I doubt I’m the only one who noticed the irony of Defense Secretary Hagel affirming Syria’s likely use of chemical weapons, touching off a clamor among congressional hawks and the now familiar gaggle of neocons and liberal interventionists for American intervention in the civil war there, on the very day that President Obama was in Texas dedicating the George W. Bush presidential library. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
The irony is only compounded by the fact that the library officially opens to the public on May 1, 10 years to the day after Bush’s misbegotten “Mission Accomplished” speech on board the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, declaring that the war in Iraq had ended in victory. Of course, it wasn’t over, and by the time we pulled out eight years later, it was pretty clear that America hadn’t won. Saddam Hussein was gone but the country had descended into years of horrific, violent chaos, and it ain’t over. And for what? Saddam was never shown to have anything to do with 9/11 or Osama bin Laden. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was toothless.
But it was much worse than pointless. Removing Saddam eliminated neighboring Iran’s worst enemy, allowing the Islamic Republic to emerge as the regional superpower. Indeed, it would be fair to say that Iran was the biggest winner from the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Listen to U.S. News owner Mortimer Zuckerman, one of the invasion’s most outspoken boosters. Here he is in October 2002, in one of his many get-Saddam editorials in the run-up to the invasion: “We are in a war against terrorism, and we must fight that war in a time and a place of our choosing. The war’s next phase, clearly, is Iraq.” Now, here he is four years later, in December 2006: “Question: What’s the most dangerous geopolitical development in the 21st century? Answer: Iran’s emergence as the Middle East regional superpower.” And here he is again in April 2007: “Ironically, Iran has been the great beneficiary of the war in Iraq.”
In other words, the Iraq invasion, which Zuckerman spent months demanding, resulted in “the most dangerous geopolitical development in the 21st century.” So what’s he up to now? Well, last week, even before the chemical weapons bombshell, he was calling the administration’s cautious approach “feeble” and urging some sort of stepped up involvement—either military engagement or full-scale arming of the rebels.
All this doesn’t make Zuckerman a bad man. But it does make him and his neoconservative allies extremely unreliable guides to the uncertain politics of the Middle East. The crowd that pushed us into Iraq created a disaster. And now they’re calling for firm action in Syria.
We know what they didn’t understand about Iraq. So what are they getting wrong about Syria?
In the first few days after the Boston bombings, liberal pundits (like David Sirota, Cenk Uygur and Michael Shure) were hoping aloud that the perpetrators would turn out to be “white” rather than Muslim or Middle Eastern, so that the incident wouldn’t further inflame grass-roots anti-Muslim passions. Well, it looks like this was a twofer — perpetrators who turn out to be both Muslim and white, ethnic Chechens from the Caucasus region of South Russia. You can’t get much more Caucasian than that.
There’s much we still don’t know about the Tsarnaev brothers, including whether or not they actually were responsible for the April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon. Given the volume of evidence visible so far, though, it’s not too soon to start drawing some lessons. In fact, we might as well start right away, because this incident just might force us to reconsider a lot of what we think we know about jihad terrorism and the larger questions of radical “Islamism” and politicized religion in general.
The fact that the brothers are ethnic Chechens is critical. It’s probably important, too, that they spent most of their lives growing up outside the boundaries of Chechnya. It seems pretty clear that the brothers were raised to value their Chechen identity as central to their sense of self. And yet they were strangers to Chechnya. Even before they came to America in 2003, they lived mostly in nearby Dagestan and Kyrgyzstan, both of them Muslim-majority ex-Soviet republics, where the Tsarnaevs were part of an outsider ethnic-Chechen minority. So while the brothers reportedly felt like outsiders in America—claimed they didn’t have American friends, didn’t “understand Americans,” even after living here a full decade—they were also outsiders to Chechnya. They belonged to both, and yet neither.
Now look at the map. Chechnya is a rough Muslim region in the Caucasus Mountains, wedged between Christian Georgia to its south and Christian Russia to its north, with fellow-Muslim regions of Ingushetia to the west and Dagestan to the east. It’s been at war with its Russian overlords on and off for close to two centuries, but the wars of the last two decades, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have been particularly bloody. The core of the conflict is independence. It had little to do with religion, other than the fact that religion — mostly the moderate Sufi version of Islam — is a big part of what defines Chechen ethnicity. Radical Salafi preachers with a loose connection to Al Qaeda started showing up only in the last decade or so, accompanying foreign Muslim volunteers who came to join the fight.
From Tuesday’s Yediot Ahronot, as translated in the emailed Daily News Update of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace comes a fairly detailed description by Alex Fishman of John Kerry’s game plan for restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Fishman is Yediot’s veteran, impeccably well-sourced military affairs correspondent. He attributes this information to State Department sources. It doesn’t appear on line (neither in Hebrew nor English) so I’m posting the Abraham Center’s translation below in full.
In brief, Fishman reports that Kerry is aiming for a 4-way meeting in Amman between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the United States and Jordan. (Kerry is very eager to have Jordan step in as a sponsor of peace talks, both to give Abbas some substantive Arab backing and to give King Abdullah II a boost.) You’ll note at once that Abbas is already refusing to attend without a clear gesture from Israel. In the past he’s demanded a full Israeli settlement freeze. Lately he’s begun demanding a map showing Bibi Netanyahu’s notion of a future Palestinian state. As I’ve reported in the past, Abu Mazen has been refusing to talk to Bibi (after willingly talking to Ehud Olmert before him) because his sense is that Bibi has no intention of ever ceding enough land for a real state. The idea of the map is to show that the talks will go somewhere, so Abu Mazen doesn’t enter a dead end and end up looking like a fool.
So if you stop reading after paragraph 2, you get the sense that Kerry’s plan is dead in the water. But Fishman goes on to report that Kerry thinks he can eventually get Bibi to give up some lesser concessions that will satisfy Abu Mazen and get the talks started. The two sides’ notions of final borders are impossibly far apart at this point, but Kerry is aiming for an interim agreement on Israel ceding 80% of the West Bank as a first stage. It’s a long shot, but who knows? So were the 1969 Mets…
The Kerry Plan
By Alex Fishman, Yediot Ahronot, April 9, 2013
The new American secretary of state, John Kerry, is trying to get Israel and the Palestinians to sit down to a four-way meeting in Jordan. The answer he’s received from Abu Mazen, at least for the time being, has been flat out refusal.
Ynet.co.il, the news site associated with Yediot Ahronot, has a profile of incoming Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (known since his youth by the nickname “Boogy”). It’s important reading, so I’ve translated it below.
Here’s the background that’s not in the profile: Born Moshe Smilansky in 1950, raised in suburban Haifa, he was active in the Noar Oved ve-Lomed youth movement and was in a garin (settlement group) named Garin Yaalon (from which he took his name), which joined with a sister garin from American Habonim to rebuild Kibbutz Grofit near Eilat. He returned to the army after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and rose through the ranks. Commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, became chief of Military Intelligence in 1995 and chief of Central Command, in charge of the West Bank, in 1998. During this period he underwent a famous conversion from left- to right-wing, claiming publicly that he now realized the Palestinians had no intention of making peace. In 2002 he became chief of staff, serving three years after Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz denied him the customary fourth-year extension due to his outspoken opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan. It’s worth noting that of the 18 living ex-chiefs of the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet, he is the only one who opposes a two-state solution. - JJG
Political Hawk and Loose Tongue
Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon called his General Staff colleagues “snakes” and the organizations on the left “a virus.” He believes that evacuating settlements is “perverse” and that the IDF can attack any nuclear installation in Iran. Over the years Yaalon’s statements have reflected a determined, activist security philosophy. In his gunsights: leftists, Turks and of course Ehud Barak.
By Roy Mandel, Ynet 3/18/13
In April 2012 Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon absorbed criticism at home when he dared to declare that he was Benjamin Netanyahu’s heir and would one day run for the leadership of the Likud and the country. The prime minister, as we learned from the negotiations with Yair Lapid, does not like politicians who openly declare that the house on Balfour Street is the object of their dreams. But ever so quietly, under the radar and almost without opposition, the former chief of staff has found himself in an excellent launching pad for the fulfillment of his vision, now that he has been named defense minister in Israel’s 33rd government. The man who declared on the day he was demobilized from the IDF that he was careful to keep his boots on at General Staff headquarters because of all the snakes will soon enter much taller shoes and march in them to his new office, which is located in the same General Staff compound, the Kiryah.
Moshe Yaalon, ID no. 2057989, is a kibbutznik who returned to active duty after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a retired chief of staff, the commander of the IDF during the second half of the second intifada and a person who ended his military service in grating tones when his tenure was not extended on the eve of the Gaza disengagement. Now, after a term as minister for strategic affairs, he is returning to run the entire system.
The man who led a hawkish line at the General Staff and in the government, who believed that Yasser Arafat had never deviated from his goal of destroying the state of Israel, who insisted that the paradigm of two states for two peoples was unworkable—will now navigate the security establishment, effectively oversee millions of Palestinians and deal with Israel’s security and strategic challenges. Many on the dovish side of the political and military map fear that his line will drag Israel into diplomatic and security complications.
The Guardian cites a new report from Price Waterhouse Cooper Consulting saying the world is on track for an average global temperature increase of 6 degrees C (10.8 F) by the end of the century at current rates of carbon emission, with catastrophic implications for human life.
New research by consultancy giant PwC finds an unprecedented 5.1 per cent annual cut in global emissions per unit of GDP, known as carbon intensity, is needed through to 2050 if the world is to avoid the worst effects of climate change and meet an internationally agreed target of limiting average temperature increases to just two degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Such deep reductions in carbon intensity would be over six times greater than the 0.8 per cent average annual cuts achieved since 2000.
The report also confirms that greatest rises in greenhouse gas emissions came from the emerging E7 economies of China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Indonesia and Turkey, whose cumulative 7.4 per cent annual increase in emissions swamped record levels of reductions in the UK, France, and Germany.
PwC warns sustained economic growth in these countries could “lock in” high carbon assets that will make it significantly harder for them to decarbonise over the coming decades, a point likely to be raised at the UN-backed Doha Climate Summit when it kicks off later this month.
It also warns that industrialised countries must accelerate their partially successful efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
In what seems a pretty clear message to the world (“Hey, guys, we’re still the open democracy you thought we were”), Turkey has chosen a Jewish pop star, Can Bonomo, to represent it at this year’s Eurovision song contest May 22-26 in Baku, Azerbaijan. JTA’s Ron Kampeas reports that the choice has stirred some grumbling in the Turkish media and the singer mostly wants to avoid talking about his background. From what I can gather from Turkey’s English-language media (here, here and here, for example), the topic is being trod sort of delicately. There’s some debate over why a relative newbie (his first album came out a year ago) was chosen instead of a veteran. But the local music scene seems to be excited.
On the other hand, a quick Youtube search immediately turns up this clip showing a mainstream TV news interview with Bonomo and a bit of his music with some scary superimposed references to “Illuminati,” “Masonik” and “Yahudi.”
Bonomo lives in Istanbul and represents what’s being called “the Istanbul sound.” He claims the Kinks and the Beatles among his influences. He’s originally from Izmir, formerly known as Smyrna, famed in Jewish lore as the birthplace of another international Jewish rock star, the false messiah Shabbetai Zvi. According to Kampeas, he says his family came to Turkey 540 years ago, which would put it at 1472. I wonder if somebody didn’t accidentally add 20 years to what was more likely 520 years ago, or 1492.
His sound is distinctly Middle Eastern and very infectious. Here’s a clip:
You know what they say: One is an anomaly, two is a coincidence, three is a trend. What about four? That’s how many leading commentators have weighed in over the past week with astonishingly gloomy prognoses about Israel’s future. They come from both left and right. The consensus is that the Jewish state is on the brink of a precipice.
The rightists seem to think there’s nothing Israel could do about it. The leftists say Israel could adjust its policies to respond to the changing realities in its region, but they don’t think Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to do it and they don’t see a more flexible, pragmatic government getting elected any time soon.
The titles include “Can Israel Survive?,” by neoconservative strategic affairs analyst Victor Davis Hanson, in the September 22 National Review Online; “Is Israel Over?” by Israeli dove-turned-hawk historian Benny Morris, in the September 11 Daily Beast; “Israel: Adrift at Sea Alone” by Thomas Friedman in the September 17 New York Times, and “Digging in, the essence of Netanyahu’s foreign policy” by Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn, which was published in his paper’s September 16 weekend edition and has since been quoted, analyzed, dissected and massaged in dozens of journals around the globe.
The make a variety of arguments, but Benn’s opening paragraph tells you most of what they’re all getting at:
Some days it’s just not worth getting out of bed. Here are some top headlines from today’s Haaretz.com. After the jump, some top headlines from Ynet-Yediot.
Turkish officials tell Hurriyet Daily News that Turkish navy will strengthen presence in eastern Mediterranean Sea to stop Israeli ‘bullying’.
Israeli passengers authorities at Istanbul airport humiliated them and made them undress to their underwear; Officials in Ankara say Turkish tourists subjected to same treatment evening before at Israel airport.
Dozens of Israelis say they were humiliated at Istanbul airport, forced to strip to their underwear on Monday; Foreign Ministry officials say humiliation of Turkish citizens happens on regular basis in Israel.
Although official denies wall is to protect Israeli mission, move follows repeated angry protests outside embassy.
Previous media reports said that Egypt had begun operations to close smuggling tunnels under its border with the Gaza Strip.
Benjamin Netanyahu urges attendees of weekly government meeting to ‘maintain balance between social sensitivity and economic responsibility’; says Trajtenberg Committee recommendations to be published within two weeks.
In a video address to the Israel 2021 Conference on Sunday, Netanyahu warned that the government must maintain economic discipline, lest Israel deteriorate to the level seen in other countries, which have let the reins go.
WATCH LIVE: International confab aims to boost Israel’s cooperation with Arab world; Bank of Israel chief: Cut in trade with Turkey will be ‘expensive’; Peres: Relations are more important than borders.
After it emerges that Shin Bet and MI were ordered to keep mum on certain pieces of intelligence pertaining to the escalation in south, MK Shaul Mofaz accuses PM, Defense Minister of being a danger to the functioning of Israel’s security organizations.
… Sources in the committee pointed out Netanyahu and Barak’s decision to allow Egyptian military units in to Sinai without the Knesset’s approval – and the recent row between Netanyahu and Mofaz over Israel’s unpreparedness for the Palestinian independence bid – as further examples to the breakdown of relations between the Israeli security apparatus and the committee that is charged with its oversight.
Next: Headlines from today’s Ynetnews.com: