OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES: North Korea and Beyond

15 Jun

 

[Prefatory Note: This jointly authored essay was initially published in The Hill on May 30, 2017 under the title, “Averting the Ticking Time Bomb of Nukes in North Korea.” We did not choose such a title that is doubly misleading: our contention is not that North Korea is the core of the problem, but rather the retention of nuclear weapons by all of the states pose both crises in the context of counter-proliferation geopolitics and with respect to the possession, deployment, and development of the weaponry itself; a second objection is with the title given the piece by editors at The Hill. While acknowledging the practice of media outlets to decide on titles without seeking prior approval from authors, this title is particularly objectionable to me. The term ‘nukes’ gives an almost friendly shorthand to these most horrific of weapons, and strikes a tone that trivializes what should be regarded at all times with solemnity.]

 

 

 

OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES

 

Richard Falk* & David Krieger**

 

Alarmingly, tensions between the United States and North Korea have again reached crisis proportions. The United States wants North Korea to curtail any further development of its nuclear weapons program, as well as to stop testing its missiles. North Korea evidently seeks to bolster its security by acquiring a sufficiently robust deterrent capability to discourage an attack by the United States. The unpredictable leaders of both countries are pursuing extremely provocative and destabilizing patterns of behavior. Where such a dangerous interaction leads no one can now foresee. The risk of this tense situation spiraling out of control should not be minimized.

 

It is urgent that all governments concerned make a sober reassessment in a timely manner. The following questions need to be addressed: What can be done to defuse this escalating crisis? What should be done to prevent further crises in the future? What could be learned from recurrent crises involving nuclear weapons states?

 

It is discouraging that the White House continues to rely mainly on threat diplomacy. It has not worked in responding to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions for the past few decades, and it is crucial to try a different approach. Currently, there are mixed signals that such a shift may be underway. President Trump has turned to China, imploring that it use its leverage to induce Kim Jong-un to back down, and has even mentioned the possibility of inviting Kim for crisis-resolving talks. Also relevant and hopeful is the election of Moon Jae-in as the new president of South Korea, and his insistent calls for improved relations with the North.

 

In the end, no reasonable person would opt for another war on the Korean Peninsula. The only rational alternative is diplomacy. But what kind of diplomacy? American reliance on threat and punitive diplomacy has never succeeded in the past and is almost certain to fail now. We assuredly need diplomacy, but of a different character.

 

It is time to abandon coercive diplomacy and develop an approach that can be described as restorative diplomacy. Coercive diplomacy relies on a zero/sum calculus consisting of military threats, sanctions, and a variety of punitive measures. Restorative diplomacy adopts a win/win approach that seeks to find mutual benefits for both sides, restructuring the relationship so as to provide security for the weaker side and stability for the stronger side. The challenge to the political imagination is to find the concrete formula for translating this abstract goal into viable policy options.

 

The basic shift is a mental recognition that in the context of the Korean Peninsula any military encounter, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, is a recipe for catastrophe. It is not a win or lose situation. It is lose/lose in terms of human suffering, devastation, and likely political outcome. If nuclear weapons are used by either or both sides, millions of casualties could occur and the wider consequences an unprecedented disaster.

 

While there have been suggestions from the Trump administration that the time for talk with North Korea is over, actually the opposite is true. A solution to the present Korean crisis would involve an immediate return to the negotiating table with positive inducements made by the U.S. in exchange for North Korea halting its development of nuclear weapons and missile testing. Such incentives could include, first and foremost, bilateral and regional security guarantees to the North Korean government, ensuring that the country would not be attacked and its sovereignty respected. This could be coupled with confidence-building measures. The U.S. and South Korea should halt their joint annual military exercises in the vicinity of North Korea, as well as forego provocative weapons deployments. In addition, the U.S. and possibly Japan could offer North Korea additional benefits: food, medicine, and clean energy technology. China could play a positive role by hosting the negotiations, including possibly inviting the new leader of South Korea to participate.

 

Beyond resolving the current crisis is the deeper challenge to prevent recurrent crises that pit nuclear weapons states against one another. There is no way to achieve this result so long as some countries retain, develop, and deploy nuclear weapons, and other countries are prohibited from acquiring such weaponry even if their security is under threat. Iraq and Libya arguably suffered from the consequences of not having nuclear weapons to deter attacks against them.

 

The only way out of this trap is to recognize that the nuclear nonproliferation regime has failed. The treaty provisions calling for nuclear as well as general and complete disarmament negotiations have been neglected for nearly a half century. Outside the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States has acted as an enforcer of a nuclear nonproliferation regime. Such a role motivated the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 with its disastrous impacts on the country and the entire Middle East. It also underlies the current crisis pitting Washington’s demands against Pyongyang’s provocations. Hard power approaches to such dangerous developments have a dismal record, and pose unacceptable risks of regional and global havoc.

 

To prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons epitomizes prudence in the Nuclear Age. It is the only way to prevent a crisis between nuclear-armed opponents turning into a nuclear catastrophe. Such behavior would constitute an act of sanity for humanity and its future given the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons, the periodic crises that erupt among nuclear-armed countries, and the growing odds of nuclear weapons being used at some point. Yet for smaller, weaker nuclear weapons states to go along with this approach, the United Nations Charter and international law must be respected to the point that regime-changing geopolitical interventions by dominant states are convincingly rejected as a reasonable policy option.

 

Any use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic.. Depending upon the extent of the nuclear exchange, cities, countries, civilization, and even all complex life, including the human species, would be at risk. Experts anticipate that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons were used against cities would likely cause a nuclear famine taking two billion lives globally. An all-out nuclear war could be an extinction event for complex life, including humanity.

 

Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea). Nine leaders could initiate nuclear war by mistake, miscalculation or malice. The future rests precariously in the hands of this small number of individuals. Such an unprecedented concentration of power and authority undermines democracy, as well as being extremely reckless.and irresponsible.

 

It is essential to maintain our focus on the challenges posed by the development of North Korean nuclear capabilities. At the same time, while struggling to defuse this crisis hanging over the Korean Peninsula, we should not lose sight of its connection with the questionable wider structure of reliance on nuclear weapons by the other eight nuclear-armed countries. Until this structure of nuclearism is itself overcome, crises will almost certainly continue to occur in the future. It is foolhardy to suppose that nuclear catastrophes can be indefinitely averted without addressing these deeper challenges that have existed ever since the original atomic attack on Hiroshima.

 

Richard Falk

 

*Senior Vice President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and Albert G. Milbank Professor

of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University

 

**David Krieger

President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES

 

Richard Falk* & David Krieger**

 

Alarmingly, tensions between the United States and North Korea have again reached crisis proportions. The United States wants North Korea to curtail any further development of its nuclear weapons program, as well as to stop testing its missiles. North Korea evidently seeks to bolster its security by acquiring a sufficiently robust deterrent capability to discourage an attack by the United States. The unpredictable leaders of both countries are pursuing extremely provocative and destabilizing patterns of behavior. Where such a dangerous interaction leads no one can now foresee. The risk of this tense situation spiraling out of control should not be minimized.

 

It is urgent that all governments concerned make a sober reassessment in a timely manner. The following questions need to be addressed: What can be done to defuse this escalating crisis? What should be done to prevent further crises in the future? What could be learned from recurrent crises involving nuclear weapons states?

 

It is discouraging that the White House continues to rely mainly on threat diplomacy. It has not worked in responding to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions for the past few decades, and it is crucial to try a different approach. Currently, there are mixed signals that such a shift may be underway. President Trump has turned to China, imploring that it use its leverage to induce Kim Jong-un to back down, and has even mentioned the possibility of inviting Kim for crisis-resolving talks. Also relevant and hopeful is the election of Moon Jae-in as the new president of South Korea, and his insistent calls for improved relations with the North.

 

In the end, no reasonable person would opt for another war on the Korean Peninsula. The only rational alternative is diplomacy. But what kind of diplomacy? American reliance on threat and punitive diplomacy has never succeeded in the past and is almost certain to fail now. We assuredly need diplomacy, but of a different character.

 

It is time to abandon coercive diplomacy and develop an approach that can be described as restorative diplomacy. Coercive diplomacy relies on a zero/sum calculus consisting of military threats, sanctions, and a variety of punitive measures. Restorative diplomacy adopts a win/win approach that seeks to find mutual benefits for both sides, restructuring the relationship so as to provide security for the weaker side and stability for the stronger side. The challenge to the political imagination is to find the concrete formula for translating this abstract goal into viable policy options.

 

The basic shift is a mental recognition that in the context of the Korean Peninsula any military encounter, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, is a recipe for catastrophe. It is not a win or lose situation. It is lose/lose in terms of human suffering, devastation, and likely political outcome. If nuclear weapons are used by either or both sides, millions of casualties could occur and the wider consequences an unprecedented disaster.

 

While there have been suggestions from the Trump administration that the time for talk with North Korea is over, actually the opposite is true. A solution to the present Korean crisis would involve an immediate return to the negotiating table with positive inducements made by the U.S. in exchange for North Korea halting its development of nuclear weapons and missile testing. Such incentives could include, first and foremost, bilateral and regional security guarantees to the North Korean government, ensuring that the country would not be attacked and its sovereignty respected. This could be coupled with confidence-building measures. The U.S. and South Korea should halt their joint annual military exercises in the vicinity of North Korea, as well as forego provocative weapons deployments. In addition, the U.S. and possibly Japan could offer North Korea additional benefits: food, medicine, and clean energy technology. China could play a positive role by hosting the negotiations, including possibly inviting the new leader of South Korea to participate.

 

Beyond resolving the current crisis is the deeper challenge to prevent recurrent crises that pit nuclear weapons states against one another. There is no way to achieve this result so long as some countries retain, develop, and deploy nuclear weapons, and other countries are prohibited from acquiring such weaponry even if their security is under threat. Iraq and Libya arguably suffered from the consequences of not having nuclear weapons to deter attacks against them.

 

The only way out of this trap is to recognize that the nuclear nonproliferation regime has failed. The treaty provisions calling for nuclear as well as general and complete disarmament negotiations have been neglected for nearly a half century. Outside the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States has acted as an enforcer of a nuclear nonproliferation regime. Such a role motivated the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 with its disastrous impacts on the country and the entire Middle East. It also underlies the current crisis pitting Washington’s demands against Pyongyang’s provocations. Hard power approaches to such dangerous developments have a dismal record, and pose unacceptable risks of regional and global havoc.

 

To prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons epitomizes prudence in the Nuclear Age. It is the only way to prevent a crisis between nuclear-armed opponents turning into a nuclear catastrophe. Such behavior would constitute an act of sanity for humanity and its future given the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons, the periodic crises that erupt among nuclear-armed countries, and the growing odds of nuclear weapons being used at some point. Yet for smaller, weaker nuclear weapons states to go along with this approach, the United Nations Charter and international law must be respected to the point that regime-changing geopolitical interventions by dominant states are convincingly rejected as a reasonable policy option.

 

Any use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic.. Depending upon the extent of the nuclear exchange, cities, countries, civilization, and even all complex life, including the human species, would be at risk. Experts anticipate that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons were used against cities would likely cause a nuclear famine taking two billion lives globally. An all-out nuclear war could be an extinction event for complex life, including humanity.

 

Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea). Nine leaders could initiate nuclear war by mistake, miscalculation or malice. The future rests precariously in the hands of this small number of individuals. Such an unprecedented concentration of power and authority undermines democracy, as well as being extremely reckless.and irresponsible.

 

It is essential to maintain our focus on the challenges posed by the development of North Korean nuclear capabilities. At the same time, while struggling to defuse this crisis hanging over the Korean Peninsula, we should not lose sight of its connection with the questionable wider structure of reliance on nuclear weapons by the other eight nuclear-armed countries. Until this structure of nuclearism is itself overcome, crises will almost certainly continue to occur in the future. It is foolhardy to suppose that nuclear catastrophes can be indefinitely averted without addressing these deeper challenges that have existed ever since the original atomic attack on Hiroshima.

 

Richard Falk

 

*Senior Vice President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and Albert G. Milbank Professor

of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University

 

**David Krieger

President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

 

Interrogating the Qatar Rift

7 Jun

 

The abrupt announcement that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE, Yemen, the Maldive Islands, and the eastern government in divided Libya have broken all economic and political ties with Qatar has given rise to a tsunami of conjecture, wild speculation, and most of all, to wishful thinking and doomsday worries. There is also a veil of confusion arising from mystifying reports that hackers with alleged Russian connections placed a fake news story that implicated Qatar in the promotion of extremist groups in the region. Given Russian alignments, it makes no sense to create conditions that increase the credibility of anti-Iran forces. And finally the timing and nature of the terrorist suicide attacks of June 7th on the Iranian Parliament and on the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini adds a particularly mystifying twist to the rapidly unfolding Qatar drama, especially if the ISIS claim of responsibility is substantiated.

 

Four preliminary cautionary observations seem apt: (1) the public explanation given for this rupture is almost certainly disconnected from its true meaning. That is, the break with Qatar is not about strengthening the anti-ISIS, anti-extremist coalition of Arab forces. Such an explanation may play well in the Trump White House, but it is far removed from understanding why this potentially menacing anti-Qatar regional earthquake erupted at this time, and what it is truly about. (2) Any claim to provide a clear account of why? And why now? should be viewed with great skepticism, if not suspicion. There are in the regional context too many actors, crosscurrents, uncertainties, conflicts, mixed and hidden motives and contradictions at play as to make any effort at this stage to give a reliable and coherent account of this Qatar crisis bound to be misleading.

 

(3) Yet despite these caveats, there are several mainly unspoken dimensions of the crisis that can be brought to the surface, and sophisticate our understanding beyond the various self-serving polemical interpretations that are being put forward, including the centrality of Israeli-American backing for a tough line on Iran and the realization that Gulf grievances against Qatar have been brewing for recent years for reasons unrelated to ISIS, and led to an earlier milder confrontation in 2014 that was then quickly overcome with the help of American diplomacy.

 

And (4) The anti-Iran fervor only makes sense from the perspective of the Gulf monarchies (other than Qatar) and Israel, but seems radically inconsistent with American regional interests and counter-ISIS priorities—Iran is not associated with any of the terrorist incidents occurring in Europe and the United States, and ISIS and Iran are pitted against each other on sectarian grounds. Intriguingly, neither Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), nor Israel, that is, the principal antagonists of Qatar, have been ever targeted by ISIS.

 

The main contention of the anti-Qatar Arab governments, led by Saudi Arabia, is that this coordinated diplomatic pushback is motivated by anti-terrorist priorities. On its face this seems to be a ridiculous claim to come from the Saudis, and can only make some sense as part of a calculated effort to throw pursuing dogs in the hunt for ISIS off a course that if followed would inevitably implicate the Riyadh government. It has long been known by intelligence services and academic experts that it is Saudi Arabia, including members of its royal family, that have been funding Jihadi extremism in the Middle East and has for many years been spending billions to spread Salifist extremism throughout the Islamic world.

 

By comparison, although far from innocent or consistent of terrorist linkages, as well as being internally oppressive, especially toward its migrant foreign workers, Qatar is a minor player in this high stakes political imbroglio. For the Saudis to take the lead in this crusade against Qatar may play well in Washington, Tel Aviv, and London, but fools few in the region. Trump has with characteristic ill-informed bravado has taken ill-advised credit for this turn against Qatar, claiming it to be an immediate payoff of his recent visit to the Kingdom, ramping up still further the provocative buildup of pressure on Iran. To claim a political victory given the circumstances rather than admit a geopolitical faux pas might seem strange for any leader other than Trump. It is almost perverse considering that the al-Udeid Air Base is in Qatar, which is the largest American military facility in the Middle East, operated as a regional command center actively used in bombing raids against Iraq and Afghanistan, and serviced by upwards of 10,000 American military personnel.

 

Netanyahu warmongers will certainly be cheered by this course of events and Israel has not hidden its support for the anti-Qatar moves of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It achieves two Israeli goals: its longtime undertaken to encourage splits and disorder in the Arab world and its campaign to maximize pressures on Iran.

 

Interestingly, Jeremy Corbyn at the start of the week when the momentous British elections are scheduled to take place, called on Teresa May to release a report (prepared while David Cameron was prime minister), supposedly an explosive exposure of Saudi funding and support for Islamic extremism in the Middle East. All in all, a first approximation of the Qatar crisis is to view it as a desperate move by Riyadh to get off the hot seat with respect to its own major responsibility for the origins and buildup of political extremism in the Middle East, which has indirectly produced the inflaming incidents in principal European cities during the last several years. Such a move to isolate and punish Qatar was emboldened by the blundering encouragement of Donald Trump, whether acting on impulse or at the beckoning of Israel’s and Saudi leaders, confusing genuine counter-terrorist priorities with a dysfunctional effort to push Iran against the wall. Trump seems to forget, if he ever knew, that Iran is fighting against ISIS in Syria, has strongly reaffirmed moderate leadership in its recent presidential elections, and if Iran were brought in from the cold could be a major calming influence in the region. True, Iran has given support to Hezbollah and Hamas, but except in Syria not with much effect, and on a scale far smaller than what other actors in the region have been doing to maintain their control and push their agendas. In effect, if Washington pursued national interests in the spirit of political realism, it would regard Iran as a potential ally, and put a large question mark next to its two distorting ‘special relationships,’ with Saudi Arabia and Israel. In effect, reverse its regional alignments in a way that could replace turmoil with stability, but this is not about to happen. The American media, and thoughtful citizens, should at least be wondering ‘why?’ rather than staring into darkness of a starless nighttime sky.

 

But this is not all. The Saudis, along with the UAE and Egypt, have long resented and maybe feared the early willingness of Qatar to give some sanctuary and aid and comfort to various elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. It is hardly farfetched to assume that Israel is outraged by the Emir of Qatar’s friendship and earlier support for the Hamas exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal. Saudi Arabia strives to obscure its incoherent approach to political Islam. It loudly proclaims Sunni identity when intervening in Syria, waging war in Yemen, and calling for confrontation with Iran, while totally repudiating its sectarian identity when dealing with societally or democratically oriented Islamic movements in neighboring countries. Such an anti-democratiing orientation was dramatically present when Riyadh and Abu Dhabi scolded Washington for abandoning Mubarak’s harsh authoritarian secular rule in Egypt back in 2011 and then welcoming the anti-Morsi coup led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi two years later, even welcoming its bloody suppression of Sunni adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood. As has been long obvious to close and honest observers of the Kingdom, the Saudi monarchy has become so fearful of an internal uprising challenging its oppressive rule that it will oppose any liberalizing or democratizing challenge anywhere in its neighborhood. The Kingdom is particularly wary of its Shia minority that happens to be concentrated in locations near where the main Saudi oil fields are located. Similar concerns also help explain why Bahrain behaves as it does as it also fearful of a domestic Shia led majority opposition, which has made it a strategically dependent, yet ardent, adherent of the anti-Qatar coalition.

 

Also far more relevant than acknowledged is the presence of Al Jazeera in Doha, which at various times has voiced support for the Arab Uprisings of 2011, criticism of the Israeli practices and policies toward the Palestinians, and provided an Arabic media source of relatively independent news coverage throughout the region. Qatar is guilty of other irritants of the dominant Gulf political sensibility. It has arranged academic positions for such prominent Palestinian dissidents as Azmi Bashara and more than its neighbors has given welcome to intellectual refugees from Arab countries, especially Egypt. Given the way the Gulf rulers close off all political space within their borders it is to be expected that they find the relative openness of Qatar a threat as well as consider it to be a negative judgment passed on their style of governance.

 

Qatar is very vulnerable to pressure, but also has certain strengths. Its population of 2.5 million (only 200,000 of whom are citizens), imports at least 40% of its food across the Saudi border, now closed to the 600-800 daily truck traffic. Not surprisingly, this sudden closure has sparked panic among Qataris, who are reportedly stockpiling food and cash. The Doha stock market dropped over 7% on the first day after the Gulf break was announced. Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, and is a major source of Turkish investment capital. Western Europe is wary of this American project to establish an ‘Arab NATO,’ and sees it as one more manifestation of Trump’s dysfunctional and mindless impact on world order.

 

What this portends for the future remains is highly uncertain. Some look upon these moves against Qatar as a tempest in a teapot that will disappear almost as quickly as it emerged. The U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and the Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, have urged mediation and offered reassuring comments about anti-ISIS unity remaining unimpaired. It is true that the existence of the Udeid Air Base in Qatar may in time dilute deference to the Saudi-led desire to squeeze the government in Doha, possibly to the point of its collapse. A more fearsome scenario is that the Trump encouraged confrontation sets the stage for a coup in Qatar that will be quickly supported by Washington as soon as Riyadh gives the green light, and will be promoted as part of the regional buildup against Iran. The notorious ceremony in which King Salmon, Trump, and Sisi were pictured standing above that glowing orb with their arms outstretched can only be reasonably interpreted as a pledge of solidarity among dark forces of intervention. Many of us supposed that George W. Bush’s policy of ‘democracy promotion’ that provided part of the rationale for the disastrous 2003 attack on Iraq was the low point in American foreign policy in the Middle East, but Trump is already proving us wrong.

 

While this kind of ‘great game’ is being played at Qatar’s expense in the Gulf, it is highly unlikely that other major players, especially Iran, Russia, and Turkey will remain passive observers, especially if the crisis lingers or deepens. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Mohammed Zarif, has non-aggressively tweeted to the effect that “neighbors are permanent; geography can’t be changed,” stating his view that the occasion calls for dialogue, not coercion. If the isolation of Qatar is not quickly ended, it is likely that Iran will start making food available and shipping other supplies to this beleaguered tiny peninsular country whose sovereignty is being so deeply threatened.

 

Russia, has been long collaborating with Iran in Syria, will likely move toward greater solidarity with Tehran, creating a highly unstable balance of power in the Middle East with frightening risks of escalation and miscalculation. Russia will also take advantage of the diplomatic opportunity to tell the world that the U.S. is seeking to raise war fevers and cause havoc by championing aggressive moves that further the ambitions of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. Such Russian diplomacy is likely to play well in Europe where Trump’s recent demeaning words in Brussels to NATO members made the leading governments rethink their security policies, and to view the United States as an increasingly destabilizing force on the global stage, such feeling being reinforced by the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

 

Turkey seems to believe that its immediate effort should be similar to that of the Tillerson and Mattis approach, having tentatively offered to mediate, and advocates finding a way back to a posture of at least peaceful co-existence between Qatar, the Gulf, and the rest of the Arab world. Turkey has had a positive relationship with Qatar, which includes a small Turkish military facility and large Qatari investments in the Turkish economy.

 

To cool things down, the Foreign Minister of Qatar, Sheik Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, while denying the allegations, has also joined in the call for mediation and even reconciliation. Bowing to Gulf pressures, Qatar has prior to the current crisis withdrawn its welcome from Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood exiles, and seems poised to yield further to the pressures of the moment, given its small size, political vulnerability, and intimations of possible societal panic.

 

While the civilian population of Yemen is faced with imminent famine as an intended consequence of the Saudi intervention, the Saudis seems to be again using food as a weapon, this time to compel Qatar to submit to its regional priorities and become a GCC team player with respect to Iran—joining in the preparation of a sectarian war against Iran while maintaining a repressive hold over political activity at home. One preliminary takeaway is that ISIS dimension is serving as a smokescreen to draw attention away from a far more controversial agenda. The Saudis are deeply implicated in political extremism throughout the region, having likely paid heavily for being treated, temporarily at least, as off limits for Jihadi extremism. Qatar, too is tainted, but mainly by being a minor operative in Syrian violence and in 2015 paying ISIS an amount rumored to be as high as $1 billion to obtain the release of 26 Qataris, including members of the royal family, taken hostage while on a falcon hunting party, of all things, in Iraq. We can gain some glimmers of understanding of what is motivating these Arab governments to act against Qatar, but little sympathy. In comparison, the new U.S. foreign policy in the region defies any understanding beyond its adoption of a cynical and unworkable geopolitical stance, which certainly does not engender any sympathy from the victimized peoples of the region, but rather fear and loathing.  

Fred Skolnik and The Politics of Vilification

6 Jun

[Prefatory Note: I feel somewhat apologetic to blog subscribers. In most respects I realize that I am wasting the time of readers by posting this response to one of my most habitual and vindictive detractors, Fred Skolnik.  I will try to make amends by posting  a more substantive text as soon as possible. I share my defensive response in this setting because it does illustrate the standard operating procedure of dedicated hasbarists, regardless of whether their work reflects personal passion or is done on assignment. Identifying the motivation is not the point. The intention of such tactics is a concerted effort to shift the conversation, to discredit critics and criticism, and to engage in a site of struggle by trying above all to draw attention away from the overriding reality–Israeli responsibility for the extension of the Palestinian ordeal of prolonged suffering.]

 

I would have assumed that someone with Fred Skolnik’s achievements, the principal editor of the widely praised 22-volume Encyclopaedia Judaica, and the author of several favorably reviewed novels, would put his spare time to better use than vilifying an academic critic of  Israel, and even engaging in dirty tricks to invoke market forces to diminish his adversary’s reputation and influence. How wrong I am!

 

It is appropriate that I acknowledge being his target of choice, perhaps his only target, but the recipient of sustained attention by Skolnik, especially in the comment section of my blog of world issues. For several years I tried to reason with Skolnik, virtually pleaded with him to refrain from insults directed at me and others whose views of Israel he found abhorrent, but to no avail. He continued to submit long and frequent comments on complex controversial issues as though he alone possessed the wisdom and knowledge to provide clear answers, which happened to coincide with alt-right Israeli official views. The arrogance and one-sidedness of his comments made it seem hardly worthwhile to respond. The gaps in interpreting the facts and applicable consideration of law and morality were too wide to make dialogue useful. In the end, after wavering and hesitating, I began to block those comments that were either virulently anti-Palestinian or weighed down with nasty personal insinuations that questioned the motives and moral equilibrium of those with whom he disagreed. Skolnik, as with many other ultra Zionists, was quick to play the anti-Semitic card, and even put it more crudely by insinuating that persons like myself harbored sentiments of ‘Jew-hatred.’ An outrageous smear!

 

Not content with mere insults, Skolnik recently took action. He, along with other known Zionist disrupters and enemies of academic freedom, submitted hostile commentary on the Amazon website in the form of a review of my recently published book, Palestine’s Horizon: Towards a Just Peace (Pluto, 2017), awarding the lowest possible rating of a single star. I paste the text of Skolnik’s review below:

 

 How not to create a Palestinian state, May 21, 2017

 

By 

Fred Skolnik

 

This review is from: Palestine’s Horizon: Toward a Just Peace (Paperback)  

“I feel almost inclined to congratulate Prof. Falk for producing a book that is, for him, fairly moderate, that is, does not, as far as I can see, accuse Israel of Nazism, fascism, genocide or apartheid – whether incipient or actual – as he occasionally does in his blog. What he focuses on is how the Palestinians can achieve the aim of self-determination. He judges that the two-state solution won’t work, because the current “moderate” Palestinian leadership is incapable of bringing it about and Israel, in his view, does not wish to. Therefore he is implicitly proposing a one-state solution, namely one in which the State of Israel will cease to exist but the Jews will be allowed to maintain a homeland in a bi-national state where millions of Arabs – descendants of refugees and any other Arab who shows up on its doorstep – will be permitted to settle in the country, thus assuring an Arab majority and turning the Jews into an “ethnic” minority with guaranteed rights.

 

The fact that this proposal, which can only be called crazy in the light of reality, cannot and will not ever bear fruit, and virtually assures the Palestinians another century of suffering if they seek such an outcome, does not daunt Prof. Falk in the least. Given the nearly 1500-year history of Jewish life under Arab rule, it hardly needs to be explained why this will never happen, nor does Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state have to be justified. The State of Israel, my friends, is not going to disappear. The only way the Palestinians will get a state of their own is by relinquishing the Big Dream of a great massacre on the shores of the Mediterranean, disavowing terrorism, reconciling themselves to the existence of a sovereign, non-Muslim state in the Middle East, and negotiating a settlement whose basis will be a fair trade-off of land leaving 75% of the settlements within Israel’s final border and involving around 5% of West Bank land – barren hilltops exchanged for barren hilltops from the Palestinian point of view – a limited return of refugees (something like 30-40,000, which coincidentally represents the number of original refugees still alive, but maybe as many as 100,000), and some imaginative solution for Jerusalem. These are the parameters and this is the reality. It’s up to the Palestinians to decide whether they wish to live in dignity or in misery. Prof. Falk is not giving them very good advice.”

 

Actually, the language of the review is more temperate than Skolnik’s typical style, notable for its degrading innuendo and invective, which is only deployed indirectly in this review. When Skolnik falsely writes that my blog posts accuse Israel of “Naziism, fascism, genocide, or apartheid” he is making use of a standard hasbara tactic—claiming that a critic is making far more extreme contentions than is the case so as to be as discrediting as possible. In the list is added “or apartheid,” which indeed has been alleged by me, and is the theme of my co-authored ESCWA report. But why would someone add naziism, fascism, genocide unless you were engaged in a professional hatchet job?  

 

What is also objectionable about the review is that ignores the main arguments of the book, which barely touch on the premature topic of attaining a proper solution, although it does suggest in passing that Israel has deliberately rendered a fair two-state compromise unobtainable due to the settlements and assorted other irreversible encroachments on the Palestinian territorial remnant, which if freed of settlements would still only amount to 22% of the land encompassed by the British mandate. I also believe that the insistence on being ‘a Jewish state,’ so acknowledged by the Palestinian governmental representatives is a claim inconsistent with international human rights standards, with the modern secularist consensus, and with the equality of citizens and nationals subject to sovereign governmental authority. In this sense, to give up that claim of Jewish exclusiveness is a vital precondition with respect to the search for a sustainable and just peace. Unlike what Skolnik contends it is not a call for the destruction of Israel as a state, but for its abandonment of an unacceptable set of practices and policies. When South African dismantled its apartheid structures of control it did not cease to exist as a state. On the contrary, it became a legitimate state! Again Skolnik obscures the real issue by implying that my criticism of Zionist overreaching is a call for the destruction of Israel as a sovereign state.

 

Returning to the review, giving my book the lowest possible rating on the Amazon website is a callous attempt to be hurtful. I have a long list of books published by the most selective of university presses and mainstream publishers. Of course, no one is obliged to agree with the analysis or admire the scholarship, but to translate disagreement into this sort of unfair assessment illustrates what I mean by complaining about ‘the politics of vilification.’

 

Skolnik is active on other fronts as well. After years of seeking to maintain a degree of civility on my blog with respect to commentary on Israel/Palestine by blocking comments that either nurture hate or question the character and motives of those with whom someone disagree. I decided to block Skolnik’s submitted comments altogether having failed to persuade his to accept the guidelines for submission that I have established and seem to have gained the approval of most of those most engaged in discussion. He long abused the comment section by submitting frequent, repetitive dogmatic harangues laced with vitriolic attacks on those he dislikes.  Incidentally, my blog deals with a range of contemporary issues, and only encounters these issues in relation to Israel/Palestine. Also, I should add that I have blocked many submitted comments that strike me as truly anti-Semitic or hateful toward Israel and Zionism.

 

What seems of some interest is that Mr. Skolnik has gone to the trouble of collecting all of his blocked comments, publishing them in a presumably sympathetic Israeli newspaper (Arutz Sheva or Israel National News). I would have expected Skolnik to be ashamed of these comments, but apparently he is sufficiently proud of them to arrange publication. I have not checked to see whether he omitted some of the more inflammatory blocked comments or edited them to create the impression that I am censoring views of pro-Israeli subscribers to the blog, which I am not. I reprint from the newspaper the list, allowing readers, with the degree of fortitude to assess for themselves, whether I am being too restrictive in response to Skolnik’s attempts to have his views presented on this blog site. I would welcome feedback.

 

Below are the comments Skolnik submitted, which were blocked either because of tone, substance, or repetitive character, as published in the Israeli newspaper. I apologize for the formatting that cuts off some words of the text. If someone can help me format in a better way I will adjust the text here as now published. I would call attention to the headline and the lead paragraph that conveys the aggressive sentiments that Skolnik reins in to some extent when he submits his comments. Calling me an Israel-hater and an anti-Semite is defamatory besides being false. 

 

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From the annals of an Israel hater: The Richard Falk files

 

 

From the annals of an Israel hater: The Richard Falk files

An anti-Semite’s true colors are shown as he refuses to post answers to his posts unless they villify Israel even more than he does. This writer kept a record of the the Israel-hater who was, unbelievably, a UN representative to the Middle East.

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Fred Skolnik, 01/06/17 18:33

 

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Fred Skolnik

The writer is Editor-in-Chief of the 22-volume second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, winner of the 2007 Dartmouth Medal and author of The Other Shore (Aqueous Books, 2011), an epic novel depicting Israeli society at a critical juncture in its recent history.

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The following is the “dialogue” that developed between Richard Falk, former UN Human Rights Council Rapporter for Palestine and recent author of a UN report accusing Israel of apartheid, and myself after he published an entry on his blogsite called “Israel’s New Cultural War of Aggression” complaining about the cancelation of his book launches in England because of “strong pushback by Zionist militants threatening disruption.”

Note: Please notice the repeated response to my remarks is: “Your comment is awaiting moderation,”  which is his excuse for not posting them, as indeed he did not, ever.

Fred Skolnik May 5, 2017 at 9:14 am # 

Israel’s efforts to undermine the anti-Israel activities of its declared enemies are no less legitimate than the effort of its enemies to undermine Israel’s economic and academic life, not to mention efforts to bring about its extinction.

Richard FalkMay 5, 2017 at 12:21 pm # 

     

These are not equivalent activities:

–I am expressing views on the basis of academic study, which is in the mainstream of discourse in a democratic society, even if the views are controversial;–BDS activists are protesting by nonviolent [means] what they and most of the world consider to be unlawful and unjust policies and practices.

 

Israel, the US Government, and its militant supporters, are interfering with academic freedom and nonviolent protest activities, by engaging in smear tactics, and even by threatening violent disruption. These two sets of behaviors are in no sense equivalent, and to treat them as if they are, is to be ‘heartless’ and ‘ignorant.’

Fred Skolnik May 5, 2017 at 5:39 pm # 

I beg to differ. You are not acting as an academic but as a polemicist publically active in discrediting and delegitimizing the State of Israel. Israel has every reason to regard you as a hostile individual bent on harming it and acting accordingly. As for militant supporters of Israel, they are no more militant than Israel’s detractors. When people like yourself call for boycotts of Israel, Israel’s supporters are going to call for boycotts of people like yourself. When BDS people disrupt Israeli events, Israel’s supporters are going to disrupt BDS events. What do you expect?

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 12:05 am # 

May I ask you, Prof. Falk, if you are still wondering why you are attacked personally, and if you have the courage to reply, what your response would be if one of these barbaric Hamas terrorists whom you call freedom fighters entered a Jewish home and murdered an entire family, including infants, and then declared: “I had been reading Professor Falk’s blog where he compared us to French and Dutch partisans and asked rhetorically, ‘Can you blame them?’ and ‘What do you expect?’ so I felt fully justified on the highest moral grounds as elucidated by Professor Falk, to murder these miserable Jews.”

What would you say then, Prof, Falk? Or would you just run away if you couldn’t scrape up a winning reply? Yes, I’m challenging you, even if you lack the courage to confront these questions, so that it will be just a little bit harder for you to pretend that you are something other than what you actually are.

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Richard FalkMay 7, 2017 at 9:00 am # 

Mr. Skolnik:

I have no intention taking the bait of responding to a horrendous terrorist hypothetical, which avoids any considerationof the ethics of resistance. I could pose 100 analogous hypotheticals about the brutalization of the Palestinian people,which would in no way cast light on the ethics of Israel’s security claims. You play games designed to personalize our differences rather than confront the discriminatory and oppressive realities of Israel-Palestine relations. I will not take this bait.

Fred SkolnikMay 7, 2017 at 9:38 am # 

You are not “taking the bait” because you lack the courage to face the implications of your rhetoric or even to post the comment you are responding to,

I, for my part, would take any “bait” you wish to toss into the arena, even “100 analogous hypotheticals,” because I am not afraid to have my views challenged.

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

 

Fred SkolnikMay 7, 2017 at 11:21 am # 

 

Any way you cut it. Prof Falk, the fact remains that you are afraid of me and I am not afraid of you. You are afraid of me because there are so many holes in your thinking, knowledge and understanding and I expose them and you don’t know how to defend them other than by pleading personal insult or going into your empty rhetorical mode. I am not afraid of you because I am prepared to address any issue or allegation on a factual basis. 

To be honest with you, I even think that all these protestations and outcries of yours about the suffering of the Palestinians is just a little bit bogus. It is not really the Palestinians as victims that interests you but Israel (and America) as culprits. I am quite sure that if Israel was an Arab country and the Palestinians were indigenous non-Muslim Sudanese, let us say, and you had the same conflict and the same occupation and the same “ethnic cleansing,” we’d hardly be hearing a peep from you. Isn’t that so?

 

Richard Falk May 7, 2017 at 11:42 am # 

I am convinced, Mr. Skolnik, that you refuse to get my point, and thus respond by your usual tactic of insult. It is time that you stopped worrying about my integrity and motives, and started giving genuine attention to the reality of Israeli responsibility for Palestinian suffering.So long as you brush aside or photoshop this core reality by rationalizing Israeli cruelty as a response to ‘the barbarism’ of the Palestinians or their alleged refusal to make peace, you are engaging in the standard hasbara practice of shifting the conversation to the messengerand avoiding the message. And when you do pause to address the message it is done in such a dogmatic and one-sided manner as to lackany credibility. You seem to be looking in the mirror without seeing yourself.

 

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 12:51 pm # 

This is precisely what I mean about empty rhetoric. You are just throwing phrases into the air like “Palestinian suffering” and “Israeli responsibility,” which is no different in actual fact from saying “German suffering” and “Allied responsibility.” The Arabs initiated a war against Israel in 1967 and Israel defended itself as any other country would have. And insofar as the West Bank is concerned the specific and undeniably guilty party was Jordan, by Hussein’s own admission. The consequence of this war was the occupation of the West Bank and the consequences of refusing to make peace and choosing terrorism were Israel’s perfectly legitimate security measures, which continue to be in force to this day to the extent that the terrorism continues.

This is admittedly a one-sided representation of events, and that is because there was only one guilty party, but even if my “one-sidedness” were unjustified, you would hardly be the one to complain about it, given your own one-sidedness, so there is a bit of hypocrisy here too,

   

Richard Falk May 7, 2017 at 1:12 pm # 

Until you are able to acknowledge at least that ambiguity surrounds responsibility for the 1967 warwe have no basis for dialogue or conversation. See such knowledgeable accounts as Peeled, Quigley, andmany others. To pretend that it was a simple case of Arab attack and Israeli defense is a falsification of historical complexity. I do not use the sort of dogmatic, either/or language that you rely upon. I can even appreciate your partisanship, but you link it to discrediting what you perceive to be the partisanship of your adversary, and in the process the reality of historical complexity is completely obscured.

   

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 1:33 pm # 

You seem to be saying that unless someone agrees with your version of events, you have no wish to speak to him. That is of course your right but we are not engaged in negotiations here but in a debate that should be founded on facts and not on opinions. I have laid out the verifiable sequence of events more than once. There is nothing ambiguous about Syria’s shelling of Israeli settlements prior to the war or Nasser’s actions or Hussein’s motives, nor about the thinking of Israel at the military and political levels as reflected in published protocols of internal discussions. I will be more than happy to take up each point with you to try to get at the truth of the matter and maybe such a discussion will have a salutary effect, clarifying in a historically valid way how the 1967 war broke out.

 

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

 

Fred Skolnik May 7, 2017 at 8:05 pm # 

Whether you wish to reply or not, your holding back my last comment, made in the same spirit as the previous comments, both yours and mine, leads me to think that you are acting in extremely bad faith.

   

Richard Falk May 8, 2017 at 7:54 am # 

I you would stop concentrating on my motives, and start addressing my assessments–for example, historical complexity surrounding the 1967 War making your kind of analysis without credibility, given the scholarly literature that you ignore, merely restating your dogmatic one-sided views.

 

Fred Skolnik May 8, 2017 at 8:37 am # 

But that is precisely what I am doing: I am not talking about your motives above but precisely about your assessment. Why are you pretending otherwise? Here is my assessment:

I have laid out the verifiable sequence of events more than once. Again, there is nothing “complex” or “ambiguous” about Syria’s shelling of Israeli settlements prior to the war or Nasser’s actions or Hussein’s motives, nor about the thinking of Israel at the military and political levels as reflected in published protocols of internal discussions. I will be more than happy to take up each point with you to try to get at the truth of the matter and maybe such a discussion will have a salutary effect, clarifying in a historically valid way how the 1967 war broke out. 

“Peled, Quigley” are not scholarly sources. Quigley is a legal expert who is qualified to discuss the issue of preemptive strikes from a legal point of view but not the sequence of events that led to the war.

It seems to me that you are determined to lead the discussion away from demonstrable fact toward the freewheeling realm of “interpretation” and opinion, which is to say from history to polemics. When you try to shift the blame for the 1967 war onto Israel’s shoulders, you disregard the actual sequence of events that led to it. When you try to turn Israel into the aggressor in its war against terrorism, you disregard the specific circumstances of each clash or simply and arbitrarily reverse the actual sequence of events in order to underpin your interpretation of them.

It seems to me that what you really wish to say, though never too explicitly, is that since the creation of the State of Israel was unjust vis-à-vis the Arabs, all-out attacks on it and acts of terrorism are fully justified or understandable or whatever word you wish to use, and that the “solution” to the problem is to eliminate the State of Israel entirely, by flooding it with the descendants of the original refugees and any other Arab who shows up on its doorstep.

But that is not the history and that is not the justification and that is not the solution. At a certain point, even in polemics, reality should intercede, and the simple reality is that Israel is not going to disappear and the Palestinians are not going to get a state until they disavow terrorism and negotiate a settlement. 

Once again, I invite you to present your assessment of events. Start with Jordan, as the occupation of the West Bank is the crux of the matter today. Assess Hussein’s book on the war. That is a primary document. Assess the protocols of Israel’s deliberations before the war. I have given you a link more than once and you have ignored it. That is where you will find the history.

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation. 

Fred Skolnik May 5, 2017 at 10:01 am # 

I see that this is going to remain between ourselves. Nothing like a little logic to send you scurrying to the panic button. 

You are again being naive to the point of stupidity. When people like yourself call for boycotts of Israel, Israel’s supporters are going to call for boycotts of people like yourself. When BDS people disrupt Israeli events, Israel’s supporters are going to disrupt BDS events. What do you expect?

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

John  May 8, 2017 at 6:50 am # 

Richard,I sat behind you at the Cork Conference and mentioned that I had lived in South Africa during the apartheid era for several years.I said then – and I say again now – that what is happening in Palestine is nothing like what happened in apartheid South Africa. The nationalists there were just as racist and just as supremacist as the Zionists in Palestine but there were far fewer of them.In Israel, we now have a regime largely like the Nazis, with their global thugs engaging in global thuggery at events such as your book launch.Nazi rabble were deployed to shut everyone else up just like the Zionist rabble are now.The means and the methods may have charged but their essential thuggish has not.

How to defeat such thuggery?Well, it may take what it did to defeat the Nazis.That may well be the only way to gain Palestinian freedom.That or a real Civil War in Israel among Israelis – hard as that is to imagine.Even then, it is impossible to predict the outcome as being favourable or otherwise.

Fred SkolnikMay 8, 2017 at 10:47 pm # 

“Largely like the Nazis” means gassing and incinerating millions of people. Is that what you wish to say? And where were you when Arab terrorists were blowing apart Israeli women and children in buses and restaurants?

 

Richard Falk May 9, 2017 at 9:01 am # 

Stop lecturing me on how to administer this blog. You are participating of your own free will. If you so strongly disapprove, why bother? And I must say your approach to ‘historical complexity’ associatedwith the 1967 is, at best, simplistic, as is your dismissal of Quigley, whose archival research is very convincing on the various ambiguities associated with the various phases of that encounter. It is not amatter of avoiding your arguments because they are so well-evidenced and well reasoned, it is a sense that there is no point engaging with such extremist and self-serving constructions of the facts, relevant law,allocation of responsibility, and so forth.

John May 9, 2017 at 6:52 pm # 

What I was referring to was the thuggish behaviour of both the nazis and zionists.Where were you when the zionist thugs murdered thousands of largely innocent Gazans, including hundreds of children?No doubt lounging on a sofa overlooking Gaza and cheering on the bombers.Hasbara thugs like you have no place in decent civilised society.Just crawl back under the sewer cover you normally live under.

Richard Falk May 9, 2017 at 11:42 pm # 

I normally would block this comment as it steps across the civility line by mounting such an intense personal attack, but because you are clarifying an important point and responding to an attack I am making exception. I ask you in the future to limit comments to substantive disagreements.

   

Fred Skolnik May 10, 2017 at 4:08 am # 

Bravo! Yes, that is a clarification all right!

“Largely” like the Nazis means a little more than thuggish behavior.

To tell you the truth, John, I was in a shelter.

Gazans were killed because Hamas fired 4,500 rockets at Israel’s civilian population from in and around schools, playgrounds, hospitals, clinics, mosques and residential buildings and did not even allow its own civilian population to evacuate these areas when Israel warned them of impending attacks via flyers, emails and phone calls..

That is my clarification, Prof. Falk, without John’s sewer covers.

Fred Skolnik May 8, 2017 at 10:51 pm # 

This is a perfect example, Prof. Falk, of the kind of people you attract. Why aren’t you censoring this comment for its “dogmatism” and “one-sidedness,” not to mention its viciousness?

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Fred Skolnik May 9, 2017 at 9:51 am # 

The ploy of replying to my comments without posting the comments themselves is underhanded to say the least and certainly unworthy of someone who professes academic integrity. Are you really that afraid even to have the comments seen by your readers?

You challenged me and I responded. Calling a view that relies on Hussein’s own explanation of why he attacked Israel simplistic, extreme and self-serving is next to absurd. Your argument in this case, as in the case of Nasser’s actions and declarations, is not with me but with him, so by all means ignore me but do address the following statements made by Hussein:

-Jordan attacked Israel because Egypt misled Hussein by telling him that it had destroyed 75% of the Israeli air force and was advancing toward Tel Aviv and inviting him to join the final war (see Hussein’s book on the war, p. 60ff.).

-Jordan was further deceived when it picked up planes on its radar moving toward Israel and believed they were Egyptian planes, confirming Nasser’s assertions.

-Jordan received Israel’s pledge, communicated via Gen Odd Bull of the UN and the US State Dept., that it would not act against Jordan if Jordan did not act against Israel — “too late” to stop the Jordanian attack.

-And again, tt is absurd to suggest that the idea of grabbing land motivated Israel’s response in a Mapai-dominated political culture in which Begin was thought of as an irrelevant blowhard. The idea of territorial “expansion” was not part of political or public discourse at the time. Published protocols of internal discussions at the military and political level and even the most superficial knowledge of the atmosphere in Israel before the war will give anyone who is interested a clear idea of Israeli thinking at the time.

A writer like Quigley who doesn’t know a word of Hebrew or Arabic is not doing the “archival research” that is necessary to understand the Arab-Israel conflict

All this has nothing whatsoever to do with any extremist or simplistic views or even with me but with historical evidence that you should be prepared to address before advancing your own one-sided and dogmatic views.

When you allow the word Nazi to appear in your blog with reference to Jews and/or Israel and censor a simple clarification of what “largely like the Nazis” really means, you deserve to be lectured. 

I persist in responding to you because you are a public figure publishing in a public forum some of the vilest filth on the Internet with refernce to Jews and Israel

Response: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Zbigniew Brzezinski: Geopolitical Mastermind, Realist Practitioner

3 Jun

Personal Prelude

 

I never knew Zbigniew Brzezinski well, and was certainly not a friend, hardly an acquaintance, but we interacted on several occasions, directly and indirectly. We were both members of the Editorial Board of Foreign Policy magazine founded in 1970 during its early years, which featured lively meetings every few months at the home of the founding co-Chair, a liberal banker named Warren Damien Manshel (the other founding co-Chair was his Harvard friend from graduate school, Samuel Huntington). I was a kind of outlier at these meetings, which featured several editors who made no secret of their ambition to be soon chosen by political leaders to serve at the highest levels of government. Other than Zbig the editor who flaunted his ambition most unabashedly was Richard Holbrook; Joseph Nye should be included among the Washington aspirants, although he was far more discreet about displaying such goals.

 

In these years, Zbig was a Cold War hawk. I came to a lecture he gave at Princeton, and to my surprise while sitting quietly near the front of the lecture hall, Zbig started his talk by saying words to the effect, “I notice that Professor Falk is in the audience, and know that he regards me as a war criminal.” This was a gratuitous remark as I had never made such an accusation, although I also never hid my disagreements with Brzezinski’s anti-Soviet militancy that seemed unduly confrontational and dangerous. Indicative of this outlook, I recall a joke told by Zbig at the time: a general in Poland was asked by the political leader when the country came under attack from both Germany in the East and the Soviet Union in the West, which front he preferred to be assigned. He responded “Germany—duty before pleasure.”

 

In these years Zbig rose to prominence as the intellectual architect and Executive Director who together with David Rockefeller established The Trilateral Commission in 1973. The Trilateral Commission (North America, Western Europe, and Japan) was best understood as a global capitalist response to the Third World challenge being mounted in the early 1970s with the principal goal of establishing a new international economic order. Brzezinski promoted the idea that it was important to aggregate the capitalist democracies in Europe along with Japan in a trilateral arrangement that could develop a common front on questions of political economy. On the Commission was an obscure Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, who seemed handpicked by this elite constellation of forces to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for president in 1976. It was natural for Brzezinski to be a foreign policy advisor to Carter during his campaign and then to be chosen as National Security Advisor (1977-1981) by President Carter.

 

My most significant contact with Brzezinski related to Iran Revolution during its last phases. In January of 1979 I accompanied Ramsey Clark and Philip Luce on what can best be described as a fact-finding visit in the last phases of the revolutionary ferment in the country. Toward the end of our time in Iran we paid a visit to the American Embassy to meet with Ambassador William Sullivan who understood that revolution was on the cusp of success and the Shah’s government was on the verge of collapse. What he told us was that the White House rejected his efforts to convey this unfolding reality, blaming Brzezinski for being stubbornly committed to saving the Shah’s regime, suggesting that Brzezinski’s friendship with the influential Iranian ambassador in Washington, Ardeshir Zahedi, apparently blinded him to the realities unfolding in Iran. It should be noted that Sullivan was no shrinking violent. Sullivan had a deserved reputation as an unrepentant counterinsurgency diplomat, who General Westmoreland once characterized as more of a field marshal than a diplomat, given his belligerent use of the American embassy in Laos to carry out bombing attacks in the so-called ‘secret war.’

 

Less than a year later I was asked to accompany Andrew Young to Iran with the hope of securing the release of the Americans being held hostage in the embassy in Tehran. The mission was planned in response to Ayatollah Khomeini’s hint that he would favor negotiating the release of the hostages if the U.S. Government sent an African American to conduct the negotiations. Young, former ambassador to the UN, was the natural choice for such an assignment, but was only willing to go if the White House gave a green light, which was never given, and the mission cancelled. At the time, the head of the Iran desk in the State Department told me privately that “Brzezinski would rather see the hostages held forever than see Andy Young get credit for their release.” Of course, I have no way of knowing whether this was a fair statement or not, although this career bureaucrat spoke of his frustrating relationship with Brzezinski. Of course, there was never an assurance that if such a mission had been allowed to go forward, it would have been successful, but even in retrospect it seemed to warrant a try, and might have led to an entirely different U.S./Iran relationship than what has ensued over the past 38 years.

 

While attending a conference on human rights at the Carter Center a decade later, I had the good fortune to sit next to President Carter at dinner, and seized the opportunity to ask him about his Iran policy, and specifically why he accepted the resignation of Cyrus Vance who sought a more moderate response to Iran than was favored by Brzezinski. Carter responded by explaining that “Zbig was loyal, while Vance was not,” which evaded the question as to which approach might have proved more effective and in the end beneficial. It should be remembered, as was very much known in Tehran, that Brzezinski was instrumental in persuading Carter to call the Shah to congratulate him on his show of toughness when Iranian forces shot and killed unarmed demonstrators in Jaleh Square in an atrocity labeled ‘bloody Friday,” and seen by many in Iran as epitomizing the Shah’s approach to security and the Iranian citizenry.

 

Brzezinski versus Kissinger

 

It is against this background that I take note of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s death at the age of 89 by finding myself much more favorable to his role as foreign policy and world order commentator in recent years than to my earlier experiences during the Cold War and Iranian Revolution. It is natural to compare Brzezinski with Henry Kissinger, the other foreign-born academic who rose to the top of the foreign policy pyramid in the United States by way of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American establishment. Kissinger was less eager than Brzezinski to defeat the Soviet Union than to create a stable balance, and even went so far as to anger the precursors of the alt-right by supporting détente and arms control during the Nixon years. Somehow, Kissinger managed to transcend all the ideological confusion in the United States to be still in 2017 to be courted and lionized by Democrats, including Hilary Clinton, and Republicans, including Trump. Despite being frequently wrong on key foreign policy issues Kissinger is treated as an iconic figure who was astonishingly able to impart nonpartisan wisdom on the American role in the world despite the highly polarized national scene. Brzezinski never attained this status, and maybe never tried. Despite this unique position of eminence, Kissinger’s extensive writings on global trends in recent years never managed to grasp the emerging complexity and originality of world order after the collapse of the Soviet Union. His line of vision was confined to what could be observed by looking through a neo-Westphalian prism. From this perspective Kissinger has been obsessed with China’s rise and how to reach a geopolitical accommodation with this new superpower so that a new statist balance of power with a global scope takes hold.

 

Post-Cold War Geopolitics: A Eurasian Scenario 

In my view, late Brzezinski developed a more sophisticated and illuminating understanding of the post-Cold War world than did Kissinger. While being sensitive to the importance of incorporating China in ways that were mutually beneficial, Brzezinski was also centrally focused on the non-geopolitical features of world affairs in the 21st century, as well as on the non-statist dimensions of geopolitics. In this regard, Brzezinski was convinced that the future world order would be determined by the outcome of competition among states for the control Eurasia, and that it was crucial for American political efforts to be calibrated to sustain its leadership role in this central arena of great power rivalry.

 

Brzezinski also appreciated that economic globalization was giving market forces a heightened significance that could not be adequately represented by continuing to rely on a state-centric frame of reference in crafting foreign policy. Brzezinski also recognized that a new political consciousness had arisen in the world that he associated with a global awakening that followed the collapse of European colonialism, and made the projection of hard power by the West much more problematic than in the past. This meant that the West must accept the need for consensual relations with the non-West, greater attentiveness to the interests of humanity, and an abandonment of hegemonic patterns of interaction, especially associated with military intervention. He also recognized the importance of emerging challenges of global scope, including climate change and global poverty, which could only be addressed by cooperative arrangements and collective action.

 

Late Brzezinski Foreign Policy Positions

 

What impressed me the most about the late Brzezinski was his clarity about three central issues of American foreign policy. I will mention them only briefly as a serious discussion would extend this essay well beyond a normal reader’s patience. (1) Perhaps, most importantly, Brzezinski’s refusal to embrace the war paradigm adopted by George W. Bush after 9/11 terrorism, regarding ‘the war on terror’ as a dysfunctional over-reaction; in this regard he weighted more highly the geopolitical dimensions of grand strategy, and refused to regard ‘terrorism’ as a strategic threat to American security. He summed up his dissenting view in a conversation on March 17, 2017 with Rachel Maddow as follows, “Yes, ISIS is a threat. It’s more than a nuisance. It’s also in many respects criminal violence. But it isn’t in my view, a central strategic issue facing humanity.” Elsewhere, he make clear that the American over-reaction to 9/11 handed Osama Bin Laden a major tactical victory, and diverted U.S. attention from other more pressing security and political challenges and opportunities.

 

(2) Brzezinski was perceptively opposed to the Iraq attack of 2003, defying the Beltway consensus at the time. He along with Brent Scowcroft, and a few others, were deemed ‘courageous’ for their stand at the time, although to many of us of outside of Washington it seemed common sense not to repeat the counterinsurgency and state building failures oaf Vietnam in Iraq. I have long felt that this kind of assertion gives a strange and unfortunate meaning to the idea of courage, making it seem as if one is taking a dangerous risk in the Washington policy community if espousing a view that goes against the consensus of the moment. The implication is that it takes courage to stand up for beliefs and values, a sorry conclusion for a democracy, and indicative of the pressure on those with government ambitions to suppress dissident views.

 

(3) Unlike so many foreign policy wonks, Brzezinski pressed for a balanced solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, acknowledging, what so many advocates of the special relationship deny, that the continuation of the conflict is harmful to American wider interests in the region and is a major, perhaps a decisive, source of instability in the Middle East. In his words, “This conflict poisons the atmosphere of the Middle East, contributes to Muslim extremism, and is directly damaging to American interests.” [Strategic Vision, 124] As Jeremy Hammond and Rashid Khalidi, among others, have demonstrated is that the U.S. Government has actually facilitated the Israeli reluctance to achieve a sustainable peace, and at the same time denied linkage between the persistence of the conflict and American national interests.[See analysis of Nathan Thrall (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/16/the-real-reason-the-israel-palestine-peace-process-always-fails)].

 

 

I had not been very familiar with Brzezinski later views as expounded in several books: The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Geopolitical Imperatives (1997, reprinted with epilogue, 2012); (with Brent Scowcroft, America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy (2009); Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power (2012).

 

When it comes to Brzezinski’s legacy, I believe it to be mixed. He was a brilliant practitioner, always able to present his views lucidly, forcefully, and with a catchy quality of coherence. In my view, his Cold War outlook was driven toward unacceptable extremes by his anti-Soviet preoccupations. I believe he served President Carter poorly when it came to Iran, especially in fashioning a response to the anti-Shah revolutionary movement. After the Cold War he seemed more prudent and sensible, especially in the last twenty years, when his perceptions of world order were far more illuminating than those of Kissinger, his geopolitical other.

 

Two Sides of the Palestinian Coin: Hunger Strike/Gaza

28 May

 

 

The Palestinian hunger strike protesting Israeli prison conditions was suspended on May 27th after 40 days, at a time when many of the 1000 or so strikers were experiencing serious deteriorations of health, most were by then hospitalized, and the holy period of Ramadan about to commence creating continuity between the daytime fasting of the faithful and the prior desperate protest of the strikers. What was perhaps most notable about this extraordinary gesture of a mass prolonged hunger strike was that it was treated as hardly worthy of notice by the world media or even by the United Nations, which ironically is regularly attacked by diplomats and the media in the West for being overly preoccupied with Israeli wrongdoing.

 

It needs appreciating that recourse to a collective hunger strike is a most demanding form of political resistance, invariably provoked by prolonged outrage, requiring courage and a willingness to endure hardship by participants, as well subjecting their will to as harsh a test as life offers. To continue foregoing food for 40 days is a life-threatening and heroic, a commitment never lightly undertaken.

 

With Bobby Sands as their leader ten IRA imprisoned hunger strikers starved themselves unto their death in 1981. The world watched in rapt attention as this extraordinary spectacle of self-inflicted death unfolded day by day. Without openly acknowledging what was happening before their eyes, hardened political leaders in London silently took notice of the moral challenge they confronted, shifting tactics abruptly, and began working toward a political compromise for Northern Ireland in a manner that would have been unthinkable without the strike.

 

The Palestinians can harbor no such hopes, at least in the near term. Israel deliberately clouds the moral and political embedded challenges by releasing videotapes supposedly showing ‘snacks’ secretly being eaten by the strike leader, Marwan Barghouti. This fact that this accusation was vigorously denied by his immediate family and lawyer is occasionally noted in the world media, but only as a detail that does not diminish the impact of discrediting the authenticity of the strike. Whether true or not, Israel succeeded in shifting attention away from the strike and avoids doing anything significant to improve prison conditions, much less take steps to end the severe abuses of the Palestinian people over the course of an incredible period of 70 years with no end in sight. Prison authorities immediately resorted to punitive measures to torment those prisoners who were on strike. Such a response underscores ‘democratic’ Israel’s refusal to treat with respect nonviolent forms of resistance by the Palestinian people.

 

At this same time as the prison drama was unfolding, Gaza was experiencing a deepening of its prolonged crisis that has been cruelly manipulated by Israel to keep the civilian population of almost two million on the brink of starvation and in constant fear of military onslaught. Supposedly the caloric intake for subsistence has been used as a benchmark by Israeli authorities for restricting the flow of food to Gaza. And since that seems insufficient to impose the level of draconian control sought by Israel, three massive military attacks and countless incursions since the end of 2008 have inflicted heavy casualties on the civilian population of Gaza and caused much devastation, a cumulative catastrophe for this utterly vulnerable, impoverished, captive population. In such a context, the fact that Hamas has retaliated with what weaponry it possessed, even if indiscriminate, is to be expected even if not in accord with international humanitarian law.

 

A leading intellectual resident of Gaza, Haider Eid, has recently written a poignant dispatch from the front lines of continuous flagrant Israelu criminality, “On Gaza and the horror of the siege,” [<http://mondoweiss.net/2017/gaza-horror-siege/&gt;, May 25, 2017]. Eid ends his essay with these disturbing lines:

“We fully understand that the deliberate withholding of food or the means to grow food in whatever form is yet another strategy of Israel’s occupation, colonization, and apartheid in Palestine, and, therefore, should be viewed as an abnormality, even a pogrom!

 But what we in Gaza cannot fathom is: Why it is allowed to happen?”

 

At the start of Ramadan, Haider Eid appeals to the world to stand up against what he calls ‘incremental genocide’ “ by heeding the BDS call made by Palestinian Civil Society.”

 

It is significant that Eid’s appeal is to civil society rather than to the Palestinian Authority entrusted with representing the Palestinian people on the global stage or for a revival of ‘the peace process’ that went on for twenty years within the Oslo Framework or to the UN that accepted responsibility after Britain gave up its Palestine mandate at the end of World War II. These conventional modes of conflict resolution have all failed, while steadily worsening the situation of the Palestinian people and nurturing the ambition of the Zionist movement to reach its goal of territorial expansion.

 

Beyond this, Eid notes that the authority of BDS is a result of an authoritative Palestinian call to which the peoples of the world are implored to respond. This shift away from intergovernmental empowerment from above to a reliance on empowerment by a victimized people and their authentic representatives embodies Palestinian hopes for a more humane future, and for an eventual realization of long denied rights.

 

It is appropriate to merge in our moral imagination the ordeals of the prisoners in Israeli jails with that of the people of Gaza without forgetting the encompassing fundamental reality—the Palestinian people as a whole, regardless of their specific circumstances, are being victimized by an Israeli structure of domination and discrimination in a form that constitutes apartheid and different forms of captivity.

 

It seems that the hunger strike failed to induce Israel to satisfy many of the demands of the strikers for improved conditions. What it did achieve was to remind Palestinians and the world of the leadership gifts of Marwan Barghouti, and it awakened the Palestinian population to the moral and political imperative of sustaining and manifesting resistance as an alternative to despair, passivity, and submission. Israelis and some of their most ardent supporters speak openly of declaring victory for themselves, defeat for the Palestinians. Regardless of our religious or ethnic identity we who live outside the circle of Israeli oppression should be doing our utmost to prevent any outcome that prolongs Palestinian unjust suffering or accepts it as inevitable.

 

What is unspeakable must become undoable.

 

 

Alternate Worldviews: Davutoğlu, Kissinger, Xi Jinping

25 May

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is a much modified version of a shorter
opinion piece published by the global-e online publication on May 18, 2017. It is a response to and commentary upon an essay of Ahmet
Davuto
ğlu, former foreign minister and prime minister of Turkey, published under the title ‘Response to Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “The Future of National and Global (Dis)order: Exclusive Populism versus Inclusive Global Governance.”’It contrasts the global outlook of Davutoğlu with that of Henry Kissinger, yet does not discuss the specific policies pursued by either of these public figures while they acted on behalf of their respective governments, and ends with an allusion to Xi Jinping’s speech at the World Economic Forum a few months ago.]

 

In his global-e essay of March 30, 2017, Ahmet Davutoğlu provides a provocative and comprehensive assessment of current global trends, and their impact on the future of world order. What sets Davutoğlu’s diagnosis of the global setting apart is his insistence that the current crisis of governance, including the ominous dangers that he identifies, can only be overcome in an enduring manner if it is fully appreciated that present maladies on the surface of world politics are symptoms of deeper structural disorders. He gives particular attention in this regard to the failure of the United States to support a reformist agenda that could help establish global governance on foundations that were effective, legitimate, and humane after the end of the Cold War. Implicit here is the contrast between the benevolent global role played by the U.S. after World War II and its harmful dedication to neoliberal globalization after the end of the Cold War without attending to the historic opportunities and challenges of the 1990s.

 

At first glance, Davutoğlu seems to be echoing the lament of Henry Kissinger, the chief architect of Nixon’s foreign policy during the 1970s. Kissinger plaintively asks, “Are we facing a period in which forces beyond the restraints of any order determine the future?” This is coupled with Kissinger’s underlying worry: “Our age is insistently, at times almost desperately, in pursuit of a concept of world order.” [World Order, Penguin Press, 2014, 2] Not surprisingly for those familiar with Kissinger’s approach, he expresses a nostalgic fondness and airbrushed account of the liberal world order that the U.S. took the lead in establishing after World War II, as well as his signature nostalgia associated with the construction of the European state-centric system of world order in the aftermath of devastating religious wars in the seventeenth century. His idealizing of this post-Westphalian framework is expressed in a language no one in the global south could read without a good belly laugh as it totally ignores the predatory geopolitics by which the West subjugated and exploited much of the non-Western world. According to Kissinger the new golden age of Westphalia after 1945 was reflective of “an American consensus—an inexorably expanding cooperative order of states observing common rules and norms, embracing liberal economic systems, foreswearing territorial conquest, respecting national sovereignty, and adopting participatory and democratic systems of governance.” [p.1]

 

The best Kissinger can offer to repair what he now finds so deeply disturbing is “a modernization of the Westphalian system informed by contemporary realities.” By the latter, he primarily means accommodating the rise of China, and the consequent dewesternization of the global relation of forces. Such an adjustment would require some restructuring, taking steps to integrate non-Western values into the procedures, norms, and institutions of governance facilitating geopolitical cooperation between dominant states. The content of these cooperative relations would emphasize the establishment of mutually beneficial trade and security governing relations among states. For this to happen the liberal West would have to accept the participation of states that based national governance on authoritarian patterns of national governance without passing adverse judgment. Kissinger, never an advocate of ‘democratic peace’ as theory or policy, is consistent in his promotion of a world order that does not pass judgment on the internal public order systems of sovereign states, leaving human rights to one side, and not making the adoption of democracy an ingredient of political legitimacy. In this regard, Kissinger’s version of geopolitics revives the ethos of a pre-World War II realpolitik prior to the sorts of ideas of ‘democracy promotion’ associated with the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush

 

What makes the comparison of Kissinger and Davutoğlu of interest is less their overlapping concerns with the current deficiencies of global governance than their differing articulation of alternative explanations and recommendations. Kissinger writing in a post-colonial period where hard and soft power have become more globally dispersed, especially moving toward Asia, considers the challenge mainly to be one of reforming state-centric world order by a process of inter-civilizational accommodation and mutual respect with a particular eye focused on how to properly address the rise of China alongside the partial eclipse of Europe.

 

In contrast, Davutoğlu sees the immediate crisis to be the result of inadequate global responses to a series of four ‘earthquakes’ that have rocked the system in ways that greatly diminished its legitimacy and functionality (that is, the capacity to offer adequate solutions for the major challenges of the historical moment). This sequence of earthquakes (end of Cold War, 9/11 attacks, financial breakdown starting in 2008, and Arab uprisings of 2011) occasioned responses by global leaders that Davutoğlu derides as “short-termism and conjectural politics,” that is, ‘quick fixes,’ which failed to appreciate either underlying causes or structural factors. This meant that the policy remedies adopted did not address the problems presented in ways that would avoid recurrent crises in the future. It is this failure of global leadership to address causes and structures that is partly blamed for the present malaise. Davutoğlu characterizes the present period as marked by “a rising tide of extremism,” constituted by a political spectrum with non-state groups like DAESH (also known as ISIS) at one end and the populist surge producing such dysfunctional statist outcomes as Brexit and Trumpism at the other. Davutoğlu does not treat the ascent of China as a fifth earthquake, exhibiting a conceptual understanding of the complexities and originality of the present global setting, while according less attention to the shift in the geopolitical hierarchy associated primarily with China’s rise.

 

Davutoğlu identifies three sets of disappointing tendencies that clarifies his critique: (1) the American abandonment of the liberal international order that it earlier established and successfully managed; (2) the disappointing reactions by the West to anti-authoritarian national upheavals, illustrated by the tepid reactions of the United States and Europe to the Arab Spring, withholding encouragement and support, despite its declared commitment to democratization and human rights; (3) and the structural numbness illustrated by failing to reform and update existing international institutions in the economic and political spheres, particularly the UN, which has been unable to act effectively because so little has been done to take account of drastic changes in the global landscape over the course of the last 70 years.

 

The comparison here between Davutoğlu and Kissinger reveals fundamental differences of analysis and prescription. Kissinger sees the main challenge as one of geopolitical chaos that needs to be overcome by forging realistic, yet cooperative, relations between the U.S. and China. Although he is not explicit, Kissinger seems to be preoccupied with what Graham Allison influentially labels as ‘the Thucydides trap.’ In such circumstances a reigning dominant state feels its status threatened by an emerging challenger, and the rivalry eventuates in war. In the nuclear age even political realists search for alternatives to such a dire prospect. Additionally, Kissinger clearly believes that unless the U.S. and China can agree on world order there will be chaos even if it not outright war. Underlying this imperative is the idea that dominant states are alone capable of creating order on a global scale, making the UN irrelevant, a distraction, and considering international law as a proposed regulative enterprise to be a house of cards.  

 

Kissinger favors a live and let live geopolitical equilibrium presiding over a state-centric world order that works best if the power of the dominant states is balanced and their core interests served on the basis of a shared understanding of how best to govern the world. In a fundamental sense, by proposing the incorporation of China at the apex of global governance Kissinger is advocating the global expansion of the Westphalian approach that was historically developed to minimize war and maximize stability in Europe. As might be expected, Kissinger utters not a word about justice, human rights, the UN, climate change, and the abolition of nuclear weapons. In effect, Kissinger traverses the future as if embarking on a perilous journey across a normative desert. It is hardly an occasion for surprise that Donald Trump should summon Kissinger to the White House amid the Comey crisis or that Kissinger would make himself available for an Oval Office photo op to shore up the challenged legitimacy of an imploding presidency. Trump knows less about foreign policy than my ten-year old granddaughter so that when he described Kissinger’s visit as ‘an honor’ it is left as a complete mystery why this was so. It is amusing that Trump also described his audience with Pope Francis at The Vatican as an honor. The irony of the pairing should not escape even the most casual scrutiny.

 

Davutoğlu’s offers a far more sophisticated and nuanced response to his equally pessimistic diagnosis of the current global situation. His fears and hopes center on an approach that might be described as ‘normative realism’ or ‘ethical pragmatism.’ In this fundamental respect Davutoğlu analyzes the challenges confronting humanity in light of the international structures that exist. He advocates the adaptation of these structures to current realities, but with a strong normative pull toward the fulfillment of their humane and inclusive democratizing potential. He optimistically hopes that the United States will again play up to its weight on the global stage, especially as a normative leader and problem-solver. For this reason he strongly disapproves of the shrill Trump call of ‘America first’ as well as worries about the varieties of right-wing populism that have led to the rise of ultra-nationalist autocrats throughout the planet.

 

Davutoğlu, a leading political figure in Turkey over the course of the last fifteen years, is both a Turkish nationalist and an internationalist. He urges greater representation for emerging economies and states in international institutions and procedures, and the necessary reforms of procedures and practices to bring this about. No personal achievement during his years as Foreign Minister brought Davutoğlu greater satisfaction than Turkey’s election to term membership in the UN Security Council. For Davutoğlu such a supreme soft power recognition of status on the world stage epitomized a new kind of cosmopolitan nationalism. As Kissinger is (hard)power-oriented, Davutoğlu is people-oriented when it comes to global politics. In this regard, Davutoğlu’s worldview moves in the direction of normative pluralism, incorporating diverse civilizational constructs to the extent possible, globalized by crucial universalist dimensions, particularly with respect to human dignity, human rights, and a diplomacy focused on conflict resolution. Davutoğlu gives scant attention to working out a Kissingerian modus vivendi between dominant state actors, but is receptive to practical solutions and political compromises for the sake of peace, justice, and stability.

 

Although I share Davutoğlu’s diagnosis and overall prescriptions I would take note of several differences that might turn out to be only matters of emphasis if our respective positions were more fully elaborated. I think the most distinctive feature of the current world order crisis is its insufficient capacity to address challenges of global scope, most notably climate change, but also the persistence and slow spread of nuclear weapons as well as the pestilence of chronic poverty. The Westphalian approach to world order was premised on the interplay of geopolitical actors and state-centric territorial sovereignty, and was never until recent decades confronted by threats that imperiled the wellbeing, and possibly, the survival of the whole (species or world) as distinct from the part (state, empire, region, civilization). With nuclear weapons, rather than seeking their abolition, the United States exerts as much control as possible over a geopolitical regime seeking to prevent their proliferation, especially using coercive diplomacy to threaten governments viewed as hostile. Claiming to act on this basis, the United States, in coalition with the United Kingdom, launched a devastating attack in 2003 on Iraq followed by a decade of chaotic occupation. This anti-proliferation outlook presupposes that the principal danger to world peace and stability arises from countries that do not possess the weaponry rather from those that have used, developed, and deployed nuclear weapons. Considered objectively, Iran and North Korea are two countries under threat in ways that make their acquisition of nuclear weapons rationally responsive to upholding their security by deterring attacks. It is time to realize that nonproliferation ethos is precarious, misleading, and self-serving, and contributes to a cleavage that splits human community at its core. This split occurs at the very time when greater confidence in human unity is urgently needed so that shared challenges of global scope can be effectively and fairly addressed.

 

In effect, I am contending that Davutoğlu’s prescriptive vision does not directly address a principal underlying cause of the current crisis—namely, the absence of institutional mechanisms and accompanying political will to promote human and global interests, as well as national and local interests. Under present arrangements and attitudes, global challenges are not being adequately met by geopolitical leadership or by multilateral mechanisms that seek to aggregate national interests. The Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015 represented a heroic effort to test the outer limits of multilateralism, but it still falls menacingly short of what the scientific consensus informs us as necessary to avoid exceedingly harmful levels of global warming. Given the current geopolitical mood, it seems unlikely that even the inadequate Paris approach will be properly implemented.

 

Similarly, the sputtering response to the situation created by the North Korean crisis should be treated as a wakeup call as to the dangerous dysfunctionality of a militarist approach to nuclear weapons policy, relying on threat diplomacy and punitive sanctions. The only approach that seems likely to be effective and deemed reasonable over time is one based on mutual security considerations, a serious embrace of a denuclearization agenda, and what might be called restorative diplomacy.

 

In the end, I share Davutoğlu’s call for the replacement of ‘international order’ (the Kissinger model) by ‘global governance’ (specified by Davutoğlu as “rule- and value-based, multilateral, consensual, fair, and inclusive form [of] global governance.” Such a shift to a governance focus is sensitive to the role of non-state actors and movements, as well as to the relevance of national ideology and governing style. It rejects a top down geopolitical approach.

 

It could be a hopeful sign that such a way of thinking is gaining ground that a recent speech in the West by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, moved in Davutoğlu’s, rather than Kissinger’s direction. When Xi addressed the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos he endorsed a worldview that rejected geopolitics, encouraged an inclusive multipolarity, and advocated nuclear disarmament. As Washington continues to conceive of the Chinese challenge as materialist and military, the real challenge being posed by China seems to be on the level of ideas, values, and survival instincts.

 

 

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Trumped Up Diplomacy in the Middle East

20 May

 

In his first overseas trip since moving into the White House, Donald Trump is leaving behind the frustrations, allegations, rumors, and an increasing sense of implosion that seems to be dooming his presidency during its second hundred days. At the same time, a mixture of curiosity and apprehension awaits this new leader wherever he goes making his visit to the Middle East and Europe momentous occasions for the host governments, wide eyed public, and rapacious media. We need to remember that in this era of popular autocrats and surging right-wing populists, Trump is a ‘hero of our time.’

 

Even if all had gone smoothly for the new president in his home country, there should be expressions of deep concern about his travel itinerary. He visits first the two countries with which the United States has ‘special relationships’ in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Israel. What has long made them ‘special’ are a series of pre-Trump departures from realist and normative foreign policy orientations by successive American presidencies. These departures were motivated by oil geopolitics, arms sales and strategic alliances, hostility to Iran, and a disguised American sweet spot for foreign royalty. It is has long been obvious that uncritical deference to Israeli priorities has seriously undermined U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, which would have benefitted much more from policies designed to encourage peace and stability by refraining from regime-changing interventions, massive arms sales, and a diplomacy of respect for the politics of national self-determination.

 

Most remarkably, the U.S. Government has for decades winked at the billions of support given by Saudi members of the royal family to Wahabism, that is, to promote fundamentalist Islam, throughout the Muslim world. The first words uttered by Trump on his arrival in Riyadh were that it ‘an honor’ to be visiting.

Then came signed deals adding up to $110 billions in arms sales and the declaration of a common strategic vision, that is, a super-alliance, called an ‘Arab NATO’ in some circles, a dagger aimed at Iran’s heart. Why turn a blind eye toward the Saudi role in fanning the flames of jihadism while ramping up a military threat to relatively passive Iran that reelected Hassan Rouhani as its president, who has consistently championed moderation at home and normalization abroad.

 

How can we explain this? Trump has been critical of most aspects of the foreign policy agenda of his predecessors, but on the promotion of the special relationships he seems intent on doubling down on the most misguided aspects of earlier approaches to the region. The shape of his travel itinerary during his days confirms this impression. In this regard, Trump repudiates Obama’s hesitant, but in the end successful, efforts to bring Iran in from the cold, while trying to please Saudi Arabia by ignoring its extreme denial of human rights to its own people as well as its contributions to anti-Western terrorism.

 

If Trump was truly intent on putting America first, as he insistently asserts, then he could do so very directly and effectively by taking three major steps toward the protection of national interests: first, demand a firm commitment from the Saudi government to cease using private funds and public diplomacy to spread Wahabism beyond its borders. Any credible public statement along these lines would weaken ISIS and other terrorist movements throughout the world far more than cascades of Tomahawk missiles dumped on a Syrian airfield. Such a challenge to Saudi policies also raises the possibility, however remote, of an endgame in the ‘war on terror.’ If such a reset of Saudi relations could be coupled with an indefinite freeze on arms sales to the Gulf countries that would have been even better, sending a signal throughout the region that America will no longer engage with the bloody conflicts that have brought so much suffering and devastation to the Middle East. This might give some belated meaning to ‘America first.’

 

The second step would have been even harder for an American president to take. It would require Trump to tell Mr. Netanyahu that no further military assistance for Israel would be authorized until an unconditional freeze on settlement expansion was in place and enforced, and the blockade of Gaza lifted once and for all.

 

It does not require a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies to appreciate that the establishment of a nuclear free zone in the region and the adoption of effective steps to minimize the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia Islam would improve future prospects for this horrendously disrupted political realities, at last reducing tensions and risks of wars. Nor does it require special knowledge to identify the obstacles such actions—the one government that already possesses nuclear weapons and the government that feels threatened by a challenge to its regional preeminence. Saudi Arabia and Israel both regard Iran as enemy number one, although it poses no existential threat to either one, and Israel will not even discuss giving up its nuclear arsenal despite being assured by Washington that its qualitative edge in conventional weaponry relative to its neighbors will be upheld.

 

The special relationships block even the consideration of enlightened initiatives, take them entirely off the table. This contrasts with the American proclivity for coercive diplomacy, which always assertively leaves the military option on the table. Without tension-reducing measures, a few false moves could easily give rise to a major war with Iran, which might bring smiles to leaders in Riyadh and Tel Aviv, but would be disastrous for the societies involved and for the United States, as well as for the region.

 

Given the leverage and militancy of pro-Israeli lobbies in the United States, more realistically pursuing American national interests toward Israel and the Middle East, seems tantamount to issuing invitations to Trump’s beheading, and despite his wildly gyrations of policy and mood, he has shown no disposition whatsoever to take on AIPAC, inc.. Quite the contrary.

 

Of course, I am not so naïve to think that the advocacy of rationality in foreign policy will have the slightest echo in Washington in the course of Trump’s current diplomatic foray into uncharted territories. What I wish to point out is that this kind of foreign policy fantasy, however desirable if it were to be enacted, has become a species of political suicide. Any political leader who moved in more rational directions would be risking his own life, at least politically. The proposals mentioned above tells us what an American president should do if a rational and humane political system was in place and organized in such ways as to allow the pursuit of national interests, the realization of values associated with peace and human rights, and to attain the benefits of just and sustainable Isreali/Palestinian peace arrangements.

 

As long as these dysfunctional special relationships are relied upon to define American national interests in the Middle East, violent extremism and turmoil will persist, the authority of the United Nations and international law will suffer, and the credibility of American regional and global leadership will further erode. And maybe worst of all, the mounting ecological and nuclear challenges of global scope and apocalyptical risk will be remain unattended in what has become the greatest display of species indifference to its own survival throughout human history.

 

Mainstream advice on the Middle East being proffered to the Trump presidency by Beltway sharpshooters takes for granted the geopolitical status quo questioned above. The problems presented by the two special relationships are not even mentioned. Given these perspectives there are three broad kinds of approaches recommended for the region: (1) don’t aim too high, lower expectations, and don’t touch raw nerves in Israel or the Arab world (e.g. moving the American embassy to Jerusalem or telling Israel to dismantle the separation wall, stop expanding settlements, or handle the ongoing hunger strike humanely)[See Aaron David Miller, “From My Twenty Years of Failing at Middle East Peace,” Foreign Policy online, May 19, 2017]; (2) gang up on Iran, which will please both Israel and Saudi Arabia, and will have some positive resonance back in the United States [e.g. Michael Doran, “A Trump Plan for the Middle East,” NY Times, May 19, 2017]; (3) adopt the Israeli hard right view, now pushed within the United States, that the best road to ‘peace’ is to give Israel a green light to exert even greater pressure on the Palestinians to the point of their surrender. [a position repeatedly advocated by Daniel Pipes on the online listserv Middle East Forum and elsewhere, see Pipes, “The Way to Peace: Israeli Victory and Palestinian Defeat,” Commentary, Jan. 2017; Pipes boasts of his work with the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus that wants the U.S. Government to stop talking about ‘the two state solution,’ and support an Israeli shift from managing the status quo to launching a campaign to defeat Palestinians so decisively as to end the conflict.]

 

The first of these approaches is a cautionary warning to Trump the maker of grand deals not to exceed the boundaries of the feasible. The Israel/Palestine conflict is not ripe for resolution, Israel has no incentive or inclination to reach a fair compromise and even if it were, the Palestinians are currently too fragmented and poorly led to provide a reliable negotiating partner. The second geopolitically oriented approach makes matters worse, pushing the sectarian and secular divides in the direction of a regional confrontation, even combat. The third is geopolitically triumphalist, assuming that the Palestinians can be induced to give up their century old struggle, and go the way of other indigenous lost causes that have succumbed to predatory settler movements.

 

As Trump dominates the news by his visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel we should not be tricked into thinking that his ‘achievements’ are hopeful developments. The only true beacons of hope for the peoples of the Middle East are the contrarian affirmations of the Palestinian hunger strike, the Rouhani electoral victory, and the BDS Campaign. The fact that such developments are ignored or condemned by the dominant political forces in the West should at least alert us to gathering storm clouds in that tormented region and elsewhere.