State of the Union

Boycotting the Arts and Academia

The Russians are withdrawing. Not from Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, but from Washington D.C. where the Woolly Mammoth Theatre has just canceled its festival of four plays from Moscow. As the political climate chilled, the Moscow Cultural Ministry decided to pull its funds from the festival, and Woolly Mammoth was unable to make up the difference.

This is the second controversial play cancellation this season in the nation’s capital. Theater J was forced to cancel performances of The Admission, an Israeli play modeled on Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Like Miller’s play, The Admission focused on a family haunted by possibly complicity in wartime wrongdoings.

After a sustained campaign by Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art (COPMA) to shame Theater J’s donors into withdrawing their funds, The Admission had its run shortened, and the production was scaled back to a workshop, rather than a full staging. Ultimately, a local restaurant and another D.C. theater stepped in to keep the show going.

The partial victory won by COPMA is, presumably, the exact kind of tool the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) is hoping to bring to bear on Israel, although the two groups aim at completely different results. Like COPMA, BDS supporters aren’t confining their efforts to the business sphere but have moved on to the marketplace of ideas and culture.

In late 2013, the American Studies Association, an organization of American college and university professors, voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions. They became the second academic consortium to approve a boycott, following the Asian American Studies Association, which voted to intellectually divest in April 2013.

Conventionally, sanctions are a punitive tool of foreign policy that are intended to bring the offending country back to the bargaining table. Or, in extreme cases, to make life under the intransigent government so uncomfortable that the citizens push for regime change, whether democratically or otherwise.

An arts and academia boycott doesn’t quite fit the bill. The pain of restrictions on researchers or experimental theater companies is unlikely to trickle down to voters or up to politicians. But, even worse, when the time comes to broker some kind of détente, both sides will be worse off for losing the weak bonds of shared culture and learning. In the case of academic boycotts, the world as a whole will be worse off as researchers end up siloed and isolated from their peers, as mathematician Edward Frenkel was until he caught a lucky break.

Unfortunately, the United States has behaved just as shortsightedly as Russia during this crisis. While Moscow has held back artists, Washington has directed NASA to stop collaborating with their Russian counterparts. Extra-terrestrial blustering has been curbed a little by pragmatism; NASA is still allowed to coordinate plans for the International Space Station, and, of course, all launches of American astronauts, which will occur on Russian soil until 2017 at the earliest.

While boycotts and divestment can do good, both by putting pressure on foreign leaders and by singling out regimes on the world stage, bringing sanctions to the actual stage or to laboratories or lecture halls undermines both sides ability to understand one another and to be prepared to work together when negotiations resume.


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Nationalism, Not NATO, Is Our Great Ally

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With Vladimir Putin having bloodlessly annexed Crimea and hinting that his army might cross the border to protect the Russians of East Ukraine, Washington is abuzz with talk of dispatching U.S. troops to Eastern Europe. But unless we have lost our minds, we are not going to fight Russia over territory no president ever regarded as vital to us. Indeed, should Putin annex Eastern and Southern Ukraine all the way to Odessa, he would simply be restoring to Russian rule what had belonged to her from Washington’s inaugural in 1789 to George H.W. Bush’s inaugural in 1989.

This is not an argument for ignoring Russia’s conduct. But it is an argument for assessing what is vital and what is not, what threatens us and what does not, and what is the real deterrent to any re-establishment of the Soviet Empire. Before we start sending troops back to Europe, as we did 65 years ago under Harry Truman, let us ask ourselves: Was it really the U.S. Army, which never crossed the Elbe or engaged in battle with the Red Army, that brought down the Soviet Empire and dissolved the Soviet Union? No. What liberated the nations of Eastern Europe and the USSR was the determined will of these peoples to be free to decide their own destinies and create, or re-create, nations based on their own history, language, culture, and ethnic identity. Nationalism brought down the empire. And Mikhail Gorbachev let these nations go because Russia was weary of maintaining a coercive empire and because Russia, too, wanted to be part of the free world.

While Putin may want the Russians of Ukraine and Belarus back inside a Greater Russia, does anyone think he wants Romanians, Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, or Slovaks back under Moscow’s rule? Putin knows that his own popularity, near 80 percent, is due directly to his being seen as a nationalist willing to stand up to the Americans and their claim to be sole architects of the New World Order. And it is nationalism, not a NATO full of freeloaders, that is America’s great ally in this post-Cold War world.

It was nationalism that liberated the captive nations, broke apart the Soviet Union, split Czechoslovakia in two and divided Yugoslavia into seven countries. Nationalism drove the Chechens to try to break from Moscow, the Abkhazians and South Ossetians to secede from Georgia, and the Crimeans to say good-bye to Kiev. And as nationalism tore apart the Soviet Empire and USSR, nationalism will prevent their recreation. Should Putin invade and annex all of Ukraine, not just Crimea and the East where Russians are in a majority, his country would face the same resistance from occupied Western Ukraine Russia faces today in Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya. Putin knows that.

But if Eastern Ukraine in the May election should indicate a will to secede and join Russia, or become a separate autonomous state, why would we automatically oppose that? Are we not ourselves the proud descendants of the secessionists of ’76? If we can view with diffidence the drive by Scotland to secede from England, Catalonia to secede from Spain, Venice to secede from Italy, and Flanders to secede from Belgium, why would the secession of the Donbass from Ukraine be a problem for us, if done democratically?

Nationalism is the natural enemy of empires, and it seems on the rise almost everywhere. An assertion of Chinese nationalism—Beijing’s claim to islands Japan has occupied for over a century—has caused a resurgence of a Japanese nationalism dormant since World War II. Japan’s nationalist resurgence has caused a rise in anti-Japanese nationalism in Korea. China’s great adversary today is Asian nationalism. India resents China’s hold on territories taken in a war half a century ago and China’s growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean. China’s claims in the South China Sea have revived anti-Chinese nationalism in Vietnam and the Philippines. In Western China, Uighurs have resorted to violence and even terror to break Xinjiang off from China, which they hope to convert into their own East Turkestan. Kurdish nationalism, an ally of America in Desert Storm, is today a threat to the unity of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Elections for the European Parliament in May are almost certain to see gains for the Ukip in England, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Geert Wilders Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, and other nationalist parties that have lately arisen across Europe. These parties in a way echo Putin. Where he wants Ukraine to stay out of the EU, they want their countries to get out of the EU.

Secessionism and nationalism are growth stocks today. Centralization and globalization are yesterday. A new world is coming. And while perhaps unwelcome news for the transnational elites championing such causes as climate change and battling global economic inequality, it is hard to see any great threat in all this to the true interests of the American people.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

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Americans Don’t See Ukraine as Their Cause

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When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Empire an “evil empire,” the phrase reflected his conviction that while the East-West struggle was indeed a global geostrategic conflict, it had a deep moral dimension. If Americans did not see the Cold War as he did, a battle between good and evil, Reagan knew that they would indefinitely sacrifice neither the wealth of the nation nor the blood of its sons to sustain it. That is in the character of Americans.

Jimmy Carter had sought to remove that moral dimension by declaring, “We have gotten over our inordinate fear of communism.” But with his “evil empire” speech, Reagan re-moralized the Cold War in what Natan Sharansky called “a moment of moral clarity.” Here we come to the heart of the matter as to why Americans want to stay out of any Ukrainian conflict. Americans not only see no vital U.S. interest, but also no moral dimension to this quarrel.

If, after all, it was a triumph of self-determination for Ukraine to secede from the Russian Federation, do not Russians in Crimea and Donetsk have the same right—to secede from Kiev and go home to Russia? If Georgians had a right to break free of the Russian Federation, do not Abkhazians and South Ossetians have a right to break free of Georgia? Turnabout is fair play is an old American saying. Op-ed writers bewail Vladimir Putin’s threat to the “rules-based” world we have created. But under what rule did we bomb Serbia for 78 days to tear away Kosovo, the cradle province of the Serb people? Perhaps some history is in order.

Compare how Putin brought about the secession and annexation of Crimea, without bloodshed but with popular approval, with how Sam Houston and friends brought about the secession of Texas from Mexico, and its annexation by the United States in 1845. When the Mexicans tried to retrieve a disputed piece of their lost Texas territory, James K. Polk accused them of shedding American blood on American soil, had Congress declare war, sent Gen. Winfield Scott and a U.S. army to Mexico City, and annexed the entire northern half of Mexico, which is now the American Southwest and California.
Compared to the Jacksonian, James Polk, Vladimir Putin is Pierre Trudeau.

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Give Kerry a B for Effort

State Department photo, January 2, 2014

Is John Kerry’s effort to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian “framework” for peace (i.e. not an actual peace settlement) finally done? It seems to be, though one should not be surprised to see a last ditch formula allowing Kerry to continue. Not, to be sure, to continue actual negotiations between the parties, but to continue doing what he has been doing: trying to win Israeli agreement to some proposal vaguely hinting perhaps at some kind of Palestinian state in a middling future, then rushing over to Ramallah to try to sell it to the Palestinian Authority.

Everyone involved with the “peace process” fears what will happen when negotiations stop. The process, which began before Oslo in the 1980s, succeeding in getting the the Palestine Liberation Organization to rewrite its charter, recognize Israel, and commit itself to a two state solution, seems finally to be over. Most politicians the world over know of no other way to even think of the Middle East. Giving up on it is to step into an unfamiliar dark room, which is why one can’t rule out some absolutely-final-last-call-this-time-we-mean-it effort to breathe new life into the corpse.

There was a good reason why the peace process was American-sponsored. While the actual number of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs residing in historic Palestine has been roughly equal for some time, the balance of power between the two sides—in terms of wealth and weaponry—may have been 100 to 1 in Israel’s favor. One reason for the imbalance is that Israel was sponsored by the United States, provided with American weapons and money and diplomatic support to a degree that literally has no parallel in the history of statecraft. The theory was that this support gave the United States “leverage.” which it could use to persuade Israel to embrace a two state solution which the Palestinians, as the much weaker party, couldn’t manage by themselves. The solution would lie along parameters which everyone knows and has known for nearly two generations. (They are succinctly summarized in Tuesday’s New York Times editorial, which calls for Kerry to finally “move on” to other pressing diplomatic matters.) But this leverage, it has turned out, was fanciful. The United States could never actually use it; both Democrats and Republicans felt too vulnerable to the political consequences. The one president who came closest to using it—the first President Bush, was a one term president. Democrats, probably more dependent than Republicans on campaign funds linked to the Israel lobby, backed off from using it as well. President Obama’s humiliation by prime minister Netanyahu in 2010 taught him a lesson in the realities of American politics.

So the peace process was left to cajoling. It is difficult not to respect John Kerry’s efforts and the doggedness of his pursuit. He understood the issues well, and was willing to raise rhetorical points about the costs to Israel of continued occupation to the extent that the Israeli Right came seriously to hate him. But he never had the real power of the American state behind him: he could never say to Israel, fine, do what you want, but America is not going to subsidize it any longer, nor have your back in the United Nations. The “special relationship” of American unconditional support for Israel was never up for negotiation. Kerry was a diplomat without any of the tools in the diplomat’s kit, remarkable since he was supposedly representing a superpower.

At this point, who can wish to revive the corpse? Israel doesn’t have a political majority that favors a genuine Palestinian state with contiguous territory, control of its own borders and its capital in Jerusalem; that is now beyond dispute. (Though certainly many Israelis, perhaps 40 percent, do favor such an outcome.) Since a pro-settler fanatic assassinated Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, every successive Israeli government has become more under the sway of settler ideology and political power. If Israelis once thought of the West Bank as a terrific bargaining chip, to be swapped for peace and acceptance in the region, that was long ago: most Israelis think of the territories as Judea and Samaria, inextricably part of Israel. And John Kerry and Barack Obama have established, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they aren’t willing or able to do anything about it.

But that doesn’t put an end to the matter. The circumstances of Palestinian life in the occupied West Bank are, for the most part, horrendous. Authors Peter Beinart and Hussein Ibish made this crystal clear last week at a Columbia University event. Chronicling the roadblocks—physical and bureaucratic—that obstruct Palestinian life every day, Ibish told the audience that there’s not a single person in this room who would accept living in such conditions without resisting. Beinart added,

You cannot permanently hold people without a passport, without the right to vote for the government that controls their lives, and the right to live under the same legal system as their neighbors who are of a different religion or ethnic group. Israel either solves that problem, by giving Palestinians a state of their own which you and I both want or– or– Israel will ultimately have to give citizenship and voting rights to Palestinians on the West Bank in the state of Israel, which will mean the end of the Jewish state of Israel.

Irrefutable as is this logic might be, in the absence of an American-led peace process, what will happen next? One view, put forth by Tony Klug and Sam Bahour in Le Monde Diplomatique is that Israel must be forced to choose whether the West Bank is occupied territory, or whether—after fifty years—the occupation has become permanent. Of course this would have been clarified long ago had not the obfuscations of the “peace process” allowed Israel to pretend the occupation was temporary. Israel denies the territory is occupied on legal grounds, which are accepted by no other country (though Sheldon Adelson has apparently persuaded some American politicians of Israel’s viewpoint). But if the West Bank is not occupied, it is annexed and part of Israel, and Israel will become legally what it already is de facto—an apartheid state—one with different laws for its different ethnic groups. As the occupation approaches the 50 year mark, it is time, the authors argue, to clear up the ambiguity.

There are any number of observers who believe that only when faced with the real possibility of Palestinians demanding the vote will Israel realize that it is perhaps “more Zionist” to allow them an independent state instead. In any case, without the shield of the “peace process” Israel will become more exposed to the rapidly growing BDS movement, which already scares Israel to death, and to the growing pressures in American churches (mainline and, increasingly, evangelical) which shudder at American support for blatant injustice in the Holy Land. The stunning new study guide, “Zionism Unsettled,” produced by Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church, would have been inconceivable a decade ago, and points to an inexorable reconsideration of Zionism in the light of Christian social justice teachings.

Basically, American diplomats have had a clear field for some 30 years to try to engineer a two state solution. One can respect their efforts—and we should all give John Kerry at least a B for tireless pursuit—and recognize that they would now do better to get out of the way.

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Filling Ideology’s Absence

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On our TV talk shows and op-ed pages, and in our think tanks here, there is rising alarm over events abroad. And President Obama is widely blamed for the perceived decline in worldwide respect for the United States. Yet, still, one hears no clamor from Middle America for “Action This Day!” to alter the perception that America is in retreat. If a single sentence could express the seeming indifference of the silent majority of Americans to what is going on abroad, it might be the simple question: “Why is this our problem?”

If a Russian or Ukrainian flag flies over Simferopol, why should that be of such concern to us that we send U.S. warships, guns, or troops? If Japan and China fight over islets 10,000 miles away, islets that few Americans can find on a map, why should we get into it? And, truth be told, the answers of our elites are unconvincing. One explanation for America’s turning away from these wars is that we see no vital interest in these conflicts—from Syria to Crimea, Afghanistan to Iraq, the South China Sea to the Senkaku Islands.

Moreover, the prime motivator of a half-century of sacrifice in a Cold War that cost us trillions and 90,000 dead in Korea and Vietnam—the belief we were leading the forces of light in a struggle against the forces of darkness that ruled the Sino-Soviet Empire—is gone. The great ideological struggle of the 20th century between totalitarianism and freedom, communism and capitalism, militant atheism and Christianity is over. The Communist empire collapsed. Only the remnants remain in backwaters like Cuba. Marxism-Leninism as an ideology guiding great powers is a dead faith. The Communist party may rule China, but state capitalism has produced Chinese billionaires who do not wave around Little Red Books. Lenin’s remains may lie in Red Square, and Mao’s in Tiananmen Square, but these are tourist sites, not shrines to secular saviors who remain objects of worship.

The one region where religion or ideology drives men to fight and die to create a world based on the tenets of the faith is in the Islamic world. Yet, as CIA Director Richard Helms observed, the three nations that had adopted Islamist ideology—the Afghanistan of the Taliban, the Ayatollah’s Iran and Sudan—all became failed states. Read More…

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Ukraine Learns the Problem With Revolutions

Current Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk  rallies protesters in Ukraine last fall.
Ivan Bandura / Flickr
Current Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk rallies protesters in Ukraine last fall. Ivan Bandura / Flickr

When the old order begins to fall apart, many of the vociferous men of words, who prayed so long for the day, are in a funk – Eric Hoffer, True Believer

The news of late out of eastern Ukraine is laden with irony. Those of us possessed of a realist disposition—I use the term “disposition” advisedly, for as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr noted in his essay “Augustine’s Political Realism,” definitions of realists “emphasize disposition, rather than doctrines”—are not terribly surprised that the recently installed regime in Kiev has set in motion a revolution it now finds itself unable to control. As history shows, that’s the trouble with revolutions: once begun, efforts to predict—much less control—their path are often fruitless.

What we are seeing taking place in the eastern provinces of Ukraine shouldn’t be terribly surprising, after all—the erroneous, yet seductive phrase “one Ukrainian people” that has been uttered over and over again by American and European diplomats, was always a fiction. So the new regime in Kiev finds itself in an analogous position to the one the Yanukovych government found itself in late 2013-early 2014; it faces popular dissatisfaction that expresses itself in the street (we have thankfully—thus far anyway—been spared the term “the Ukrainian street”).

There are a few differences between the oft-praised Euro-Maidan and the pro-Russian demonstrations now taking place across the East; the first being that the latter have actually been peaceful (so far). The nature of the regimes against which the respective protests were aimed are different as well; one, Yanukovych’s, was democratically elected in 2010, the government headed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk (or, as he was referred to in honeyed tones by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, “Yats”) was imposed by acts of violence and coercion. Another difference can be spotted in the reactions of the American media to the two movements. Proving the American media is nothing if not nimble, solidarity for the aspirations of the “Ukrainian people” during the Maidan riots has now morphed—in nary a blink of an eye—to scorn for protesters in the east who are obviously tools of the Kremlin.

And so if the protagonists of the Ukrainian revolution and their Western cheerleaders aren’t “in a funk,” perhaps they ought to be, for developments are not proving very favorable at present. In addition to the restive populations in urban centers like Donetsk and Kharkiv, Vladimir Putin is playing a strong hand well. He recently issued a letter to 18 European leaders urging them to provide Ukraine with financial assistance to avoid a shutdown of Russian gas supplies to Europe; economic leverage is joined by military leverage: Russia has amassed over 40,000 troops on its western border with Ukraine; and last but not least, Russia is busy consolidating its hold over Crimea. Indeed, this week the Russian government announced it was exploring the possibility of investing upwards of $1 billion toward developing the Crimean wine industry. Read More…

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Reagan’s Lessons for Dealing with Russia

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President Reagan was holding a meeting in the Cabinet Room on March 25, 1985, when Press Secretary Larry Speakes came over to me, as communications director, with a concern. The White House was about to issue a statement on the killing of Major Arthur Nicholson, a U.S. army officer serving in East Germany. Maj. Nicholson had been shot in cold blood by a Russian soldier. Speakes thought the president’s statement, “This violence was unjustified,” was weak. I agreed. We interrupted the president, who reread the statement, then said go ahead with it.

What lay behind this Reagan decision not to express his own and his nation’s disgust and anger at this atrocity?  Since taking office, Reagan had sought to engage Soviet leaders in negotiations, but, as he told me, “they keep dying on me.” Two weeks earlier, on March 10, 1985, Konstantin Chernenko, the third Soviet premier in Reagan’s term, had died, and the youngest member of the Politburo, Mikhail Gorbachev, had been named to succeed him. Believing Gorbachev had no role in the murder of Maj. Nicholson, and seeking a summit with the new Soviet leader to ease Cold War tensions, Reagan decided not to express what must have been in his heart.

Which raises a question many Republicans are asking: What would Reagan do—in Syria, Crimea, Ukraine? Is Sen. Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, or Gov. Jeb Bush or Chris Christie the candidate most in the Reagan tradition, the gold standard for the GOP? We cannot know what he would do, as we live in a post-Cold War world. But we do know what Reagan did. In the battle over the Panama Canal “giveaway,” Reagan stood against Bill Buckley and much of his movement and party. “We bought it, we paid for it, it’s ours, and we’re gonna keep it,” he thundered.

The Senate agreed 2-1 with Jimmy Carter to surrender the Canal to Panama’s dictator. Reagan’s consolation prize? The presidency. Reagan came to office declaring Vietnam “a noble cause” and determined to rebuild U.S. military might and morale, which he did in spades. His defense budgets broke the spine of a Soviet Union that could not compete with the booming America of the Reagan era. What’s our strategy, his first National Security Council adviser Dick Allen asked him. Replied Reagan: “We win, they lose.” Reagan saw clearly the crucial moral dimension of the ideological struggle between communism and freedom. He called the Soviet Bloc “an evil empire.”

Yet he never threatened military intervention in Eastern Europe, as some bellicose Republicans do today. Reagan would not be rattling sabers over Crimea or Ukraine. Read More…

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Ted Cruz and America’s “Nakba”

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Many peoples have have a folk memory of great suffering branded into them. The Irish often recall the famines of the 1840s, in which a million died, in great part due to cruel and neglectful policies of the ruling British officials and absentee landlords. For African Americans, the middle passage and slavery—scarring the lives of millions—form an indelible cultural memory. Palestinian Arabs remember the Nakba, or catastrophe, in which three quarters of a million people were ethnically cleansed from their homeland. Of course the Holocaust, where six million Jews were murdered, has left a permanent imprint on contemporary Judaism.

For our part, we Americans have the Iranian hostage crisis, in which 52 American diplomats were held hostage in the U.S. Embassy for over a year by Iranian revolutionaries. Their plight has been memorialized in an award winning film, Argo. The the scars left by the episode remain raw today—as even today the U.S. Senate rose up as one to pass a bill to prohibit Iran from adding insult to injury by sending to the United Nations as an ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, a man who actually served as a French and English to Farsi translator for the young militants who engineered the embassy takeover nearly thirty-five years ago.

I am being, of course, ironic. The seizure of the American embassy in Tehran was illegal and wrong, as many Iranian officials argued at the time. The hostages were often subjected to psychological abuse. Yet Iran was in the middle of tumultuous and bloody revolution as various factions maneuvered for dominance in a fluid political situation. The embassy hostages became pawns in internal Iranian struggles. These were deadly: thousands had been killed before the Shah overthrown, and thousands more died, often by summary execution, in the months which followed Khomeini’s assumption of power. In the Tehran bloodshed department, the holding of hostages in the embassy was distinctly minor league.

Because the Carter administration wanted a) the safe return of the diplomats and b) to avoid alienating the Muslim world when it appeared, especially after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a few months after the embassy seizure, that a new and particularly dangerous phase of the Cold War had commenced, it appeared to have no good response. The result, for all the world to see, was an America that seemed helpless. Washington of course could have seized some Iranian territory or bombed targets in Iran. For reasons a and b, neither seemed preferable to doing what we actually did, essentially wait until Iran grew tired of holding the hostages. But the year of waiting was perceived, especially in Washington, as a year of humiliation and impotence, and Washington has never been able to get over it. Though the hostages themselves have returned unharmed and went on to lead productive lives, Washington continues to react as if an injustice of epochal scale was done to it. Fifty-two diplomats, held for 444 days, our American Nakba.

It was not particularly surprising that the senator who decided to wave the bloody, or at least unironed, shirts of the imprisoned diplomats over the issue of Hamid Aboutalebi’s appointment was Ted Cruz., the Texan Tea Party Republican who distinguished himself during the Chuck Hagel confirmation hearings by insinuating that the former Nebraska senator was in the pay of North Korea. In this instance, Cruz introduced legislation designed to bar Aboutalebi from obtaining a visa because he was a “terrorist.” He was joined by Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who has been working behind the scenes to scuttle President Obama’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran, mostly by introducing poison pill legislation in the Senate. Neither Cruz not Schumer discussed whether Aboutalebi carried out any terrorist activities in Australia, Italy, or Brussels (the European Union), the last three posts where Aboutalebi served as Iran’s ambassador.

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Jeb Bush Follows in His Brother’s Footsteps

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Still to be thoroughly digested is last weekend’s spectacle of several prominent Republicans descending on Las Vegas in search of Sheldon Adelson’s blessing. The “Sheldon primary,” as the Washington Post dubbed it, did not go unnoticed. The Post ran a lengthy piece prior to the event focusing on the outsized role large donors now play in the aftermath of recent Supreme Court campaign finance decisions, as well as on Adelson’s stated desire to nominate a so-called moderate and electable candidate. J.J. Goldberg, a Forward editor and author of a perceptive 1996 book about Jewish power, played with the notion of whether or not it was an anti-Semitic “stereotype” to wonder about a rich Jew seeking to supervise the Republican nomination process:

Now, before you go accusing the Post (or me) of spreading anti-Semitic stereotypes, consider what the word means. Merriam-Webster defines “stereotype” as “an often unfair and untrue belief.” The World English Dictionary calls it “a set of inaccurate, simplistic generalizations.” Cardwell’s 1996 Dictionary of Psychology defines it rather more broadly as “a fixed, over generalized belief.” Nobody’s definition seems to include a straightforward recitation of facts that one would prefer remain hidden. That probably falls under the category of “a no-no.”

Jon Stewart mocked the Vegas confab, astonished that Adelson could squeeze from tough guy New Jersey governor Chris Christie a groveling apology for referring to the West Bank occupied territories as “occupied territories.” Stewart is perhaps the nation’s most visible critic of the Israel lobby, but he has ability only to make the young fans laugh at its power, not actually to challenge it. Humor may already have had some impact on the landscape. Last year Saturday Night Live produced, but did not air live, a skit depicting senators asking Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel whether he would fellate a donkey to demonstrate his loyalty to Israel. (The clip now seems offline but was widely circulated in the days following its production).

But most of the Sheldon primary commentary fell short of describing what Adelson hopes to gain from spending tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars to influence the Republican nomination. Pat Buchanan did observe that Adelson was no garden variety Israel supporter, but an advocate of an American nuclear first strike on Iran (in the desert, as a demonstration of what we will do to Tehran). The best indications are that Adelson’s main requirement for a candidate would be his readiness to engage America in war for Israel’s benefit. And though Adelson is an American citizen, he has not minced words about where deepest loyalties lie: he has said he regretted serving in the U.S. military, (as opposed to Israel’s) and told interviewers he hopes his youngest son could serve as a sniper in the Israeli army.

One shouldn’t really blame Adelson for this; he is free to be loyal to whatever country he wants and to advocate whatever wars he wants others to fight on its behalf. But the real question is about the Republican Party—why do its aspiring high office seekers feel that it is unproblematic to kiss Adelson’s ring. This was a party once accustomed to bathing itself in patriotism, and in truth it is impossible to imagine any past Republican president—including George W. Bush, he who filled his White House and Pentagon with neoconservatives—behaving in quite this way. Read More…

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Sheldon Adelson, Iran, and the GOP

For four days ending Sunday, a quartet of presidential hopefuls trooped to Las Vegas to attend the annual gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Impresario: Sheldon Adelson, the Vegas-Macau casino mogul whose fortune is estimated at $39 billion—8th richest man on the planet—and who dumped $92 million into the election of 2012. Adelson kept Newt Gingrich alive with a $15 million infusion of ad money, gutting Romney, and then sank $30 million into Mitt’s campaign.

This time Sheldon wants to buy himself a winner.

Ari Fleischer, press secretary to Bush 43, and a member of Adelson’s RJC fiefdom, put it plain and simple: “The ‘Sheldon Primary’ is an important primary. … anybody running for the Republican nomination would want to have Sheldon at his side.” One such man is Jeb Bush, son and brother to presidents, who was the prize bull at Sheldon’s cattle show. Daniel Ruth of the Tampa Bay Times speculates on Jeb’s motive in showing up:

Would you slink into Las Vegas to schmooze gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson who regards GOP presidential nominees as if they were trophy heads mounted in his den, if you had no interest in the White House? Bush is not going to Vegas to catch Meat Loaf’s act at Planet Hollywood.

The 2016 presidential hopefuls “are falling at his feet,” said a veteran Republican strategist of the 80-year-old oligarch. Each of those who came—Bush, Chris Christie, and Govs. Scott Walker and John Kasich—apparently auditioned, one by one, before the godfather. In 2016, says Adelson’s top political adviser Andy Abboud, Sheldon’s “bar for support is going to be much higher. … There’s going to be a lot more scrutiny.” Guess that means no more Newts.

Victor Chaltiel, a major donor and Adelson friend who sits on the board of Las Vegas Sands, tells us Sheldon “doesn’t want a crazy extremist to be the nominee.” Adds Shawn Steel, a big California GOP money man, Sheldon is a “very rational guy.” Perhaps. But last fall at Yeshiva University, this “very rational guy” gave this response to a question from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on whether he supports U.S. negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program:

No. What do you mean support negotiations? What are we going to negotiate about? What I would say is, ‘Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.’ … You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘OK let it go.’

So, there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever.

And then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development.

‘You want to be peaceful. Just reverse it all, and we will guarantee that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes.’

Adelson’s response was recorded by Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss website who was at Yeshiva and filmed the interview. Weiss says the audience cheered Adelson’s proposed nuclear strike on Iran and no one on the stage, not Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, peeped a word of dissent. And this is a “very rational guy,” who doesn’t want “a crazy extremist to be the nominee”? Read More…

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