October 14, 2003

Bad Alternatives

Hat tip to David Frum who pointed out this essay entitled Israel: The Alternative.

For somebody who is supposed to be a serious thinker, I have to say my first exposure to Prof. Judt is a great disappointment. First of all, the idea that we have all 'moved on' from nationalism and nation states is so elitist, racist, and ignorant of the world's complexity that it is breathtaking. Among others, the arabs certainly have not moved on from the idea of unequal rights and discriminatory treatment but they and everybody else not in the right cocktail party circuit don't count in Prof. Judt's estimation.

And if we, as a world community, have 'moved on', then the founding ideas of all these states born to satisfy the national aspirations of the peoples of Europe has been delegitimized. Why is there a Romania, a Bulgaria or all the rest of the post WW I states? What continuing justification do they have for existing, or are they too an anachronism, to be folded into some multi-ethnic state at whim?

Certainly, the prospect of Catholic Croatia, Orthodox Serbia, and all the rest of the national progeny of Yugoslavia are even more illegitimate than Israel as they are even more subject to the label 'too late' having been birthed not after WW I or even after WW II but after the Cold War (sometimes called WW III). But how are these other 'out of fashion' nations to be cobbled back together into some higher form of government? There is nothing to learn on the subject in this essay. Such standards, if they are to be applied to Israelis should certainly be applied even handedly to other peoples in like situations. For a professor of European Studies at NYU to not even think of the implications of his theories on his main area of study is, astounding.

Not only is the essay completely detached from arab reality (but not only from arab reality) it is also unimaginative. "The situation of Israel is not desperate, but it may be close to hopeless. Suicide bombers will never bring down the Israeli state, and the Palestinians have no other weapons." You might as well tell Ghandi he had no other weapon than violence, Martin Luther King that only a death cult would serve his people's aspirations.

Clearly, history has proven that other methods are available to the arabs. Thus, they not only do not exist among the people who count but, poor little brown muslims, they are too savage to be capable of rising to the level of a Ghandi or King. I think it's not too hard to think up some alternatives that could work, even at this stage.

Later we see this gem. "Israel is the only Middle Eastern state known to possess genuine and lethal weapons of mass destruction. By turning a blind eye, the US has effectively scuttled its own increasingly frantic efforts to prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of other small and potentially belligerent states. "

Let's see, the secret nuclear program everybody believes Israel has but Israel will not admit to has set up a basic position where Israel is conventionally unassailable. If Israel loses a conventional war, it is widely assumed that Israel will nuke every hostile capital in the arab world and then some. This has kept conventional war plans off the arab agenda for three decades now. But let us say the US follows Prof. Judt's advice and prods Israel to change its nuclear posture. Israel, not being a signer of the NPT is not violating any treaty by its actions. Israel would either disarm and sign the NPT, making conventional invasion a practical option for its neighbors or it would declare itself a nuclear power and sign under those terms, making it politically impossible for any arab government to remain in the NPT as a non-nuclear state. So which disaster would be Prof. Judt's preference. Probably the former, but it is the latter that is far more likely. Forcing Israel to publicly shame the arabs by pointing out that the jews have the bomb and they don't is possibly one of the dumber ideas that periodically rises up with regard to solving the dangerous instability of the Middle East.

We get into the territory of disingenuousness with the following comment "It is now tacitly conceded by those in a position to know that America's reasons for going to war in Iraq were not necessarily those advertised at the time." The footnote to this statement reads as follows "See the interview with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in the July 2003 issue of Vanity Fair."

The problem is that this article has long been debunked. The characterization of the interview doesn't match what the transcript shows. This was a transcript that was taken by DoD at the time of the interview and shown to the author before publication of the Vanity Fair article.

A short while later, more mischaracterization "We are now making belligerent noises toward Syria because Israeli intelligence has assured us that Iraqi weapons have been moved there—a claim for which there is no corroborating evidence from any other source. " Perhaps we are making belligerent noises because of some of Syria's own belligerent noises. Combatants are crossing the border from Syria to Iraq and trying to kill US troops and Syrian banks seem to be holding up to $3B of Saddam's illegally siphoned funds and refusing to turn them over to help fund the rebuilding of Iraq. A country that facilitates putting US troops in coffins and continuing to serve as Saddam's piggy bank is committing hostile acts. Should the US do nothing, it would merely confuse our adversaries and hearten them. We have no need to encourage people to think we are weak and that Iraq was just an aberration.

"Rather than think straight about the Middle East, American politicians and pundits slander our European allies when they dissent, speak glibly and irresponsibly of resurgent anti-Semitism when Israel is criticized, and censoriously rebuke any public figure at home who tries to break from the consensus." And this rebuttal no doubt will be called libel and slander rather than have its arguments seriously addressed.

The truth is that dissent is different than ankle biting; constructive criticism is different than attempting to bring down the hyper power. Thinking straight about the Middle East requires a realistic understanding of arab as well as jewish intransigence and pigheadedness.

The only way that arabs will get back all those lands that jewish settlers have taken is to create a polity where they truly do move on and stop killing people who sell jews land, create a minorities policy that will give jews and christians equal rights to muslims in the new Palestine, and outflank the extremists with kindness, welcoming them to their new homeland. Those settlers who do not scoot right back over the border once they realize their gambit has lost can pay just compensation for land taken without payment and then a multi-religious, multi-ethnic Palestine can take its place among the nations. Why this multi-ethnic/multi-religious Palestine has to include Tel Aviv is beyond me. By the same argument, Palestine should include Amman as well. Both cities were part of Britain's mandate of Palestine.

A European political elite who fund a Palestinian Authority that has an active jew free policy for its territory cries out for criticism. It's a very short step from funding a jew free Palestine to a jew free Paris or Berlin. Intellectually, there's no barrier whatsoever. Why is spending money on one illegitimate and on the other, somehow legitimate?

"To find fault with the Jewish state is to think ill of Jews; even to imagine an alternative configuration in the Middle East is to indulge the moral equivalent of genocide." While there are such apologists who indulge in such cheap arguments, the reality is that Israel is the best there is in a bad neighborhood.

I do not like Israel's socialism and it's discriminatory policies against its religious and ethnic minorities. But to alter the configuration in the Middle East is to assume the responsibility that your alterations will take an area with a great number of faults and, on balance, reduce them. Replacing a left-leaning, flawed democratic republic like Israel with the kleptocratic thugs of the Palestinian Authority who can't run an economy beyond clandestine bomb and missile factories and who run a corrupt government without even rudimentary effective fiscal controls is not a step forward.

On the other hand, the situation in Iraq holds some promise. In a few years, if the US succeeds in planting a liberty tree and creating a free and functional Iraq, a successful model of Middle East governance will provide a real alternative to Israel as the best government the Middle East can produce. Sympathy and support for Israel as the lone democracy in the Middle East will drain away and Israel will have to fix its warts or lose US aid and US vetoes in the UN Security Council.

For the medium to long term, Israel is deeply threatened by an Iraqi success and you will find most of the Israel boosters also rooting for Iraqi success as well. This can only be explained by a pragmatic attachment to liberty, not by irrational jew love, contrary to US national interest. We love the jews in Israel for the freedom and democracy they practice as we would love arab democracies if we could find them. Now, perhaps, we will start to find them.

"The behavior of a self-described Jewish state affects the way everyone else looks at Jews. The increased incidence of attacks on Jews in Europe and elsewhere is primarily attributable to misdirected efforts, often by young Muslims, to get back at Israel." It is astonishing how low a level of equal justice and accountability standards exist in the EU. Let's compare and contrast EU government efforts to restrain anti-jewish incidents to US government efforts to restrain anti-muslim incidents. The US has wide experience with the problem of emigrants continuing their ethnic battles in the US. It simply isn't tolerated and never has been. We struggle mightily to keep the peace. The EU deserves to be held to the same standard. By that standard, it is failing miserably. Jews have a great deal more to worry about in Paris than muslims do in New York City.

Posted by TMLutas at October 14, 2003 11:51 PM