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Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category

On the Use and Misuse of History: The Netanyahu Case

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Some very interesting responses to the Netanyahu speech, as reported in James Fallows’s blog. I did wince at “centers around” from the historian: it should be “centers on.” To take one example:

. . . 2) The modern history that got left out of the speech. Gary Sick, of Columbia University, has studied Iranian politics and policy for more than 40 years. After Netanyahu’s speech he wrote an assessment, including its strength as a “barn burner of a campaign speech” for the Israeli elections, but also its weakness as a studiously misleading description of the real state of negotiations with Iran.

.You don’t want to include anything that will detract from your central purpose [of campaigning in Israel, where the speech came on at 6pm local time]. So, what did Netanyahu leave out of his speech?

1. Iran has dramatically reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium. Remember Bibi’s cartoon bomb that was going to go off last summer? Well, it has been drained of fuel, and that will probably continue to be true indefinitely. No mention.

2. Inspections will continue long after the nominal 10-year point, contrary to his claim that everything expires in ten years. No mention.

3. The heavy water reactor at Arak will be permanently modified, so it produces near zero plutonium. Not only did he not mention it, but he listed the reactor and plutonium as one of his threats.

4. His repeated assertion that Iran is actively seeking nuclear weapons ignores the judgment “with high confidence” of both American and Israeli intelligence that Iran has taken no decision to build nuclear weapons. It also contradicts the repeated findings of the IAEA that no materials have been diverted for military purposes.

5. All the major countries of the world are co-negotiators with the United States, so a U.S. congressional intervention that killed the deal will not only affect us but all of our major allies. If we stiff them, there is no reason to believe the international sanctions will hold for long. No mention.

Are these simply oversights in the interests of time? Why did he leave out only the facts that cast doubt on his central thesis?

Read all of Gary Sick’s piece; compare it with Netanyahu’s end-days warnings about the emerging “bad deal”; and while you’re at it think back to people who were telling you in 2002 and early 2003 to be skeptical of the end-days warnings about Saddam Hussein’s imminent and existential threat to the world. . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2015 at 12:44 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

What does Netanyahu hope to achieve through his address to Congress?

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James Fallows has some good observations (and links) in his Atlantic blog:

Why is Benjamin Netanyahu going ahead with his speech to Congress in a few hours’ time, despite complaints from all quarters about the damage it is causing? It’s a trickier question than it seems.

Was it simple tin ear on his side, and Ambassador Ron Dermer’s? The idea, as Netanyahu has preposterously claimed, that he “didn’t intend” any affront to the sitting U.S. president and was surprised by all the ruckus? Were they that ill-informed, naive, trapped in a bubble, or plain dumb?

I find that hard to believe, from a leader who prides himself on his U.S. connections and an ambassador born and raised in the U.S. and schooled by Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz. If Barack Obama addressed the Knesset and said he had a “moral obligation” to criticize Netanyahu’s policies, would he then say he “didn’t intend” any offense? Please.

Was it crass election-year politicking on Netanyahu’s part, based on the need to get through this month’s election in Israel and the faith that eventually things would sort themselves back out with the United States? All politicians know that if they don’t hold office their platforms don’t matter, and most convince themselves that what is good for them is good for their country. So maybe he rationalized that getting through this election was worth whatever bruised feelings it might cause.

On this I defer to the reporting of The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, here, here, and here about the tensions between Netanyahu’s electoral incentives and long-term U.S.-Israeli relations. From my point of view, this would be the most benign explanation. Countries act in their own self-interest, and so do politicians.

Was it because Netanyahu has been such a prescient, confirmed-by-realityjudge of real-world threats that he feels moral passion about making sure his views are heard?

Hardly. I can’t believe that he’s fooled even himself into thinking that his egging-on of war with Iraq looks good in retrospect. And for nearly two decadesNetanyahu has been arguing that Iran was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. When you’re proven right, you trumpet that fact—and when you’re proven wrong, you usually have the sense to change the topic. Usually.

Was it because Netanyahu has a better plan that he wants Congress or the United States to adopt in dealing with Iran? No. His alternative plan for Iran is like the Republican critics’ alternative to the Obama healthcare or immigration plans. That is: It’s not a plan, it’s dislike of what Obama is doing. And if the current negotiations break down, Iran could move more quickly toward nuclear capacity than it is doing now—barring the fantasy of a preemptive military strike by Israel or the U.S. As Michael Tomasky put it in the Daily Beast: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2015 at 9:04 am

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Long History Of Crying Wolf About Iran’s Nuclear Weapons

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Murtaza Hussain reports in The Intercept:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the U.S. Congress tomorrow about the perils of striking a nuclear deal with Iran.  Netanyahu, not generally known for his measured rhetoric, has been vociferous in his public statements about the dangers of such compromise, warning that it will allow Iran to “rush to the bomb” and that it amounts to giving the country “a license” to develop nuclear weapons.

It is worth remembering, however, that Netanyahu has said much of this before. Almost two decades ago, in 1996, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress where he darkly warned, “If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind,” adding that, “the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close.”

Almost 20 years later that deadline has apparently still not passed, but Netanyahu is still making dire predictions about an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon. Four years before that Congressional speech, in 1992, then-parliamentarian Netanyahu advised the Israeli Knesset that Iran was “three to five years” away from reaching nuclear weapons capability, and that this threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.”

In his 1995 book, “Fighting Terrorism,” Netanyahu once again asserted that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in “three to five years,” apparently forgetting about the expiration of his old deadline.

For a considerable time thereafter, Netanyahu switched his focus to hyping the purported nuclear threat posed by another country, Iraq, about which he claimed there was “no question” that it was “advancing towards to the development of nuclear weapons.” Testifying again in front of Congress again in 2002, Netanyahu claimed that Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear program was in fact so advanced that the country was now operating “centrifuges the size of washing machines.”

Needless to say, these claims turned out to be disastrously false. Despite this, Netanyahu, apparently unchastened by the havoc his previous false charges helped create, immediately went back to ringing the alarm bells about Iran.

A 2009 U.S. State Department diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks described then-prime ministerial candidate Netanyahu informing a visiting Congressional delegation that Iran was “probably one or two years away” from developing weapons capability. Another cable later the same year showed Netanyahu, now back in office as prime minister, telling a separate delegation of American politicians in Jerusalem that “Iran has the capability now to make one bomb,” adding that alternatively, “they could wait and make several bombs in a year or two.” . . .

Continue reading.

Toward the end of the article:

The conclusion from this history is inescapable. Over the course of more than 20 years, Benjamin Netanyahu has made false claims about nuclear weapons programs in both Iran and Iraq, inventing imaginary timelines for their development, and making public statements that contradicted the analysis of his own intelligence advisers.

Reminds me of Alan Greenspan and other conservative economists who constantly warn that inflation is just about to happen, year after year after year, with inflation not happening: inability to learn from experience.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 11:30 am

Netanyahu apparently is set on a war with Iran

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I think he’d be biting off a lot more than he could chew, but I imagine he figures if he starts the war, he can use the US as a catspaw to save him (and Israel). In other words, he thinks to play the US for his own ends. Mark Langfan has this report:

The Bethlehem-based news agency Ma’an has cited a Kuwaiti newspaper report Saturday, that US President Barack Obama thwarted an Israeli military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2014 by threatening to shoot down Israeli jets before they could reach their targets in Iran.

Following Obama’s threat, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was reportedly forced to abort the planned Iran attack.

According to Al-Jarida, the Netanyahu government took the decision to strike Iran some time in 2014 soon after Israel had discovered the United States and Iran had been involved in secret talks over Iran’s nuclear program and were about to sign an agreement in that regard behind Israel’s back.

The report claimed that an unnamed Israeli minister who has good ties with the US administration revealed the attack plan to Secretary of State John Kerry, and that Obama then threatened to shoot down the Israeli jets before they could reach their targets in Iran.

Al-Jarida quoted “well-placed” sources as saying that Netanyahu, along with Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon, and then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, had decided to carry out airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear program after consultations with top security commanders.

According to the report, . . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2015 at 11:59 am

Robert Kagan, conservative hawk, things GOP made a big mistake inviting Netanyahu to speak to Congress to oppose Obama

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Robert Kagan has an interesting column in the Washington Post this morning. It’s worth reading in its entirety, so click the link. He concludes:

. . . For the United States, however, there is no doubt that the precedent being set is a bad one. This is not the first time that a U.S. administration and an Israeli prime minister have been at loggerheads. President George H.W. Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, reportedly detested then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and did their best to help him lose his next election. Baker even had a few choice words for the American Jews who tried to come to the Israeli government’s defense. Did anyone at the time think of inviting Shamir to address Congress? The very idea would have been regarded as laughable. Now, we’re supposed to believe that it’s perfectly reasonable.

Is anyone thinking about the future? From now on, whenever the opposition party happens to control Congress — a common enough occurrence — it may call in a foreign leader to speak to a joint meeting of Congress against a president and his policies. Think of how this might have played out in the past. A Democratic-controlled Congress in the 1980s might, for instance, have called the Nobel Prize-winning Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to denounce President Ronald Reagan’s policies in Central America. A Democratic-controlled Congress in 2003 might have called French President Jacques Chirac to oppose President George W. Bush’s impending war in Iraq.

Does that sound implausible? Yes, it was implausible — until now. Now we are sailing into uncharted waters. Those who favor having Netanyahu speak may imagine this is an extraordinary situation requiring extraordinary measures, that one side is so clearly right, the other so clearly wrong. Yet that is often how people feel about the crisis of their time. We can be sure that in the future the urgency will seem just as great. The only difference between then and now is that today, bringing a foreign leader before Congress to challenge a U.S. president’s policies is unprecedented. After next week, it will be just another weapon in our bitter partisan struggle.

Kevin Drum observes:

President Obama has been poking sticks in Republican eyes ever since November, and Republicans desperately needed to poke back to maintain credibility with their base. Since passing useful legislation was apparently not in the cards, this was all they could come up with. What a debacle.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2015 at 12:16 pm

More on the “Clash of civilizations” idea

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Robert Wright writes in the New Yorker:

Last week, the New York Times columnist Roger Cohen published a piece under the headline “Islam and the West at War.” Something seemed amiss here. Surely a more-or-less liberal columnist at the Times wasn’t going to say what even George W. Bush was unwilling to say: that we are at war with Islam itself. Maybe this was one of those cases where the headline is meant ironically, and the piece goes on to show as much?

No such luck. The point of the column was to dismiss as “empty talk” the claim that we’re not at war with Islam. Elaborating, Cohen wrote, “Across a wide swath of territory, in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen, the West has been or is at war, or near-war, with the Muslim world.”

You might ask: How could it be a war against “the Muslim world” if it’s confined to five countries that house only a minority of the world’s Muslims? Or: How could it be a war against “the Muslim world” if most of the Muslims even in these five countries are not the enemy?

Beats me. Anyway, here’s a more pressing question: Is this a sign of things to come? Is the clash-of-civilizations narrative, long favored on the right, starting to drift into the mainstream? The Cohen column isn’t the only data point suggesting as much.

On the same day Cohen’s column was posted, The Atlantic (where I was once a blogger) unveiled a cover story called “What ISIS Really Wants.” The piece, by Graeme Wood, a contributing editor at the magazine, was in part a response to President Obama’s longstanding refusal to use the kind of language favored by clash-of-civilizations aficionados. Wood quoted Obama insisting that the so-called Islamic State is “not Islamic,” and wrote, “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic.” The Fox News Web site, among other venues, excerpted Wood’s article and linked to it. The piece went viral.

For purposes of virulence, indeed, the timing was excellent. The article appeared right before President Obama hosted a conference on violent extremism, at which he again refused to call ISIS or any other extremists Islamic. His critics, as usual, took issue, and the Atlantic piece helped feed the conversation.

While there are good reasons that a judicious President might not want to callISIS Islamic, there are also reasons that many scholars of religion look at the question differently. All major religions have changed so much over time, and sprouted so many branches, that a common rule of thumb is: if they say they’re Muslim, Christian, or Buddhist and don’t reject the most essential tenets of the faith, then that’s what they are. Mother Teresa and David Koresh, in this view, were both Christians. So calling ISIS Islamic isn’t novel enough to constitute news. But what did Wood mean by saying that ISIS is “very Islamic”?

He rested this claim about the deeply Islamic character of ISIS largely on the views of a single scholar, Bernard Haykel, of Princeton. Haykel’s main point seems to have been that ISIS isn’t just making up an ideology and grafting it onto Islamic beliefs. ISIS draws (if selectively) on the Koran and later Islamic texts; indeed, if you went back far enough in time, you would find its views more widely accepted by Muslims and Muslim scholars than has been the case in recent centuries.

After the Atlantic piece appeared, Haykel was interviewed by Jack Jenkins, of ThinkProgress. Haykel emphasized that the Atlantic piece as a whole represented Wood’s views, not his, and he qualified his views in ways Wood hadn’t. “This is something I did point out to [Wood] but he didn’t bring out in the piece: ISIS’s representation of Islam is ahistorical. It’s saying we have to go back to the seventh century. It’s denying the legal complexity of the [Islamic] legal tradition over a thousand years.”

Also: Wood had quoted Haykel emphatically dismissing the notion that “Islam is a religion of peace.” (“As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what people do, and how they interpret their texts.”) In the ThinkProgress interview, fleshing out his view more fully, Haykel said that what he had meant was that noreligion is a religion of peace, because all religions can have violent manifestations.

Scholars often consider journalistic treatments of their work insufficiently subtle, and I have no way of knowing how clear Haykel made his views to Wood. Still, there are subjects and times that demand particular fastidiousness on the part of journalists, even if that means interrogating sources with inordinate thoroughness. My own view is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2015 at 5:17 pm

As Netanyahu Tries to Stop U.S.-Iran Deal, Leaked Cables Show Israeli Spies Reject His Nuke Claims

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Interesting video program with transcript at Democracy Now! Their blurb:

In what has been described as the biggest intelligence leak since Edward Snowden, Al Jazeera has begun publishing a series of spy cables from the world’s top intelligence agencies. In one cable, the Israeli spy agency Mossad contradicts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own dire warnings about Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear bomb within one year. In a report to South African counterparts in October 2012, the Mossad concluded Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.” The explosive disclosure comes just as the United States and Iran have reported progress toward reaching a nuclear deal, an outcome Netanyahu will try to undermine when he addresses the U.S. Congress next week. We go to Doha to speak with Clayton Swisher, the head of Al Jazeera’s investigative unit, which broke the Iran story and several others in a series of articles called, “The Spy Cables.”

 

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2015 at 12:05 pm

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