Archive for May, 2008

Too many Chamberlains, not enough Churchills

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

I am breaking some of my rules by reprinting this. For one thing, it’s much longer than the usual blog post. For another, I mostly try to stay away from articles that are sharply partisan in American politics. But this one is too important to pass up.

The Fall of Lebanon
by Barry Rubin

“If you have tears, prepare to shed them now….
Oh, what a fall was there…
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down.”
–William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar,” Act 3, Scene 1.

May 21, 2008, is a date — like December 7 (1941) and September 11 (2001) — that should now live in infamy. Yet who will notice, mourn, or act the wiser for it?

On that day, the Beirut spring was buried under the reign of Hizballah.

Speaking on October 5, 1938, after Britain and France effectively turned Czechoslovakia over to Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill said, “What everybody would like to ignore or forget must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat….”[1]

In contrast, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said that the agreement over Lebanon was, “A necessary and positive step.” At least when one sells out a country one should recognize this has happened rather than pretend otherwise. But this is precisely what took place at Munich, when the deal made was proclaimed as a concession that brought peace and resolved Germany’s last territorial demand in the region.

Churchill knew better and his words perfectly suit the situation in Lebanon today:

“The utmost [Western diplomacy] has been able to gain for Czechoslovakia…has been that the German dictator, instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course.”

Yes, that’s it exactly. On every point, Hizballah, Iran, and Syria, got all they wanted from Lebanon’s government: its surrender of sovereignty. They have veto power over the government; one-third of the cabinet; election changes to ensure victory in the next balloting; and they will have their candidate installed as president.

The majority side is not giving up but is trying to comfort itself on small mercies. The best arguments it can come up with are that now everyone knows Hizballah is not patriotic, treats other Lebanese as enemies, and cannot seize areas held by Christian and Druze militias. It isn’t much to cheer about.

Nevertheless, as in 1938, a lot of the media is proclaiming it as a victory of some kind, securing peace and stability in Lebanon.

Not so. If Syria murders more Lebanese journalists, judges, or politicians, no one will investigate. No one dare diminish Hizballah’s de facto rule over large parts of the country. No one dare stop weapons pouring over the border from Syria and Iran. In fact, why should they continue to be smuggled in secretly? No one dare interfere if and when Hizballah, under Syrian and Iranian guidance, decide it is time for another war with Israel.

This defeat was not only total, it was totally predictable. Just as Churchill said:

If only Great Britain. France and Italy [today we would add the United States, of course] had pledged themselves two or three years ago to work in association for maintaining peace and collective security, how different might have been our position… But the world and the parliaments and public opinion would have none of that in those days. When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have affected a cure.

Instead there was a lack “of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong…” Actually, though, as Churchill knew when he spoke, these faults were still not corrected. The folly continued.

And so is what comes next? Back to Churchill:

“All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness.” That country suffered because it put its faith in the Western democracies and the League of Nations (now the United Nations). In particular, she was betrayed by France whom the Czechs then, and the Lebanese today, trusted to help them.

The UN Security Council on May 22 endorsed the Lebanon agreement even though it totally contradicted the Council’s own resolution ending the Hizballah-Israel war, thus betraying the commitments made to Israel about stopping arms smuggling, disarming Hizballah, and keeping that group from returning to south Lebanon. The UN’s total reversal of its demands from two years ago — constituting a total victory for Hizballah — did not bring a flicker of shame or even recognition that this in fact had happened.

All this is a victory for terrorism. It is quite true that the Lebanese Shia — like the German minority in Czechoslovakia which Hitler promoted — has genuine grievances and that Hizballah has real support in its own community. But how did it overcome the other communities, the other political forces in Lebanon? Through assassination and bombing albeit done by Syria’s surrogates rather than directly), by intimidation and fear, by demagoguery and war.

Iran and Syria help their allies; the West doesn’t. And so the message was: We can kill you; your friends cannot save you. Look at their indifference! Despair and die.

And here, regarding the future, we can only quote Churchill’s speech extensively:

In future the Czechoslovak State cannot be maintained as an independent entity. I think you will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured only by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi regime. Perhaps they may join it in despair or in revenge. At any rate, that story is over and told. But we cannot consider the abandonment and ruin of Czechoslovakia in the light only of what happened only last month. It is the most grievous consequence of what we have done and of what we have left undone in the last five years – five years of futile good intentions, five years of eager search for the line of least resistance…

Lebanon will not disappear as a country on the map, of course — contrary to the Iranian alliance’s intentions toward Israel — but it is now going to be part of the Iranian bloc. This is not only bad for Lebanon itself but also terrifying for other Arab regimes. The Saudis deserve credit for trying to save Lebanon. But what will happen now as the balance of power shifts? They are less inclined to resist and more likely to follow the West’s course and adopt an appeasement policy.

Again, Churchill in 1938:

Do not let us blind ourselves to that. It must now be accepted that all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi power. The system of alliances in Central Europe upon which France has relied for her safety has been swept away, and I can see no means by which it can be reconstituted. The road down the Danube Valley to the Black Sea, the road which leads as far as Turkey, has been opened.

In less than four years, that is where German armies were marching, thankfully a situation far worse than we can expect in the Middle East. Yet the trend toward appeasement and surrender could well be similar. Churchill said:

In fact, if not in form, it seems to me that all those countries of Middle Europe… will, one after another, be drawn into this vast system of power politics–not only power military politics but power economic politics–radiating from Berlin, and I believe this can be achieved quite smoothly and swiftly and will not necessarily entail the firing of a single shot.

His specific example was Yugoslavia whose government within three years was ready to join Germany’s bloc (it was prevented from doing so only by a British-organized coup but was then invaded and overrun by the German army).

Only the names of the countries need be changed to make Churchill’s point apply to the present:

“You will see, day after day, week after week [that]…many of those countries, in fear of the rise of the Nazi power,” will give in. There had been forces “which looked to the Western democracies and loathed the idea of having this arbitrary rule of the totalitarian system thrust upon them, and hoped that a stand would be made.” But they would now be demoralized.

Churchill knew that his country’s leader had good intentions but that wasn’t enough. His analysis of British thinking applies well both to Europe, to President George Bush’s current policy, and very well to the thinking of Senator Barack Obama:

The prime minister desires to see cordial relations between this country and Germany. There is no difficulty at all in having cordial relations between the peoples. Our hearts go out to them. But they have no power. But never will you have friendship with the present German government. You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which…vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy.

Churchill understood that his nation’s enemies took their ideology seriously and that their ambitions and methods were incompatible with his country.

And finally, Churchill understood the trend: things will get worse and would even make it politically incorrect to criticize the enemy:

In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands with which we shall no doubt be invited to comply. Those demands may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty. I foresee and foretell that the policy of submission will carry with it restrictions upon the freedom of speech and debate in Parliament, on public platforms, and discussions in the press, for it will be said–indeed, I hear it said sometimes now — that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians. Then, with a press under control, in part direct but more potently indirect, with every organ of public opinion doped and chloroformed into acquiescence, we shall be conducted along further stages of our journey.

In short, what could be called “Germanophobia” or seen as war-mongering in resisting German demands and aggression would be… verboten, something often seen in contemporary debates when political correctness trumps democratic society and pimps for dictatorial regimes and totalitarian ideology.

Churchill predicted victory but only if the free countries — and even some not so free whose interests pushed them to oppose the threat — were strong and cooperated:

Do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

Wow. Well if you don’t see yet the parallelism with the current time let me continue on my own. Lebanon’s brief period of independence has ended. Lebanon is now incorporated — at least in part and probably more in the future — into the Iranian bloc.


John Hagee and the problem of evil

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Everyone’s all over John Hagee. McCain’s dumped him, the fake Zionists at J Street are congratulating themselves, and even real Zionist Ami Isseroff thinks Hagee’s support is Bad For The Jews.

Here’s part of what Hagee allegedly said that caused all the excitement:

How did [the Holocaust] happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel…

Today Israel is back in the land and they are at Ezekiel 37 and 8. They are physically alive but they’re not spiritually alive. Now how is God going to cause the Jewish people to come SPIRITUALLY alive and say “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He is God?”

[partial audio of the sermon is here]

There are two supposedly offensive statements here. One is that the Holocaust was ordained by God, and the other is that the Jews are “not spiritually alive”, which is normally quoted as “Hagee said the Jews are spiritually dead” because it sounds more antisemitic.

Let’s look at the first part. Hagee, like many philosophers and theologians before him, is grappling with the problem of evil. One way to express it is to say that the following three statements can’t all be true:

  • There is evil in the world
  • God is all-powerful
  • God is perfectly good

Hagee can’t reject the second and third statements, so he works on the first one. Evil exists, but its consequences are a greater good, in this case a good so all-encompassing — the salvation of humanity — that on balance the evil is wiped out.

This is not the solution that I would choose, but in the context of his end-times theology it’s the right one. In any event it is far from saying that Hitler was doing God’s work, as some have described it, except in the trivial sense that everything that happens ultimately ends up doing God’s work.

The fact that Pastor Hagee thinks as he does should not be a major revelation; anyone who understands the theology behind his brand of Christianity would know this, just as nobody should be surprised that the Pope wants Catholics to pray for the souls of Jews.

The reference to the Jewish people not being spiritually alive most likely (since his explanation does not appear in the audio snippet) means that the second coming will be required to make them so; again, part of his end-times theology and something that probably applies to everyone, or at least everyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus yet.

The J Street folks and Hagee’s other critics probably don’t grapple much with the problem of evil, because they have a far less concrete idea of God than Hagee. But the biggest problem is this: Pastor Hagee and the Pope believe that their religion is universal and objectively true.

Secular and almost-secular people who believe that no religion has factual content — that religions are pragmatic ethical systems with ontological trappings, psychological phenomena, moral crutches, superstition, myths, stories, cultural artifacts, etc. — are infuriated by this point of view, although it’s interesting that they don’t seem to object as much to Islam, which shares this characteristic, as they do to Pastor Hagee’s fundamentalism.

And of course J Street and others are happy to tap into this righteous indignation to embarrass the Republican candidate.

But real religious tolerance would include respect and understanding for those who see their beliefs as true as well as for those who think that religion is in essence bunk, as long as the ‘fundamentalists’ in question don’t try to enforce their point of view by violence.

From my point of view, I far prefer Hagee’s support and Catholic prayers to Hamas’ genocidal ideology. Don’t you?

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Stupid chic

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Terrorist t-shirtMost of you have probably seen this story. A popular retail chain in the US was selling a t-shirt showing a Palestinian child-terrorist holding an AK-47, along with maps of the territories and a PLO flag. Pro-Israeli people complained, the chain stopped selling the shirt.

This is actually the third such controversy for this retailer (you can google around to figure out which one; I don’t want to give the bastards a free ad). They previously were taken to task for selling a kafiya which they sweetly called an ‘anti-war scarf’. And before that, they had a shirt with the words “Everybody loves a Jewish girl” and pictures of dollar signs and shopping bags.

What interested me were some of the reactions.

“All fashion is political in nature. Since most people today aren’t directly involved in politics, fashion is a good way to reach people and raise their awareness about the Israeli occupation,” argued Sami Zeibak, a Palestinian fashion journalist living in Tel Aviv.

“Jewish people should not be offended by this because it is not anti-Jewish and not anti-Israel, it is anti-occupation. — Ha’aretz

Right, Sami, tell it to the relatives of the thousands of victims of Palestinian terrorism before the occupation of 1967. Or to the people getting hit today by Qassams coming from Free Palestinian Non-occupied Hamastan (Gaza).

There is a stylized version of the word “VICTIMIZED” at the bottom of the design. Is it not simply true that some Palestinians and especially Palestinian children are victims of this terrible conflict? I am of the opinion they are. — Rick Klotz, owner of the company that makes the shirts

Arafat t-shirtHmm, that’s good. So the shirt is actually anti-terrorism? It looks more like a propaganda poster to me, and the line through the word ‘victimized’ implies that the child is not victimized. But Rick, how do you spin this one (picture at right)? Yes, those were definitely the good ol’ days, getting paid by the Soviets to destabilize governments and kill people in the name of anti-imperialism.

By the way, Rick’s site also hosts a blog called “The world’s got problems” which could be subtitled “a really sophomoric left-wing look at current events for pre-teens”. ‘Problems’ include cyclones, Bush, Hillary, and the Iraq war, while the writer seems to approve of Barack Obama.

Interestingly, some anti-shirt people are not opposed to them because they are pro-terrorism, but because the people who wear them are not real terrorists. “Posers! They pay $28 for a shirt and think they’re somebody”, wrote one blogger whose link I’ve lost. I agree.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Will Israel really give up the Golan?

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Being in California means that interesting events in the Mideast often happen while I’m asleep. For example, this is what I awoke to today:

Hours after the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced that Israel and Syria had begun indirect peace talks, the PMO denied Wednesday a statement by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem to the effect that Damascus received commitments for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights up to the June 4, 1967 border during Turkish-brokered indirect talks.

“As (Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert has said in the past, Syria knows what Israel demands of it and Israel knows what Syria expects it to do,” officials in the PMO said.

“We received commitments for a withdrawal from the Golan to the June 4, 1967 line,” Moallem had told AFP during a visit to Bahrain. “This is not new. It started since Rabin’s pledge [for a pullout] in 1993, and all subsequent Israeli prime ministers abided by it.” — Jerusalem Post

It’s understood that “what Israel demands” is that Syria stop supporting Hezbollah and Hamas, and in some sense move away from Iran.

In any event, Moaellem may be correct. Dennis Ross (The Missing Peace: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) writes,

To break the stalemate [US negotiator Edward Djerejian] tried to see if Syria would engage on the basis of hypotheticals — e.g., assume you get full withdrawal, how would you respond on peace and security — but this effort too was unavailing. The Syrian negotiators would not budge. [p.100]

But by July of 1992, Rabin felt that the ‘Oslo track’ with the Palestinians was not going to bear fruit, so he turned to the ‘Syrian track’. He approached the American negotiators with the proposal that Israel would ‘withdraw fully’ from the Golan if Syria would agree to a full normalization of relations, satisfactory security arrangements, and a guarantee of Israel’s water rights. [Ross, p.111]

Rabin insisted that this be kept confidential, and the Americans placed it in their ‘pocket’ until such time as an agreement could be made on all the issues at once. That way, neither Israel nor Syria would be seen as making an offer without getting something in return. This became known as the “Syrian pocket”.

Negotiations with Hafez al-Assad continued in an on-and-off manner, mostly over the precise interpretation of ‘full withdrawal’. But the ‘pocket’ did not go away. When negotiations finally broke off in 2000 for various reasons including the ill health of Assad, the differences over full withdrawal measured in the hundreds of meters.

So Moallem believes that the pocket is still operative.

But now is a particularly unlikely time for a Syria-Israel peace treaty, and one would be very dangerous to Israel at this point.

1) The loss of the Golan would put Israel at a strategic disadvantage at a time of great military tension. In addition to its importance in a ground war, many Israeli towns, kibbutzim and moshavim would be placed in range of small arms fire, not to mention mortars and very short-range rockets against which — as we’ve seen in Gaza — there is almost no defense.

Syria has recently undergone a huge military buildup, funded by Iran, especially of its strategic rocket forces. In addition, Hezbollah has just formalized its hold over the Lebanese government, gaining veto power and other concessions. There is now nothing to prevent Hezbollah from deploying wherever it wants and making use of the resources of the Lebanese army in any way that it wishes.

Both Hezbollah and Syria believe that the 2006 war shows that Israel can be beaten — or at least deterred — and both have recently made threatening gestures, including the movement of Syrian troops to border areas. It seems as though Bashar al-Assad sees the present talks with Israel more as the presentation of an ultimatum than as a peace process.

2) There are 33 Israeli settlements on the Golan with about 18,000 residents. This is more than twice the population of the Gaza settlements that were abandoned. Many of the former Gaza residents still have not been resettled, and the costs of the withdrawal — both monetary and social — have been enormous. Any government that tried to withdraw from the Golan would face huge opposition from the populace and even the army.

3) PM Olmert is in serious legal trouble, facing multiple charges of bribery and corruption, and new allegations against him arise every day. He definitely does not have the support of a majority of Israelis and he has zero moral authority, certainly not to give up territory.

4) Israel’s conditions are unenforceable. Has Syria obeyed UN resolution 1701, which forbids weapons shipments to Hezbollah? Why should she be more likely to keep an agreement with Israel, especially since Hezbollah and Lebanon are now more indistinguishable than ever? And is it realistic to expect Syria to cut ties with Iran?

This is not an agreement that Israel can afford to make; indeed it’s not one that the government is even capable of making. It will not happen.

So it’s particularly unfortunate that PM Olmert, for whatever reason, allowed the process to get this far and thereby created an opportunity for Israel’s detractors to cast her as the obstacle to peace in the region when the talks fall apart.

Technorati Tags: , ,

US may indeed attack Iran — but not for Israel

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

News item:

The White House on Tuesday flatly denied an [Israeli] Army Radio report that claimed US President George W. Bush intends to attack Iran before the end of his term. It said that while the military option had not been taken off the table, the Administration preferred to resolve concerns about Iran’s push for a nuclear weapon “through peaceful diplomatic means.”

Army Radio had quoted a top official in Jerusalem claiming that a senior member in the entourage of President Bush, who concluded a trip to Israel last week, had said in a closed meeting here that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were of the opinion that military action against Iran was called for. — Jerusalem Post

The report went on to say that the success of Hezbollah in tightening its grip on Lebanon was “evidence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s growing influence”.

I tend to believe the original report. A nuclear Iran really is a threat to American interests. The cornerstone of US Mideast policy is Saudi Arabia, which is also the center of Sunni Islam. Iran is challenging the Saudis both in a geopolitical and religious sense, extending its sphere of influence to include Syria and Lebanon, and has the US tied down in Iraq. All this has been accomplished without nuclear weapons; imagine how much worse the situation would be if Iran had a nuclear deterrent and threat.

It is obvious that diplomacy has been ineffective in stopping or even slowing Iran’s progress, primarily because of Iran’s influence on its oil purchasers. However, just because a nation cannot afford to join a diplomatic offensive does not mean that it would not quietly applaud a unilateral US military action, which could be blamed on the supposedly regressive George Bush and Dick Cheney.

There are powerful forces among American policymakers who would oppose military action. But I don’t think they are as strong as the Saudi-aligned faction. So, although I’ve said in the past that US military action against Iran is unlikely, I am not so sure any longer.

If it should come to pass, Ahmadinejad’s threats against Israel will likely be cited as one of the reasons. But don’t kid yourself — if the US really cared about Israel’s security, we wouldn’t be arming Fatah. The real drive for an American attack on Iran is coming from Riyadh.

Technorati Tags: , ,