The Spine

Eight Pieces, Really One: Iran, Israel's Military Doctrine, The President And One Dumb Jewish Woman, The Wages of Copenhagen, The Christmas Terrorist, We Should All Stop Talking About The Middle East

By

Jews usually go out to the movies on Christmas ... and then they go out to eat "Chinese." I've spent it writing. Below is my harvest. I wish you all good cheer.

Here are the motifs of my writing day. Alas, none of them cheery.

1. THE REAL GRIM REAPER: HOLY DAY VICTIMS IN IRAQ AND PAKISTAN

2. COLD COMMON SENSE ABOUT IRAN FROM, MIRABILI DICTU, "THE NEW YORK TIMES"

3. A WISE EUROPEAN FOREIGN MINISTER: "WE SHOULD SHUT UP ABOUT THE MIDDLE EAST"

4. A SOBER "TIMES" PIECE ON ISRAELI MILITARY DOCTRINE

5. THE SON OF THE MAN WHO WAS KILLED BY TERRORISTS IN THE WEST BANK: "REVENGE IS NOT FOR JEWS"

6. THE PRESIDENT AND ONE DUMB JEWISH WOMAN, THE ANTI-ANTI-SEMITISM CZARINA IN WASHINGTON

7. COPENHAGEN AND THE UNSEATING OF AMERICA AS A GREAT POWER

8. THE CHRISTMAS TERRORIST 

So here goes:

1. THE REAL GRIM REAPER: HOLY DAY VICTIMS IN IRAQ AND PAKISTAN

There are many grim reapers in our culture: ten of them are enumerated in Wikipedia. Before this proliferation and way back into the 15th century the reaper was depicted as a skeletal "black-cloaked, scythe-wielding personification of death," as William Harris describes the phenomenon in "How Stuff Works." But this was for any death.

The real grim reaper in our civilization--isn't this a contradiction in terms?--is an ordinary-looking Middle Eastern man or woman sequestering a bomb under his ample garb. Some of remaining Christians in the region are always targeted around Christmas, and in Mosul alone a Christian bus driver was ambushed and killed and a 1,200 year-old church was also targeted.

Sunnis took the offensive at the dawn of Ashoura, the holiest days of the Shi'a calendar. At least 27 Shi'a were murdered in Baghdad and in Hillah, where no less than 13 were left dead and 74 injured. Then there were the post-scripts: five dead Shi'a and 16 wounded on their way to the holy city of Karbala; and at a funeral in the capital city nine were taken to their maker and 33 were left injured and maimed.

This, of course, is a common form of warfare in the Arab and Muslim orbits. It is, in fact, a daily form of warfare. And the grim reaper is met with neither shock nor outrage. No Judge Goldstone will judge the perpetrators whose immediate sponsors and slightly more remote sympathizers pontificate and vote in the U.N. Human Rights Council. (On the evidence Goldstone doesn't care a fig about these forms of warfare. Otherwise he would have some concern and actual sympathy for those trying to fight them.) These happenings are so common that almost no one else even notices. The grim reader, indeed.

2. COLD COMMON SENSE ABOUT IRAN FROM, MIRABILI DICTU, "THE NEW YORK TIMES"

The "realists" have given up their concern about the Iranian bomb. Even Hillary Clinton must be embarrassed at stretching out the deadline for doing some decisive--even more and really mere sanctions--further, now into 2010. You may have noticed that the president has left to others, probably without instructions, the issuing of dicta on Iran. One person who has tried to move the discussion in the country towards a truly firm stance on Tehran's aggressive aspirations is Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Bowing towards the White House, Mullen said the preferable way to handle the atomic designs of the Iran is still with diplomacy. Yes, of course.  But the United States must be ready a "military option."

Maybe it already is.  Maybe not.

Alan J. Kuperman, a senior fellow at the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Center of the University of Texas, Austin, made the argument in the Times for taking the military option more or less now. The more you delay the more you encourage. And this scholar on atomic warfare makes a powerful argument for the utility and effectiveness of air strikes. Air strikes without illusions and also air strikes that can be repeated. I know that many TNR readers are appalled by this idea. But just think what happens if the Iranians have the bomb. The deterrence model is nonsense. The risk of heading down that road is much worse, entails much more peril than a readily simple taking out of some nuclear facilities. I also believe that Iranian demos is sensible, very sensible. It will grasp why the ayatollahs are not to be trusted with the bomb. After all, they cannot be trusted with a nightstick.

3.  A WISE EUROPEAN FOREIGN MINISTER: "SHUT UP ABOUT THE MIDDLE EAST"

Surprise! Surprise! Until a few years before the American Revolution Lithuania was the largest country in Europe. It is, of course, no longer that, not even close. Europe itself is actually a mess, while the "Europeans" delude themselves with the idea of Europe, a great phantasy of deeply troubled capitalism.  

Well, why do I mention Lithuania? Not because of its size, although it is a member of the European Union, NATO and the Council of Europe. But because its foreign minister, Vyagaudas Usackas, has noticed something that, frankly, also drives me bananas: the obsession of Europe with Israel and the Palestinians, Israelis, and the Arabs.  "My message that I'm bringing back to my colleagues in EU member states: Stop talking so much about the Middle East."

First of all it is an illusion--no, a delusion--that the Europeans can have any influence on the situation. The hostility of some of their governments towards Israel and of elements in their populations (mostly young, given-to-fashion ultra-leftists, for whom the Palestinians are the new Cubans and Vietnamese, and anti-social unemployed Muslims, many easily prone to riot) alone disqualifies them. Israel does not trust them. For that matter, most Americans don't either.

Russia wants Moscow to be the site of an international peace conference. What credentials, aside from diplomatic ambitions, does the Kremlin bring to the table for such expectations? Perhaps it's membership in the Quartet in which the only effective participant was--don't shoot me--George Bush, who got the principals to agree (vaguely) on a "road map." Tony Blair wasted much time but little energy as the Quartet's rep. Poor man, he's now nobody, a richer nobody, to be sure, but a nobody just the same. I hope he gets satisfaction from his conversion to Roman Catholicism. I really do. Maybe he will stop imitating Hugh Grant in his life.

Spain is about to take its six-month turn as the next president of the European Union. And what do you know? Miguel Angel Moratinos, the country's foreign minister, has already announced his priorities (not about Europe, by the way) at a news briefing in Brussels:  

My idea and my dream ... is to work for having in 2010, finally, a Palestinian state that could live in peace and security with Israel ... It's not going to be easy, but I think it's needed. We need a Palestinian state, the sooner, the better, and that is going to be our objective.

There's an ugly chutzpah in Spain's trying to play a big role in whatever deliberations there between Israel and the Palestinians, which are not only about statehood and borders, but about how to keep a new Palestine from having weapons ... and using them. But the effrontery of Spain making demands on Israel about territorial issues is quite galling. The Spaniards have two and a half territorial dilemmas themselves. They are as urgent to the locals as Palestine is to the Palestinians. The first is the status of the Basque country and Navarre, morally compromised by terrorism much as the Palestinian question is. The second is Catalonia whose just claim for independence should be undeniable. The half-issue is Western Morocco, which subsists under a questionable status of autonomy.  

Besides Spain itself has been declared "unsustainable" by The Economist. Actually "the new sick man of Europe" and nearing its seventh quarter of financial decline, with the highest unemployment (after Latvia) in Europe. Someone should tell the prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero that a country with such financial credentials is just not plausible on any complex matter having to do with territory, economics and historical responsibility.  

The same is true for Greece which will be giving Spain a good run for the money ... oh, this is becoming a bad metaphor. But you know what I mean. Greece is the Dubai of Mediterranean Europe, and worse. It also has strong and irrelevant views on the Israel-Palestine question--irrelevant, given the fact that its settlement with Turkey during 1921-1922 was based on an exchange of populations. I don't think we want to go down that route, do we?

Sweden also has pronounced opinions on the matter. This is an historical conceit for the country. "Neutral" during the Second World War, prosperous from essential trade with the Axis and devoid of any meaningful resistance (as opposed to occupied Denmark and even Quisling Norway), its diplomatic personnel have always tried to limit the defensibility of the Jewish state. Predictably, Sweden tried at the last meeting of "Europe" to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Its proposal was not exactly shot down but defanged. And, anyway, how can a country, the third largest in Europe, with 21 persons per square kilometer, grasp the anxieties of Israel which can be crisscrossed at its population centers in as little as half an hour?

Catherine Ashton (the Baroness Ashton of Upholland), whose designation as High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs I welcomed in the misconception that she was not another Javier Solana, is a very dour lady. No sooner did she open her mouth that she came down on Israel. Hard, very hard. The fence, the security barriers, Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, the occupation itself. I suppose she would like to settle these matters all by herself. I was wrong about her. She did not leave Bertrand Russell's nutsy politics behind. Here is its remnant. For a very intelligent comment on the foreign ministress of Europe read the editorial, "Europe's Israel Obsession," in the European edition of the Wall Street Journal.

The Palestinians declared their independence in 1988, and more than 100 states have recognized it and received (and dispatched) their diplomatic emissaries. This is a joke ... so much a joke that the Palestinian Authority again, during early fall, declared its intention to pronounce itself independent. Yes, once more. Now?  In two years? Does the crowd or the mob, whichever it is, believe this will change anything? Still, there must be ordinary Palestinians (perhaps millions of them) who want real lives without the polemics and disappointments of revenge. They may even be a majority. But no one represents them. Except possibly for Salam Fayyad, the practical visionary swamped by his mad comrades. 

Diplomacy will take place between the two parties. But only when the Palestinians agree that their must be reciprocities in any arrangement. Now, there may be some play diplomacy before that time. But without the reciprocities it will fail.

4.  A SOBER "TIMES" PIECE ON ISRAELI MILITARY DOCTRINE

I respect Isabel Kershner very much, although over years we've had many differences. In person and, from my side, in print. She is accurate and honest, making the two-person team in Jerusalem (the head of the bureau being my friend Ethan Bronner) the best in decades. They are also very smart. They get the intricacies and the subtleties, the underlay and the overlay. They also are, in the requisite manner, sympathetic to both the people of Israel and the Palestinians.

Kershner's dispatch from Israel in the New York Times on Christmas Day, "A Tougher Military Policy Stirs Little Debate in Israel" has a caption above the headline:  "MEMO FROM TEL AVIV." The article reads, in fact, like an explicatory memorandum about why Israel's military doctrine has become more muscular, more implacable, more phrenic and conceptual. And less and less challenged. The truth is that the fragile boundaries of armed war have broken down, and (the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities by the United States aside) the pioneering work of terror as both tactic and strategy has become the common, the preferred way of combat.  

The established rules of war with its old conventions and Conventions put their adherents into what is quite literally a "no win" situation. The people of Israel understand this in their experience, in their guts and in their brains. Which is why the Goldstone report had almost no impact--either moral or psychological--on the populace, although the Israel Defense Forces revealed to the Jerusalem Post today that it was continuing to update its proscribed list of buildings and facilities (1,500 during the Gaza operation) that were off-limits to all air force and ground operations, having added several hundred in the past year.  

The Obama administration has not yet been publicly seized with this matter. But its use of drones and missiles in Pakistan and Afghanistan will hasten the issue onto its agenda. The issue is already being bruited about at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Were it to come to a vote what do you think would be the outcome?

5. THE SON OF THE MAN WHO WAS KILLED BY A TERRORIST IN THE WEST BANK: "REVENGE IS NOT FOR JEWS"

Enuf said.

6. THE PRESIDENT AND ONE DUMB JEWISH WOMAN: THE ANTI-ANTI-SEMTISM CZARINA IN WASHINGTON

Her name is Hannah Rosenthal. You've never heard of her. Or, to be precise, you never heard of her until a few days before Christmas. There are so many czars in Washington (health care czar, trade czar, TARP czar, etc.) that I've given her the title "Czarina." The title descends from F.D.R., and the truth is that there were just as many czars under George W. Bush as there are under Barack Obama, some really smart, some not. But, believe me, Czarina Hannah should not have pretensions. She is no where near as smart as Catherine the Great. In fact, she is actually quite stupid.

Ms. Rosenthal was designated the State Department's Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Anti-Semitism (shouldn't "monitor" come first and "combat" second in this title?), and the first news of the appointment was published, well, nowhere. Except that Eric Fingerhut, a very alert and smart journalist for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a world-wide press syndicate on the board of which I sit, noticed that no one announced the hiring. No one.  Not the White House.  Not the State Department. Fingerhut remarked that, though the appointment had been rumored about for a week, "the administration isn't going around making sure that anyone knows about it, for reasons I can't explain."

It was as if the J.T.A. reporter dragged the notice of the appointment from very reluctant folk. But Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, paid tribute to Secretary Clinton for authorizing ... etc ... "We look to working with Hannah Rosenthal ..."  It was clear that he hadn't the slightest idea of who she was. Another Jewish organization praised the president for making the assignment.

It took almost a month to get a handle on why the administration was so skittish about even making the selection public. I give the president the benefit of the doubt for this choice, although I don't really have any reason why. Maybe it's Valerie Jarrett who did the picking, like with Van Jones.

Anyway, Rosenthal is a very strange choice. Her first public statement, made to Ha'aretz, attacked Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to our country and my good friend, for distancing himself from J-Street, about which I and Jon Chait have written in these columns. Now that I know about poor Hannah, I'd say that her board membership on J-Street should by itself have disqualified her from the post. After all, Arab countries and movements have been primary movers in the epidemic of anti-Semitism in the world. And the sad truth is that J-Street is not alert to this fact, or if alert doesn't care. Indeed, it speaks up for these offenders and finds the vilest of them appropriate partners for negotiations and peace with Israel.

Like Hamas.

The president has a way of shooting himself in the foot with both Israel and the mainstream of the Jewish community. Presumably, he has understood that his craven courting of the Saudi royal house and other dictators in the Arab world has not been, let us say modestly, at all productive. Hannah Rosenthal is not in as significant a position as Chas Freeman would have been had he not been flagged by folks like me and, to be sure, many others. Of this, I am immodestly proud. Obama would do well to extract this brittle woman from his entourage and send her, say, to Riyadh, where she might engage in her assigned task of "combatting and monitoring anti-Semitism."

 

7. COPENHAGEN AND THE UNSEATING OF AMERICA AS A GREAT POWER

The Republicans are off their rockers, especially on the environment. They have latched on to pseudo-science as if it were the Bible. And, as Bob Jones, Sr., pronounced, "what the bible says is so." But this biblical text of the anti-environment crowd is puny, and it pales beside the volume and depth of research which brings shivers and engineering initiative to the scientifically learned men and women who are enlisted in the effort to save the earth and the planet beyond.

President Obama grasps the enormity of the problem and, thus, the enormity of the challenge. But, if his first adversaries will be the political opposition in Washington, the second but more structurally entrenched will be the richest of the poor countries. In fact, China, India, Brazil and South Africa tried to play a disappearing act in Copenhagen so that the president could not participate in what would have otherwise been a successful cabal of sabotage against the very idea of environmental rescue.

He saved the day and his very status by barging into the closed meeting of the four heads of state who were conspiring against the planetary common good. But how did we come to a circumstance where these men would even dare such a trick against the president and the country he represents?

I am afraid that Obama bares some responsibility for this chicanery. Aside from his recent speeches at West Point and at the Nobel ceremonies, he had already signalled to the world that he claims no special moral or strategic authority as the president of the country and that he does not believe the country itself can assert that authority. Here we may be seeing his adherence--I hope only residual adherence--to his Third World view of what is just power in the relations between states and nations in the order of things. As it happens, there are many venal claimants to the scepter of wise and good dominion. But they are not wise and they are not good. If the president wants to be in the room, if he wants to lay claim to this dominion for the United States he had better behave and speak as if he does.

 

8. THE CHRISTMAS TERRORIST

The culprit was caught "red handed." I suppose the proper civil libertarians would say "suspect." But there he was trying to ignite an incendiary device with 278 passengers, many of them actually witnesses to the deed, on board an Airbus A-330 wide body Northwest Airlines flight which, coming from Amsterdam, was about to land in Detroit. He was not an American Muslim and not even an American. He was a Muslim from Nigeria, named Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, age 23.

The aircraft landed just before noon on Christmas day. News of the incident was not released until near midnight and appeared in the New York Times just about then. I didn't see it until about 1:15 a.m. As of 2 a.m. there was nothing about the happening on the Boston Globe web-site.

Apparently, Abdul Abdulmutallab was on some government security data-base. This had no effect on his ability to get through the ticket counter where there is some interface between reservations and risk or other check points. The Times cites John O. Brennan, the White House counter terrorism chief, as preparing reports for the president. Brennan is a strange kind of political animal. When his appointment was announced in January the left felt betrayed by the president. The designee, it was charged, was a C.I.A. stooge, complicit in President Bush's illegal and immoral programs.

At just about the same time, Brennan gave a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. I found it rather touchy-feely and supine. This is a man of two minds. Let's see how he deals with the case of the Christmas terrorist.

Merry Christmas and a vibrant New Year.

Loading Related Articles...
Article Tools
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

Show all 27 comments

You must be a subscriber to post comments. Subscribe today.