Thursday, January 31, 2013

Did the New York Times Fall for Obviously Faked Photos of the Syrian Civil War?

Did the New York Times use obviously falsified photos on its front page? I think so. Look at the case laid out by David Steinberg, who noticed the strange pictures of the Syrian civil war, and myself, here. For those who know about Muhammad Dura case--in which Israeli soldiers allegedly shot a boy in Gaza in cold blood--which attracted international credibility and anger, these photos seem to be modeled on that falsification to a remarkable extent.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why Israel Attacked A Syrian Base: To Hit Missiles About to be Transferred to Hizballah

By Barry Rubin

Israeli planes attacked a store of advanced anti-aircraft missiles at a Syrian base that were about to be transferred to Hizballah. The attack came shortly after spotting a build-up of Hizballah and Syrian forces at the base.

During the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war, Israel frequently hit convoys delivering weapons to Lebanon the moment they crossed the Syria-Lebanon border, showing a very strong intelligence capacity on such events. This attack also shows both good intelligence and an ability to act on it.

The Israeli position has been that it will not allow any transfer of advanced weapons by the Syrian regime to either Hizballah or radical Lebanese Sunni groups. Israel had previously made this point clear through public statements to the Syrian government.

Syria has regularly transferred advanced weapons systems to Hizballah. But Israel has declared a “red line” in being ready to stop the shipment of chemical weapons or advanced Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles. The missiles would be used against Israeli reconnaissance planes watching Hizballah's military build-up in the south and future arms transfers from Syria, as well as in the event of Israeli retaliation after Hizballah terrorist attacks into Israel.

Brigadier General Amnon Sofrin, a retired army intelligence officer and former head of intelligence for the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, gave a press conference in which he pointed to the danger from any future transfers of Syrian chemical weapons to Hizballah.

"I think that if we have solid evidence shared by our own partners all over the world, that chemical warheads are being transferred from Syria to Lebanon, to Hezbollah, I think that no one will condemn Israel for trying to prevent it."

This should be read as explaining that Israel notified the United States and others of its intelligence information prior to the attack.

He added that Syria possesses sarin, a deadly nerve gas, and an even worse poison called VX, which remains on the ground for many days after being fired. Syria has hundreds of warheads capable of carrying these substances. Hizballah could also put these warheads on missiles it possesses and shoot them into Israel.
Sofrin continued:

Should [Syrian dictator Bashar al-]Assad decide his regime is at its end, he could think, "If I go [lose power part of my legacy] will be that Hezbollah will have capability to hit Israel very badly."

While much of the Syrian opposition is radical Islamist or even part of al-Qaeda, Sofrin continued, that is a new threat but not an immediate threat like that emanating from Hizballah.

However, given the likelihood of the regime being overthrown and replaced by a government that is led by the Muslim Brotherhood and, either willingly or because it is unable to prevent them from doing so, gives a free hands to Salafist groups or even al-Qaeda affiliates, Israel cannot predict what its security situation will be like with Syria a year from now.

Note that if al-Qaeda gets its hands on chemical weapons -- and that means deadly nerve gases -- this would be a direct threat to the United States and other Western countries as well as to Israel.

Why Do Americans--Especially Among the Contemporary Elite--Believe Their Country is Evil?

One of the highlights of the 1961 inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, 52 years ago, was a poem by the beloved Robert Frost. That morning I had watched the new vice-president, Lyndon Johnson, leave his home down the street and a bit later watched Frost read the poem on television that snowy day, looking at the same snow outside my window a few miles away.

The poem was entitled, “The Gift Outright,” and it began:

“The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England's, still colonials….”

That poem could not be read today and if it were the result would be attacks, condemnation, and derision. 

Why? Let’s count the reasons:

--The poem defines the birth of America as based on a gift. Today it would be said to be based on theft.
--A gift from whom? The implication is from God. To claim such a thing would be seen as hubris and dangerous non-atheism.

--It claims the land during the colonial period belonged to the colonialists whereas it is assumed now that it belonged to the “Native Americans” and thus such a statement is racist.

--It identifies America with people from England which would be the kind of racist, chauvinist thinking that could not be more derided. After all, what about the slaves as well as the Native Americans?

The fact that Frost was basically correct, that America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries arose from English settlers, that it belonged as a nation to those who became Americans, that it shaped those people in a positive way, and that the founders (who Frost is echoing in the poem) saw things in a similar way, are all deemed irrelevant.

But how can America exist as a legitimate nation if Frost’s view is condemned, even if one takes into account the country’s later direction and development?

This discussion reminds us that the hegemonic elite in the United States today has largely achieved something never done elsewhere: it has convinced itself and a large portion  of the country’s youth that America’s whole history is evil. There is one other country (I'll mention below) that has far more logically convinced  most of its people to believe just one part of its history is evil. See if you can guess.

I don’t want to exaggerate here. Obviously not everyone feels that way and equally this sentiment is not applied to all things. In his second inaugural speech, President Barack Obama put forward contradictory ideas. On one hand, he tried to bridge the gap by saying that the founders were merely outdated and that he had now assumed their mantle.  On the other hand, he played subtly on the evil rich white male heterosexual slaveholder theme.

So they succeed in having it both ways: America was a great idea but the way it was organized is obsolete; America has a terrible bloodstained history because it is so innately corrupted. Either way it has to be fundamentally transformed. During the last century a portion of the intelligentsia in all developed states has always been eager to condemn its own country, but more likely--and sometimes justifiably--for its current policies rather than its entire history and far more likely a small minority of people and not a large portion of the entire population.

The patriotic trimmings when invoked by those in charge nowadays seem cynical afterthoughts for political advantage rather than sincere sentiments. This is especially true in many classrooms which are shaping the next generation. It is no accident that one of the main textbooks used was written by a genuine Communist. The left-wing fringe rhetoric of the 1960s has now become the new normal.

The main theme is that America has been unfair, racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, a bully in the world, an oppressor of its own working class, etc. And of course it stole the land from the original inhabitants.

That country certainly sounds like a disaster. Why did its people even bother to continue such a failed experiment? Clearly it must be fundamentally transformed, no doubt.

And yet the French don’t say: How terrible is our country based on a thousand years of feudalism—nobility grinding the peasants’ faces in the mud, the bloody revolution, 25 years of aggressive war by Napoleon, decades of revolution and repression, the collapse of four republics, humiliating defeats in war, collaboration in World War Two, a colonial empire, and imperialist wars in Algeria and Indochina. They don’t say we are evil; our system is rotten; our souls deeply corrupted; we need fundamental transformation.
Even if you downgrade the extent to which this image of guilt and shame has pervaded American 
intellectual, cultural, and even political life of late, as one looks around the world it seems as if Americans can say, “We’re number one” when it comes to self-hatred.

While Europeans are aware of their colonialist past, their guilt trip is far more limited. Why is that? On the surface, they have America and Israel to claim as real villains—scapegoats whose condemnation banishes European guilt-- but there is more to it than that.

One thing is that the United States can be said to be, in Marxist terms, a settler colonial society. But Latin American societies are based on far more deliberate and systematic genocide of the original inhabitants. Specific tales can be told of specific, usually small-scale massacres in America or the exile of the Cherokee. But in Spain’s colonies in the new world, there were deliberate massive killings, including—unlike the United States—of those who never attacked the Europeans or even fought wars against them.

Similarly, African history is marked by tribal warfare, displacement, and even genocide. While in Asia, the Japanese perpetrated horrors on China, for example, second only to those of Hitler and Stalin in Europe but can barely be made to offer perfunctory formal apologies.   While one can find atrocities on the American side in the Philippines around 1900 or in Vietnam there’s nothing comparable. And such deeds were never matters of national policy. Oh, there was the internment of Japanese citizens in World War Two. 

Regrettable but to be honest understandable at the time.

Indeed, leftists (including those pretending to be liberals) routinely rationalize cultures and societies built on far more repressive, racist, undemocratic behavior which continues down to today.  Perhaps that, too, is part of the answer. Criticism of one's own society is encouraged; criticism of others is deemed racist.

Examining Europe more closely, Austria and Italy feel that they were victims, not allies, of Hitler’s cause. Russia is not repentant about Communism’s mass killings and repression, though of course it has been much discussed. France doesn’t consider itself born in sin despite the suppression of other nations within it (whatever became of the Burgundians, the Bretons, the Normans? How about the brutal massacre of the harmless Cathars?) or its colonial behavior. As a result, today a Socialist government doesn’t hesitate to send an expeditionary force to bomb rebels in Mali, and unilaterally to boot, without any of the Obama Administration obsession with multilateralism.

The French tend to bury the collaborationist past in World War Two. Belgians don’t shed tears over their country’s terrible behavior in the Congo, perhaps the world’s single worst record of bloody colonialism.
For Europeans, war and conquest are seen as more normal even if the view is that they have outgrown such things today. Americans often seem to find conflict to be unnatural and in the well-ordered society they wouldn’t exist, everyone would be rich and happy. Thus, at least as its being presented today, conflict is a matter of mean, selfish people who just don’t have the right ideas.

True, European ruling classes have in some cases lost confidence in their own civilization but they don’t gnaw at themselves.

So what’s different about America on this point? I am trying out some preliminary ideas.

--America was a democracy and thus evil deeds cannot be put off onto an aristocracy or monarchy that no longer exists.

--Other countries just came into existence and there they were! Some countries were the products of conscious nationalist visions. But the United States arose from a political and philosophical concept: how can one build a country that is a sustainable republic where citizens are treated as equal. Thus, it can be judged on whether it has met that goal.

--America’s success at integrating other groups and freedom has created internal points of criticism. There are large minority groups which aren’t afraid to speak out and complain about the past. Indeed, members of the “majority” who do so are amply rewarded.

--Americans have a problem with integrating history into their thinking. The narrative of other countries is accepted and seen as a whole. The United States is much younger than most and has focused so much on change it is hard for most people to see their national rootedness.

--Because it always looked more inward than other countries, focused on prosperity and had a relatively easy geostrategic situation, Americans never even considered world conquest and when the country had the opportunity to do so after 1945 acted with incredible modesty and constraint.  Today, that sentence would be mocked but it is nonetheless true. Perhaps there is a parallel to antisemitism in which the failure to behave as other nations have done makes everyone all the more suspicious that one is plotting behind the scenes.
--Of course, the above points may be too over-thought and the easier explanation is simply a cynical, deliberate indoctrination to turn Americans against their own country and history. But then one still has to explain why this hasn’t happened elsewhere.

It is normal to refuse to endlessly dwell on one’s own guilt and shortcomings. People want to feel good about themselves and their country. Rulers usually—unless they are in the midst of fundamentally transforming the country (ah, there’s a clue)—don’t want to admit the evil-doing of predecessors with whom they feel a strong continuity.

One might say, as noted above, that America conquered the original inhabitants. But if one goes back far enough that can be said of virtually every country. America had slavery but so did other countries, albeit mainly outside their own borders so it was less visible. There are differences but not as large as they might originally appear to be.

The one potential exception is Germany, which is still facing its national socialist past as a factor that does affect its behavior. Yet I don’t think Germans believe that this era reflects a fundamental flaw in their national character or which pervades their history. And, again, the United States never had anything equivalent.

Part of the problem is the misunderstanding—often deliberate—of American history. Yes, there was slavery but it was repugnant from the very start to many Americans, even including slaveholders among the founders. Not just the Civil War but the political history of the United States from 1820 to 1861 revolved largely around battle over this issue. The correct way to view this history is not that America was guilty of the fundamental sin of slavery but that America had a great struggle over the issue and ultimately resolved it properly because of the strength, powerful concepts of democracy and equality, and conscience built into its system.

Perhaps the internal drive to delegitimize America is precisely because patriotism is a strong force in American life that must be overcome by those who would transform the country’s thinking. Certainly, the United States has taken a lead in international affairs in the last sixty years but frankly it did a pretty good job dealing with very tough situations and no-win alternatives.

In William Shakespeare’s play, “Julius Caesar,” Mark Antony gives a brilliant speech which well sums up how those who slander America misrepresent its history:

“The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”

And who today seek to be America’s undertakers?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Secretary of State Kerry Shows He Doesn’t Have a Clue About How Foreign Policy Works

By Barry Rubin

During his confirmation hearings, Secretary of State-designate John Kerry was only given a tough time by one questioner, Senator Rand Paul. The exchange between them is really interesting not just because of the specific topic but also because of what it shows about basic foreign policy philosophy, and ignorance, on Kerry’s part.

It is a genuine problem. The leader of a “friendly” (?) nation has been exposed for making antisemitic remarks. The United States wants to continue aid to avoid instability in that country that would contribute to even further radicalization, and to use U.S. leverage to produce the best possible outcome.

Unfortunately, Kerry subscribes--as is so fashionable today in the Obama Administration and academia--to what I'll call the abusive relationship approach to foreign policy. If another country supports you and is good for your interests, you take it for granted and mistreat it; but if another regime--say, Turkey, Pakistan, Venezuela, Egypt, and at times in the recent past Syria and Iran come to mind--walks all over you then you chase after it all the more passionately and shower it with presents.

For my background critique of the administration’s response to the Mursi statements, see here.
In the hands of a good realpolitik statesman, this balance would be managed well. For example, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger would have kept the Egyptian government off-balance and made it understand that Washington was doing it a favor by providing aid. In other words, leverage would be used.

But in Kerry’s hands, leverage is tossed away. He is so afraid of using power or being tough that he throws away leverage, believing there can be no risk of problems. The recipient must not be intimidated or pressed to change but shown that America is its friend and not the imperialist bully that people like Kerry and President Barack Obama see when they look back at U.S. history.

Precisely the same problem was displayed notably in two other recent cases (though readers can probably add more):

--When the Palestinian Authority (PA) approached the UN seeking membership and recognition as a state, the Bush Administration made it clear to the UN and allies that there would be a strong price to pay in U.S. support and donations. The PA backed down. With Obama opposing the same thing but not playing any trump cards, America’s “friends” almost unanimously voted against Washington’s position and it suffered a serious loss whose costs (including the permanent destruction of the “peace process”) have not yet been counted.

--When it was suggested to Kerry that U.S. aid to Pakistan be held up until it released a political prisoner, a doctor who helped America locate Usama bin Ladin and who is now in prison and reportedly has been tortured, Kerry refused.

America must be the one humiliated; the feelings of other countries cannot be hurt.  

Rand Paul: “Do you think it’s wise to send [Egypt] F-16s and Abrams tanks?”

Kerry: “I think those [antisemitic] comments are reprehensible, and those comments set back the possibilities of working toward issues of mutual interest. They are degrading comments, unacceptable by anybody’s standard, and I think they have to appropriately be apologized for….”

Kerry, of course, isn’t answering the question. He is detaching the remarks from Muslim Brotherhood ideology and from U.S. policy. This is meaningless rhetoric on his part. It does, however, raise the intriguing problem of what Kerry would do since President Mursi isn’t going to apologize. That would have been a good question. Of course, he would do nothing.

Rand Paul [cutting Kerry off]: “If we keep sending them weapons, it’s not gonna change their behavior.”
Here is the essential question and the one that Kerry doesn’t want to answer. What reason is there to believe that the U.S. supply of arms would change the Brotherhood government’s policies? Rather than moderate its policy wouldn’t these arms merely enable the regime to follow a more radical position, and who would these arms be used against?

Kerry: “Let me finish. President Mursi has issued two statements to clarify those comments, and we had a group of senators who met with him just the other day who spent a good part of their conversation in a relatively heated discussion with him about it….”

Yes, Mursi issued two statements but they were not to take back his prior words but only to double down on them since he asserted that the statements had been taken out of context by the Zionist-controlled media. The man isn’t misspeaking. He’s just saying what he believes. Kerry and Obama refuse to recognize that he believes these things.

Lucky for them, they didn’t have to answer to Mursi’s and his colleagues’ anti-American statements. I can't figure out why more use hasn't been made of the strongly anti-American statements (including support for terrorist attacks on Americans and rejoicing about the alleged downfall of the United States due to Obama's leadership) repeatedly made by Brotherhood leaders. 

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Kerry [continuing]:  We have critical interests with Egypt. Critical interests. Egypt has thus far supported and lives by the peace agreement with Israel, and has taken steps to start to deal with the problem of security in the Sinai. Those are vital to us, and to our national interests, and to the security of Israel….”

Yes, the United States does have critical interests with Egypt. Yet how can these interests be best maintained? Remember that Kerry previously insisted that the critical interests the United States had with Syria could be best maintained by rewarding the anti-American dictatorship there of President Bashar al-Assad.

 Has Egypt so far supported and lived by the peace agreement with Israel, etc.? Well, technically yes though in a real sense the Egyptian government has not yet begun to govern in its full framework. For example, parliament has not convened yet. Moreover, the government has only acted cosmetically to deal with the security problem in the Sinai, reportedly making a deal with the Salafist terrorists to leave them alone if they cooled it for a while.

What Kerry suggests, but doesn’t prove, is that U.S. interests are best maintained by not criticizing or pressuring Egypt’s government. The only alternative to Obama policy is not breaking with Egypt but using traditional diplomatic methods to get what the United States should want.

 Kerry: “The fact that sometimes other countries elect someone that you don’t completely agree with doesn’t give us permission to walk away from their election….”

Wow. This is truly ignorant. Just because Egyptians—or anyone else—elected a government does not mean that U.S. policy must accept whatever that government does. Yet I think Kerry and Obama actually believe that it does mean that. Moreover, the Brotherhood didn’t just win but had U.S. backing. It was the party Obama favored. And now, of course, the regime has killed  dozens of Egyptians in anti-government riots. It has also jammed through an ultimately anti-democratic constitution. The money and weapons the United States gives the Brotherhood government will help it consolidate power, buy off dissent and be able to repress the population. Is that what U.S. interests require, the consolidation of an Islamist regime in Egypt?  

Rand Paul: “This has been our problem with our foreign policy for decades – Republican and Democrat. We funded bin Laden, we funded the [Afghan] Muhjahideen. We were in favor of radical jihad because they were the enemy of our enemy. We’ve done this so often. I see these weapons coming back to threaten Israel… Why not just not give weapons to Israel’s enemies [to try and prevent a potential arms race]. That might save us a lot of money and might make it safer for Israel.”

Senator Paul is not exactly right here. It is not true—in fact it is an anti-American slander—to say that the United States funded bin Ladin. It did support Afghan Islamist forces but has not backed other Islamist revolutionary groups to any serious extent in the last four decades or so. What Obama is doing is largely unprecedented.

He also missed an opportunity to point out that arms were sold to some countries precisely because they had made peace with Israel and other countries because they supported U.S. policy generally despite being very anti-Israel. Arms were not given, however, to countries led by anti-American revolutionary Islamist groups that also openly declared their support for genocide of Israel and all Jews generally.

Kerry: “Better yet, until we are at that moment, where that might be achievable, maybe it’d be better to try and make peace.”

Wow, again. This is the mentality that has repeatedly crippled U.S. Middle East policy. It goes like this:
--We want peace.

--Therefore, we should not evaluate what policies are most likely to succeed but merely those that can allow us to say that peace remains possible. For example, even if the PA rejects talks for four years, we shouldn’t criticize or pressure it because that might make peace less likely, etc.

-It might work so we can’t “give up” but we must “keep trying” even though this period is not conducive to progress and even while other U.S. policies (especially backing toward Islamists) actually makes peace even more impossible to achieve.

Two final points. First, in Kerry’s worldview the more extremist a state becomes, the more it is necessary to propitiate it so as to avoid losing influence or the “chance for peace.”

In addition, he should be capable of making a sophisticated argument about precisely how America being tolerant of Mursi’s behavior and providing advanced weapons is going to advance American interests. The unspoken theory is that it will make the Egyptian military happy and able to overturn the regime.

But, of course, the regime will name the army’s commanders, the armed forces have shown they don’t want to get involved in politics, and at any rate many officers are pro-Brotherhood or even pro-Salafist. In other words, in Egypt (as in Pakistan by the way) there is no credible mechanism for turning financial or military aid into influence.

Kerry isn’t just wrong, he’s totally clueless. And as just about the most openly arrogant man in American public life he will never let reality penetrate through his ideological armor.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Western Leftists Back Islamists; Arab Counterparts Are Their Victims

OH! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!--Oh! times,
In which the meager, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
--William Wordsworth, Poem on the French Revolution, 1789

By Barry Rubin

A decent but very leftist British Middle East expert once described for me his experience in Iran in 1979. As a leftist, he had discounted any idea that Islamists might take over the country before the revolution, dismissing them as insignificant. But then he supported the revolution against the “reactionary, pro-Western” shah.

He had many friends among Iranian leftists. Quickly, he went to Tehran and scheduled meetings at the leftist newspaper established after the revolution. The newspaper was named with the Persian word for dawn, recalling—intentionally or not I have no idea—the words of another revolutionary romantic quoted above.

As he arrived, however, a cordon of revolutionary Islamist police held him back. The supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini were busy closing down the newspaper, ransacking the office, and dragging the journalists away to prison. The enthusiastic supporters of revolution, betrayed by their allies (Wordsworth’s “auxiliars,”) were discovering that it wasn’t their revolution at all. The “meager, stale, forbidding” laws and customs were coming back with a vengeance.

The left may believe itself to be “strong in love” but the Islamists have got the guns, money, organization, and the willingness (even eagerness) to kill for power.

This was not the first time in history such things happened. And now with the “Arab Spring” it wasn’t the last either.

The leftist forces in the Arabic-speaking world as relatively weak but they can be disproportionately significant, especially in Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia. While Arab liberals have often been implicitly secular-oriented, it has been the leftists, Marxists to some degree, who have been militantly outspoken.

In recent years, though, the Arab left has also hitched its star to the far more powerful Islamists, reasoning that they, too, were against the regime and the West. “After Hitler, us,” over-optimistic German Communists proclaimed in 1932. In a sense, they were right since after the Third Reich’s fall the Soviets would make the survivors the puppet rulers of East Germany. But that’s not the scenario they had in mind.

Now Arab leftists are repeating that pattern. In Egypt, the left provided a youthful, pseudo-democratic cover at the revolution’s beginning that fooled the Western governments, journalists, and “experts.” Now the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t need them anymore.

Here’s a small example of that. The Egyptian leftist newspaper is al-Tahrir and its editor is Ibrahim Issa. He is now being investigated by the government prosecutor on charges of ridiculing the Quran and Sharia law as well as mocking Islam. Soon, people are going to be shot by Salafist terrorists on the basis of such accusations. For now, they just face trials and possible jail time.

What is worth noting is that just about anyone—in this case, as usual, it was an Islamist lawyer—can urge that charges be made against people who say something that offends the Islamists. This analysis also implies, of course, to any women's rights' groups in the West, so sensitive to the most minor details of life in their societies yet willing to overlook massive repression--even embrace it elsewhere.

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I was fascinated by one of the statements that got Issa in trouble. It was a very typical leftist theme whose equivalent is used about every five minutes in the United States and every day in these times by Obama Administration officials. Issa sarcastically remarked that if someone steals a wallet Sharia mandates that their hand be cut off but for stealing millions the punishment is far less harsh.

Issa certainly has guts. He was once sentenced to death under the Mubarak regime, and then pardoned by that dictator. But now there has been a supposed democratic revolution.

If the opposition cannot make such non-theological points how can it criticize Sharia and Islamist rule at all? And while Issa may be defiant, most will be deterred from speaking out or acting by fear of punishment. A common mistake is to think that repression is aimed at silencing courageous critics. Not really. It is intended—and usually works—in getting a far larger number of bystanders to shut up.

There has been a major failure on the part of the Western left. Can’t they imagine themselves living in such places and being punished for saying or doing all the things they take for granted?

Once upon a time they would have shown solidarity with their murdered, imprisoned, and repressed counterparts. They would have been outspoken about what’s going on, for instance, in Tunisia where the level of crackdown is gradually increasing and at least one leftist party leader has been murdered by Islamists. They would be jumping up and down to protest the withdrawal of women’s rights. And the Marxists would be throwing around the phrase, "clerical-fascists" to describe what was happening. There would be protests, and a massive literature on the evils of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, perhaps as alleged tools of capitalism and imperialism but denunciations none the less.

Sure, the Western left were for decades apologists for repression carried out by leftist regimes--the USSR, Soviet bloc, and Third World dictatorships among them--but not about repression carried out against leftists.

Now things have changed. The left has sided with the reactionaries because they hate their own countries’ systems more. This is a mistake and their compatriots will pay for it in blood.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

Friday, January 25, 2013

What Difference Does It Make that Hillary Clinton Doesn't Care Why Terrorists Killed Americans in Libya?

What Difference Does It Make that Hillary Clinton Doesn't Care Why Terrorists Killed Americans in Libya?

By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remark, “What difference does it make?” regarding how the motive of the terrorists in the Benghazi, Libya, attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and two CIA men isn't important--will always be associated with her.  She added that the only important thing was to punish those responsible.

Other than a number of obvious points, here are two things that deserve more consideration.
First, the motive of an attack is always important. The Obama administration represented the attack as being in response to an anti-Islam video made by an Egyptian-American. If that were to have been true the implication is that the attack was the fault of America in some way. A change in U.S. behavior--sensitivity, concessions, apologies, changing policies, not identifying revolutionary Islamism as a threat and pretending it is a marginal, deviant movement--is what's needed..

Critics tend to see the motive as being due to sheer hatred of America or something along those lines. In fact, the motive is somewhat different and extraordinarily important:

--To promote Islamist revolution by hitting at the United States, thus showing America is weak and can be defeated as a way to inspire more to engage in violence and revolutionary activity. You can call this the strategic motive. As an example, at the time of Iran's Islamist revolution many Iranians feared the United States, seeing in almost superhuman, superpower terms, as eager and able to overthrow any regime in Tehran that was too militant. Thus, the movement should be cautious.  

Rejecting this idea,  Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini wanted to prove that America was weak and could not stop his movement from doing anything it wanted and this is how he portrayed the hostage crisis in the U.S. embassy.  A parallel case was that of Usama bin Ladin and the September 11th attack. The message is: Islamism is the movement to back, it is winning victories over the infidels, and can triumph totally. 

 --To show that terrorism works in injuring the enemy and thus is superior to what others do, including the political maneuvering and mass base building of the Muslim Brotherhood. This can be called the tactical motive. The message is: terrorism is superior to the methods used by other groups so let's keep doing it and increasing the number of attacks. In this specific case, the United States easily helped overthrow Qadhafi but it is helpless against our willpower, willing to die, and methods.

--To put the focus on hatred of America as a way to gain more support for Islamism as—to use 
contemporary rhetoric—hatred of the “other.” This can be called the ideological motive. The message is: 

Those non-Muslim, non-Arab Americans are the true enemy and any government that is on good terms with them is a traitor.

--To demoralize their relatively more moderate rivals. The message is: Give up, don’t help the Americans. If they won’t protect themselves they certainly won’t save you. That's why the Libyan government will do little or nothing to help catch those responsible. It is more afraid of the perpetrators than it is of the United States. 

These points have been repeatedly stressed by Islamist leaders—Ayman al-Zawahiri comes to mind—in his writings. He and others spoke of how killing fellow Muslims would make the revolutionaries unpopular but killing Israelis or Americans would win them popular backing.

--In this case, a specific motive was to portray the Libyan regime as an American puppet. To overthrow the regime, it is necessary to attack and defeat the United States, making Americans and U.S. influence flee the country. The message is: the Americans cannot save the Libyan government just as they could not protect the shah in Iran or Mubarak in Egypt. Once Syria falls, the Islamists there will pull out Obama, Clinton, and Secretary of State John Kerry quotes to "prove" that President Bashar al-Assad was an American agent and thus everything bad he did can be blamed on Washington.

The Obama Administration wants to bury this analysis because it calls attention to the threat of revolutionary Islamism and, in the last case, to the negative aspects of its own Libya policy. Whether or not that initiative of overthrowing Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi was a good idea the fact remains that such a policy has costs. Whether or not unilateral actions and the use of force is a good idea or not in any specific case, standing aside and doing nothing while Americans were killed will also have its costs. Whether or not America has made mistakes in its past policies, apologies and concessions will only persuade the Islamists and a large sector of the local population that the United States is weak, can be defeated, and therefore attacks should be escalated.

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Aside from the irrelevance of motive, the other point Clinton made was to emphasize that the most important thing was to punish those responsible. While that sounds impressive, virtually nothing has been done to achieve that goal. In general, of course, the problem is identifying and finding the terrorists, especially if they are located in a country which provides a safe haven to terrorists. The United States never effectively punished, for example, those who attacked the Marine barracks in Beirut in the 1980s

The Libyan case, however, is different. Libya is ruled by a government that is as close to being a U.S. dependent as any Arab government in modern history. There is no sign of serious U.S. pressure on the Libyan regime to do anything. On the contrary, we see that the regime has let suspects go and that those responsible still operate freely within the country.

Again, we are not dealing with terrorists hiding out in places like Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, or Lebanon but rather people going about their daily lives in a country supposedly friendly to the United States.

I believe that more than four months after the killings the administration hasn't even named a specific group as having carried out the attack or individuals who led the attack. U.S. intelligence cannot possibly be that bad. In contrast, the Libyan government may have taken no action but has been a lot more forthright in discussing who were the attackers.

Well, there is a big problem here, isn't there? How can the Obama Administration announce that the Libyan attack--and now the  large-scale attack on an Algerian oil well where at least one American was killed among several dozen people--was carried out by al-Qaida since it has previously announced that it destroyed that organization. It is possible that politics is getting in the way of the punishment of the perpetrators that Clinton allegedly thirsts for. 

Of course, it is embarrassing for the Libyan government to cooperate in going after these terrorists because they are fellow Arabs and Muslims andmight seek revenge against that government. But one would think, especially given Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks, that the U.S. priority on getting these individuals would override that political consideration for the Libyan government. It doesn’t.

Remember that it is highly likely—U.S. leaders with access to intelligence know for sure—that high-ranking officials in Pakistan were helping Usama bin Ladin hide despite receiving billions of dollars in U.S. aid. But Libya is an easier case since supposedly the United States has a lot of leverage there.

Remember, too, that it is highly likely that the U.S. leadership let those brave Americans in Libya die because it didn’t want to rush in with military forces and embarrass an incompetent and unwilling to act Libyan government. Indeed, we know for certain that this is why the consulate did not have proper U.S. security protection but--hard as it is to believe--the security was turned over to Islamists who could be reasonably suspected as being anti-American and linked to terrorists. The individuals guarding the consulate had not even received any serious training.

So Clinton’s show of indifference isn’t just a question of distracting attention or callousness, it is a clear symptom of exactly what is wrong with the Obama Administration’s handling of this and other issues. To paraphrase Obama's own famous remark, Clinton's statement is a way of claiming in regard to the current crisis in the Middle East that the Islamists "didn't build that," a guilty America did. That kind of thinking will lead to a disaster for U.S. interests and the loss of more  American lives.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.