Donald Trump’s America

Donald Trump’s America

by

Howard Adelman

There is an extreme irony in watching Barack Obama leave power and be succeeded by The Donald, who has graduated from being Trump Two Two to being Trump Three Three Three. His self-deceit is so great that he must now reassure himself by repeating his messages no longer just twice, but three times. Trump won the presidency in good part by appealing to identity politics, not the identity politics of minorities who feel discriminated against, but the identity politics of a majority at the cusp of becoming a minority at the same time as their sense of personal identity and identification with the major direction of their nation dissolved before their very eyes. Trump did produce a revolution. He turned the heads of those who were drowning in nostalgia from looking at the receding past to looking for a chimera in the future. At the same time, he made those who strived to bring about a new future, in the words of Michael Brenner, look backwards for comfort and consolation. In terms of nostalgia, the positions of the regressives and the progressives have been inverted.

After Election Day, President Barack Obama expressed the hope that once Donald Trump became President, he would moderate his behaviour. Hope can curse one with mindblindness. But Trump proves again and again that he is deeply ethically challenged with an, as yet, inexplicable admiration for the authoritarian, Vladimir Putin. A New Yorker columnist quipped that the Donald was an advocate of “Peronism on the Potomac” as well as being a “xenophobic populist.” He has appointed cabinet members demonstrably unqualified for their positions – Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, a critic of public education and an ignorant one at that; Scott Pruitt, a climate-change denier charged with running the Environmental Protection Agency; Steven Mnuchin, one of five Goldman Sachs alumni appointed by Trump to the government coming from a company he once pointed to as a major source of the swamp in Washington. He repeatedly demonstrates that he is inexperienced, irrational, unstable, thin skinned, but with a deep conviction that he knows something better than anyone else, yet he shows little interest in reading or in the process of policy formation. And he often appears unhinged, as when he appeared before the American intelligence community yesterday. More and more, he presents himself as a clear and present danger to democratic government. ­

In yesterday’s Torah study group, as the rabbi pointed out, we had a rare confluence when the text being studied directly spoke to the contemporary situation, so I have an opportunity to marry biblical commentary to contemporary politics. The verse reads as follows:

וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף׃

A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. (Exodus 1:8)

When the text reads, “a new king,” does it mean just a new person taking the throne of Egypt (Trump as a democratically elected monarch) or does it mean a king at the beginning of a new line of succession, neither Democrat or Republican at heart? Or perhaps it means a new kind of king. Or all three! In the biblical text, a new line of succession is at least suggested because of the omission of any reference to forebears. After all, a king’s legitimacy depended in good part on a long inheritance line. Most commentators suggest that what took place was a dynastic change, and, further, and even more importantly, a change that discarded old patterns of behaviour and initiated new and even revolutionary ones.

This is also suggested by the way the new Egyptian king took power. He arose over Egypt – עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם. It is one thing to rule over Egypt. It is quite another to rise to power “over” Egypt, which suggests a palace coup or a revolt. Third, one manifestation of this generic change is what the king does with his power. How does he spend the government treasury – on pyramids? Or on public works or on the military? This new king spent the Egyptian treasury on the military and used the Hebrews as slaves to build new cities for stores or supplies, miskenoth –מִסְכְּנוֹת֙.

וַיִּ֜בֶן עָרֵ֤י מִסְכְּנוֹת֙ לְפַרְעֹ֔ה אֶת־פִּתֹ֖ם וְאֶת־ רַעַמְסֵֽס: And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Ramses. (Exodus 1:11)

See also 1 Kings 9:19; 2 Chronicles 8:4, 8:6, 16:4 and 17:12. The last makes clear that a store “city” is a fortress.

There is a fourth factor defining the new character of a ruler – who the ruler points to as the enemies of the state. In this case, the text is explicitly clear. It is the Israelites who are defined not only as the Other, but the proliferating Other, the threatening Other, the Other which can act as a Fifth Column for Egypt’s external enemies. However, the major emphasis is a fifth factor. This king “knew not Joseph.” It could simply mean that the new king had not been acquainted with Egyptian history and with Joseph’s role in that history. Not a very plausible conclusion since the generation of Joseph had just died off.

There is a much more plausible account that can connect the different strands of legitimization together. Joseph was not only a Vizier who saved Egypt through a period of famine by developing a system for collecting and storing food in the good times and then a system for distributing that food in the bad times. But he did something else as well. First, he operated a welfare state collecting the wealth of society so that all could be fed. He then exchanged bread for the livestock of the inhabitants. (Genesis :47:17) The people lost their flocks and their herds. Then when the people ran out of animals, they exchanged their land for food. (47:19) Further, they then worked the land in return for a percentage of the produce giving Pharaoh a fifth of everything they produced. 20% of gross sales, not just 20% of profits went to Pharaoh. Joseph had either converted a country of freeholders into a feudal state or converted a decentralized feudal country into a centralized collectivist economy. Further, he moved the people into cities and lauded old Jewish values which gave priority to the city, to civilization, but, in the process, probably created a mass of discontented Egyptians who likely lived just above the poverty line in an alien environment they detested. They longed for the old Egypt rooted in the banks of the Nile where rituals were attuned with the annual floods.

It is hard to believe that the new king would not know what Joseph had done. It is far more likely that the new pharaoh (initially just a king) knew precisely what Joseph had done and had rallied the ex-Egyptian herders and shepherds and landowners to overthrow the old dynasty precisely because of resentment over their new status as serfs or urbanized poor. What then could “he knew not Joseph” mean? At the very least, it meant that the new king of Egypt created a competing narrative to the one in which Joseph saved Egypt, saved the state, saved the establishment in power, but, in the new version, did so for the benefit of those in power and at the cost of the traditional way of life of the Egyptians. In the new version, Joseph and his tribe could be blamed for destroying the old social order. Since they were foreigners, they were doubly suspect.

With the background of the biblical text, look more closely at Trump’s inaugural speech. Instead of a record and narrative of survival from the threat of drought, (from the Great Recession of 2008), Trump describes a state of carnage. Not in 2007, but in 2017, ten years later. And he began, not by acknowledging traditions, not by acknowledging past accomplishments, not even by pointing to the constitution of the United States as the source of legitimation for a new ruler. “The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans,” not to the constitution or even the flag.

The expression, “We the people,” is taken to its populist extreme. “We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people.” That promise was betrayed, not just by the previous Democratic regime, but by Republicans as well. These Washington politicians all betrayed their country and allowed it to fall into decay, into crime, into impoverishment of a whole swath of Americans. The promise, the covenant with the people of America, had been broken. It is time to restore power to the people preached Donald Trump.

As Trump said, inauguration day did not just mean the peaceful transition from one governing group to another. “We are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.” Can you not just hear the new king of Egypt standing on the balcony of his palace and asserting that for too long, a small group in Thebes reaped the rewards while the people bore the costs, bore the burdens. “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.” The jobs left and the factories closed. The animal herds disappeared and you the people were forced to work the land, no longer for yourselves, but to enrich those in power with the taxes imposed upon you.

“Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.” Trump pronounced a new beginning. “All change starts right here and right now.” This is not 2017 of the Common Era, but year 1 of the Trump Era, “the likes of which the world has never seen before.” “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.” (my italics) That is Trump Two Two speaking in his inaugural address. When he says only America, he means only me, for he sees himself as the embodiment of the American spirit. Unfortunately, in the history of politics, the phenomenon of demagoguery has been seen too often before. “What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”

This is precisely the definition of a demagogue, “a leader championing the cause of the common people,” and doing so by distortions and outright lies, using false claims and even falser promises. One does not have to refer to Adolph Hitler and his promise to make Germany a great world power or Benito Mussolini’s promise to return Italy to the great and glorious days of the Roman Empire. Demagoguery is as much part of American tradition as the American constitution. Think of Huey Long, Governor of Louisiana in the 1930s, Theodore Bilbo, twice Governor of Mississippi and later a U.S. Senator (“Listen Mr. Bilbo, listen to me, I’ll give you a lesson in history” – a camp song I learned as a kid), Father Coughlin with his radio sermons in the dirty thirties, Senator Joseph McCarthy in the fifties. The bogey men may shift, but the elites are usually controlled by and/or in service to an unworthy and threatening group –  Blacks, Jews, Reds. The enemy shifts and may be Mexicans and Muslims, but the construction of an enemy alien never does. James Fenimore Cooper, in his 1838 essay “On Demagogues,” recognized the danger rooted in the deep populist strain of American politics. “The peculiar office of a demagogue is to advance his own interests, by affecting (my italics) a deep devotion to the interests of the people.”

The elements are always the same. The enemy is an elite and the demagogue opposes the elite in the name of the people with whom he establishes a visceral rather than cognitive connection rooted in agreements over policies. A demagogue connects to the people by appealing to their fears and hatreds and by pointing to the dreams and hopes that they once had and claims that they had been dashed by a powerful cabal. The new deliverer is ostensibly opposed both to that elite and the collectivities it serves. But the motivation is always the same – the narcissistic urges of all demagogues, their own inflated sense of self, their own gargantuan ambitions, and their disrespect for the norms of truth, the norms of decency, the norms of conduct and, in the end, the norms established by the rule of law.  Donald Trump is a demagogue, not only because he is the best expression of all these characteristics, but because he even disdains his own party as an institution through which he connects with the people. His connection is direct. “What truly matters is not which party controls government, but whether the government is controlled by the people.”

It is one thing in a democracy to assert that a government must be responsible to and for the people and be accountable to them. It is quite another to (falsely) claim that government is controlled by the people. It is not. It never has been. It never will be. And demagogues are the only ones who utter such a blatant lie. Plato declared that any demagogue once he gains power cannot help but drift towards tyranny. Aristotle insisted that the most dangerous form of government was one in which the people and not the law have supreme power, a false claim always made by demagogues to seize power.

The trajectory is horrific to watch. Traditions and norms that took centuries to build are destroyed in only a few years. As the opposition takes to the streets in larger and larger numbers, the new “leader” insists that order demands a sacrifice of a degree of freedom. Rule can only be exercised with a strong hand. And Trump has openly stated that he admires “order and strength” – and military parades. But, as Polybius once pointed out, the decay had set in much earlier, for without that decay, a demagogue could not have achieved power in the first place. But whatever the preparation, the demagogic storm seems to come out of the blue.  Like Cleon, who brought Athenian democracy to its knees, Donald Trump has entered the fray as a political tsunami. And what he says means precisely the opposite.

“We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.” Translation – I am the only one that can take you to the promised land. “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” And attendees at the inaugural time and again applauded these words of pure demagoguery.

But the proof text came in one sentence, not the plethora of lies that rewrote history and misrepresented America’s past accomplishments and current success, though these seemed to be the preoccupation of most of the media. Donald Trump said, “The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” The Bible says no such thing. It is a tale of divisions. And there are divisions in interpreting those divisions. Take the text with which we started.

“A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” The instant response of Jews in both the ancient and the modern world has been to pray for the welfare of the government of whatever country Jews lived in, even when the leadership of that country would turn out to be bad for the Jews as well as everyone else. In every prayer book of whatever denomination and whatever country, the Jews express loyalty to the country in which they live through a prayer, most often not in Hebrew, but in the language of that country.

When the new king arose over Egypt, one can imagine the Israelites praying for the new government, asking everyone to give him a chance and let him prove himself. But how they said it, what they said and why they said it varied. Jeremiah (29:4-7), who offered perhaps the first advice to pray for the welfare of the existing government, advised, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” But the advice was strictly qualified. “Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie.”

Rabbi Chanina bar Chama of Babylon, one of the great Talmudic sages and interpreters of the Mishna who also, with Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, went in person to pledge loyalty to the Roman government in Caesarea, in his version of the prayer for the welfare of the government, included a Hobbesian reason: “if not for its fear, a person would swallow his fellow live.” Without government, all would be anarchy and daily life would be a tooth-and-claw existence. This was the complement to the false prophet warning, the fear of the mob, of the populace, for without government (good or bad) and order, all would be chaos.

If Jeremiah feared false prophets as leaders, if he feared demagogues, and Chanina feared the irrationality of the masses, other prayers were far more circumspect, perhaps because they feared the wrath of the government turning against them. The fears are not explicitly expressed, but quotes are lifted from psalms which seem benign enough until you read the quote in the full context of the whole psalm. The allusion to the fears is located in those psalms rather than in the prayers themselves.

Many contemporary prayers for the welfare of the state leave out explicitly or even by implication any reference to fears. I would guess that just before the Inquisition, Jews did so as well. The prayer for the welfare of the government is unabashed. This is true of our prayer book in our synagogue which was our rabbi’s tweak of the older prayer in the siddur, The Gates of Prayer (1975). In Siddur Pirchei Kodesh (2011), our current Holy Blossom Temple Reform prayer book (in the U.S. Reform movement, Mishkan T’filah, 2007), the prayer for the welfare of the country is offered without either an allusion to or certainly any expression and recognition of a danger. Like most American prayers (our rabbi is from Chicago), the prayer is usually of the flavour that asks God to make those leaders the best that they can be. There is no expression that they may turn out to be the worst possible.

Should we pray for Donald Trump and his government, pray that God make him and his government the best that it can be? Or do we recognize the real dangers and pray for the collapse of that government sooner rather than later given its obvious inherent dangers?

I think readers know where I stand.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

A Historical Economic Overview

An Overall Sketch of the Economy: Part I A Historical Overview

by

Howard Adelman

This is my most ambitious blog series ever. I plan to do four things. First, I will offer a potted history of the global economy during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. That alone might seem totally daunting, but, in fact, it will be a summary of an already potted history published by my eldest son, Jeremy, in an essay in Foreign Policy in this past Sunday’s issue (20 November 2016). His article is entitled, “Donald Trump Is Declaring Bankruptcy On The Post-War World Order,” and subtitled “The global system of peace and prosperity was already on life support before the U.S. president-elect decided to pull the plug.”

The article is well worth reading in its entirety and can be found online at http://foreignpolicy.com/author/jeremy-adelman/. Jeremy is a professor of history at Princeton University where he chaired the department for about a decade and now directs the Global History Lab there. He is an economic historian who holds the Charles Lee Chair as well as the Walter Samuel Carpenter III Professorship of Spanish Civilization and Culture. You might also want to read his essay in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs entitled, “What Caused Capitalism.” If you are much more ambitious, you might also want to read his book, Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman which I reviewed over a number of blogs last year and which can be found under my name online at wordpress (https://howardadelman.com/).

The second goal I have is to offer a distillation of the current state of the global and the American-led economy, largely drawing on my reading on this issue over the past months and my attendance at two seminars on the current state of the economy. Third, drawing from those two sources, from Donald Trump’s economic pronouncements, promises and performance thus far, and from the general economic behaviour of most populists, I will try to adumbrate the effects of the latter on the current economy. Fourth, I will offer my personal plan for dealing with these expectations.
Jeremy’s essay starts off with a reference to Robert Graves (Good-Bye To All That) and the efforts after WWI to make Britain great again by restoring a bygone economic era of imperialism and British economic leadership through “throwing up trade barriers, turning currency into weapons, plunging the world into depression, and then deporting, or later exterminating, foreigners as well as their own citizens.” If it seems reminiscent of the situation we are now in, that is no accident. Donald Trump is on the verge of turning the post-WWII economic order in which the U.S. was the great stabilizer (generally) on its head; the U.S. is about to become the great destabilizer. Of course, the ground had been well prepared for Donald Trump as America’s role as the chief economic hegemon has faded.

That role began after WWII when the U.S. economy at the end of WWII was larger than the economies of Britain, and the rest of Europe, of Japan and the USSR combined. America was the postwar Leviathan, but a very liberal one that operated not primarily through coercion but through its intellectual and material influence. But Donald Trump has given voice to those nostalgic for this old role of leadership in a context where it is no longer possible. Nostalgia is perhaps the worst foundation upon which to construct an economic policy.

After WWII, America laid the foundations for the economic order that would rule the world over the following seventy years based on global cooperation versus the protectionism that led to the Great Depression combined. This international economic leadership combined with national policies that created safety nets for those negatively affected by the enormous economic dislocations of a co-operative international economic order. The latter half was intended to manage risks and shelter castaways though educational and welfare nets that caught the human byproducts of the enormous institutional, commercial and technological changes underway. The first half of that order depended on agreed upon norms, principles and rules for free trade. As Jeremy wrote, “The result was a boom. From 1950 to 1973, world per capita incomes grew by 3 percent per year — powered by a trade explosion of 8 percent per year. Cooperation triumphed; interdependence brought prosperity.” Borders were not only opened for goods and services, but for the movement of people as well.

According to Jeremy, both pillars of the new economic order gradually started to crumble and eventually collapse altogether. Trumpism is merely the wake following that collapse with all the dislocations and sorrow that such a tsunami will bring. The most significant victims are an era of tolerance and relative stability. The catalyst has been the decline in America’s leverage to allocate resources, co-ordinate the management of currencies, dismantling traded barriers and setting the standards for the post-WWII economic order. But success undermined that leadership role as competitors rose and America’s percentage of world activity fell. China today is responsible for 10% of world trade and has replaced America as the leading trade country. One of the consequences has been a trade imbalance in which the U.S. imports far more than it exports.

The 1979 recession was the first major blow to the system. But the deregulation of the banks with the consequent enormous increase in credit based on very inventive mechanisms for providing credit, offered a new lifeline. When combined with relatively cheap fossil fuels, the global economy received an enormous shot in the arm. But not in the feet. The upper torso would become too enormous for the spindly legs to support it. The most serious effects were the repercussions on this planet; the environment could not sustain the enormous growth. Further, no global system was in place to manage and offer a new foundation for badly needed leadership. The U.S. was not only no longer an economic hegemon, but was the repository of the largest number of climate change deniers in the world. What is worse, many of them occupied positions of power and the Trump election meant that they have reached the zenith of that power.

Why and How? The problem was not only the incapacity of the planet nor the system in place to manage a fossil fuel monetized economic order, but the welfare state had disintegrated alongside this development. As one protection after another fell for those negatively affected, as a whole class of citizens had their expectations and hopes crushed at the same time as the rug of security was snatched from under their feet, a large populist pool of discontent and barely simmering rage had been developed, one that could and would focus on the greatest symbol of the new immigration, the rising tide of minorities and the decline in the hegemony of white working class males.

The effort to continue to free up markets, the ability to coordinate various aspects of this economic system by the Reagan and Thatcher administrations came at great cost to the working class, which subsequently experienced 35 years of economic stagnation and, even more, a seeming indifference to this state of affairs by the political leadership of this new era of “greed is good.” The deregulators and privatizers had given a second boost to the new economic order, but it came with an enormous sacrifice by the working class. The social contract had been shredded. As Jeremy put it, “Public services and protections softened market risks before 1973; in the decades afterward they were replaced by the private comforts of combustion and monthly credit card bills.”

The carbon and credit economy got a further boost with the disintegration of its collectivist rival, the U.S.S.R., in 1989. America was once again the global hegemon. Instead of doubling down, deregulation under Clinton was accelerated. Then, under the Bush regime, America’s economic and moral leadership were sacrificed in the endless warfare in the Middle East. These events paved the way for a bankrupt casino operator coming into power. Barack Obama was merely a hapless intervener trying to hold back the tides of change and disintegration while assaulted within by a Republican-controlled Congress and challenged externally by the diminution of America’s role in the world.

The ground had been prepared for America to shift from a role as the great stabilizer to that of the great destabilizer. “The long cycle of integration and relative tolerance forged by U.S. leadership since World War II is now headed in reverse.”

With the help of Alex Zisman

75 Trump Aphorisms

An explanation. The following aphorisms or statements are not ones Trump Two-Two would or could make. Nevertheless, they are intended to represent what he thinks even though he is incapable of articulating any one of them. As his surrogate,Kayleigh McEnamy, said after the first presidential debate that Trump Two-Two had with Hillary, his reactions are all visceral rather than reflective. I have tried to be empathetic and make his beliefs conceptually clear. Of course, if Donald ever talked that way, he would lose at least half of his supporters.

75 Trump Aphorisms

by

Howard Adelman

An aphorism is a terse summary of a maxim used as a guide to life and purportedly representing what is held to be generally true or acutely observed by those who repeat the sentiment. “Saying what is on your mind is easy, especially when you are mindless and cannot see what is in front of your nose,” is an example of an aphorism in the form of an insult. Short statements also represent positions taken. Since I do not consider Trump Two-Two capable of expressing a principle or a considered policy – he is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of guy who speaks in simple and too widely held beliefs, all too frequently uttered twice – I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt and act presumptuously as his speech writer. I have written a few beliefs, many in the form of aphorisms, that Trump Two-Two can be presumed to hold, in part to show that I do believe that I can get inside his head and demonstrate that I do not write from a bias. I do hope you get the irony of some of them.

On Facts, Truth, Reason and the Self

1. Some say there must be common sense if we are to have a sense of the commons. A common touch is better than common sense.
2. When reason, used to unravel the riddles of the universe, is also used to make the universe a riddle, unreason takes the stage to unravel common sense.
3. Hyperbole is a white lie designed to bring out a deeper truth than common sense.
4. If truth is not absolute, all thought is subjective; any idea is as good as any other.
5. An idea is only valid if it can be sold, not in the market place of ideas, but in the economic market.
6. Autonomous thoughts, loudly and repeatedly expressed, are as valid as any conclusions of the chattering class.
7. Disregarding logic and evidence is not nonsense but pretense.
8. When philosophers dance on the dais of doubt, anxiety spreads to provide an opening for the fabricator who promises deliverance.
9. Fabulism is the freedom to forge new realities; realism is obsessed with facts and enslaved to what is rather than what can be.
10. When there is no given truth, fabulism deserves equal time with realism in the name of fairness so that the possible can be as plentiful as the actual.
11. Reason not seasoned by common sense needs to be spiced-up by a dose of the blasphemous and the banal.
12. Physical blindness means we cannot see; mindblindness means we cannot know.
13. Do not overrate intellect and underrate imagination. It takes imagination not intellect to appreciate the pleasures of a $500 lunch.
14. Self-consciousness, like the penguin, is overrated.
15. Sturdy individuals are always to be preferred to the studious and the supersensible.

Politics

1. Politics should not be a program of implementing prevailing strategies, but an exercise in demonstrating how nimble you are.
2. The politics of grievance based in resentment energizes both the politics of illusion and the overthrow of the establishment.
3. America is a sea and air power; it need not be a land power. Our army is surplus to our needs. That means that we are free to use our armed forces to expand our wants lest we lend its use to the needs of others.
4. When an ordinary bloke like me can know more about dealing with our enemies than our generals, know more about dealing with our rivals than our diplomats, then we are better off entrusting defence and diplomacy to an artful dodger and a double-dealer. Would you rather have a leader who is tasteless and insipid or one who is openly unsavory?
5. Instead of gab-fests from experts who talk down to you while they ask you to donate blood, instead of an international meeting offering a smorgasbord of non-options, instead of meetings that suck the energy out of you leaving you impotent, attend one of my rallies.
6. Politics should be generous, not uptight. Politics should reach out rather than be hermetic. Politics should be self-regarding rather than being drowned in a concern for others. Politics should be fun and not a Methodist burden.
7. An international meeting is not a place for high mass or for Kol Nidre. It is a squash court rather than a restaurant mistaken for a church.
8. As the refugees in Kakuma Camp must be returned to Sudan, as the refugees in Dadaab must be returned to Mogadishu, as the refugees running rampant in Europe must be returned to the Middle East and Africa, so must the Hispanic illegals in America be returned to the other side of our southern border. The territory of a nation is a refuge for its citizens and not stressed-out strangers.
9. Drop cement reef balls in the sea to allow marine life to flourish instead of placing a moratorium on fishing and expanding the class of enforcers who are such a burden on the lives of ordinary citizens.
10. Instead of treating natural pride as if it were an allergy and acting akin to forbidding peanut butter in lunch boxes, allow all infants to be exposed to peanuts so they can develop their own immune systems and enlarge their national pride.
11. National pride is not a shameful expression but a shameless exercise in exuberance.
12. Tell Senator Elizabeth Warren or Pocahontas that the option is not denial of past crimes towards the indigenous people of America; the option is not exposition and atonement; the option is not redress. Offering members of indigenous people opportunities to participate in an economically expanding nation is the only option.
13. Unpredictability is as virtuous in playing at international politics as in playing poker or making a real estate deal.
14. Would you rather have a leader trained for thirty years to play in the women’s softball league or a man who has played hardball in the major league of international finance?
15. If you have been disenfranchised, I am uninterested in you; if you feel disenfranchised, vote for me.

On Society and America

1. A society’s strength is not founded on guilt and shame, but on guts and shining a light to illuminate success.
2. Lateral inclusion in the name of vertical inclusion sabotages the latter; lateral exclusion ensures vertical exclusion and the “best” will rise to the top.
3. Sound bites and snap shots are necessary to prick the balloons of the bloated pretentions of the high and mighty.
4. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour is a dictum for allowing a stranger to become your neighbour.
5. When the measure is neither man nor God and the belief grows that there is no measure, mischief-makers prosper.
6. I like Jews; they pretend to be waiting for the messiah while they get on with the business of life by treating life as a business.
7. Branding is a virtue as a self-regarding short hand signal to expand the self.
8. In this new age, a leader must be the origin of perception for a whole society to once again allow the spirit of a nation to live in our backyards and driveways.
9. America does not stand for equality; it stands for upward mobility – for the “best” of us. The best is defined by my example – climbing upward while giving anyone who wants to follow me a kick-start.
10. If we are to be immersed in who we are and who we can be, amelioration is insufficient.
11. We need a foundational faith in an America that was once great and can be great again based on being born again, but through self-transcendence rather than grace.
12. A country willing to send troops abroad to participate in a pretend peace instead of willing to fight to the death for victory is a country neither to be admired nor respected.
13. America is a country in crisis; I am the coach that can supply the steroids.
14. America is in freefall towards political obscurity; a superman is needed to swoop down and save it from crashing down to earth.
15. America is at a crossroads. Either it proceeds burdened by carrying a cross or it becomes cross and gets rid of the unfair burdens it carries.

On Doctrine, Values and Lifestyle

1. Sidhartha Mitter characterized my doctrine as “a prosperity gospel for white grievance.” Lauren Collins characterized my doctrine as “the prosperity gospel for male grievances.” White grievances and male grievances are genuine, justifiable and mutually reinforcing.
2. We are at the end of our modern Axial Age. The vision of Yahweh when He proclaimed that, “My house will be a house of prayer for all the peoples,” is dead. Universalism based on care and compassion for all will finally be buried. On the mound of its ashes, I will erect a very tall flagpole recognizing me, my followers and the renewed greatness of America.
3. Meat eater or grass cutter, that is the choice.
4. Ezra cast out foreign wives and children. Follow his guidance, otherwise the assimilation of strangers, who include enemies among us, will threaten our survival.
5. The claim that individuals have responsibilities as well as rights justifies denying the latter in order to impose the former.
6. In the age of sound bites rather than sound arguments, victory goes to he who speaks most and says the least rather than to the one who speaks best.
7. Don’t sabotage yourself in search of perfection; serve yourself to avoid abjection and dejection.
8. Have a good time rather than a good conscience.
9. Aspiration is not hope; aspiration is a promise followed by performance.
10. Be in the moment rather than in bondage to bureaucracy. spontaneity trumps preparation every time.
11. Nostalgia is only valuable when it helps pay the bills.
12. Gut instinct is superior to gut wrenching; the latter leads to torturing yourself while the former allows you to torture others.
13. It is better to trust a crook who you know is a crook than one who is a crook but denies it.
14. Mendacity is a virtue in the hands of a spinner of tales.
15. A man beholden to none is responsible to no one.

On My Persona

1. I am not the messiah. He will be anointed by God. I have anointed myself and ask voters to join me in the ritual.
2. Being boastful and bombastic is a cover for really being pontifical and portentous.
3. Would you prefer the vernacular or the effete?
4. I know what it is to seduce naïve wannabees and the nouveau riche with crispy tongues of sea urchins under yuzu sorbet instead of an excellent hamburger.
5. At Mar-a-Logo, we do not offer detailed descriptions of every dish, thus interfering with conversation; we do not offer fact checks to interrupt your pleasure; we do offer intermissions to enhance your joy.
6. I am affable. I am gracious. I am not an ass-licker; I prefer my pleasures to come from the other side.
7. There may be a difference between pomposity and pretension, but I see none.
8. I would rather offer ostentation than pretension.
9. I attract ambition. I attract talent. I expand my palette to offer everyone a chance to move up – as long as I am at the top.
10. I want my broads to be delicious. I want my food to be delicious. I want my politics to be delicious. Life is not a monastery for monks forced to take part in a public world.
11. I inspire rather than trying to make an impression.
12. I refuse to cater to technique at the expense of terrain; technique must be tamed to secure and expand terrain.
13. Hillary and Barack still live in an analog world; I belong to the digital age.
14. Testosterone may make you a bull in a china shop, but that is infinitely better than estrogen used in selling that china.
15. My ambition in life has always been riches and bitches; since politics is a bitch, seduction is required, especially if the latter enhances the pursuit of the former.

Bernie Sanders Postscript

Bernie Sanders Postscript

by

Howard Adelman

Who wouldda thunk it! Stated in proper English, this has been the reaction of the vast majority of commentators and observers that I have read or spoken to over the primary season. At the beginning, I viewed both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as candidates that had virtually no chance of becoming the nominee of their respective parties. The question was whether they could make a credible showing and why each entered in the first place. For Trump, it appeared to be his insatiable desire for publicity. For Sanders, it appeared to be a chance to forward his agenda, especially when the competition against the expected presumptive Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, left a significant opening.

Obama had proven that a candidate could win without major financial support or a reliance on major donors. Crowd funding offered an alternative method for raising considerable funds. Further, Obama had also shown that “star” quality counts – as Justin Trudeau also showed in Canada. The star quality can be varied, but its presence could enormously boost one’s campaign. And it could be constructed. Hillary never succeeded in doing so. Both Bernie and Donald did.

Who would have known that when Bernie debuted as a presidential candidate for the Democratic Party in 2015 that he would develop star quality? He announced his candidacy on 30 April. During his fifteen months of campaigning, he grew from a stumbling and somewhat awkward candidate to one that at his peak employed 1,000 paid staff and tens of thousands of volunteers as he attracted larger and larger crowds with enormous energy and conviction that allowed him to break fundraising records. Bernie’s star quality compared to Donald Trump’s was the more unusual.

Like Donald, Bernie appealed to nostalgia. A different imagined past that Donald’s, but a constructed past nevertheless. No portraits of anti-war protesters. No pictures of Southern governors setting dogs on black human rights workers. By the time Bernie’s ads began to appear for the Iowa caucus on 1 February when he was nine months into his campaign, the message had become clear and unequivocal. As he denounced the big banks, as he railed against the 1% in boring repetition, as he called for a Canadian-style universal health care plan and free university education, the core emotional appeal was not socialism but the small town innocence of an earlier and more rural America.

His video on 1 February 2016 told the story. An American flag on the side of a shed in snow-covered presumably Vermont. A pale yellow general store in small town America. A port with red painted fishing vessels. A daughter hugging her mother in a park and smiling – no generation gap here. A woman feeding her cows from a pail and then a shot of a male farmer inspecting his cows in old-fashioned barns – no large scale industrial farming here. But though rural and small town, the appeal is not restricted to there even if founded on such images.

The video includes a picture of a large city, of two young people at work on computers, then a girl with a wool cap, long brown hair and a scarf at what looks like a modern coffee shop with an “authentic” older feel and look. A couple at a work station and another with a child of about one and a half – woman with scruffy hair and man with scruffy beard – sitting at a dining room table that could date back to the fifties. A bearded grandfather walking in the snow with a ten-year-old girl in gloves and an open blue jacket against a backdrop of what could be 1960s suburbia – she is presumably his granddaughter.

Then back to the farm – haying in this case – then a small two outdoor dancing event with a sign “Bernie for President” in background and a man with a beard and old fashion white summer hat and his partner with a peak cap in the foreground. Again, wherever the video was taken, the feeling is for small town America. And thus far, the images have all been of whites. One would not know that a significant very large minority of Americans were black and Hispanic. Then young teenagers with very serious looks foreground with two girls, with long brown straight hair, no make-up, one with her arm around her companion and the other holding her hand, both looking very serious and almost worried.

Then Bernie finally with his smile and white hair as an impersonation of Larry Davis before Larry Davis impersonated him, greeting voters – again all white – on a field of grass. Then worried workers and a crowd of youth holding up Bernie Sander’s signs – “WE LOVE BERNIE.” Then a row of girls, led by one that could be of possible Filipino descent the first non-white after over half the video had passed. The girls were high fiving a row of older folk going the other way – this is a movement in which young and old have joined hands even as they travel in different directions towards the future – or, at the very least, clapped hands.

Then another video of a farmer in a field gathering up left over hay by hand as a very young boy in a blue parka carrying a little black lamb strides in the foreground and the scene is followed by three generations of farmers. One might be led to believe we were living in 1960 before there was an enormous growth in productivity on farms and there were still fears that we would run out of arable land, before the tremendous growth in national let alone international markets for farm produce, and before the rising influence of consumers on agricultural production. Bernie’s economic policies are more nostalgic American than socialist, harking back to a time before the structure of farms and farms households had so radically changed, harking back to a time when the institutions farmers hated most were banks as they secretly cheered as Bonnie and Clyde robbed those banks. Bernie may have verbally been calling for “revolution,” but it was a revolution in the classical rather than the modern sense, a revolving back to what once was rather than a brand new utopian future.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, more than half of Americans lived on farms and farms employed about half the work force. Fifty years later, mechanization had come to farming as had large scale specialization. But you would never know that by watching a Bernie video. The leisure is there but not the industrialization and specialization. There is no mention of the radical increase in productivity in the latter half of the century that made the improvements in the first half look like tinkering. Farming counts for a very small percent of the GDP of America and fewer and fewer Americans live on farms as urbanites create farms in the cities, esteem local foods, and crowd organic food markets on weekends.

In Israel, Bernie worked on a kibbutz. He has no love for Israel as a start-up nation that files even more patents per year than America with thirty times the population, and, next to Israel, America is the leader in innovation. At the end of the sixties, only 4% of Americans were employed in agriculture compared to 41% in 1900. At the end of the sixties, agriculture only constituted 2.3% of America’s GDP. But you would have no clue that this was the case watching a Bernie video. Nor the fact that the vast majority of the very small number of farmers have jobs off the farm.

In the video, you then see Bernie again glad handing a very large crowd of young people. Then the slogan two-thirds of the way through the video – “They’ve all come to look for America.” The message is clear. America, the America we knew, has been lost. America is at heart rural and small town. America is clean cut. American youth and older people are united. And they all love “the Bern.” Most significantly, America is at heart white. But it is the song that accompanies the video that is most telling, the Simon and Garfunkel 1968 hit, “America”. “And we walked off to look for America.” What could be more nostalgic than a time when young lovers could hitchhike from Saginaw, Michigan to Pittsburgh, a song which echoes an earlier great Simon and Garfunkel hit, “Homeward Bound.”

That in a nutshell was Bernie’s message. Not, “We want to make America strong again,” but we want to take America back to the sixties when there was purity, hope and love in the air and America smelled of hay and goat’s milk as young lovers travel across a newly-paved America supposedly headed into a future, but which has taken them into the present. The message is clear. America went astray when it became involved in the Vietnam War, when it left its roots, when it travelled towards a globalized and a multicultural village.

This does not mean that Bernie is a bigot and racist like the Donald. Not at all. But he is clearly nostalgic for an earlier, a simpler, a purer, a cleaner, America. For he was a Jewish boy who left Brooklyn for Vermont. Most of all, the song resonates with clear harmony even as the boy sings as his lover, Kathy, sleeps beside him on the grass, “I’m empty and I’m aching and I don’t know why.” In the sixties, in Bernie’s version, life was full of angst, foreboding as one counts cars on the New Jersey turnpike. In Bernie’s world, there is no rejoicing that the New Left led and won the campaign against the testing of nuclear weapons, only a sense of impending loss and a desire to recover what America once had, before America had started to decay and its broken spirit robbed youth of their hopes and their faith in humanity.

We had a visitor arrive at our house yesterday evening. He had come from LA to become the director of photography on my youngest son’s first feature which goes into production this weekend. I asked him about the primary in California the day before. He said he was still a Canadian and could not vote, but that he and all his friends were Bernie supporters. Would they vote for Hillary? None of them were diehards, he replied. They loved Bernie, but all of them would vote for Hillary. They may be nostalgic, but they are far from stupid.

Wall Street does not just stand for big money and corruption. It is now an icon for when and how America went wrong, when it sold its soul to the big financiers and money manipulators as inequality increased and the infrastructure of America that had been built crumbled. A month after the Iowa caucus, Bernie charged back to his birthplace, New York, but not Brooklyn, but Manhattan, and not Harlem but Wall Street. He went directly into the home of the hedge funds and called for jailing bankers and breaking up the large financial institutions. This was a Wall Street created by Hollywood. Bernie insisted that “financial fraud became not only the norm but in many ways the new business model.” This was as big a lie as Donald Trump ever told.

Though I am not intimidated by banks as Stephen Leacock was, and though I do not love them as Hillary is portrayed as doing, they are not the devil incarnate. I studied the situation of the 2008 financial crisis and published on it. Bill Clinton, in surrendering to the right and reducing the regulatory controls on banks – an initiative that Canada did not follow – opened up the path to small boiler operations and other financial schemers. They used even a few of the larger bank’s greed for larger and larger profits regardless of risk. This activity brought on the crisis, even if the opening for the fraud could be traced back to an algorithm created by a graduate student from Canada’s Waterloo University in 1999.

Bernie was not after the New York vote. He was after the votes of youth who face insecurity, who enter life burdened with debt from their education, who face urban life when the price of homes has gone into the stratosphere relative to earnings. He was after the votes of small-towners who have always suspected the city, but especially New York. He was not after the votes of one out of every nine New Yorkers employed by the financial sector or anyone else related to the industry that pays $12.5 billion in state taxes to New York State.

Bernie was not after the voters who trace their intellectual descent to Alexander Hamilton, a father of the American constitution and grandfather of the American Federal Reserve. In the 1931 film, Alexander Hamilton, George Arliss, who wrote the drama on which the film was based, plays this illegitimate child who would become one of America’s greatest political leaders. Hamilton grew up in the West Indies among Blacks and attended a Jewish school because he was a bastard denied entry to the Protestant school on that account. It was he who undermined his enemies, including his blackmailer, Mr. Reynolds, who tried to exploit his sexual peccadilloes with Mrs. Reynolds; Hamilton confessed. By confessing and telling all to an American public, he set a precedent for an American public that has fed off public confessions by public figures ever since. But most of all, Hamilton loved cities and despised the hypocrisy of rural romanticism, particularly that of Thomas Jefferson (a sleazebag in the film). He loved the marriage of capital, innovation and industry that was responsible for America’s greatness.

Hamilton is buried only a block away from the New York Stock exchange and Bernie came to New York to bury his prodigy. Bernie was not looking for support from an electorate that chose Michael Bloomberg as its mayor, an entrepreneur who became a billionaire by developing monopoly control on information, particularly financial information without which the security industry would collapse. Bernie, like Aaron Burr in 1804, came to New York to challenge the heirs of Hamilton to a duel and to slay the financier dragon.

He fought like a lion but he failed. In California’s primary on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton won 55.8% of the vote and 260 delegates compared to Bernie’s 43.2% and 206 delegates. When I went to bed at 3:00 a.m., Hillary had been leading 60:40 with about 40% of the vote counted. Bernie in his speech predicted that the difference would narrow and he was correct. But not enough that Hillary would not end up with enough delegates to crown her as the presumptive Democratic candidate compared to Bernie’s without counting superdelegates. Nate Cohn and Toni Monkovic’s dialogue (“Superdelegates Sink Bernie Sanders, Will He Sink Them?”) in Monday’s New York Times was just nonsense. Yet the rumours continue that the system was rigged because the superdelegates had declared early, were not selected by the people and overwhelmingly supported Hillary. California’s primary smacked Bernie down hard.

It is true that Hillary did not earn enough elected delegates to put her over the top. She won 2,203 to Bernie’s 1,826 and she needed 2,383 delegates. Can anyone argue that in an open election she would not also have won a majority of superdelegates since she only needed 180 of the 622 superdelegates to win. She won 574 to Bernie’s 48. The significance – experienced Democrats have much more faith in Hillary than in Bernie, both to win the election for the Democrats and to be a better president. Further, the reality is that she has won 55% of the elected delegates. The rumours matching Donald Trump’s of an election system designed to beat outsiders like Bernie and Donald is just a load of crock and part of the paranoia of modern politics where widespread acceptance of conspiracies abound.

The popular vote tells the real story. Bernie won only 42% of the Democratic voters but he received a higher percentage of delegates because he won in small caucus states, based on much lower voting, where there were caucuses rather than votes cast by the Democratic members or, in open states, by Democrats and independents. His romantic nostalgia worked with them. Hillary was the choice of the people and of the party.

But the reality is that Bernie did far better than expected. Further, he shifted Hillary’s campaign significantly to the left where she too now espouses a minimum wage of $15, lower costs for higher education, universal health care, the reinvigoration of the American economy, more safeguards against the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing that famous artery in New York City. Hillary has, however, never gone against expanded free trade as both Donald and Bernie have, and has never renounced humanitarian intervention abroad even as Obama proved to be more cautious about that prospect than she has been. Bernie, like Donald Trump, regards all foreign involvement as a misuse of American resources and firepower.

When Bernie made his speech late in the evening on California time, everyone waited eagerly to see if he would concede defeat and rally behind Hillary Clinton. Hillary had earlier held out a hand of reconciliation to him and certainly in her policy statements has swung in his direction. But Bernie insisted not only that he would continue as a candidate not only through the Washington, D.C. primary but to the convention in Philadelphia in July since, theoretically, the superdelegates were not committed until they voted. More importantly, he was the leader of a movement and wanted his people to have a significant role on the committees defining policy. Any hopes that he would concede before Philadelphia were misplaced. Bernie and his supporters will continue raging against “the dying of the light” even though most are young millennials.

However, the public imagery is bad, worse for Bernie than for Hillary. He comes across as an old grouch or as driven even more by the politics of resentment than was suspected heretofore. Like Donald, Bernie, though he certainly did not disparage, he virtually ignored Black and Hispanic voters as targeted groups, appealing to them only as common members of a class. When Hillary really targeted identity politics herself in her post-California victory speech, it was as a feminist as she used Bernie’s appeal to nostalgia by referring to the beginning of the women’s movement in America in the nineteenth century, the fact that her mother was born when the constitution was amended to give women the vote, and to her personal wish that her mother had been here at the pinnacle of her achievements thus far when the most important glass ceiling in America had been broken. But it was ultimately a tale of progress using nostalgia as a literary device.

Most of the talk by Clinton supporters has been about giving Bernie time to adjust to his loss, believing, I think erroneously, that he will fold right after the Washington, D.C. primary. But he won’t. He does not need to regain his bearings. He never lost them. And he should not. For he leads a movement of which the quest as the presidential standard bearer was just the leading edge to a campaign rooted in nostalgia that was much more substantial. Further, now 18-33 year olds believe they can influence Washington policy. That is his primary objective and he believes there is plenty of time for Democrats to beat Trump.

With the help of Alex Zisman

My Promised Land: An Existential Challenge, Iran 2013

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

by

Ari Shavit

 

XIV Existential Challenge, 2013

Iran is clearly the key security threat to Israel at the moment. Ari has been writing about Iran for over a decade so he presumably knows the issue. On the one hand, he is at a disadvantage since the breakthrough on the Iran negotiations came through after the book went to press. On the other hand, it is helpful to compare what he said in 2013 before the negotiations happened with what is happening now and what he has said or written since. What we find is that he has been saying mostly the same thing – with some reversals – for the past decade. Further, he continues to say the same thing as if no negotiations were underway, or, more correctly, in spite of the negotiations underway. He has been prophesying gloom and doom for years, In the rare case when he refers to detailed expert written analysis, he gets it right. 

Let’s first deal with what he says in the book, then what he said subsequently, and then what he previously said. He has mostly been wrong. He has also mostly been hysterical.

Ari says the case must be studied within three contexts, the global, the American and the Israeli. “Since 1945, the international community has managed to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons in an impressive way.” (366) If, ignoring Israel for the moment, allowing Pakistan, India and North Korean is considered part of that impressive accomplishment, this is a very questionable assertion. If one looks at who have been excluded and the reality that only four states have been added to the nuclear club since China, Ari’s praise may be justified.

The second context is the American one. According to Ari, America is a declining power and America’s influence in the Arab world is waning. The third context is Israel which possesses nuclear weapons but has never used them even to pose a threat and has never threatened to wipe out its enemies. Iran has threatened to wipe Israel off the map. That is why Iran with its technical know how and the advances made by Iranian scientists brought Iran to the brink of having a nuclear weapon.

There is a fourth meta-context, that of the prophets and seers who saw and forewarned about what was happening versus those in America and Israel who refused to see, who wore cognitive blinkers. What would have been easy and not required force in the early stages has become increasingly more difficult to resolve except by the use of force. Further, the challenge, even to respond by the use of force, has not been technical but conceptual, presumably not only for America but for Israel. But was it not also political? While bombing the Iranian nuclear complexes are now very difficult, in the early stages of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, the international and regional political difficulties would have been enormous. But Ari shunts such considerations aside.

Israel took out the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981. Much more recently, Israeli jets destroyed the Syrian reactor. Ari grants that the destruction of the Iranian reactors will be much more difficult, not only technically but politically, not because of the international response but given the sophistication and cunning of the Iranians. For their goal was not just to build a bomb, but to build one safely. (372)

However, when Netanyahu came to office in 2009, he threw off those blinkers and not only saw Iran for what it had become and was becoming, but in refusing to be silent about what he saw. First, he said Iran must not possess a bomb. Second, bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities was politically and ethically justified. Third, and most important, Israel could do it, alone if necessary. Finally, when Israel had deemed that the rest of the world had run out of time to get the deed done, Israel would carry out the deed, again, alone if necessary. Further, Netanyahu’s red line speech in the UN in September 2012, by explicitly and unequivocally making this known on the international stage, is said by Ari to be singularly responsible for the election of President Hassan Rouhani. Further, along with previous threats, that threat brought about the increased world pressures and strong sanctions that forced Iran to at least hesitate. But Israel’s moment of decision was near. Amos Yadlin, former head of military intelligence and currently head of the Institute for National Security Studies, insisted that moment for choosing the bomb or bombing was in late 2013 or the first quarter of 2014. Yadlin has since said that Iran has succeeded in becoming a nuclear threshold state.

If, for both Barak and Netanyahu, 2012 was the decisive year, the year when Iran left the zone of immunity, why did Israel not react with force then? Because Netanyahu was not Churchill who could communicate, share his vision and get his fellow Israelis committed to what he saw and what needed to be done. He allowed Israel to be perceived as the threat to peace. Since Ari has believed for years that Iran posed an existential threat to Israel, Ari is distressed that the confrontation with Iran kept being postponed and remains unresolved.  In the 2013 elections, the Iranian threat was virtually ignored. And so Ari ended the chapter with a question: “Will Obama’s United States have the resolve… (to) stop Iran or let Israel stop Iran?” (381)

If this is the false dichotomy of anti-Iranian hawks, it is faced with the anti-Israeli false dichotomy of the doves. For example, Barry Lando in The Huffington Post on 22 November 2012 wrote that the elephant in the room was the Israeli lobby. “The major force driving U.S. policy on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program is not cool, rational logic, but the pro-Israel lobby.” If Lando is correct, why isn’t Israel bombing the smithereens out of Iran. If the hawkish Israeli school is correct, the exact same question can be asked: why isn’t Israel bombing the smithereens out of Iran, For on this, if either opposite analysis is correct, the same result will follow. That alone should suggest that neither extreme is correct.

I have written extensively on Iran in the past. My position has been:

a) Not only would Iran’s possessing a nuclear capability pose a threat to Israel, but Iran becoming a threshold nuclear power would as well.

b) The time became immanent in 2013.

c) The danger was not so much Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon but getting to the edge of a strategic breakout capacity that would enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons within six weeks of making such a decision.

d) Iran now is at that point, and that is one reason why, in spite of the heavy impact of the economic sanctions, Iran is in the best position to negotiate to, as much as possible, secure that strategic breakout capacity.

e) Nevertheless, I welcomed negotiations as the better option to bombing and supported Obama’s initiatives on the diplomatic front.

e) The goal of the Obama-led talks will be to get a deal that both pushes Iran much further back from the brink of a breakout capacity, but also ensures that, through monitoring and an insistence on full transparency, Iran can be prevented from coming near that edge ever again.

What has Ari said since the negotiations have opened?

1. Ari believes that negotiations are a strategic mistake. He published an OpEd in the New York Times on 20 November 2013 where he began: “If such an agreement were signed, it would represent an Iranian victory – and an American defeat.” Why? Because the economic sanctions would be lifted, providing renewed strength to the Ayatollah regime, and Iran would be able to enrich more uranium and maintain its nuclear program. Iran’s progress might be slowed, but Iran would still be able to cross the finish line. Not only that, but an accord would guarantee that it [Iran] would guarantee that outcome.

2. How does Ari justify this conclusion? Because the Geneva accord is a replica of the mindset of Munich providing the illusion of peace-in-our-time while, in fact, bringing us closer to war. Ari, of course, was not the only one to adopt this posture. Jonathan Tobin of The Economist, for one, agrees with Ari. “Iran is certain to get a nuclear weapon sometime before the midterm elections next year. At that point, apologies to Netanyahu from his detractors in both the U.S. and Israel will be both too late and of no use to a Jewish state confronted by a nuclear Iran that wants to wipe it off the map.” (27 June 2013)

3. What was the alternative? Make Iran give up its nuclear ambitions.

Ari then recapitulates the historical argument that he provided in the book. “In short, Ari has remained a prophet crying in the wilderness. You cannot trust the Iranians. Iran must either give up its nuclear program entirely or force must be used to stop Iran. and it is Obama’s fault that massive force must be used now. For by the time Obama, as leader of a world-weary and declining power, decided to impose heavy sanctions in 2010 and 2011, it was too little and too late.”

What is wrong with Ari’s analysis? First, it posits an absolute – either an Iran on the threshold of acquiring nuclear weapons or Iran with absolutely no capacity to produce nuclear weapons at all. Either/Or. The focus is not on moving Iran as far back as possible and as necessary so that Iran is no longer a threshold nuclear state. Second, Ari considers either full retreat or full scale bombing to be both effective and achievable strategies. Third, Ari uses an analogical argument and through such an analogy and labelling of Iran, presumes he has made his case rather than examining the historical record to assess the degree to which Iran, in its actions, has established itself as a reckless polity bent on at least regional hegemony. Further, the accord is simply trashed but not analyzed for its weaknesses and strengths. For Ari, allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear power was prima facie a repetition of Munich. 

The fact that the best and most acute observers of Iran’s growing capacity to produce nuclear weapons, observers who have been warning the world community over the last decade, but in a far less shrill voice and an accumulation of empirical evidence, have had a different interpretation doesn’t seem to phase Ari. In fact, he generally pays it no mind with two exceptions I found. Though he writes in the afterword that he has “read hundreds of books and thousands of documents,” one cannot tell from reading or listening to Shavit whether he has ever read David Albright and Paulina Izewicz, the two most acute observers and reporters on Iran’s progress towards a nuclear capacity. Neither are cited in the index. Instead, Ari repeats his mantra and prophecies like a broken record. (Other than sentences in italics to provide for context and transition, everything else is a direct quote; for a much fuller coverage of all of Ari’s past articles and prophecies, see the False Prophet blog.)

1. Ari Shavit Haaretz, 11 May 2006 – 8 years ago

If you concentrate and make an effort, it is still possible to hear the hum of the centrifuges. They are turning on their axes – once cascade after the other, one and then another percentage point worth of enrichment – the clock quietly ticking toward a global crisis…We are at the threshold of a genuinely historic moment…There are two choices:. The West cannot accept Iran’s nuclear project. Therefore, the confrontation is inevitable. In the best case scenario, it will end the way the Cuban missile crisis did; in the worst case scenario, it will turn ugly and irradiate the Middle East. The timetable is also more or less known. At the diplomatic level, the crisis may peak as early as this summer. From a military standpoint, the crisis may reach its zenith in the winter, after the U.S. congressional elections. Either way, 2007 will be a critical year. It poses a challenge to the West of a kind that it has not faced since the Cold War. For Israel, it is a date with destiny. The world was faced with four alternatives: acquiescence, diplomatic action, American military action, or a situation in which Israeli is forced to act.

America and Israel both chose acquiescence. I think, as Ari did, that both were wrong. However, the sky did not fall.

2. Ari Shavit Haaretz, 17 May 2007 – one year later

Whatever the number of centrifuges – 1,300 or 3,000 [Iran now has 19,000, many much more powerful and sophisticated than anything in 2007] – Ari was certain that the critical time had arrived even as moderate economic pressures were being applied and a small coalition of western states was applying more substantive sanctions.

There is no doubt about the main issue: This year is a critical one… When it comes to Iran, this year is a year of decision. If Iran is not stopped this year, then in the summer of 2008 it will be on its way to nuclear hegemony, which means a different Middle East. It also means a different State of Israel. It means a different era…  this year Israel will have to make the most important decision in its history: to prepare for the fact that Iran will strike at it in response to any strike at its nuclear project, or to prepare to face a nuclear Iran.

Was Netanyahu the alternate champion to Olmert?

 For Ari at the time, only Barak was capable of leading Israel when it confronts the most important decision in its history. The decision of its life.

3. Ari Shavit Haaretz, 13 March 2008 – ten months later

Israel’s effort to stymie President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nuclear program in an elegant manner hit the skids. The likelihood of diplomatic and economic pressure stopping the Shi’ite centrifuges is pretty slim. The likelihood of the United States attacking Iran is low. If John McCain does not make it to the White House, Israel is likely to be faced with a cruel decision at the end of the decade: to attack a nuclearizing Iran or accept a nuclear-capable Iran. Either option will pose a test to Israel unlike any it has faced since 1948.

Needless to say, John McCain did not make it to the White House.

4. Ari Shavit Haaretz, 5 June 2008 – three months later – Ari’s wishful & wild thinking

Contemplate, if you will, this wild scenario: In November, after Senator Barack Obama becomes president-elect of the United States, outgoing president George W. Bush inflicts a severe blow on Iran. That could take the form of a naval siege, the flexing of American military muscle, or even an all-out air strike targeting Iran’s nuclear program…A  military move, even a semi-military one, carried out by an outgoing president would be unprecedented and illegitimate; it would be perceived as the final insane trumpet call of a thoroughly off-the-wall administration with a committed religious outlook. But these are not ordinary times, and the protagonists involved are not ordinary people. The logic that guides Bush and Dick Cheney is not always readily understood by public opinion in the West or even by the molders of that public opinion. This logic could lead the U.S. president and vice president to conclude that, if they do not act, neither will Obama. If Obama does not act, Iran will go nuclear, and, if that happens, evil will triumph. 

5. Ari Shavit Haaretz, 30 April 2009 – ten months later – an imagined 2012 retrospective

Washington was astounded when, in the summer of 2010, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that he was expelling international inspectors and galloping full-tilt toward the production of nuclear weapons. The shock turned to horror on the eve of Christmas 2010, when Iran’s spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, stated that his country had its first three nuclear warheads – aimed at Riyadh, Cairo and Tel Aviv.

The rest of the retrospective prophecy grew even more absurd, with Obama deciding not to run for a second term given the international chaos, especially in the Middle East.

6. Ari Shavit Haaretz, 22 April 2010 – one year later

If next year U.S. President Barack Obama acts toward Iran the way George W. Bush acted toward North Korea, Iran will go nuclear. If Obama prevents Israel from acting against Iran and does not act itself, Iran will become a leading power in the Middle East. The outcome will be a loss of respect in the Sunni world for the United States and a loss of inhibitions in the Shi’ite and radical world vis-a-vis Israel. A serious conflict could then break out between Israel and Hamas, Israel and Hezbollah and perhaps even Israel and Syria. A violent deterioration could also occur between Israel and other neighbors. A loss of U.S. strategic hegemony would mean that opponents of the West will shake up the Middle East. A loss of Israel’s strategic monopoly would result in attacks on it by old and new enemies. The age of relative quiet that has typified Israeli-Arab relations for the past 35 years will be over forever.

The 180 degree Reversal

7. Ari Shavit Haaretz, 9 June 2011 – thirteen and a half months later

There is no real proof that a nuclear attack by Iran is imminent. 

8. Ari Shavit Haaretz, 16 June 2011 – one week later, Ari finally gets his facts straight

First fact: Neither the West nor Israel can accept a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran would make the Middle East nuclear, threaten Western sources of energy, paralyze Israel with fear, cause Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to go nuclear and the world order to collapse. A nuclear Iran would make our lives hell.

Second fact: Neither the West nor Israel has to act militarily at present against Iranian nuclearization. A military attack against Iran would incite a disastrous regional war, which would cost the lives of thousands of Israelis. A military attack against Iran would turn it into a great vengeful power that would sanctify eternal war against the Jewish State. A military attack against Iran would cause a world financial crisis and isolate Israel from the family of nations.

Third fact: Out of a profound understanding of these two basic facts, the West and Israel have developed a joint strategy that can best be described as the third way. The third way has two dimensions: (covert ) activities and economic sanctions. Surprising even to those who have formulated this strategy, the third way is achieving results. It is not eliminating the Iranian threat, but it is postponing and weakening it. Britain, France and Israel, working in close alliance, are spearheading the effort. The United States is also doing its part. Germany and Italy are trailing behind. But the bottom line is that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is under pressure. The still waters of the West and Israel run deep.

Fourth fact: A key element of the third way is the threat of a military attack against Iran. This threat is crucial for scaring the Iranians and for goading on the Americans and the Europeans. It is also crucial for spurring on the Chinese and the Russians. Israel must not behave like an insane country. Rather, it must create the fear that if it is pushed into a corner it will behave insanely. To ensure that Israel is not forced to bomb Iran, it must maintain the impression that it is about to bomb Iran.

9. Ari Shavit Haaretz, 10 November 2011 – six months later, wrong again

The prime minister and defense minister claimed that with regard to Iran, there was no time to spare. The former Mossad chief claimed that we had time. Now comes the International Atomic Energy Agency and proves that indeed, there is no time to spare… So the decisive year…will be 2012. Israel is getting closer to having to decide between bombing or allowing a bomb.

But also right, except on the immediacy!

The report published this week in Vienna shatters that illusion. It proves that Iran has not only uranium enrichment and missile programs, but that it has a plan to manufacture nuclear weapons. It proves that Iran has covert facilities and secret delivery routes, and that it is working stealthily to develop a nuclear bomb. With a stock of five tons of uranium enriched to a low level and 70 kilograms of it enriched to a moderate level, Iran is on the brink. With Iran developing nuclear detonators and nuclear warheads, Iran is a real and immediate threat.

10. Ari Shavit Haaretz, February and March 2012 – three months later

Is there any limit to the number of times one can cry wolf?

February 23 – Press the Panic Button;- a time at which urging bombing exhausts itself

Iranian scientists were assassinated and Iranian centrifuges exploded, but at any given moment Iran had more fissionable material than the previous moment. One red line was crossed, and then another, and another. Thus, our prime minister’s primary preoccupation over the past few years has been sharpening the Israeli sword. He has made the whole world truly worried that the sword might be unsheathed… As of now, the military option is proving to be a diplomatic success. It managed to shake the international community out of its apathy and made a definitive contribution to the tightening of the diplomatic and economic siege on Iran. But the time for playing diplomatic games with the military option is drawing to a close. There’s a limit to how many times one can cry wolf. There’s a point at which a “hold-me-back” policy exhausts itself. And that’s a very dangerous point, because suddenly the military option turns into a real option. The Netanyahu-Obama meeting in two weeks will be definitive. If the U.S. president wants to prevent a disaster, he must give Netanyahu iron-clad guarantees that the United States will stop Iran in any way necessary and at any price, after the 2012 elections. If Obama doesn’t do this, he will obligate Netanyahu to act before the 2012 elections.

March 15: To attack or not to attack?

Israel’s policy of prevention has gained some time, but has failed. The international policy of appeasement created an illusion and collapsed. The sanctions imposed were too little, too late, and won’t likely stop Iran in time…  in March 2012 the feeling in Jerusalem is that Israel is utterly alone. And we are getting closer to the moment of truth.

March 22:  Now or Never

By 2013, Iran will be deep inside the zone of immunity. Iran’s ongoing fortification and dispersal of its strategic facilities means that by then, even if Israel does strike, Tehran’s nuclear program will survive. Once that happens, all those in Israel who oppose a strike will go from arguing “not yet” to throwing up their hands and saying “it’s too late.” That’s why it’s totally clear that for Israel, 2012 is a critical year. It’s either now or never…  right now, the knife is at its throat, the official said: As far as Israel is concerned, 2012 is the year of decision.

Now never came.