Friday, September 28, 2012

Foreign policy and the LALA doctrine.

The name of this blog Against the Current is accurate. But I don’t relish it. It saddens me. My latest disappointment comes upon finding that many with whom I agree on a great variety of issues, hold views that I consider to be untenable and even offensive when it comes to foreign policy.  

I have said on this blog and elsewhere that foreign policy is out of my comfort zone – not my area of expertise. So now, provoked by my discomfort, I am taking the plunge. I don’t think I can avoid it any longer. Please accept these thoughts as very much the ruminations of an amateur with much to learn. 

For clarity of exposition, permit me the inaccurate extensive use of the terms “we,” “us,” “they,” and “them”.  Many of my friends take the L A L A approach – leave them alone and they will leave us alone.” I think in many (most) cases, they may be right. But surely not in all cases. In most cases it may not matter. The default position should be “leave them alone.” We should not, without overwhelming evidence, assume that they are a real threat to us, one that justifies the kind of interventions that have occurred. I would argue our best position is mostly to wait and see and respond when absolutely necessary. Preemption may be indicated, but it needs to be very carefully justified. 

I cannot but condemn much of the past and present actions of our international agencies and special forces who violate the freedoms and rights of domestic and foreign citizens sometimes with massive and enduring humanitarian consequences. The lack of success of almost all of our foreign invasions should give us pause as to what we can and should try to achieve. These “war actions” are types of central-planning and, as such, are doomed to fail. They face impossible knowledge problems in trying to build or rebuild societies and they face impossible incentive problems that prevent proper oversight, the detection and prevention of enormous waste and corruption. They are a very big part of our overgrown government and runaway fiscal problems, and are serious threats to the cause of freedom. Much more could, should and has been said about this – for example

But, sometimes the threat IS real and significant. The tricky part is knowing when it is and (just as important) what to do about it. In these cases the LALA principle may not work. 

The LALA principle rests on the assumption that it is OUR actions, our interventions, that are responsible for the hatred directed against us. The attack of 9/11 would not have occurred but for the cumulative affect of our provocative actions. This type of assertion meets with a very hostile reception. It seems to carry unpalatable moral implications, excusing acts of terror. And its proponents mostly poison the chances of it receiving adequate consideration by the contemptuous and patronizing way in which they present it. It may, however, be true. The traction and support that terrorists receive may be a result of the groundswell of resentment that we have created. The problem is, this is impossible to prove either way. And appeals to the history yield conflicting interpretations. This is no more evident that in the case of Israel vis a vis its enemies. In many ways the Israel-Palestinian situation is a microcosm of the bigger picture. 

Some have asserted that (radical Islam) Islamism is a creature of our making and did not exist as a force until recently. But this is very contentious. Pan-Arabism, and the commitment to a unified Arabia cleansed of foreign influence, had strong affinities to Islamism. And the early Muslim Brotherhood, through its sister organization led by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem (an active Nazi propagandist), effectively disrupted any attempt at the establishment a peaceful two-state solution as conceived by the British partition plan and as embraced by many Jews and Arabs alike in 1948. Everything that has transpired since then is basically an unfolding of this initial fateful turn of events.   

Applying the LALA principle to Israel in light of the history from 1948 till today, makes little sense to me. There the threat is real. And it is an existential threat. There is a fundamental asymmetry of goals. “Leave them alone” will not suffice to placate them, because they don’t want Israel there – see here. It is not what Israel does that is the problem – though it may aggravate the problem. It is where and what Israel is. 

So my LALA friends who seem to think that all that needs to be done is to force the parties to sit down and talk, are sadly and dangerously deluded. Any attempt to achieve real peaceful coexistence has to begin with a plan to get acceptance of Israel’s right to exist by those who have power in the Arab world. Clearly some of my LALA friends understand this. So, they conclude maybe it is for the best if Israel did not exist. It is this kind of cavalier conclusion that shuts down any type of civil discourse. It stinks of anti-Semitism. See also here

But this really has little to do with American foreign policy fundamentals. LALAs should refrain from statements that indicate how little they understand or appreciate the threats that Israel faces. Their position opposing government foreign aid and military intervention does NOT imply an anti-Israel position. It does not imply the need to vilify Israel or call for its demise. It does not imply denying the right of Israelis to defend themselves. 

Thus while we might oppose any government funding of settlements and any coercive displacement of Palestinians to facilitate the establishment of settlements (as I do), we cannot, in good conscience, require of Israel to dismantle its checkpoints, dismantle its fence, and generally stand down in its attempt to combat acts of terror. That makes no sense. These measures have proven incredibly effective in keeping Israel’s population safe after suffering for years a horrendous barrage of attacks directed specifically against civilians, where they live, shop, learn, and play. These measures create great hardships, but, in the final analysis, they are effectively imposed on Israel as much as they are imposed on the Palestinians, by the presence of a real, credible, significant, terrifying danger. Similarly, calls for Israel to withdraw to 1967 borders, or beyond, make no sense. The same threats that exist now, existed before 1967 all the way back to 1948, except that Israel was defending less secure borders. The settlements are not the fundamental obstacle to peace. Nor is the “occupation.” The refusal to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and actions taken in support of that, are the fundamental problems. The LALA principle does not apply. 

On the matter of foreign policy more generally, I am much less confident. When considering the state of the Muslim world in general, and especially the ubiquity and nature of Islamic fundamentalism, I find it difficult to believe that all of the resentment we face can be attributed to our actions. There is a definite chicken-egg problem. But this may be no obstacle to a the achievement of a much smaller foreign footprint. Careful, but sensible and effective diligence may be called for rather than grand interventions. 

The case of Iran is very problematic because we cannot be sure we are dealing with a “rational” opponent, one that can be deterred. The LALAs are confident that we are, that even if Iran were to get the bomb, they would be no more dangerous than Pakistan (not much comfort there) and would never use it for fear of the kind of retaliation it would provoke. Distorted news reporting on both sides make a good assessment very difficult. 

War with Iran is becoming more likely. The trumpets are sounding. I think it would be a big mistake – a worse proposition than Iraq or Afghanistan. But what is the correct response short of the LALA position? Netanyahu wants to draw a red line around the processing of final-stage enriched uranium. I guess what he means is that if Iran should proceed past that step, its facilities – which are big and visible – should be bombed or otherwise destroyed. Not a full-scale war, but a terrifying prospect nevertheless – where would it lead? 

This is as far as my amateur ruminations take me. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Israel, Obama and the Western tradition

HT: Lawrence Rosenbloom.

It’s hard for me to understand how so many Jews continue to think that Obama is a friend of Israel. The inimitable Melanie Phillips provides ample evidence (albeit just the tip of the iceberg) to show exactly the opposite.

My biggest problem with Obama is not his attitude towards Israel. It’s much more fundamental than this. Obama is quite simply un-American at his core – in everything he stands for and does. By this I mean he is totally out of sympathy with what America has meant to many from its inception – standing for the values of constitutionalized individual freedom and responsibility. He is ashamed of these core values and he has done and will do his best to sabotage them – in socializing medicine, vilifying the profit motive and the achievement of commercial success, regulating financial markets out of existence, solidifying the power of the incredibly destructive public labor unions (being heavily in their debt), destroying the power and incentive to produce cheap energy, and generally expanding the power of government and the structure of taxation to create a European nanny state. The devastation of the last four years is manifest. Everywhere you look you see the establishment of open-ended bureaucracies, empowered by pages and pages of yet-to-be specified rules and regulations handed down by small committees with enormous discretion to control prices and dictate the terms of private transactions. It is impossible to overstate the danger he poses for the long-term freedom and financial stability of each and every American.  And the dangers are all the more daunting because of their insidious nature, hiding as they are beneath the voluminous padding of verbose sweeping regulatory documentation. Obama is, among his other multiple personas, the consummate bureaucratic saboteur, ably assisted by a talented team of like-minded arrogants. The prospect of another four years of this keeps me awake at night.

His stance on Israel is really only a corollary of his general mind-set. He is a European-style universalist and apologist for all the virtues of Western civilization and he regards Israel as a manifestation of that tradition of “Western oppression.” It is just ridiculous to think that Obama represents the party that is in Israel’s interest. It is only because of the powerful Christian bias toward Israel that Obama’s anti-Israel agenda is likely to be ineffective.

For the record: I am not an expert on foreign policy. I have big problems with the policy stance of both major parties – with Romney and Obama, and with the general presumption of the responsibility of America as the world’s policeman. I believe a much less-involved America, would be stronger, would be better both for America and for democracies like Israel. But that is beside the point to what I say above.

Melanie Phillips 

Into my inbox last week popped an email from Michelle Obama. "Thank you for an amazing week... Can you chip in $5 or more to stand with Barack today?"

For some reason, I have been on the Obama campaign mailing list for the past four years -- which is a hoot since, from the get-go, I have warned about Obama's extremist, Black-Power, Israel-hating background and circle, and that he would be a disaster for Israel and the west.

So it has proved. Yet astoundingly there are Jews who believe he has been the most Israel-friendly US president in history.

Which only goes to show the propensity of the liberal mind to outright hallucination when faced with the implosion of its shibboleths. The passion for Israel in the Bible-believing "red states" guarantees a level of support that not even the most virulent White House anti-Zionist could overturn.

But that doesn't mean a president can't undermine Israel by more circuitous means - as Obama has done. He has put Israel at grievous risk by his view of the world, which has neutralised America's power abroad and strengthened its enemies.  

Although we are told he wants to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, his limp dealings have allowed it to continue inexorably with its nuclear programme (despite reports of sabotage) and extend its power in the region.

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to issue a "red line" threat of ultimate force on the grounds that "negotiations are the best approach". But as Bibi protested in the row with Obama that boiled over this week, that allows Iran a clear run to the bomb. By the time the US decides Iran has to be forcibly stopped, it will be too late. It will already have the bomb.

Second, the Obama administration has consistently distanced America from Israel and cosied up instead to its Arab and Muslim attackers. Thus it backed the 2010 nuclear non-proliferation summit that singled out Israel for condemnation while excluding Iran from criticism - and has worked behind the scenes to neutralise Israel's nuclear deterrent, its ultimate defence against genocide.

It went ahead with a special operations exercise with 19 Arab and Muslim countries, while excluding Israel from a counter-terrorism conference at Turkey's insistence.  

Last July, it invited the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and notorious Israel- critic Navi Pillay to "brief" the Security Council on Israel's supposed crimes - and in the process drew an effective moral equivalence between the behaviour of Israel and Syria.

Obama tried to bounce Israel into withdrawing to its 1949 "Auschwitz borders", pressured it over settlement building, which merely hardened Palestinian rejectionism, and failed to hold Mahmoud Abbas responsible for repeatedly declaring he would never accept Israel as a Jewish state. 

Meanwhile, last week's Democratic convention descended into farce when its panicky attempt to restore references deleted from the party's programme to God, and to Jerusalem as Israel's capital, was booed.  

Whether they were booing God, Jerusalem or the clearly out-of-order chairman is irrelevant. There was not even a two-thirds majority to put both deletions back into that Obama-centric programme - which still left out the party's previous rejection of Hamas, the Palestinian demand for unlimited immigration to Israel and any return to the 1949 borders.

This is a shocking way to treat an ally. When that ally is facing existential attack, it is unspeakable.  
Obama is a menace to the security of Israel and the west and an American tragedy. What is astounding is that so many Jews refuse to see this and continue to support both him and his morally bankrupt Democratic Party. That is the Jewish tragedy.