Thursday, September 30, 2010

When Should U.S. Policy Try to Promote Regime Change in the Middle East?

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By Barry Rubin

“Interference in foreign countries, according to my mind," said British Prime Minister William Gladstone more than a hundred years ago, "should be rare, deliberate, decisive in character, and effectual for its end.”

While Gladstone might have overstated these limits, I'd stress that direct intervention is never something to be undertaken lightly. What does a government have to do to be a candidate for being overthrown by the United States? Let me give some general principles but restrict my examples to the Middle East.

1. The regime must pose a clear and present danger to vital U.S. national interests too important to ignore and with a determined intransigence that no other diplomatic measures can stop.
2. There must be a very strong basis for expecting that a replacement regime would be better than what exists at present.

3. The United States must have the ability to achieve this goal or of helping allies to do so without a high degree of risk and with a good prospect for success.

One might add one more point for special situations

4. An emergency situation when the regime is engaging in major massacres or human rights' violations that can be considered genocide.

If direct military efforts are involved than all of the above must be absolutely clear, with no room for wishful thinking or only examining "best-case" outcomes.

I won't get into the multilateral/unilateral issue here--is UN agreement necessary?--because my concern is only in identifying candidates for such treatment, not the detailed implementation of the resulting policy. Yet U.S. leadership is always necessary for mobilizing international support and getting allies to cooperate. UN backing is useful but must never be indispensable. 

At the same time, regime change should never be either a policy "short-cut" nor part of any broader doctrine. I said at the time and maintain today, the so-called "neo-conservative" option--that by overthrowing dictators and proving U.S. policy backed democracy the masses would rally to love America--was thoroughly wrong and based on basic misunderstandings of the Middle East. The overwhelming majority of Israeli analysts--and the words "overwhelming majority" is an understatement--felt skeptical all along.

Only one regime so far has clearly met that criterion in the contemporary Middle East: Taliban Afghanistan, because of its involvement in the September 11 attacks, the certainty it would continue collaborating in large-scale terror attacks against the United States, and the relative ease with which that regime could be brought down. How long U.S. forces should have stayed in Afghanistan is another question.

Indeed, once regime change has been accomplished, the clock should start ticking toward withdrawing U.S. troops. Naturally, Washington cannot abandon those who have stepped forward at its invitation to take over. Yet usually such new governments can survive with aid plus training. Even in Vietnam, it was not the withdrawal of  U.S. troops but of U.S. aid that doomed the Saigon government.

If President George W. Bush had pulled out most U.S. troops in 2008, the United States would be better off today, not only in terms of Iraq and casualties but also regarding the domestic political situation. And if U.S. forces stay in Afghanistan for another decade, by the end they would have achieved little or nothing more than could have been gained by forcing and helping the Afghan government to preserve itself. 

Today, there are two regimes that qualify for regime overthrow, not through U.S. military efforts but indirectly, as noted in the final part of point 3 above. That is, the United States should support allies--both regional and internal-- in bringing down regimes but not engage in any military action to achieve that goal--Islamist Iran and Hamas-ruled Gaza.  

Regarding Gaza, it could have been accomplished by Israel in early 2009 but there is no chance that the U.S. government--certainly not the current one--will help or allow Israel to do so. On the contrary, U.S. policy in recent months has legitimized and stabilized that regime despite the fact that this is an extremely dangerous mistake that makes peace impossible, future war likely, and the spread by Hamas of Islamist subversion certain. 

There is no way that regime can be moderated and the territory should, given the range of realistic options, have been returned to Palestinian Authority rule.

As for Iran, there is no question at present of the United States going to war with Iran to stop its nuclear weapons' drive. Some readers may wish otherwise but that simply isn't going to happen and shouldn't happen. What U.S. policy can do is to help the regime's opponents in any appropriate way. Even if this doesn't succeed, pressure, tough words, and helping the opposition will intimidate many Iranian leaders--not the current president there but others--into being more cautious and less supportive of Tehran's current policies.    

Those who have opposed this idea will claim that such support can be used by the regime to discredit the opposition. But it behaves that way every day any way, even if it is untrue. Another argument is that this "interference" will unite Iranians on a nationalistic basis to support the regime. Such a stance is pretty valid for the Arab world but not Iran, which has a decidedly different history and political culture. At any rate, living under Islamism has immunized Iranians to the appeals of that ideology, whose triumph is a huge danger confronting any fiddling with the stability of governments in Arabic-speaking countries.

I have spoken repeatedly about the need for the West to ally with most of the existing Arabic-speaking regimes in the battle against revolutionary Islamism. Despite Saudi subsidies for Wahhabi radicals abroad and other policy differences, the survival of the current Saudi regime is a vital Western interest. There should be greater effort to get more in return from Riyadh for Western backing, but this has to be within realistic parameters.

What about Syria? As terrible as the Syrian regime is, destabilizing it--assuming that was possible--might lead to a radical Islamist regime that was even more dangerous for the region. That's no excuse for coddling Damascus but it is a reason for not waging a campaign to change the regime there. Of course, this isn't going to happen any way.  

Why not Saddam Hussein's Iraq? For a reason that, much to my surprise, is virtually never mentioned. Iraq was being successfully contained by the existing sanctions and international opposition. True, these sanctions were gradually weakening. But by 2000 the Iraqi regime was pretty powerless to wreak the kind of havoc on the region that it had done in past decades. As I said at the time and later, if the situation were to change then one could consider whether the Baghdad government should be brought down.

Whether the Iraqi intervention was a success or not is a much wider topic I'm not going to enter into now but have dealt with at length elsewhere. Whichever way one judges, however, it should be recognized that there are legitimate arguments on both sides.  

Fear that "regime change" can lead to something worse--anarchy, a more radical Islamist government--is a reasonable concern.

Sadly, the one place where the most could have been done to back moderates was in Lebanon, when the March 15 forces ruled there and defied Syria, Iran, and Hizballah. It is to the lasting discredit of the United States and France that they did so little to help at that time. It is even more to the discredit of these two countries and their leaders that they are still not aware of how much harm was done when an independent, moderate Lebanon might well have emerged instead of an Iranian-Syria satellite.

It's not that I don't respect brave dissidents in the Arabic-speaking world and wish them well. My book, The Long War for Freedom details their courage and efforts. But the book also shows how weak they have been and the structural reasons why that has been and continues to be true.

Let's give the last word to one of Gladstone's successors, Margaret Thatcher, who in her autobiography explains:

"International relations is a matter of second-best-alternatives rather than the ideal. Even if it had been within my power to replace one ruler with another...I would rarely have been able to replace a bad one with a better, and often it would have been worse. Those, for instance, who rejoiced in the fall of the Shah must reconcile themselves today to the sad truth that the regime of the Mullahs is more oppressive to its own citizens, and abroad promotes terrorism and subversion, where the Shah was a pillar of stability, if in the end a shaky one."

Actually, the main priorities regarding regime change is to battle against regime change, that is to oppose the overthrow of more moderate regime's  and their replacement by radical, anti-American ones. The most recent such failure was when the United States stood by and watched the subversion of a moderate Lebanese regime and the country's transformation into an Iran-Syria puppet with Hizballah largely controlling the country. Foolish flirtation with Islamist groups may extend this kind of defeat to other countries.

PS: If you are interested in further reading, you can take a look at my essay on how the 1953 regime change in Iran looks today: “Regime Change and Iran: A Case Study,” Washington Quarterly, 2003, also available as Barry Rubin, "Lessons from Iran," in Alexander T. J. Lennon and Camille Eiss, Reshaping Rogue States: Preemption, Regime Change, and U.S. Policy toward Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, (Boston: MIT Press, 2004), pp. 141-156. 
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fear and Survival: The Tragedy And Threat That Is George Soros

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By Barry Rubin

I’ve long pondered the bizarre doings of billionaire financier George Soros, who's become the single biggest funder of left-wing and often anti-Jewish (certainly, anti-Israel) causes in Europe and North America. Most recently, it was revealed that Soros was a huge contributor to the anti-Israel J Street group even though the organization had lied about that connection.

But how can one explain the behavior and motives of Soros? For me, finally, the missing piece of the puzzle has fallen into place.

The first key bit of evidence was Soros’s interview with the December 20, 1998, “Sixty Minutes” television show in which he recounts his experiences as a 14-year-old boy in Nazi-occupied Hungary, a time when he said his “character was made.” Soros’ father had sent him to live with a bribed Christian government official who was involved in confiscating Jewish property.

A lot of the discussion about this interview has been misdirected over whether Soros was in some way a war criminal. This is clearly untrue since he was barely a teenager and didn’t actually do anything but observe. He was as he describes himself, a “spectator.”

Let’s get a more sophisticated, accurate understanding by examining what Soros actually said about the experience long afterward. What did he learn from being a spectator, watching both sides but truly being on neither side?

Did watching the extinction of his fellow Jews in Hungary make him feel guilty? No, Soros replied. This is an extraordinary answer. It was decades later and Soros could have done the polite social thing, which would have made him look better, of pretending to feel bad about it.

Soros didn't emphasize, though he mentioned as a passing afterthought, that he didn’t feel guilty because he did nothing wrong. But what about survivor’s guilt, something almost anyone Jewish would feel when he survived and so many others didn't? Again, no, said Soros.

Soros showed precisely why he didn’t feel or even pretend to feel guilty. When the astonished interviewer asked whether Soros might have thought, "I'm Jewish and here I am, watching these people go. I could just as easily be there. I should be there?”

Soros’ response is truly extraordinary:

“Well, of course I c--I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away. But there was no sense that I shouldn't be there, because that was--well, actually, in a funny way, it's just like in markets--that if I weren't there--of course, I wasn't doing it, but somebody else would--would--would be taking it away anyhow.”

Notice how he stutters, no longer the powerful multimillionaire who shakes countries but rather reverting back to the frightened, helpless little boy, his life endangered because he is a Jew. Unlike almost every other Jew in Europe, however, he had a choice.

Does he blame the Nazis and Hungarian fascists or the Jews for putting him in that perilous position? Who does he identify with? What conclusions does he draw about how to ensure his survival in future? Soros tells us clearly:

“I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing was being taken away.”

For me, this is the key to Soros and his behavior today. He would choose to stand with those he sees as  winners not losers; strong, not weak; the non-Jews rather than the Jews, the determined extremists rather than the toothless moderates. After all, that choice had been the basis of his survival. What is most important is that Soros survive and prosper, and his background gives him a very different outlook from most Jews and most rich people on how to achieve that goal.

Yet he is no confident mogul but a very frightened man. In this, he is less unique. Non-Jews don’t understand how inside of even the most seemingly powerful Jews—Henry Kissinger offers a prime example—there is a strong sense of fear and vulnerability. One misstep, they think, and everything he has could all be taken away instantly.

Being too much of a Jew is something you will rue. The more visible your wealth and power, the more danger to you. That kind of thinking stems not merely from the Nazi era but is a Jewish condition that goes back to the Middle Ages, when at any second a lifetime of hard work and success could be replaced by poverty, exile, beating or death by a rampaging mob.

How have Jews responded? Some by assimilating and others by being quiet, the kind of approach one might expect someone like Soros to take.

Still others by being defiant as Zionists or as proud Jews. Compare Soros to the man whose life most parallels his, Abe Foxman, long-time leader of the Anti-Defamation League, who was a hidden child during the Holocaust. Another option, becoming a leftist revolutionary, combines defiance of existing society with assimilation and abandonment of Jewishness.

The life of Soros, however, led him to a unique solution: convincing him that he must be highly visible…on the winning side. No longer could he have the anonymity of that fourteen-year-old camouflaged boy, but he could still stand on the safer side of the confrontation.

Read that key sentence again: “I could be on the other side [the stronger side, the side persecuting the Jews] or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away.” In context, he is essentially saying that he could not imagine himself enough of a fool to be on the losing side and is determined never to be one of those helpless, doomed Jews.

And so, decades later, he sought to be on or buy off those he saw as the winning side. As for those on the Jewish side--and Israel being the most intense expression of that posture—they would be the losers in history.

Now comes the final piece of the puzzle. On November 7, 2003, almost five years after the television interview, Soros made a rare appearance at a pro-Jewish Jewish event, a conference of the Jewish Funders Network.

Asked about antisemitism in Europe, Soros responded that it was the result of the policies of Israel and the United States, and particularly of President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "If we change that direction, then antisemitism also will diminish," he said.

Once again, his words led somewhat in the wrong direction as some of the attendees were outraged. After all, blaming Jews for antisemitism is an old argument of antisemites. But to focus on that is to miss the point.

Soros continued:

"I'm also very concerned about my own role because the new antisemitism holds that the Jews rule the world," he explained. He knew he is personally vulnerable to such charges. After all, Soros added, "As an unintended consequence of my actions," he said, "I also contribute to that image," no doubt referring to an incident of a few weeks previously when Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad referred to Soros personally in saying, "Jews rule the world by proxy."

So he must prove to the enemies of the Jews that he is not someone they should see as an enemy. By fighting Jewish interests he can claim to diminish antisemitism while also protecting his own interests.

What did Soros say was the main lesson he had learned on those streets in 1944 Hungary? “That one should think ahead. One should understand and--and anticipate events and when--when one is threatened.”

So for Soros, religious Jews, Zionists, and in effect the overwhelming majority of the Jewish communities of the world are bringing disaster on themselves by provoking an antisemitic backlash.

His intention here is in no way to help the Jews (“the ones from whom the thing was taken away) but to act in what he perceives as being his own benefit. Soros is not the first Jew in history to calculate that if Israel didn’t exist or that if the Jews merely shut up and hid their identity there would be no problem with antisemitism. And if this happened he could be safe. It isn't surprising that he has come to hate the people who he believes directly endanger his life and wealth.

Similarly, he is scared that conservatives are provoking a leftist upheaval. Soros is insuring himself against the new winning side by financing it, believing that if America and Europe move ever leftward, this will reduce pressure against capitalism in general or at least protect his personal wealth. After all, he must reason, why would the radical movement--anti-capitalist or anti-Israel--ever turn on its patron?

In effect, Soros reserves the phrase "never again" not in regard to Jewish suffering but in regard to his personally never being "the one from whom the thing was being taken away." And meanwhile he can, ironically enough, use his wealth and power to be the Jew who in the entire world came closest to ruling "by proxy." All the more need for him to take such protective measures.

It is true, as the expert on Soviet affairs Bertram Wolfe remarked about Leon Trotsky (who Wolfe regarded as a "Jewish antisemite"), "A man can reject his heritage but he cannot root the traces of it out of his soul." But for Soros those traces are those of the loser in history. He regards Zionism and Israel as fantasies that will only build the momentum to return Jews to their traditional victim status.

Ironically and sadly, of course, by putting his money into anti-Israel and left-wing causes he is not merely anticipating events but making bad outcomes more likely; not reducing antisemitism but intensifying it; not ensuring social peace but making costly and tragic conflict more likely.

In short, unfortunately, what Soros mislearned from the tragedy he observed as a youth has made him a man helping to bring about more tragedies.

He was also wrong in saying that if he didn't do these things someone else would. There is no one else to play this role because there is no one else who has his combination of life experience and bottomless riches.

Note 1:
Melanie Phillips has provided a list of causes backed by Soros's main front groups that gives a sense of what the billionaire has been doing. Among them:

"•Promoting the view that America is institutionally an oppressive nation
•Promoting the election of leftist political candidates throughout the United States
•Opposing virtually all post-9/11 national security measures enacted by U.S. government, particularly the Patriot Act
•Depicting American military actions as unjust, unwarranted, and immoral
•Promoting open borders, mass immigration, and a watering down of current immigration laws....
•Defending suspected anti-American terrorists and their abetters
•Financing the recruitment and training of future activist leaders of the political Left
•Advocating America’s unilateral disarmament and/or a steep reduction in its military spending....
•Promoting the tenets of radical environmentalism, whose ultimate goal, as writer Michael Berliner has explained, is “not clean air and clean water, [but] rather ... the demolition of technological/industrial civilization....”

Note2: A friend suggested it would be appropriate to quote these lines from Bob Dylan's song, "Positively Fourth Street:"

"You got a lotta nerve
To say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on
The side that’s winning."

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Thank Goodness Nobody Reads the Weekly "News" Magazines Any More

By Barry Rubin

Newsweek, in an article intended to tell us that any critique of the current government and its rather high proportion of current and former extreme leftists is a silly conspiracy theory, says that the Templars take their name from Solomon's Temple, the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque.

Kind of makes you wonder if in future some day they will write an article saying that September 11 took place at the World Trade Center site of the Cordoba mosque.

This is shortly after Time has successive covers decrying "Islamophobia," then telling us that Israelis didn't care about peace because they are making lots of money, a rather classic antisemitic as well as ignorantly anti-Israel line.

The Internet, as an alternative source of information, didn't arrive a moment too soon.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Arrest Shows What's Really Going on in Turkey: An Increasingly Repressive Islamist Regime

By Barry Rubin

The Western media can talk all it wants to about the regime in Turkey as reformist and democratic. Didn't it just sponsor a referendum that increased freedoms? But this is for show. Here's an example of the reality.

A state prosecutor has just ordered the arrest of Hanefi Avcı, former police chief of Eskişehir. Why is he going to be arrested? What is he accused of? Talking on the telephone to a member of an extremist, violent revolutionary group. Not very credible, right?

So why was he really arrested?

Because he wrote a best-selling book revealing how Islamists have infiltrated and are indeed taking over the Turkish police force. It is well-known that the followers of Fethullah Gülen have been doing so. Gülen poses as a moderate Muslim but while somewhat less extreme than the regime, but he is also an Islamist. His movement is awash in money and has opened schools all over the world, including North America, and set up numerous front groups including inter-faith dialogues.

Incidentally, one of the claims made by Avcı in his book was that Gülen's people have tapped his telephone. Now we have solid proof he was right. If you speak out against the regime you face a high chance of losing your job--I know at least four journalists who have suffered this fate--or end up in prison.

The regime has arrested hundreds of people and intimidated millions, yet Western correspondents generally continue to provide up-beat coverage that ignores this fact or even praises the government for rounding up subversive elements.

Is the U.S. Government and West Generally Starting to Comprehend the Real Issues and Problems in the Middle East?

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By Barry Rubin

After acceding to U.S. requests for nine months by freezing construction on existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and also not building over the pre-1967 frontier in Jerusalem, Israel got nothing.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed willing to continue it in some form, pressures from within his coalition made that impossible.Therefore, the freeze is coming to an end, though Israel is still ready to discuss limits on new construction. Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to walk out of the once-every-two-weeks direct talks.

So what has been the reaction?

First, 87 U.S. senators, that's 87 percent of the membership, have urged Obama to keep Abbas from walking out of talks. They have not blamed Israel for the crisis.

The Obama Administration is approaching the issue calmly and there has been no bashing or even criticism of Israel. Why? Lots of reasons, one being the impending November elections and the government's eagerness to show it has achieved something in international affairs. Another is that officials now realize that the PA has been their real headache, refusing to talk for 20 months, constantly setting new preconditions, and eagerly looking for some way to walk out of negotiations. Europe is being pretty quiet also about blaming Israel.

Even Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a frequent critic of Israel in the past, gets it, criticizing the Obama Administration--not Israel--for its handling of the settlements' issue. And Ben Smith at Politico writes a story headlined, "In blame game, arrow tilts to Abbas."

These statements and articles generally miss the deeper story: incitement to kill Israelis and destroy Israel continues at full speed in the PA media and institutions; the PA's Fatah leadership neither wants nor can deliver a compromise two-state solution at present; Hamas's control of the Gaza Strip poses an insuperable obstacle; nothing has been done by the PA to prepare Palestinian public opinion for compromise (quite the contrary); and Israel wants peace on reasonable terms. But a lot of people in the U.S. government and media now understand--at least temporarily--the symptoms indicating all of these factors.

Overarching all of this is the real main issue: the great struggle in the Middle East between Islamists and nationalists, the efforts by the Iran-led radical bloc and local revolutionary Islamist groups (using terrorism or even electoral means) to overthrow the relatively moderate regimes and drive U.S. influence out of the region.

In another indication of this fact, in still another example of strong U.S.-Israel military cooperation, the U.S. Defense Department has agreed to help Israel develop a short-range anti-missile system aimed against the kind of barrages fired in the past by Iran's clients, Hizballah and Hamas.

Of course, there are limits, some due to understandable diplomatic maneuvering, some due to lack of comprehension. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was mild in saying that the United States was "disappointed" by the Israeli decision and praised Abbas for not immediately walking away from the talks.

But will they praise him if he walks out in a week or so?

Meanwhile a new, very potent computer virus has hit Iran, reportedly targeted especially at its nuclear program. Wonder where it could have come from? Additionally, to their credit, the Obama Administration and most of Europe have toughened sanctions to the point where they are hurting the Tehran regime. The regime is far from falling or changing but it is all shook up and part of the elite is starting to ask whether an aggressive foreign policy and a nuclear weapons' drive isn't a big mistake.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,


Monday, September 27, 2010

Abbas Looks For A Way to End Peace Talks--With A Smile On His Face

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By Barry Rubin

It never ceases to amaze me how hysteria and mystification so clouds peoples' minds over the Arab-Israeli (or Israeli-Palestinian) conflict. Consider this simple point of logic which you may not see explained anywhere else. And see the point at the end about President Barack Obama.

Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas claims that he can't negotiate with Israel if Israel once again begins to construct buildings on existing settlements after a nine-month freeze on construction.

Let's evaluate this statement.

First, Abbas knew that the freeze would last nine months and might not be renewed when it ended in September. If he wanted to give Israel an incentive to continue it--by showing that this Israeli concession, brought progress toward peace and some advantage for Israel--Abbas could have acted. Instead, he stalled until the very last moment. For weeks, the United States begged and pressed him to return to talks.

Second, if the Palestinians negotiate a two-state solution they will get--worst-case analysis--almost all of the West Bank. There will be no Jewish settlements in that territory. The settlements will be gone. All the roads and buildings Israel built (unless dismantled in the days before the agreement's implementation) will go to the Palestinians.

So if Abbas and the Palestinians are horrified by Israeli construction, wouldn't it have made sense for them to negotiate real fast? But, on the contrary, they stretch out the process year after year after year, continually finding excuses for doing so.

Remember that the PA refused to negotiate for well over a year after January 2009. All that time Israel was building on settlements. Then for the last nine months when Israel wasn't building in the West Bank, the PA still refused to negotiate.

Let's now provide a full timeline:

Phase One: From 1992 until late in 2000, the PLO, and later the PA negotiated with Israel at a time when there were no limits on construction within settlements. They were, however, in no hurry to make a deal and, in fact, killed the talks in 2000. Incidentally, Israel made a huge concession from its previous positions to begin the process in 1993: No new settlements or territorial expansion of existing ones. It kept that commitment. The PLO and PA also made some "concessions": They would fight against terrorism. They didn't.  They never raised as a bargaining point the idea of a freeze on construction in existing settlements.

Phase Two: Then from 2000 to 2009--a decade--the PA refused any sustained peace negotiations at a time when there were no limits on construction within settlements. They never raised as a bargaining point the idea that they would end the violence (2000-2005) or that they would negotiate in exchange for a freeze on construction in existing settlements. That was President Obama's idea in mid-2009 and they rejected it.

Phase Three: After Israel did freeze construction, the PA wasted nine months--knowing the clock was ticking on the temporary freeze--without making any moves to accelerate, or even hold, negotiations.

Thus, the PA has wasted almost 20 years, during which thousands of buildings have been added to Israeli settlements.

Here is a fundamental flaw in the assumption that the Palestinians are desperately eager to get a state and end their suffering. They don't seem so eager at all. Why? Because the Palestinian leadership has long argued that it is more important to conquer all of Israel--or reach an agreement that didn't get in the way of pursuing that goal--than to make compromises and get a two-state solution.

What does the PA want? An independent Palestinian state given as a gift by the world rather than requiring mutual compromise with Israel. That doesn't require negotiations, it requires a lack of negotiations.

If Abbas walks away from talks he will not be crying that creation of a Palestinian state has been delayed. On the contrary, he will be smiling that he escaped from what most PA leaders--though not Prime Minister Salam Fayad--view as the peace trap.

Incidentally, note that when President Barack Obama made his upbeat interpretation of the "peace process" one of the main themes in his September 23 UN speech, he was totally aware that the negotiations were probably on the verge of collapse. It could be argued that by playing up the issue he was trying to encourage everyone to keep going, but how can you stake your diplomatic reputation on a card that is about to bring down a house of cards?  That's somewhere between being irresponsible and suicidal.

But perhaps Obama has reason to think he can get away with such things. After all, people have forgotten what happened with his speech to the UN last year! He predicted high-level, intensive Israel-Palestinian talks within three months and it took him a year to get low-level, fragile, limited talks. His policy was a total failure yet try to find anyone in the mass media reporting that point.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Earth, The Final Frontier: What Happens When UN Officials Meet the Aliens

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By Barry Rubin

News story: The UN has created a special envoy for alien life forms so if humans come into contact with extraterrestrials (ETs to Hollywood) the entire planet Earth will speak with a single voice. And who is this official? A Malaysian astrophysicist, Mazlan Othman who currently heads the UN’s Vienna-based Office for Outer Space Affairs, where one of the leading members is an Iranian government official named Ahmad Talebzadeh.  Othman worked a number of years for the Malaysian Islamist government.

This story seems not to be true--advice: NEVER believe anything in the Sunday Times--but it does cry out for satire, doesn't it? 
What happens when there are Jihad Knights instead of Jeddi Knights? Take me to your Imam?

Greetings, beings from Betelgeuse-5! I am the official Earth spokesperson, representing the entire Human Race, who will give you a briefing on life on our planet.

Earth people have different religions, that is, a set of beliefs about the Supreme Being, who we call Allah, and nations, of which there are almost 200. Let me start with religion.

Although there are many religions on Earth, there is only one true religion which is called Islam. The other religions are either deficient in worshipping many false gods or they have deviated for the true word of Allah (Peace be Upon Him) as revealed in the Holy Quran, which should govern the Earth.

There are also a number of countries, though there is one, named Israel, which is evil and criminal and should be wiped off the map. Naturally, with your advanced fusion weapons, you could literally wipe it off the map. However, we are prepared to discuss other methods with you in order to leave that land suitable for Muslims to live in.

We don’t want to say that our planet is otherwise perfect. Far from it! There is also a country named the United States that has seized hegemony of the Earth for purposes of propagating injustice. Naturally, it should be removed from that position in the name of social justice so that power can be shared equally among the Earth’s peoples. Our colleague from a city called Tehran has a detailed plan to propose to you to help achieve this goal.

I want to stress that we  believe in Multicultural Diversity, so the fact that you eat the intelligent creatures of several neighboring planets doesn't bother us in the least.

Alien: $%^&$#@^!@ %^&**!

Why, thank you for that complement, if our translation is correct!  I assume saying that I look very tasty means something very nice in your culture, which of course we fully respect!

Certainly we look forward to close cooperation between Human Beings and the Qwaki543^&*$roxiputan race of Betelgeuse-5. We respect your advanced technology including Fusion Bombs, Death Rays, and other items for which we are happy to trade our handmade carpets, oil, natural gas, and pistachios. Mr. Muhammad Khorasan of our Trade Agency is ready to discuss the details.

Any questions?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Turkey's Referendum Doesn't Mean Popular Support for A Regime Aligning with Iran

This article was published by Pajamas Media. I have updated it here and added additional links and points to the text. I also don't like their headline. So I recommend forwarding or circulating the version below.

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By Barry Rubin

It is true that the passage of the referendum in Turkey with 58 percent of the vote can be seen as a victory for the AKP regime. But that point shouldn't be exaggerated. The bad feature of the reforms--in terms of consolidating the Islamist government's power--is to strengthen the regime's control over the courts and to limit further the autonomy of the Turkish army.

At the same time, though, there were many other provisions that the overwhelming majority of Turks wanted, expanding freedoms and civil liberties, reining in the possibility of military coups which those left of center have opposed in the past. Moreover, it was sold as a step toward Turkish entry into the European Union, still a prime goal though something that's never going to happen.

There are many contradictory aspects. The legal changes strengthen women's and privacy rights on paper but the regime has appointed hardly any women to high-ranking posts and has increased wire-tapping. To allow officers expelled from the army for Islamist activities to appeal the decision in court certainly seems to protect individual rights, but in practice it means that Islamists can now infiltrate the armed forces, organize politically, and if thrown out by the still-secular high command get it reversed by a regime-appointed judge.

I would bet that if it weren't for fear of the provisions strengthening the regime--90 percent of Turks would have supported the proposed changes instead of just 58 percent. But that was part of the trick: putting in some key provisions fundamentally transforming the Turkish republic amidst twenty others that mainly referred to historical or abstract issues.

While the Washington Post gets it right, asking whether the regime isn't reducing freedom and democracy in Turkey, the New York Times practically drools over the referendum and uncritically supports the regime in a shameful and quite ignorant manner:

"Turkey, already the Muslim Middle East's sturdiest democracy, fortified its freedoms in a referendum on Sunday, with 58 percent of voters approving a package of constitutional amendments meant to end army meddling in civilian politics. That overwhelming `yes' vote showed that Turks are fed up with ultimatums and coups and want elected politicians fully in charge."

Um, yeah, but  not pro-Iran, Islamist politicians strangling the independent media, packing the court system with its flunky judges, infiltrating the army with radicals, and arresting peaceful dissidents, right?  Why don't you mention that the referendum also tightens the regime's grip on the court system--practically the last independent institution--and other instruments of power to an extent that many Turks find frightening? This is pure propaganda for the Islamist regime rather than a balanced assessment. Not a single criticism of the regime is mentioned, despite its growing power over the mass media, intimidation of critics, mass arrests, and other forms of repression and anti-democratic behavior.

One day this kind of editorial will be compared to that newspaper's whitewashing of Stalinism in the 1930s and 1950s. Lenin once boasted that he would get the capitalists to sell him the rope with which to hang them. But even he thought that he would excite only their mercenary attributes while today Islamists often gain heartfelt and enthusiastic praise from their adversaries.

The fact is that the Islamist regime regularly use the praise it receives from U.S. officials, like this recent one from the assistant secretary of state and media to argue that it is really moderate; to demoralize its opponents; and continue to get away with its pro-Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah policy, while taking over more and more Turkish institutions.  In other words, U.S. policy and media coverage isn't just a bystander, it is foolishly assisting in the Islamization of Turkey.

Indeed, the regime is using U.S. support in its bid for re-election and to demonstrate its legitimacy to Turks. Here's how the Islamist President Gül put it:

"The best indicator, showing that the same kind of importance is attached [to this relationship] by the US, is the fact that Turkey is the country to which President Barack Obama paid his first overseas trip soon after being elected, and the fact that he described our relations in the best way--as a model partnership,” 

In other words, if Obama gives us a seal of approval, say the pro-Iran, pro-Hamas, pro-Hizballah Islamists who rule Turkey, how can anyone claim that we are on the side of the anti-American terrorists and revolutionary Islamists? The fact that Turkey presently is chairing the UN Security Council adds to the regime's prestige internationally. Yet its support at home is declining.

The referendum, then, did not end the struggle over Turkey's future but merely begins it. The word is that the next elections will be called for around June 2011, though of course this could change. If past experience serves, a perceived victory like the referendum makes the regime more arrogant and accelerates its move toward a more Islamist Turkey. Such an outcome would alienate more voters and make the next election a referendum against the anti-secular, pro-Iran current rulers.

And what will the ruling AKP party do with power? It isn't just, for example, that the regime is pro-Iran but it is publicly, loudly, and outspokenly pro-Iran, daring the United States to do something about it.

So at the very moment that much of the world is tightening sanctions on Iran against its nuclear program, the Turkish regime is coming to the rescue. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, at a meeting bringing more than one hundred Turkish investors together with Iranian First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi called for a tripling of Turkey-Iran trade.  Meanwhile, Reuters has done an investigative report about how the Turkish regime is secretly helping Iran's nuclear program.
No problem with the Turkish regime, right?

Wrong. That government is becoming the main government-encouraged violator of the sanctions in the world. Part of the reason is to make money; part is to strengthen the regime's ally in Tehran.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Friday, September 24, 2010

Are Your Children Being Indoctrinated? Examining What Schools Give Them To Read

By Barry Rubin

Are your children being indoctrinated? In past Rubin Reports I pointed out that almost the entire social studies’ curriculum of my son’s fourth grade class last year consisted of three topics:

--America has not kept its promises and has been a racist and often bad country. The main example was the World War Two internment of Japanese which was the focus of reading material.

--Immigration is always good (with no mention of illegal immigration or any resulting problems).

--Man-made global warming is a serious threat to human survival.

Other viewpoints—indeed other issues generally—weren't presented on any of these issues. There was little positive about America.

My son was upset at the portrayal of Israel in Junior Scholastic magazine of September 6, 2010, given to his fifth-grade class to read. So I gave that issue a thorough evaluation, trying to be fair and reasonable in doing so.

Main Article: “Obama’s In-Box” pp. 6-8. An article about challenges facing the President. Most of the short items are balanced—immigration, oil spill, terrorism (domestic only), Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea-- in that they present more than one side and avoid partisan language.

There are three exceptions, however:

--The Middle East: This is seriously slanted. After being told Obama wants to make peace the kids are instructed:

“Muslim extremists often use U.S. support for Israel as an excuse to commit terrorist acts. But some Israeli policies, Obama says, work against peace.”

While the first sentence is certainly true, in this context (with no other factors being presented) the kids are being taught that U.S. support for Israel threatens their lives. (Obvious answer: Protect yourself by ending support for Israel.)

As for the second sentence, Obama’s considerable prestige is thrown in to blame Israel for the lack of peace. That’s it. No criticism of the Palestinians. Nothing about Hamas or any hint of anti-Israel terrorism or the goal of wiping Israel off the map.

Do I think this was conscious and deliberate? Probably not. Is it damaging and dangerous? Definitely yes.

--Jobs and the Economy: There’s still a recession, the kids are told, but good news! “In the last two years, the federal government has spent billions of dollars to try to save and create jobs. This has helped pull the nation out of a recession. But unemployment is still nearly 10 percent, and the housing market remains shaky.” An unnamed expert explains: the economy is growing but still slowly.

While the third and fourth sentence provides some balance, this is an endorsement of government high-spending policy. Has this really worked? No contrary view—Stimulus failed; cut spending, recession far from over-- is given. Moreover, it should always be pointed out that money being spent doesn’t come from government but from taxpayers.

--Climate Change: This is presented as a major threat to the world. It quotes Obama as saying the United States must act before “the effects of climate change become `irreversible.'” There is no hint that anyone might disagree even with the proposition that minor human actions like cutting auto emissions would make a difference.

Article pp. 2-3: “Beyond the Cleanup: What’s The Long-Term Impact of the Gulf Oil Disaster”

[Important Note: This article is partly balanced by a debate on page 9 over off-shore drilling between the presidents of the National Resources Defense Council and the American Petroleum Institute.]

Message: We must reduce oil use even if this means lower living standards and go to alternative fuels(often unproven) even if they cost more.

Not mentioned: The blow-out was exceptional, deep-drilling was a response to environmental demands. This is almost like saying that the crash of an improperly maintained airplane shows Americans must reduce their dependence on air travel.


“What’s less clear [is] whether this disaster will finally get Americans to reduce their dependence on oil.”

While BP is mainly to blame “Americans also bear at least some indirect responsibility. The U.S. consumes more oil than any other country….This has led to drilling in riskier areas, including ever-deeper sites offshore.” That argument is simply untrue. There are vast areas closer in to shore and elsewhere where drilling has been forbidden by the U.S. government.

Your living standards are too high: “An estimated 71 percent of the oil we use fuels transportation. Most of the rest goes into making products that we often toss out in massive quantities. ”

Quote from fisherman—on National Public Radio (of course)—saying “I don’t see a future for us to catch fresh fish ever again—oysters, crabs.” This is clearly alarmist and is not matched by less extreme quote (terrible damage but we will come back).

Only one proposed solution offered: “President Barack Obama has called for the development of alternative fuels as one way to reduce our dependence. But much more will be needed. Are Americans willing to change their energy habits?”

Article: “We Are Americans Too!” Pages 16-19:

Important Note: The one quote from the play that is arguably balancing is also published as a large cut line prominently displayed: “They don’t know what’s in our hearts. They don’t know that we are loyal.”

Oh no, the Japanese internment story seems to be the main theme of American education. In the play, the father of the family is falsely accused of using his fishing boat to spy and smuggle in supplies for the Japanese army? This is NOT a true story but a PBS play and I doubt that anyone was specifically accused of espionage like this.

The focus is on how badly they are treated, insults, etc. I’m not going over the issue in detail here, only to say that while the action seems wrong and unnecessary from the perspective of almost 70 years later, at the time it was a reasonable thing to do given the lack of information about Japanese immigrant views, genuine fear of a Japanese attack on the Pacific coast, the fact that extensive spying had been done to prepare the Pearl Harbor attack (we now know mainly by the Japanese consulate in Hawaii), the existence of militant Japanese nationalist societies, the legitimacy of the existing Japanese government (in contrast to the usurper regimes in Germany and Italy), and the centrality of obedience to the emperor in the Shinto tradition. None of these points is mentioned in the article and these are never explained in the study of the issue in elementary schools.

I was puzzled by this obsession until I read what Daniel Pipes wrote on the subject. He explains that the subject is deliberately intended as a parallel showing why the main threat is Islamophobia and not Islamist terrorism and similar things. His article also shows additional reasons why authorities implemented an internament policy.

I should also note that the point is never explicitly made that not a single internee was killed, injured, or tortured, adding to the credit accruing to American behavior in the past. Finally, students are never taught about how Americans and others were tortured and mistreated in Japanese internment camps. This would NOT justify similar behavior by Americans, of course, but shows something vital for students to learn: Other peoples often behave badly, Americans and those in democratic countries almost always behave better.

My conclusion is that Junior Scholastic editors are partly trying to be balanced and do a better job of it than much of the mass media but that there are still serious examples of indoctrination on some issues.

Mark Twain's Neighbors and Why I'm Writing This Blog

By Barry Rubin

In 1870, Mark Twain, the great American writer and journalist, had just moved to Buffalo, New York, where he was part-owner and an editor of the newspaper. One Sunday morning Twain saw smoke pouring from the upper window of the house across the street, whose residents he had not yet met. The couple was sitting on their porch, unaware of the danger.

Twain calmly strolled across the street, bowed politely, and introduced himself:

"We ought to have called on you before, and I beg your pardon for intruding now in this informal way, but your house is on fire."

Dear readers, every day I am strolling across the Internet street to you in Western Europe and North America and as politely as possible pointing out that your house is on fire. As politely as possible I'm trying to explain that arsonists are pouring gasoline on the blaze while the fire department says all's okay and either you are imagining the fire or are to blame for it.

Since the houses here are built so closely together, unless we jump to action the whole neighborhood will go up in flames.

It would be a good idea to develop a foreign policy strategy to put out the blaze, but you can't do that until you recognize who set it and then drive them off or round them up.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Obama's UN Speech: More Revealing Than Effective

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By Barry Rubin

President Barack Obama’s speech to the UN, September 23, 2010, is revealing on several levels. Indeed, I learned something very important about his foreign policy. But that’s at the end.

He began by discussing terrorism as if it is carried out by faceless, doctrineless, causeless mystery men who have no sponsors, ideology, or goals and attack everyone equally.

Obama explained:

“Nine years ago, the destruction of the World Trade Center [by whom? BR] signaled a threat that respected no boundary of dignity or decency. Two years ago this month, a financial crisis on Wall Street devastated American families on Main Street. These separate challenges have affected people around the globe.”

That could be an important clue: those who attacked the World Trade Center might have been early protesters against the financial crisis.

What has happened since?

“Men, women and children have been murdered by extremists from Casablanca to London; from Jalalabad to Jakarta.”

Note that three of the four places listed are in Muslim-majority countries, disguising the fact that most of these attacks were by Islamists trying to kill Westerners, though many were also aimed at Muslims, too. Obama should want to win over governments in Muslim majority countries but he goes a step further, making Muslims as the victims rather than focusing on building a broad international coalition.

For that purpose, Obama should have listed more places. In fact by making the tally include many countries he would have demonstrated the extent of the problem and, more effectively, the need for cooperation in fighting this battle. It would have been especially smart of him to mention Russia, India, and China. These are important powers whose support Obama needs. He might have remembered the Asian victims like Thailand and the Philippines. A mention of Israel would have been decent.

The problem, then, is NOT that Obama wants to show sympathy for non-radical Muslims and win them over. The problem is that he focuses too single-mindedly on that priority, while failing to draw a sharper distinction between the two sides in Islam's internal struggle for power and legitimacy.

Obama then discusses his withdrawals from Iraq:

“Since I took office, the United States has removed nearly 100,000 troops from Iraq. We have done so responsibly, as Iraqis have transitioned to lead responsibility for the security of their country. We are now focused on building a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while keeping our commitment to remove the rest of our troops by the end of next year.”

He plays partisan politics here. True, he withdrew troops but there’s no mention of the surge—something he opposed and his predecessors implemented—that made these withdrawals possible. It isn't just mean-spirited behavior. Obama genuinely has little sense of the continuity of U.S. policy. Nor will his audience fail to remember that Iraq has been without a government for months, during the period of his "partnership" policy.

Next, a curious, clumsy phrasing to transition to a discussion of nuclear weapons:

“As we pursue the world's most dangerous extremists, we are also denying them the world's most dangerous weapons, and pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Leaving aside the nuclear issue itself, how has U.S. policy denied al-Qaida nuclear weapons? The proper connection would be to Iran as the world's main sponsor of terrorism.

Instead, he links the denial of nuclear weapons to Iran with the idea that everyone must give them up, though he mentions in passing that “Iran is the only party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program....” But what does this mean? That Iran's nuclear program is developing weapons or that there is concern such weapons might be used? The distinction might not seem important now but some day it could be the pivot on which the Middle East's strategic balance turns against America.

Okay, enough about the rest of the world, now Obama gets to the issue that really animates him, what he appears to believe is the keystone to everything. Two paragraphs about terrorism; two on Iran; ten long paragraphs about Israel-Palestinian issues.

Before going into detail, let me ask a question: Obama wants to win over Muslim majority states. Why should he highlight what might be considered the U.S. weak point in that context? Yes, I understand he wishes to demonstrate how hard the United States is working on this issue. But no matter how much he talks, he has nothing to show for it! All any Arab or Muslim writer or politician need do to shoot down Obama’s arguments is to say: Yes, he keeps blabbing about this but he hasn’t done anything.

A good statesman doesn’t highlight what he cannot do, nor sets himself up as the one to blame when—inevitably—nothing happens. He and his administration simply don’t get this and keep promising, flattering, and sometimes conceding more with no result.

Obama then sets out to prove he is the world’s number-one champion of the Palestinians. Generally, he does try to present a balanced policy generally in line with the historic U.S. stance. He wants “two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as part of a comprehensive peace between Israel and all of its neighbors.”

No problem there. But much of the speech is word for word what he’s said when meeting Israeli, Palestinian, or Arab leaders. What’s he trying to achieve at the UN? Last year he promised direct, intensive talks—a new Camp David--within two months. It took him a year to get direct talks that convene every two weeks.

Obama does tilt toward the Palestinians at times, though it never does him—or the Palestinians—any good. Here he calls on Israel to freeze building on settlements. Okay. But he doesn’t balance that by asking the Palestinian side to do anything.

The impotence of Obama is also revealed in a small detail. He calls for countries that support the Palestinians to give them more aid. Yet so far he has failed to get any Arab state to give even as much money as they did when Bush was president:

Certainly, Obama makes a very strong statement supporting Israel’s existence, promising U.S. support for it, and decrying terrorism against Israeli civilians, though with no hint of who might be doing such things.

There is one line, though, I cannot let pass without analysis:

“Make no mistake: the courage of a man like President Abbas--who stands up for his people in front of the world--is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children.”

What does that courage consist of? Making compromises with Israel? Fighting Hamas? Ending incitement and telling his people that they should accept Israel’s existence? Offering to resettle Palestinian refugees in Palestine or recognizing Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for Israel recognizing Palestine as an Arab state?

No. Merely that after, resisting for almost two years, he is holding direct talks with Israel while threatening to walk out at the first opportunity. By the way, Yasir Arafat negotiated directly with Israel for eight years.

His finish on this topic is to urge action so that when the UN meets in 2011 the problem would have been solved and there will be a new UN member, “An independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”

I’ll bet that when the UN convenes in a year nothing would have changed. If Obama knows that’s true why stake his prestige on it, highlight it, and make it seem the world’s most important issue?

There are important clues here to Obama’s world view. President Bill Clinton showed empathy by saying, “I feel your pain.” Obama goes further, basically saying, “You deserve better and it is my job to give it to you.” Thus, Clinton could go on to exercise real leverage and maneuver strategically because by pointing to the “pain” he highlighted others’ weakness and problems, a step more conducive to moving them toward compromise.

In contrast, Obama stresses U.S. responsibility for problems, even as he asks others to help. He finds it hard to remain consistent in asking for mutual compromise. He presents no persuasive reasons why others should do what he wants.

Most important, Obama simply doesn’t seem to conceive of the idea that in international affairs—outside of a few crazed al-Qaida criminals--there are people who want to destroy you due to ambition, hatred, ideology, and even desire to hold onto what they have. (Joke coming next.) And not all of them are Republicans.

Strange, isn’t it? If Obama can believe that his domestic opponents are bitter haters who want to hold onto their guns and religion, why can’t he comprehend that this is true for a long list of countries and radical movements abroad?

It isn't a very strong speech, and it is lacking in any particular American perspective. Obama is really non-American in his approach. At no point is there any assertion of U.S. leadership or any idea that the United States has some particular set of interests apart from other countries. Trying to build bridges with other countries is a necessary task for a president, yet Obama seems to think he can best do so by standing in the middle of the bridge. 

This approach explains his popularity with Western Europe but is not so effective in the Third World where people either view America as an enemy or want it to be strong in order to protect them.

And so here is the revelation that Obama’s UN speech has taught me:

There have been presidents who thought that the outside world is exactly the same as America. There have been presidents who thought that the rest of the world is worse than America. Obama is the first president in history who thinks that the rest of the world is better than America.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What is the "Evil Genius" of Our Era?

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By Barry Rubin

Margaret Thatcher's autobiography, The Path to Power (NY: HarperCollins, 1995) is a remarkably timely book for Americans, as well as for her own country today. Many of the problems the United Kingdom faced in the 1970s and 1980s--economic crisis and decline, high spending, expanding government, eroding individual rights, immigration, etc.--are once again hotly debated.

In 1976, for example, Thatcher's rival, Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Jim Callaghan admitted, "We used to think that you could just spend your way out of a recession" but it didn't work and actually increased unemployment. That was 34 years ago, yet there are still those who think....

Or how about when, in the late 1970s, Thatcher urged limits on immigration to the United Kingdom along with full rights for all existing citizens regardless of religion or background. Thatcher wrote:

"Nothing is more colour-blind than the capitalism in which I placed my faith for Britain's revival. It was part of my credo that individuals were worthy of respect as individuals, not as members of classes or races....  " (p. 406)

In response, she was demonized as an alleged racist hater and inciter to violence. Thatcher responded:

"No matter how much the socialists mismanaged the economy, cut Britain's defences or failed to uphold law and order, they were at least able to guarantee a sympathetic hearing by condemning their opponents as bigots." (pp. 406-407)

Leaving all that aside--since these are issues I don't write about--what fascinated me is a passage on international affairs. She is discussing how her views differed from those of her factional opponent in the Conservative Party, Prime Minister Edward Heath.  Although both of them supported the United Kingdom's entrance into the European Union, Thatcher explained that they did so from different perspectives (pp. 134-135):

"Ted, to my mind, had swallowed a good deal of the fashionable interpretation of what had gone wrong in the world between the [two world] wars. For him...the evil genius of those times was nationalism. Consequently, Britain now had a duty to help create a Europe-wide structure which would supplant the nation state, provide an alternative focus for loyalties and so prevent war....I saw the principal cause of the conflict as being the appeasement of dictators...."

This is a very revealing point. Implicitly or explicitly, many in the West have seen the problem as nationalism. Therefore, they have done everything possible to eliminate their own nationalism (in American parlance, patriotism might be a more appropriate word) and sense of peoplehood. Multiculturalism is the approved antithesis as well as virtually uncontrolled mass immigration without a continued effort at assimilation (or acculturation, if you prefer).

Yet nationalism in America, France, or Britain did not cause World War Two. Actually, one might suggest that stronger nationalist feeling in London and Paris in the 1930s might have done more to avoid the war but a wave of pacifism, appeasement, and anti-patriotism encouraged and aided the enemies of democracy.

This is, however, a complex question that should probably be left for another time and a larger space.

At any rate, the campaign against nationalism and even national identity in the West has been overwhelming. Campaigns against racialism, imperialism, militarism and intolerance have been successful. But here's the rub: You can do away with your own nationalism, identity, and willingness to fight rather easily. You can make yourselves a better, more tolerant people, too. The problem is that this in no way diminishes the power of all of these characteristics in those who would destroy you.

Thatcher is right on this issue. While the European Union has been a good thing--up to a point I'll leave to you to decide--the main threat in the world, the main danger facing liberty, the most likely aggressors are not the United States or Britain or France. On the contrary, the West is the main defender of freedom, as it was during the Cold War (despite errors and shortcomings).

Weakening Western resolve, subverting patriotism and identity in its countries, making concessions to dictatorships, refusing to stand up for the superiority of Western civilization (now also adapted in such non-Western places as India and Japan) apologizing to--and for--terrorists and dictators is, to use Thatcher's phrase, the "evil genius" of our time.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

New Book By Eyewitness Turkish Journalist: Mavi Marmara Militants Planned Attack on Israeli Soldiers to Force Confrontation

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By Barry Rubin

We now have the definitive source on the Mavi Marmara affair and it proves Israel was right. The ship was controlled by radical Jihadists who planned to attack Israeli forces and provoke confrontation. The source is a book, including photos, by a Turkish journalist named Şefik Dinç who was on the ship.

Dinç is sympathetic to the militants but also points to the responsibility of the Turkish government and the IHH, the sponsoring Islamist group, for the crisis. His text and pictures show the Jihadists taking out iron bars and clubs, preparing for battle, beating Israeli soldiers, and trying to throw one of them into the sea. Dinç also reports that Israeli soldiers opened fire only trying to rescue soldiers taken hostage. His account corresponds in almost every detail with that given by Israel.

He writes: “When everyone who had been assigned a task reported to their stations, clubs were taken out of a hiding place….In addition to the wooden clubs I’d seen earlier, there were now iron bars as well.” Those passengers not choosing to participate in the attack went down to lower decks. The first three soldiers who landed were beaten and dragged to the upper deck. When they tried to throw a soldier overboard, some non-Jihadi passengers intervened and stopped them; others sought to stop the beatings.

You can see extensive quotes and photographs from his book HERE

The report from a very reliable Israeli research center that translated extracts from the book also contains more detailed information than I’ve seen before from the Israeli side about what happened:

“IHH operatives and their supporters fired live ammunition as soon as the first soldiers descended from the helicopter. One IDF soldier suffered a knee injury from a non-IDF weapon as soon as he came on board the ship….IHH operatives used three weapons taken from the Israelis against other IDF soldiers. It appears that two of them were thrown into the sea, as were one or two non-IDF [guns], at least one of which was used to fire on the commandos descending from the helicopter.”

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

A Cautionary Tale: Promises Made on a Freezing Night

By Barry Rubin

For those who have just observed Yom Kippur and for readers generally (you can save this for New Year's Day) let us not be like Mark Twain and his prospector partners.

It was in the winter of 1864 and they were returning from their (hoped-for but ultimately unproductive) gold mine in Nevada. The men lost their way. The mountains were deep in snow and the situation looked grim. When it became too dark to go on, they camped for what they feared would be their last night. . They prayed and, trembling with fear and frost, threw away all their whisky, gambling cards, and tobacco, vowing that if the creator of the universe would only save their lives they'd never drink a drop of alcohol, smoke a cigarette, or play poker again.

When the sun came up, however, they found to their amazement that they were within sight of an inn. They were saved. Looking at each other, the men shrugged their shoulders; climbed out of their tents;  retrieved all the tobacco, whisky, and playing cards, and went on their way as if nothing had happened.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Scottish "Jihad": A Case of Identity Politics, Ethnic Conflict, Self-Hatred, and Successful Integration

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By Barry Rubin

All groups aware of having been left behind by the progress of others develop an inferiority complex. They have two main alternatives:

--Learn from others, make changes in their thinking and society, and seek dramatic progress as the best way to achieve a national renaissance, or

--Decide their real problem is due to external oppression and that what is needed is not internal reform but waging battle, killing people, expanding their territory, and achieving total victory.

Part of this process, however, is that part of each group’s elite tries, if possible, to transfer allegiance to the stronger civilization, while another part seeks to lead its own people. 

The turn toward progress often happens when the group—as with the Japanese and Germans in 1945—conclude that they cannot win militarily. Those who tell the group to continue fighting, sacrificing, and dying in a way that postpones having a better life eternally into the future--rather than progressing through science, education, and productivity-- are doing them a disservice. In the modern era, radical ideologies often promote that disservice.

Showing the universality of this situation, consider Scotland. The Scots supported the deposed Stuart dynasty and invaded England in 1745 in the name of a reactionary religious ideology, one might call it Catholicism, intended to rule and revolutionize the Protestant-ruled United Kingdom. After some initial military successes they were forced to retreat and suffered a devastating defeat at Culloden Moor in 1746. It was the last act in what might called two centuries of Catholic holy war against Protestant England. In those days, if you like, think of Spain as Iran as the leader in this effort.

After its victory, the British crown then unleashed a terrible repression on parts of Scotland to make sure that such a rebellion never recurred, including the expulsion of thousands of Scots from their farms. The Scots could have vowed revenge and unleashed decades of terrorism and warfare that would have worsened their situation. Instead, Scotland decided to adapt English ways and made rapid intellectual and material progress.

James Boswell was a Scot, six years old at the time of that battle, from an aristocratic background who preferred to succeed on the London literary scene rather than run his family’s huge estates and be a successful lawyer in Scotland. Among other things, as a case of displaced exercising of nationalist sentiments--e couldn't and wouldn't use for his own people--he took up the cause of Corsican rebels against the corrupt rule of Naples. (Although Boswell didn’t live long enough to realize it, the son of the movement’s secretary was the father of a baby named Napoleon Bonaparte.)

So Boswell pursued assimilation for himself while supporting another nationalist cause rather than his own, a case of displacement and alienation quite common today (especially among assimilated Jews). There was real anti-Scottish feeling—though not quite Scotophobia—in England at the time, especially so soon after the Scottish invasion of 1745 that tried to conquer England. But the United Kingdom—the name itself is significant—while certainly not multicultural was in the course of imposing a single culture also permitting pluralism for sub-communities in the eighteenth century. There was even a trend toward tolerating Catholics, though this would not happen fully until the next century.

When Boswell first met the great English writer and intellectual Samuel Johnson, the writing of whose biography would make Boswell famous, Johnson sneered, saying that a Scotsman could not help being from Scotland. Later, when they became friends, Johnson "complimented" him by saying, “Sir, I will do you the justice to say that you are the most un-scotified of your countrymen.”

Boswell, one of his own biographers wrote, was horrified by the reputation of Scots for being loud, crude, and telling too many jokes:

“He had an abiding contempt for `Scotch jocularity,’ familiarity, and crudeness….He was so embarrassed by the accent and bearing of his countrymen whenever he encountered them in London that he would shun them.”

Boswell even “converted” from the Scottish national religion, Presbyterianism, to the Church of England, viewing his own Church of Scotland with horror. He took speech lessons to lose his Scottish accent. At times, though, he at times declared pride in being Scottish and praised the brave Highland character.

The Scottish Enlightenment of the earlier 1700s had produced great philosophical work—a major influence on the American Revolution—and literature. In the next generation, the Scots would become fabulously successful as engineers and architects of industrialization and machine technology.

Thus, over time, British culture, society, and technology, was built up without benefit of official Political Correctness, Multiculturalism, guilt trips, jihads, or quotas. In contemporary times, Scottish identity has revived, fueled by oil, and is flourishing without violence, hatred, or a thirst for revenge. Probably the only example of rampant bigotry on this front in recent times is the fact that in the film about Scottish national hero William Wallace he was played by crazed hater Mel Gibson.

Any of this starting to sound familiar? Am I being too subtle? Do people really think that everything has been invented in the last twenty years? Of course, drawing parallels in history must be done with the greatest care and willingness to point to exceptions. Yet it is useful to see some of the common patterns that have occurred in the life of nations and religions.

Boswell’s story and that of Scotland is complex but it shows that the ambiguity of situation and choices faced by societies, ethnic groups, religions, and individuals is nothing new. There is indeed nothing new under the sun, including people's difficulty in realizing that fact.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Future History of Palestine: You Want a Two-State Solution? Then Do It Right.

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By Barry Rubin

The following article isn’t intended to reject a two-state solution but to point out issues that would inevitably arise if one ever came about. Recently, a once-major American magazine ran a cover story saying Israelis aren’t desperately eager for “peace” without ever mentioning the real reasons why that's so:

It's simple: Rather reasonably, Israelis want to know whether they would be better or worse off after making a deal to get a promise of peace in exchange for accepting a fully independent Palestinian state.

Making a strategy requires figuring out where things can go wrong and working to avoid or reduce the consequences. Pretending problems won't happen is the best way to engender catastrophes. So let's look at what would happen:

A gala celebration marks Palestine’s day of independence. Some world leaders come bearing promises of financial aid. Arab leaders attending offer little money and, except for Egypt’s president and Jordan’s king, avoid contact with Israel’s delegation.

These celebrations are marred by the absence of leaders from countries--including Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Yemen. refusing to recognize the new state. 

Hamas, ruling the Gaza Strip, along with Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups, also reject the “traitorous entity.” Gaza’s rulers mark the occasion by firing rockets into Israel. Palestine's president boasts hollowly that his country includes all of the Gaza Strip but controls nothing there.

Hardly any of the Western media cover statements by some leaders of Palestine’s ruling Fatah group that the new country's independence is not the conflict's end but the first step toward total victory and conquest of Israel.

Nor do many note statements of Islamist and Palestinian nationalist Arab groups among Israel’s citizens that they now seek to dismantle the Zionist nature of the Israeli state, a goal several European newspapers endorse.

Nor is it widely highlighted in the Western media that the new country officially proclaims itself an Arab and Muslim state while ridiculing the idea of accepting Israel as a Jewish state.

 Within a few weeks, infiltrators--some from Hamas, some from Fatah--cross the Palestine-Israel border to attack Israeli motorists and farming villages, set fires, and engage in sabotage. Palestine's government loudly condemns the attacks and claims it is trying to stop them. But the attacks continue even though a few Hamas supporters are rounded up, beaten up, and briefly imprisoned. It is quite possible that small numbers of rockets could be fired into Israeli territory or attempts be made to shoot down planes taking off from Israel's airport.

Soon, the official Museum of Palestinian History opens with exhibits claiming all of Israel as rightfully part of Palestine. Visiting schoolchildren are told that Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva, and the rest of Israel belong to them and will some day be part of Palestine. Big displays show alleged Israeli atrocities and extol heroes who'd blown themselves up killing many Israeli civilians.

Yet these things, along with anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian media, mosques, and textbooks, attract little foreign attention. The conflict is over, isn’t it? And to publicize such facts, journalists tell each other, would only “play into the hands of Israeli hardliners” and “undermine peace.”

Israel, of course, protests the incitement and armed attacks to the UN and Western governments, but those diplomatic efforts bring no response. Israel steps up defenses and builds a border fence at great expense, which helps somewhat. Yet every time Israeli patrols fire on infiltrators trying to get across, Palestine protests--backed by Muslim-majority states—that this is unprovoked Israeli aggression.

In the Middle East, the peace agreement brings little change. True, in some countries hatred toward Israel diminishes a bit. But Syria is still uninterested in peace. Moreover, growing fear of a nuclear Iran, Syria, and revolutionary Islamist groups intimidates other Arab states from making peace with Israel. After all, they say, now that there's a state of Palestine they don't need to do so.

Islamist groups rally against the “treasonous” Palestinian regime and “sell-out” of Palestine to recruit new members. America is no more popular for having fathered a Palestinian state since that birth required concessions and didn't bring all the land under Muslim rule. Violent attacks against U.S., European, and occasionally Palestinian institutions take place in a half-dozen countries.

From this point, we can envision several likely scenarios:

--Growing border tension and cross-border attacks lead to Israeli incursions to fight terrorists against whom the Palestinian government doesn’t act effectively. This sets off a crisis in which Israel is branded as the aggressor that is threatening peace and some call for sanctions against it.

--A coup takes place turning Palestine into a military-run regime which might be either more militant, wanting to fight Israel, or more cautious, seeking to crush Hamas.

--As a result of tensions with Israel, internal conflicts, a radical regime, or coup, the Palestinian government obtains military equipment, including advanced anti-aircraft missiles, violating the peace agreement. What’s the world going to do to enforce that treaty? Probably very little.

--As a result of the list of scenarios given in the previous paragraph, the Palestinian government calls in foreign troops, possibly Syrian or Iranian. What’s the world going to do about that? How would the world respond to Israel taking military action against such threats and treaty violations?

--A Hamas coup, far more likely to happen than the Palestinian government conquering the Gaza Strip, produces a pro-Tehran Hamas regime which, perhaps partnered with militant Fatah leaders, tears up the peace agreement and announces an alliance with Iran, making Israel and Western strategic interests worse off than ever.

Of course, we can also assume everything goes well and everyone lives happily ever after, that Palestinians become interested only in raising their living standards and keeping things quiet. That might happen.

But while the above scenarios are speculative they are better rooted in experience and reality than is the "best-case" alternative. At any rate, betting the lives of millions of people, Israel's future, and Western strategic interests must be based on something better than wishful thinking and refusing to acknowledge the threats involved.

Tell me, if you can, how the above predictions are ridiculously unlikely or impossible. The only likely response is: Shut up! You are endangering the possibility of peace! Indeed, one European Middle East expert responded to this article by saying that Israel does bad things, too, and that ordinary Palestinian people want peace. But such sentiments, based largely on wishful thinking, have nothing to do with the serious issues involved here.

Have you ever seen serious discussion of any of these points from Western experts, media, or governments?

Is there any sign of steps being taken to avoid such outcomes in the Western approach to the issue?

O course, this is all hypothetical. In practice, the Palestinian Authority isn’t going to make peace for many years to come.

While many would read this article as reason to oppose any two-state solution altogether. I, like most Israelis, favor a two-state solution if done properly. Yet if no one takes these dangers seriously, why should Israel make concessions, take risks, and rush into such a situation where it would be very likely worse off than it is now?

All we are saying is to give peace a chance. But only if it is likely to be a peace that is lasting and better than the status quo for all concerned.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,