Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2018

I don’t know if there’s a commonly accepted definition of a “rogue state” but this one I found seems right: “a state that conducts its policy in a dangerously unpredictable way, disregarding international law or diplomacy.” If this does not accurately characterize the Trump regime’s foreign policy, and particularly since the declaration on the Iran deal last Tuesday, then I don’t know what does.

Adam Garfinkle of The American Interest has a typically savant analysis—as well as typically long-winded—on “The meaning of withdrawal: Seven key questions to ask about Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran Deal,” which he begins with the observation that “enough electronic ink has been spilled in efforts either to explain or to spin what has happened to fill a virtual ocean basin.” As he and others have added amply to that basin, I will not do so myself—and particularly as the story is a week old—so will simply link to selected pieces on one of the more roguish aspects of Trump’s decision, which is its impact on America’s historic allies in Europe—and the future of the trans-Atlantic alliance—in view of the extraterritoriality of American law, here the imposition of secondary sanctions unilaterally decided by the US. Secondary sanctions are an old story, of course, and with both Republican and Democratic administrations culpable—I recall telling my French students back in 2000 about the Helms-Burton Act and ILSA (both signed into law by President Clinton), and with a couple expressing open indignation—but Trump and his henchmen have pushed the unilateralism to a whole new level.

Everyone’s seen by now the US ambassador to Germany’s now infamous tweet after Trump’s announcement:

How to react to this arrogant diktat? Der Spiegel has an editorial in its current issue with the arresting title, “Time for Europe to join the resistance.” Money quote:

Every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., senior DER SPIEGEL editors gather to discuss the lead editorial of the week and ultimately, the meeting seeks to address the question: “What now?” Simply describing a problem isn’t enough, a good editorial should point to potential solutions. It has rarely been as quiet as during this week’s meeting.

Europe should begin preparing for a post-Trump America and seek to avoid provoking Washington until then. It can demonstrate to Iran that it wishes to hold on to the nuclear deal and it can encourage mid-sized companies without American clients to continue doing business with Iranian partners. Perhaps the EU will be able to find ways to protect larger companies. Europe should try to get the United Nations to take action, even if it would only be symbolic given that the U.S. holds a Security Council veto. For years, Europe has been talking about developing a forceful joint foreign policy, and it has become more necessary than ever. But what happens then?

The difficulty will be finding a balance between determination and tact. Triumphant anti-Americanism is just as dangerous as defiance. But subjugation doesn’t lead anywhere either – because Europe cannot support policies that it finds dangerous. Donald Trump also has nothing but disdain for weakness and doesn’t reward it.

Clever resistance is necessary, as sad and absurd as that may sound. Resistance against America.

One doubts there’s any sector of mainstream opinion—public and elite—in most countries in Europe that is not of this view. When geopolitical analysts like Bruno Tertrais—who’s as Atlanticist as they come in Paris—writes that “[l]a fermeté vis-à-vis de Washington s’impose d’autant plus qu’elle soudera les Européennes davantage qu’elle ne les divisera,” then one knows that the US really is isolated in Europe.

Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky, in explaining “Why Germans are getting fed up with America,” had this

Now, another incomprehensible economic spectacle is unfolding parallel to Trump’s pressure on European steel and aluminum exporters. National Security Adviser John Bolton is threatening sanctions against European companies for dealing with Iran — and, at the same time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is promising U.S. investment in North Korea if it denuclearizes. Wasn’t that what the Iran deal was about?

“So, American firms will soon be able to do business in North Korea, but not European ones in Iran,” commentator  Mark Schieritz wrote on Twitter. Schieritz published a column in the weekly Die Zeit on Sunday arguing that the U.S. was no longer a partner but a rival for Europe. He argued that time had come for Europe to confront the U.S. and respond to its “blackmail” in a tit-for-tat format — something the more sober Spiegel editorial didn’t advocate.

In the short and medium term, however, there’s not much that European states—or even the EU acting as one—can do to effectively counter US imperialism—there, I said it!—as the FT reminded its readers

One former senior US Treasury official predicted that governments will be unable to persuade a European bank or company to continue doing business with Iran given the risks of being shut off from the US financial system. “You will see over-compliance, much in the way we have seen in recent years. That is true for the Europeans, Japan, South Korea. The only question mark is China, and perhaps Russia,” this person said.

European executives conceded in private that it would be hard for any multinational company with businesses and financial ties to the US to remain active in Iran. They pointed to the $9bn US fine imposed on BNP Paribas, the French bank, in 2014 for violating sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Sudan, as evidence of the risks. (…)

Some EU officials have already become resigned to European companies suffering the economic consequences of Mr Trump’s decision. “I’m discovering every day how much Europe can endure pain from its American partner,” said one European official. “The question is how much more can we endure.”

Back to Adam Garfinkle: in answering his question, “A trans-Atlantic breach too far?,” he thus offered

It could be, at least for a while.

There is a history here. First came the U.S. withdrawal from the TTP, but with implications for the T-TIP; then came the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord; along the way was the Brussels Summit at which President Trump refused to explicitly endorse Article V of the NATO Treaty; then the “easy to win a trade war” remark and the tariffs—and now this.

But not just this: Mark the way of this. Emmanuel Macron comes to the United States, and we all know his view of the Iran deal. He puts it to Trump; Trump smiles and is cordial. Angela Merkel follows, with the same view. Trump harrumphs, and she goes home. And then Trump ignores them both, doing it even sooner than the May 12 deadline requires, so that no one can miss the intended humiliation. It’s reminiscent of how Trump handled Mitt Romney before the inauguration, dangling the State Department job before this prominent member of the establishment, the Republican Party establishment at that, before humiliating him as well.

The press in the United States and in Europe is now referring to this as a “snub.” It goes much deeper than that. It is personal, because Trump makes everything personal. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Trump really does ultimately support Le Pen in France, the AfD in Germany, and the likes of Nigel Farage in Britain. How comfortable AfD types would have felt in Charlottesville this past summer, among what Trump called some “fine people.” Just as the vast majority of what seems to be foreign policy in the Trump Administration is just signaling for domestic political purposes in Trump’s quest to realign American politics, so his manipulations of NATO-European leaders seems tailored to encourage certain political outcomes in those countries. (So Teresa May was smart not to come to Washington in recent weeks.) To the extent there is a “nationalist internationale” reminiscent of its 1930s’ fascist forerunner, Trump seems to be aware of and subtly supportive of it….

Peter Beinart, in a spot-on piece in The Atlantic, “The Iran deal and the dark side of American exceptionalism,” has this spot-on observation

The United States is today led by insular, self-satisfied men who demand that other nations fulfill their commitments to the United States while denying that the United States has reciprocal commitments of its own. In their hands, American exceptionalism is a danger to the world.

Let’s just say US imperialism.

One of the best analysts of US foreign policy—and particularly of the Iran deal—if one doesn’t know, is Daniel Larison of The American Conservative.

And don’t miss my dear friend Adam Shatz’s post in the LRB blog last week, “The drift towards war.”

French commentators across the board have all been saying more or less the same thing about Trump’s decision, and with which I am naturally in agreement, though there are some misconceptions. E.g. Hubert Védrine, who epitomizes the dominant gaullo-mitterrandiste current in the French foreign policy establishment, said a couple of things on France Inter last Wednesday that require correction. One was that the “American deep state” (l’État profond américain)—”tout un système américain”—does not want to see Iran return to the “jeu international,” or for Iran to reform or modernize. This is nonsense. First, there is, in point of fact, no American “deep state.” I’ve used this expression myself, more or less tongue-in-cheek, but it really does not exist. There is no grand corps of lifelong civil servants embedded in the agencies of the US federal government who know one another, share the same world-view, and act in concert to influence policy or impose their will, and particularly in foreign policy. As anyone who has taken American Politics 101 in his or her freshman year in college knows—or is simply minimally informed on how the American state works—the 6,000-odd top positions in the federal government are staffed via the spoils system with every incoming administration, and with the political appointees leaving when that administration gives way to the next. Structurally speaking, an American “deep state” is not possible.

Secondly, on the notion that lots of people in Washington want to keep Iran frozen out: a number of analysts here—e.g. Védrine, Bruno Tertrais cited above—have said that Americans have not forgotten the 1979-80 hostage crisis or forgiven Iran for this (and with Védrine adding the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut). I think this is greatly exaggerated. Americans under age 60—some right-wing Republicans aside—are not hung up on this. And it is likely that what most Americans by now know about what happened in Tehran in 1979 comes from the movie Argo. Anti-Iranian sentiment in Washington has, in fact, been fueled by the virulent anti-Americanism of the ayatollahs and those who rule Iran with them. If the Iranians were to suddenly moderate their policy and overall rhetoric toward the US and Israel—if it were clear that the reformers in Tehran were on the way to vanquishing the hard-liners—the positive response would be immediate.

Védrine’s second problematic statement had to do with the “alignment between American neo-conservatives and the [Israeli] Likud,” and which, Védrine added, led to the Iraq war. If the notion of an American “deep state” is a myth, so is that of the so-called neo-conservatives (a.k.a. neocons). Their existence—as some kind of cabal, with an esprit de corps—was already greatly exaggerated in 2003 but to speak of neocons in 2018 is downright absurd. If one wants to insist that the neocons are alive, well, and continue to throw their weight around on foreign and defense policy, I will ask, at minimum, that one identify the top five neocons who are wreaking policy havoc today—I want their names—and specify what makes them “neo-conservative” (as opposed to conservative tout court; what’s the “neo” all about?). As for the Likud and its leader, Bibi Netanyahu, it goes without saying that they are celebrated in the Republican Party. But they do not call the shots. The US did not attack Iraq in 2003 for the benefit of Israel.The tail does not wag the dog. Come on. Even in the neo-conservative heyday in the 1970s, when neo-conservatives really did exist (Norman Podhoretz, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle et al), they were America Firsters whose overriding obsession was the Soviet Union and the Cold War, not Israel.

À suivre.

 

Read Full Post »

Karl Marx + 200

Yesterday was the bicentennial of his birth, as everyone no doubt knows. I was aware it was coming up, in view of all the articles on Marx that started to appear on my social media news feeds—and I did remember that he was born in 1818—but only learned that it was yesterday while listening to an interview with Pierre Laurent, the PCF’s no. 1, on France Inter, who was asked the inevitable question about Marx and his legacy (positive, bien évidemment). As I was a Marxist—or called myself one—in my late teens to mid 20s—and with Marxism permanently influencing my way of thinking—I should probably say something about him. But as it’s been a very long time since I’ve read Marx, I won’t, except to say that I was more drawn to his writings on current events than economics, with The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte being one of the more brilliant works of political sociology I read in my intellectually formative years. Marx indeed made his mark as a journalist, as James Ledbetter reminds us in Jacobin. As for the economics stuff, I tried to read volume 1 of Capital in my freshman year of college—in a poorly taught course that I should not have taken (and that should not have been offered in the first place)—but couldn’t get through it or really understand what I was reading. And I did not have the occasion to go back to it. Tant pis pour moi.

As for the interpretive works on Marx, of which I read lots (hasn’t everyone?), Shlomo Avineri’s The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx stands out.

On the occasion of the bicentennial, Arthur Goldhammer posted on social media a nice essay he wrote in November 2016 in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Marx as educator.” There are obviously countless articles that have been published on the subject in the past week but I will cite just two—that I’ve actually read—both on the Dissent magazine website. One is by historian Andrew Hartman, “Marx at 200: Just getting started.” The lede: “In our fully globalized world, Marx’s ideas still conform to a deeply felt sense about what capital does to our labor.” The other, by political scientist Sheri Berman, is entitled “Marxism’s fatal flaw.” The lede: “Marx’s social-democratic critics recognized a fundamental point that the great economist missed: that a better world was not inevitable, but achievable, and that their job was to bring that world into being through politics.”

And then there’s the movie, The Young Karl Marx, directed by Raoul Peck—who co-wrote the screenplay (with Pascal Bonitzer)—which I saw soon after it came out last fall. It’s very well done and I enjoyed it. Peck is a great director—his film on Patrice Lumumba is one of the best biopics I’ve seen—and probably only he could have pulled this one off, as it took a sophisticated knowledge of history and of Marx himself to make it. No Hollywood director or screenwriter could have done so, ça va de soi. My friend Guillaume Duval, editor-in-chief of Alternatives Économiques, had this spot-on reaction to the film, posted on Facebook last October

[J]’ai beaucoup aimé : on s’y croit vraiment et on comprend bien l’époque et en particulier le formidable internationalisme qui prévalait alors bien qu’il n’y ait ni téléphone ni internet, ainsi que la dynamique qui a lié Marx et Engels pour la vie. Les personnages de Marx et d’Engels, bien sûr, mais aussi ceux de Jenny et de Mary, la femme d’Engels, ont beaucoup d’épaisseur.

Et qu’est-ce que cet hymne à la révolte contre l’ordre établi et l’injustice fait comme bien en ces temps où Guizot-Macron nous saoule de nouveau sur le thème “enrichissez-vous”…

The New Statesman’s Suzanne Moore got it right in her review of the pic, “The Young Karl Marx is a sparky retelling of the build up to The Communist Manifesto.” Trailer is here.

Read Full Post »

That’s the title (in English) of a two-hour (French) documentary on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to 1967, directed by Blanche Finger and the well-known documentary filmmaker William Karel, that aired in two parts on ARTE last week (part 1 on the 1897-1948 period, part 2 from 1948 to ’67). As Le Monde gave it a good review over three-quarters of a page, I thought I’d maybe check it out, though as I’ve seen countless documentaries on the subject, plus read a few books and generally kept up with it over the past fifty-odd years, I didn’t bother. But then I received an email from a faithful AWAV reader here in France, who asked if I had seen it and said that he had, informing me that he “was impressed beyond [his] expectations,” adding that he “thought [he] knew already ‘pas mal’ and…learned a lot.” Tiens.

So following his recommendation, I watched it on the ARTE website, where it may be viewed here (or here) through June 22nd. At a mere two hours, a documentary covering seven decades of such a complex conflict will necessarily be superficial in parts and give short-shrift to key historical moments—when not eliding them altogether—but I thought it well done, politically well-balanced, and with impressive archival footage. What is particularly good, though, is the interviews—with historians, journalists, and intellectuals—that intersperse the narrative (and with voice-over translation). It’s an A-list of interviewees. On the Israeli side are Elie Barnavi, Shlomo Sand, Gadi Taub, Hiam Gouri, Anita Shapira, Dina Porat, Nurit Peled-Elhanen, Amira Hass, and Gideon Levy. They’re somewhat skewed in political orientation, as all are liberal or mainstream Zionists, with the exception of Sand, Hass, and Levy, who are non- or anti-Zionist. No one from the revisionist Zionist camp or clearly on the political right. As for the Palestinians, one hears Sari Nusseibeh, Raja Shehadeh, Elias Sanbar, and Amneh Badran. I wasn’t familiar with the last one but the first three are well-known (and invariably impressive).

I’m not going to launch into a detailed discussion or critique of the documentary here, but will just comment on a few points that struck me. One was the underscoring of the leadership of Amin al-Husseini—the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem—in the Palestinian national movement during the mandate era, and of his collaboration with the Nazis during the war. This is a well-known story, of course—though Palestinians understandably don’t like to talk about it and/or downplay the role played by the Mufti, portraying him as a secondary figure—but it was salutary of Finger and Karel to linger on it for a couple of minutes, and to specify that the Mufti’s engagement with the Nazis was not merely circumstantial but also ideological—that he identified with the Nazis’ goals, was a virulent antisemite, had a privileged relationship with Himmler and Eichmann, and was ready to participate with the latter in an implementation of the Final Solution in an eventual German occupation of Palestine. Pas glorieux pour les Palestiniens.

Second comment. In discussing the Nakba, Elias Sanbar contextualized the relative indifference of Europeans at the time to the images of Palestinian refugees in tents, correctly observing that the European continent was already coping with millions of refugees and displaced persons, not to mention the material destruction of the war, the collapse of economies, and you name it. Given what Europe had just been through—not to mention the Jews themselves—what is now called the Nakba just didn’t seem like that big of a deal (which I discussed in a previous post).

Third comment. On the displacement of the Palestinians in 1948, the narrator says that “la communauté internationale évite de s’intéresser aux réfugiés qui errent sans savoir où y aller.” Apart from the fact that the majority of Palestinian refugees were, in fact, internally displaced persons inside Palestine—and not refugees stricto sensu—this statement is untrue. The United Nations created an agency, UNRWA, in 1949 that was dedicated specifically to the Palestinians—and with an infrastructure and funding that turned the Palestinians into what was surely the most privileged refugee population in history. As for a political solution to their plight, repatriation was off the table—and particularly after the collapse of the Lausanne Conference—leaving as the only alternative integration into the countries, and with full rights of citizenship, where the refugees happened to find themselves—but which all the states, with the qualified exception of Jordan, refused. There wasn’t much the rest of the “international community” could do about this.

Fourth comment. Amneh Badran mentions the 750,000 Palestinians who were “expelled” before, during, and after 1948. This is inaccurate, as we know that the majority of Palestinians—on the order of 60-65%—who left their homes took flight—out of fear or for other reasons—and were not driven out at the point of a bayonet. But further along, Dina Porat talks about the 830,000 Jews (her number) who were “expelled” from Arab countries. One reads and hears this a lot from Israelis and their supporters but it is utterly untrue. Moreover, it’s a falsehood. In point of fact, Jews were not “expelled” from any Arab country. There were indeed anti-Jewish riots and acts of violence in certain ones but no outright expulsion. Let’s go down the list:

  • Yemen: The documentary has images of impoverished Yemeni Jews airlifted to Israel 1949—and who were viewed by Ashkenazis as being even more “backward” than the Arabs. But that’s just it: it was an airlift authorized by the Yemeni authorities, not an expulsion.
  • Iraq: The large Jewish population—which had been subjected to pogroms and violence—was not allowed to leave in 1948. In 1951 the Iraqi state reversed itself and allowed Jews a one-way ticket out—and with the stripping of Iraqi citizenship and spoliation of their property—and that the majority understandably took in view of the circumstances, but they weren’t obliged to.
  • Syria: The small Jewish community was not allowed to leave before 1991. For the anecdote, I remember the Jewish-owned clothing and other stores in the modern center of Damascus—identifiable from the mezuzahs on the doors—on my first visit there in 1985. A couple of Jewish-American friends who visited the city in the same decade went looking for Jews in the quarter adjacent to the Souk Al-Hamidiyah, found some families, and forged friendly contact. Those families are surely now all in Israel or the US. Can’t blame them for taking that one-way ticket.
  • Lebanon: The small Jewish community in Beirut emigrated during the civil war (1975-90), along with many thousands of other Lebanese.
  • Egypt: The Jews here were particular in the Arab world, as the majority—on the order of 80%—were not indigenous to the country, having migrated to Egypt in the mid-late 19th century from lands along the Mediterranean. Jews were shown the door beginning in 1948—which was naturally stoked by anti-Israel sentiment and, not insignificantly, by the antisemitism of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was an important force—but along with other diaspora populations (notably Greeks and Italians), all viewed as foreigners by Egyptians.
  • Libya: The situation of the Jews was pretty bad, so when they were allowed to emigrate in 1949, most packed their bags. But it was not an expulsion.
  • The Maghreb: Not a single Jew was expelled from Morocco, where the sizable Jewish population began religiously motivated aliyah to Israel in 1948, and which was organized surreptitiously by the Jewish Agency after 1956 and through the 1960s, as explicit departure for Israel was not allowed. Tunisia: the bulk of the Jewish population emigrated from 1956 through ’67, roughly half to France, half to Israel. In the case of Algeria, most of the 135,000 Jews, who were full French citizens—though indigenous to Algeria in their totality—left in the mass exodus of Europeans in the final chaotic months of Algérie française. They and the pieds-noirs were fearful, rightly or wrongly, and fled to France. It was their choice. No one told them to leave.

Conclusion: It would be nice if Israelis and others would stop going on about Jews having been “expelled” from Arab countries in 1948 and after, because they weren’t.

Fifth comment. In his email, the faithful AWAV reader mentioned the “six-day war hoax,” referring to the part of the documentary on 1967, which described the sabre-rattling by neighboring Arab states—particularly Egypt—the supposed fear of the Israeli government and IDF high command that Israel’s existence was threatened by the massing of Egyptian troops in the Sinai—on Israel’s “Auschwitz borders”—and that provoked the Israeli preventive strike on June 5th. But as the documentary goes on to reveal, the Israeli military and political leadership knew full well that the Arab states posed no military threat, that Nasser did not want war and tried to avoid it, and that Israel’s existence was in no way threatened, but that the Israelis decided to attack their neighbors anyway, with the aim of seizing and annexing territory.

That the Israeli leadership exaggerated the Egyptian military threat and was confident of victory in the event of war is well understood. But this does not mean the whole thing was a hoax. Nasser did, after all, order the UN troops out of the Sinai and he did close the straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, which was itself a casus belli. But, above all, there was the drumbeat of blood-curdling rhetoric coming out of Egypt—some of which was broadcast in Hebrew directly to Israelis—which the documentary shows. So one sees fanaticized Egyptians chanting, as the subtitles render it, “Nasser, nous sommes tous avec toi! Nous allons tous les exterminer, les brûler, les égorger jusqu’au dernier!” The threats to “exterminate Israel,” throw the Jews into the sea, and the like were heard by all Israelis in the run-up to the war. One could hardly expect a people who had experienced genocide a mere two decades earlier to brush off such calls to mass murder. If the Egyptians were asking Israel to attack them, they couldn’t have done a better job. As Elie Barnavi—une vraie voix de sagesse—put it in speaking to the apparent confidence of the IDF on the eve of the ’67 war, “Nous ne l’avons pas vécu comme ça, ni la population, ni l’armée, et certainement pas les politiciens. Il y avait eu vraiment un moment d’angoisse. La guerre était inévitable, et elle ne s’est pas déroulée comme on imaginait, parce que Hussein est entré dans ce cercle vicieux…” Indeed, if King Hussein had not placed his army under Egyptian command and then launched an unprovoked artillery barrage on West Jerusalem, the 1967 war would have resembled the one in 1956, so Barnavi asserts, involving only Egypt; but Jordan’s entry transformed it into a regional war, resulting in the fateful occupation of the West Bank. Hélas.

ARTE also broadcast last week a one-hour documentary by Finger and Karel, “Histoires d’Israël,” consisting of interviews with ten leading Israeli writers—Amos Oz, David Grossman, Avraham B. Yehoshua, Alona Kimhi, Meir Shalev, Zeruya Shalev, Eshkol Nevo, Etgar Keret, Benny Barbash, and Ronit Matalon (who died this past December, at age 58)—reflecting on their country. My faithful AWAV reader sent a follow-up email on this one, writing: “Great people. Exemplary ethics. Lucidity and bravery. Especially the women. This film almost brought tears in my eyes.” I agree. It may be viewed on the ARTE website here (or here) through June 23rd.

On this general topic, the American-Israeli historian Martin Kramer has an article in Mosaic magazine, dated April 2nd, on “The May 1948 vote that made the State of Israel,” in which he reveals, entre autres, that the Peoples Administration—the proto-cabinet of the Israeli government-to-be, headed by David Ben Gurion—voted on May 12, 1948, i.e. two days before the proclamation of the State of Israel, not to officially recognize the borders in the 1947 UN partition plan as definitive. In other words, the Zionist leadership decided right off the bat that Israel would not have fixed borders, that its borders would be whatever territory it could conquer and subsequently annex. This would seem obvious in view of Israel’s behavior over the past seventy years but, as Kramer documents, the reason it is so is because it was explicitly debated and decided in a formal vote by the Zionist leadership.

I’ll certainly have more on all this before too long.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: