1) Syria considerations
Last week former executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller wrote Syria is not Iraq. The gist of his argument is that he trusts President Obama but shouldn’t have trusted President Bush. It’s a silly argument. However, as Dexter Filkins reports, Keller’s thinking is mirrored in the administration.
Like Ford and Holliday, Obama is concerned above all that the United States not precipitate another Iraq—a failed state, with a radicalized population, that will take years and cost thousands of lives to rebuild. Much of the aid that the White House is supplying to the opposition is intended to provide the rudiments of civilian infrastructure in liberated areas, including electrical generators and Internet connections. But the President’s critics argue that the United States needs to become more deeply involved with rebel groups, so that it has allies in Syria. The U.S. has few friends it can call on to gather intelligence, secure chemical weapons, or even provide a welcome to American troops in the event of a military operation; after Assad falls, there is little guarantee that the new leaders will be sympathetic. McCain told me, “If you believe—that’s one the Administration and all of us agree on—that Bashar al-Assad’s departure is inevitable, then every day that goes by this conflict will get harder, and the harder it’s going to be to clean up when it’s all over.”
Still, Obama’s aides argue that nothing will prevent the war from continuing after the regime falls. Along with the shabiha, Assad has mobilized the Popular Committees, a nationwide militia made up largely of minority groups loyal to the regime. Both forces—together with Assad’s regular Army, of about seventy thousand active soldiers—appear prepared to continue fighting if the rebels take Damascus. White House officials and intelligence experts say that much of the post-regime planning is being done with the help of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah; they, too, are prepared to fight on after Assad.
Filkins attributes President Obama’s hesitance to interview on a more substantial reason than that Syria is not Iraq. But the reason is telling. President Obama fears a power vacuum in Syria, similar to what occurred in Iraq. Eventually the Bush administration changed tactics and implemented the surge that reversed the situation in Iraq. But to the Obama administration, it seems, that the mistakes of the Bush administration meant that the invasion of Iraq was wrong from the start.
Barry Rubin sums up the quandary nicely. After summarizing the recent changes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and Libya, Prof. Rubin writes:
Now there come demands for an escalated U.S. intervention in Syria, as if none of these precedents need to be considered. Yes, the advocates of involvement usually don’t seek direct military action. True, they are upset at the death of 70,000 people, with the number certain to rise higher. This is not a partisan issue. The Obama government’s policy helped create this mess by helping to build up an Islamist leadership in Syria. But the Obama administration’s current apparent reluctance to escalate involvement is a good idea, though perhaps motivated by the wrong reasons.
Noble as they may be, humanitarian motives are not enough. Strategic considerations may be mistaken. President Obama’s hesitancy to act in Syria may indeed be the correct response, but is it the product of careful consideration of all relevant factors or just a reflex not to be George W. Bush?
2) Rethinking BDS
The recent controversy of Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott Israel, is in some ways hardly remarkable.
We know that a number of anti-Israel academics, led by Noam Chomsky, pressured Hawking to withdraw from the conference. This is typical of BDS tactics.
Adam Shay, writing at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, recounts The successes and failures of the BDS campaign.
However on the basis of several interviews this writer conducted with visiting artists, such statements should usually be regarded as nothing more than lip-service. The main reasons for canceling concerts in Israel are generally not empathy for the suffering of Palestinians, ideological convictions, or a will to punish or boycott Israel.
One reason for bands canceling their scheduled concerts after being approached or targeted by BDS campaigners is in order to stop belligerent attacks from BDS operatives. In their attempts to bring about cancellations, these operatives carry out coordinated, simultaneous, and multi-dimensional attacks on the band, its individual members, its record company, its ongoing activities and scheduled concerts, as well as various fan-sites.
Such attacks vary from bombarding the band’s website, Facebook, and Twitter pages to the point that the sites often collapse, to direct threats against the artists personally.
Granted, there’s no evidence that Hawking was harassed, but he was clearly pressured. What BDS campaigners lack in persuasion they make up for in pressure.
It isn’t just that Hawking was subjected to BDS tactics; where he lives is important. In other words we can say that Hawking is only a symptom of other forces. According to the latest Pew Global Attitudes poll, of those who take one side or another in the conflict, 35% of Britons favor the Palestinians and only 19% favor Israel. Britain makes fertile ground for BDS activists.
Of course not every British or subjected to BDS tactics goes along. In 2010 Benjamin Weinthal wrote about Johnny Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) and his refusal to given in to the pressure. Lydon was quoted in The Independent:
I really resent the presumption that I’m going there to play to right-wing Nazi jews [sic]. If Elvis-f-ing-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated.
Lydon deserves credit. His statement is devoid of sentimentality but he simply (if crudely) explained the idiocy of the BDS movement.
3) The boy who lived?
The Jerusalem Post recently reported about Muhammad Al-Dura: The boy who wasn’t really killed:
Not only was 12-year-old Gazan Muhammad al-Dura not killed by IDF fire in 2000 – he was not even hurt.
That was the preliminary finding of a special committee formed several years ago by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and headed by Brig.- Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, the former head of the Research and Analysis Division of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, and the current director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry.
Unfortunately that conclusion is a few years too late. The lie has traveled around the world quite a few times now.
The article notes that Mohammed al-Dura would be about 25 now. Israel Matzav speculated what may have happened to him in 2007.
For the best analysis of the Al Dura film, read Who shot Mohammed al-Dura? by James Fallows.