies in fighting bigotry and hatred in Orlando.

Yet Trump used his twitter postings to reinforce the threat of Islamic immigration because it could permit Islamic terrorists to get into the U.S. In doing so, he attracts the support of leftists like George Galloway in Britain, who calls Trump a monster but declares Hillary Clinton to be the bigger monster. Trump also attracts rightists like Donald Duke in the U.S., who is less ambivalent than Galloway in his praise. Both Galloway and Duke, like Trump, are strong supporters of the big lie and the politics of fear.

When Begin and Shamir (both future Prime Minsters) were very active terrorists in attacking the British in Palestine in 1947, how would you feel if international news organizations referred to those events as acts of “Jewish terrorism”? And some did describe them that way at the time. Shamir’s men even killed the Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN-appointed mediator, on the grounds that they believed (erroneously as it turned out) that he was a British spy. Begin and Shamir they were right-wing terrorists who happened to be Jewish, not Jewish terrorists.

The question of equating a larger group as a whole (Muslims, Arabs, Jews) with terrorism because of the actions of a few became acute for me in a discussion I had Sunday morning with a very old friend when I attended a Bat Mitzvah on Shavuot. She (this old friend) responded to a remark made by my beginning an attack on Trump’s position. It quickly became apparent that this individual might be a strong Trump supporter. She certainly seemed sympathetic to his plan to ban entry to the U.S. of Muslims and expressed her deep worry that Muslims, who have been brought up and taught to hate Jews according to her, would pose a dire threat over the long run to the Jewish community in the future. Even if most members of the Muslim community were not terrorists themselves, she might admit, it seemed that she was also sympathetic to Trump’s actions and strategy of reinforcing fear.

Trump claimed that, although many people thought the Orlando mass murderer was freaky, “They knew that something like this would happen. The Muslim community does not report these people.” The immigration of Muslim refugees into the US is described by Trump as the “all-time Trojan horse.” Trump blasted local Muslim leaders for not exposing “bad apples” with inclinations towards radicalism. “They don’t report these people,” said Trump during an interview on Fox News. “The people know who the bad apples are, where the bad seeds are. And they don’t report them.”

The fact is that the FBI investigated Omar Mateen at least twice and, given current U.S. law, could not even prevent him acquiring an assault rifle. This simple fact was a matter of indifference to Trump. He still supports current gun legislation and, instead, would take away the rights of law-abiding Muslims and Muslim foreigners. Trump insisted, “Believe me, the community recognizes the people that have the potential to explode.” Why anyone would believe Donald Trump given his record of serial lying is almost beyond understanding. The evidence thus far indicates that a few acquaintances did recognize Mateen’s explosive and angry personality, but never linked that with potential terrorism. Perhaps more data will come out in the investigation that might alter this initial judgement, but so far the investigation offers no evidence to support Donald Trump’s claims.

The only fact that seems absolutely clear is that even before the victims of America’s worst mass shooting have been buried, a war has broken out over how to understand and narrate what happened. The act was an expression of Muslim radicals. The other camp, “The attack seemed to be an attack by a deranged individual who happened to be Muslim and referred to radical Islamicists to justify his actions. He certainly seemed to have harboured a long-standing antipathy towards the gay community. And it is not clear whether or not he was possibly at war with his own repressed homosexual proclivities.

After all, there have been radical Islamic-inspired attacks, such as the slaughter in San Bernardino last December in which two radicalized Muslims murdered 14 civilians. On the other hand, of the 155 mass shootings in America this year alone, the overwhelming number have been killings by a lone gunman with easy access to automatic weapons and with no connections to Islam. But somehow the shooting in Orlando is claimed as falling into a totally separate category from the attack on school children in Newton, Connecticut. Or the attack by a white racist, Dylan Root, on a Black southern church, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, a young white racist who, coincidentally was arraigned yesterday.

Most observers agree that the attack served the Trump campaign, reinforcing his narrative in spite of it being based on outright lies. At the very least, it took the heat away from Trump because of his outlandish criticisms of a judge of Mexican heritage, Gonzalo Curiel, who was in charge of a trial of fraud, breach of contract, negligent representation and bad faith of the now defunct Trump University, all of which charges could be directed at Donald Trump himself. Was Trump going on the attack to deflect possible deeper criticism of his shenanigans? There was virtually no chance that the judge could or would be removed.

Rasmea Odeh is a Palestinian being tried for immigration fraud because she had not included in her application for immigration that she had been charged with terrorism and spent time in an Israeli jail. She tried to get Paul Berman, the Jewish judge assigned to her case, removed because of presumed bias. Of course, on the principle of judicial independence and the principle of impartiality he was not. Nor will Curiel be removed. In Donald Trump’s logic, no judge of any background or any ethnicity or any decent belief should be able to try him given his shotgun approach to those who disagree with him. Any judge who belonged to a group could be accused of bias against him given that his attacks have been so wide. A woman judge, on his logic, could not try him. Certainly no Hispanic judge could. If he goes on with his political campaign founded on insult, he could make himself immune to any prosecution – which may have been his forlorn hope all along.

Thomas Friedman had written that, “Today’s G.O.P. is to governing what Trump University is to education – an ethically challenged enterprise that enriches and perpetuates itself by shedding all pretense of standing for real principles, or a truly relevant value perspective, and instead plays on the ignorance and fears of the public.” The Republican party’s mess of incoherent policies bear no relationship to “where the world is going or how America actually becomes great again in the 21st century.” As such, Donald Trump is the appropriate standard bearer.

Did the massacre in Orlando serve to stem the outflow of Conservatives who could no longer stomach the idea of voting for someone so antithetical to both the value of truth and the U.S. constitutional provisions protecting human rights, to a candidate so utterly ignorant of foreign policy and so racist in his mentality? House Speaker Paul Ryan, a presumptive supporter of Trump, admitted as much although Trump may perhaps not be racist in his practices. Nevertheless, his proposals to erect walls to protect America are so impractical that they could only be offered as metaphors for stirring up fear. For Trump, in the aftermath of Orlando, there was no sympathy expressed for the victims, only news that he had been supposedly prescient while insisting that it did not matter whether he was right. The incident “proved” the need to make America strong again. The leaps in illogic are impossible to fathom.

There is no reason to separate Omar Mateen’s motives and determine whether his actions were propelled by Islamic extremism or by hatred of gays. (His father: Omer’s rage was excited when he observed two men kissing – he would have observed many given his frequent visits to the Pulse Club. In either case, it does not matter whether the prime motive was radical Islam and/or his attraction/revulsion toward the gay community. The reality is that there is no need to choose between the two motives since ISIS throws suspected gays off rooftops.

It was very noticeable that Hillary Clinton called Mateen’s crime a “terror” attack and not a hate crime as she tacks right to cut off Donald Trump, just as she tacked left to cut off Bernie Sanders and, thereby, added weight to the distrust directed at her.

Donald Trump now claims he is the only candidate trying to protect gays and that he is the best friend gays could ever have because he is committed to protecting them as Americans. Almost all gays seem not to have taken this bait and continue to recognize that any attack on any minority is a threat to them. First the Muslims. Then Mexicans. Then gays. And then once again Jews? The failure to recognize the latter is an important part of my distress at my old friend’s sympathy for Trump’s Muslim exclusionary rhetoric at the Bat Mitzvah.

Of course, the real fear is of any minority being attacked and maligned because of the behaviour of some. This does not mean that the behaviour of the small number of mass murderers that are Islamic has no connection with Islam any more than the claim that Begin’s and Shamir’s acts had nothing to do with Judaism or Jews as an ethnic group. Of course they did. So do the slaughters of radical Islamicists. But a whole community should not be singled out because of the acts of a few. With the many ethnic slurs, Trump attacked the new Islamic mayor of London, who, coincidentally, happens to be a friend and supporter of the British Jewish community. Canada’s best current mayor, Naheed Nenshi in Calgary, could be Trump’s next target.

In the pre-WWI period, when there were very large numbers of Jewish immigrants, President Theodore Roosevelt welcomed them with open arms. One hundred years later, the Twenty-First Century began with so much optimism. The era quickly went down the wrong path with the Iraq War and with the near collapse of the American economy. America tried to reverse consolidating that misguided route. However, as the candidate for the Republican Party assaults the fundamental values of pluralism and immigration, of democracy and the rule of law, of free trade and America’s responsibility to and for the global world, one does not so much fear extremist Muslims as fear for America.

With the help of Alex Zisman

great post

Charles

t’s also worth recalling that the Russian pogroms that sent those thousands of Jews to Teddy Roosevelt and Clifford Sifton’s arms were justified by Tsarist authorities as retaliations against “Jewish terrorists” who happened to be anarchists after the assassination of Alexander II. One of the accomplices, Gesya Gelfman, was born in a Jewish home. True. The rest were self-identified atheists (as was Gelfman). That did not stop the wanton anti-Semitism.

Then, when Jewish self-defense organizations started to pop up, Alexander III unleashed three years of sustained assault, especially in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Jewish leaders in Berlin, London, and Paris were slow to speak out — for fear that they would draw out more anti-Semitism in the Pale and at home. Eventually they did speak. But it took time, and what they said was often muted.

Things got even worse in 1903 — with the same cycle: blame Jews as terrorists so you can rape, slaughter, and remove them. When they try to defend themselves, mow them down. In public, before shooting squads if at all possible.

October 17, 1905, Tsar’s Nicholas II “Manifesto” unleashed even more reprisals, especially where Jews worked in factories and ports, as the government used the promises to reform as cover to restore order with a mailed fist.

At a Bat Mitzvah, this history should be told.

Jeremy

Dear Howard I read your article very carefully. I recently spent some time in the USA and took part in many Current events discussions. I have never seen the United States so divided. Whether we like it or not, every attack in the US gives Trump another Million Voters. During the few month I spent there, I noticed a definite change from a huge lead by Hillary to almost even. The real problem —the American public has to choose the lesser of two evils. I was asked to speak several times and people asked why are you as a Canadian interested in the US elections. My answer? Whoever Sits in The White house is not only The president of the United States, but should also be the Leader of the Free World. This has not been the case. Leaders cannot lead from behind. That is one of the reasons why TRUMP is now so popular. Every new attack on the USA will help Trump and almost make it certain, like it or not, that Trump will be President of The United States. My best wishes

Martin

Everything Howard says I can agree with and we have heard political analysts who have said the same thing…at times in more detail of Trump’s quotes and Hillary’s change of tactics. But when I come to the last line…”fear for America”, I feel a sense of rejecting that notion. In the darkest of times, war, civil war and untold challenges to civil rights and a great Depression, there have been those who spelled doom and gloom that America could never recover or even survive. True, there are people…Americans….who doubted before and doubt again the survival of the principles that founded America, that the experiment was or is coming to be over in failure, that collapse was and is imminent. And that “fear for America” seems justified to be considered as real. I totally disagree.

This country has an inherent will to survive. A stubborn, illogical sense not to surrender. A steadfast faith with no evidence to make it so that faith in the unique, complicated system, and faith in the founders who still live in the ideas and principles, will endure. That this optimism I state here can see its darkest days, true, but there will always be the faith that it will survive and prosper and inherently lead the world as a light in the dark…not for countries but for mankind to be free. So we must fight enemies from abroad and fight enemies from within over and over again and again….as if to redefine and prove it again and again…to prove the idea of America.

All this optimism….all this blind faith….all this intangible stand for the right against the wrong….is built into the fiber of this country. And so we will win. If ISIS attacks again and again…we will find a way to win. If Trump is elected and in his insanity works to unravel the character of this country…we will find a way to restore and have it be right again. And to win is to shut the door on threats. To win is to discover ourselves and like to establish a course, a foundation…to debate again the meaning of this idea…this country called America.

So the last line of Howard’s dissertation…..should not be fear, but a path to rebirth that is inevitable.

Robert and Wendell

The Iran Nuclear Deal and Iranian Radicals

The Iran Nuclear Deal and Iranian Radicals

by

Howard Adelman

On 5 May 2016 at noon at Massey College at the University of Toronto, Professor Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, a Professor of History and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the university, gave a talk entitled, “The Iran Deal and the End of the Iranian Revolutionary Radicalism.” The talk was not about the terms of the deal itself, upon which I have written a great deal, but rather on the far more important topic, the significance of the deal as an indicator of the current stage of the Iranian revolution and the implications on both domestic policy within Iran and on international relations.

Mohamad’s most important book has been Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism and Historiography (2001). In it, he described the unique historical cultural and religious heritage of Iran, in contrast to the imposition of Western imperialist influences. In the journal, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (23:1&2, 2003, Nasrin Rahimieh described the scholarship in the book as “a remarkable work of historiography and an original analysis of Iranian cultural history” by challenging the Euro-centred concept of modernity and the widespread intellectual conviction that the spirit of inquiry, rationalism and scientific discovery can be traced exclusively to the European Enlightenment. In Mohamad’s thesis, the Enlightenment itself was influenced in its development by a dialectical relationship with the East, in particular, the Middle East, which facilitated the refashioning of the cultural revolution underway in Europe and the emergence of a new conception of self epitomized by the Enlightenment.

True to that spirit of exploring the interaction of East and West, Mohamad began his lecture with the depiction of the confluence of two streams, the final stage of the Iranian revolution and America’s historical withdrawal from its self-defined role as spreading democracy to the rest of the world. On the latter, it is noteworthy that former Vice-President Dick Cheney, a prime author of the military intervention in Iraq, on Friday endorsed Donald Trump as the standard bearer of the Republican Party, the very same Trump who has repeatedly denounced that intervention as America’s biggest foreign policy mistake and who has championed an America First policy that requires America to surrender its role as policeman of the world. This is also the same presidential candidate who repeatedly knocks the Iran nuclear deal as the “worst deal ever” while revealing he knows very little about its terms.

Three months ago, as Trump campaigned in the New Hampshire primary, he was interviewed by Anderson Cooper for CNN where he put on full display his total ignorance about the contents of that agreement and his absolute lack of credentials to be the leader of the free world. Trump boasted as usual that he is “the best deal-maker ever,” “the best negotiator ever,” while revealing gross misrepresentations of the deal and the process that lead to it. As Trump mis-described the terms, he claimed that America was paying Iran $150 billion to sign the deal. In reality, the UN was lifting the sanctions that blocked Iran from using $50 billion (not $150 billion) of its own money. America had been the main initiator and the most important enforcer of the sanctions, but in no rational world could the release of Iran’s own money be described as the U.S. giving Iran that money to sign the deal. Yet this blustering braggart went on to win, or is on the verge of winning, the Republican nomination to run for President on the absolutely unique campaign of presenting himself as a victim of the “establishment” and a heroic one person saviour – victim and victor at one and the same time.

Mohamad’s thesis was precisely the opposite of Trump’s. Though Mohamad did not spell it out in his lecture, the implicit assumption of the talk (confirmed in my discussions with him afterwards) was that the deal was the best one possible for both sides, and, more importantly, was a significant step in the advancement of peace in international relations. Further, in the major thrust of his talk, the deal was critical both as a signal of and an instrument for the advance towards moderation of the Iranian regime. While I have agreed with the former conclusion, I have been sceptical about the latter claim. Mohamad’s talk forced me to reconsider that position.

In the talk, Mohamad presumed he was addressing an educated audience and took for granted that we were all familiar with the variation of theories of the stages through which revolutions pass. When I was an undergraduate, I read Crane Brinton’s 1952 revised edition of The Anatomy of a Revolution and believe it is still among my collection of books now mostly shelved in my garage. As a medical student at the time, I recall that my predominant reaction was that the book should have been called The Physiology of Revolution for it was far more of a dynamic account of stages revolutions pass through than of its structural elements. Further, it was more of a disease account, a portrait of an abnormality that societies have to go through in order to develop an immunity to political domestic violence. Mohamad referred to, but did not explicate, the fact that the dominant conception of the Iranian revolution by Iranians was an engineering rather than a medical model, implying a constructive rather than abnormal political pattern through which societies pass.

Since he did not elaborate on how the stages of a revolution conceived in engineering terms differed from those stages conceived in a medical framework, I had to fall back on the disease model as a means of understanding the intellectual foundation for his talk and when I asked two questions afterwards, I chose not to raise the question because any answer would require another lecture. In the disease model, revolutions are abnormalities in social development, but usually necessary abnormalities that societies in the process of maturation need to go through, to acquire the necessary institutions that will immunize that society from the destructive forces as inherent propensities in domestic politics.

Revolutions begin with failures of the old regime, more specifically, the increasing costs of maintaining the regime and carrying out its perceived responsibilities, and the decreasing ability to access the funds necessary for that task. As the regime grows more ineffectual and less able to enforce its rules, defectors come forth from the regime and an opposition arises in significant part from elements outside the normal power structure. When a regime can no longer hold the centre, when it can no longer enforce the values underpinning the regime and the order established by it, a revolt or a disaster instigating a revolt breaks out. Moderates step in to try to mollify the rebels and reassert control. They fail. The reforms they initiate are half-assed. And they are caught in a vice between reactionaries who condemn them for their weakness and selling out, and by the militants who denounce the wishy-washy half-hearted efforts. After the regime has lost its immunity to change, after the incubation period, then the revolution proper begins and the disease soon appears at fever pitch.

The radicals lead an uprising to challenge the constituted authority directly and take control of the main centres of power – the railways, the communications centres, the seats of law and of governance – precisely the key source of failure of the Easter Rising in Ireland where the revolution was delayed rather than halted in its tracks by this failure, by a focus on symbols of place rather than power. That was lucky, lucky, because of what also failed to follow – the initial successful seizure of control and The Terror as a way to deal with the domestic opposition and its foreign supporters. Instead, the British ruling regime resorted to terror, retaining power temporarily, but at the cost of its legitimacy.

Normally, terror perpetrated by the militant revolutionaries emerges like a raging fever. While a weak regime tries to extend and consolidate its power and authority, many errors are committed and the revolution is only partially successful. The radicals give rise to an equally powerful reaction as moderates either gradually or suddenly assume power over the instruments controlled by the radicals. But they too cannot regain the trust of the population and a new regime led by a charismatic and populist leader takes charge to exercise control primarily through coercive power rather than through the authority of legislated and judicially adjudicated laws and certainly not through the influence of ideas.

This standard pattern is neither a necessary nor a constant one. For example, though the British Revolution produced a Cromwell, the French a Napoleon and Russia a Stalin, the U.S. exceptionally did not yield to dictatorship. Not all revolutions need devour their children. In the U.S., this may have been because the American Revolution had a release valve – the cleansing of the figures of power of the old regime took place by means of a forced exodus as the elements of the old power structure fled to the mother country or to Canada as self-defined United Empire Loyalists. But whichever path taken, given the context and circumstances, what initially emerges is a regime of dual power – Presbyterians and the military leaders of the new modern army in Britain, Girondins and Jacobins in France, Bolsheviks versus Mensheviks in partnership with liberals in Russia. And that was certainly true in the Iranian Revolution.

Though often viewed as a reactionary regime to restore the power of the Mosque, the Iranian Revolution exemplified the pattern of extremist control in a revolution. In the very significant first phase through which it passed, the so-called men of virtue, those most fanatically dedicated and led by a small and resolute disciplinary leadership gained power in conjunction with the Revolutionary Guards. The exercise of that power was characterized by summary executions at home to expunge the regime of “vice,” and the export of the revolution to the near-abroad. If France had its Committee of Public Safety and Britain its Council of State, Iran had its Council of Experts to centralize power and authority through the use of lethal force to repress any perceived opposition. The domestic repression was combined with missionary adventurism and then went through two other stages, the seeming compromise between the clerics and the militants in a so-called period of apparent moderation and then the supposed reinvigoration of the revolution under the Terror of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian Revolution under the rule of President Hassan Rouhani is now going through the consolidation of its Thermidor, its second substantive moderating phase and convalescence from the fever of its incandescent fervour in the disease version of the stages of revolution

At the height of the feverish period of Puritanism and the revolt against the influence of the Great Satan, during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election and then fraudulent re-election in June of 2003, the third phase of the Terror began. The final evident opponents of the regime were either killed, suppressed into silence or forced into exile, like the Nobel Prize winner for human rights, Shirin Abadi. That is when Ahmadinejad announced the resumption of the Iranian nuclear program and the plans for 10 nuclear plants in total disregard of UN resolutions. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were banned and Iran declared it would no longer be bound by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran had passed through the first stage of the actual revolution in the first decade of the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini who consolidated his power in partnership with the Revolutionary Guard by expunging his communist and liberal secular allies from power in the decade until his death in 1989. He did so under the rule of Islamic law, velayat-e faqih. (Faqih is an Islamic jurist). Khomeini’s death inaugurated the second stage in the dual split between Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Khomeini’s successor as Supreme Leader, and President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the incomparable deal maker who makes Trump look like a wuss. At the same time, Iran exported its anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli fervent orthodoxy and revolutionary spirit in the bombing of the Jewish Community Centre in Argentina in 1994.

A radical dual system of rule had been incorporated into the Council of Guardians to mediate between decisions of the Majlis or parliament and the Council of Experts, charged with selecting the Supreme Leader. This proved inadequate. In 1988, constitutional reform created an Expediency Council, an administrative amalgam of clerics, scholars and intellectuals to resolve disputes between the Majlis and the Council of Guardians and ensure the efficacy of legislated rule. Although its creation seemed initially to be ineffectual as the Iranian Spring was suppressed in the tyrannical rule and consolidation of clerical power, Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi in his talk seemed to suggest, if I interpreted him correctly, that the Expediency Council saved the new revolution from the Terror instituted under Ahmadinejad and his continuation in power via a fraudulent election in 2003. That Council enabled his replacement by the consolidation or power of the moderates under Rafsanjani.

In the terror, the Revolutionary Guards had gained a monopoly and consolidated its corrupt control over entire economic sectors of the economy, arrested critics routinely and permitted prison guards to routinely flout the rule of law in the treatment of prisoners (see Michael Ledeen Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West.) The West’s reaction was primarily stimulated by the resurrection of the nuclear program rather than by the abuse of civil liberties. Utilizing gradually increased smart sanctions while avoiding a direct military confrontation, the attack against Iran’s nuclear program worked. Moderates were elected and the new regime in 2009 launched a process of reconciliation, of which the most momentous outcome was the nuclear deal. But that was made possible when Iran entered the fourth phase of its revolution and the real Shiite scholars began to reassert themselves against the pseudo and unrecognized scholarship of a third rate Khamenei as they tried to distance the clerics from the political misrule of Ahmadinejad, who tried to cover up his corrupt and inept regime with the rationale that his rule exemplified the return of the Shiite messiah. Anti-clericalism had mushroomed and hope for the preservation of the status of the clerics depended on the resumption of a widely recognized clerical scholar becoming the third Supreme Leader.

But political and economic revolutions are relatively superficial and deal with the earth’s crust and not the momentous shifts in the tectonic plates on which that crust rests – such as the Industrial Revolution and the Reproductive Revolution. In the next blog I will discuss that interaction as exemplified by developments in the Iranian Revolution as depicted, to the best of my memory, by Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Corporeality I: The Body Politic and Diplomacy – External Affairs

by

Corporeality I: The Body Politic and Diplomacy

by

Howard Adelman

“Howard, you’re never going to be a diplomat.”

Not that I had ever aspired to be one, but why? Why not me? When a Canadian ambassador addressed me with this comment, Canada was then gavelling the Multilateral Refugee Working Group (RWG) negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in the early 1990s before the Oslo peace process unravelled with the collapse of the Camp David and Taba peace talks and the al-Aqsa intifada took their place. (Cf. David Goldberg and Tilly Shames (2004) “The ‘Good-natured Bastard’: Canada and the Middle East refugee question,” Israel Affairs: Special Issue: Israel in the International Arena, 10:1-2, 203-220) Though the focus was on the Palestinian refugees before the millions of Syrian refugees became the poster children for Middle Eastern displacement, the RWG performed another role. It served not simply as the venue for advancing the discussion on the Palestinian refugee issue, but as a front for the bilateral talks and a safe place out of the spotlight to debate hot process issues, such as PLO participation and Palestinian representation and identification as a separate delegation independent of the Jordanian one. I was present as a technical adviser.

Could I not become an ambassador because I was too forthright, because I lacked the smooth etiquette of even a junior in the foreign ministry? Either of these elements would have disqualified me, but that was not the explanation the ambassador offered. “You’ve been educated as a philosopher. Ever since Descartes, philosophers have been trained to think in terms of clear and distinct ideas. However, diplomacy relies upon equivocation. Diplomats have to use language that means different things to the different parties in the negotiations.” He was only being partially satirical.

I would not qualify for a number of reasons. On Friday I wrote about Jethro in the Torah and his meeting with Moses and Aaron as an example of the following characteristics of a diplomat:

  1. Courtesy – Jethro notified his hosts of his arrival to ensure that he was welcome by the leader of the people – something which Netanyahu did not do when Ron Dermer, his American-born Israeli envoy to the U.S., cooked up the scheme with the House of Representatives Republican Majority Leader, John Boehner, to have Netanyahu address a joint session of Congress without informing the President;
  2. Recognition – Moses and Aaron (not Aaron alone) went out to greet Jethro on what was the tarmac at the time and demonstrated that the head of a nation should greet a visiting envoy;
  3. Respect – Moses did so by showing the visiting diplomat the highest regard in both his words and body language;
  4. Jethro was a formidable diplomat because he was a very careful listener and not only heard Moses’ long tale about the Israelite escape from Egypt, but was able to summarize the narrative so that Moses and Aaron could recognize how close Jethro had been listening;
  5. Jethro demonstrated that he also understood the Israeli position by providing an empathetic summary of the Israelite perspective without ever actually endorsing it;
  6. Jethro demonstrably came with only one goal in mind – reconciliation and peace;
  7. The one attitude that was absolutely verboten was arrogance;
  8. Jethro was the exemplar of the refusal to use force or his position of authority to persuade Moses and Aaron, but relied on words alone to influence his son-in-law;
  9. Jethro went further and demonstrated his initiative and creative imagination by sacrificing to the Israelite God for the role He played in freeing the Israelites from Egypt, something which the Israelites themselves had not yet done;
  10. Finally, both Moses and Jethro understood the important role of breaking bread together in a festive meal as a way to cement a relationship.

How do the current parties in Middle East negotiations measure up to these standards? David Remnick, outstanding editor of The New Yorker, in an article on Secretary of State John Kerry in the final double issue for 2015 entitled, “Negotiating the Whirlwind” (pp. 66-77), offered a number of insights into Kerry’s attributes as a negotiator, though the focus was on the possibility of making a break through on Syria rather than Kerry’s role in the last failed effort to get the peace negotiations off the ground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry is portrayed as having the following characteristics:

  1. He is a man of exemplary courage “undaunted by risk” having won three Purple Hearts and both a Bronze and a Silver Star in the Vietnam War in spite of George W. Bush’s toadies’, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, attempts to besmirch that military record, the ultimate in irony, for George W. Bush sat out the war stateside as a member of the Texas National Guard;
  2. Though without question a man of the establishment, Kerry demonstrated a different kind of courage in standing up against the received wisdom as a leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War  and became for me personally at that time a real hero;
  3. He is unwilling to go for the jugular if the cost might be undermining the whole diplomatic effort;
  4. His overriding character as a negotiator is that he is tireless and doggedly relentless;
  5. He seems to suffer a more serious handicap than being a philosopher dedicated to clear and distinct ideas for he is prone to verbal logorrhea and a propensity to be rhetorically undisciplined;
  6. Further, instead of being a master of equivocation, he is infected with the disease of the wasp establishment in the United Sates and a betrayal of his forgotten Jewish grandfather as he has mastered the precise contradictory trait of using unboundaried rhetoric to describe raw reality, but doing so in “upholstered platitudes ;“
  7. He has an abounding faith in the value of personal relationships;
  8. He believes in the power of persuasion and the importance of influence, though always with the American qualifier of carrying a stick in the other hand;
  9. He contrasts with Barack Obama’s skepticism because he exudes a “sentimental optimism;”
  10. Like Jethro, he does understand and has mastered the art of building trust by both understanding the Other and demonstrating that understanding in dealing with contentious parties.

How do these characteristics fit the attributes most desirous in a diplomat such as the exemplary Benjamin Franklin? Courage is irrelevant, absolutely necessary when it comes to fighting a war, but irrelevant at the negotiating table. Nor does being an angry young man and an anti-establishment warrior qualify one as a diplomat speaking from personal experience. Third, tireless optimism is no substitute for caution and careful analysis, but actually gets in the way of the latter two prerequisites for diplomacy. Being relentless may be necessary for a Churchill, and his bulldog, when fighting a life-and-death war against the Nazis, but is irrelevant in diplomatic negotiations and may, as Remnick writes, be like the car buyer who enters the automobile showroom and lets the salesperson know that he is determined not to leave until he has purchased a car.

Kerry with his weak command of linguistic skills has shown that he lacks mastery of the core tool of a diplomat, absolute proficiency in the use of language which must be clear and concise as well as always coherent and non-contradictory. Equivocation is one thing; padded platitudes are another, especially when, instead of demonstrating being in touch with reality, they reveal detachment from it. When this is compounded with a record of contradictions – supporting Bush’s foolish war in Iraq but then voting against appropriations for reconstruction – this is not an outstanding record of achievement to waltz on the stage of foreign diplomacy. This may be the result of relying too much on advisers. This is not helped when later one avoids responsibility for taking that advice and remains critically bitter about the advice Robert Shrum gave him not to take on and challenge the calumnies of the Swift Boat Veterans.

Personal relationships, as Jethro and Moses demonstrated, are key to foreign relations, but as Kissinger noted, Kerry’s “unbounded faith” in the value of such relationships may be misplaced. However, his belief in the power of persuasion, in spite of carrying a big stick, his belief in putting that big stick behind his back instead of waving it in the air, and his comprehension in demonstrating empathetic understanding are exemplary, though marred somewhat by his sentimental optimism unbecoming of a diplomat.

How do those skills and weaknesses reveal themselves when attacking some of the major diplomatic challenges of our time? Cuba was clearly Obama’s doing, largely due to insistence of the Cubans, but this put Kerry’s nose out of joint. One cannot imagine Aaron being disturbed because Jethro as a foreign diplomat wanted to deal directly with Moses. A second success, certainly in my eyes, was the conclusion of the nuclear arms talks with Iran. Kerry’s persistence, his efforts to build personal relationships, his mastery of the material and the core issues while communicating a complete understanding of the position of the Iranians, his refusal to play the military card, all contributed to his success. But with the Iranians, not with his former colleagues in the Senate who were well aware of his unwillingness to trot out America’s military might, of Kerry’s unwillingness to go for the jugular as revealed in his handling of the election results in his contest with George W. Bush, of his sentimental optimism and his unbounded faith in personal relationships. They may have loved John Kerry as a colleague but they distrusted him as a tough negotiator. Well you can’t please everyone all the time, and perhaps never given the force and irredentism of populist Republicans these days.

A lesser known success was Kerry’s efforts to broker a compromise with the contenders for leadership in Afghanistan. When the election results threatened to undermine the country’s feeble democracy, Kerry negotiated a compromise between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani stretching personal relationship diplomacy almost to the breaking point, but sufficient to keep the government together, an absolute prerequisite in fighting the war against the Taliban.

But look at the failures – Egypt, Libya, the partial alienation of Saudi Arabia. But these may have had more to do with Barack Obama than with Kerry, a topic which I will take up tomorrow.  The most outstanding failure was the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but this was not a failure of negotiating skills, but of wasting diplomatic capital on a quixotic effort driven by that sentimental optimism and absolute faith in himself if only he could get both parties into the same room. Here taking huge risks was folly for the probability of a fearful Mahmoud Abbas taking the necessary risks for peace can be compared to that of Arafat whose courage amounted to the sliver of a new moon while Abbas’ willingness to take a risk was hidden behind the moon in eclipse. With Abbas on one side and, a bullying, blustering unreliable bull shitter like Netanyahu on the other (I told you I was unsuited to diplomacy), the chances of getting even the wisp of victory out of the negotiations was even less than the chance of winning over a billion dollars in the recent lottery draw in the United States, especially given the intractable positions on both sides.

But the problem goes even deeper. The late intervention in the Balkans and the Dayton Accords were not, as Kerry claimed, a diplomatic success, except in the eyes of Richard Holbrooke and other Americans for it left the shattered parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina patched together like a smashed teacup with the shards glued back together, but in a form useless as a teacup because it will not hold any hot water for long. And Rwanda was not a failure of America to intervene, but a failure of the Clinton administration to support and allow the UN peacekeepers already there to be reinforced and do their jobs. Kerry may demonstrate a capability in empathetic understanding but it is not matched to the same degree in objective understanding.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Barack Obama as a Political Leader and Diplomat.

IV Haley and Obama – Military and Foreign Policy

 

IV Haley and Obama – Military and Foreign Policy

by

Howard Adelman

On the issue of the role of the military and security of Americans from overseas threats, Haley insisted that the U.S. was facing “the most dangerous terrorist threat since 9/11,” and called for “strengthening the military so when we fight wars we win them.” Obama, based on the intelligence reports he reads every morning, agreed that these are dangerous times, but America faces no dangers from a rival power. America had the most powerful and best military force in history and spent more on its military than the next eight nations combined (four if you calculate based on a percentage of GDP). But the danger comes from failed and failing states, not rival powers. Decrying America’s growing weakness was just so much hot air.

Obama did not denigrate the threat that terrorists posed. His first priority was going after terrorist networks to protect Americans. But that did not make this task WWIII.  Terrorists in the back of pickup trucks and making bombs in a garage do not pose an existential threat to the U.S. Rather than rhetorically building them up, Obama called for rooting out these killers and fanatics, hunting them down and destroying them. Obama claimed that America was on track to do just that, for in concert with its allies, the U.S. was working to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt its plots, stop the flow of fighters and stomp out its vicious ideology. He called on the Republican- dominated Congress to formally authorize the use of military force against ISIL.

Does that require an additional carrier group, additional ground combat forces, modernization of America’s nuclear fleet and a host of other enhanced expenditures on the military? If there is indeed a real danger of WWIII, say with China, such an enhancement might be warranted. But if America intends largely to stay out of other country’s civil wars, if America is going to concentrate its military forces in fighting ISIL, then increasing the Pentagon budget by a trillion dollars as Senator Rubio proposed (cf. an analysis by the Cato Institute) is not necessary.

Obama’s proposed military expenditures are more than sufficient both to go after terrorists and provide a cover and help for America’s allies. In going after terrorists, Obama articulated the correct approach. “When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.”

Not only are American memories long, but its concerns are very broad. Though the immediate focus may be terrorists, the long term threat remains instability because of weak states, ethnic conflict, poverty and even famine. Tough talk and calling for the carpet bombing of civilians will not solve such problems. Nor will assigning America the role of rebuilding every nation that falls into crisis. Effectively, Obama called for managing threats rather than aspiring to a utopian ideal of eliminating them. And then he reiterated the central platform of his foreign policy – building coalitions “with sanctions and principled diplomacy.” The policy applied to China with TPP and climate change agreements. It applied to the re-opening to Cuba. In this pairing of diplomacy with military and economic threats, Obama defined leadership in the world as the “wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.”

What about the main foreign policy issue of Obama’s presidency, preventing a nuclear-armed Iran? Instead of insisting, as Haley did, on only entering into international agreements celebrated in Israel rather than in Iran, Obama insisted that his program combining sanctions with diplomacy had worked. Iran was in the process of deconstructing its nuclear program. The world had avoided another war that would have been the consequence of a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

On this central foreign policy issue, was Obama correct? Or were his Republican critics? Even though Netanyahu has now acknowledged defeat, many if not most Republicans have not. On Monday (18 January), that is, on Implementation Day of the Iran Nuclear Deal, Fox News published a peace by one of its frequent contributors, Fred Fleitz. (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/01/18/iran-nuclear-agreement-is-national-security-fraud.html)

Fleitz worked for the CIA and various national security agencies for a quarter of a century. When John R. Bolton, the űberhawk in the Republican constellation, was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the George W. Bush administration, Fleitz was his Chief of Staff. Fleitz is the author of Peacekeeping Fiascos of the 1990s: Causes, Solutions and U.S. Interests and currently is senior vice president for policy and programs with the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a Washington, D.C. right wing national security think tank. As Wikipedia described it, “The Center for Security Policy (CSP) is a Washington, D.C.-based national security think tank that has been widely accused of engaging in conspiracy theorizing.”In July of 2011, even before the interim agreement with Iran was agreed upon, in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Fleitz accused leaders of the U.S. intelligence community of being unwilling to conduct a proper assessment of the Iranian nuclear issue at variance even with the Obama White House. Further, he insisted that “liberal professors and scholars from liberal think tanks” had given biased (that is, favourable) reviews of the 2011 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that was classified at the time.

 

In other words, Fleitz contended that leaders of the U.S. intelligence agencies and liberal intellectuals had been in cahoots in both misleading Americans and, even more strangely, were at odds with the Obama administration. Recall my earlier blogs on the Iran nuclear program: the NIE had concluded that Iran, though it was preparing the ground for a nuclear weapons program, had not yet decided to actually build a nuclear weapon. Fleitz, in contrast, insisted that Iran was on the brink of testing a nuclear device.

In 2002, when he was appointed as an analyst for the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee by GOP Chairman Pete Hoekstra, Fleitz was one of the leaders in the chorus that insisted that Cuba had under development a biological weapons program, a conclusion he justified not on the basis of an objective collection of facts and analysis, but because all intelligence analysis is political. He also had a reputation of continuing Nixonian practices. He was widely suspected of being involved in releasing the name of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative, to the media in retaliation for her husband’s public denial of George Bush’s claims about Iraq’s WMDs. Fleitz has had a stellar record of exaggeration, distortion and hyperbole.

This background is important in understanding Fred Fleitz’s attack on Monday which one of my readers sent to me. It exemplifies some of the wild analysis behind the attacks on the Iran nuclear agreement made by Republicans. One accusation is that Iran “will receive approximately $150 billion in sanctions relief even through Iran is still designated by the United States as a state sponsor of terror.” The latter is true – Iran is designated by most Western countries, with good justification, as a state sponsor of terrorism, though an enemy of ISIS. But it is not true that Iran will receive $150 billion in sanctions relief, monies that it can then use to foster terrorism.

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/other/SzubinTranscript20150916-v2.pdf

The rest of Iran’s reserves are not liquid; they have already been pledged as guarantees for other purposes: $20 billion as collateral for projects with China; tens of billions more to back nonperforming loans to Iran’s energy and banking sectors. Further, of that $50 billion, Iran cannot spend the $50 billion; it needs to hold most of those funds in reserve to defend their currency, the rial, and to finance the pent-up demand for imports. $50 billion is just enough to finance about 5-10 months of Iranian imports and is the buffer that the IMF recommends as a prudent reserve. Further, in President Hassan Rouhani’s economic revitalization program, the government will be torn between taking the lid off the consumer sector and the need of government funds to get out of the deep economic hole Iran fell into as a result of the sanctions. Iran needs $100 billion for unfunded pensions and debts to the domestic banking sector, $100 billion for infrastructure, and $170 billion to once again make the oil and gas sector functional.

Iran has supported the murderous regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah, its terrorist proxy. Is this accurate? In previous years, Iran has been supporting Syria to the tune of $4-7 billion per annum, if the value of Iranian oil transfers, lines of credit, military personnel costs and subsidies for weapons for the Syrian government are all taken into account.  Nadim Shehadi, director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University, claimed that in 2012 and 2013, Iran spent $14-15 billion in military and economic aid to Assad. Tehran is very unlikely to spend significant increased amounts in support of terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East only because it already has been spending plenty. Iran did increase its military support of the Assad regime. In preparation for the October offensive against Aleppo by the Syrian forces, Iran sent in 2,000 Republican Guard troops in addition to Lebanese Hezbollah fighters who fought alongside Assad’s army with Russian air and cruise missile support from its ships in the Caspian Sea.

In contrast, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. did not even provide the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with advanced military equipment even though the FSA had been significantly debilitated in its continuing battles with ISIS. Nor did the Americans offer to provide a no-fly zone to enable the FSA to resist the Syrian army advance, though the three countries did provide extra military supplies and anti-tank weapons, the latter used to excellent effect to destroy a considerable number of tanks and armoured vehicles. The FSA Brigades (the Thuwar al-Sham Battalions, the Sultan Murad Brigade, the 13th Division, the 101st Division, Suqour al-Jabal, etc.) actually managed to hold off the recapture of Aleppo by the Syrian forces and its allies, though in its retreat back to Aleppo the FSA lost a number of villages and towns on the Ghab Plain – including Tall Qarah, Fafin, Kulliyat al-Mushat, Tall Suwsein Abtin; the desert and mountainous terrain of the Aleppo southern countryside greatly benefitted the Assad regime forces which were armed with heavy weapons.

Thus, as I predicted even while I strongly supported the nuclear deal, Iran could be expected to enhance its backing of terrorism and the Assad regime. As it happens, the enhanced support in Syria took place independently of the Iran nuclear deal. For Iran’s assistance to both terrorist and oppressive allies was based on the principle: “in for a penny, in for a dime,” Further, the implementation of the deal depended on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei providing continuing support for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Instead, Khamenei warned the so-called moderates of American perfidy and accused the U.S. of deceit and treachery. More importantly, Khamenei auspiciously disqualified a number of reformist candidates who applied to run in next month’s elections, including some sitting members.

Fleitz made a number of other accusations.

  1. “When Iranian officials refused to give up their uranium enrichment program, the U.S. said they could keep it.” Wrong! The U.S. and its allies only aimed to dismantle Iran’s nuclear arms enrichment program and not its use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
  2. “Iran will continue enriching uranium under the nuclear deal with 5,000 uranium centrifuges.” Yes, but at very low grades unsuitable to be converted to very high grade enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons except through a very lengthy process.
  3. Iran swapped all of its highly enriched uranium, which was shipped to Russia, for an equivalent amount of uranium ore which Iran was free to enrich. True, but the enriched uranium shipped to Russia was enriched above 5% and some of it to almost 20%, whereas it will take months just to convert the uranium ore for which it was swapped to just above 3%.
  4. The Chinese will assist Iran in redesigning and rebuilding its heavy-water Arak plutonium facility after its core was removed. True, but the redesign will not permit the reactor to be used to produce plutonium suitable for a nuclear weapon.
  5. “When Iran balked on including restrictions on ballistic missile tests in the agreement, they were removed.” Wrong! Restrictions on Iran’s missile program were an ambition, but not an expectation. Restrictions were never included in the agreement. (I will comment further on the American continuing effort to limit Iran’s missile program.)
  6. “The Obama administration also took Iran’s sponsorship of terror and its meddling in the Middle East off the table.” They were never on the table, even in the 2012 Interim Agreement.
  7. “The deal drops U.N. and EU sanctions on Iranian terrorist individuals and entities.” U.S. allies and the UN are not colonies or satraps of the U.S.
  8. “The U.S. encouraged Iran to play a more active role in Iraq.” But the tensions between the Shiite government and Iraqi Sunnis were worse before under Maliki who was not Obama’s creation.

The lesson: Republican ideologues cannot be relied upon to discern fact from fiction or offer a reasonable analysis. The reality is that, contrary to Fleitz’s contention, the Iran nuclear deal has not only slowed Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons; it has stopped it altogether. Haley has been too influenced by these hacks.

The reality, as Adam Szubin articulated it so well, is:

  1. JCPOA does not in any way affect American sanctions with respect to Iran’s support to terrorist groups;
  2. It does not touch on Iran’s human rights abuses;
  3. It does not touch on Iran’s support for the Assad regime, nor was it ever intended to;
  4. The Iran nuclear program is the most serious issue of all to the U.S., to its allies, and particularly to Israel and dismantling it should not be made hostage to Iran’s support for terrorism, abuse of human rights or backing for Assad.

The result: on Implementation Day at the beginning of this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certified that Iran had reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98%, the number of centrifuges by two thirds. Iran removed the atomic core of the Arak Reactor so it could not produce plutonium for military purposes. In return, the embargo on Iran’s reserves was removed. What should have been a day of celebration for the whole world was marred by hatred and bitterness of Khamenei, on the one hand, and the belligerent paranoid fantasists in America on the other hand.

Nevertheless, there remains a great deal to be done on non-nuclear issues. There is a need to have Iran own up to its deceitful methods of circumventing the IAEA and hiding its program; as the IAEA reported in December, Iran had failed to fully cooperate and even provided some answers to investigators that were blatantly false. There is Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism. There is Iran’s, not only support for, but military intervention in Syria. There are a plethora of human rights violations. And there is the constant – the Iranian regime’s implacable hatred of Israel. There are no sanctions in place against Iran for the latter evil practice, but sanctions do remain in place by the U.S. and are being enforced for the unsettling and destabilizing practices of Iran in the international arena – its missile development program, its support for terrorism and its intervention in Syria on behalf of Assad against the FSA.

The U.S. embargo on Iran remains almost entirely intact. U.S. investment is still prohibited. Iran and its companies cannot access the American banking system. U.S. sanctions against Iran as well as designated companies and individuals prior to the sanctions imposed against its nuclear program remain in place. Perhapsamore important, secondary sanctions against non-Iranian banks doing business with embargoed individuals, companies and state entities remain in place; non-Iranian businesses working with those Iranian entities will be cut off from using the U.S. banking sector.

For example, those banks cannot do business with: the Qods Force, or any of its officials or subsidiaries such as Bonyad Taavon Sepah; its construction arm, Khatam al-Anbiya; its oil and gas engineering company, Sepanir; Mahan Air; Bank Saderat, one of the largest commercial banks in Iran; key Iranian defense entities, including the Ministry of Defense for Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), the Defense Industries Organization, the Aerospace Industries Organization, and other key missile entities, including Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group and Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group; the Tiva Sanat Group which worked to develop the Iranian navy’s fast boat; the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Company (unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

With respect to enforcement of the nuclear deal itself, those sanctions are only suspended; the snap-back provisions remain in place in case of violations and can come into force in a few days. This also applies to multilateral sanctions by the United Nations should just one of the P5, the permanent five members of the UNSC, opt to do so. Finally, there are no grandfather clauses in the JCPOA protecting preexisting contracts against snap-back. That is, contracts entered into before the snap-back will also be subject to sanctions.

“The JCPOA is built to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat and the potential for any of Iran’s proxies or affiliates to acquire a nuclear weapon. Thus far, it offers great promise.” That deal does not diminish the terrorism threat and the threat to regional stability. “Our joint goal—and one we share with our Israeli and Gulf partners—is to ensure that we’re using all of our tools, including sanctions, to combat all of these conventional activities… the JCPOA is a strong deal. It makes the United States and our allies safer by ensuring that the nightmare scenario… (terrorist entities with access to nuclear devices) does not come close to becoming a reality. The deal is not based on trust but on verification and on scrutiny.” (Szubin)

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

Netanyahu and Moses: Parshat Va’era: Exodus: 6:2-9:35

Netanyahu and Moses: Parshat Va’era: Exodus: 6:2-9:35

by

Howard Adelman

I recognize that argument by analogy is the weakest form of argument if it can even be counted as a legitimate form of rational argument at all. But it is one of the most common forms of commentary used in biblical interpretation. That is not because of the strength of its reasoning, but because of the often brilliant insights provided by great leaps of the imagination which happen to resonate with reality.

This parshat about the escape of the Jews from Egypt and their return to the Promised Land is so well known that it scarce requires any repetition. Instead, I want to tell a contrasting contemporary story about Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel, through the lens of the Torah, and ask the question whether his mission is to lead the Jews into the whole land of Israel or whether it is his destiny to lead the Jews, reluctantly of course, out of Eretz Israel altogether.

Like Moses and his brother, Aaron, Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) had a brother, Jonathan (Joni). Aaron was the older brother by three years. In the Biblical text, as Rashi noted, in some places the two are referred to as Aaron and Moshe and, at other places, as Moshe and Aaron. Though Moses is referred to as the greatest Jew in the history of the Jewish people, Rashi says that Aaron and Moshe were two sides of the same coin. Both act in the face of a far greater earthly power. But they play complementary roles. Aaron is the man of words, the orator, the rhetorician, while Moses serves as the political leader. Both rose to the greatest heights in the expression and realization of their God-given skills.

At first glance, one might presume that the comparison is of Bibi to Moses and Joni to Aaron. After all, like Aaron, Joni was the older. But Joni died young. Further, Bibi was the orator. Though Joni was a great commander of his elite strike force in the IDF, he was more akin to Rabin; Joni was not a media star while that is the very route Bibi took to rise to the pinnacle of power in Israel by becoming a minor star in the U.S. media firmament. So I start with comparing Bibi to Aaron and Joni to Moses, for like Moses, no matter what happens in history, Joni will be remembered as one of the great figures in Jewish history who led the attack that freed the captives in Entebbe in Uganda and allowed them to return to Israel, though he himself would only return in a casket. As one of the few Jewish writers to emerge in America after WWII, one who seemed to lack any neurosis and even retained his role as an observant Jew, as one who celebrated rather than begrudged military figures, Herman Wouk wrote of Joni in the following terms:

He was a taciturn philosopher-soldier of terrific endurance, a hard-fibered, charismatic young leader, a magnificent fighting man. On the Golan Heights, in the Yom Kippur War, the unit he led was part of the force that held back a sea of Soviet tanks manned by Syrians, in a celebrated stand; and after Entebbe, “Yoni” became in Israel almost a symbol of the nation itself. Today his name is spoken there with somber reverence.

Further, according to what was known of Joni, he was an exemplar of humility. Whatever one can say about Bibi, few if any would say he is humble. On the other hand, we all know that Joni occupies a mythical place among the stars of the redemption of Israel for his martyrdom in the rescue of the Jews captured by Arab terrorists and taken to Entebbe.  But Benjamin Netanyahu was also a man of action and not just of words, for he was a commando in the same elite unit in which Joni served who went on another mission and rescued Jews hijacked on a Sabena flight. It was Bibi who would emerge as both the orator and the political leader. I suggest that we look at Netanyahu as made up of two souls, his own inner being as an orator, as a man of words, as an Aaron, and, as well, as a ghost in the mechanism of his body, the ghost of Joni who could have risen to be a rival to Rabin in the political landscape. In other words, Bibi Netanyahu is both Aaron and Moses in his own mind, but his true self was to be a spokesperson. The political mission fell into his lap inadvertently, though not reluctantly as was the actual case with Moses.

Many if not most of the prophets of Israel were reluctant to assume their roles – Jeremiah, Isaiah, and even the satirical figure, Jonah. Moses asks God to find someone else. He can’t do the job. Even though Moses had been raised as a prince of Egypt, he asked, who am I to assume such a lofty role? He also contended that the people of Israel would not believe him and accept him as their leader; after all, he had not been brought up among them. Further, like the stuttering King George VI of Britain in a time when Britain was threatened with being overrun by Nazi Germany, Moses reluctantly assumed the role of titular leader of his people in spite of his overpowering stutter. Moses too was a stutterer and had uncircumcised lips. Moses’ fourth reason for his reluctance; he had no desire to assume the role. Others were more ambitious and more interested and more capable.

None of these four reasons were Bibi’s problem. He always was convinced not only that he could do the job, but that he was the best person for the job. He also believed, if given the right circumstances for his people to assess him, they too would become convinced that he was the best man for the position. He obviously had the gift of the gab and was a terrific orator. Further, perhaps no one in the history of modern Israel was so convinced that he was destined to become the leader; as many would attest, he had a messianic complex. For his essence was to be an Aaron who took on the role of a political leader rather than a leader with the essential spirit of Moses in his soul. Adopting the mantle of Moses was shapeshifting, assuming the ghost of Joni while underneath lacking those leadership skills. He was convinced of his own abilities, of his own worth, of his own powers of persuasion and, most of all, of his destiny. If he faced any problem, it was the inability and reluctance of the Israeli people to recognize all of that. That was the major, and perhaps only real obstacle that he had to overcome.

Look at how Bibi went out into the diaspora, not as a shepherd who rashly but out of compassion for his kin who was a slave being beaten by an overseer, killed that very same overseer. Bibi had never been banished to Midian and willingly accepted his role as never-to-be-remembered figure. Each step was taken to advance his ambition.

Further, Moses begs to be excused because he is an initial failure. When he first asks Pharaoh to let my people go, Pharaoh laughs at Moses and makes the Israelite slaves work harder as punishment for the chutzpah of their so-called leader. The Israelites reacted, not by rallying around Moses, but by getting angry and asking him to leave office. Recall that Bibi also was voted out of office when he pissed off Bill Clinton and failed in forging a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“My Lord, why have You done evil to this people? Why have You sent me? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he did evil to this people. But You did not rescue Your people.” (Exodus 5:22-23) But it was not Bibi, the orator, who failed, but Bibi the ghost of Joni. Unlike Moses, instead of asking why God failed both him and the Israelites to free his people, Bibi blamed himself. God promised redemption and redemption did come once again when Barak, in spite of the most generous offer imaginable by an Israeli leader to the Palestinians, also failed, and Bibi once again retuned to leadership of the Jewish people. Unlike Moses, he believed it was his destiny and mission to lead Israel.

But had not Moses been raised in the luxury of America? Had he not mastered the way of the Americans just as Moses had of the Egyptian elite? But so had Joni. Both returned to Israel. Both served in the IDF in illustrious roles. There is a difference however. While Moses could never acclimatize himself to being an Egyptian and always felt uncomfortable even though he had been adopted as an infant and raised in a royal household, Bibi, in fact, was more at home in America than in Israel. If he had stayed in America, though, because he was born abroad, he could possibly have risen to become vizier, a very big man in a very big pond rather than a very big man in a relatively little pond. Bibi never lost that sense of entitlement and lectured both two Democratic presidents as if he was their equal in stature and power. Bibi has always been a would-be president of the United States. Bibi was no Moses.

So when each president would not do his bidding, he subverted first one by slow-walking the peace process and the second one by increasingly confronting Barack Obama, and telling him that he had not learned the lessons of history, that he was naïve and that he had made a bad deal, a bad, bad deal with Iran. Bibi was no withering vine. Bibi was no Moses. Moses was appalled at the hardships of slavery of the Israelites. Bibi was appalled that Jews anywhere did not have absolute power to determine their own destiny, attributing the suffering of the Jewish people to the absence of such power. Moses was sensitive to the fact that his people had incorporated the spirit of bondage in their very being. Bibi was extremely proud that Israelites had presumably and absolutely thrown off the spirit of bondage that afflicted Jews in the diaspora. For Bibi was destined to be the redeemer of the entire land of Israel; for Moses, God always remained the redeemer, not he. This was true even though Moses exhibited such a range of skills, and accomplishments, and in spite of his severe handicap. He was a prince, shepherd, politician, law-giver, teacher, judge and prophet.

Bibi, in contrast, was the child of a very embittered man, in Benzion Netanyahu’s own estimation, forced to live out the best years of his life in exile. When Bibi as an adult himself lived in the diaspora, he was, in contrast, not a humble shepherd, but a media star, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, and, at a very young age, ambassador of Israel to the United Nations. He then became a politician, not through being chosen by God, nor initially by being chosen by the people, but by having mastered the ability of getting ahead politically be accruing wealthy supporters and by forging a network of very ambitious colleagues. He never received any renown as a legislator even though the rule of law is central to the life of the Jewish people. Nor was he ever a teacher, unless a teacher is defined like both he and his father as a pontificator of personal convictions and received opinions rather than as an inquirer into the truth. He was known for his partisanship and his skills as a political broker rather than for any sense of judicious fairness. He saw himself as a prophet even though that very conviction made him blind to the advantages of the Iran nuclear deal, especially for Israel.

I write this as a form of explanation for why Bibi treated Obama as if he was Pharaoh rather than a partner and supporter of the Israel people. For Bibi, Obama was a front man for Evil rather than simply a leader with a different perspective, a different set of obligations, a different approach and a different attitude, hope rather than pessimism. When Moses was called forth to confront Pharaoh and lead the people back to Israel, he was given a staff, a mateh, that turned into a serpent and back into a staff as an instrument, not only to prove God’s magical powers, but as the very tool that would call forth the ten plagues inflicted on the Egyptian people.

Now there are many questions to ask about those plagues. For one, why punish the Egyptian people for the evils of their autocratic leader? Most of all, why kill innocent babes in the cause of your own freedom? But I will not deal with any of those issues. Rather, I want to ask what was the staff that would bring water out of rocks, that would divide the sea so that the Israelites could cross, but, most of all, what was the rod that was used to confuse Pharaoh, raise his wrath and bring about one plague after another on the Egyptian people?

The cobra, a god of the Egyptians, as symbolically represented on the headdress of the Pharaoh, was the supposed source of divine power for the Pharaoh. Moses was given the power to grab the snake and turn it into a power for himself, a rigid staff rather than wriggly serpent. Second, the snake represented a reversal of what happened in the Garden of Eden. There Adam had viewed his masculinity as an Other, as something for which he was not responsible. Further, that Other, that erect penis with a mind of its own, abused the skills of language and seduced Eve, or, in my interpretation, responded naturally to a female, but in the process, further encouraged Adam to distance him from his responsibility. Thus, turning the crawling, twisting snake back into a staff was a symbol of recovering one’s masculinity, of reintegrating oneself as en embodied creature willing and courageous enough to mark one’s place in the world. Third, in addition to the mateh symbolizing the seizure of the magical powers of the Other, in addition to the mateh, the staff, representing the reaffirmation of oneself as a courageous embodied creature standing up mano-to-mano, the serpent is also a symbol of man assuming he is God, assuming he is the ultimate in vision, in insight, in the determination of the use of power, in understanding how power works and how history will unfold.

The snake represents the power in the enemy Other, the power already in oneself, and the transcendent other of the Almighty Other. To turn that serpent once again into a stiff staff is to perform all three actions at one and the same time. The problem emerges not when one combines all three, but when one misconstrues the friend, the supporter, the adviser, the provider, not as a perhaps mistaken ally, but as a front for Evil. The problem is not in the snake and the staff, but in he who seizes it and uses it and who it is seen to be used against and who it is actually used against. Because Bibi sees himself as a Moses, but is really an Aaron, because he wears the ghostly cloak of his dead brother, because he projects onto others with whom he disagrees the character of the Devil, Bibi backs himself and Israel into a dark corner, not just a cave, but a black hole where light is sucked in rather than emitted, where, despair squelches all hope, a situation where a man who sees himself as leading the Jewish people to the promise of the whole land of Israel in the end leads them out of Israel because, in contrast to Ben Gurion who absolutely saw the need of a small nation to have a very large nation as a patron, Bibi got caught up in the myth of self-sufficiency.

Pray to God that his false leadership, that his mis-leadership, that, in the final analysis, his non-leadership shall end, the sooner the better. Otherwise I fear the plagues will fall on Israel and not on Israel’s true enemies.

 

With the assistance of Alex Zisman

Netanyahu and Obama at War: Part II Obama

Netanyahu and Obama at War: Part II Obama

by

Howard Adelman

Ironically, watching the PBS special provided some insight into why Ronald Reagan was such a popular president. He was a politician of fear with a broad smile who played up the hope card. From a street rather than a patrician perspective, Donald Trump, though his smile is more a smirk and his fears far more narrow, may be a politician attempting to marry the two approaches. But in the PBS documentary, they are very much alive and hard at work combating one another.

This Manichaean view of politics may be distorted. The comments throughout made by experts, authoritative as they may sound, may dissolve upon examination. Both should give us pause when we reflect on the PBS documentary. For example, in Part I of this blog I referred to Martin Indyk, once American ambassador to Israel, as making a number of comments about Netanyahu at Rabin’s funeral. When I saw the headline stories this morning, I thought the remark that might get him in trouble was his contention that when an extremist Jewish terrorist assassinated Rabin, that Netanyahu had told him that his chances of re-election went down the drain. But the one that got him in trouble was his assertion that he and Netanyahu had sat side by side at the funeral. At the time, Netanyahu had told him that now that Rabin had been assassinated, he would go down in Israeli history as a great hero whereas if the election went ahead with the two of them running against one another, Rabin would have gone down in history as a loser.

Indyk’s exact words were: “I remember Netanyahu saying to me: ‘Look, look at this. He’s a hero now, but if he had not been assassinated, I would have beaten him in the elections, and then he would have gone into history as a failed politician.” Journalists pounced. When video footage showed that Indyk was nowhere near Netanyahu at the funeral, and Netanyahu insisted the claim Indyk made was an outright lie, Indyk revised his version insisting the incident took place the day before at a special Knesset ceremony on 5 November 1995 prior to the funeral. However, only family members were seated at that event; for everyone else, there was only standing room. Further, in the leaked Wikipedia cables to Washington that day from Indyk, nothing is said about the remark.

The cable was entitled “RABIN ASSASSINATION: NEXT STEPS IN ISRAEL’S POLITICAL SUCCESSION.” In it, Indyk discussed the assassination’s ramifications on the Likud. The Israeli right panicked and feared being routed in the forthcoming elections. “The assassination of Rabin is ‘a disaster for the Jewish people, a disaster of Israel and a disaster for the Right which will be decimated if elections are called soon.'” Other than painting Netanyahu as cold and insensitive, does the difference in historical recollection change anything. No. But the portraiture of Bibi is the heart of the documentary. Failure to check facts undermines the credibility of that portrait.

There are, however, greater issues at stake than even Netanyahu’s reputation and personal portrait. In my interpretation of the PBS documentary, I suggested the second intifada was the key event that set off the slide of the left and of the centre-left, of those sympathetic to peace, to relegation to the margins in Israel’s political world. I was reminded of that when Avi Shavit wrote in Haaretz this morning in an article entitled, “The Defeatism of Israel’s Enlightened Zionists,” that, “We of the center-left must rise from our depression, get out of our seclusion and take responsibility.” Events and the narrative of those events have political consequences. And in that ball game, the odds are stacked against the party of hope. For there are four possible attitudes:

  1. Hope about the prospects of peace;
  2. Pessimism about the prospects of peace based on the politics of fear;
  3. Acting hopeful but stoking the fuel of fear as Reagan did;
  4. Viewing hope and fear as alternative positions rotating in a cycle through history, a perspective largely implicitly adopted by the PBS documentary.

The problem is that positions 2, 3 and 4 all feed the politics of fear; the odds are against the politics of hope. Please keep this in mind while I recount the contents of the rest of the documentary. For when Obama is re-introduced into the documentary, he is painted as the quintessential embodiment of the politics of hope. Further, the documentary goes further and claims that he was the most Jewish of American presidents, not only because,

even in his re-election, he still garnered 69% of the Jewish vote, not only because he had many Jewish backers and close friends, not only because he remained married to an idealized view of Israel, but also because, in the documentary, Jews are characterized culturally as a people of hope rather than a people driven by fear, though the biblical narrative might indicate otherwise. “Jews have this instinct towards making the world better.” As Avi Shavit put it, “The real clash is between two versions of Judaism,” universalist, progressive, liberal versus the under siege fortress Judaism (Netanyahu).

So Obama leads the Jewish party of hope in dealing with the Palestinians while Netanyahu is the spokesperson for the party feeding on fear. As depicted, the fight is not so much between the American president and the leader of Israel, but between two sides of Judaism, one predominant in America and the other, given their experiences and what surrounds them, having emerged as predominant in Israel. If you read Israeli newspapers and listen to Israeli news daily, you cannot help but be aware of the clash and the circumstances that feed cynicism in response to the paradoxes rampant in the Middle East.

Again, to take this morning’s news as an example, the politicians who uphold the belief that Israelis can only, in the end, rely on themselves, and Israel is reliant on its enemy, the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas,  to keep the lid on the recent uprising. At the same time, those Israelis drifting towards this pole, increasingly regard Israeli Arabs as a potential fifth column. One Israeli journalist of an unequivocal liberal persuasion will write that nowhere in the world, even in anti-Semitic France, are Jews subjected to a regime of fear, deprivation and ostracism as the Arabs in Israel. At the same time, Hannan Zoabi, a member of the Israeli Knesset on the Arab List, only received a slap on the wrist after she apologized for her abusive behaviour towards two police officers.

In the larger picture of the whole Middle East, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a minor side-show as much as it may preoccupy me. When Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in a loud diplomatic war, when their proxies are fighting a life and death war over Syria which lies astride the centre of these two rivals, when Iraq has been lost to the Shia with the help of President George W. Bush, when both Sunni and Shia have developed their own extremist versions at war with one another, to repeatedly hear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the heart of instability in the Middle East from liberal commentators alienates me from my own allies and pushes me towards some cynicism about the politics of hope.

In the documentary, this is reinforced when Barack Obama, in his valiant but futile efforts to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, makes mistake after mistake, admitted to in retrospect by those who advised Obama on his efforts in the Middle East. In the documentary, Obama phoned Abbas first before even any other head of state and long before he talked to Netanyahu, ostensibly America’s closest ally in the Middle East. He announced as his first foreign policy objective a recalibration of America’s relations with the Arab world. In the process, he visited Arab states in the region without dropping into Israel. With the break out of the Arab Spring, Obama abandons an old ally, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, only to see the Muslim Brotherhood, not Egyptian liberals, step into the breach. Obama alienated Saudi Arabia, setting that country on its much more independent course, though also fostered by the politics of fear.

American Middle East policy appears to be a shambles. The attempt to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process ended up with an empty bag in spite of America’s involvement under Obama. The vision caught up most Americans, as Dennis Ross said, with the vision of Obama as a transformative president, just as Justin Trudeau in Canada is regarded today. Obama first assigned George Mitchell to the task of helping bridge the gap between the Israelis and Palestinians. It was an arduous and eventually totally futile effort. As the commentator on the documentary noted, “On the ground, Obama’s hopes did not match the stark reality,” as the extremist group, Hamas, once again took the militant route in dealing with Israel. But the issue for the White House became, not the facts on the ground, but a clash of attitudes and approaches. And a leftover from the Clinton days, Rom Emmanuel, advised Obama not to play Bibi’s game for Bibi would just practice the politics of procrastination, delays and obfuscation.

The problem was that dealing with Netanyahu as an obstacle only upped the ante so that Bibi became a direct rather than indirect antagonist. As Obama and his White House staff sought an end run around Netanyahu, Netanyahu shifted his game from defence to attack mode. This became clear in Netanyahu’s visit with Obama in the White House following his election. The meeting was a disaster according to all observers. Obama focused on the old trope of freezing the construction of settlements on the West Bank instead of asking how America could help Bibi resume negotiations and request a freeze in return. Further, unlike the past, as Chemi Shalev (Haaretz) opined, Obama signalled the change in the American approach by making the freezing of settlements a demand, and, further, making that demand in public.

Netanyahu returned to Israel angry, suspicious and hostile, according to Ari Shavit, and those feelings only grew over the years in which the two leaders dealt with one another. Netanyahu now faced militant adversaries among the Palestinians and in the Muslim world and a political adversary, indeed enemy, in the White House. Indyk predicted the tactic would lose the Israelis, disabling the honest broker strategy before it even got off the ground. Combining a speech demanding the end to settlements and demanding nothing of the Palestinians, visiting Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia and not Israel, could not have been worse as Obama’s advisers realized later, except for Ben Rhodes who envisioned no winning formula in dealing with Netanyahu. Most other advisers in retrospect saw it as a major error. It not only alienated the right in Israel but, for the average Israeli, Obama would become a persona non grata. Only 6% of all Israelis considered him pro-Israel.

Obama tried the same tactic on Egypt when the streets arose in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring. He not only told Mubarak that he should leave, but announced that request to the rest of the world. Netanyahu proved to be correct. The policy boomeranged, first with the Muslim Brotherhood taking over. This was followed by a much stronger military dictator than Hosni Mubarak. Obama’s subsequent speech proclaiming a historical change in the Middle East – proven so demonstrably false within a year – also included a glance at  the Israeli-Palestinian peace by setting the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed swaps, as the reference point. This was no change at all in American policy, but a change in articulating that policy by officially endorsing the peace fire lines as the de facto border subject to mutually agreed alterations. The failure was not in the policy but in its articulation, mode and context.

The confrontation and dressing down of President Obama in public  by Netanyahu followed the next day. Rhodes insisted the lines were not controversial since that had always been the basis for U.S. policy. But the difference was context, tone and the imperative behind the statement as I suggested above. It was no longer an American preferred position, but a demand placed on Israel. It was now set amidst the larger conflict between rulers and ruled in the Middle East, as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was at all in the same ballpark or even league. Bibi repeated over and over again to the President, as if the President was a naïve school child, “Its not going to happen. Everyone knows it’s not going to happen.” One has to go back to the Suez crisis to find a comparable falling out between two such close allies.

Rhodes declared that he had never seen a head of state behave that way to the President. Whatever one thinks of Netanyahu, it now seemed totally hypocritical. It was ok for Obama to lecture Netanyahu in public, but now it was now insulting for Netanyahu to reverse the tables. Rhodes was clearly the point man in this misdirection in policy-making, but the president’s advisors now rallied around, upset at Netanyahu’s discourteous behaviour towards the leader of the greatest power on earth. They were repulsed by Netanyahu’s gall. One could not imagine the situation getting worse between Obama and Netanyahu, but it did. It was not enough that the two leaders had deeply offended one another. The political war now reached into a positive foreign policy initiative of Obama that would be part of his legacy, of course, provided it worked out. That was Iran.

Obama walked away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Iran became his sole focus, though he relegated John Kerry during his second term to attempt to resurrect the peace process once again. That was futile. But Obama now had a tiger by the tail, or, a better analogy, a Rottweiler chomping at his pant cuffs. And it was not only the Israelis that were unhappy. So were the Palestinians. For all Obama had offered them were words, rhetoric and not action. The Americans would not, and the President probably could not, back the declaration of the settlements as not only illegal. The building of those settlements had to stop with a cut off of funds to the Israeli government and a cut off of charitable donations from right-wing American Jews and evangelical Christians who supported such settlements. This did not and, probably, could not have happened.

Not only was the Israeli-Palestinian peace that Obama was pushing not going to happen, but Israel was determined that Iran could not and would not become a nuclear power because Bibi honestly and deeply believed that that was the one step that truly threatened Israel’s existence. On this issue, Obama was totally on side. The difference was over strategy. Obama believed that diplomacy was worth exploring. Netanyahu believed that it was a waste of time and, even if successful, Iran would subvert any agreement. But the Israeli military advised Netanyahu that Israel did not have the capacity to act alone even as an enormous build-up of Israeli planning and the preliminaries to execution took place in the first half of 2012. However, as Bibi was strongly advised by both Shin Bet and the armed forces of Israel, Israel needed the backing of the U.S. Netanyahu had now so alienated Obama that imagining he could bring Obama around to his perspective was a waste of time. So Netanyahu forged an overt alliance with the Republicans to win the hearts and minds of Americans and of the majority in Congress to his way of comprehending the issue.

Ronen Berger (The Secret War with Iran) described the situation in which Iran would enter the zone of immunity, the place on the timeline when it would be virtually impossible to destroy Iran’s nuclear program when the uranium nuclear enrichment program would move underground and be effectively immune to Israeli firepower. Israel had to act. Israel was unable to act without enormous and questionable risks. Netanyahu had seemingly painted himself into a corner. But he was a fighter and entry into the domestic arena of American politics seemed to be his only option. There seemed to be no balanced analysis by Netanyahu and his close advisers whether or not Obama’s diplomatic initiative might possibly succeed. From Netanyahu’s perspective, it could not because Iran was Moloch, the political embodiment of evil. More importantly, Netanyahu was unwilling to take the risk that if he attacked Iran and a wider war broke out in the Middle East between the Muslim countries and Israel, Obama would come to his aid, though, probably, domestic policies and the reaction of the American public would force the U.S. to join Israel. The U.S. was faced with a Catch-22 situation in which Obama in tackling Israel on the Israeli-Palestinian issue had now put his Iranian policy to some degree  into the hands of Netanyahu.

However, without Israel being willing to play a high risk game and attack Iran unilaterally, Netanyahu had, in turn, placed his Iranian policy totally in the hands of America, something Bibi vowed Israel would and could never do. And Obama was totally unwilling to give Netanyahu an amber light let alone a green one. Israel backed down from the military initiative and went all out on the political front in the USA, far less dangerous than a unilateral attack against Iran, especially given that in the summer and fall of 2012 Obama was fighting re-election with a drastic drop in his approval rating below 50%. If, and it was a big if, Obama could be defeated and a Republican, any Republican, took his place, there would be just enough time to take advantage of the zone of immunity. Just as Obama had lost Bibi’s ear, now Netanyahu lost Obama’s and could only hear his own voice echoing to applause in Congress and on the American media.

Netanyahu had lost on both fronts. His military strategy of attacking Iran was in a shambles because he was never going to get Obama’s support for an attack and might not even get Obama’s support if Iran retaliated with force against Israel. His political strategy was in a shambles since he had defined Obama as the enemy and Obama had been re-elected. Seeing no other option, Netanyahu adopted a strategy of guerrilla political war against the President of the United States of America. We were traveling along a timeline of one unprecedented event after another.

America had proved to be wrong on the Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. Netanyahu, at least in the short term of the subsequent four years of Obama’s presidency, proved to be dead wrong on the strategy of dealing with Obama and Iran, though we await history’s judgment of who will be proven right over the long term. Just as Clinton had once entered the domestic political fray in Israel to support his Israeli candidate of choice, Shimon Peres, Netanyahu now entered the American political fray with a full frontal assault and virtually total support for Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate. It was the political equivalent of the North Vietnamese Tet offensive. Netanyahu saw the stakes as so high that he was willing to burn a number of bridges with American Democrats and with the majority of Jewish liberals who still voted for and supported Obama. But he lost his bid for the Jewish vote in Florida; Obama emerged with a clear majority.

On that front, and even in the aftermath of Obama’s re-election, Netanyahu simply upped the ante when Obama won and went from political guerrilla warfare to open political war. Obama, on the other hand went underground in his secret meetings with Iran in Oman without informing Israel of the progress. Obama was negotiating with Iran, Israel’s worst enemy, behind the backs of their closest ally in the Middle East. Ridiculous, unjustified, immoral pronounced Tzachi Hanegbi, one of Netanyahu’s advisers. What is worse, the negotiations resulted in an interim agreement. Netanyahu pronounced it a very bad deal, but to independent analysts, whatever flaws there were in the deal, and however much Iran would benefit on other fronts in its expansionist foreign policy, the deal seemed to be a reasonably good deal for both sides. Even worse, in 2014 the negotiations resulted in a full agreement that, contrary to expectations, even improved on the interim agreement. And Obama, in spite of strenuous efforts, could not persuade Netanyahu to at least see his point of view, or to even give the deal a chance. Natanyahu now recognized he had failed and felt both betrayed and alarmed.

Netanyahu’s deep belief that Iranians would only respond to the threat of force proved to be overwhelmingly wrong. Obama, contrary to Netanyahu’s insistence, had never taken the military option off the table; he had only placed it on a back burner. But, contrary to all evidence, and all American assurances to the contrary, Bibi insisted that the Americans had done so. Bibi not only terribly misread the American position, but mindblindly misread the agreement itself. In turn, Obama and Netanyahu had burned the bridges between them. Obama was now unwilling to reach out and try to correct misunderstandings between them.

Further, Obama succeeded in his end run around a Republican dominated Congress and effectively sold the deal to the American people. (See my earlier blogs analyzing the Iran nuclear deal.) Of course, the deal was not intended to stop Iran’s march towards tyranny, subjugation and terror. That was not its objective. But as a side benefit, it might have some influence on slowing it down and even reversing it. That would be an unanticipated benefit. Bibi now shifted his position to make the main goal of negotiations, not the elimination of Iran’s nuclear program, but Iran’s expansionist foreign policy and support for terrorism. The deal clearly failed to measure up to those objectives.

Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in 2015 won him lots of plaudits and numerous rounds of applause in the illustrious Senate chamber, but Netanyahu was now dead in the water in having any influence over, not just Obama, but any president who was a Democrat. There was even the possibility that Hilary Clinton would be worse for Netanyahu than even Obama who had a sincere and deep love for the Jewish people and for Israel.

It remained possible that the deal would fall apart in the implementation phase. That was another matter, but thus far implementation has been going very smoothly. Netanyahu had lost his battle on all fronts and the costs for Israel were far, far greater than the costs to Obama in failing to advance the peace process. Over the long run, it also meant a deepening of the fissure between the majority of liberal Jews in America and the increasing shift of Israelis to the right. At the same time, the third stabbing intifada broke out. Pessimism and despair had been the results of the politics of fear.

Liel Leibowitz had written, “don’t let the thin grey mist of public television dullness fool you: last night’s prime time offering [the program discussed herein] was every bit as surreal, titillating, maddening, and wonderful as anything the master of pulp fiction has done in years.” Leibowitz is right. The program may not have the broad appeal of “Making a Murderer.” But for professional and amateur observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is a must see. The documentary was not perfect. For balance, there needed to be more on the factors that shaped Obama’s views. A meta assessment could have accompanied the cafeteria of observations and critiques. The broad outlines of the development of the Iran deal were reduced to a few sound bites. The cyclical view of alternating hope and despair made the documentary intriguing, but created some distortion. As did serious omissions, such as what had happened to Gaza after Israel left. How much did domestic politics in Iran influence Obama’s initiative? But without a doubt, this documentary is the most compelling and dramatic one on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian issue that I have seen in a long time.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Netanyahu and Obama at War: Part I

Netanyahu and Obama at War: Part I Netanyahu

by

Howard Adelman

On 5 January 2016 on America’s Public Broadcasting Network (PBS) on the program “Frontline,” the station broadcast “Netanyahu at War,” an epic account of the conflict between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) and President Barak Obama of the United States over American Middle East Policy.  Michael Kirk, Jim Gilmore and Mike Wiser produced the documentary.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/netanyahu-at-war/

After watching it, I thought it should have been entitled, “Netanyahu and Obama at War” even though only about half the program focuses on that phase of Netanyahu’s relations with the United States. The program began, as do many dramatic series on television, with a series of very brief clips of strong opinions voiced by many of Middle East observers and specialists dealing with the last decade-and-a-half and subsequently sprinkled throughout the documentary. The range of experts included in the show was very impressive. And they virtually all spoke as frankly as Netanyahu did when he upbraided President Obama in his own White House. The climax of the program took place when Netanyahu visited the United States and in a joint press conference, Netanyahu lectured Obama in public. Netanyahu’s famous address to a joint session of Congress where he received 26 standing ovations emerged as an anti-climax, though it is portrayed at the beginning of the documentary as the pinnacle of the war between the two.

The program began in March 2015 in Jerusalem at the Prime Minister’s residence when Prime Minister Netanyahu was determined to stop Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran just before he was about to the deliver his famous speech to the American Congress. (Full disclosure. I have written a great deal in support of that deal and have been critical of the stance that Netanyahu took on the deal.) The television program, at least on the surface, tried to take a non-partisan position of detachment.

After all, the show opened with Eyal Arad, part of Netanyahu’s inner circle in the early nineties, but more recently the two have fallen out over accusations that Arad had been the conduit through which Israeli NGOs received foreign funding, a charge Arad found hypocritical since Netanyahu offered him a job once to be paid by foreign donors. Ayad stated that Netanyahu had a messianic notion of himself as a person called to service in a mission to save the Jewish people in general and the State of Israel more particularly. Ayad was followed by Tachi Hanegbi, another close adviser to Netanyahu, who declared that Netanyahu had never before made such an important speech. Bibi believed he had a historic role to play. Ari Shavit, author of My Promised Land, then appeared and stated that Bibi wants to be the person that stops the evil power of Iran in the same way that Churchill stopped Nazi Germany. Netanyahu was clear. He wanted to make the strongest case possible against the deal so that he could go down in history as the person who warned us all about what is about to happen.

Peter Baker of The New York Times then appeared and stated that it is rare for anyone to come to America and directly tell the President of the United States that he is wrong. In fact, I believe it was unprecedented. Even more audacious, this foreign leader interfered directly in American foreign affairs and told members of Congress that they have a duty to stop Obama, to prevent their own president from going forward with the Iranian nuclear deal with Iran. The risk to Israeli-American relations was enormous as Ronen Bergman (The Secret War with Iran) pronounced subsequently.

Further, it was an enormous gamble. Because, as Chemi Shalev of Haaretz said, Bibi was willing to sacrifice U.S.-Israeli relations to advance his goal. So Bibi addressed the Republican-controlled Congress with many Democrats boycotting the session making it clear that this was a totally partisan affair with a foreign Prime Minister lining up with the official opposition to the President. Unprecedented is too weak a characterization for what was taking place. As Bibi began in traditional Zionist rather than just revisionist political-speak, “The days when Jews were passive in front of genocidal enemies are over.”

The Congressional applause was overwhelming. Bibi then insisted that we always have to remember that the greatest danger facing our world is when there is a marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. But Bibi went further. He lectured Obama, an ex-law professor who used to teach constitutional law, on the meaning of the American constitution and what it demanded of its political leaders. Iran’s founding document promises death, tyranny and the pursuit of jihad in opposition to the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The two counties, Bibi insisted, were foundationally sworn enemies. Epic indeed. A person with a messianic complex believing that he was at a crossroads in history with a Churchillian mission to stop evil in its tracks!

The documentary then switched to Obama declaring that Obama had never been as furious and that the White House saw Netanyahu’s chutzpah as a usurpation. One commentator inexplicably even described the livid feeling of the White House as feeling that a coup d’état had been attempted. Netanyahu’s position was not simply a disagreement over Obama’s policy, but an outright attack on what Obama regarded as a central achievement for his foreign policy legacy. Sandy Berger, former national security advisor, in fact, introduced the theme that Obama set immediately after his inauguration – to recast America as a close friend of the Islamic world and, to that end, Obama wanted to show that the US was no longer joined at the hip to Israel.

David Remnick of The New Yorker called the whole episode a humiliation for Obama taking place at a very sensitive moment in the negotiations with Iran. Obama, in his follow-up press conference noted that Netanyahu had not offered an alternative scenario. For if there was no deal, Iran would immediately resume pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. Of course, there was an implicit alternative: the United States in concert with Israel using even more coercive pressure on Iran. The problem was not an absence of an alternative strategy, but the efficaciousness of such a strategy in comparison to the diplomatic route. Further, the coercive strategy stood behind the diplomatic channel to suggest to Iran what could happen if no agreement was reached. Of course, for the U.S. (and Israel) the alternative was Iran putting its effort to develop nuclear weapons in high gear without U.S. and Israeli good intelligence access to Iran’s progress.

Aaron David Miller, who had worked in the State Department for 25 years from 1978 to 2003, saw the clash as a train wreck bound to happen given the dysfunction coming from both sides. He was the first commentator in the documentary to suggest the source of the problem had a double root. That provided the segue to allow the documentary to go back in history and trace the historical roots of the conflict in terms of Netanyahu’s personal history:

  • Netanyahu’s father, Benzion, was a professor of history at Cornell who saw himself as unable to get tenure at Hebrew University at the time because of his strong revisionist beliefs; Benzion saw the world as fundamentally hostile to the Jewish people, as Miller described him, with the Nazi Holocaust just the latest and worst manifestation of an age-old hostility to the Jewish people
  • As a result, from the age of 7, Bibi grew up in the U.S. where in New York and Philadelphia he learned to speak like an American and to possess a deep love of and admiration for the U.S.
  • Bibi still had to earn his Israeli spurs: Netanyahu when he was in the IDF as a young officer was part of the special Israeli strike force disguised as maintenance crew that stormed a hijacked Sabena plane scheduled to fly from Brussels to Tel Aviv, an operation in which the passengers were all saved and a few Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded, including Netanyahu who injured his hand by friendly fire; two of the three members of Black September were killed and the other was captured along with the Arab women with them
  • So terrorist actions reinforced his view, according to Ari Shavit, that the world was out to get the Jews and, in the bottom line, only Jews could be relied upon to protect themselves from the terrible demonic forces that faced Jews
  • When Israel did not occupy East Jerusalem, did not occupy the West Bank, did not occupy the Golan Heights, did not occupy Gaza, did not occupy Sinai, Arab states amassed to attack Israel with thousands of tanks and a quarter million soldiers; Israel proved its mettle by defeating them all, including the renowned Jordanian forces after the Jordanian king ignored Israel’s plea to stay out of the war
  • Palestinian leaders had promised to slaughter the Jews, to wipe them out, but they did not succeed.

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic claimed The Six Day War set in motion a lot of what we are dealing with today. Is that thesis, so common in intellectual circles, accurate, or is the right wing view a better descriptor since the war had been continuous ever since Jews began to return to their ancient land? Certainly, the humanitarian card once more came to the fore, the so-called million homeless and displaced Palestinian refugees, as if they had no national home to which they could go and where they could be protected. For revisionists, there was no parallel with the Jews. Just one loss in a war would mean the loss of any homeland and the prospect of Jews en masse wiped out and not just turned into refugees. But the documentary ignored entirely this perspective and instead insisted that it was the occupation of Palestinian lands that ignited decades of conflict as if there had been no conflict heretofore.

As Dore Gold, another Netanyahu advisor, opined, The Six Day War proved that Israelis had always to be alert, always would need good intelligence, and both a readiness and an ability to respond quickly with military force when threatened. That version of history had been instilled in Bibi since he was born and he skipped his high school graduation in the U.S. to return to Israel and, if possible, fight the Arabs in he Six Day War. The war ended too quickly for him to do anything but dig trenches. But he was present at that crucial turning point in Israeli history.

His views were further reinforced when Israel was attacked in 1973 and then again when his older brother, Jonathan (Joni), who commanded the elite IDF unit, Sayeret Matkal that freed the civilians in Entebbe, was himself killed and became one of the mythical figures of Israeli history. David Remnick of The New Yorker insisted that there is no question that this event imprinted in Bibi even more deeply his sense of mission and purpose. After graduating from MIT, Bibi reinvented himself on the American media as an expert on terrorism. A PLO state would mean more war, more violence in the Middle East. And Bibi in the eighties became an official spokesman at the Israeli embassy in Washington. Marvin Kalb of NBC News insisted that this was critical to contemporary politics, mastering the media and selling your country and its narrative to the world, especially in Ronald Reagan’s America where Bibi’s portrait of Good against Evil had a very receptive audience.

At age 34, Benjamin Netanyahu was appointed as Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, a position that had been so important in Israeli history since Abba Eban held the position in the birthing days of the young state. The story he sold was that the Security Council condoned Palestinian violence against Israel while condemning Israeli efforts to take counter-measures. In 1988, Bibi resigned to return to Israel and build his right wing political base. What was omitted from the documentary was the historical record of a revisionist Israeli politician, namely Menachem Begin, giving Sinai back to the Egyptians and signing a peace agreement with Egypt. What was also ignored was the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement.

Then the Clinton years, the nineties, when Good versus Evil was no longer fashionable and the push for peace between Israel and Palestinians was now at the front of the American agenda.  After a long protracted and fumbling path, Yitzchak Rabin and Yasser Arafat had finally entered into direct negotiations. Dennis Ross, an American Middle East envoy to the Middle East from 1993-2001, witnessed it all and was representative in regarding these negotiations as a historic breakthrough because, for the first time, both sides declared that they were prepared to recognize the other. Was Israel unprepared to recognize Arab control over the West Bank and Gaza before 1967? Oslo was regarded as historic because Palestinians were now negotiating for themselves, but many Israelis suspected that the PLO was not really prepared to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that this was all a diversion to reinforce the Palestinian cause.

President Bill Clinton presided in the White House as Arafat and Rabin not only signed the Oslo Accords, the blueprint for arriving at a final peace agreement, but shook hands in a historic symbolic moment that became an iconic image. Saeb Erekat, the Chief Palestinian peace negotiator, asked in the documentary the crucial question. Would the handshake lead to a shift in cultural views on both sides, to shift to a belief that peace is possible, to shift to a position of live and let live?

While the world, as Martin Indyk, U.S. Ambassador to Israel 1995-1997 opined, celebrated that historic handshake on the White House lawn, angry protests were taking place all across Israel. Netanyahu was building a coalition of the religious and the political right strongly opposed to the Oslo Agreement. According to Marvin Kalb (The Road to War), Netanyahu did not believe in the possibility of coming to an agreement with the Palestinians. As he would later treat the Iran Accord, Netanyahu saw the Oslo Accords as marking a point of peril for Israel, reinforcing his belief that such an agreement could never and would never work. The extreme vitriol, the incitement, led directly to Rabin’s assassination before the elections. “In blood and fire we will expel Rabin.” Netanyahu never tried to dampen the fiery storms and deep seated fears and hatreds on the right. The ground was ready for a Yigal Amir to assassinate Prime Minister Yitchak Rabin.

Bill Clinton said it all. Wearing a kippa and addressing the Israeli public, he said, “Your Prime Minister was a martyr for peace but he was a victim of hate.” If hatred is not combated it grows within oneself as a cancer. Just as Netanyahu would do later in Obama’s second run for office, Clinton went overboard in trying to influence the Israeli election. Netanyahu was by then trailing badly in the polls. Then Hamas assured his victory by blowing up the No. 18 bus in Jerusalem. So, as Ari Shavit said, Rabin’s great heroic act led to a new wave of terror and people dying in the streets of Israel. Over nine days, four suicide bombers, 59 dead, hundreds injured. Hamas had effectively sabotaged Oslo and ensued Netanyahu’s election. “This peace is killing us.” The promise of security had worked, even though the coalition on the right had only the slimmest of majorities.

But Clinton and Netanyahu were doomed to clash. The politics of hope and the politics of fear are very incompatible bedfellows. Oslo was Clinton’s legacy. Oslo was Netanyahu’s nightmare. After lecturing Clinton on the Middle East, Netanyahu bowed to American pressure, at least a little, and agreed to meet with Arafat. He then pulled Israeli troops out of Hebron. Instead of the direct confrontation he later would use against Obama, Bibi seemed determined to slow walk peace to death with his maddening manoeuvres, though, in the end, Arafat would do the job for him. In the meanwhile, an unholy alliance between the left and the right in Israel brought down Prime Minister Netanyahu. The lesson Netanyahu learned: whatever else you do, keep your base intact and do not compromise to satisfy the American president one iota lest your supporters be unforgiving and desert you.

Ehud Barak won the election; Netanyahu suffered an overwhelming defeat. Clinton now gambled all to try to forge a final peace deal. Barak made an offer even dedicated peaceniks thought far reaching. Arafat refused to buy in even though Barak had agreed to cede East Jerusalem. Another intifada broke out. The left in Israel on the side of peace were fundamentally undercut. Most Israelis simply gave up on any belief in peace.

The same thing happened on the Palestinian side. Frustration, disappointment, anger – everything fed the extremists on both sides as the middle wilted away. Diana Buttu, a Palestinian negotiator, however, never blamed Arafat for refusing the deal. There was just no deal to be made even for the red lines on each side. The peace process had proved bankrupt. Netanyahu seemed vindicated once again.

Elliott Abrams (with the American National Security Council 2001-2009) was dead right that in Israel the despair about peace, the distrust of the Palestinians, had now spread to the middle-roaders and to some degree even into the peace camp. On the other hand, terror spread to America itself as the twin towers in New York came crashing down as a result of two hijacked planes flown into them by terrorists on 11 September 2001. Bush was then the president as good was then seen as the enemy of evil once again. By 2008, Netanyahu was re-elected as Prime Minister.

Obama was also re-elected and initiated his policy of opening the U.S. to the Muslims of the world based on mutual interest and mutual respect. On his first day in office, he phoned Mahmoud Abbas. Later in his first television interview, he chose an Arab TV network. Obama had been trained as someone who could use words to bring peace to the streets of Chicago and he believed that the same capacities could bring peace to the Middle East.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman