After Qaddafi, Assad
May 19, 2011
How to explain the foot-dragging of the international community in sanctioning the repression that has rained down on Syria? Answer: The international community has never rushed to denounce repression, wherever it has taken place. It likes the status quo. It hates, as the great French poet Charles Baudelaire put it, movement that shifts the lines. And in principle and tradition, it is scared witless of all that may upset its habits and broad stability in the world.
Room for Growth
May 16, 2011
Politicians in Washington are grappling with how to address rising gasoline prices, but most of their answers—from repealing tax breaks for oil companies to expanding offshore drilling—are unlikely to make much of a difference any time soon. The Arab awakening, coupled with Iran’s accelerated pursuit of nuclear weapons, ensures that energy prices will likely remain elevated for a long time. In the near- and long-term, those events are leading to less energy produced and exported from the Middle East and North Africa than there otherwise would be, as well as greater risk to their transport.
There’s just so much press attention the Arab world can receive before even obsessives like me begin to tire of its frenzy, pitilessness, and perfidy. Yes, endless repetition of violence and violation can also seem routine. Which, to tell you God’s honest truth, they are. There is a great deal of exactitude behind this morbid fact. Still, the present upheavals in their cumulative impact are deadening. Not only to the victims of the regimes but to their observers, commentators, rapporteurs. Actually, many of these observers, perhaps most, are infatuated with the Arabs.
May 09, 2011
I was living in Damascus in early 2009 during the Gaza war. The entire city turned tense, and my neighborhood with it. Store owners along the popular shopping avenues decorated their windows with pictures of blood splattered, scorched Palestinian kids. A popular caricature of Tzipi Livni, who was then the Israeli foreign minister, had her lipstick melting into a drool of blood and her eyes colored to suggest beaming demonic light. Across the exterior of the mosques, citizens hung banners depicting recently killed Palestinian soldiers.
April 21, 2011
In the wee hours of September 6, 2007, Israel’s air force crossed into Syrian airspace and attacked a clandestine, nearly operational nuclear reactor located in the country’s remote northeastern desert. Were the strike the end of the story the international community might have tipped its hat silently, thanking Jerusalem for putting to bed a nuclear risk that could have increased regional tensions dramatically. But the assault proved to be a mere chapter in what now has become a saga.
April 09, 2011
During the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Syria’s Assad regime was helping insurgents to cross the border and kill Americans. In response to the Syrian provocation, the Bush administration considered a broad range of policy options. But one family of options always remained off the table: regime change or any combination of pressures that might destabilize Damascus. The prevailing interagency concern was that Syria without Assad could prove even more militant than under his terrorist-supporting regime. At the Department of Defense—where I worked—we held a dissenting view.
Why Has the U.S. Been So Soft on Bashar Assad?
March 29, 2011
I don’t know where to begin. So let me start with Bashar Al Assad—whose father, Hafez, Jimmy Carter wrote he had higher regard for than any other leader in the Middle East. Barack Obama never said anything quite that hagiographic about the son. But Hillary Clinton, his pliant chief diplomat, told “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the Syrian president was considered by members of Congress from both parties to be a “reformer.” How many senators and representatives will own up to Hillary’s characterization? It is hokum. The hokum started long ago.
An Obama Doctrine?
March 28, 2011
When it came to foreign policy and national security, George W. Bush was a "big idea" president. Whether one agreed or disagreed with them, overarching concepts and a defined perspective on history drove his decisions. So far, Barack Obama has not been a big idea president, at least in foreign and national security policy. His instincts have been more those of a lawyer, charting a careful course through specific challenges and gravitating to a middle path which minimized risk.
The Liar as Hero
March 17, 2011
The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty: The Husaynis, 1700-1948 By Ilan Pappe (University of California Press, 399 pp., $29.95) Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel By Ilan Pappe (Pluto Press, 246 pp., $22) The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine By Ilan Pappe (Oneworld, 313 pp., $14.95) I. At best, Ilan Pappe must be one of the world’s sloppiest historians; at worst, one of the most dishonest. In truth, he probably merits a place somewhere between the two. Here is a clear and typical example—in detail, which is where the devil resides—of Pappe’s handiwork.
What is now clear is that the only help Barack Obama was willing to give to the Arabs was his coldness to the Jewish nation. Or, and I want to be frank, his hostile indifference to Israel. It has been a not quite sub rosa sub-theme of his presidency since the beginning. He had not the slightest idea or maybe couldn’t care less that Zion and Zionism meant the retrieval of the Jews from a harrowing if remarkable history.