October 22, 2014

Mideast Media Sampler, 11/13/12


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.
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.

A few days ago, in The red flags in Obama’s foreign policy, Jackson Diehl wrote:

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.
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 boomerangs.

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 Jordan.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”
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.”

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.

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.
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.

How’s that working out in Egypt?

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.