Recently published analyses teach the following lessons:
Lesson 1. The Arab uprisings are not necessarily democratic in nature, and liberal readiness to back them — morally or with arms and material aid — is at best foolhardy romanticism. We should stand back and avoid getting involved. Why undermine existing regimes when the replacement might be no better and possibly much worse?
Lesson 2. The Arab uprisings show that ruthless dictators are finished, and proves the wrongheadedness of previous administrations’ willingness to work with them rather than seek their removal. The failure of the Obama administration and the rest of the liberal West to back the brave Syrian rebels shows the liberals’ hypocrisy and unwillingness to stand up to tyranny.
Lesson 3. The uprisings show that the Arab street never cared about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What Arab citizens care about are their own lives and welfare, not the Palestinians. It is misguided and reckless to assume that granting concessions to the Palestinians will improve Arab attitudes toward America or the West. Palestinian rights are just not on the minds of ordinary Arabs.
Lesson 4. The uprisings show that peace agreements are foolish because any regime that signs an agreement with Israel could be gone tomorrow and you can’t expect the replacements to honor the agreements. Successor regimes will be under more pressure from the Arab street to turn against Israel, if only to gain popularity with the public. Not that the Arab public cares about Israel (see 3 above). Agreements with Arab governments are unreliable because Arab governments are unstable. Successor governments will be more vulnerable to popular moods and less able to defy public hostility toward Israel.
Sub-Lesson 4(a). The Palestinian Authority’s refusal to commence negotiations with no preconditions is unreasonable. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is naturally unwilling to resume talks where they broke off during the former government of Ehud Olmert and rejects the terms that Olmert had already put on the table — including a future border based on the 1967 Green Line, the Jordan Valley under Palestinian control and a divided Jerusalem. Netanyahu has a different assessment of Israeli security needs and is not bound by his predecessor’s assessments. The Israeli electorate repudiated the Olmert concessions when it chose Netanyahu as its prime minister in 2009. Elections have consequences (except U.S. elections, which should not affect undertakings by previous presidents — they’re supposed to be sacred).
Note: All of the linked articles making the above arguments are taken directly from the Daily Alert, a comprehensive digest of news and commentary chosen to discredit Palestinian moderation and maximize fears of Israeli vulnerability, prepared daily for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Your charity dollars at work.
Why should Israel have to freeze new Jewish housing construction in East Jerusalem, when it has already conceded so much and the Palestinians and their Arab patrons have given up so little?
Well, for one thing, that Israel-gave-lots/Arabs-gave-little equation is not as cut and dry as it seems. But that’s a separate discussion for another day. The essential question is this: America says it needs the freeze for reasons of American security. Does Israel owe it to America to answer American security needs as America answers Israel’s security needs? And if it doesn’t, what are the consequences?
Haaretz has two opinion essays right now arguing that Israel should freeze construction because it needs to stop Iran’s nuclear project and it needs America to lead the effort. One piece is by Ari Shavit, the prolific and unpredictable center-left interviewer/essayist. Its bottom line is that Bibi Netanyahu has boxed himself into a corner through a series of missteps over the past year and he needs to do something dramatic to get himself out of it:
The road to Iran also passes through Palestine. The price of stopping the centrifuges is giving up settlements. Only if Netanyahu acts with determination in this spirit can he right the great injustice he has done to himself over the past year. Only Netanyahu can save Netanyahu from destruction.
The other piece is considerably more substantive and compelling. It’s by Ephraim Sneh, a reserve brigadier general, former West Bank civil administration head (military governor), former deputy defense minister, former transportation minister, former health minister (he’s also an MD). Unlike Shavit he stays away from personal issues of Netanyahu versus Obama and sticks to a cold analysis of Israeli strategic interest.
Sneh lays out 10 “assumptions” that he says must be taken into account when attempting to unravel the current “fundamental and serious” crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. I won’t try to summarize them, because Sneh presents them in a terse, compelling flow. Here’s how he puts it:
Just when you thought it was safe to leave the house:
Author and former Giuliani speechwriter John Avlon posts, in a new blog post at TheDailyBeast.com, offers some mind-boggling numbers from new Harris poll. I’ll let him speak for himself:
On the heels of health care, a new Harris poll reveals Republican attitudes about Obama: Two-thirds think he’s a socialist, 57 percent a Muslim—and 24 percent say “he may be the Antichrist.”
To anyone who thinks the end of the health-care vote means a return to civility, wake up. Obama Derangement Syndrome—pathological hatred of the president posing as patriotism—has infected the Republican Party. Here’s new data to prove it:
• 67 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Americans overall) believe that Obama is a socialist. The belief that Obama is a “domestic enemy” is widely held—a sign of trouble yet to come.
• 57 percent of Republicans (32 percent overall) believe that Obama is a Muslim
• 45 percent of Republicans (25 percent overall) agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was “not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president”
• 38 percent of Republicans (20 percent overall) say that Obama is “doing many of the things that Hitler did”
• Scariest of all, 24 percent of Republicans (14 percent overall) say that Obama “may be the Antichrist.”
• Respondents without a college education are vastly more likely to believe such claims, while Americans with college degrees or better are less easily duped.
The numbers come from a Louis Harris poll that surveyed 2,230 people “right at the height of the health-care reform debate,” Avlon writes. His conclusion:
This poll is the latest and most detailed evidence of the extent to which Wingnuts are hijacking our politics. It should be a wakeup call to all Americans and a collective reminder, as we move past health-care reform, that we need to stand up to extremism.
For the record, he’s identified as the author of a new book titled Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America.
The Harris poll is supposed to be coming out officially on Wednesday.
Just about the best analysis of Obama’s Nobel that I have yet seen is this op-ed essay by Alon Pinkas, former Israeli consul general in New York and a close ally of Ehud Barak (that’s more a compliment to Barak than to Alon).
His main point is that, as I argued in an earlier blog post, the radically different American presence that Obama brings to the world stage is in itself a substantive achievement. Here’s how Alon puts it:
Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize because of an intellectual effort, rather than diplomatic action. He won for his attempt to shatter old thinking and formulate policy and diplomacy of cooperation, not because of his achievements…
Alon elaborates on how the Nobel committee treats such “intellectual efforts”:
A close examination of the history of Nobel Peace Prizes attests to considerable expansion of the term and conditions for granting the prize. Henri Kissinger was awarded a Nobel for the agreement to end the fighting and bring peace to Vietnam – but there was neither an end to fighting nor peace. The same was true of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Arafat, who received the prize in 1994. In both cases the Nobel was awarded for breaking paradigms, an effort to shatter an intellectual impasse, and political courage, rather than achievements.
The Dalai Lama worked for peace and received the prize in 1989. Yet it’s difficult to quantify his contribution to peace. It’s also difficult to say that IAEA Chief Mohammed ElBaradei, who was awarded the prize in 2005, contributed to world peace in a more concrete manner than Barak Obama. The apex was of course in 2007, when the prize was given to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In the expanding world of the term “peace,” Al Gore contributed to world peace by encouraging international cooperation on a worldwide problem.
Peace is mostly a journey, not a destination. The Nobel is memorable in large part because of its naming of the beacons that light the way forward, like the pillar of fire that was placed for us in Sinai.
Also useful reading on the Nobel is this blog post by E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post. He does a good job of going through the various takes (at least the minimally respectable ones) for and against the award and deconstructs them. One of his best points: he “liked Harold Meyerson’s take that the award should have gone to the American electorate for changing our country’s approach to the world.”
Late addition (call it my Monday-morning self-quarterbacking) is this counterpoint by Ross Douthat, the current conservative columnist on the New York Times op-ed page:
True, Obama didn’t ask for this. It was obvious, from his halting delivery and slightly shamefaced air last Friday, that he wishes the Nobel committee hadn’t put him in this spot.
But he still wasn’t brave enough to tell it no.
Obama gains nothing from the prize. No domestic constituency will become more favorably disposed to him because five Norwegians think he’s already changed the world — and the Republicans were just handed the punch line for an easy recession-era attack ad. (To quote the Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, anticipating the 30-second spots to come: “He got a Nobel Prize. What did you get? A pink slip.”)
Overseas, there was nobody, from Paris to Peshawar, who woke up Friday more disposed to work with the United States because of the Nobel committee’s decision — and plenty of more seasoned statesman who woke up laughing. …
But by accepting the prize, he’s made failure, if and when it comes, that much more embarrassing and difficult to bear. What’s more, he’s etched in stone the phrase with which critics will dismiss his presidency.