The Buchanan-Hitchens interview that Dan posted brings back such a welter of memories and nostalgia. To see the then youngish Hitchens make a cutting “lying us into war” barb about John F. Kennedy! The very Hitchens who, a short decade later, would take pride of place among ”liberal hawks” arguing for the invasion of Iraq, a project spurred far more by lies than Vietnam, which was based on crude application of the quite reasonable and successful doctrine of containment. Yet I don’t want to be hard on Hitchens—for generally in the interview he is lucid and pleasant.
And boy, those were good times. We had just won the Cold War, the economy was gearing up into its first early internet boom, the crime rate topped out and was beginning to decline. Global warming was no more than a theory, and we still seemed to have plenty of time prevent it. You were unlikely to hear (as one does hear nowadays) young adults talking about looming environmental collapse as a reason not to have children.
Of course 1993 was more or less the last historical moment before the internet. Salon has just posted an provocative interview with author and tech guru Jaron Lanier, who sets down some guideposts for sociological analysis of what changes the internet has wrought. This is a critical subject, because in most ways the internet has changed life for the worse. (Of course you are reading and I am writing on a website, but readers and writers could find one another a generation ago, and the experience was no less rewarding—for the writer, probably far more so.) Lanier argues that the digital revolution is a principal cause of the collapse of the middle class, the drying up of jobs which provided the backbone for most American family life. He points out that while we once had Kodak (and its 140,000 jobs), now we have Instagram, which employs something like a dozen. Gone with Kodak are 140,000 corporate health plans, and no doubt countless Little League teams and brownie troops. This argument feels correct to me, and it deserves to be thoroughly explored in the months ahead.
I occasionally bore my grown children by pointing out that the level of technology we had even a generation further back, in the 1960s, was completely fine. You could travel by jet. Antibiotics existed (and were probably more effective than now), no one died tragically of scarlet fever or something. (On second reading, I would note that AIDS, apparently non-existent in the 1960s, was still a death sentence in 1993 and would be for another couple of years.) People could make make a living writing books or working for newspapers, or working in a factory. Email didn’t exist of course, much less twitter, but somehow people were able to communicate. And I don’t want to go overboard and overpraise the quality of political leadership then, but I think the Congress run by Jim Wright and Bob Michel was probably a great improvement over the current one. Is it just me, or is the general tone of the Buchanan-Hitchens exchange far more elevated than political talk you see on TV today?
It’s hard to know which is the bigger deal, Stephen Hawking’s BDS-inspired decision to drop out of a high-powered conference in Israel (a country he has visited several times before) or the Boston Globe’s endorsement of Hawking’s protest. Both actions would have been virtually inconceivable five years ago, and both reflect the broader impatience of mainstream, high-prestige Western institutions and personalities with Israel’s intensifying land-grabbing on the West Bank and its longstanding practice of using the never-ending “peace process” to camouflage policies of slow-motion ethnic cleansing.
Hawking of course is a global celebrity, renowned as a top theoretical physicist who has triumphed professionally despite suffering from the most debilitating of diseases. His defiance is celebrated in graphic form here and analyzed perceptively by the Israeli anti-occupation journalist Larry Derfner here. Derfner doesn’t really like BDS but notes that nothing else to date has worked: the Israeli public seems all too happy to elect governments which support the occupation, the United States is too timid to try “tough love” on Israel, and it’s very difficult for the Palestinians to make non-violent protest effective against an occupier using live ammunition, midnight arrests, and detention without trial. Not that they aren’t trying. Read More…
Is there anyone besides Andrew Sullivan who notes how peculiar it is that John McCain wants to aid al-Qaeda operatives in Syria? It is duly reported that most of the Syrian rebels are Sunni fundamentalists. And as soon as it is reported, it is just as quickly forgotten. I don’t understand for the life of me why anyone thinks that Syria controlled in part or in full by Sunni jihadis is better than one controlled by Bashar Assad. Assad, whom I’ve noted before, has run a thuggish regime with a social base largely on Syria’s minority but far from tiny Christian and Alawite communities. If he falls, he falls—certainly he and his regime are not something Americans need go to tears over. But I don’t fully understand the haste to drive him out, the fervor behind Johnny “the Jihadi” McCain’s desire to oust him.
I don’t fully understand, but I have my suspicions. They run like this: the reason McCain and much of the Beltway establishment so hate Assad, even to the point of preferring al-Qaeda, is that Assad is aligned with Iran and funnels Iranian weapons to Hezbollah, the only Arab force in the past 60 years that has been able to fight the Israeli army without breaking down and collapsing. One key factor constraining an Israeli strike on Iran is Hezbollah, which could plausibly respond by launching some rockets at Israeli cities. So, defeating Assad weakens Hezbollah, which weakens Iran’s deterrence against Israel, which solidifies Israel’s military domination of the Mideast. I get that, as the saying goes. A fractured Syria, even one dominated by al-Qaeda, is better for Israel than a Syria aligned to Iran and willing to supply Hezbollah in Lebanon.
My question is, is it better for the United States? For the life of me, I can’t see why. Hezbollah has done some vicious things, including killing and torturing Americans during Lebanon’s civil war of the 1980s. But it’s terrorism which is territorially motivated rather than religiously motivated, and there is no reason to think that they wouldn’t be happy to ignore America if we ignored them. Not so the Sunni fundamentalists. For them we are a religious enemy. The rebels in Syria, who have come from all over the Sunni Muslim world, seem quite similar in ideology to the guy who inspired the Tsarnaev brothers to blow up women and children at the Boston Marathon. Why should we want to strengthen this faction of Islam by bringing them to power in Damascus?
None of the games on were interesting, so I was flipping through the channels. Suddenly, at the top of the hour, appeared the new Ken Burns documentary, “The Central Park Five.” I had heard of it, seen a trailer perhaps, hadn’t wanted to see it. It’s the story of the imprisonment on false charges of five teenagers, four black and one Hispanic, for an horrendous rape and assault which took place in New York City 24 years ago.
Anyone in New York then would remember the crime. It was the most shocking crime of a decade full of them: a young woman, talented and working on Wall Street, was jogging in the park, near the reservoir, around 11 PM—not unusual in the city that never sleeps. She was brutally raped and assaulted, her head pounded and brain damaged—left for dead. She made a partial recovery, but never again functioned at her previous level.
At the time I was about four months into a job at the New York Post editorial page—a job I had taken as a kind of mission, to do everything in my power to help prevent the city from sliding into something like Newark or Detroit. That then seemed a real possibility. Despite a financial recovery during the ’80s, crime was rampant. The murder rate rose every year, as did all the lesser crimes: shootings, stabbings, muggings. The police seemed overwhelmed. They and the city’s political class, led by Mayor Ed Koch, were under constant rhetorical assault for their alleged racism—which the media (except for the undeceived and uncowed Post editorial page) considered as if it might be fact. A few years prior, Al Sharpton and two black radical attorneys had held much of the metropolitan region hostage by gumming up the legal system, a campaign culminating in their touting of a false rape charge made by a young black girl, Tawana Brawley. If you read carefully the accounts of these case in the Times, you could probably figure out that the racism charges they broadcasted were substantially groundless, but the general atmosphere pointed in one direction—racist cops, a racist mayor. Meanwhile if you were trying to go about your lawful day-to-day business on the streets or in the subway, you often felt under a genuine sense of menace from groups of young black males. You and pretty much every other person you knew had been mugged at knifepoint, or had apartment or car broken into. It was a constant. No one, it seemed, could do anything about it. The basic reality seemed to pervade every aspect of life in the city, and certainly (no matter how much one wished otherwise) influenced the way one looked at black people.
Ed Koch, a friend of the Post (and later a friend of mine) was running for a fourth term, and being challenged by David Dinkins—who seemed at one moment sensible and moderate, at another, a front man for the very black radicals seeking to undermine the moral basis of the criminal justice system.
Months before the critical Democratic primary, the woman in Central Park was raped. The sheer horror of the crime was eased slightly by the rapid arrest of suspects. Boy, the NYPD was good. There had been, on that warm spring evening, a night of wilding: some 30 youths had descended on the park from Harlem, committing mayhem on the late night reservoir joggers. Some were robbed and beaten, but except for “the jogger” they escaped serious harm.
What few people in the city knew was that the case against the Central Park Five was contrived. The cops got the kids, five of the perhaps eight they had picked up that evening. But they knew they had, in addition to the other robbery and mayhem victims, a woman hovering near death. They needed suspects, confessions. The city needed closure. Read More…
I know John Kerry is said to be seriously committed to negotiating a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine, that he has leaned on various Gulf Arab states to consider modifications in their 2002 (reaffirmed in 2007) peace proposal, that he has apparently gotten some positive response from both the Gulf States and Tzipi Livni, the figure in Israel’s present government with some responsibility for peace negotiations.
I doubt it will go anywhere. Israelis have elected Likud-led governments in most recent elections, including the last two. The Likud is formally, officially, on record against the creation of a Palestinian state. Its charter states, “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel.” Likud election platforms plainly reject a sovereign Palestinian state west of the Jordan river. Members of Israel’s present government like Naftali Bennett are unequivocal opponents of Palestinian statehood. While Obama made a nice speech to Israeli university students about the desirability of a two-state solution, he has no stomach (or Capitol Hill support) for a battle to undermine Netanyahu or change the Israeli leader’s calculations. (To give a sense of the political constraints, a liberal Democrat, Barbara Boxer is actually sponsoring a bill in the Senate that would give Israel the right to racially discriminate against American citizens in granting visas, while Israelis would be permitted to come to the U.S. freely.)
All this means there won’t be a two-state solution. It’s a shame—it’s the most logical, most practical way that two warring communities could salvage the essentials of the self-determination they both want. There are injustices about it, certainly. But one can see that it would, that it could, with a fair amount of good will, actually work.
In the absence of a two-state solution, then what? A significant barrier was breached this week when Peter Beinart’s Open Zion site published Daniel Gavron’s provocative column, “Time to Stop Demonizing the One-State Solution.”
If you’ve read Peter Beinart, one of America’s most eloquent and influential liberal Zionists, you will see the import. Beinart is as committed emotionally to the idea of a Jewish state in the Mideast as anyone. But he also can’t tolerate the injustices against the Palestinians Israel regularly commits. I would guess he published Gavron’s piece because he recognizes that the two-state idea may, actually, be finished—and that in publishing it, he is trying to provide two-staters one final burst of electro-shock resuscitation. If it fails now, there will be nothing to resuscitate. Read More…
Amazing for its viciousness and rank dishonesty is the campaign waged against UN special rapporteur for human rights in occupied Palestine Richard Falk for making some pretty straightforward “blowback” points in the aftermath of the Boston terrorist attack. Falk’s piece is here; written before the perpetrators were discovered, it notes chiefly the relative calm compared to 9/11, and the greater reflectiveness of many of the callers to PBS and other venues, who noted (as have several other commentators) that many innocents are also victims of American violence. Falk also laments what he perceives as Obama’s apparent obeisance to Israel and fears a war with Iran. Falk is a lucid and often deep thinker, but this was not an unusual piece.
Yet the old and venerable Falk (he was a prominent international law professor when I was in college, a very long time ago) had enemies lying in wait. Within a few days a well-funded neocon group called UN Watch and its various media allies had ginned up an intense public relations campaign, based on falsifying the meaning of his piece, using ellipses to distort its sentences, to claim that Falk had said that the Boston victims somehow deserved their fate. Phan Nguyen at Mondoweiss records in meticulous detail the contours of the misrepresentation campaign here. UN Watch’s rendering of Falk got assistance from the New York Post and someone from the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and they obviously sent out a lot of messages to politicians, diplomats, and UN functionaries claiming (falsely) that Falk had blamed Israel and America for the terror attack, while asking them to respond. Many politicians responded as you would think they would, with US UN ambassador Susan Rice calling for Falk to be stripped of his post. (One shudders to imagine this spineless creature as Secretary of State.)
The question is why. I don’t believe that Professor Falk has any particular power or influence as the UN rapporteur for Palestine, and I’m not sure if his reports have saved a single Palestinian olive tree or water cistern from Israeli destruction. I’d like to be mistaken. If the reason is simply ideological, it’s difficult to believe that Israel lobby is all that concerned about people who say that if the United States persists in fighting what appears to Muslims as a war against Islam, with drones and whatnot, some Muslims are going to become radicalized and do evil in return. A young Yemeni made precisely that point before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee early this week, and he was treated respectfully—despite much senatorial grandstanding. Americans are ready to at least entertain the notion that a violent foreign policy (even one that uses drones autopiloted from the sanitary airconditioned confines of Nevada) can produce blowback. Glenn Greenwald argued the point here.
The smear campaign was probably started not because what Falk wrote was ridiculous but because it was reasonable. He commited the additional offense of mentioning Israel’s obvious efforts to ignite an American war with Iran. My guess is that UN Watch and its allies thought Boston provided an opportunity, that there would be enough righteous anger at the perpetrators of the terrorist attack to open a window where a smear campaign might work. If Falk could be forced out, it would illustrate their power to punish dissent and control the American discourse. Lo and behold, they got Susan Rice to endorse them.
In an important column, Justin Raimondo explores further the Chechen connection, which is not only the path to the older Tsarnaev brother’s radicalization but a Cold War leftover inside the Beltway and a cause dear to many neoconservatives. Because the Chechens are anti-Russian, they have many friends in Washington. Enough perhaps to influence the FBI to take Russian warnings of Tamarlan Tsarnaev’s terrorist connections with a grain of salt.
The problem is that the Chechen “freedom fighters” are US allies, along with their ideological compatriots in Libya and Syria. When the Chechen rebel “foreign minister,” Ilyas Akmadov,” applied for political asylum in the US, the Department of Homeland Security nixed the idea – but were overruled by a bipartisan coalition of political heavyweights, including Madeleine Albright, Alexander Haig, Frank Carlucci, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ted Kennedy, and John McCain. In a letter of endorsement, Albright gushed that Akhmadov is “devoted to peace, not terrorism.” McCain wrote: “I have found him to be a proponent of peace and human rights in Chechnya.”
Although support for the Chechen independence movement is bipartisan, that troublesome little sect known as the neoconservatives has actively backed the Chechen cause from the get-go: an impressive list of prominent neocons, including Bill Kristol, sits on the board of the Chechens’ principal US propaganda outfit, the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (formerly the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya). According to Glen Howard, head of the Jamestown Foundation, a neocon outfit focused on Central Asia, the Chechens aren’t Islamist terrorists, they’re just cuddly “nationalists” rebelling against a Russia that has gone “fascist.” “The Russians are trying to treat Chechen separatism through the prism of 9/11 and terror rather than as a nationalist movement that has been defying Kremlin rule for 200 years,” says Howard. This analytical premise, however, doesn’t seem to apply to, say, Afghanistan.
This may explain why the FBI didn’t put Tamarlan Tsarnaev under surveillance after Russian intelligence informed them that he held six(!) meetings with a Chechen Salafist militant during his trip to Dagestan. There may well be a lot of opportunities for self-radicalization via the Internet for alienated young Sunni Muslims, but in this case there is also a real trail to leading to established foreign groups with a record of terrorism. The trouble seems to be that the FBI ignored it, despite specific warnings. Why?
Regardless of what we find about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s stay in Dagestan, the Boston Marathon case illustrates that we will not soon be done with terrorism inspired by Sunni Salafist doctrines. The Tsarnaevs had no understandable grievances, were not avenging the deaths of relatives, were fighting for no territory. They were apparently young men having trouble finding a place of psychic belonging in the world, and they had access to the internet and found the doctrine of Salafist jihad. Under such circumstances, there may always be some takers. Police work will help, and so will limiting immigration. But unlike that large portion of terrorism connected to concrete and plausible political goals, from the Stern Gang to the IRA, the FLN to the Tamil Tigers to the Kurds to various Palestinian groups, this phenomenon seems truly mindless.
Andrew Sullivan wrote last week about the Tsarnaevs:
A little lost in modernity; finding meaning in the most extreme forms of religion; in many ways assimilated by the West but finding new ways to feel deeply, internally alienated by it: this is a classic profile of an Internet Jihadist. And there is nothing traditional about this religion. It’s hyper-modern, spread online and combustible with any other personal dramas.
We will probably have no choice but to live with it, just as the United States seems prepared to live with homegrown mentally ill loner gunman having access to automatic weapons.
The same week the Tsarnaevs took over the news cycle, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the so-called “back door to war” resolution, described by Paul Pillar as “an open invitation to Israel to start a war with Iran and to drag the United States into that war.” Read More…
Among Iran hawks, present Beltway-speak for a war is “the kinetic option.” I first heard this phrase a couple of years ago at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and thought it was just a neocon thing. Jeffrey Goldberg, I believe, deployed it, along with another one—”depriving Iran of the labor of its nuclear scientists” by which he meant (hee, hee) Israel’s policy of assassinating them in the street. Yesterday the term was pushed around at the more centrist Center for the National Interest (formerly the Nixon Center) in a interesting discussion about the consequences of starting a war with Iran.
Kinetic, according to my dictionary, means “related to the motion of material bodies and the forces and energy associated therewith.” In other words, it’s a physics term whose meaning could include massive bombardment. Hiroshima was very kinetic. Less so, but also kinetic, was this year’s Boston Marathon. But “kinetic” as a euphemism for war is not only fairly bloodless and technical, it also has a kind of wink-wink ironic ring to it. Some dictionary synonyms are “active, airy, animated, bouncing, brisk, energetic, gay, and frisky.” This is the way Beltway insiders talk about preemptive war now. It’s not awkward and plodding like other Washington euphemisms “collateral damage” or “enhanced interrogation.” It sounds almost hip. It’s a phrase used by those supremely confident they and their families will never be on the receiving end of bombs themselves.
The serious foreign-policy types at the Nixon Center were discussing the useful new book War With Iran, by Geoffrey Kemp and John Allen Gay. The authors sift carefully through the many military options and try to game out the consequences. I shouldn’t try to summarize, but their bottom line is that they can’t foresee the consequences of a war, though they conclude that the U.S. and probably even Israel could do very substantial short- and medium-term damage to Iran’s nuclear reactors. They don’t try to address larger political or moral questions, such as very good one one raised at the seminar by Marvin Weinbaum, who asked what would be the broader psychological effect on our position in the Muslim world if the United States or Israel bombed Iran and killed a lot of Iranians simply because their government was enriching uranium. The authors conclude that after the strike, the problem of a Iran with nuclear aspirations would still be with us.
The word kinetic, with its aura of ironic distancing, seems designed to suppress these kind of questions, to render them as somehow unserious. I didn’t like hearing it the first time at FDD, still less now that it has migrated to the Center for the National Interest.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon terror attack, the punditocracy seems dumbstruck. We have come to expect after these things some good indications about perpetrators: old style terrorists would advertise their actions, and in the major recent cases, — 9/11, London subway, Norway — the killers were discovered quickly. As of this writing we the general public don’t seem to know much.
I agree with Charles Krauthammer that this has an Al Qaeda feel to it, the urban setting, the quest for dramatic photographs. But we don’t know yet. A smaller probability seems to me a right wing domestic terrorist, perhaps on the Breivik model. Smaller still, Shi’ite (Iran sponsored) terror, or some some kind of false flag operation designed to implicate Iran and jumpstart an American-Iran war. But I’m no insider, I just read the blogs and the papers.
Eleven plus years ago, my wife called me from Wall Street to tell me she was okay. Okay about what I wondered. She explained. That afternoon I wrote a blog post for Justin Raimondo’s antiwar.com, saying that Mideast resentment of US policy towards Israel and Palestine was at an all time high, and unless we did something about it, we could expect a lot more of same. David Frum, in an essay attacking antiwar conservatives, wondered whether it was Robert Novak or I who “blamed” Israel first. I think it was pretty much a tie.
At the time, in several subsequent pieces, I would argue that the best way for the United States to protect its own freedoms would be to have as little as possible to do with the Mideast– to cut loose our allies, limit immigration. Trade with that part of the world, but otherwise have as little as possible to do with it. We would of course have to punish the folks who did this to us, but after that, bye bye.
No one took this advice. Instead, we (the United States) have since 9/11 killed, wounded, droned, imprisoned, tortured, made refugees of millions of Muslims. We have fought the endless war, the forever war. Electing Obama barely changed the situation. Whether this has made us any more secure is highly doubtful, but it surely has created more enemies than friends.
To be continued, obviously, when we know more about who perpetrated the Boston atrocity.