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Istanbul, June 7th (photo by AWAV)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

The elections, for both president and parliament, are happening tomorrow, as one may be aware. And if one is aware of that, one will have likely heard or read that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, though the natural favorite, is not guaranteed of victory in the presidential—at least not on the first ballot—nor is the AKP for the TBBM. As I have no specialized knowledge of Turkish politics myself—just an ongoing interest—I will refer readers interested in what’s happening there to this very good piece (h/t Claire & Esin), dated June 21st, in the excellent War on the Rocks website, “The good, the bad, and the ugly: three scenarios to expect from Turkey’s upcoming elections.” The author, Burak Kadercan, is Associate Professor of Strategy and Policy at the United States Naval War College and Inaugural Resident Fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He’s smart.

One may also profitably read the post, dated June 16th, on ‘The Black Sea: Diving Deep into Stories’ blog, previously unknown to me, by Zeynep Sentek and Craig Shaw (in collaboration with Der Spiegel), “Erdoğan: faith and fury.” The lede: “Inside the world of Turkey’s hardline president and his final grab for power.” Among other things, one notes the numerous similarities between RTE and the dotard in the White House, in governing style, of course, but also personality. If the latter had half of the former’s intelligence and organizational skills, America would be in far deeper trouble than it already is.

If one has the time, do see the lengthy (12,290 words) article by Ella George in the May 24th London Review of Books, “Purges and paranoia: Erdoğan’s ‘new’ Turkey,” which provides a good overview of Turkish politics since the rise of RTE.

Here’s a commentary in Foreign Policy, dated June 22nd, by my friend Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, “Don’t trust anybody about Turkey’s elections: The one thing that’s clear about Erdogan’s re-election bid is that everything is unclear.”

And for those who need to get up to speed on “Turkey’s ‘Iron Lady'” Meral Akşener, who has an outside chance of surprising RTE, see this profile of her in Time magazine last July.

Updates will follow.

UPDATE: A commenter on social media has pointed out (on Sunday morning) that Meral Akşener has been overtaken as the great anti-Erdoğan hope by the CHP candidate Muharrem İnce, who has been surging in the past month. If any candidate creates a surprise today, it will likely be him. On İnce, see the NYT op-ed (June 19th) by Şafak Pavey, “The man who could topple Erdoğan.”

And en français, see Ariane Bonzon’s interview with Turkey specialist Élise Massicard in Slate.fr (June 23rd), “Loi électorale et manipulation, Erdoğan aura tout fait pour gagner.”

2nd UPDATE: For a good day after analysis, see old Turkey hand David Barchard in Middle East Eye, “Turkey election: Erdogan wins, the opposition crashes – but don’t write off the HDP.”

See also Ariane Bonzon in Slate.fr, “Présidentielle turque: Erdogan parachève sa conquête absolue du pouvoir.”

And don’t miss Steven Cook on his CFR ‘From the Potomac to the Euphrates’ blog, “Turkey’s elections: partially free, fair, and fake.”

3rd UPDATE: Hamit Bozarslan of the EHESS in Paris, who is quite brilliant, analyzes the election outcome in Le Monde (June 26th), saying that “La Turquie d’Erdoğan est un exemple radical des antidémocraties du XXIe siècle.”

4th UPDATE: Le Monde (June 29th) has a full-page interview with political scientist Soli Özel, who teaches at Kadir Has University in Istanbul and is a regular contributor to numerous publications, in which he says that “‘Les Turcs aiment en Erdoğan ce que les étrangers détestent en lui’.”

 

The Singapore summit

Credit: Getty Images

Like everyone I read all about last Tuesday’s grotesque farce in Singapore, though as it was so manifestly a publicity stunt, indeed a con job, by the White House dotard—the DPRK regime is to be eternally commended for informing us native speaking Anglophones of the existence of this word in the English language—I avoided watching the TV coverage. It goes without saying that the summit was a clear win for the DPRK and with the US coming away with nothing in particular; this is the consensus among objective observers and commentators (so much so that no references are necessary). How could it be otherwise with an ignorant idiot like Trump, whose sole sources of information are what he sees on television and whatever may be whispered in his ear by one of the lackeys, lickspittles, or whackadoodles in his entourage? He reads nothing, as we know, not even short memos or abbreviated intelligence briefings. The fact that Trump was winging it in Singapore—that the preparatory work of his staff was minimal and that he had no idea what he was doing or talking about—was confirmed—if confirmation were necessary—by his own words at the press conference after the event.

While the reviews of Trump’s performance have been heavily negative, I did note a couple of gauchiste friends on social media who put a positive spin on it, taking liberals and lefties to task while they were at it for not giving Trump credit where credit was due. One of their arguments was that South Koreans in their majority were delighted by what happened in Singapore. Well, of course they would be: when a mentally deranged US dotard president threatens to rain “fire and fury” on the Korean peninsula and then, for reasons known only to himself—and even then—suddenly does a 180° and starts talking peace, then obviously people south of the 38th parallel will be relieved. So no, Trump gets zero credit. None whatever.

One friend who has weighed in publicly on Singapore is Stephen Zunes, a smart engagé political scientist well-known among lefties and peace activists, who posted his take on social media, and on which he invited me to comment. So here’s his commentary followed by my response:

Some thoughts on the Singapore Summit between Trump and Kim:

1) The joint statement is vague and doesn’t amount to much, so I’m dubious it will amount to any treaty or denuclearization or lasting peace, at least while Trump is president

2) Nevertheless, they are talking with each other instead of threatening each other and are at least pretending to move in the right direction, and that is very positive

3) US-South Korean military exercises, while largely defensive in nature, are not really necessary and are seen as provocative by the North Koreans, so their unilateral suspension by Trump as a confidence-building measure is a good thing

4) If Obama had done the same thing Trump has done in recent days regarding North Korea, Democrats would be defending him and Republicans would be mercilessly attacking him. Since it’s Trump, however, it’s largely been the other way around. The summit and the joint statement should be judged on its own merits, not by partisan politics

5) Trump is being totally hypocritical to walk away from a detailed verifiable nuclear agreement with Iran while praising a vague unverifiable set of principles with North Korea.

6) North Korea would be naïve to sign any binding agreement with Trump, since he clearly does not feel obliged to keep the United States’ international commitments

7) The joint statement was NOT one-sided in North Korea’s favor. It was one-sided in the United States’
favor, since it said nothing about the U.S. eventually getting rid of or even reducing its vast nuclear arsenal

8) North Korea is a horrific dictatorship, but that doesn’t mean that the United States shouldn’t engage in respectful diplomatic negotiations in areas of mutual concern. Indeed, the Trump administration provides arms and security assistance to Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes with bipartisan support in Congress, so it’s ridiculous to claim that meeting with Kim means the United States is suddenly coddling dictators

9) Trump probably took his far more moderate and conciliatory position than many expected because the South Koreans had so strongly objected to his earlier belligerent approach and he realized it would be difficult for a country on the far side of the world to take a more hardline position than the country most affected by North Korea

10) Despite these positive developments, the world should still be concerned about having an unstable impulsive militaristic narcissist with nuclear weapons; we should also be concerned about Kim Jong-un.

I agree with all of these points except 3, 7 and 9, and with a comment on 2. On the latter, jaw-jaw is always better than war-war but in this case, the only serious threat of war—and nuclear at that—has come from Trump. The DPRK may act crazy from time to time but, as I think we understand, it is not actually crazy, and certainly not enough to launch a bolt-out-of-the-blue attack on South Korea or Japan, let alone the US. Sure, it’s a totalitarian regime and behaves horribly toward its own people, plus to unfortunate foreigners who get into trouble there, but it does not behave irrationally in its foreign dealings. And while we have no idea about Kim Jong-un’s mental health state, we do about that of the malignant narcissistic megalomaniac in the White House, who is entirely capable of doing another 180°, tearing up what was signed at Singapore, and once again threatening to rain fire and fury if it dawns on him that he’s being played by Kim. As Emmanuel Macron and countless others have learned, Trump keeps no commitments, respects no rules, and has no friends. So one can only look at what happened in Singapore with a jaundiced eye.

On point 3: the US-South Korea military exercises are entirely legitimate and normal in view of the defense treaty between the two countries, the heavy militarization of the DPRK, and the formal state of war that still exists. Trump’s unilateral suspension was not only gratuitous—he did not need to offer Kim any more confidence-building measures than he did by simply meeting with and flattering him—but also a slap in the face to South Korea and president Moon Jae-in, who was not informed about it beforehand. This is the sort of concession to be made as part of a negotiating process, in which the US and South Korea receive something concrete and comparable in return. But such was not the case with the famous deal-maker Trump.

Point 7: The size, let alone existence, of the US nuclear arsenal is not on the table in negotiations with the DPRK. Only the latter’s is. The objection here is irrelevant.

Point 9: This assumes a logic and rationality to Trump’s thinking on foreign policy—indeed his thinking on anything—but also that he cares a whit about what other countries—here, South Korea—think or desire. Trump acts on impulse and follows his gut instinct. He cares about no one and nothing but himself. As for why he took his more moderate and conciliatory position toward the DPRK, again, we have no idea. For all we know, someone in his entourage told him that if he sought a meeting with Kim and talked peace, that he would win the Nobel Peace Prize. And Trump thought: “Great idea! And if Obama can have a Nobel Prize, why not me?” Such would also up his poll numbers and thrill the base to no end. If doesn’t get the Nobel—and he won’t—he may well walk away from his peace process, if he hasn’t already by then.

The fact of the matter is, there will be no deal with the DPRK, at least not one in which the latter denuclearizes and allows foreign inspectors unfettered access to verify that such is taking place. The DPRK would be crazy to sign such an agreement after what happened in Singapore. And they would be doubly crazy to sign any such deal with Trump.

À propos of all this, Slate staff writer Lili Loofbourow has a pertinent essay, dated June 14th, “We are in a linguistic emergency when it comes to Trump: He is getting exactly what he wants.” For those too lazy to click on the link, here’s the whole thing:

In the wake of the horrors currently being done to children in America’s name, here’s one thing we can do: Recognize we’re in a linguistic emergency. We have a president whose single-minded praise for macho might is wearing down even those who refuse to overlook his incompetence. Trump, the only presidential candidate to refer to his penis size during a national debate, wants nothing more than to be seen as powerful and manly, and to align himself with those who project the characteristics he desires. And he’s gotten help—from us. If you’ve ever called Trump “tough” on immigration, note that he just called a dictator “tough” for murdering his citizens. (And “very smart” for staying in power.) That should be a wake-up call to journalists responsible for telling the story of this moment: Stop using the words he routinely chooses to describe himself. And think hard about whether you’re accidentally reinforcing the model of power he’s trying to sell.

That change is task one: Sidestep every attempt he and his allies make to equate treating people badly with being strong, because their efforts to link those concepts are working. Neutral outlets are defaulting to his language for what he does—he’s “cracking down” on unions! He’s taking a “hard line” on the G-7! Driving “hard bargains”! These all position him as powerful, which he loves. The trouble is, it’s wrong. In practice, Trump’s positions slip and slide all over the place. He never got that “hard bargain” he allegedly drove (though he sure got credit for driving it). His deals fall through, his policy shifts depending on whomever he spoke to last. It would be the height of irony if the weakest president on record managed to rebrand himself as the strongman he so badly wants to be.

So: Infectious though his formulations can be, it’s time to break the habit. Don’t use his language outside quotation marks. Take particular care to avoid words that confuse cruelty with strength. Avoid warlike metaphors. No taking aim, no battles, no doubling down. No punching metaphors. No deals. Deny him the framing he wants. There are, after all, other words. Arbitrary. Confused. Crabby. Ignorant.

This is an extraordinarily weak president. Narrate him that way. It’s the truth.

Language reshapes relations; even the famous Stanford prison experiment—which ostensibly demonstrated that people with perceived power devolve to treating each other brutally—was recently exposed as having some of its more horrifying results engineered. The “brutal” guards were told to be brutal and how to be brutal. George Lakoff has argued that the metaphors underpinning language do at least as much messaging work as the words themselves do. He’s right. And Trump is good at using hoary old frames about mighty men, of calling losses wins. It doesn’t matter if he lies—the only goal is to convey strength. And it works.

His presidency has not, so far, been described faithfully and consistently for what it is. Take this December Bloomberg story, which describes a speech in which Trump makes it clear he has no idea how the immigration system he’s promised to change works. This is what he said: “They give us their worst people, they put them in a bin, but in his hand when he’s picking him are really the worst of the worst.” That is not, in any way, how America’s immigration functions.

In any other climate, the newsworthy element of the story would be obvious: a president claiming he can fix immigration doesn’t understand, at the most basic level, how the current system works. That’s a scandal. But rather than center that fact, the headline is “Trump Calls Immigrants With Lottery Visas ‘Worst of the Worst.’ ” That Trump got everything wrong doesn’t show up until the seventh paragraph. Not only does this marginalize what really matters—i.e., that the man in charge is so incompetent he can’t even describe the thing he plans to fix—it also concentrates the power of the story on Trump. It suggests that the important takeaway from this speech is what he calls a group of people that he just demonstrated he knows nothing about.

A president’s lack of basic competence is worth accurately reporting on. And it must be reported on when there is nothing else of value worth reporting.

So why doesn’t this happen more? Two reasons: For one, I sense in much of the reporting on Trump a secret fear that maybe we’re missing something. He won, after all. And he keeps insisting that he’s strong despite all the evidence, so maybe there’s something we’re not seeing. This, as many have pointed out, is gaslighting. It’s why he always says he has a plan he won’t describe.

The second reason is that many news organizations still confuse neutrality with accuracy. Better to just report what he says and let the people decide, the thinking goes.

But that’s wrong. And that’s due to the power of language: Simply repeating his fantastical claims makes them seem less fantastical. What a president says usually matters a great deal. But because what Trump says usually bears no relation to the truth (or to what his own policies end up being) it therefore fails to inform the public, and is not worth repeating. He wants to propagate the story of a power he doesn’t have. We shouldn’t help him.

Instead, repeat the valuable news that emanates from this White House: Usually, that will involve showing all the ways this president is wrong, weak, and reactive.

And if you’re stumped on finding the words to do that with, look to misogyny. I’m serious. Just imagine how the past week would have been framed had Trump been a woman—weakness would be the constant subtext. “A shaken Trump tries to shift blame for broken families on nonexistent ‘Democrat bill.’” “At Singapore summit, Trump makes nervous joke over weight.” “Trump catty with Trudeau.”

And then there’s this “Memo to the press, after 18 months of Trump,” posted June 15th by Robert Reich on his Facebook page:

1. Stop treating Trump’s tweets as news.

2. Never believe a single word that comes out of his mouth.

3. Don’t fall for the reality-TV spectacles he creates. (For example, his meeting with Kim Jong-un.) They’re not news, either.

4. Don’t let his churlish thin-skinned vindictive narcissistic rants divert attention from what he’s really doing.

5. Focus on what he’s really doing, and put stories into this context. He’s: (1) undermining democratic institutions, (2) using his office for personal gain, (3) sowing division and hate, (4) cozying up to dictators while antagonizing our democratic allies around the world, (5) violating the rule of law, and (6) enriching America’s wealthy while harming the middle class and the poor. He may also be (7) colluding with Putin.

6. Keep track of what his Cabinet is doing — Sessions’s attacks on civil rights, civil liberties, voting rights, and immigrants; DeVos’s efforts to undermine public education, Pruitt’s and Zinke’s efforts to gut the environment; all their conflicts of interest, and the industry lobbyists they’ve put in high positions.

7. Don’t try to “balance” your coverage of the truth with quotes and arguments from Trump’s enablers and followers. This is not a contest between right and left, Republicans and Democrats. This is between democracy and demagogic authoritarianism.

8. Don’t let him rattle you. Maintain your dignity, confidence, and courage.

À suivre.

Maryam Pougetoux

Okay, hysteria may be excessive. It’s more a brouhaha. Or maybe a tempest in a teapot. But whatever one calls it, it is surely another of those only-in-France incidents in regard to expressions of Muslim religiosity in public space. If one is not au courant of the affair, please read the dispatches by James McAuley in The Washington Post, “For some French officials, the headscarf is such a threat they are attacking a teenager,” and Aida Alami in The New York Times, “The college student who has France’s secularists fulminating.” Both McAuley and Alami, with their “Anglo-Saxon” sensibilities, take a dim view of the reaction by the usual suspects in the French political class and punditocracy to the specter of the 19-year-old, hijab-wearing Maryam Pougetoux being elected president of the University of Paris-IV chapter of UNEF, France’s most important student union. My knee-jerk sympathies are naturally with my “Anglo-Saxon” associates, as well as with more Gallic voices such as that of Rokhaya Diallo, who posted a tribune in The Guardian on “[a] student leader [being] the latest victim of France’s obsession with the hijab.” And my knee is doubly jerked when seeing the charge against Mademoiselle Pougetoux—would I have been as articulate, poised, and self-confident at that age as she—being inevitably led by the warrior for the cause of laïcité de combat, Laurent Bouvet, of whom I am, needless to say, not a fan. I am resolutely not in the camp of the Printemps Républicain. As Monsieur Bouvet has blocked me from Facebook, signifying that he does not want me to read him, I would normally not bother doing so—he is, in fact, one of those pundits I decline to read—but did make an exception here, particularly as he and McAuley have been exchanging barbs on Twitter today.

I hate to say this—this is very hard—but despite my knee jerk reactions, I am not entirely, 100% in disagreement with Bouvet on this very specific matter. As it happens, I had a Twitter exchange with my friend Karim Emile Bitar some two weeks ago on the question of Mlle Pougetoux, in which I expressed conflicted feelings on her being an official spokesperson for UNEF. As a civil society association, UNEF can, of course, elect anyone it pleases to posts of responsibility and it is, in principle, not for non-members to be weighing in on this. And not even the laïcard Bouvet would have a problem with simple members of UNEF—which has historically been linked to the Socialist Party—wearing hijabs or other accoutrements of religious belonging. But… Mlle Pougetoux’s hijab is pretty strict, suggesting strict religious observance. Again, we’re not talking about a simple UNEF member here but a president of one of its chapters. Given UNEF’s history on the French left, I do think this raises some issues. And for UNEF old-timers, it is a problem.

E.g. one may presume that Mlle Pougetoux eats only halal. This is, of course, her right. But if one is strictly halal, this necessarily limits the extent to which one can fraternize with one’s comrades who are not. A personal anecdote: my wife has a couple of nieces in their 20s who are French of three-quarters Algerian origin—they grew up in the Lyon banlieue—and while not veiled, strictly respect halal (they’re under the influence of their Algerian mother, who’s from the bled). Inviting them over to our place for dinner, or to a restaurant in Paris—both of which we’ve done in the past couple of years—is a pain in the ass, as they won’t eat what we serve them (and I’ll be damned if I’m going to buy the beef for my chili con carne at a halal boucherie). And at most restaurants, they can’t order most of what’s on the menu. I told my wife to kindly tell them that if they’re going to maintain their strict halal regime, they will ultimately only be able to have sustained friendships with other Muslims. That is, of course, their right but they will have to make that choice. Just as orthodox Jews, or observant Mormons, find themselves only with their own kind in their private lives. I’m not sure that’s what they want, as they’re otherwise open-minded and on upward social trajectories, but they’ll have to decide.

In Mlle Pougetoux’s case, if she is like our nieces in question, then—if I were a UNEF member—I would have to oppose her being a chapter president and spokesperson. I’m sorry but this is France, and a high degree of religiosity is simply incompatible with exercising posts of responsibility in otherwise laïque civil society associations, and particularly on the left (personally speaking, I would oppose it in the United States too). And it’s not just about religious practice but also attitudes toward certain burning social issues. E.g. what is Mlle Pougetoux’s position on gay marriage or abortion, questions she has so far avoided answering? If she is opposed to these, then she has no business holding a post of responsibility in UNEF. Period. It is, ça va de soi, inconceivable that UNEF would elect a president who participated in the 2013 anti-gay marriage Manif pour tous movement, or is opposed to the Loi Veil. Just as it is inconceivable that UNEF would choose a president who wore a crucifix. Or a kippa, and who followed all the precepts of orthodox Judaism.

That said, politicians should still keep their noses out of this matter. Let the left deal with it. C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

I’ve been travelling the past couple of weeks—mainly in Egypt (Cairo), a little in Turkey (Istanbul)—so have been off AWAV. So as to get something up—and in the same vein as the last post, on Trumpian America being a rogue state (and with the latest declaration of trade war on the country’s closest allies, can anyone seriously deny that it is?)—I offer this recent article by Andrew J. Bacevich in The American Conservative that carries the title of the post, in which it is rhetorically asked “How can you trust an establishment that so easily succumbs to fantasies of global hegemony and go-it-alone militarism?”

Bacevich aims his fire at the Washington neocon/liberal hawk think tank swamp and punditocracy, which is in permanent agitation for America to militarily intervene in some country or countries, but the main takeaway from his piece is that at this point—and given its imperialist history—America has no moral authority to be intervening just about anywhere. This was driven home to me in a review essay I just read by Max Hastings, “The Wrath of the Centurions,” in the London Review of Books, in which he reviews Howard Jones’ My Lai: Vietnam, 1968 and the Descent into Darkness. As Hastings recounts, My Lai was only the biggest massacre of non-combattants committed by American soldiers during the Vietnam War, who, in fact, murdered civilians regularly and with impunity. The number of Vietnamese villagers raped and/or killed in cold blood by American soldiers will likely never be known but it was significant. In point of fact, American soldiers have behaved thusly in every war they’ve ever participated in. Every army does likewise, of course, and a good number have been far worse, but we’re talking about America here.

On that note, here’s a thought by my friend Claire Berlinski, who has believed all her life in America as a force for good but is having second thoughts nowadays.

USA: rogue state

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.

 

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.

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.

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