Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Dead or Invisible?
Men desire to have some share in the management of public affairs chiefly on account of the importance which it gives them. Upon the power which the greater part of the leading men, the natural aristocracy of every country, have of preserving or defending their respective importance, depends the stability and duration of every system of free government. In the attacks which those leading men are continuously making upon the importance of one another, and in the defence of their own, consists the whole play of domestic faction and ambition. The leading men of America, like those of all other countries, desire to preserve their own importance.
Adam Smith, describing in Wealth of Nations the practical underpinning of the American Revolution, and adumbrating today's Democratic fecklessness. But to be fair, Smith believed that self-interest is what animates the state -- enlightened self-interest.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
The Future of a Negation
"We continue to be concerned about a new environment in Turkey which permits and even encourages extreme expressions regarding Jews and Israel," Abraham H. Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement. "While we have celebrated Turkey's history of coexistence with Jews and the protection Turkish society provides for its Jewish community, we cannot ignore this new atmosphere and its potential consequences."
Looks like selling out the Armenians, and the concept of remembrance, is paying real dividends.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
A Moldovan Bouncer
Spencer Ackerman reacts acidly to Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon's childish humiliation of the Turkish ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol:
A good relationship with a Muslim country that clearly accepts Israel’s right to exist is an unqualified diplomatic asset. To squander it through churlishness reflects a foreign policy run by a Moldovan bouncer. It’s like we’re living through the vulgar sequel of the Bush administration. Only Israelis are supposed to be more realistic.
Well said. I think Israel has been undergoing its own phase of “mugged-by-reality” machtpolitik, owing to the 9/11 attacks, but also and more to the second Intifada, Hezbollah and the ascendancy of Hamas. I’d answer Ackerman's closing sentence by arguing that foreign policy during the Bush years was a tension between the decidedly non-ideological Rumsfeld/Cheney faction and true believers like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. Israel’s foreign policy is more "realistic" in the sense that it lacks this latter ideological dimension, and its liberal democracy is hardened by the considerable etatism that results from a short and violent history.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Ditch Israel Watch - III
I defy anyone to find a political figure in either major party's leadership who has, in the context of discussing U.S. policy towards Israel, ever even mentioned the fact that undying, endless American support for Israel -- making all of their conflicts our own -- increases the risk of terrorist violence aimed at the U.S. But it so plainly does.
Awarding the third installment of the Ditch Israel Watch to Glenn Greenwald is like sneering at an octogenarian Norman Mailer -- that is to say, using a GAU-8 Avenger to shoot fish in a barrel -- but I'm constantly alarmed and saddened that writers -- especially knowledgeable ones of professed liberal sensibility -- credit this supersyllabic twit.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Tony Judt and the Velvet Genocide
In the New York Review of Books in 2003, Tony Judt published his view that the Jewish state should be deleted. This was the predicate of his proposal to reanimate the corpse of the one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict*. Cloaked with academic authority and writing during the overlap of the second Intifada with Bush's invasion of Iraq, Judt argued that Israel was a harmful anachronism. He was not the first to express an abolitionist anti-Zionism, but his prestige and timing led him to become the celebrity spokesman for the internationalist case against Israel.
This is a blog about ideas, and as such it treats them as living things that generate results. To reverse what he considered the moral decay of man during the Enlightenment, Rousseau recommended in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences that primitivism and an inchoate Luddism replace intellectual and technical** progress. This too was unoriginal, but it made Rousseau's fame. After being refined by two hundred years of illiberal thought, Rousseau's atavism was bolted like a gun turret to a totalitarian reading of his concept of democracy, and we entered upon the abattoir of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.
But it is also important to resist the temptation to think of ideology as independent of practical influences. Consider the cluster of doctrines gathered under the construct of "socialism". Some early socialist thinkers had attitudes to race that would seem disqualifying today. These ranged from the conflation of Jews, Judaism and capital, most famously articulated by Marx and termed the "socialism of fools" by August Bebel, to racist determinism. Socialists like H.G. Wells, Jack London and Sidney and Beatrice Webb anticipated or prescribed eugenics and race war. Those strains of socialism that predominated by the time of the Second World War only then officially assumed an identity that featured anti-racism. This change was partly actuated by the showdown between Hitler and Stalin. The Fuhrer himself made pretenses of being "socialist", and in private once confessed Nazism's debt to Marx.*** Marxism-Leninism needed to sharply distinguish itself from its main anti-liberal competitor.
The logic of Judt's Israel: The Alternative looms as the leftish auxiliary to the Islamist enterprise to destroy Israel. As with the Khmer Rouge and Rousseau's primitivism, the one-state proposal has a precursor: Judt creepily recapitulates a facet of Marx and Engels' thought, which Engels articulated in an 1849 essay called "The Magyar Struggle". This was the quasi-Darwinian idea that certain European ethnic groups had been orphaned by the historical-evolutionary process and would have to be exterminated to permit the onset of socialism.
There is no country in Europe which does not have in some corner or other one or several ruined fragments of peoples, the remnant of a former population that was suppressed and held in bondage by the nation which later became the main vehicle of historical development. These relics of a nation mercilessly trampled under foot in the course of history, as Hegel says, these residual fragments of peoples always become fanatical standard-bearers of counter-revolution and remain so until their complete extirpation or loss of their national character, just as their whole existence in general is itself a protest against a great historical revolution.
This view was part of a larger meditation on the short-term political failure of the revolutionary violence that had begun the previous year in France and resonated throughout Europe. Arrayed in opposition to the "historical" and "revolutionary" Germans, Poles and Magyars were "petty hidebound nations" of Slavs, such as Czechs, Slovaks, Croats and Serbs. These, in an absurd attempt to restore their national historicity, "put themselves at the disposal of Austrian reaction," i.e. the Habsburg Austrian Empire. Engels blamed these Slavs seeking self-determination for the eclipse of internationalism by nationalism and ensuring the failure of the Revolutions of 1848.
Judt begins by referencing these same national movements. Then he recasts this analysis as an internationalist lament about Israel's twilight attachment to its Jewish character.
The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European "enclave" in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a "Jewish state"—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.
If you consider Israel's geography, this is a breathtaking passage. The Jewish state is situated in a region where the timbre of nationalism isn't exactly Scandinavian. Nonetheless Judt argues there is now a status quo of 'post-racial' states, if you will, whose peace is imperiled by the "hidebound [nation]" of -- curiously, only -- Israel. He cites Israel's nuclear weapons as the primary impediment to nonproliferation; he says Israel was a major reason for the US invasion of Iraq, with Syria on deck.
In an attenuated way, Judt reasserts the struggle of international and national socialism. Certainly he doesn't mirror Engels in advocating Israel's violent destruction, but this is rich ore from which to extract an imprimatur for the velvet genocide of Middle East Jewry. "What is to be done" is to undo the impediment to progress set up in 1948, even though the 1940s saw the success of other national separations in India, Pakistan, Burma and Laos.
But what if there were no place in the world today for a "Jewish state"? What if the binational solution were not just increasingly likely, but actually a desirable outcome? It is not such a very odd thought. Most of the readers of this essay live in pluralist states which have long since become multiethnic and multicultural.
As Leon Wieseltier observed, "Judt and his editors have crossed the line from the criticism of Israel's policy to the criticism of Israel's existence." It takes naivete reminiscent of the Iranian communists who aided the Islamic Revolution, and found themselves among its first victims, to expect peace and safety for a Jewish minority in a binational Palestine.
I won't pretend to predict the fortunes of nationalism, but it would seem that if anyone's ideas about the Arab-Israeli conflict are an anachronism, they are Judt's.
Epilogue: This post was inspired by Andrew Sullivan mentioning that Tony Judt is suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. That's awful. Judt's initial account of his cruel infirmity is moving.
I feel like a shitheel for writing this now, but the truth is I'd been wanting to compose and publish this analysis since 2004, when I first filtered Judt's essay through the lens of George Watson's The Lost Literature of Socialism, to which I am indebted here, especially Chapters 7 and 8.
* In the most generous assessment, the one-state notion is properly identified as an ideal, not a solution.
** In Rousseau's time, the term "arts" roughly meant "manufacturing".
*** Otto Wagener, Hitler: Memoirs of a Confidant, pg. 167, cited in Watson, op. cit., pg. 72.
Saturday, January 09, 2010
Terrorism vs the Versailles Effect
We've entered a more mature phase of "reality-based" examination of our foreign policy, and the major topic besides the wisdom of our alliance with Israel is terrorism and its causes. This is tied to recent events like the Fort Hood shooting, the underwear bomber and now the Camp Chapman attack by Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi. The rationalist analysis that jihadists are driven to violence by American foreign policy is being asserted frequently and loudly by the usual suspects, some of them bitter that their sense of American culpability for 9/11 was eclipsed by interpretations of the attacks that blamed only the perpetrators.
Here's Oliver Kamm taking a bat to the back of Stephen Walt's legs over this:
"My point is simply to reiterate that any serious effort to deal with our terrorism problem has to be multi-faceted, and has to include explicit consideration of the things we do that may encourage violent, anti-American movements. Only a complete head-in-the-sand approach to the issue would deny the connection between various aspects of U.S. foreign and military policy (military interventions, targeted assassinations, unconditional support for Israel, cozy relations with Arab dictatorships, etc.) and the fact that groups like al Qaeda keep finding people like al-Balawi to recruit to their cause."
How many times does this need to be said? There are errors, crimes and sins of omission and commission in Western foreign policy. But the cause of jihadist rage against our side is not what we have done but what we are: liberal, democratic, secular, pluralist societies with women's rights, universal education and reproductive freedom.
I don't defend Walt's point of view, and I'm a staunch opponent of the rationalist bias that attracts people to it on both the right and the left, but it would help if those opposing it would distinguish between jihadists, and the people jihadists purport to represent and whose support they seek. Jihadists surely are implacable, and as Kamm has argued, there is no reason for the West to seek accommodation with them. Proposing that American foreign policy generates al-Balawis and forming policy around that is a fool's errand. But there is an additional point that is suggested by this analysis.
To what extent can American foreign policy be calibrated to reduce the 'Versailles Effect' among the victimological masses of politically castrated Muslims? For example, in spite of our meddling with Mossadegh, installment of the Shah and support for Israel, the majority of Iranians are pro-American, pro-Western and pro-democracy. They are also susceptible to left-wing and Islamist appeals to anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, but these don't yet prevail. One of the reasons I oppose a military response to the Iranian nuclear weapons program is to prevent the Versailles Effect from turning popular pressure away from the mullahs.
I don't like the isolationist and other illiberal solutions to this problem. Our foreign policy should be conceived as a tension between expediency and morality in pursuit of our national interest, but it would be "head-in-the-sand" to think our actions don't resonate in ways that are lethally exploited.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
Ditch Israel Watch -- II
Ultimately Israel is a country that is of no particular worth to the United States.
... They have no resources we need. Their manpower is minimal. Their association with us is a negative for the United States. Now that's a fact. What you want to do about that fact is entirely different. But for anyone to stand up in the United States and say that support for Israel doesn't hurt us in the Muslim world is to just defy reality.
Ex-CIA analyst Michael Scheuer on C-SPAN, responding to a caller who complained about the people who "jewed us into Iraq".
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Ditch Israel Watch - I
It's not your father's isolationism. Such a consummate failure was Bush, it's hard to identify one nefarious group that didn't get a bumper crop out of his Iraq War. Anarchists dug up their balaclavas, half-dead hippies became Vietnam-era historical actors, street scholars and professors chattered on cue, Buchananites, Chomskyites, Islamists, Stalinists, red and green and Code Pink -- even Park Slope moms prowled the overstocked aisles of Mesopotamia for amazing glitter and value. It was a market with a fluidity and savoriness somewhere between a Blue Light Special and the fireworks-and-blow-jobs bazaar of Times Square, circa 1989. Even the Baathists did OK.
Readers of this blog know the post-Cold War convergence of right and left-wing isolationism -- actually, non-interventionism -- has accelerated and amplified since the neocon nakba. The mainstream US Left calls its attraction to this current "reality-based liberalism", implying that reason now prevails over ideals and ideology. And with it has come a wave of Cartesian doubt in the realm of foreign policy.
One of the big questions now is, "What has Israel done for us lately?" Why ally with that "shitty little country" if the alliance makes Muslims so mad? An affinity in liberal democracy? Matthew Yglesias would rather see planes blow up than "[poison] relations with 1.5 billion Muslims." Israel actually kills some of them! Exit Paul Wolfowitz, enter Stephen Walt.
It's a question we're beginning to hear more lately, and while it's still mostly voiced in right-wing and libertarian quarters, it's beginning to be asked outside of Antiwar.com, Glenn Greenwald's blog and the nativist cesspool of The American Conservative. I think it might be worthwhile to start tracking it, to see how much momentum it gains among liberals and centrists shocked by Israel's military overreactions and a renascent Likud.
Ex-neocon penitents ask the question with a special fervency. So it's sad but fitting that my blogfather, former warmonger Andrew Sullivan, having progressed from the hair shirt years of his fascination with Ron Paul to rhythmic denunciations of Israel, should lead us off.
And if Rahm Emanuel is sick of them all, one can imagine how the average American feels. My own view is moving toward supporting a direct American military imposition of a two-state solution, with NATO troops on the borders of the new states of Palestine and Israel. I'm sick of having a great power like the US being dictated to in the conduct of its own foreign policy by an ally that provides almost no real benefit to the US, and more and more costs.