Thursday, February 20, 2003
The One Side of the Coin

Tom Friedman takes everyone to task this week.

The French -- who sold Saddam that nuclear reactor that the IAF blew up (see yesterday's entry) -- have based their idiotic stance based solely to spite GW, and have ended up giving comfort and support to the regime in Baghdad. The Russians and Chinese are sitting around with their thumbs up their butts. And the Bush team has dropped the ball when it comes to coalition-building.

Friedman's criticism seems to hit the mark. In particular, it sheds some light on what for me is the biggest mystery of this whole situation: Given that Saddam is just about as evil as they get how is it that so many otherwise rational people (and Martin Sheen) are so bitterly opposed to the one thing that will get rid of him.
The Bush folks are big on attitude, weak on strategy and terrible at diplomacy. I covered the first gulf war, in 1990-91. What I remember most are the seven trips I took with Secretary of State James A. Baker III around the world to watch him build — face-to-face — the coalition and public support for that war, before a shot was fired. Going to someone else's country is a sign you respect his opinion. This Bush team has done no such hands-on spade work. Its members think diplomacy is a phone call.
Good point. The question is whether it's too late to do anything about it.

The Other Side of the Coin

A very insightful article by Fouad Ajami in the recent Foreign Affairs in which he basically lays out the overarching philosophy behind military action against Saddam. He makes a number of good points why the war -- if it comes with a hands-on effort to modernize and democratize Iraq afterwards -- is worth the effort, and adds some reasons for optimism.

Among Ajami's points:

  • The anger on the "Arab street" has its roots in the outright failure of Arab societies to deal with modernity. By going after Saddam, and in the greater scheme of things a drive to reform Arab society, the US will undoubtably raise the ire of many Arabs. However, in this region power -- and even more, success -- talks. "No great apologies ought to be made for America's "unilateralism." The region can live with and use that unilateralism."
  • Saddam's prestige in the Arab world has diminished since the first Gulf War. Then, he portrayed himself as a modern Saladin fighting the infidels. He lost, of course. Worse yet, he also failed in his role as a bulwark against the Persian Shi'ites in Iran.
  • An effective regime change in Baghdad could lead to the rise of a different, more friendly Shi'ite establishment to counter the one in Teheran.
  • A new regime in Baghdad might finally dampen the fires of Pan-Arabism and help cool the region enough so that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis could be found.
    The norm has been for Iraq, the frontier Arab land far away from the Mediterranean, to stoke the fires of anti-Zionism knowing that others closer to the fire -- Jordanians, Palestinians, Egyptians, Syrians, and Lebanese -- would be the ones consumed. A new Iraqi political order might find within itself the ability to recognize that Palestine and the Palestinians are not an Iraqi concern. A new ruling elite that picks up the pieces in Iraq might conclude that offering a bounty to the families of Palestinian suicide "martyrs" is something that a burdened country can do without.
  • Establishing some sort of democracy in Iraq might be enough to open the door for others in the Arab world. "It has often seemed in recent years that the Arab political tradition is immune to democratic stirrings. The sacking of a terrible regime with such a pervasive cult of terror may offer Iraqis and Arabs a break with the false gifts of despotism."
Ajami, a native of Lebanon, is a renowned Middle Eastern Studies professor at Johns Hopkins. The "authentic" MES types consider him an Uncle Tom because he doesn't blame the West or the Jews for all the problems in the Arab world. Instead, Ajami takes Arab society to task for its failings, its inability to deal with modernity, and its brutalizing self-pity.

He also writes in a clear, incisive style which is a delight to read. In short, everything that Edward Said (the major darling of the MES establishment) is not. For this alone he is worth reading.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Operation Opera

Here's a nifty little Flash presentation about the Israeli Air Force's destruction of Saddam's nuclear reactor at Osirak in June, 1981. As a reminder, one of the pilots involved was a then-25 year old navigator named Ilan Ramon.

Read it as an unsubtle hint about what it takes to divest Saddam of his WMD dreams.

Attacking the Frogs

A bit of silliness in today's NRO. Columnist David Frum asked people to mail him with suggestions on how to make France pay for its recent behavior. Not surprisingly, he was flooded with suggestions. Some examples:
"Offer 20,000 Green Cards to France's 20,000 best computer scientists. Follow up with an offer of 5,000 Green Cards to Germany's 5,000 leading auto designers. If that doesn't bring them to their knees, do it again!

"I say we send over 2 divisions of Cub Scouts, armed with water pistols and rubber band guns to occupy Paris. Chirac will be banished to EuroDisney.

"President Bush should appoint Jerry Lewis United States Ambassdor to France. Ambassador Lewis can read President Jacques Chirac the riot act. If that doesn't work, Chirac will endure the discomfort of having to unveil his corrosive policies directly to the American who the French most admire. That ought to hurt. It will be, as the French say, to ache."

Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Defending the Frogs

Just so no one accuses me of being an unreasonable guy, I offer up Robin Lane Greene's article in last week's TNR defending Le Francaise against surrender monkey charges.

Greene basically criticizes the two main problems Americans have with French: 1) They are so far-gone with hatred for the US that they'll rip apart NATO and the UN just to show up Bush and 2) For all their talk, they're only protecting their own interests.

To which Greene counters: 1) They don't just hate the US, they hate everyone who isn't French and 2) What's so wrong about a country protecting its interests.

Fair enough, but I do feel like adding my own counter-arguments to Greene's: 1)The fact that they hate everyone does not justify what they tried to pull with NATO and 2) The problem isn't so much that they look after their own interests; it's just that they do it under the guise of taking a high moral stance.

France vs. Eastern Europe

And this may be the point where France drops the ball. In a particularly blockheaded manouver, M. Chirac blasted several Eastern European nations for signing a letter in support of the US position against Iraq.

King Frog went so far as to threaten Romania and Bulgaria, who are candidates for membership in the EU later this decade. "Romania and Bulgaria were particularly irresponsible to (sign the letter) when their position is really delicate," Chirac said. "If they wanted to diminish their chances of joining Europe they could not have found a better way."

I wonder what possessed the French premier? What does he hope to get by trying to bully Eastern Europe? Other than to paint himself in a corner when all the new entrants into the EU gravitate towards the Americans?

Monday, February 17, 2003
America vs. the UN

While the growing rift between the US and Europe makes me sad, the rift between the States and the UN only serves to reinforce my already low opinion of the world's supposedly governing body.

The ridiculous failure of the UN in upholding its own resolutions only serves to underscore the essential problem of a world forum which tends to get sucked down to its lowest common denominator: the tinpot Third-World dictators who tend to set the tone for proceedings and their European apologizers.

At the rate things are going, France will soon lead to the UN's utter irrelevance. And I am strongly tempted to say "And good riddance." But I won't.

In his latest column, VDH makes a case that the UN should be an institution made up of representatives not of all the countries of the world, but of all the democratic countries of the world. (And I mean real democracies here, in case you were going to mail me about those free elections in Iraq last summer).

While he's at it, Hanson also takes a couple of swipes at transnational institutions in general and I can only applaud him there as well.

America vs. Europe

The NATO rift seems to have been healed for the moment. The decision about helping Turkey was sent to NATO's planning council, thereby sidestepping the French who have no say in that group. Germany gave in without too much fuss, which left the increasingly odious Belgians as the only holdout. In the end, they relented as well.

Although this crisis between Europe and the US has been averted, it seems like other crises are on their way. What exactly is going on in the Continent?

In a recent column, the inimitable Mark Steyn posits that France and Germany's game is actually a front. In reality, what we have is a pissing match between Chirac and Tony Blair, with the Americans serving as a proxy for the British. Steyn argues that in this gang film, Schroder is merely playing the part of the dumb moll who's in over her head. (Presumably, the Belgians are like the yappy little dog in the cartoons who runs around the big bulldog going "We showed 'em good, huh Spike? We showed 'em who's the boss, right Spike?")

In this week's NY Times magazine, Robert Kagan reiterates the theory that Europe is motivated by its inherent weakness. It knows it can't fight a war and therefore are more likely to oppose it. This is perfectly legitimate, but I should add that lately they've developed an irritating habit of turning their weakness into a moral stance. Hence you have France's buttmunch foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, running around making declaratons like "War is always the sanction of failure."

But the biggest -- and most alarming, from my perspective-- story of the last couple of days is the massive anti-war rallies and the groundswell of European public opinion against intervention against Saddam and against the US in general. A lot of the talk on Sky News lately revolves around the question of whether Tony Blair and other pro-war European leaders are risking their careers getting so far ahead of public opinion. Hopefully not. As I opined a couple of days ago, millions of Europeans can be--and are--wrong on this one.

From my admittedly pro-US, pro-war perspectivem, it looks like the Continent has fallen on its head. Take Europe's usual set of baggage -- the military weakness, the tendency to kowtow to dictators -- and mix in a little political jockeying for position (and I haven't even mentioned a growing Muslim population) and you end up with a heady brew.

But what we've been seeing in the last couple of weeks seems to be something greater. Europe is dealing with the realization that it no longer has any real influence in the world. It seems that a lot of European leaders, and plenty more of the people, have decided to take a stand to set themselves apart from America. Unfortunately, they've picked a very regrettable issue in order to make this stance.

Sunday, February 16, 2003
February 16, 1993

The classic joke about English-speaking immigrants to Israel (who in the local parlance are known as "Anglo-Saxons" or "Anglos") goes something like this:

Two Anglos meet at a party. One says to the other "You know, I just celebrated 20 years since my aliyah." The other looks at him and says "Wow, 20 years. You think you'll stay?"

Technically speaking, I didn't make aliyah; I was born in Israel, but spent the bulk of my formative years in England and the States. However, today marks 10 years since I came back here.

Over the last 10 years, I've been asked more times than I can count (mostly by native Israelis) why I chose to return. Actually, the question is usually phrased "Mah, atta dafuk? Mah ibadeta kan?" (loose translation: "Are you screwed in the head? What did you lose that you need to look for here?").

Most Anglos have heard this question. The majority of sabras, native Israelis, dream about the good life in New York and LA (America features prominently here as an advertising ploy for everything) and therefore have difficulty imagining why anyone from there would leave to come to a little war-plagued backwoods in the Middle East.

I'm not sure I actually knew what my motivation was at the time. With the benefit of a decade's hindsight, I guess I came back here to resolve an identity crisis.

My family belongs to what Likud politicians derisively call the "old elites" of Israel. My great-grandparents and grandparents helped build this country, fight for its independence, establish its governing institutions and its army and generally had a personal stake here.

My parents left Israel nearly 30 years ago in pursuit of my Dad's career. Except for a two-year stint here in the early '80s, they haven't lived in Israel since. However, throughout my childhood there was always this feeling -- spoken or unspoken -- that our stay in the States was just a temporary development. In the end, we'd come back.

Alongside this, I also have a very Israeli name. Somehow, having done most of my growing up in the States, I don't think I ever considered myself an American (despite having gained American citizenship). In my mind, I was an Israeli like any other. And so, I finished college and decided to come back to Israel, do my military duty, and try to get reacquainted with Israel. My plans beyond that were a bit vague.

The identity crisis came the moment I hitched up to the IDF. I may have had an Israeli name and spoken fluent (if American-accented) Hebrew, but to the 18-year-olds I was serving with I was an American for all intents and purposes. This came as a shock to me.

Until then, I had only heard the term "Israeli-American" once or twice and considered it to be an oxymoron. My working assumption had always been that if you were an Israeli it overrode everything else. Oddly enough, it took coming to Israel to make me realize that I wasn't as Israeli as I thought.

I ended up wrestling with this identity issue for quite a while. It may have been part of the reason I ended up sticking around after I finished my army duty. I got a Master's degree here, then started a career in the local high-tech biz, then got married, then bought an apartment.

And somewhere along the way the identity conflict resolved itself. More accurately, at some point it just kind of went away. I realized that it didn't actually matter whether I was Israeli or American or Israeli-American. (My wife, who is originally British, jokes that I choose whichever identity best suits my purpose at any given time).

It's been an interesting decade to say the least. We've suffered all sorts of ups and downs as we went from a peace process and a New Middle East to an ongoing war with the Palestinians. I'm glad I was here for the major events. This is certainly true for the Rabin assassination, which was probably the biggest crisis emotionally here in the last two or three decades. It was a gut-wrenching time and I was glad I was here being a part of it instead of sitting in the States and watching everything on CNN like I did with the first Gulf War.

However if you had asked me on February 16, 1993 where I'd be 10 years later, I'm not sure I'd have guessed that I'd still be here.

So, back to the joke about the two Anglos.

The olim from English-speaking countries tend to have the highest recidivism rate of any immigrant group to Israel. A lot of them, probably the majority, end up going back to their home country. This mainly comes from the fact that unlike, say, immigrants from Ethiopia or the former Soviet Union, Anglos tend to experience a steep drop in their standard of living when they come here.

Their motivation to make aliyah is generally a strong sense of Zionism and/or religiousness. Unfortunately, after a few years of dealing with the stress, the bureaucracy, and the hassle of Israeli life (not to mention the native Israelis) the Zionism tends to wear off. In that case, the ones who aren't religious usually begin to ask themselves what exactly they are doing here and many of them book a return flight to Cincinnati or Leeds.

I came across a term that describes the Anglo mentality: "pekkeleh Zionism" (from the Yiddish word for luggage). They may have made aliyah, thus fulfilling the Zionist dream, but mentally at least, their bags are still packed and waiting by the door for the day when they will go back.

As it is, I've done better than most of the Anglos in my peer group. Most of my American friends left after five or six years. I suppose I should feel proud of myself for this, but it's a dubious achievement. It means that in the course of the last decade here, I've had to find a completely new social circle three times (a drawback the Jewish Agency doesn't tell you about).

Are the mental pekkeleh still waiting by the door? I'd be a liar if I said they weren't. But after 10 years, I don't think I need to justify myself to anyone and I don't think I need to start making predictions about the next decade.