Tuesday, 22 September 2009

RubinReports: Courage in Our Time is The Opposite of What’s Usually Portrayed

Courage in Our Time is The Opposite of What’s Usually Portrayed

By Barry Rubin

In the film “Annie Hall” the title character, a very naïve—and in some ways quintessentially American-- young woman muses during a conversation about the French Resistance in World War Two, about how she would have stood up under torture. The Woody Allen character responds that if they'd taken away her Bloomingdale’s credit card she would have told them everything.

Today, the Western intelligentsia is being put to a very mild version of this test, and all too much of it is failing miserably. Look, it’s one thing if someone has to put his life on the line to defend his convictions, but quite another if the threat is very limited indeed.

But large numbers of upper middle class professionals: journalists, teachers, lawyers, and others are failing to show minimal civic courage. All their lives they have been raised on the principles of professional ethics and the glories of free speech. Journalists are supposed to strive for balance and accuracy, refusing to twist news to fit their ideology or political goals. Teachers were taught from childhood onward to allow for free discussion and a real—not phony—diversity of perspectives. Yet they are betraying this life-long training.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”; appeasement is loathsome; “give me liberty or give me death,” the list of slogans and good examples Americans have been taught is a long one. Yet now that they have the opportunity to stand up for these values, to bear proudly that burden, they have failed the test.

There are three aspects to this test, as follows:

--Career risk: A number of younger academics in Middle East studies confide to friends that they can’t say or write what they wish because it would destroy their chances for employment or tenure. One observer suggested that they write articles and put them in drawers so at least they will still remember in future what they believe after years of lying. When this kind of thing is going on, what does the concept of academic freedom possibly mean?

I read an Internet list for historians who study the history of Communist movements. When the chair of a major university's history department died some months ago, a colleague wrote a eulogy on the list lauding him. Among the man’s virtues, according to his friend and fellow professor, was that he had only hired Marxists until the department was filled with them.

It was one thing for the late professor to so violate proper academic behavior, but another far more disconcerting for a fellow conspirator to brag about this to hundreds of historians, knowing that no one would protest or take any action. That really tells you how much trouble American universities are in today.

How ironic that a dominant ideology which claims to extol liberty and rebellion would impose such conformity, and how ironic that a profession that prides itself on intellectual integrity would bow to it.

In America today--and much of this also applies to Europe--no one is being asked to risk his life but only to speak his mind, and if they are discriminated against then to fight back.

--Name-calling: Sticks and stones, we said as children, may break my bones but names will never hurt me. Wrong! The weapons used to enforce the ideological hegemony of today are not guns or knives, beatings or imprisonment, but simple name-calling. The bludgeons consist of calling people “racist” or “Zionist”; Islamophobes or “right-wing” or something else (one hardly hears “sexist” any more, perhaps because that is less of a problem or perhaps because it is dangerous since it might be applied to Islamists).

One would think that doing what’s fashionable, being able to attend the proper dinner or cocktail parties and to feel part of the elite, holding the "right" views, are more important to many upper middle class professionals than are truth, justice, and the American way.

That’s why, ironically, such name-calling tactics are effective and hurtful only if the charges are untrue. A name works at intimidating people most when it is falsely applied. A high school dropout extremist skinhead is not going to be upset at being branded a racist and slapping such a label on him won’t intimidate him into inaction. Someone who hated Muslims as such is likely to be quite willing to affirm that standpoint. And real right-wingers, or more moderate conservatives, are likely to be proud of their views.

But the great majority of the intelligentsia, media people, professors, and others who would be fashionable and part of the "in-crowd" know that the entry ticket must be stamped "liberal" or "left." For them, to be called such names--including "conservative" or "right-wing" is the insult kiss of death. To avoid it, they will go to great lengths.

And so this strategy of intimidation by name-calling really does make people shiver and shuts them up. And large elements of the intelligentsia pose as courageous when they are merely repeating the official wisdom permitted them.

What is especially shocking and worrisome is when high-level members of Congress or administration officials delegitimate their critics by calling them such names, as if heated debate and open dissent is somehow un-American, as if criticism of a president is automatically illegitimate because it proves "racism" or opposition to a health care bill makes one a crackpot. The proof must always be found in the specific statement made by someone, not as a bludgeon used to win an argument.

--Finally, risk deters people, too, but the problem here is that extraordinarily low-level physical risk is treated as if it was a threat of imminent death for voicing one's views. For example, the possibility that any American publisher or editor who makes available the “Danish cartoons” would get blown up is infinitesimal, probably lower than the chance of being struck by a meteor. Yet the slightest danger makes many run away or run up the white flag.

Again, it isn’t a question of people risking their lives. That’s the point: since the danger is so low it would be easy to take no chances and still appear as a champion of democratic and Enlightenment values. Yet even for such a cheap victory there are surprising few takers.

So, to use this as an example, the three levels of risk come together: one doesn't criticize Islamism because it might hurt one's career and also get one called names and also allegedly puts one under some physical risk.

On the other side of the coin, by voicing the dominant view one proves to be "tolerant" and "enlightened" and at the same time can claim to be a defiant, courageous rebel.

Of course, courage depends on the audience before whom it is shown and the times in which it takes place. Yet the standards applied would make one think it was still the 1950s or even the 1850s, with reactionaries in control rather than "progressives" dictating the tone of fashionable public discourse. It is a framework in which to fight against historic Nazis or contemporary neo-Nazis (an almost non-existent issue) is approved courage, to do the same against historic Communists or contemporary equivalents (a major problem) is not to be seen.

Speaking as a traditional liberal Democrat who views varieties of tyranny as equivalent and freedom as relatively indivisible, I’d point out that civic courage is still defined both historically—champions of progress versus reactionaries—and in contemporary left-of-center terms, as rebellions against working class, traditional and conservative communities or old upper class money.

You will see many films, for example, about someone from a Southern or Midwestern religious family who breaks all their taboos than about someone from an upper middle class smug milieu who challenges any of its “progressive” sacred cows.

It’s a fun exercise to imagine films or television show plots that would or wouldn’t be made.
For example, a teenage girl breaks with her strict Muslim family to assimilate into America and escapes from an honor killing attempt. No. A teenage girl breaks with her strict Christian family to become a fighter against racism, sexism, homophobia, and capitalism. Yes.

A right-wing Christian evangelist as a hypocrite and villain. Yes. A left-wing cleric as a hypocrite and villain. No. A developer or businessman as an evil polluter. Yes. An environmentalist extremist as a hypocrite and self-promoter. No.

Within the current upper middle class to what might be called the new upper class milieu (movie stars, not Social Register old-money aristocrats) milieu which dominates entertainment, publishing, media, academia, and other sectors, it takes more courage to:

--Say one believes in a divine being (unless you are a follower of a non-Western religion) than to say you are an atheist.

--More courage to say one loves America than that one hates it.

--More courage to criticize than to praise the Obama Administration.

--More courage to say one voted Republican than Democratic.

--More courage to affirm the values of reasonably regulated capitalism than to profess one despises it.

--More courage to expose the wrong turn into subjectivism taken by the mass media and non-accurate extremism followed by academia than to be a cheerleader for what a great job they’re doing.

All of these things require real, if non-life threatening, risk of career damage, ridicule, and ostracism by the circles “that matter,” that define one in practical social terms as smart, part of the elite, fashionable, on the side of good.

America and Europe are full of people patting themselves on the back for, to use Edward Said’s now-famous phrase, speaking truth to power. This is a bit easier to do when you are in power, denying tenure to anyone who thinks differently, rejecting dissenting books, censoring out news you don’t like, and ensuring that the great majority of op-ed pieces reflect your own views.

In this tyranny of the fashionable, pretending to be a fighter on behalf of the underdog (even if that is an anti-democratic terrorist movement or repressive regime), a battler against racism (using this to characterize any disagreement with one's own views), and a tribune of the downtrodden (meanwhile making fun of the local downtrodden), while doing the precise opposite is not only evil, it is disgusting.

RubinReports: Courage in Our Time is The Opposite of What’s Usually Portrayed

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Israel Matzav: A high-stakes game of poker for a photo-op

A high-stakes game of poker for a photo-op

The 'summit' between President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Abu Mazen will take place at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Tuesday at 11:00 am. It's not really a summit - just a photo-op.

Haaretz has a lengthy blow-by-blow of the process that led to this photo-op taking place. Here's the last entry:

Saturday, 10 P.M. - Mitchell calls Abbas.

Following the talks' failure, Mitchell held discussions by telephone with senior administration officials. At this stage the Americans were mostly irked with the Palestinians, and Abbas' refusal to meet at the UN. The Americans continued to press Abbas, especially through other Arab leaders.

At the end a decision fell in Washington ¬ this would not be the inauguration of a new round of peace talks, but a tripartite meeting would be held so that the boycott Abbas imposed on Netanyahu would break. Mitchell called Abbas and invited him to New York, and in parallel an invitation went out to Netanyahu.

Senior U.S. officials assumed that once an official invitation went out from President Obama, neither side would dare turn it down, which is what happened. The White House issued an official announcement early Sunday morning that the meeting would take place.

Mitchell said that this was an example of the sort of personal commitment that President Obama had in the peace process. At 2 A.M., Sunday, the PM's bureau sent a message to the press: "The PM has accepted the invitation of President Obama and will depart Monday for New York."

This seems like an awfully high stakes poker game for a photo-op. What would have happened if Obama had sent out invitations and one side had said no, as the 'Palestinians' had threatened to do? That Obama was willing to put his prestige on the line like this and risk being turned down doesn't - as Special Envoy Mitchell claimed - show his commitment to the 'peace process.' Rather, it shows President Obama's desperation for a foreign policy success to flash at the United Nations next week. And that desperation is quite intense indeed.

What could go wrong?

Israel Matzav: A high-stakes game of poker for a photo-op

Israel Matzav: Quds day rallies turn against Iranian regime

Quds day rallies turn against Iranian regime

The annual Quds day rallies on Friday - the annual rallies against Israel on the last Friday of Ramadamadan - turned into anti-government rallies in at least three Iranian cities.

Tens of thousands of opposition protesters swarmed the streets of Tehran and at least two other Iranian cities Friday, turning an annual rally in support of the Palestinian cause into the first major demonstration against the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in six weeks.

"Not Gaza, not Lebanon, I'll sacrifice my life for Iran," chanted protesters in the capital.

By late morning, witnesses reported that the demonstrators had taken full control of the expansive Seventh of Tir Square. Amateur video footage also showed thousands holding up green ribbons and shawls while rallying peacefully in the cities of Shiraz and Esfahan.

Ahmadinejad, whose disputed re-election three months ago triggered Iran's worst domestic political crisis in decades, ignored the protesters, who confronted him with chants of "Liar! Liar!" minutes before he delivered a blistering condemnation of Israel at Tehran University in downtown Tehran.

If you go here, there's a video of Iranian protesters tearing down a Hezbullah anti-Israel banner (via Free Republic). The banner reads: "Palestine a source of unity; Israel the common enemy".

If I'm watching this on TV in Damascus or Cairo or Riyadh, I'd be getting really nervous. Even though they hate Ahmadinejad just about everywhere in the Arab world outside Damascus (and Beirut), this sort of thing has to make you wonder what would happen if the 'Arab street' wakes up and realizes that hatred of Israel is being used to rally them to keep an autocratic government in power. That's what the Iranians have realized. What if the Arab world realized the same thing? What could go wrong?

Israel Matzav: Quds day rallies turn against Iranian regime

Israel Matzav: Helmsley Hotel cancels banquet because Ahmadinejad on guest list

Helmsley Hotel cancels banquet because Ahmadinejad on guest list

The Helmsley Hotel in New York City has canceled a banquet that was to be held there this week after learning that one of the guests was to be Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"As soon as Helmsley corporate management learned of the possibility of either the Iranian mission or President Ahmadinejad holding a function at the New York Helmsley Hotel, they immediately ordered the cancellation of that function," hotel spokesman Howard Rubenstein said in a statement.

"Neither the Iranian mission nor President Ahmadinejad is welcome at any Helmsley facility," the statement said without saying why.

A group called United Against Nuclear Iran told the hotel that Ahmadinejad was on the guest list, he said.

The New York Post reported the banquet was booked months ago by an Iranian student group.

Ahmadinejad on Friday called the Holocaust "a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim" in comments to worshipers at Tehran University.

Maybe Columbia will agree to host him again. After all, it worked out so well the last time.

Israel Matzav: Helmsley Hotel cancels banquet because Ahmadinejad on guest list

RubinReports: Force Your Friends to Give In, Pay Off Your Enemies: Two Newsweek Articles and the Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy Philosophy

Force Your Friends to Give In, Pay Off Your Enemies: Two Newsweek Articles and the Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy Philosophy

By Barry Rubin

I want to start by talking about two specific articles and then draw some conclusions about the current philosophy of U.S. foreign policy so please keep reading. Ready? Here we go:

So let me get this straight. Newsweek publishes an article advocating “tough love” on Israel, insisting that this U.S. ally must be pressured into making huge concessions in order to “save itself” and then publishes another article advocating bribes to the anti-American, radical Islamist, terrorist-sponsoring Taliban so that it will stop attacking America.

Is something wrong here, with each of these two themes individually and the sharp contradiction between them?

Well, yes there is.

Fareed Zakaria is one of many acclaimed “foreign policy experts” who, after years of reading their writings I can’t possibly understand why they should be acclaimed foreign policy experts. True, it is too easy to oversimplify in ridiculing his article, "The Way Out of Afghanistan: We need to buy off our enemies," published on September 12.

The British long used the bribery of tribal chiefs to govern that area—and a number of others as well—and U.S. payoffs to Iraqi tribes have played an important role in undermining the Iraqi insurgents among sections of the Sunni population. So one can argue—although there are also arguments against it—that bribing tribes can be a valid tactic.

But in context this argument shows just how dangerously out of touch such positions are. Could the United States have paid off the Cuban or Vietnamese Communists to keep the Communists out of power? We are talking here about the Taliban and its supporters, ideologically motivated Islamists who genuinely believe in their ideology. No, you cannot buy off the Iranian regime or the Syrian regime or Hamas or Hizballah or the Iraqi insurgents with money.

Only a few hours ago an Arab friend asked why Americans simply seemed incapable of understanding the nature of their enemies. I replied that Americans—certainly not those in intellectual and political power--just don’t take ideas and ideology seriously, find it impossible to conceive that people would fight, die, and kill for their beliefs; would be motivated by things other than material gain; would act against their “rational self-interest.”

And if anyone doesn’t understand that these people are dedicated, serious, willing in many cases to sacrifice their lives, believing that the deity has commanded them to behave as they do he is going to lead the West into disaster. By the way, since they think they’re winning so why sell out?

When Zakaria writes, “The Taliban is proving a tougher foe than anticipated,” isn’t that precisely because of the factors mentioned above? If it was so easy to buy off the Islamists in Afghanistan why didn’t the Soviets succeed in doing so?

He continues by saying the problem has been that, “efforts to reach out to the Taliban so far have been limited and halfhearted.” Well, what makes it different from saying that the problem with al-Qaida is that the United States hasn’t tried hard enough to reach out to them? Oh, perhaps it’s because Usama bin Ladin has all the money he needs already? Is that the only distinction?

Zakaria concludes, “A few years from now, we can be sure that Afghanistan will still be poor, corrupt, and dysfunctional. But if we make the right deals, it will be ruled by leaders who keep the country inhospitable to Al Qaeda and terrorist groups like it. That's my definition of success.”

Yet if one is giving to people who already are committed to Taliban and al-Qaida, why shouldn’t they just take the money and use it to seize power? Also, in common with current doctrine that claims to be liberal but is in contradiction to the liberalism of every previous decade, Zakaria is indifferent to the degree of repression and oppression that involves. For example, while it is probably true that the fate of women in Afghanistan won’t improve over the next few years no matter what the United States does, pursuing a policy that actually sells them into slavery seems a pretty sleazy thing to do.

I seem to remember generations of liberals excoriating conservatives as people who backed ruthless, oppressive dictators because it was good for investments or helped to fight Communism.

Perhaps this is an idea of broader merit. The United States could try to pay off all the Islamists to stop taking anti-American action, perhaps even watch them seize power (say, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) in exchange for a promise not to bother the United States; possibly feed Israel to them (which matches up with the “tough love” Newsweek article), give Central Europe to Russia as a sphere of influence, and so on.

Yet at bottom I don’t think the Obama administration is following some left-wing policy to sell out U.S. interests, or Israel, or Central Europe. Something else is going on. It is instead a policy of saying:

Don’t bother us. We don’t want any confrontations. We don’t want any crises. We don’t want to have to fight anyone. Pressure your friends to make concessions because they should give in rather than battle for their rights. Pay off your enemies so they don’t come after you.

And this is the philosophy of all too much of the contemporary media, academia, and elites in the West. It could work politically. By staving off conflicts, governments can hope to please their publics who don’t want conflict and war and hearing about people hating them. Then, too, they can claim success at having avoided crises.

This applies to U.S.-Israel relations as much as it does to U.S.-Taliban relations. The administration loudly proclaimed that it would bend Israel to its will, force it to give a big concession while getting nothing in return. Yet once Israel resisted, the administration backed down.

That’s one reason why U.S.-Israel relations are going to be okay. The administration doesn’t want a confrontation with Israel any more than it wants one with Iran. And the fact that there is a lot of domestic popular and congressional support for Israel reinforces that fact.

The Obama Administration is not responsible for these Newsweek articles. But the general worldview from which it emerges underlies their approach to international affairs.

Will the world let the administration get away with this approach? We will see. It is unlikely that the administration will be bothered by protests from friends who feel insufficiently protected or even betrayed. But it may not be able to disregard the aggressions of anti-American radical forces which see this passivity and fear of conflict as a splendid opportunity.

Originally posted by RubinReports: Force Your Friends to Give In, Pay Off Your Enemies: Two Newsweek Articles and the Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy Philosophy

RubinReports: What to Expect at the UN Session

What to Expect at the UN Session

By Barry Rubin

The UN session is shaping up to be a bit more interesting than the usual. Here are briefly some things to look for:

1. Will President Barack Obama engineer a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas? If so, this will be a big public relations’ gimmick. Actually, and this is a fair reading, Obama will proclaim as a great achievement in September what he could have accomplished the previous February more easily. It was Obama’s big initiative on freezing construction on settlement that was then taken up by Abbas as an excuse to postpone any talks.

By the way, to show how things work in the world, a journalist interviewing me asked if Netanyahu would change his position and meet with Abbas at the UN. Of course, Netanyahu has been seeking a meeting for months but so intense is the idea of Netanyahu as “hardliner” and Abbas as “moderate” purveyed by much of the media it is understandable journalists would turn things on their head.

2. How will Obama do in his speech? There is the normal question of how it will be perceived but also the special one of the extent to which Obama talking about a world without nuclear arms will play into the hands of Iran and North Korea who complain, Why should we stop building nuclear weapons until everyone gives them up? In other words, will Obama do harm to his own efforts to stop Iran from doing so?

3. Will there be prominent photos of Obama shaking hand or being hugged by the Libyan and Iranian delegates?

4. Will the United States stand up to the ever-stronger radical bloc or seek excessive compromises thus emboldening them on various issues?

5. How tough a stand will the U.S. government take against the dreadful Goldstone report which plays into Hamas’s hands and bashes Israel?

6. Is there going to be any sign of increased support for higher anti-Iran sanctions, especially from Russia and China or will Obama’s strategy have failed (despite West European support which could lead to higher sanctions. (And incidentally how long will the U.S.-Iran engagement effort go on, for just one meeting or for months and months? How much will the Russians and Chinese use this as an excuse for opposing sanctions?

7. What will Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi and Iranian dictator Ahmadinejad say and how will they be received. How will the level of applause they are given compare to that received by Obama?

8. One question that’s already easy to answer: Will the Obama Administration campaign vigorously against the UN’s rampant corruption, extreme ideological bias, and domination by dictatorships? No, because that would make it unpopular.

Originally posted by RubinReports: What to Expect at the UN Session

Zbig Brzezinski: Shoot Down Israeli Planes if They Attack Iran - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News

Zbig Brzezinski: Shoot Down Israeli Planes if They Attack Iran - Defense/Middle East - Israel News - Israel National News
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