Tuesday, December 03, 2002

at the request of two people i am acquainted with, i am to read the following pieces: Barry Rubin's "The Real Roots of Arab Anti-Americanism" in the Nov/Dec 02 Foreign Affairs and Amos Elon's "Israelis and Palestinians: What Went Wrong" in 19 December 2002 New York Review of Books. since both parties seem to want commentary on my part, i figure, why not throw it all up here?

let's start with elon. i have some quotations from the article itself, which will follow my commentary here and include more points, but i would like to give an overall review. where do i find the words for a piece such as this, so well-written and so apt at cutting through all the crap of the conflict, so ably sketching the historical development of the current situation, and so damn depressing? my immediate reaction to finishing this article is "jesus christ." elon leaves us fearfully, speaking about how the conflict is now in a stage where the options, if nothing changes, appear to be a permanent status of war/terrorist acts and/or full-scale ethnic cleansing. he addresses the issue which this brings up very quickly, namely, where are the leaders who can change this direction? it seems clearer than ever that what the israeli-palestinian conflict needs is one rational person with some backbone, some jerk who gets elected to israeli office saying one thing and once he finds himself in the actual seat of power, turns around and does an absolute 180 on relations with arab states and palestinians. somebody who would act more out of a desire for history to remember him as brave and slightly insane than a desire for reelection, or even survival. this person would have to perform this kind of 180 i refer to because of elon's astute observation on the power of settlers in israeli electoral politics. ("Though 70 percent of Israeli voters say in the polls that they support abandoning some of the settlements, 400,000 settlers and their right-wing and Orthodox supporters within Israel proper now control at least half the national vote. They pose a constant threat of civil war if their interests are not fully respected. At their core is a group of fanatical nationalists and religious fundamentalists who believe they know exactly what God and Abraham said to each other in the Bronze Age.") unfortunately, i am not enough of an expert on parliamentary politics to be able to adequately assess whether such an action is even really possible without an immediate dissolution of a government. i have a strange, lingering feeling that even a jerk who got the power and then tried to act in accordance with what i will call historical morality would not be in office longer than twenty minutes. [so i guess we have to pray that in those twenty minutes they get a lot done.]

oh what a tangled web has been woven. has there ever before, in the history of the world, been such a ripe recipe for disaster, as is the modern israeli-palestinian conflict?

"Ben-Gurion preferred legitimacy to real estate, even if that real estate included the Wailing Wall and other historical and sacred sites." clearly. the simple genius of man who valued survival and strength of a jewish state over land. why must we ignore our revered leaders?

"Today, thirty-five years later, 4.1 million Palestinians live between the river Jordan and the sea (3.1 million in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and 1 million Palestinians in Israel proper.) Despite heavy Jewish immigration since 1967 there are still only some 5 million Jews, a ratio of only 1.2 to 1. Higher Palestinian birthrates are certain to assure an absolute Palestinian majority within ten or fifteen years." here we are, the age-old demographic problem. the question i pose time and time again to speaker on the conflict after speaker on the conflict. but sir, i say, wouldn't you say that the israeli state has a vested interest in, essentially, 'keeping' the rights of arabs and palestinians to a minimum, for due to demographic changes, pure numbers will cause problems with keeping the jewish state jewish? how is it possible, sir, for this to continue? but mr. israeli ambassador, this cannot go on, can it? so let us tease out the bare facts that elon has outlined for us here:

a palestinian majority within ten to fifteen years + nineteen year old palestinians increasingly having no problems blowing themselves up in israeli cities = dear lord in heaven. forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us. i would recite the rest of the lord's prayer if i knew it.

"For all practical purposes, the United States served as a ready partner in the settlement project." this comment, made in reference to the U.S. government allowing tax-deductible donations to flow into organizations and funds that helped finance settlements in the west bank and gaza, brings up several interesting points. first off, in the contextualization of 9-11, such participation by the U.S. government in continuing the trend of aiding settlements, thereby further alienating and angering the palestinians and hence the entire third world, is no longer sound foreign policy. it gives new definition to the concept of blowback. we do not live in a world where the U.S. government can operate on shaky moral grounds in foreign lands however its heart desires and not have to worry about whether its citizens will bear the brunt. it is defined, it is established, it is known: the citizens of the united states of america will have their physical and mental safety absolutely compromised by actions of their government abroad. second, this comment raises the specter of campaign contributions in U.S. electoral politics. two extremely power lobbying groups have vested interests in the state of israel, namely AIPEC and the Christian Coalition (CC). this would not be so damaging were these groups not quite so willing to link the existance of israel at all to the continued israeli occupation of the 1967 lands of the west bank and gaza. the CC angle is one that i have especially been interested in as of late. the fundamentally religious basis for CC's support for the state of israel, the biblical roots of its position on all matters dealing with the middle east, makes for a dangerous (in particular) GOP foreign policy. [for further consideration about the neoconservative movement in the U.S. and its impact on foreign policy, may i suggest the november 2002 discussion logs of h-diplo, available by search at ]

"Today there are 200,000 settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip—their number has been allowed to almost double since the Oslo agreement of 1993." this comment calls to mind said's _peace and its discontents_, an excellent work which rips the oslo agreement to shreds, which i have to reread, and which anyone who wants to understand what has gone wrong with all the "peace" agreements should keep by his bedside.

NOW FAIR READER, onto the immortal barry rubin, perhaps best known for his epic _the prize_, which focuses on oil. in this case, we shall examine his recent article in foreign affairs magazine. *******EMERGENCY BROADCAST SYSTEM. BARRY RUBIN DID NOT WRITE THE PRIZE. IT WAS DANIEL YERGIN. (this explains the incongruity. i realize now i was thinking of rubin's _paved with good intentions_. oh well. idiocy.) GOD BLESS YOU, PROFESSOR MANDAVILLE, FOR POINTING THIS OUT.*********

oh dear, my concern with rubin starts early. suddenly tom friedman's recent swing towards conservatism is ringing in my ears when i read this: "The result was more than 3,000 American deaths." barry, as a scholar, and even simply as a researcher, you know that there was more than one nationality that bore the brunt of the crime of the hijackers on 9-11. oversimplification alert. [not that i am never guilty of this crime, but then again, they don't publish my work in foreign affairs magazine.] but i read on, interested to see what will happen here.

the horror, the devastation. an eminent scholar selectively choosing histories and scripting a manifesto with the seeming thesis of the u.s. being "damned if it does, damned if it doesn't" in all matters arab and middle eastern. readers, before i even start in on this article, may i offer you a shred of advice. if you find yourself immersed in an article on the middle east, by anyone, at anytime, and it contains a clause like this, "the United States has also spent blood and treasure saving Muslims in Afghanistan from the Soviets": please immediately lean back in your seat, stop clutching the words so intently, regroup, read on, and understand it with a doubtful mind. the red flag words here are: blood, treasure, saving Muslims. this is sensationalism. note, if you will, that these words beckon mind's eye visions of crusaders. even if the author of said article is simply not expressing himself properly, and really is not trying to do this, the imagery which he is conjuring up is inappropriate to any sort of sane, informed discussion on the middle east. blood and treasure? in the words of bridget jones' friends in the film "bridget jones' diary," "come the fuck on."

i'm literally rereading this article dumbfounded at how misconstrued things can get. i am going to have to limit myself to four responses only to very specific assertions of rubin's. if i actually try to go after the whole article this could take hours.

1. rubin's conclusion.
"Even if the United States were to pressure Israel, end sanctions on Iraq, or pull its troops out of the Persian Gulf, Arab journalists and politicians will not start praising America as a wonderful friend and noble example. Instead, further concessions will only encourage even more contempt for the United States and make the anti-American campaign more attractive.

What, then, should Washington do? U.S. policymakers should understand that various public relations efforts, apologies, acts of appeasement, or policy shifts will not by themselves do away with anti-Americanism. Only when the systems that manufacture and encourage anti-Americanism fail will popular opinion also change. In the interim, the most Washington can do is show the world that the United States is steadfast in support of its interests and allies."

essentially, rubin's solution here for u.s. policymakers is to stand by and do nothing different, nothing at all, until these popular forces and tyrannical leaders fall out of power. stay the course, he argues. i am not quite so sure that if the united states pressured israel [what does that even mean? here i use it in the context of resolving things diplomatically with palestinians, but rubin doesn't even make this demarker, making the comment some sort of double-whammy insulting-to-all-zionists comment], halted the economic sanctions on iraq, and pulled its troops out of the gulf, the overwhelming arab response to such actions would only be more contempt for the united states. such an argument suggests that hatred of the united states runs so deep and so irrationally into the arab world that it is impossible to penetrate by rational means. essentially, this seems to say to me that the leaders and the masses are clearly retarded and haven't any idea what the score is. i suppose one could argue this. one could also argue that the sun is made of butter and that i startlingly resemble salma hayek. the point is this: even in a totalitarian state, people have a brain, meaning, if suddenly the economic sanctions in iraq were lifted, the people of iraq would realize that the u.s. had reversed its policy, no matter what saddam tells them. if we pulled our troops out of the gulf states out of some grand gesture towards the holy land, muslims worldwide would not ignore this, no matter what osama told them. and no matter what the popular leaders and "journalists" would say or write about these 'dubious' actions of the united states, on the ground, the score would be different, because the PEOPLE would see it. i do not necessarily endorse any of these policy alternatives, but there would be a significant undercutting of popular unrest towards the u.s. if the u.s. stopped doing things that Piss People OFF. is that so hard to understand? and the arab world, despite rubin's claims that it has very little to complain about in regards to u.s. policy in the region, has an awful long laundry list of complaints.

2. an accurate observation of rubin's: the ability of arab leaders to use anti-american sentiment to distract their people from their own failings. i'm not sure i'd place this up as "remarkable," as rubin does, as it's an age-old trick. use an enemy to unite your people and stop them from questioning you. brilliant, simple, used by governments the world over. the more interesting question becomes how to undercut this ability of arab leaders. rubin, of course, would argue that you can't really do anything, as i discussed in point 1. but here i think we can draw an interesting parallel to cuba. if the united states just whipped away our economic embargo and let mickey mouse flood the country, communism would fall within ten minutes. it is the absolutely horrendous effects of the economic embargo on the people of cuba that provides popular support for castro's united states bashings. if you cut out this popular support by rearranging our policy, this popular Enemy which the country must unite against would fail to exist and attention would be turned inwards.

3. "In fact, Arabs and Muslims have suffered far less from U.S. policies than many other groups or peoples. Yet virtually none of these other peoples evinces anything like the level of anti-American sentiment that exists in the Middle East or commits acts of terrorism against the United States." who are these 'other groups or peoples' that rubin consistently refers to in this piece? this grey, generic comparison fails miserably to prove its point because he doesn't even give us any form of substantative argument that qualitatively establishes arab/muslim suffering as less than that of 'others.' he never even defines an other, period. can't we get some throwaway line about the suffering of the vietnamese?

4. "In 1973, the United States rescued Egypt at the end of the Arab-Israeli War by forcing a cease-fire on Israel." i have chosen this particular line for its absurdness. there are many 'historical' examples that rubin puts forth in this piece to show how kind and wonderful the u.s. has been to arab states and the muslim world. it is, of course, equally ridiculous to try to claim that the u.s. has been nothing but wretched to the arab states/muslim world. the truth is somewhere in between. my question is why rubin feels a need, over and over again, in this piece, to misconstrue history to portray the u.s. foreign policy as some sort of benefactor to the middle east. rescued? [come the fuck on]

a crash course in the 1973 war, courtesy of the 1994 Westview Press production of William Cleveland's _A History of the Modern Middle East_: it began on october 6th, 1973, with egypt acting aggresively. egypt performed very well militarily in the beginning, even taking back the most of the territory which Israel had been occupying since the 1967 war. (at this point, reader, remember that according to the un, territory captured through war is not viewed as legitimate, and that the continued israeli occupation of these lands was [for the west bank and gaza, remains] illegal under international law.) starting on october 16th, israeli forces, led by our friend general sharon, fought back, and came "within striking distance of cairo." on october 22nd, diplomats from the u.s. and the u.s.s.r. negotiated a cease-fire. on page 337, cleveland writes, "...the October War was to some extent a proxy fight. From October 14 to November 15, the United States airlifted 22,000 tons of military supplies to Israel; the scale of the Soviet resupply to Egypt and Syria was also enormous. There was something grotesque in the willingness of the superpowers to replenish their clients' equipment in order to enable them to continue a war that might otherwise have ended sooner."

now, reread rubin's comment: "In 1973, the United States rescued Egypt at the end of the Arab-Israeli War by forcing a cease-fire on Israel." would you, reader, ever use that sentence to explain what i just relayed above? the use of the word rescued is questionable, obviously. the sentence also implies that the u.s. acted alone in this endeavor, when in reality it was a joint project between kissinger and gromyko. it also implies a form of innocence in the entire event that the u.s. did not have, as evidenced by its airlifting of supplies.

if you read all this, you may be crazier than i am
watch out for barry rubin. amos elon is a keeper.


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