The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged nyt
A thought-provoking piece on Libya

Of all places, in the New York Times. Steven Erlanger does a magnificent job of raising many important points. In order of appearance:

Libya has been a war in which some of the Atlantic alliance’s mightiest members did not participate, or did not participate with combat aircraft, like Spain, Turkey and Sweden. It has been a war where the Danes and Norwegians did an extraordinary number of the combat sorties, given their size. Their planes and pilots became exhausted, as the French finally pulled back their sole nuclear-powered aircraft carrier for overdue repairs and Italy withdrew its aircraft carrier to save money.

[. . .]

Although Washington took a back seat in the war, which the Obama administration looked at skeptically from the start, the United States still ran the initial stages, in particular the destruction of Libya’s air defenses, making it safe for its NATO colleagues to fly. The United States then provided intelligence, refueling and more precision bombing than Paris or London want to acknowledge. Inevitably, then, NATO air power and technology, combined with British, French and Qatari “trainers” working “secretly” with the rebels on the ground, have defeated the forces, some of them mercenary, of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

[. . .]

There is also the moral question. In Libya, NATO allies ran roughshod over the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing military means to protect civilians — not intervention on one side of a civil and tribal war. France and Britain dismiss that argument, saying that it is trumped by the defense of Benghazi and the need to remove Colonel Qaddafi from power and that every Qaddafi supporter with a weapon was a threat to civilians, even if they themselves were civilians.

But there is no example of NATO intervening to protect civilian supporters of Colonel Qaddafi from the rebels. And a strong case can be made that the commitment to the “sideshow” of Libya has meant the impossibility of getting Russia and China to act even with economic sanctions on Syria, where the moral argument and the “responsibility to protect” civilians is clearer.

Do read the whole thing.

The NYT on Dennis Ross

When George Mitchell resigned last week, a PA official suggested it might have been because he had been elbowed out of his role as US envoy for the Middle East peace process by senior White House advisor Dennis Ross, the longtime peace-processor of the Bush I and Clinton administrations. Some were skeptical when it came from a Palestinian, but the NYT runs a rare story basically confirming this take on Ross' role in the White House as an advocate for Israel. In a sense it might be seen as a positive step that the NYT is talking about this: Ross is a major figure pro-Israel figure of the Democratic establishment with strong ties as a "centrist" or "moderate" in the Israel lobby.

One thing that's signicant in the article is that Jordan's King Abdullah chimes in on the criticism of Ross:

From the State Department, “we get good responses,” the Jordanian king said, according to several people who were in the room. And from the Pentagon, too. “But not from the White House, and we know the reason why is because of Dennis Ross” — President Obama’s chief Middle East adviser.

Mr. Ross, King Abdullah concluded, “is giving wrong advice to the White House.”

By almost all accounts, Dennis B. Ross — Middle East envoy to three presidents, well-known architect of incremental and painstaking diplomacy in the Middle East that eschews game-changing plays — is Israel’s friend in the Obama White House and one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in town.

Think about it: you have multiple Arab figures, all "moderate" allies (if not stooges) of the US, saying Obama has a Dennis Ross problem in his Israel-Palestine policy.

Another thing is that the piece highlights Ross being at odds with Obama on strategy — notably Obama's statement last week that the 1967 border should be the basis for a two-state solution (never mind that this has long been the official US position, somehow everyone is excited over this in Washington, which might very well be a tactic by Bibi and his DC supporters to describe this bedrock of US Israel-Palestine policy as, somehow, Obama's innovation.) Consider the following passage:

But now, as the president is embarking on a course that, once again, puts him at odds with Israel’s conservative prime minister, the question is how much of a split the president is willing to make not only with the Israeli leader, but with his own hand-picked Middle East adviser.

The White House would not say where Mr. Ross, 62, stood on the president’s announcement on Thursday that Israel’s pre-1967 borders — adjusted to account for Israeli security needs and Jewish settlements in the West Bank — should form the basis for a negotiated settlement. Mr. Ross did not respond to requests for comment for this article. His friends and associates say he has long believed that peace negotiations will succeed only if the United States closely coordinates its efforts with the Israelis.

This basically re-asserts the common wisdom that Ross is the quintessential "Israel's lawyer" inside the administration (as his deputy Aaron David Miller wrote of the Ross team's negotiating style during the Oslo years). A little further:

Mr. Netanyahu and Israel’s backers in the United States view Mr. Ross as a key to holding at bay what they see as pro-Palestinian sympathies expressed by Mr. Mitchell; Mr. Obama’s first national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones; and even the president himself.

“Starting with Mitchell and Jones, there was a preponderance of advisers who were more in tune with the Palestinian narrative than the Israeli narrative,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a friend of Mr. Ross. “Dennis balanced that.”

From my perspective the surprising thing is that the article acknowledges that Ross has enough clout to go against most senior advisors and Obama's alleged instincts, but also suggests Ross has gained in strength and would have opposed the 2009 move to stop settlement expansion and devised the 2010 scandalous offering to Israel made for a 90-day suspension of settlement activity. The real question is, how much was Ross responsible for preventing the failure of these policies that for the first time in 20 years tried to address the fact that Israel was creating a reality on the ground that made the classic two-state solution impossible? 

The article ends once again confirming the "Ross drove Mitchell out" narrative:

In April, Mr. Mitchell, who, one Arab official said, often held up the specter of Mr. Ross to the Palestinians as an example of whom they would end up with if he left, sent Mr. Obama a letter of resignation. By some accounts, one reason was his inability to see eye to eye with Mr. Ross.

“Mitchell wanted something broader and more forward-leaning, and Dennis seems to be taking a more traditional stance,” said David J. Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official who has written about the National Security Council.

But, Mr. Rothkopf said, Mr. Obama must now take into account the emerging realities in the Arab world, including a new populism brought by the democratic movement that may make even governments that were not hostile to Israel, like Egypt and Jordan, more insistent on pushing the case of the Palestinians.

“Experience can be helpful, but it can also be an impediment to viewing things in a new way,” he said.

No kidding. By NYT standards of coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel lobby politics, this might be seen as a breakthrough piece in some respects. Yet, by the standards of journalism the NYT would generally uphold in other areas affecting US policymaking, it is in some respects a weak piece that presents a superficial portrait of Ross and his ties to the Israel lobby. I am not just talking about his recent sinecure at WINEP, the think tank that started off as AIPAC's research arm. It is about his views and the positions he had held at institutions that are basically extensions of the Israeli government. For instance, Ross is against the division of Jerusalem, as Phil Weiss highlighted a couple of years ago. He also wrote that bit in Obama's pre-election speech to AIPAC in 2008. He was the chair of the Jewish Policy Planning Institute, an arm of the Jewish Agency that holds the same positions on Jerusalem "indivisible" status. The Jewish Agency is the international body that encourages emigration to Israel — it is quasi-governmental and supports the settlement policy. Why are these things not mentioned?

(Update: I was unaware of this, but Ross also serves on the board of Daniel Pipes' Middle East Forum, a forum for some of the most out-there neoconservative commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the region and Pipes' notorious anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab rants — remember his campaign against the teaching of Arabic in a New York school, for instance. Ali Gharib has the goods.)

This NYT piece shows how much things have progressed in the mainstream media's coverage of the issue of the Israel lobby, even if coverage of the actual conflict still lags behind, no thanks to Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kerchner. But it also shows it has some way to go before we might expect it to be treated with the same journalistic seriousness as, say, the energy lobbies or the China lobby or the gun lobby.

The definitive take on Ethan Bronner

People sometimes say I'm too harsh on Ethan Bronner, the NYT correspondent in Jerusalem whose son is in the IDF. Here's what Bronner wrote today:

It is worth noting that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been largely drained of deadly violence in the past few years.

That statement is only true if you don't include the Gaza war, with its thousand-plus Palestinian casualties. It's only true if you live in the Israeli bubble that says the conflict has died down because there are fewer terrorist attacks, even though occupation and war crimes continue against Palestinians. It's because he lives inside that bubble that he does a disservice to the NYT's readers.

Via Norman Finkelstein, whom I am happy to see blogging at Mondoweiss

NYT: Nostalgia for (Jewish) terrorism
The NYT's Deborah Solomon interviews Tzipi Livni and reveals her fondness for the Irgun:

Your parents were among the country’s founders. 
They were the first couple to marry in Israel, the very first. Both of them were in the Irgun. They were freedom fighters, and they met while boarding a British train. When the British Mandate was here, they robbed a train to get the money in order to buy weapons.

It was a more romantic era.

Now if the NYT has interviewed a Palestinian leader and the reporter had called, say, the 1970s era of plane hijackings or Abu Nidal's 1980s acts like the Achille Lauro hijacking, "romantic" do you think the editors would have let that fly?

Karsh, Rosen, and essentialism

It's been a busy week, so I'm glad that Nir Rosen took the time to skewer Efraim Karsh so I don't have to. Karsh — among the most prominent Israel apologists in British academia and a leading critics of Israel's New Historians — wrote Muslims Won't Play Together, which basically a loosely argued case for not being afraid of the Islamic response to a strike on Iran, which he backs:

So, if the Muslim bloc is just as fractious as any other group of seemingly aligned nations, what does it mean for United States policy in the Islamic world?

For one, it should give us more impetus to take a harder line with Iran. Just as the Muslim governments couldn’t muster the minimum sense of commonality for holding an all-Islamic sports tournament, so they would be unlikely to rush to Iran’s aid in the event of sanctions, or even a military strike.

Beyond the customary lip service about Western imperialism and “Crusaderism,” most other Muslim countries would be quietly relieved to see the extremist regime checked. It’s worth noting that the two dominant Arab states, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have been at the forefront of recent international efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

As for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the idea that bringing peace between the two parties will bring about a flowering of cooperation in the region and take away one of Al Qaeda’s primary gripes against the West totally misreads history and present-day politics. Muslim states threaten Israel’s existence not so much out of concern for the Palestinians, but rather as part of a holy war to prevent the loss of a part of the House of Islam.

In these circumstances, one can only welcome the latest changes in the Obama administration’s Middle Eastern policy, which combine a tougher stance on Iran’s nuclear subterfuge with a less imperious approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Rosen took Karsh to task for all of his biased assumptions in the piece — the idea of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being a Muslim-Jewish one (rather than one over the land and human rights of the Palestinian people as a whole), the idea of the US having "an imperious approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," his understanding of Iranian politics and countless other sloppy lines. Do read Nir's post.

The thing that shocks me the most, though, is Karsh's framing of the Islamic world as one where the classic theological-legal term for what Western scholars have called "the Islamic law of war" has everyday reverence. Thus, he makes constant use of the House of Islam / House of War dichotomy. It was as if my next door neighbor, when he traveled abroad, said "Well, I'm off to Dar al-Harb, see ya later!"

It's typical of the way scholars with an axe to grind are making use of terms with little everyday relevance (never mind of use in the decision-making of the governments of Muslim-majority countries) to portray an Islamic threat. It reminds me how, at a certain time in America (and I'm sure elsewhere) after 9/11, the word "dhimmitude" was bandied about as if the dhimmi laws still applied in most of the the Islamic world. It's ridiculous and apparently serves the likes of Karsh to impart a scary otherness to people on this side of the planet. And the people who seem to have most liked to eat up this kind of stuff appear to be the editorial board of the New York Times.