Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler
Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Tuesday, November 13.
1) Diehl vs. Obama
A few weeks ago, in A short guide to the Benghazi issue, Barry Rubin wrote:
As noted above, the establishment view today is that America has been
a bully in the past, acting unilaterally and not respecting the views
of others. Obama has said this directly when speaking to foreign —
including Middle Eastern — audiences.
A few days ago, in The red flags in Obama's foreign policy, Jackson Diehl wrote:
But how does one stop being a bully? By showing that one isn’t tough and
doesn’t protect one’s interests fiercely. Thus, in the Benghazi case,
the U.S. government didn’t send the ambassador to Benghazi with
Americans to guard him, nor did the consulate have Americans to provide
security. To do so would be to show disrespect for the Libyans, to act
in a way that might be perceived of as imperialistic.
Similarly, the president would not call in an airstrike against the
attackers or send an armed rescue team to the consulate because to do so
would have signaled an arrogance and aggressiveness, putting Americans
first and not acting as a citizen of the world.
Is “leading from behind” an unfair monicker for this? Then call it
the light footprint doctrine. It’s a strategy that supposes that patient
multilateral diplomacy can solve problems like Iran’s pursuit of a
nuclear weapons capability; that drone strikes can do as well at
preventing another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland as do ground
forces in Afghanistan; that crises like that of Syria can be left to the
U.N. Security Council.
There are similarities in these two critiques. (There are also
significant differences. Diehl sees Obama's misreading of the situation
in Libya as a tactical failure that likely will be repeated elsewhere,
not necessarily as part of a larger conceptual failure to understand the
Middle East as Rubin does.) Both however fault the Obama administration
for not comprehending the dangers to America interests in Libya.
For the last couple of years, the light footprint worked well enough to
allow Obama to turn foreign policy into a talking point for his
reelection. But the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi,
Libya, on Sept. 11 should have been a red flag to all who believe this
president has invented a successful new model for U.S. leadership. Far
from being an aberration, Benghazi was a toxic byproduct of the light
footprint approach — and very likely the first in a series of
But ultimately the disaster in Libya derived from Obama’s doctrine.
Having been reluctantly dragged by France and Britain into intervening
in Libya’s revolution, Obama withdrew U.S. planes from the fight as
quickly as possible; when the war ended, the White House insisted that
no U.S. forces stay behind. Requests by Libya’s fragile transition
government for NATO’s security assistance were answered with an
ill-conceived and ultimately failed program to train a few people in
Diehl's critique is notable for another reason. Diehl is a member of the
Washington Post's editorial board, which enthusiastically endorsed
President Obama for another term. Unfortunately his critique did little
to dampen the enthusiasm of the endorsement.
2) Friedman vs. Israel
Thomas Friedman used the occasion of President Obama's re-election to
return to his favorite topic: bashing Israel, in his Sunday column My President is busy. Aside from demonstrating his ignorance about suing Google, Friedman makes a couple of mistakes.
You should be so lucky that the president feels he has the time,
energy and political capital to spend wrestling with Bibi to forge a
peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I don’t see it anytime soon.
Obama has his marching orders from the American people: Focus on
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, not on Bethlehem, Palestine, and focus on
getting us out of quagmires (Afghanistan) not into them (Syria). No, my
Israeli friends, it’s much worse than you think: You’re home alone.
Since he has nothing substantive to criticize Israel for, he returns to
the trope about the demographic threat. But the occupation has, for the
most part, been over since late 1995. The only remaining need is to
establish the boundaries of a Palestinian state. However now Fatah, due
to Abbas's mismanagement, is too weak to make a deal and Hamas cannot be
trusted to make one, what is Israel to do? Obama could insist on a
deal, but it would never work. It is good not "unhealthy" that he ignore
the Palestinian issue right now.
Is this good for Israel? No. It is unhealthy. The combination of
America’s internal focus, the post-Arab awakening turmoil and the
exhaustion of Palestinians means Israel can stay in the West Bank
indefinitely at a very low short-term cost but at a very high long-term
cost of losing its identity as a Jewish democracy. If Israelis want to
escape that fate, it is very important that they understand that we’re
not your grandfather’s America anymore.
To begin with, the rising political force in America is not the one
with which Bibi has aligned Israel. As the Israeli columnist Ari Shavit
noted in the newspaper Haaretz last week: “In the past, both the Zionist
movement and the Jewish state were careful to be identified with the
progressive forces in the world. ... But in recent decades more and more
Israelis took to leaning on the reactionary forces in American society.
It was convenient to lean on them. The evangelists didn’t ask difficult
questions about the settlements, the Tea Party people didn’t say a word
about excluding women and minorities or about Jewish settlers’ attacks
and acts of vandalism against Palestinians and peace activists. The
Republican Party’s white, religious, conservative wing was not agitated
when the Israeli Supreme Court was attacked and the rule of law in
Israel was trampled.” Israel, Shavit added, assumed that “under the
patronage of a radical, rightist America we can conduct a radical,
rightist policy without paying the price.” No more. Netanyahu can still
get a standing ovation from the Israel lobby, but not at U.C.L.A.
Seth Mandel wrote an excellent rejoinder
to the Shavit argument that Friedman embraces. Frankly, I don't know if
Shimon Peres would have been warmly received at UCLA during the 1990's.
The problem isn't Israeli policy or politics, but the vicious hatred of
Israel perpetuated in certain precincts during the past several
decades. Friedman, with his bashing of Israel provides cover for this
ugliness. (If his reference here to the "Israel lobby" is a sly
reference to Congress, then he is part of the vast anti-Israel crowd.)
The other day, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2, President
Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority declared: “Palestine for me
is the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital. This is
Palestine. I am a refugee. I live in Ramallah. The West Bank and Gaza is
Palestine. Everything else is Israel.”
The most charitable explanation for Abbas's statement was that it was a public relations gambit to change Israeli public opinion. However, as Khaled Abu Toameh pointed out, Abbas's own campaign to define the right of return as "sacred"
meant that there's little support among the Palestinian public for any
sort of compromise. There is plenty of blame to assign to the
Palestinians for the lack of a final agreement; one only criticizes
Israel exclusively if one is willfully ignorant.
This was a big signal, but Bibi scorned it. The Israeli novelist David
Grossman wrote an open letter to Netanyahu in Haaretz, taking him to
task: “This is a bit embarrassing, but I will remind you, Mr. Netanyahu,
that you were elected to lead Israel precisely in order to discern
these rare hints of opportunity, in order to transform them into a
possible lever to extricate your country from the impasse in which it
has been stuck for decades.”
3) Women power
In her Sunday Observer column Carol Giacomo of the New York Times wrote Women Fight to Define the Arab Spring:
Even in Tunisia, where secularists have a stronger voice and Ennahda
has espoused more temperate views than most Islamist parties, women had
to take to the streets in protest over efforts by some of the more
conservative assembly members to dilute protections for women contained
in a 1956 law. The Islamists wanted language in the constitution to say
that the roles of men and women are “complementary.” The secularists,
fearful of ceding any ground, insisted that men and women should have
“the same rights and duties” and added an assurance that the state will
guarantee women’s rights. Ennahda leaders say that the final document
will unambiguously endorse gender equality and universal rights. But
until the constitution is formally adopted, no one can be sure.
How's that working out in Egypt?
Still, the Arab Spring has allowed Muslim girls and women to dream big
dreams. “For young girls to now tell me they want to be the future
president, minister of defense, these are things I never imagined,” Ms.
Murabit wrote in an e-mail. But enshrining rights in a constitution and
making sure they are carried out are big challenges.
An article at the Muslim Brotherhood's website last week tells us:
On family and women, article 68 states equality between men and women
without prejudice to the provisions of Islamic law; so international
treaties that call for violating Sharia in any way cannot achieve such
purposes, like attempts to legalize homosexuality or sexual relations
outside wedlock, and so on.
I'm skeptical that is a Western conception of equality. Even so Elder of Ziyon observes:
The constitution itself deals with religion somewhat inconsistently;
while it says "Islam is the state religion" and "the principles of
Islamic Sharia are the main sources of legislation" it also calls for
equality of various groups depending on which draft is being used. For example, the language saying that women are equal to men has recently been dropped from the document. Other drafts seemed to allow freedom of religion only to Christians and Jews, and no others.
Fortunately the astute folks at the New York Times know where the real
problem with gender equality is. A recent opinion article More Women, but Not Nearly Enough, argues:
Does this mean the next Congress will be more attentive to the needs
of children, single mothers and Americans who are vulnerable because of
low income, poor health and other disadvantages? Sadly, no. Our research
shows that female lawmakers significantly reshape policies only when
they have true parity with men. In other words, while Tuesday’s
electoral gains should be celebrated, we’ve got a very long way to go.
Glad to know that the New York Times has its priorities straight.
Labels: Abu Mazen, Barack Hussein Obama, Benghazigate, leading from behind, Middle East Media Sampler, Muslim treatment of women, New York Times, right of return, Soccer Dad, Tom Friedman