State of the Union

Different Strokes

Readers of my columns in TAC and at antiwar might recall that I have been inquiring about the status of Israeli spy Ben-Ami Kadish, who was arrested in April and has since fallen into a black hole, with no record of any continuing judicial process and no mention in the MSM.  I suggested that those who spy for Israel appear to have a “get out of jail free” card as there is seldom any aggressive prosecution of their cases.  I have recently learned that Kadish, who is free on bail in spite of the considerable risk that he would flee to Israel, had been granted a number of delays by the presiding judge.  Yesterday he appeared in court and pleaded guilty to the single charge of failing to register as an agent of Israel.  The charges of espionage and obstruction of justice were dismissed and the prosecution has indicated that it will not oppose a no-prison time punishment when Kadish is actually sentenced next month.  Kadish’s lawyer expressed his pleasure with the outcome and added “…we hope that Mr. Kadish can go on and spend the golden years of his life with his lovely wife, Doris.”  Kadish personally wished everyone a happy new year as he left the courtroom.  Kadish has admitted that he provided hundreds of classified documents relating to American ballistic technology to Israel while he was employed as an engineer at New Jersey’s Pickatinny Arsenal.

The Wash Post reported the story and also another one relating to Iraqi-born Maryland resident Mouyad Mahmoud Darwish, who was arrested on December 24th.  Darwish allegedly provided information to Saddam Hussein’s government in 2000 while working “as a restaurant cook in Laurel and doing odd jobs at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington.”  He has not been granted bail and faces five years in prison if convicted.  It was not clear what information he provided to Saddam given his access as a cook in suburban Maryland.


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When Make Believe Makes Us Believe

Last summer, as Barack Obama directed the subtle intimidation of fawning European crowds (millions of charisma-intoxicated Germans can’t be wrong!) at those Americans still retaining the quaint notion presidential elections are domestic affairs not subject to global opinion, at least one of his acolytes in the media here in the formal remnant of the United States gushed that Senator Obama had thereby assumed the leadership role vacated by President Bush–by acquiring the geopolitical equivalent of an impressive TVQ score. “Power begets more power, absolutely” Mr. Rich enthused, apparently without irony.

We’ll leave aside for the moment the interlocutor’s widely shared confusion–that President Bush does, or that President Obama can be expected to, maintain a leadership role that is more substantial than ceremonial. The inverse relationship between the freedom of action afforded a president and the power vested in the executive office continues to grow, along with the complexity of the job and Congress’ by now institutional cowardice. Likewise the relationship between the caliber of man drawn from the electable and the reverential expectations we have of the office. For this we have only ourselves to blame. Remarkable leaders are possible only by astounding coincidence in this environment, and they will not be fashioned out of creative desperation (witness the fiction of President Bush’s post-9/11, thrust-upon greatness).

Of course, before Barack Obama’s world tour touched down amid the automatic adulation of the children and the childlike of Europe, he’d already performed a much smaller gig in front of a tougher crowd in Israel, where he dutifully asserted that any amount of force (or US munitions) Israel deems necessary to deter Hamas’ crude rocket attacks is justified, because he has children of his own (the children of Gaza, and how their deaths might perpetuate the cycle of violence–something the president-elect has at least feigned awareness of in the past–would not be allowed to complicate this simple calculus). Yes, he doesn’t really believe this, he was just saying–which is precisely the point. Even now, three weeks before the nation changes administrations in a state of bewildering economic and geopolitical crisis, the next president of the United States has little experience beyond just saying.

That rhetorical bet of last July is now being called, before the president-elect has even sat at the table in earnest, as sanction for a gruesomely disproportionate military response leveled upon an all but powerless adversary. The precocious senator, having grown used to posturing before people intoxicated by the imagined wisdom inherent in his mulatto moral superiority, and having his elegant vapidities received as profundities, has forgotten, or never properly learned, that words have meaning. Of course he’s not alone; we’ve all forgotten this. Barack Obama wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

More to the point, this man who’s made a religion of power (with which he has, like the born-again Christian and his savior, a close personal relationship), has ascended with such absurd ease and rapidity to its pinnacle he hasn’t had the opportunity to develop sufficient respect for its consequences. His make-believe of last summer, playing at global “leadership”, is suddenly harsh reality. Israel’s hard bargainers weren’t just looking for him to genuflect properly (this much is to be expected), but were looking for something a little more concrete. Obliterate the Gazan ghetto with America’s finest military hardware before an outraged world, burning through American soft power as rapidly as we expend her munitions? Yes we can!

So the presumption and airs of that heady summer last are nowhere to be found as the president-elect ducks questions on his way from gym to golf course, his sudden shyness papered over by embarrassing beefcake shots. “One president at a time” is how the dodge is put into words, even as Israel’s actions and Ehud Barak’s assertions, placing limitations upon the incoming administration with the complicity of the current one, reveal it for what it truly is, capitulation to a forced reality. The economic crisis warranted no such respectful inaction, but rather haste in supporting the status quo; Obama’s duck-and-cover in this instance is really the same thing after all, reassurance to the players upon which the new president’s cherished power is utterly dependent that he will not step out of line. As for that much-hyped esteem which the rest of the world so cheaply bestowed on our frail young prince, it will wear out as quickly and to the same disappointment of any cheap purchase if Mr. Obama doesn’t redeem it with real, yeah, “change”.

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Schooling Scarborough

Guest Zbigniew Brzezinski skewers Joe Scarborough’s “stunningly superficial knowledge” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this remarkable clip. It’s about time an adult refused to abide by the playground rules of talk TV, and Scarborough mightily deserves his comeuppance:

(H/t Lew Rockwell.)

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“Samson the Poor”

According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, writing in The New York Times today, Israel is facing now an existential threat, akin to the one it confronted on the eve of the 1967/Six-Day War. No one denies that Israel is facing many threats as do most members of the United Nations. But the notion that Israelis feel or should feel that “the walls — and history — are closing in on their 60-year-old state,” Israel, with its educated population, advanced economy, powerful military, nuclear weapons, etc. is just nonsense.

Morris lists problems and dilemmas that Israel will have to deal with, including a large Arab minority inside its borders.

What is common to these specific threats is their unconventionality. Between 1948 and 1982 Israel coped relatively well with the threat from conventional Arab armies. Indeed, it repeatedly trounced them. But Iran’s nuclear threat, the rise of organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah that operate from across international borders and from the midst of dense civilian populations, and Israeli Arabs’ growing disaffection with the state and their identification with its enemies, offer a completely different set of challenges. And they are challenges that Israel’s leaders and public, bound by Western democratic and liberal norms of behavior, appear to find particularly difficult to counter.

What is common to all these “threats” (Israeli Arabs are citizens of the state and not “a threat”) is that they don’t have a concrete military solution and may force Israel to make difficult political compromises. And if one examines the historical analogy that Morris applies in his commentary, the Six-Day War, the swift Israeli military victory in 1967 demonstrated that the Israelis’ apocalyptic fear of destruction at that time was unwaranted. It also made it clear that military “solutions” don’t necessarily resolve problems. In fact, the 1967 War ended-up creating even more problems, including the control by Israel of the Palestinian population in Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Hence, most Israelis will be delighted if Egypt decided to retake control of the Gaza Strip…

In any case, after reading Morris today I recalled the advice that the late Israeli PM Levi Eshkol (who headed the Israeli government in 1967) had given to Israeli diplomats then: “Present yourself as Poor Samson” (or pitiful Samson), make powerful Israel look weak in order to justify Israeli military action. Indeed, that is exactly what Morris does in his ominous sounding finale:

Israel’s sense of the walls closing in on it has this past week led to one violent reaction. Given the new realities, it would not be surprising if more powerful explosions were to follow.

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White House Presser Live From Crawford

“Let’s be careful about how we are assessing the numbers coming out of Gaza” — White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe in response to press question regarding Palestinian civilian casualties in the Israeli bombardment.

The latest, widely reported numbers put the death toll at more than 375 — The U.N has reported at least 50 of those killed were civilians. More than 1,600 Palestinians have been wounded, according to reports.

Though the administration urges Israel to “avoid” civilian casualties, it would be irresponsible to take any reported civilian tolls at face value, says Johndroe.

Plus, the spokesman adds, “what about the three people I heard were killed in Israel today?”

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The Gaza Blitz

Unwilling to control its fighters, who fired scores of missiles into Israel at the end of their six-month ceasefire, Hamas gave Israel the provocation it needed to deliver a savage blow to the Palestinian enclave in Gaza.

Saturday was the bloodiest day in the history of the Palestinian people since being driven from their homes in the War of 1948. One thousand were killed or wounded, as the Israeli Air Force conducted over a hundred strikes — on graduation ceremonies for Hamas fighters, police stations and storage sites for rockets.

About Israel’s right and duty to defend its border towns, there is no dispute. When Hamas permits Gaza to be used as a launch pad for rockets, it must expect retaliation. Nor can Hamas claim some right to dictate the limits of that retaliation.

Yet the wisdom of so savage a retribution for rockets that killed not one Israeli is open to question. And crass Israeli politics seems to be behind this premeditated and planned blitz. Read More…

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Clueless in Gaza

The Israeli attack on Gaza is far from a simple operation to stop homemade rockets being fired into Israel.  According to the Israeli media, it has been planned for six months and is expected to destroy the Hamas infrastructure as well as much of the remaining Gazan economy.  So far, the death toll is over three hundred Palestinians vs one Israeli killed by a retaliatory rocket and more is coming as tanks and infantry gather.  Critics of Israel have noted that the Palestinian rockets have been in response to recent Israeli efforts to starve Gaza and destroy its economy, so what we are seeing is the normal cycle of violence begetting violence with the Israelis using overwhelming force and US provided weapons in an attempt to make the political problem arising out of their suppression of the Palestinians go away.

The only problem is that Hamas will not go away and will only be strengthened by the Israeli action, something that the Israeli leadership surely knows, so there must be another objective.  With Israeli elections looming it is almost certainly intended to make Kadima look strong on security to turn back the right wing challenge from Bibi.  But I also have to think of Obama.  Is this a deliberate attempt to create a widening conflict that will draw in Iran among other players?  Iran is already calling for volunteers to fight the Israelis and there are large demonstrations throughout the Muslim world.  Is it an attempt to confront Obama with a fait accompli in which he will have to weigh in on the side of Israel (note the comments by Pelosi and other leading Dems endorsing Israel’s action and blaming the Palestinians)?  Is it a test for Obama to see where he comes down, which is predictable, and to bind him irrevocably to the Israeli actions?  I cannot imagine that the Israelis would initiate a major destabilization of the situation vis-a-vis the Palestinians withous a strategic objective and without reckoning the likely impact on the new POTUS.

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To A Nation Under Siege: Happy 2009

Among other incredulous assertions made by Rich Lowry on NBC’s Meet the Press today — which include that it was really the fault of the western liberal that post-invasion Iraq was such a catastrophic mess — he attempts to bolster the growing meme that as a wartime president, a passionate wartime president, one of George Bush’s greatest achievements was to prevent another attack on American soil. There has been much made over this in the post-election political climate. In fact, it is a favorite trope utilized by Veep Dick Cheney, who like the ghost of Jacob Marley, is constantly rattling around this claim as the unforgiving chains of near-history threaten to bind him forever — and he knows it.

To be sure, barring the still-unsolved anthrax incidents post-9/11, there hasn’t been another terrorist attack on American soil. What does that mean? It means that the whole of local, state and federal power has been marshaled on an unprecedented level to create a domestic security infrastructure that has, until this moment, deterred foreign attacks. In plain terms, we have made it undesirable, if not impossible, for terrorism to occur today on the scale of September 11, 2001. As taxpayers, we have spent billions of dollars, and given up many of our civil liberties. We have surrendered to humiliating security procedures and no doubt will have to endure more as the government invents new procedures to make security more convenient for them, while more invasive for us. It will not end, and the whole of this new domestic “homeland” security will have to be maintained, whatever the cost, well beyond the outgoing administration.

Why? Google up today’s news and it tells you everything. The headlines for December 28, 2008:

“Israel tanks mass near Gaza as jets pound Hamas”

“US: 14 students die in bombing at Afghan school”

“Tensions Rise as Pakistan Moves to Redeploy Troops”

“Car Bombs Kills at Least 30 in Pakistan”

“Car Bomb Kills 2, Wounds 4 in Iraq”

ADD: “Baghdad Car Bombing Kills at Least 22, Injures More Than 50”

“Violent protests at Israeli Embassy in London”

“Across the Middle East, Thousands Protest Israeli Assaults”

Conditions on the world stage are more fragile, more unpredictable, more out of our control than after the 9/11 attacks that precipitated the siege mentality here at home and two U.S military invasions abroad. The Bush Administration has failed in its promise to help make the world a safer place, a freer place for oppressed individuals and those threatened by political violence. While Rich Lowry brags on Bush’s behalf that the “surge” in Iraq was a “highly courageous act,” successfully thwarting al Qaeda, he conveniently ignores that al Qaeda never existed in Iraq until the U.S invaded, and is now thriving through bastardized groups in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa.

But that is beside the point — which is our safety at home came at a very high cost. A cost that will turn into endless annual payments until conditions abroad change. Bush not only failed to achieve the required change, he made it worse. We may have prevented more deaths on “American soil,” but as citizens of the world, we have taken many hits since 9/11. As leaders of “the free world,” the Bush Administration has done little to encourage human rights among the dictators who continue to be counted as allies, and the number of people who want to ultimately do us harm has not diminished.

So, we continue to “go shopping,” as a country under siege. Today’s headlines indicate nothing has changed. The worst we can do now is ignore the aftershocks of the Bush Administration’s mistakes and allow its fading courtier class, including the likes of Rich Lowry, to rewrite history — or worse, continuously misrepresent our current crises — for their own partisan benefit.

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Gaza Day Two

The Israeli analyst Daniel Levy reminds us why we shouldn’t be indifferent to Israel’s air attacks (with American weapons) on defenseless Palestinians in Gaza.

Here’s the bad news folks – America is involved, up to its eyeballs actually. Today, after Israeli air-strikes that killed over 200 Palestinians in Gaza, the Middle East is again seething with rage. Recruiters to the most radical of causes are again cashing in. If Osama Bin Laden is indeed a cave-dweller these days then U.S. intel should be listening out for a booming echo of laughter. Demonstrations across the Arab world and contributors to the ever-proliferating Arabic language news media and blogosphere hold the U.S., and not just Israel, responsible for what happened today (and that is a position taken, for good reasons, by sensible folk, not hard-liners). America’s allies in the region are again running for cover. America’s standing, its interests and security are all deeply affected. The U.S.-Israel relationship per se is not to blame (that is something I support), the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict is – and thankfully we can do something about that.

But of course, Americans have an irrational hatred of Palestinians; a presidential spokesman (not David Frum or someone) called the Gaza police recruits who were killed by Israeli air strikes “thugs”. Apparently insulting the families of young men who have just been killed for no good reason is fine in the Bush White House, if they’re Palestinian. And we wonder “why they hate us”.

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Samuel Huntington, RIP

The great Harvard political scientist died Dec. 24, age 81.

He was a giant of his field for over 50 years and remained a vital part of the national conversation to his last years. Here’s John O’Sullivan’s essay-review of his last major work, Who Are We?. TAC subscribers can also read an excerpt from the book in PDF form here.

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