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Archive for November, 2012

[update below]

This is the title of a great, great essay by Bruce Bartlett in The American Conservative, who tells about “My life on the Republican right—and how I saw it all go wrong.” No selected passages or money quotes here (there would be too many). Just read the essay. The whole thing, from beginning to end. You won’t regret it.

Just one thing. In Bartlett’s quote in the above photo, he says the Republican party today wants anarchy and ending government. This is not precisely the case and his own essay implicitly says why. What comes across in his account is the extreme intolerance of today’s Republicans for anyone who doesn’t share their world-view. If these people were to control all three branches of government—with a solid conservative majority on the Supreme Court and a filibuster-proof Senate—they would not only gut the welfare state—and, via SCOTUS rulings, render impossible its future revival—but also the institutions of democracy, notably in undermining the suffrage via an abrogation of the Voting Rights Act. Significant portions of the (Democratic-voting) electorate would be effectively disenfranchised (the efforts at voter suppression in Florida, Ohio, and other states in the last election give an inkling as to GOP intentions on this; see also the proposal by Republican office holders in Ohio and Pennsylvania to implement the congressional district method in the allocation of electoral votes). Representation is distorted enough in America as it is, but the Republicans, if they could, would distort it even further, attempting to lock in their control over the reins of power for generations, and despite the demographic evolution of American society. Under unchecked Republican rule, America would be a brutal and violent place, and with an increasingly muscular repressive state apparatus. So-called small government conservatives only believe in small government when it comes to transfer payments and regulations on business, not on the powers of the police and instruments of repression. Thank God Obama won. And that he won decisively.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman has a typically spot on commentary on his blog, in which he discusses Bruce Bartlett’s essay and Republican “epistemic closure.” He discusses

a phenomenon I notice a lot on the right (you can see it often in the comments on this blog): the persistent portrayal of people who disagree with them as marginal figures with trivial support. I think of Bill O’Reilly dismissing anyone who presents data he doesn’t like as “far left”, even when they’re thoroughly mainstream. Or, to be self-centered, the constant insistence by some people that nobody pays attention to what yours truly says; there are, it appears, an awful lot of nobodies out there. I’m not sure I fully understand this phenomenon, but it comes in part from a refusal to pay any attention at all to what other people think.

The point isn’t just that right-wingers believe in their own reality, but that they don’t think it matters that other people have different versions of reality. And no, this isn’t symmetric: liberals don’t consider it unnecessary to know what conservatives are thinking, or dismiss actually influential figures as marginal. Liberal may despise Rush Limbaugh, but they won’t dismiss him as a marginal figure nobody listens to.

This is so true. À propos, some three years ago I was “informed” by a Tea Party interlocutor from the American Midwest that Paul Krugman was “a joke” and that “nobody” paid any attention to him, “not even liberals.” For my brilliant interlocutor I was ergo a “nobody,” as were the millions who read Krugman regularly. Lots of us nobodies out there (and who continue to feel oh so good about the results of the election; how nice it is to know that we are, in fact, not only not nobodies but the majority…).

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La guerre fratricide continue au sein de l’UMP. Ça va durer, on dirait. À ce sujet je trouve pertinent et juste l’éditorial du Monde, “Tourner la page du sarkozysme,” dans le numéro daté le 25-26 novembre (probablement rédigé par le directeur du journal, Erik Izraelewicz, qui est subitement décédé hier).

La crise qui déchire l’UMP ne survient pas par hasard. Certes, elle est déclenchée par les scores équivalents qu’ont obtenus ses candidats à la présidence, François Fillon et Jean-François Copé. Certes, elle est le fruit d’ambitions individuelles féroces, mais la rupture s’explique par une division idéologique profonde au sein du parti conservateur. Elle trouve même ses racines dans la schizophrénie d’une grande partie des dirigeants de la droite, qui ne parviennent pas à conjuguer leur éthique et leurs ambitions personnelles.

Ainsi, Jean-François Copé, qui inventa le drame des enfants se faisant voler leur pain au chocolat pour ne pas avoir observé le jeûne du ramadan, passe pour l’héritier radical de Nicolas Sarkozy. Il incarne moins une résurgence néogaulliste du RPR de Jacques Chirac qu’un retour des jeunes loups de l’ancien Parti républicain, libéraux et droitiers. Mais M. Copé a fait équipe avec celui qui osa en premier émettre des critiques publiques contre la droitisation de la campagne de Nicolas Sarkozy en 2012 : Jean-Pierre Raffarin. Les libéraux centristes, comme l’ancien premier ministre Raffarin ou l’ex-ministre de l’éducation Luc Châtel, ont rejoint M. Copé, pour reconquérir le pouvoir. Ils savaient que leur champion devrait ménager une large place à un pôle centriste pour rassembler toute la droite. Ce faisant, ils n’ont pas mené l’indispensable clarification idéologique.

L’équipe de François Fillon apparaît plus traditionnelle, plus provinciale, plus consensuelle. L’unique premier ministre de Nicolas Sarkozy se présente comme un orthodoxe en économie, un modéré sur les sujets de société. Mais celui qui se disait dès 2007 “à la tête d’un Etat en faillite” n’a jamais eu le courage de claquer la porte de Matignon en raison du laxisme budgétaire de Nicolas Sarkozy, ou pour protester contre la dérive sécuritaire, évidente depuis l’été 2010 avec le discours de Grenoble sur les Roms et la déchéance de la nationalité des assassins de policiers. François Fillon est bloqué au centre par l’UDI de Jean-Louis Borloo.

“Nous sommes en train de devenir l’écurie présidentielle du Front national ou de Jean-Louis Borloo. Au choix”, a résumé l’ancien ministre de l’agriculture Bruno Le Maire, qui n’a pas choisi entre M. Fillon et M. Copé. Le péril sera encore plus grand pour la droite si François Hollande continue de s’affranchir de son aile gauche et instille une dose de proportionnelle aux législatives, rendant possible une alliance au centre.

Nicolas Sarkozy n’est pas le grand gagnant de cette guerre fratricide. Il en est la cause. C’est lui qui a franchi, lors de sa campagne présidentielle pour 2012, les bornes de la droite fréquentable. Nicolas Sarkozy, faux retraité de la politique, est présenté comme un recours.

C’est oublier l’équation qui fit son succès en 2007. Il était parvenu à réconcilier le centre et la droite populaire. Mais il a échoué, se montrant incapable de réaliser la rupture promise, tandis que son tempérament, qui a crispé toute la société française, l’a disqualifié. Nicolas Sarkozy n’a guère plus de chances de revenir, durablement et avec succès, dans la course que n’en avait son adversaire de 2007, Ségolène Royal.

Si elle veut se reconstruire, l’UMP doit commencer par un inventaire sérieux des années Sarkozy et une redéfinition de valeurs communes.

Copé et Fillon sont cuits tous les deux, ce qui est plutôt évident. Et Sarkozy ne reviendra certainement pas dans l’arène politique, ce qui est évident aussi. Pour la prochaine élection présidentielle il faudra que le candidat de l’UMP soit un troisième (ou quatrième) homme. François Baroin, peut-être ? You heard it here first.

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Paul Krugman and the Germans

TNR deputy editor Cameron Abadi has an informative and somewhat amusing piece on German attitudes toward Paul Krugman, who is, as is well known, a relentless critic of German policy in regard to the European economic crisis and the euro. The Germans, who are fascinated by Krugman, both eagerly seek his advice and pay no attention to it. I found this passage particularly interesting

KRUGMAN IS AWARE that people with his understanding of economics don’t normally receive much attention in Germany. “We have a tradition in the Anglo-Saxon world, you try and have a schematic view of the economy,” he tells me. “German have this whole—well, it’s kind of hard for me to know what they’re saying.”

Krugman is not alone in his confusion. The philosophical touchstone of contemporary German economics isn’t the work of Adam Smith, or Hayek, or Marx, but rather Walter Euken, a man whom few outside of Germany have ever heard of (though he’s so well-regarded in his own country that his face has appeared on a German stamp). In the 1930s, Euken founded a school of economics at the University of Freiburg that came to be known as ordoliberalism. It combined a commitment to free markets with a belief in strong government, but its primary economic concern was stability—understandable in a country scarred by the experience of hyperinflation in the 1920s, the depression of the 1930s, and the subsequent rise of Nazism. When West Germany needed to create a state in the aftermath of World War II, the ordoliberal theoreticians set up the “social market economy” that became the country’s unquestioned economic framework. They created a robust welfare state, but it was embedded in a legal structure that was engineered to promote economic stability—rules for balanced budgets, rules for labor participation in the workplace—and ideally wouldn’t require continuous intervention by the state.

The flip side of this obsession with rules was a distaste for the sorts of pragmatic responses to crises preferred by American economists. That’s why many Germans still tend to embrace “automatic stabilizers” like unemployment insurance, but shy from discretionary spending, like massive stimulus packages. They would prefer to suffer short-term pain now for the promise of arriving at a more sustainable equilibrium later. And worst of all for Germans is the idea—not at all unusual in Anglo-Saxon economic literature—that inflation can help lift a country out of an incipient depression. Germans hear the word inflation and think only of their worst nightmare: instability.

In that way, “Germany has very few influential Keynesian economists,” according to a recent report by the European Council on Foreign Relations. Olaf Storbeck, economics correspondent for the German business daily Handelsblatt, tells me, somewhat more bluntly, “Keynesianism is a dirty word in Germany.”

I have no doubt come across Walter Euken’s name but can’t say I know much about him. As I’ll be teaching a new course next semester on the EU, I’ll read up on him and ‘ordoliberalism’, which is a compelling model. In the meantime, I will continue to side with my man Krugman on Germany and Europe, though, as does he, I do like Germany and have a lot of admiration for it and for Germans. It is a well-ordered, civilized, prosperous country (and not for cultural reasons; Germans do not work harder and are no more efficient than Frenchmen). It’s the ordoliberalism, stupid!

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[N.B. This post has been revised since its initial publication]

The English edition of Pravda published an op-ed last week entitled “Obama’s Soviet Mistake,” by one Xavier Lerma (who is identified only with a link to his blog, which is where Pravda got it—high journalistic standards they have there in Russia—, but which contains no biographical information). The op-ed is a doozy, which has to be read to be believed. I posted it on FB, which led to an exchange on Russia with a couple of FB friends and with me declaring that

I have no hesitation in saying that I find Russia a dangerous and frightening country. Any country where neo-Nazi gangs can roam the streets in the heart of the capital city and murder dark-skinned people with impunity, with the tacit approval of the citizenry and the police looking the other way, has serious mental problems. And then there’s Vladimir Putin, so hugely popular until only recently.

I have written as much in recent months on AWAV (go to the Russia/ex-USSR category and see the ‘Elena’ and ‘Russia: Mafia state’ posts). This reminded me of an op-ed in Haaretz from earlier this month, on Russians in Israel and racism, which I kept. Here it is. Notable passages are highlighted in bold. The author is a historian at Hebrew University. Given his name, one would assume he has intimate, personal knowledge of the phenomenon, i.e. that he knows of what he speaks.

Is it racist to call Russians racist?

Since Barack Obama was elected president, one of the most popular jokes in Putin’s Russia is: “Obama’s election as president – the black humor of Americans.” Would it be racist to argue that a cultural group which embraces such a joke is a group characterized by clear racist tendencies?

By Dmitry Shumsky | Nov.05, 2012

Since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008, one of the most popular jokes in Putin’s Russia – and its cultural diaspora around the world, including in Israel – is: “Obama’s election as president – the black humor of Americans.” The question is: Would it be racist to argue that a cultural group which embraces such a joke is a group characterized by clear racist tendencies or would such an argument in fact be anti-racist, since it diagnoses a worrying trend of racism among a population with a shared past of sorts?

Such a question could also be asked of Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On’s comparison between Yisrael Beiteinu’s leader, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Russia’s leader, President Vladimir Putin. Would it be racist to postulate that there is some common denominator between two politicians who come from a single country that no longer exists, who rose to greatness thanks in no small part to the former citizens of that country, and who have both demonstrated loyalty to that country’s tradition of suppressing civil rights? Or perhaps the opposite is the case; maybe such a theory demonstrates the post-Soviet phenomenon of racism in a broad context.

The Soviet state carried out an unprecedented human experiment. On the one hand, the concepts of enlightenment and equality, morality, human dignity and human freedom flooded the public space ad nauseam. On the other hand, in the absence of an open society and without any possibility of public oversight, the most despicable of human drives were awakened and ran wild.

All you need to do is see the tormentors in the somewhat subversive Soviet movies from the end of the Soviet era to get an impression of the extent of the social Darwinism, the deification of belligerence in relations between groups and individuals, and the contempt for the different and the weak – categories that included many Soviet citizens in the 1970s and ’80s. Those who did not live in the Soviet Union of that era, or have not researched it thoroughly, will find it difficult to imagine the low point to which the ethics governing civil and political life plummeted as the result of that experimentation.

The inconceivable gap between the rhetoric of civil and national equality and the reality of social Darwinism gone crazy and institutional discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin caused many Soviet citizens to see the concepts of enlightenment, humanism and equality as the culprits. They thought the ideas themselves, rather than those who corrupted them, were inherently false and hypocritical.

And so the average native Israeli is wrong to say, as Ari Shavit did in his opinion piece last week, that “the immigrants from Russia sought to escape a tyrannical political culture and not replicate it.” Most Lieberman voters, like most Putin voters in Russia, want to live in a country that will not make use of the corrupted version of equality and humanism and that will not, even for the sake of appearances, futilely fight discrimination among various groups, since they see such discrimination as the legitimate expression of human nature.

Putin voters in today’s Russia have, in large part, succeeded in fulfilling this political and social vision. Lieberman voters in Israel are likely to do so in the near future. As such, a comparison between Putin and Lieberman is not racist. On the contrary, it is an expression of the protest against a wave of post-Soviet racism, on the part of those who do not want a joke like “Obama’s election as president – the black humor of Americans” to take root in Israel as well.

On the subject of Russia, there is a lengthy review by Amy Knight in the Nov. 22nd New York Review of Books on John B. Dunlop’s The Moscow Bombings of September 1999: Examinations of Russian Terrorist Attacks at the Onset of Vladimir Putin’s Rule. It begins

In 2000 Sergei Kovalev, then the widely respected head of the Russian organization Memorial, observed in these pages that the apartment bombings in Russia in September 1999, which killed three hundred people and wounded hundreds of others, “were a crucial moment in the unfolding of our current history. After the first shock passed, it turned out that we were living in an entirely different country….”

The bombings, it will be recalled, were blamed on Chechen rebels and used as a pretext for Boris Yeltsin’s Kremlin to launch a bloody second war against Chechnya, a republic in the Russian Federation. They also were crucial events in promoting Vladimir Putin’s takeover of the Russian presidency as Yeltsin’s anointed successor in 2000 and in ensuring his dominance over the Russian political scene ever since.

As John Dunlop points out in The Moscow Bombings of September 1999, the attacks were the equivalent for Russians of September 11, 2001, for Americans. They aroused a fear of terrorism—along with a desire for revenge against the Chechens—that Russians had not known since Stalin used the supposed terrorist threat as a pretext to launch his bloody purges of the 1930s. Yet unlike in the American case, Russian authorities have stonewalled all efforts to investigate who was behind these acts of terror and why they happened. In the words of Russian journalist Yuliya Kalinina: “The Americans several months after 11 September 2001 already knew everything—who the terrorists were and where they come from…. We in general know nothing.”

Dunlop, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, seeks in his book to provide the “spade work” for an official Russian inquiry, if it ever were to be initiated (a highly doubtful proposition as long as Putin remains in power). He draws on investigative reporting by Russian journalists, accounts of Russian officials in law enforcement agencies, eyewitness testimony, and the analyses of Western journalists and academics. The evidence he provides makes an overwhelming case that Russian authorities were complicit in these horrific attacks.

Knight’s review, which is entitled “Finally, We Know About the Moscow Bombings,” is a must read for those wishing to understand the workings of power in Russia, of the us et coutumes of the men who run that country—and always have—, not to mention their level of morality and consideration for human life. One consequence of the 1999 bombings that Knight does not get into, as it is outside the scope of her essay, was the upsurge in violent racist attacks against Chechens—and against Caucasians and Central Asians more generally—across Russia. Not that virulent racism against the large migrant communities from the ex-Soviet periphery hadn’t existed before, but it became that much more so. Apart from a few isolated incidents there was no such reaction to Arabs in the US after 9/11. Knight’s essay is behind the NYRB’s paywall but may be read in full here.

ADDENDUM: On the Chenchen conflict, see the review essay in the 24 September 1998 NYRB (the only one of the numerous NYRB articles on the subject not behind the paywall), “Chechnya: How Russia Lost,” by then Moscow correspondent Robert Cottrell.

Slide mouse over the photo for explanation. It is taken from a 2006 piece, “Russia: Racism ‘Out Of Control,’ Says Amnesty.”

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Encore un commentaire percutant de l’éditorialiste Thomas Legrand sur la psychodrame à l’UMP, celui-ci ce matin sur France Inter

Ce matin encore, l’UMP et l’image que ce parti donne de la politique.

C’est l’image de ce qu’il y a de plus détestable en politique : la triche, les manœuvres et les faux-semblants… mais surtout cette impression que Copé et Fillon sont dans l’incapacité totale de renoncer à accumuler les pouvoirs, quoi qu’il en coûte. Les militants UMP -qui travaillent bénévolement, défendent leurs idées, prennent de leur temps pour faire vivre le débat public- semblent être le cadet des soucis de ces deux monstres froids. Tous les Français observent ces professionnels de la politique, richement dotés de leurs indemnités de cumulards, dépenser le produit de l’argent public qui financent les partis (parce qu’il ne faut pas oublier que c’est avec l’argent du contribuable qu’ils caricaturent la politique). L’argent public et aussi les cotisations des 300.000 militants UMP qui ne sont pas tous des emperlousés de Neuilly, mais des retraités d’Evreux, des étudiants de Lyon, des agriculteurs d’Ardèche, des petits commerçants du Raincy. Ni Fillon, ni Copé (surtout pas Copé !) ne semblent songer à lâcher prise et dire : « on va travailler ensemble mais aucun de nous deux ne peut être président dans ces conditions ».

Le combat pour la conquête de l’appareil dans un parti sans culture démocratique, c’est forcément peu glorieux… ?

Oui et en plus maintenant ça ne peut plus se dérouler dans l’ombre. La conquête sarkozienne du pouvoir, de la prise de la mairie de Neuilly en 83 par trahison interne au sein de la majorité municipale, à la prise de l’UMP contre ses mentors fait office d’exemple et d’épopée fantastique pour cette génération de politiciens ! Dans ce monde de voraces et de carnassiers on se gargarise de victoires internes, de triomphes d’appareil. L’époque n’est pas épique, on a les gloires, les guerres et les conquêtes que l’on peut ! Dans ce monde de « mecs qui en ont » et qui ne cèdent rien, on répète à l’envi qu’on a obtenu tout ce que l’on détient avec les dents, en se battant, en l’arrachant aux autres, de son propre camp de préférence. Jean-François Copé est maire d’une grande ville, député, chargé de faire la loi et de contrôler le gouvernement, avocat d’affaires et il veut aussi être président de l’UMP, à tout prix ! François Fillon, député qui, pour le reste de sa vie, en tant qu’ancien Premier ministre aura à disposition une voiture, un chauffeur, « un garde du corps-policier-porte valise », un bureau, et une secrétaire veut, à tout prix que Copé ne soit pas président de l’UMP. Aucun de ces deux personnages, qui ambitionnent d’être un jour Président de la république, ne semblent pouvoir simplement imaginer, s’éloigner un peu de la cagnotte, se consacrer à ses multiples mandats et fonctions, donner un peu de temps aux autres, réfléchir aux idées politiques, lire, voyager, concevoir un programme, patiemment, travailler, conceptualiser… bref se préparer à proposer une vision de la France, du monde et de l’avenir aux futurs électeurs. Non, ils semblent vouloir d’abord contrôler leur parti, maîtriser les fédérations, les réseaux, les finances, les investitures, se constituer une armée d’obligés pour paver leur route vers l’Elysée à laquelle ils pensent depuis tout petit. Cette boulimie de pouvoir d’appareil ne passe plus à l’heure de la transparence, de l’info en continu et de l’aspiration à plus de simplicité et de proximité. Finalement la plus grosse faute politique de Copé et Fillon dans cette histoire c’est d’être tragiquement, désespérément, anachroniques.

Copé et Fillon se sont carbonisés, c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire. Pauvre UMP.

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This is the title of a Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs report by Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi and that is worth reading. It paints a pessimistic picture of the future in I-P, needless to say. A notable passage

In the past, Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin predicted Israel’s destruction by the end of the third decade of this century, and other senior Hamas figures said the next generation would be the one to witness the liberation of Palestine. Today, though, the tune has totally changed. Liberating Palestine “from the river to the sea” is portrayed as a fully realistic goal for the present generation thanks to the Islamic Spring, which has redrawn the map of the Middle East, and in light of the decisive role of the jihad-ready Muslim masses in giving the region its character.

Conversely, Hamas views Israel as floundering in growing strategic distress as Turkey and Egypt become major, bitter enemies within the Arab world’s new vision of its struggle. The Hamas leadership sees Israel’s political and military options, including the exercise of its right to self-defense, as increasingly limited.

And this

Although, in hindsight, Hamas made a tactical error regarding Israeli policy, its basic approach has not changed: it views each round of armed conflict with Israel as a stage in a long-term war of attrition. The increasing severity and frequency of these clashes are, then, analogous to birth pangs, with Hamas leaders hoping the violent outbreaks will eventually erode Israel’s resilience and afflict its economy. At the same time, Hamas sees these armed clashes as a means of inflaming the West Bank, thereby opening a further front against Israel and wresting rule from the Palestinian Authority. The ultimate goal is to goad the masses into more and more Islamic revolutions until the emergence of a united military front for the liberation of Palestine.

Lefties and other pro-Palestinians will no doubt dismiss the JCPA as right-wing/Likudnik and linked to the Israeli security establishment—which it is—but this does not ipso facto invalidate Halevi’s argument. I will be interested to hear the reaction of pro-Pals to the report, should they deign to read it (it’s short, so they have no valid excuse not to). As for the last paragraph—on the implications for the West Bank—I think it has been clear for a while that if a Palestinian state sees the light of day before we’re all dead, the IDF itself is not going to withdraw from the WB. I’m not saying that that’s a good thing, just that that’s the way it will be.

On the Israeli right, here are two depressing pieces I just read, on rising stars Moshe Feiglin and Moshe Ya’alon, who make Netanyahu look like a liberal. As with the US Republican party, it just goes from bad to worse on the Israeli right.

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In my last post I linked to a piece by Elliott Abrams, who was intimately involved with the Palestinian issue when he was on the National Security Council during Bush’s second term. This reminded me of a terrific, must read investigative report in the April 2008 issue of Vanity Fair, “The Gaza Bombshell,” by David Rose. The lede:

After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, the author reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever.

The coming to power of Hamas in Gaza was the doing of the Bush administration and the incredible incompetence of its policy in the region: of its insistence that Hamas participate in the 2006 Palestinian elections—to which both Israel and Fatah vehemently objected (and Hamas should indeed not have been allowed to participate without explicitly endorsing all agreements signed between the PLO and Israel up to that point)—and then in hatching the botched Fatah attempt to forcibly eject Hamas in June 2007, thereby leading to the latter’s seizure of total power in Gaza. And Elliott Abrams played a central role in US policy here. Read the article and weep.

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[update below]

Here are a few more links to commentaries worth reading on the Gaza flare-up aftermath. Adam Garfinkle, in a blog post dated Nov. 20th on The American Interest website, “Shock the Casbah,” gives his big picture analysis of the Gaza conundrum—and expresses his exasperation with “[t]he usual irrational Jewcentric crap [and] of all four sorts…: the anti-Semitic, the philo-Semitic, the chauvinist and the self-hating” while he’s at it. After an historical tour from biblical times to the present, he offers his novel two-part solution. In a nutshell: 1. Israel invades Gaza, ejects Hamas, and reoccupies and administers the place. 2. Israel concludes a quick agreement with the PA to turn Gaza over to it, create a Palestinian state more or less within the ’67 lines, evacuates settlements, resolves other outstanding issues, and, presto, is recognized by and establishes diplomatic relations with the totality of the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia. And all in ten figurative days (like the days in the Book of Genesis). A somewhat fanciful proposal IMHO but it looks nice on paper.

Adam Shatz has an online commentary on the LRB website on “Why Israel didn’t win.” Now Adam is a dear friend and quite brilliant but I must part company with him on a few points. E.g.

Netanyahu and his defence minister, Ehud Barak, could have had a ceasefire – probably on more favourable terms – without the deaths of more than 160 Palestinians and five Israelis, but then they would have missed a chance to test their new missile defence shield, Iron Dome, whose performance was Israel’s main success in the war. They would also have missed a chance to remind the people of Gaza of their weakness in the face of Israeli military might.

I have not read anywhere that testing the Iron Dome was a consideration in launching Pillar of Defense, nor was teaching the people of Gaza a lesson and showing them who’s boss. There may well have been some bombastic swagger from Avigdor Lieberman on this score but he was not the central actor in the Israeli operation—a central objective of which was to degrade Hamas’s military capacity and take out the Fajr 5 rockets. Adam forgot to mention this. He did, however, make several references to the bloodcurdling pronouncements of Gilad Sharon and Matan Vilnai. Lefties are having a field day with this but are making way too much of it. Sharon and Vilnai are not even minor actors in this affair and their blowing off steam, though making good copy for les feuilles de chou, is quite simply irrelevant. Seriously, does any serious person seriously believe there is the slightest chance that Israel will rain down a “Shoah” on Gaza, “flatten entire neighorhoods,” kill tens of thousands of civilians just for the hell of it, and do other evil things, and simply because Israel is, well, evil? Seriously now.

Adam makes one statement that requires correction

But the price of war is higher for Israel than it was during Cast Lead, and its room for manoeuvre more limited, because the Jewish state’s only real ally, the American government, has to maintain good relations with Egypt and other democratically elected Islamist governments.

The American government (unlike America tout court?) may be Israel’s most powerful and reliable ally but, in point of fact, it is not the only one. There are also most of the states of the European Union, e.g. the UK, Germany, Poland, and France. France is indeed an ally of Israel and one had better believe it. Anyone see François Hollande and Bibi Netanyahu in Toulouse together on Nov. 1st and listen to the former’s speech? The French are, of course, not allied with Israel in the same way as the US and the French parliament is not an Israeli Amen Corner à la the US Congress, mais peu importe. If one is skeptical of what I say here, ask any French pro-Pal activist and/or politicized French Muslim, who will assure you that the French government—not to mention the French media—is totally pro-Israel (some French Jews will assert the opposite but that’s normal, as they’re the kind who think everyone hates the Jews, including people who may even like them).

Oh yes, Canada is also an ally of Israel. Australia too. And Israel has solid relations with China, Japan, India, Russia, and other such actors (whose foreign policies are based exclusively on economic interest and realpolitik; no IHL considerations for Hu Jintao, Manmohan Singh et al).

In the latest issue of TWS, Elliott Abrams—who is not a friend, let alone a dear one—has an analysis of the “Winners & Losers: the Gaza war and its fallout.” I feel a certain discomfort when reading Abrams, in view of my deep antipathy toward him dating from the 1980s—and which was universal on the liberal-left—, when he was the Reagan administration’s high media profile attack dog on Central America. I would normally not bother reading him—and certainly not on the Middle East—were it not for his position on the NSC in Bush’s second term, when he was in charge of MENA affairs, traveled to the region, and dealt face-to-face with the PA in Ramallah and Arab governments on numerous occasions, giving him personal experience with Palestinians and other Arabs that his neoconservative associates entirely lack. So I read with interest what he has to say. In this piece he discusses three actors: Hamas, Egypt, Israel, and which ones won and which ones lost. Answer: all three won. Really.

In Haaretz a week ago—which I missed at the time—Alan Dershowitz argued—surprise, surprise—for “Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas” and that—and this is the lede—”[t]he media and international community’s failure to distinguish between the Israeli military and Hamas terrorists is not only immoral but encourages terrorism and erodes the basic principles of just warfare.” To this, Belen Fernandez, a contributing editor at Jacobin: A Magazine of Culture and Polemic (love that title), has an indignant riposte on the Al Jazeera website, “Dershowitz versus Gaza,” in which she skewers Dersh for “routinely defend[ing] immoral behaviour by the Israeli army by vilifying civilians killed by Israel.” I link, you decide.

The International Crisis Group has a new report out: “Israel and Hamas: Fire and Ceasefire in a New Middle East.” Money quote from the executive summary

One thing is clear. Whatever else it turns out to be, the new order does not look kind to the non-Islamist side of the Palestinian national movement. With attention focused on Gaza, Islamists doing the fighting and the negotiating, the Palestinian bid for a UN status upgrade pushed to the sidelines, the Palestinian Authority looking irrelevant and powerless, and West Bank protesters sporting Hamas’s flag for the first in a long time, President Abbas and Fatah, as well as prospects for a two-state solution, are on the losing end. Then again, what else is new?

I have not yet read the full report, which is twenty pages long, but will get to it soon. Inshallah.

UPDATE: Lisa Hajjar reminds me of this commentary by Eyal Weizman on Gaza, that was posted yesterday on the LRB website—and that I was going to post here, but forgot to. Lisa says it substantiates Adam Shatz’s points with which I take issue.

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Voilà the latest installment of links to interesting articles and commentaries I’ve read over the past three or four days. First, Haaretz’s Aluf Benn, writing on the cease fire agreement, argues that “Israel’s Pillar of Defense achieved its goals

Operation Pillar of Defense had two strategic goals – one, to reinstate the Gaza cease-fire with Hamas, which had unraveled in recent months amid increasing hostilities, and two, to stabilize the peace with Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood came to power.

Providing both sides now keep the truce, it seems from the agreements announced on Wednesday night that both these goals may have been achieved.

Israel expects Hamas to fulfill a role in Gaza analogous to Hezbollah’s in Lebanon – protecting the border, stopping the firing and enforcing quiet on other armed organizations.

This agreement is not based on love, mutual recognition or joint ideology, but on joint interests backed by a balance of fear – the IDF’s air firepower and threat of a ground invasion, versus the ability of Hezbollah and Hamas to launch rockets at Israel’s home front.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared on Wednesday: “Hamas is responsible for enforcing the cease-fire.” This means Israel expects Jabari’s successor to serve as “sub-contractor” and ensure quiet on the border. If he is sloppy or refuses, he may expect the same fate that befell the Hamas chief of staff who was assassinated last week. This is what the political and military leaders mean when they use the term “renewing the deterrence.”

According to the text released by the Egyptians, Israel has agreed to stop military activities and assassinations in the Gaza Strip, while Hamas has agreed to stop rocket fire into Israel and attacks along the border.

This means Israel will withdraw from the 300-meter-wide “safety belt” on the Hamas side of the border, in which the IDF acted against explosives and tunnels and fired at Palestinians who came near the border fence.

The current confrontation broke out after Hamas tried to create a counter-perimeter on the Israeli side, by shooting an anti-tank missile at an IDF jeep and wounding four soldiers. Hamas has succeeded, at least for now and at a heavy price, to rid its territory of the IDF patrols.

Israel’s second goal was to examine the relations with Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership in case of a confrontation with the Palestinians.

President Mohammed Morsi proved that he too prefers interests to ideology. He refuses to have open talks with Israel and intends to conduct relations with it via covert channels. But Morsi has made it clear the peace with Israel is an Egyptian interest and even serves Egypt’s desire to resume a leadership position in the region.

Netanyahu showed it was possible to bomb Gaza and kill Hamas’ chief of staff without harming the peace with Cairo. In the new strategic environment generated by the “Arab Spring,” this is no mean feat.

Analysts have been divided as to who came out on top in this latest flare-up, even within the pro-Israel right. David Horovitz, founding editor of the new web-based newspaper The Times of Israel—which appears not to be on the left—, has an interesting analysis, in which he maintains that Israel achieved successes in Pillar of Defense; the worry is that Hamas achieved more. Some quotes

Setting out on Operation Pillar of Defense last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said it was aimed to bolster Israel’s deterrent capability, degrade Hamas’s rocket launch infrastructure, badly damage Gaza’s terror cells, and reduce the attacks on Israel’s citizenry.

In other words, from the start, the stewards of the conflict made plain that they did not intend to retake the Gaza Strip seven years after Israel had left it. Although Netanyahu had vowed while in the opposition to rid Gaza of its Hamas terrorist rulers, that ambition was neither the declared nor the unstated goal in the last few days.

Though critics and non-critics of Israel alike think Hamas came out on top of the flare-up, Horovitz says that Hamas suffered setbacks

The intelligence aspect of Israel’s strikes has shaken Hamas, no matter how swaggering its bravado. To lose your chief of staff, Jabari, on day one of a mini-war exposes a massive intelligence vulnerability. To see many of your key long-range missile locations pinpointed and targeted underlines the extent to which Israel has penetrated Hamas’s command and communications networks

This has been achieved while Israel’s casualty rate has been kept very low, largely through the remarkable success of the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Israelis in rocket-range still lived in fear of attack — the shield is not impermeable, and insufficient numbers of batteries have been deployed — but the assumption that a rocket once fired will reach its destination has been replaced by the overwhelming likelihood that a rocket once launched will be intercepted.

Israel carried out Pillar of Defense in the absence of any criticism, let alone condemnation, from the “responsible members of the international diplomatic community”

By eschewing a ground offensive, Israel also avoided both a rise in its casualty figures and a likely drastic increase in Gaza fatalities. (Of the 177 Palestinians who were killed in Gaza, 120 of them were “engaged in terrorist activity,” the IDF Spokesman said Wednesday night.) It has consequently retained the support of the responsible members of the international diplomatic community (the likes of Turkey would condemn any Israel attempt at self-defense), and at least a measure of the empathy of the fair-minded members of the international media. It has also avoided a possible descent into a far wider confrontation, which could have come to threaten the already unpredictable relationships with Egypt and Jordan.

But if Hamas was not the winner of the flare-up, nor was Israel

Hamas has also gained greater governing legitimacy, hosting solidarity visits from regional leaders, and essentially requiring Israel to negotiate with it — albeit indirectly — even as it maintains its avowed goal of destroying the Jewish state.

Among the additional worries for Israelis is the concern that Netanyahu’s disinclination to make even limited use of ground forces — Pillar of Defense lasted less than half as long as Operation Cast Lead four years ago, when a ground offensive did further degrade Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure — was in part a consequence of heavy American pressure.

Then there is the fact — more troubling to Israelis on the left than those on the right — that the boosted popularity of Hamas, at the expense of relatively more moderate Palestinian figures, will further reduce the prospects of substantive progress toward some kind of viable Israeli-Palestinian accommodation.

In the same vein, Yossi Klein Halevi, asks in TNR “Who won Israel’s latest war?” Answer: not necessarily Israel

As for Israeli deterrence: Hamas called Israel’s bluff on a ground offensive, and Israel backed down. The mobilization of the reserves was apparently nothing more than an exercise in intimidation. Yet Hamas leaders hardly seemed intimidated. Come on in, they taunted Israeli leaders—fully aware of just how reluctant Israel was to topple Hamas and risk being turned into an international pariah. Hamas leaders acted as if they’d been eavesdropping on Israel’s media debates over a ground invasion, or else reading the polls that showed most Israelis opposed to one. Government ministers spoke openly about the futility of a ground invasion, even as the reservists were gathering on the border. During one TV panel, the education minister, Likudnik Gideon Sa’ar, confessed that there was no alternative to Hamas rule. The strategy of deterrence toward Hamas has always depended on projecting the opposite message.

In the streets of Gaza City, Palestinians celebrated Hamas’ victory. Netanyahu will have to work hard to convince Israeli voters that those celebrants were wrong.

In the lefty New Statesman, of all places, Professor Alan Johnson explains “Why Israel’s action in Gaza [was] not ‘disproportionate’,” that “[p]roportionality is not the same thing as symmetry [and that] Israel must counter the developing threat from Hamas.” His main points:

First, in comparison to Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, what is striking about the current military action is precisely how limited the civilian casualties have been…. Second, in international law and just war theory, proportionality is not the same thing as symmetry.

When Professor Johnson sustains the full fury of Mark LeVine & Lisa Hajjar, he won’t know what hit him…

MEMRI has a compilation of  tribunes by “Arab columnists [who] criticize [the] firing of rockets from Gaza as [a] reckless escapade serving Iran, not Palestinians.” Not all observers in the Arab world were uncritically supportive of Hamas in the latest flare-up. Members of the Palestinian Amen Corner have long dismissed MEMRI as an officine of the Israeli state—which it may indeed be—but have never challenged the accuracy of its translations (except maybe one or two times six or seven years ago). MEMRI’s translations are, in fact, impeccable—which anyone with an even passable knowledge of Arabic may see/hear for him/herself—, as are its selection of reportages and articles. It is an indispensable source for anyone seriously following the conflict.

In the Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ section, Jonathan Freedland writes about how “Israel and Palestine’s leaders – and cheerleaders – have failed them.” The lede: “Those who support Israel or Palestine as if they were rival football teams do those two peoples a terrible disservice.” Hear, hear!

In the rival Independent, Robert Fisk interviews the grand old man of the Israeli left, Uri Avnery, “One of Israel’s great leftist warriors [and who] wants peace with Hamas and Gaza.” I am a great admirer of Avnery—and have been so for forty years—but am not always 100% on the same page with him.

In the Turkish Hürriyet Daily News, the fine commentator Burak Bekdil, in a column entitled “Baby-killers vs. innocent baby-killers,” skewers PM R.T. Erdoğan for his rhetoric on Israel, the Palestinians, and Gaza. Way to go, Burak!

On CNN, Christiane Amanpour has a must watch interview with Khaled Mashal, in which she seriously grills the SOB. Good job, Christiane. How anyone can think that it is at all possible to negotiate a solution to the I-P conflict with the likes of Mashal & Co is something I do not understand.

Finally, Jerusalem Post editorialist Caroline Glick, whom Hussein Ibish incisively observes is “barking mad,” has an unhinged column in which, entre autres, she situates herself not only to the right of Ariel Sharon but also to practically the entire Israeli Amen Corner in the right-wing US media

Despite government repression, some 45 percent of Israel’s Jewish population actively participated in anti-[2005 Gaza] withdrawal protests. In the US, virtually no one supported them. The absence of opposition owed to the fact that in America withdrawal opponents were boycotted, demonized and blacklisted by the American Jewish community and the previously supportive conservative media.

During the years of the fake peace process, conservative US Jewish groups and conservative publications led by Commentary, The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal forcefully opposed it. But when Sharon joined the radical Left by adopting its plan to withdraw from Gaza, these formidable outlets and institutions enthusiastically followed him.

Leading voices like former Jerusalem Post editor and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Bret Stephens, Commentary editors Norman Podhoretz and Neil Kozodoy, commentator Charles Krauthammer and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol not only lined up to support the dangerous planned withdrawal. They barred all voices of opposition from the pages of their publications.

This is a doozy. Ms. Glick is hopping mad. And mad as a hatter. She wants blood. Now. In re to the current Gaza flare-up, she thunders

Israel has only two options for dealing with the ever-escalating threat from Gaza. It can try to coexist with Hamas. This option is doomed to failure since Hamas seeks the annihilation of the Jewish people and the eradication of Israel….

The other choice is to destroy Hamas. To accomplish this Israel will need to invade Gaza and remain in place. It will have to kill or imprison thousands of terrorists, send thousands more packing for Sinai, and then spend years patrolling the streets of Gaza and arresting terrorists just as it does today in Judea and Samaria.

Whereas the first option is impossible, the latter option is not currently viable. It isn’t viable because not enough people making the argument have the opportunity to publish their thoughts in leading publications. Most of those who might have the courage to voice this view fear that if they do, they will be denied an audience, or discredited as warmongers or extremists.

So they remain silent or impotently say that Israel shouldn’t agree to a cease-fire without mentioning what Israel’s other option is.

The millions of Israelis who opposed the withdrawal from Gaza do not seek personal vindication for being right. They didn’t warn against the withdrawal to advance their careers or make their lives easier. Indeed, their careers were uniformly harmed.

Normally when I read such deranged screeds, I ask myself “Who is this whack job? Where do they find these people?” Except that Ms. Glick, given her perch at JPost, is well-known by those who follow I-P. And, as it happens, she hails from Hyde Park in Chicago: the most liberal neighborhood of one of the deepest blue Democratic-voting cities in America. For all I know, I may have crossed paths with her on South Kimbark while she was on her way to the Lab School (she left the neighborhood before Barack Obama arrived). But then, the U of Chicago and environs have always had their share of right-wing nutcases. One less, the better.

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Is the enemy us?

This is the title of Claire Berlinski’s review in City Journal of Bruce Bawer’s The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind. I have not seen this book and am not likely to, not after having read through Bawer’s 2007 While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within (verdict: thumbs down). I had several quick comments on Claire’s review and that I was about to post on the comments thread of her FB post of it, but have decided to post on AWAV instead. So voilà

Quoting Claire

This inability of many young Americans to express a simple or even grammatically coherent thought, in Bawer’s view, owes to a variety of academic fads that in the early 1980s captured the American university.

The problem does not begin in university, or even in high school. The poor writing skills of American college students—the majority of them—is a source of dismay for anyone who has to grade their papers. And poor writing is often accompanied by inadequate verbal skills and muddled thinking. The problem, I think, lies in the American educational system but also somewhere in American culture, where being well-spoken and able to write well is not culturally valued in the way it is elsewhere. E.g. in France speaking and writing well are taken very seriously—they are primordial—and particularly when seeking employment (for jobs necessitating at least some higher education). In France, persons who cannot express themselves well or write coherently are not taken seriously. A politician in France with the verbal skills of George W. Bush would get nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the summit of the state (whereas on the American right, being an intellectual nitwit tends to be viewed positively, when not celebrated outright). If I have been dismayed by the writing and verbal skills of my American students, I have been impressed by those of my French students when writing in their own language—and who are far more verbally articulate than their American counterparts. Part of it is shaped by culture—of what is culturally valued—but also the educational system, from primary through high school. The French system has its problems and is not superior to the American overall—not to American public schools in well-to-do communities—but it does teach students how to write, as well as how to structure their thoughts. E.g. there are almost no multiple choice or true-and-false tests in French schools. Everything has to be written out and in full, grammatically correct sentences. And even if one gets the right answer, one will be marked down for errors in writing. It’s severe and not always fair, but at least the kids come out of the system knowing how to write their native language properly. And the baccalaureate exam at the end of high school is a week-long marathon of writing. No American high school student—which I was myself way back when—has ever had to go through such a grueling process (as my daughter did last June).

Then arrived the minor idea of hegemony, conceived by the minor Marxist intellect Antonio Gramsci, who argued that modern liberal democracies are no freer than the most ruthless of totalitarianisms. The oppression was merely unseen.

WADR, Antonio Gramsci was a major Marxist intellect, more so than any of his Marxist contemporaries (and far more so than Lenin or anyone who came out of Russia). The Gramscian concept of hegemony is also mischaracterized here (I think there’s a confusion with Marcuse). On this, I will let my friend and former professor Frank Adler—who taught the first-ever college course on Gramsci in an American university, and which I took 35 years ago (one of my best university courses ever)—respond in detail, should he choose to.

The Marxist post-colonialist Frantz Fanon completes the intellectual trio.

I recently read Les Damnés de la terre, of which I had read parts three decades ago but not too seriously. It was a book for its time— and heavily driven by the Algerian experience—and no longer has much relevance, but is quite interesting nonetheless. I was expecting to find much in it to object to, but surprisingly did not.

I don’t know what precisely the problem is, only that there is a problem. But having observed this condition from abroad—as Bawer has—I can think of only one place that would allow me to study the issue at leisure, in peace, and in depth: the universities.

None of this, of course, makes me yearn to spend time among the Fat Studiers. But they remain the outliers; they are a trend; and they are unlikely to produce much of value. Reading the works on the comparative literature syllabus at the California State University, Long Beach, on the other hand, will surely do those students quite a bit of good.

I entirely agree. American universities, for all their problems—the prohibitive costs of tuition being the greatest—, are the best in the world. They’re wonderful places. When it comes to higher education, America rules. And that’s not going to change, not anytime soon. And it is the case that Gender, Queer, Fat, Chicano etc Studies are the exception. They’re in a ghetto and most students don’t pay attention to them. One problem in higher education—and about which there is nothing to be done—is hyper-specialization. Few academics of my generation—not to mention the younger ones—have a broad education or deep knowledge base outside their disciplines—or even within them—and are often uninterested in teaching broad survey courses (e.g. the kind of introductory, interdisciplinary course I teach on modern France to American undergraduates each semester; students from elite or flagship state universities have told me that no such course is offered at their schools; and I am not a recognized academic specialist of France), if they’re even able to. There are no professional rewards in it. One gets an academic job by being specialized, and moves up the promotion ladder and receives tenure by maintaining and refining that specialization. Almost none of my academic contemporaries possesses the English gentleman-type level of intellectual cultivation and worldliness of my professors at Chicago who went to college and graduate school in the 1940s and ’50s (well, there is one exception to this among those I know personally—here—but he’s European…). Just about everyone I know who has had a successful academic career has been hyper-specialized, working and publishing on single subject areas for years, if not decades (something I am incapable of). But then, just about every profession is hyper-specialized nowadays, not just academia.

And when it comes to the discipline I was trained in, political science, there is the hegemony of mathematics—of quantitative methods, formal modeling, game theory, etc—, such that nowadays one almost has to have mastered econometrics to get a Ph.D. in politics, but don’t get me started on that…

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The Al Jazeera English website had an interesting and tightly argued tribune a couple of days ago on “International law, the Gaza war, and Palestine’s state of exception,” by engagé academic MENA specialists Mark LeVine and Lisa Hajjar. The opening paragraph:

The large-scale military assault launched by Israel on Gaza, and the manner in which both Israeli and Palestinian forces are fighting this war, raise numerous red flags regarding large scale violations of human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL). Such violations have long characterised the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; yet despite post-Cold War improvements in the enforceability of international criminal law, in the Israeli-Palestinian context those who perpetrate human rights violations and war crimes seem largely immune to legal accountability.

They proceed to stick it to Israel as a big time violator of IHL. As I am not a jurist—and legalistic arguments can sometimes be over the heads of the non-initié comme moi—, I submitted LeVine & Hajjar’s piece to an associate who works on human rights in MENA, and who possesses specialized knowledge of IHL, for his expert assessment. When it comes to IHL in MENA (and anywhere else), he’s my gold standard (he requested that I not give his name and organization here). Here’s his response (before continuing, it will be necessary to read L & H’s piece)

LeVine and Hajjar explain IHL 101 OK, but then misapply it to the detriment of Israel. For example:

(1) They wrongly argue that Israel can’t kill a Hamas military commander when he goes back to his home at night because it’ll take out civilians. In my view, a proportionality test would apply to such an attack.

(2) If Israel misses the guy’s house due to a targeting error and kills an innocent family of 8, it’s tragic but would be a crime only if the attack flunked IHL tests of proportionality of “all feasible precautions,” etc.  Not every military mistake is a war crime.

(3) They argue that it was wrong to kill Jabari because a peace deal was near and thus the danger to Israel was not such as to justify a military attack, and besides Palestinian rocketing had surged only in response to Israeli aggression.  LeVine and Hajjar are entitled to their opinion, but IHL accords parties discretion in deciding when to strike, as long as they respect the laws of war when they do strike.

The authors do not address the build-up of more powerful missiles and anti-tank weapons that were entering Gaza, which also probably entered into Israeli calculations of when and how to strike. In terms of IHL they also change the proportionality calculus: if the IDF were to kill 10 civilians to take out a single Qassam launcher, the IHL calculus differs from a similar toll in destroying a Fajr 5 stockpile.

The authors criticize Hamas for firing at Israeli civilian targets but ignore the obligation of Hamas and others to take all feasible precautions not to fight among civilians.  When we’re talking about Gaza, that is very hard to do because of population density and the short-range of their missiles, and I’m not sure that Hamas would fail the test (e.g., by stockpiling missiles in hospitals and crèches). Moreover, IHL does not forbid fighting from urban areas, it only requires that such positioning pass the “all feasible precautions” test.

The authors are right that there is a debate as to whether Gaza is still under occupation.  It is sui generis but I agree with them that it is.  However, they are wrong to suggest that this changes somehow that IHL calculus as it pertains to armed conflict. As they point out in their introduction to IHL, it’s all about sparing civilians and treating humanely enemy fighters when they are placed hors de combat (i.e., injured or captured).  This applies to all armed conflicts, and thus to Gaza, whether or not it is deemed to be under occupation, and whether or not one recognizes a Palestinian “right to resist (militarily).”

It is relevant to monitor, as they do, the over-the-top statements by Israeli leaders as an indication of intent, but only if those leaders have a role in decision-making in the prosecution of this war. They don’t establish that case in their piece.

Basically, they reject the whole premise of HRW’s and AI’s approach, which is that in most cases, Israeli “crimes” can only be confirmed by going in and conducting a case-by-case analysis of the damage and the proximity of potential targets. The hugely lopsided casualty figures between the two sides certainly raises concerns of possible violations of IHL by Israel, but they are not in and of themselves proof of violations.

Regarding the attacks on media, we oppose Israeli arguments that Hamas-controlled media are not journalists but part of the war propaganda machine, but the Israeli case is not to be rejected out of hand, as LeVine and Hajjar do.

In the approach taken by international human rights organizations, a basic asymmetry emerges: we can denounce Palestinian rocketing of Sderot as war crimes without investigating, but it’s usually difficult to denounce Israeli operations against Gaza until we go in and investigate.  Which means that the PAC decries the “bias” in our first communiques in these situations but then after we issue our reports from the field and point to Israeli crimes and excesses, it’s AIPAC who attacks our “bias.”

Those sympathetic with the plight of Palestinians often argue that IHL favors modern states armed with hi-tech weapons like smart bombs that can be aimed at military targets with precision.  Give resistance fighters smart weapons and they’ll gladly abandon their Qassams, the argument goes.  It is true that in this way IHL favors modern armies against crudely armed rebel movements. But in other ways IHL favors the latter, so the legal asymmetry works in both directions.

Voilà. À chacun de décider…

UPDATE: See Mark LeVine’s reply in the comments thread below.

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En attendant le dénouement du vaudeville ubuesque à l’UMP, voici l’excellent commentaire de l’excellent chroniqueur Thomas Legrand sur France Inter ce matin. J’y reviendrai.

Jean-François Copé ne veut pas comptabiliser trois départements oubliés, François Fillon menace de saisir la justice … il vous faut commenter tout cela !

Oui, alors j’avoue que là j’arrive un peu un au bout de ma capacité de commentaire politique. Le vainqueur a été élu avec moins de voix que le perdant… Mais, de ce que l’on comprend, c’est peut-être parce que le perdant a moins triché que le gagnant ! Nous parlons bien de personnages dont, par ailleurs, le métier de parlementaire est d’établir les règles qui régissent notre société ! Comment expliquer que nous soyons arrivés à cette situation dans laquelle le scandaleux le dispute au ridicule ? C’est le résultat d’un 50/50 tragique mais surtout d’une déshérence idéologique extrême.

Sur le plan de sa vision de la société, la droite française est en friche totale. Les idées avancées semblent tellement plus l’être par tactique que par conviction qu’au bout du compte, elles ne font pas le poids face au choc frontal des ambitions. Le discours et les débats qui animent la droite ne s’appuient plus sur les valeurs qui la fondaient depuis la fin de la guerre mais sur des stratégies de conquête. Les enjeux de pouvoir dépourvus de vraies réflexions idéologiques ne favorisent pas la dignité des attitudes. Mais les responsables du désert idéologique de l’UMP sont d’abord Jacques Chirac puis Nicolas Sarkozy…

En quoi sont-ils responsables?

Revenons un peu en arrière, Jacques Chirac a présidé douze ans en ayant théorisé sur la fracture sociale en 95. Les inégalités n’ont pas été réduites pendant son premier mandat. Après avoir été triomphalement réélu en 2002, dans les conditions que l’on sait, alors qu’au premier tour – président sortant – il n’avait eu que 20% des voix, on ne peut pas citer une grande réforme qui aura transformé ou adapté la société au monde moderne. Puis vient Nicolas Sarkozy dans un fatras idéologique indéchiffrable, citant Jaurès et instaurant un bouclier fiscal (qu’il finira par abandonner). Cinq années de tourbillon idéologique au cours desquelles, de «laïcité positive» en ministère de l’immigration et de l’identité nationale, de triangulations en ruptures sémantiques, tous les repères (les tabous dira t’il) d’une droite modérée et républicaine, auront été secoués, malaxés, triturés par un président obsédé par l’occupation médiatique permanente. La droite est passée de l’éteignoir chiraquien à l’essoreuse sarkozienne… Il faut la comprendre, on ne s’en remet pas comme ça d’un tel traitement !

Elle n’était, idéologiquement, plus du tout armée pour se permettre une présidentielle interne. Résultat celui qui s’est proclamé gagnant, s’appuie sur les lubies d’un conseiller droitier et occulte, vaguement gourou, qui s’est trompé de siècle et sur une motion arrivée en tête, dont la moitié du programme est tout simplement inconstitutionnelle… Le pire dans le spectacle qu’offre aujourd’hui l’UMP, ce n’est pas la tragi-comédie des putschs et contre-putschs internes, mais bien le niveau et la confusion du débat idéologique auquel nous avons assisté. Et c’est vrai que dans ce maelstrom il y a un homme, qui, même s’il n’a jamais vraiment dénoncé frontalement les manquements et les dérives de son camp, a toujours réussi à le servir avec un minimum de distance critique. Assez peu pour ne pas trahir mais assez pour conserver sa stature d’homme d’Etat : Alain Juppé, plus une vraie refondation idéologique sont sans doute les seules solutions pour sauver l’UMP aujourd’hui !

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Continuing from the previous post…

On the question of US support for Israel, including its current Gaza campaign, Walter Russell Mead has a lengthy post on his Via Meadia blog, “America, Israel, Gaza, the World,” in which he employs his now well-known four schools of US foreign policy model to explain why American public opinion—overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, of course—is relatively untroubled by the Israelis’ overwhelming use of force. Jacksonian American public opinion, at least. Mead’s book Special Providence, in which he explicated his four schools model, is one of the most important I have read in terms of influencing my thinking—and certainly about American foreign policy—, and I have been teaching it for years. His explanation of the wellsprings of American foreign policy via the permanent interaction between the Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, Wilsonian, and Jacksonian sensibilities is entirely persuasive to me. Which is not to say that I share Mead’s various political positions and obsessions (he is well to my right). His analytical framework for explaining American popular support of Israel is familiar and I don’t have an objection to most of it, though the Jacksonian doctrine of using massive military force against a dishonorable enemy is a thing of the past. Warfare has evolved since the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo and Hiroshima/Nagasaki, e.g. with the Fourth Geneva Convention, televised images of war and its impact on civilians, a certain moral sensibility shared by most Americans, et on en passe. Even in Vietnam, Curtis LeMay did not get his wish to bomb the place back to the Stone Age. It wasn’t even considered (though, when I was a youngster, I remember well kids—even at my liberal university lab school in a liberal part of a solidly Democratic-voting city—wondering why we didn’t just nuke Hanoi; it is a fair guess they were repeating what they heard from their parents). Most of America is not Jacksonian al-hamdu lillah and no modern president has been mainly Jacksonian in his conception of foreign policy (though a few have partially incarnated the sensibility, notably G.W. Bush; for an elaboration of Jacksonianism, read Mead’s essay).

This is likewise for Israel, I think, and despite the recent pronouncements of Gilad Sharon, Matan Vilnai, and Eli Yishai, not to mention the general attitude of Vladimir Putin wannabe Avigdor Lieberman and his ilk. The Israeli notion that its army is the most moral in the world is a self-regarding conceit but it is the case that gratuitous killings of civilians and massacres are not part of the IDF’s modus operandi. By way of comparison, the French in Algeria were far worse than the Israelis have been in conflicts since 1948 (1948 itself was another story, and there is evidence that some bad stuff happened in Gaza in 1956). In any case, Mead’s post is worth reading, even if one may not agree with it.

On the same theme, Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast had a spot on column on Monday on “Why the Palestinians will never win” over American public opinion. Money quote

[Palestinians] appear to have no understanding of why they’re really losing. They’re losing because American public opinion will never be on their side. Americans will always back the Jews. To Americans, Jews are nice, successful people. They’re funny. Jerry Seinfeld. Who’s gonna be against Jerry Seinfeld’s people?

You may think this is silly, but trust me, it’s anything but. Roosevelt toyed with the idea of interning Italian-Americans in camps along with Japanese-Americans. You know why he dropped it? Because people around him told him that there is no way on Earth you can put Joe DiMaggio’s mother in a work camp.

In other words, and put more seriously, even as there was much religious bigotry afoot against Catholics in that America, middle Americans nevertheless had fellow feelings for Italians, just as they do for Jews today. Palestinians? Yes, as Bill Clinton said, the only Palestinians he knows are college professors and doctors. In Clinton’s experience and in my more limited one, Palestinian Americans are a high-achieving and very warm people. But all most Americans know is, they’re a bunch of terrorists. Palestinian leadership needs to take that seriously and change it.

This reality is the principal reason why the US Congress passes resolutions with a 95+% affirmative vote that are more supportive of Israel than what would likely even get through the Israeli Knesset. It’s not about AIPAC—pace Mearsheimer & Walt—or votes or campaign contributions. Voting aye on a pro-Israel resolution is the easiest possible vote a US congressperson can cast. It is a no brainer. S/he will pay no price politically for it, probably not even in the Michigan 14th CD. If a congressperson, out of personal conviction, does vote nay, likely nothing will happen to him or her (no member of the US Congress who has been critical of Israel has ever lost an election on account of this). But it will create problems, e.g. denunciations in the media and on the Internet, his/her office inundated with indignant letters, emails, and phone calls, and other such irritations. And in return for what? Not much, indeed practically nothing. And the last thing a congressperson wants is problems, particularly if these are gratuitous. So s/he votes yes on Israel and that’s it. It’s really that simple.

So even if a president tried to get tough on Israel and, say, cut off military assistance, Congress would pass a bill illico restoring the assistance and with more than enough votes to override a veto. Support for Israel is the Rock of Gibraltar of US foreign policy. And the base of this rock is American public opinion, which is unshakable on the question (there are also strategic and other, more classic foreign policy considerations that underlie this, of course). Again, it is so simple. But US lefties have a hard time absorbing the reality, as I have, e.g., been observing of late on FB, where lefty academic FB friends have been throwing tantrums over US support for Israel and are impervious to my explanations of the phenomenon.

There are couple of articles from the Jewish Daily Forward that are worth reading (and are not on US policy): Leonard Fein, “Who is Palestinians’ partner for peace? Mahmoud Abbas reaches out but no one reaches back,” and Sam Bahour, a Ramallah-based businessman and commentator, on “A Palestine that Israelis can’t see. How does an unsustainable situation keep on going?”

And finally, Martin Kramer has reposted an essay he wrote for his blog in 2005, “When I last saw Gaza,” on his one visit there, in the mid ’80s, before the Intifada. He was accompanied by historian Elie Kedourie and military man-turned-historian Zvi Elpeleg. Very interesting, though I differ with Kedourie on the parallel with France and Algeria. As for Elpeleg, he is the author of an excellent biography of Haj Amin al-Hussaini. If one reads only one biography of the Mufti—though those with a strong interest in the subject should read more—this is it.

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In lieu of my own extended commentary, here is another installment of links to interesting articles and commentaries I’ve read over the past few days. One of the take-aways from what one reads is the futility—long-term—of the Israeli operation, but also of Hamas’s strategy, however one tries to understand it. I looked at a timeline of events of the past two weeks, to try to determine which side started the latest flare-up. Answer: both. Or neither. It was a tit-for-tat escalation started by whoever and with Netanyahu using the occasion to unleash the IDF on a “mowing the lawn” operation in Gaza, i.e. to take out rockets that had been smuggled into the strip (Fajr 5s) and cut Hamas—which has been getting too big for its britches—down to size. But the Israelis cannot remove Hamas from power and are not about to reoccupy the strip. And the longer they bomb and the more civilians are killed—and most are just ordinary people, “includ[ing] farmers, water sellers and the girl next door,” as Amira Hass details in Haaretz—, the more Hamas’s position is reinforced.

Among those who argue this is Aaron David Miller, in a piece in Foreign Policy on “How Hamas won the war,” even if Israel wins the current battle. Fatah is in disarray, Mahmoud Abbas and the PA have never been weaker, Hamas has increasing support in the region… And Bibi Netanyahu doesn’t mind having Hamas in the Palestinian saddle

It’s politically inconvenient to admit it, but given Bibi’s world view — which is profoundly shaped by suspicion and mistrust of the Arabs and Palestinians — he’s more comfortable in the world of Hamas than of Abbas. This is a world of toughness, of security, and of defending the Jewish state against Hamas rockets, incitement, and anti-Semitism. Hamas’s behavior merely validates Netanyahu’s view of reality — and it empowers him to rise to the role of heroic defender of Israel.

Netanyahu didn’t seek out a war over Hamas’s rockets, which threaten an increasing number of Israeli towns and cities. But he is truly in his element in dealing with it. Sure he’d like to destroy Hamas and negotiate with Abbas — but on his terms. Indeed, the world of a negotiation over borders, refugees, Jerusalem is a world of great discomfort for Netanyahu, because it will force choices that run against his nature, his politics, and his ideology.

Which is why Netanyahu is not about to do what Peter Beinhart recommends on “How to really hit Hamas,” which would be to bolster the PA, Mahmoud Abbas, and Salam Fayyad, not react with negativity to the PA’s UNGA bid, seek negotiations, etc. Une belle idée mais sans doute un vœux pieux…

A few non-left Israeli commentators are taking a not hard line on the latest flare-up. E.g. in Foreign Affairs last Friday, Ehud Yaari, presently a fellow at the not anti-Israel WINEP, explained “How to end the war with Gaza,” that a cease-fire should be brokered by (Muslim Brotherhood-run) Egypt.

On Ynet.com, Avner Fainguelernt—who is on the left, as I learned after reading him—has an op-ed arguing that Israel should “Try talking to Hamas,” that—and this is the lede—”Israeli leaders have tried out every single weapon in the world – except dialogue.” Fainguelernt is identified as “an educator and independent filmmaker, who was born and lives in a Gaza vicinity kibbutz [and] is the director of the Television and Cinema Arts Department at the Sapir Academic College and the founder of the Cinema South Festival in Sderot.” As it so happens, I saw a documentary three nights ago, at a film fest in Paris sponsored by the alter-globalization group ATTAC, on Fainguelernt’s film school, entitled ‘Sderot, Last Exit’, and in which he is the principal interviewee. I’ll have a separate post on this later.

Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston devotes his latest to “A plea to Israel from the right: End the Gaza war now.” The lede: “Prominent columnist Ben Dror Yemini, an outspoken critic of the Israeli left, urges Israel to make a move which no one expects – follow a unilateral cease-fire by inviting Hamas to peace talks.”

Along the same general lines, political scientist Nathan Brown, for whom I have the highest academic regard—he’s one of the best MENA specialists around—, discusses in TNR “The long road to a moderate Hamas,” arguing, entre autres, that Hamas could change incrementally and be nudged toward pragmatism.

I don’t buy it. On the matter of talking to Hamas, this cannot possibly happen—not in the foreseeable future—, as both Hamas and Israel reject out of hand the mere mention of direct talks, Hamas for ideological reasons—that go to the heart of what it is all about as a movement—and Israel precisely because of what Hamas represents as a movement. The Israelis could possibly change their attitude but only if Hamas makes the first, major move à la Anwar Sadat. But I doubt even the most wistful doux rêveur believes that this is at all in the realm of the possible. And then there is the matter of the PA in Ramallah, which remains the legitimate, internationally recognized Palestinian interlocutor. Direct talks with Hamas in the current context of intra-Palestinian discord would signal the end of the PA. And there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that Israel will allow Hamas to pick up the pieces in the West Bank and occupy the Muqata’a in Ramallah. Don’t even think about it. As for Hamas’s supposedly “pragmatic,” “moderate” rhetoric on a long-term hudna (truce), this is eyewash. In return for such a wonderful deal, Israel would, so says Hamas, have to unilaterally withdraw from all territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and accept the “right of return,” though with no end of conflict agreement or recognition of Israel by a (Hamas-run) Palestinian state, and in the absence of any direct negotiations. And during which time the (Hamas-run) Palestinian state could arm itself it to the teeth—and with rockets rather more sophisticated than Fajr 5s—, in preparation for the day the truce lapses, or is perhaps terminated prematurely à la Hudaybiyya. This is, to put it mildly, not serious.

Israel should, of course, withdraw from the West Bank and E.J’lem—with some minor border modifications—but this cannot and will not happen unilaterally. It has to be negotiated face-to-face—obviously—and with a sufficient level of trust on both sides. And be accompanied by a formal end-of-conflict declaration, with all outstanding claims settled, and agreed upon compensation for spoliated Palestinian property and assets from 1948. As for the right of return, forget it. Israel will never agree to it, not even symbolically. Ever. And nor should it. If the Palestinians draw an indelible red line on this, they will end up with nothing. Period.

In short, between Israel and Hamas there is no possibility whatever of anything more than a cease-fire—and where Israel makes no commitments not to intervene in the future if it deems it necessary. The status quo is as good as it gets. Pour la durée au moins.

Two nights ago I had an exchange with a friend who works on MENA for a major NGO, who was asking how I explained Hamas’s smuggling the game-changing Fajr 5s into Gaza, when they had to know that the Israelis would be observing the smuggling operation like a hawk and not sit on their hands about it. He was mystified by Hamas’s thinking, scratching his head trying to understand what was going through theirs. My terse response

I think Hamas imported the Fajr 5′s because they thought they could get away with it, that the rockets could indeed be hidden without Israel knowing about it and then be trotted out to bombard Tel Aviv on judgment day and taking the Jews totally by surprise. After all, if Hizbullah can get away with stuff like this – and seriously bloody the Jews big time as in 2006 – pourquoi pas nous? And the way things are going in the region these days – with the Ikhwan in power in Cairo and possibly soon to be in Damascus – they no doubt feel that history is on their side. One thing is for sure: these people [i.e. Islamists] do not have the same Weltanshauung as you or I. Their perception of reality and assessment of risk is rather different. The mere fact that they even exist is proof of this.

It is also apparent that they don’t mind getting the shit kicked out of them by Israel every so often. They think they can weather the storm, that the Israelis will never reoccupy the strip – which they indeed won’t – and that successive Israeli offensives only entrench Hamas further in power and increase its sympathy in the Arab/Muslim world. Like I said, they think history is on their side. The Hamasawis need to read Jabotinsky on the Iron Wall. And pay a visit to the US Congress.

More on the US Congress below. As for Jabotinsky, what Hamas and its useful idiot supporters and apologists outside Palestine seem not to comprehend is that the militant rejectionist rhetoric on Israel is music to Netanyahu et al’s ears. Aaron David Miller said as much above. It confirms the world-view of the Israeli right—and certainly of Netanyahu, whose father was a disciple of Jabotinsky—, that the Arabs will never accept the presence of the Jews in Palestine/Eretz Israel, so the only possible response is to build that iron wall against which the Arabs will bang their heads until, maybe after a century, they finally accept reality and recognize the permanence of the Zionist enterprise. That’s the Revisionist Zionist position. And Hamas and other rejectionists and one-staters are accomplices in it.

More on Hamas’s thinking. I really do believe that a good part of their self-confidence and intransigence is driven by Jew hatred. Like all Islamists—as well as many in that part of the world who are not Islamist—Hamas is contemptuous of Jews, viewing them as cowardly, craven, and all the rest. This view of Jews is deeply rooted in their ideology and culture, religious and otherwise. The rhetoric on Jews hardly differs from that of Europe pre-1945. This is, of course, hardly a revelation—anyone who has the slightest familiarity with the subject knows it—but many on the western left evacuate this reality. Ça dérange, so they don’t deal with it, or try to explain it away.

More social scientifically, a 1995 article by the political scientist David Laitin, “National Revivals and Violence,” provides a schema that helps in understanding what drives Hamas violence (as well as that of non-Hamas Palestinian groups). In writing about Spain and Basque separatists, Laitin observes that

Once violence begins, it will be sustained by three factors: (a) if the regional population perceives the tactical victories but is blind to the strategic losses, (b) if the costs of leaving the terrorist organization are high, and (c) if a “culture” of violence becomes institutionalized.

(a) and (c) clearly apply to the Palestinian movement. The momentary satisfiction of seeing the enemy terrorized—e.g. following waves of suicide bombings, as during the second Intifada—blinded many to thinking ahead as to the consequences this would have for them once the enemy inevitably riposted. Laitin continues

A stunning random “victory”, and the concomitant re-evaluation of the chances for independence by people from the region, will lead to a new tyranny – the tyranny of sunk costs… After new recruits join an illegal military organization, and after they commit a criminal act, it is extremely difficult, psychologically and for security reasons, for them to change their minds and return to political quiescence… This tyranny of sunk costs acts to sustain a movement long after its original goals, or even its original characterization of the “center”, are lost in the fog of commando actions and state reprisals.This action-reprisal-action cycle that escalates between nationalist movement and state authority (or other enemies of the regional movement) creates what can be called a “culture of violence”…in which ordinary people become callous to violence and begin to see it as part of “ordinary” life. The cultural expectation of violence helps perpetuate it, as it joins the set of plausible actions that anyone in society might use to fulfill one’s political agenda.

Mutatis mutandis, this would seem to apply entirely to the Palestinian case. And there are some serious sunk costs in Gaza.

Political scientist Barak Mendelsohn has a piece in Foreign Affairs on “Hamas’ Miscalculation,” on how they did think they could get away with striking Israel. In his analysis

two factors pushed Hamas to ramp up its bombing campaign: competition from Salafi groups and Hamas’ belief that its strategic environment had improved in the wake of the Arab Spring.

But Hamas miscalculated

The flaw in Hamas’ logic, though, was that it assumed that Israel would cooperate and not retaliate. Israel would not let Hamas shirk responsibility, though, and demanded that Hamas assert its authority over the radical factions. To reinforce the message, this year, Israel carried out a number of strikes on Hamas targets. Once it became a target itself, Hamas was even less able able to show restraint. It eventually resumed carrying out its own strikes on Israel, a move that was cheered by the Hamas rank and file, who, without such attacks, might have defected to the more radical groups.

Another of Hamas’ miscalculations was expecting Egypt to be supportive of its actions, which, when combined with Israel’s fear of alienating the regime in Cairo, would allow Hamas to escalate the conflict without it spinning out of control…But, the group was wrong again. Hamas’ closer ties with Egypt did not discourage Israel from fighting back.

Simply put, Hamas’ strategic environment was not as favorable as it thought. When it tried to push Israel’s boundaries, Israel pushed back. Now the group is in a bind. It needs a face-saving resolution to the fighting, one that would allow it to claim some achievement worth of the devastation inflicted this month on Gaza. Even after that, the group will still face the same old tension between its ideology of resistance and the responsibilities that come with governing. And all the while, its Salafi challengers will be lurking, challenging its commitment to the struggle against Israel. If Hamas wants to avoid future such escalations, it will need to crack down on these groups. But that would come with a price – in popularity and legitimacy – that Hamas seems unwilling to pay. Hamas must also finally make the transition from resistance movement to normal political party. It will probably take a push from Cairo for that to happen. Hamas’ alliance with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood offers the group some of the cover it needs to make the much-needed transition. And the Muslim Brotherhood is a good model for Hamas to follow, besides. Absent Hamas’ political transformation, no cease-fire with Israel will hold for long. The next round of violence awaits, just over the horizon.

Well, first we have to see how the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo evolves and whether or not it will be a model to follow.

Hamas has come in for criticism, albeit gentle, by at least a few in the pro-Palestinian camp. Rashid Khalidi, in an NPR interview on Monday, implied that Hamas was acting without regard to the suffering this would cause the people of Gaza

You have the iron dome system shooting down rockets. You have the complete inaccurately of many of the short range rockets. At the same time, everybody can see that the people who are getting hurt the most are Palestinians and that this resistance, so-called, is inflicting much more harm on the Palestinians than on the Israelis and is doing absolutely nothing to liberate Palestinian territory.

The calculus that it imposes on Hamas is also quite cruel. Either you sacrifice your own people, as they’re doing in effect, or you take what the Israelis are dishing out in the form of siege and blockade and so forth. It’s cruel, in particular, for the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, which is in the middle between these two rather cynical players.

Hanin Ghaddar, the managing editor of the Beirut-based website NOW Lebanon, had a good comment on Monday taking to task secular Lebanese and Arab apologists for Hamas. It begins

If one reviews the rhetoric of the liberal “resistance” supporters, especially after the escalation of violence in Gaza, you’d think that Hamas is a liberal or secular group, not an Islamic faction.

During the nearly two years of systematic and brutal killing by the Syrian regime of the Syrian people who are resisting tyranny, many Arabs preferred to remain silent, justifying their denial by fear of the Islamists. But suddenly, when Hamas decided to respond to the Israeli attack on Gaza, this reaction was cheered as the ultimate resistance. It didn’t matter who is resisting here and why. The Islamic nature of Hamas does not matter, only because it is against Israel.

This juvenile attitude of having one enemy, Israel, and justifying all other kinds of brutality and tyranny in the name of resistance is very common among many Lebanese and Arab leftists and liberals…

He could have added Western leftists too.

This post has gone on much longer than I had expected, so I’m going to split it in two.

To be continued…

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The Twinkie Manifesto

Paul Krugman has a great column in today’s NYT, that merits being posted on my blog in its entirety

The Twinkie, it turns out, was introduced way back in 1930. In our memories, however, the iconic snack will forever be identified with the 1950s, when Hostess popularized the brand by sponsoring “The Howdy Doody Show.” And the demise of Hostess has unleashed a wave of baby boomer nostalgia for a seemingly more innocent time.

Needless to say, it wasn’t really innocent. But the ’50s — the Twinkie Era — do offer lessons that remain relevant in the 21st century. Above all, the success of the postwar American economy demonstrates that, contrary to today’s conservative orthodoxy, you can have prosperity without demeaning workers and coddling the rich.

Consider the question of tax rates on the wealthy. The modern American right, and much of the alleged center, is obsessed with the notion that low tax rates at the top are essential to growth. Remember that Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, charged with producing a plan to curb deficits, nonetheless somehow ended up listing “lower tax rates” as a “guiding principle.”

Yet in the 1950s incomes in the top bracket faced a marginal tax rate of 91, that’s right, 91 percent, while taxes on corporate profits were twice as large, relative to national income, as in recent years. The best estimates suggest that circa 1960 the top 0.01 percent of Americans paid an effective federal tax rate of more than 70 percent, twice what they pay today.

Nor were high taxes the only burden wealthy businessmen had to bear. They also faced a labor force with a degree of bargaining power hard to imagine today. In 1955 roughly a third of American workers were union members. In the biggest companies, management and labor bargained as equals, so much so that it was common to talk about corporations serving an array of “stakeholders” as opposed to merely serving stockholders.

Squeezed between high taxes and empowered workers, executives were relatively impoverished by the standards of either earlier or later generations. In 1955 Fortune magazine published an essay, “How top executives live,” which emphasized how modest their lifestyles had become compared with days of yore. The vast mansions, armies of servants, and huge yachts of the 1920s were no more; by 1955 the typical executive, Fortune claimed, lived in a smallish suburban house, relied on part-time help and skippered his own relatively small boat.

The data confirm Fortune’s impressions. Between the 1920s and the 1950s real incomes for the richest Americans fell sharply, not just compared with the middle class but in absolute terms. According to estimates by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, in 1955 the real incomes of the top 0.01 percent of Americans were less than half what they had been in the late 1920s, and their share of total income was down by three-quarters.

Today, of course, the mansions, armies of servants and yachts are back, bigger than ever — and any hint of policies that might crimp plutocrats’ style is met with cries of “socialism.” Indeed, the whole Romney campaign was based on the premise that President Obama’s threat to modestly raise taxes on top incomes, plus his temerity in suggesting that some bankers had behaved badly, were crippling the economy. Surely, then, the far less plutocrat-friendly environment of the 1950s must have been an economic disaster, right?

Actually, some people thought so at the time. Paul Ryan and many other modern conservatives are devotees of Ayn Rand. Well, the collapsing, moocher-infested nation she portrayed in “Atlas Shrugged,” published in 1957, was basically Dwight Eisenhower’s America.

Strange to say, however, the oppressed executives Fortune portrayed in 1955 didn’t go Galt and deprive the nation of their talents. On the contrary, if Fortune is to be believed, they were working harder than ever. And the high-tax, strong-union decades after World War II were in fact marked by spectacular, widely shared economic growth: nothing before or since has matched the doubling of median family income between 1947 and 1973.

Which brings us back to the nostalgia thing.

There are, let’s face it, some people in our political life who pine for the days when minorities and women knew their place, gays stayed firmly in the closet and congressmen asked, “Are you now or have you ever been?” The rest of us, however, are very glad those days are gone. We are, morally, a much better nation than we were. Oh, and the food has improved a lot, too.

Along the way, however, we’ve forgotten something important — namely, that economic justice and economic growth aren’t incompatible. America in the 1950s made the rich pay their fair share; it gave workers the power to bargain for decent wages and benefits; yet contrary to right-wing propaganda then and now, it prospered. And we can do that again.

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Jacques Derrida

Adam Shatz, contributing editor at the London Review Books and dear personal friend, has a brilliant review essay in the latest LRB on the English translation of Benoît Peeters’ biography of Jacques Derrida. I won’t say that I’m knowledgeable about Derrida’s œuvre—I glanced at one of his books once and could make no sense of it—but was more familiar with some of his political commitments, particularly on Algeria in the 1990s (his sensibility on that question was the same as mine and I saw him speak on it at a political meeting in ’94). Adam indeed touches on Derrida’s personal engagement with Algeria—he was born and raised in Algiers—and refers to some interesting revelations in the biography of his attitude toward the war of independence and decolonization. Particularly interesting in Adam’s essay is the discussion of the Parisian intellectual world from the 1950s onward and in which Derrida was, of course, a major figure. One does not have to know a thing about Derridean philosophy—which Adam does delve into; and everyone knows how to deconstruct a text, bien entendu—to read the essay with interest. Great job, Adam. Chapeau !

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Gaza: the permanent war

A friend asked yesterday how come I hadn’t had anything yet on the blog about Gaza. My response, in short: I’ve been following developments over there—not to mention the enraged screaming and shrieking on FB from members of the Palestinian Amen Corner (who are rather more numerous on my FB news feed than those in the Israeli corner)—, but, apart from not having as much time to devote to the blog these days as I’d like, I don’t have anything particularly brilliant or original to say about the latest flare-up, at least not yet. Flare-ups in the Israel-Palestine/Arab conflict are like riots in French banlieues: there’s a dreary sameness to them, one knows the causes, they invariably play out according to the same script, and end after a few days (or in the case of big ones, a couple of weeks). And one knows there will be another one at some point in the not-too-distant future.

But circumstances do evolve. In lieu of writing up my own take—which I cannot accord the needed time and focus right now—, here are some articles of the past few days that I’ve found interesting and useful.

First, on Israel’s targeted killing of Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari, I learned from Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn that “Israel killed its subcontractor in Gaza.” As there are issues with access to Haaretz’s website, here’s the whole thing

Ahmed Jabari was a subcontractor, in charge of maintaining Israel’s security in Gaza. This title will no doubt sound absurd to anyone who in the past several hours has heard Jabari described as “an arch-terrorist,” “the terror chief of staff” or “our Bin Laden.”

But that was the reality for the past five and a half years. Israel demanded of Hamas that it observe the truce in the south and enforce it on the multiplicity of armed organizations in the Gaza Strip. The man responsible for carrying out this policy was Ahmed Jabari.

In return for enforcing the quiet, which was never perfect, Israel funded the Hamas regime through the flow of shekels in armored trucks to banks in Gaza, and continued to supply infrastructure and medical services to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Jabari was also Israel’s partner in the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit; it was he who ensured the captive soldier’s welfare and safety, and it was he who saw to Shalit’s return home last fall.

Now Israel is saying that its subcontractor did not do his part and did not maintain the promised quiet on the southern border. The repeated complaint against him was that Hamas did not succeed in controlling the other organizations, even though it is not interested in escalation. After Jabari was warned openly (Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff reported here at the beginning of this week that the assassination of top Hamas people would be renewed), he was executed on Wednesday in a public assassination action, for which Israel hastened to take responsibility. The message was simple and clear: You failed – you’re dead. Or, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak likes to say, “In the Middle East there is no second chance for the weak.”

The assassination of Jabari will go down in history as another showy military action initiated by an outgoing government on the eve of an election.

This is what researcher Prof. Yagil Levy has called “fanning the conflict as an intra-state control strategy:” The external conflict helps a government strengthen its standing domestically because the public unites behind the army, and social and economic problems are edged off the national agenda.

This recipe is familiar from 1955, when David Ben-Gurion returned from his exile in Sde Boker and led the Israel Defense Forces to a retaliatory action in Gaza, and his party, Mapai, to victory in the election. (Barak recalled this period with nostalgia, when he spoke last week at a memorial for Moshe Dayan). Ever since, whenever the ruling party feels threatened at the ballot box, it puts its finger on the trigger. The examples are common knowledge: the launch of the Shavit 2 missile in the summer of 1961, in the midst of the Lavon affair; the bombing of the Iraqi reactor in 1981; Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon in 1996, and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza on the eve of the 2009 election. In the two latter cases, the military action turned into a defeat in the election.

There is a disagreement among historians as to whether it is necessary to add the Yom Kippur War to the list. In that conflict, which broke out on the eve of the 1973 election, the Arabs fired first, but their decision to go to war was taken in the context of the increasingly extreme position of Prime Minister Golda Meir’s government  which had refused Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s peace offer and declared an expansion of Israeli settlements in Sinai.

This, for example, is the opinion of researchers Prof. Motti Golani and Shoshana Ishoni-Barri.

The current operation, Pillar of Defense, belongs in the same category. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is interested in neutralizing every possible rival, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is fighting for enough votes to return to the Knesset. A war against Hamas will wipe out the electoral aspirations of the ditherer, Ehud Olmert, whose disciples expected him to announce his candidacy this evening and it will kick off the agenda the “social and economic issue” that serves the Labor Party headed by MK Shelly Yacimovich.

When the cannons roar, we see only Netanyahu and Barak on the screen, and all the other politicians have to applaud them.

The political outcome of the operation will become clear on January 22. The strategic ramifications are more complex: Israel will have to find a new subcontractor to replace Ahmed Jabari as its border guard in the south, and it will also have to ensure that its action in Gaza does not cause the collapse of its peace treaty with Egypt under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Hamas movement’s patron.

These are not easy challenges and the results of the operation will be judged by the extent to which they are met.

In an op-ed in today’s NYT, Israeli peace activist Gershom Baskin, arguing in the same vein, deplored Israel’s decision to kill Ahmed al-Jabari, saying that it was a grave and irresponsible strategic error.

My early assumption was that Netanyahu’s Gaza operation was driven by base domestic political considerations, with an eye to the upcoming general election. But Avi Issacharoff, in an essay in The New Yorker entitled “From Gaza to Tel Aviv,” maintained that this was illogical. And on Ynet, the well-known columnist Nahum Barnea concurred, asserting that “soldiers killed in ground offensive on eve of elections would be catastrophic for Netanyahu.”

One of the likely reasons Israel decided to strike Hamas now, as one learns in this piece in Al-Monitor, was the smuggling into the strip of Iranian Fajr-5 rockets, which have a range of 75 km—and can thus hit the densely populated Israeli heartland (see map below)—, that

The terror organizations had been stockpiling…in hidden storage sites over a long period of time, intending to use them on the “day of judgment” as a “tie-breaker” weapon.

Israel, for obvious reasons, is not going to allow anyone in Gaza to acquire “tie-breaker” weapons, not for long at least. After the killing of Jabari, IDF bombers thus took out almost all the Fajr-5s and in the space of 15 minutes. In addition to the Fajrs, Hamas, in Israel’s eyes, was also getting a little too confident and cocky—in view of the changing political landscape in the region, with the Muslim Brothers in power in Cairo, the visit of the Emir of Qatar, Tayyip Erdoğan’s intention to come calling, the weakness of Mahmoud Abbas and the PA, and the general Islamist wave from one end of the Muslim world to the other—, so the Israelis decided that they were going to put the Hamasawis back in their place, as it were.

And then there were the rockets fired into Israel by Hamas—and not just by Islamic Jihad and other rogue elements—, which was a clear provocation and could not go unanswered. Members of the Palestinian Amen Corner (PAC) like to say that rockets fired from Gaza are tiny little pinpricks that kill or wound practically no one and cannot be equated with the massive firepower the IDF brings to bear when it goes into action. Perhaps, but this observation—whether or not it is in fact the case—is entirely irrelevant. The fact is, no sovereign state anywhere can or will passively sit by while an enemy entity on its border fires rockets into its territory (and that do indeed terrorize the inhabitants of the territory where the rockets land). Israel, like any sovereign state, will strike back. Period.

One objection from the PAC is that Gaza is, internationally legally speaking, still occupied territory—and despite the 2005 evacuation—, and that, by extension, whatever armed action that may be initiated by those who are occupied constitutes legitimate resistance. This is a complex subject that I will come back to in a separate post.

Writing on his blog in The Atlantic yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg offered “[seven] observations as the Gaza crisis continues to unfold.” Except for the first bit of the third one—on the media being biased against Israel (oh come on)—I found nothing in particular to disagree with.

And today Goldberg has a post arguing “Against a ground invasion of Gaza.” He’s right, of course. An invasion of Gaza would be disastrous: lots of Palestinian civilians would be killed and nothing positive would come of it. Hamas would remain in power and Israel would gain nothing, except greater international opprobrium. Which is why I cannot imagine for a nanosecond that it will happen.

In a column in Haaretz, Amira Hass rhetorically asked “Has Israel learned the lessons of Operation Cast Lead?” The lede: “Hamas is doing everything it can to prove it can do better than Fatah as a ruling party and can thwart the Israeli occupation.” Here’s the whole thing

Unlike Operation Cast Lead, in which the Israel Defense Forces shelled crowded places like police stations near schools from day one, this time it’s clear the IDF is trying to avoid heavy Palestinian fatalities.

This conclusion cannot console the family members of those killed and wounded so far. Nor does it allay the fear of what could still happen.

By Thursday afternoon at least four Palestinian civilians had been killed in air strikes − an 11-month-old, a 3-year-old girl, a young pregnant woman and a 60-year-old man. Dozens of civilians were wounded.

Although Israel renounced responsibility for the civilian Palestinian fatalities in Operation Cast Lead, it now prefers to reduce the number of bloody spectacles. Such spectacles, which were not shown on Israeli television in 2008-09, were seen all over the world and raised unprecedented protest.

In contrast to the military and PR lesson Israel learned after Cast Lead, it has learned no political lesson this time; it’s sticking to the concept that killing Hamas military and political leaders can subdue the organization.

Hamas is a mass movement and an organization with institutions, internal discipline and laws. Unlike Fatah, it doesn’t depend on a charismatic figure or on the personality of one strong leader. Its policy and debates are marked by continuity, even if senior officials are killed by an Israeli missile or bomb.

Israel’s leaders could have learned this lesson a long time ago had they wanted to. They could also conclude that military attacks on the entire Palestinian population unite it behind its leaders and silence criticism.

The Gazans have many reasons to complain about Hamas, which deserves its reputation as an oppressive ruler. But even Hamas’ opponents are convinced that Israel is not just the occupier but the aggressor as well. So when the attack is over, Hamas will remain, probably stronger.

Hamas is doing everything it can to prove it can do better than Fatah as a ruling party and can thwart the Israeli occupation ‏(a vague term sometimes referring to the entire country and sometimes to the territories occupied in 1967‏).

To achieve this goal, Hamas didn’t care if it turned the Gaza Strip into a pseudo-state, thus deepening the political and social rift with the West Bank. The ties with the Muslim and Arab world are more important to Hamas than the safe passage to Ramallah.

On Hamas’s ties to the Arab/Muslim world, Walter Russell Mead observed, in a post on his blog, that though Egypt’s PM Hisham Qandil visited Gaza on Friday, the Egyptian government has been behaving prudently since the flare-up began, offering Hamas verbal support but little else. Egypt does not want to pick a fight with Israel, not now and most certainly not down the road either.

The Abu Dhabi daily The National had an editorial yesterday on the “Violence in Gaza kill[ing] Palestinians’ chance at unity.” Hamas gets the main blame here. In the same general vein, French islamologue and MENA specialist Jean-Pierre Filiu—who recently published a 460-page history of Gaza—had a post on Rue89 arguing that both Israel and Hamas are at war against a Palestinian state. Or against the PA’s latest bid at the UNGA, at least. On that, I do think the PA is both wasting its time and engaged in a futile fuite en avant that will create a lot more problems for it than any benefits UNGA observer status could possibly yield. I’ll come back to this if the bid reaches fruition.

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Eric Garland, a small businessman and self-proclaimed white person—and who fits to a T the profile of a Republican voter—, has an open letter on his blog to the Republican party, in which he tells it a few home truths about why it “failed in 2012, and will continue to fail.” A gratifying read. (h/t Victoria Ferauge)

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More election analyses

I have a few links to election analyses that have been lying around on my laptop for a few days and that I should post before they get too old.

A particularly good one—indeed one of the best I’ve read so far—is Thomas B. Edsall’s “The culture war and the jobs crisis,” published on the NYT opinion page’s “Campaign Stops” blog. Like I said, this one is good. Do read it.

Also on the aforementioned NYT blog is an interesting analysis on “Red versus blue in a new light,” by statisticians Andrew Gelman and Avi Feller, from Columbia and Harvard respectively.

In TNR, Nate Cohn—who looks to be Nate Silver’s number crunching successor—, explained why “The GOP has problems with white voters, too.” Outside the South, that is.

Yes, the political problem in the US is a Southern problem. Without the South, America is a different country. More on this another time.

On the question of numbers, John Dickerson had a piece in Slate last Friday on “Why Mitt Romney never saw it coming,” because “in the end his numbers were all wrong.”

And on the numbers, Alexander Burns in Politico explains “The GOP polling debacle.”

Also in Politico, Jonathan Martin had an inquiry into a story that is being much covered and commented on of late, which is “The GOP’s media cocoon,” a.k.a. the right-wing echo chamber, or feedback loop. For those Republicans who got their information from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh et al, and right-wing web sites, it is hardly surprising they were stunned by the election result. As they say, live by the alternate reality, die by the alternate reality…

One of the best instant analyses of the election I’ve seen—and that I completely missed in the days after—was James Fallows’ in The Atlantic, “A more impressive win than in 2008, and a more important one,” in which he made some astute observations, one of them this (and that was also noted by Krugman)

For the first time in my conscious life, the Democratic party is now more organized and coherent, and less fractious and back-biting, than the Republicans. It is almost stupefying to imagine that.

Yes, it is quite something to realize that the Democrats are indeed more electorally competent than the Republicans, and indisputably have a larger electoral base as well. During Bush’s first term Karl Rove talked about America being a 53-47 country and of his goal of locking in this reality, as he saw it, for the GOP. Little did he know that that 53% is, in fact, the Democrats.

On the WaPo opinions page, Harold Meyerson explicated the “GOP’s gerrymandered advantages,” an issue that others have taken up this week as well, such as Adam Serwer, Jaeah Lee, and Zaineb Mohammed, in their Mother Jones article “Now that’s what I call gerrymandering!

On another story that has been receiving attention, Elizabeth Drew writes in the NYR Blog about the election being “A victory over voter suppression.”

An explanation of the above map, which I think is very cool: It was designed by an engineer named Chris Howard, who is the FB friend of an FB friend (so I thus found it on FB). This is his description

America really looks like this – I was looking at the amazing 2012 election maps created by Mark Newman (Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan), and although there is a very interesting blended voting map (most of the country is some shade of purple, a varied blend of Democrat blue and Republican red) what I really wanted was this blended map with a population density overlay. Because what really stands out is how red the nation seems to be when you do not take the voting population into account; when you do so many of those vast red mid-west blocks fade into pale pink and lavender (very low population).

So I created a new map using Mark’s blended voting map based on the actual numbers of votes for each party overlaid with population maps from Texas Tech University and other sources.

Here’s the result—what the American political voting distribution really looks like.

Nice job, Chris. And on the subject of maps, the WSJ had a whole bunch of good ones last week, on “What county-by-county results tell us about the election.” (h/t Don W.)

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L’Affaire Petraeus

I have not been closely following the David Petraeus affair, mostly reading the headlines but skipping the text. I find sex scandals not interesting, except when they raise larger issues. One such issue is that of online privacy—or the absence of it—, which is the subject of an analysis in today’s NYT. And I thought this commentary by Katie Roiphe in Slate, “Stop judging, you prudes,” was on target. She writes that “it is difficult to separate the outsized fantasies of a puritanical nation from legitimate questions of national security,” and that “if we are being honest, this is not even a ‘sex scandal’; [t]his is just sex.” Évidemment.

UPDATE: The Nation has an article by Jeremy Scahill, “The Petraeus Legacy: A Paramilitary CIA?” The lede: It was the CIA director’s relationship with JSOC—not Paula Broadwell—that should have raised concerns.

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