Sunday, March 27, 2011

Notes On Sunday's Media Coverage Of The Middle East

From an email from DG:
1) Serious about Syria?

A report in the Washington Post gives an overview of the lastest:
On Friday, protests spread from Daraa to other towns and cities, including the capital, Damascus, in the biggest threat to the 45-year-old president since he assumed power in 2000. Security forces fired tear gas and in some places live ammunition into the crowds, killing at least 14 people, according to witnesses and activists.

On Saturday, Damascus remained tense but quiet, activists said, but protesters set fire to offices of the ruling party in southern and western Syria, the Associated Press reported, citing accounts by government officials, activists and witnesses. In Latakia, a religiously mixed city on the Mediterranean coast, crowds burned tires and attacked cars and shops, and officials said at least two people were killed there, the AP said.

“There is a kind of anger and tension,” said Abd el-Karim Rihawi, the head of the Syrian Human Rights League. Assad must implement reforms immediately, Rihawi added. “He has some time, and I think it will control the anger of the people.”
I know nothing about the Syrian Human Rights League, but the reporter, Leila Fadel, is based in Cairo. presumably, Rhawi is not located in Syria.

Syria arrests two Americans
Syria’s state news agency Sana alleged that a man with dual U.S.-Egyptian citizenship had “confessed” to selling photos and videos of demonstrations to a Colombian woman. He was later identified by relatives as Mohammed Radwan, 32, of Austin Texas.
...The state news agency said Radwan also confessed to visiting Israel. Syria is formally at war with the Jewish state, and visiting Israel is considered taboo. The accusation is sometimes used as a hint that they believe the person is a spy.
Syria believes the man is a spy? They don't believe it. They probably know that it's false. I'm glad that the first confession was put in scare quotes.

Further we read:
Tom Root said his son, a Middlebury College student who had been studying Arabic in Damascus as part of a program through Damascus University — was detained during a demonstration in the capital.

Root said in a message posted Saturday on Middlebury’s website that he believes his son was watching, and not participating, in the demonstration.

He said he had “great news” from Syria’s ambassador to Washington, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and others that his son remains in Syrian custody and is safe.
I understand that the father is relieved. But his son is still in custody. Why would that be?

So as Syria's repression worsens, what does a the New York Times choose to re-publish on its website? An op-ed which argues:
For if Syria is a one-party police state, it is a police state that tends to leave its citizens alone as long as they keep out of politics. And if political freedoms have always been severely and often brutally restricted, Mr. Assad's regime does allow the Syrian people cultural and religious freedoms. Today, these give Syria's minorities a security and stability far greater than their counterparts anywhere else in the region. This is particularly true of Syria's ancient Christian communities.Almost everywhere else in the Levant, because of discrimination and in some cases outright persecution, the Christians are leaving. Today in the Middle East they are a small minority of 14 million; in the last 20 years at least two million have left to make new lives for themselves in Europe, Australia and America. Only in Syria has this pattern been resisted. As the Syrian Orthodox metropolitan of Aleppo, Mar Gregorios Ibrahim, told me on my last visit: ''Christians are better off in Syria than anywhere else in the Middle East. Other than Lebanon, this is the only country in the region where a Christian can really feel the equal of a Muslim.''
(Christians in Israel aren't mentioned. Why not?)

The Washington Post on the other hand featured an op-ed by Elliott Abrams:

The demise of this murderous clan is in America’s interest. The Assad regime made Syria the pathway for jihadists from around the world to enter Iraq to fight and kill Americans. Long a haven for terrorists, Syria still allows the Hamas leadership, among other Palestinian terrorist groups, to live and work in Damascus. Moreover, a government dominated by Syria’s Sunni majority — the Assad clan is from the tiny Alawite minority — would never have the close relations with Hezbollah and Iran that Assad maintains; it would seek to reintegrate into the Arab world. Iran will lose its close Arab ally, and its land bridge to Hezbollah, when Assad falls.

Since the wave of Mideast revolts has spread to Syria, Assad is responding the only way he knows: by killing. What should be our response?
2) 'Human rights' council

The scare quotes were in the title of a Washington Post editorial
But before the celebrations go any further, some context is worth adding. The new special rapporteur on Iran, for example, will be the council’s 25th; there are also nine “independent experts.” When was the last time the U.N. reps on human rights in Cambodia, North Korea, Haiti, Burundi, Somalia or Sudan got the world’s attention? We can’t recall an instance.

The Iran and religious tolerance resolutions, meanwhile, were not the only ones approved by the council. There were, in all, 14 resolutions on individual countries — and six of those were attacks on Israel. In all, 41 of the 65 resolutions dealing with individual countries since the council’s founding have singled out the Jewish state. 
The council did speak out in defense of citizens of Syria, scores of whom have been slaughtered by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the past week or so. But it was talking not about the people of Daraa or Damascus, but the “Syrian citizens” of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Syria itself is a leading candidate to replace Libya as a member of the human rights council — where it will take its seat alongside Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China, among numerous other undemocratic countries.
Nice to see someone outside of the pro-Israel community noticing.

3) The other lobbies

Stephen Walt defends his anti-semitic track record in Foreign Polciy. (h/t lbd)

This looks ever bit as tendentious as the "Israel Lobby" article in the London Review of Books was. He takes credit for folks like David Remnick and Peter Beinart, while arguing:
Indeed, we explicitly said in the book that what was needed was a "new Israel lobby," one that would advocate policies that were actually in Israel's long-term interest (and would be more aligned with U.S. interests too). The problem, we emphasized repeatedly, was not the existence of a powerful interest group focused on these issue; the problem was that it was dominated by individuals and organizations whose policy preferences were wrongheaded. A powerful "pro-Israel" interest group that favored smart policies would be wholly desirable.
Well he got his wish in J-Street. And J-Street has been an abysmal failure due to (among other factors) Jeremy Ben Ami's apparent allergy to the truth.

But what "smart policies' did Walt promote regarding Libya?

http://volokh.com/2011/03/06/stephen-walt-on-libya/

Funny how accepting money from Libya didn't bother him.

But this points up a bigger issue. Clarice Feldman notes the degree to which academics are bought and paid for by Middle Eastern despots.
First, these gifts cannot but distort the research and classroom work of a university. Professors, universities, and the entire university food chain (graduate students, assistant professors, students) all know who has money, and naturally gravitate to those studies and projects for which there is funding. If there is no money to support research in a given area, there can be no fellowships or grants to sustain the scholarship. So teachers read, teach, and write about topics for which funding is available, and students make such topics the object of their study. Time is a scarce resource even in the groves of academe, and smart people do not wish to waste theirs pursuing subjects for which there will be no ability to finance and publicize their endeavors.

Second, can one doubt that there will be a tendency not to offend the donors?
Future of Capitalism notices that even Jordan has invested.

And Barry Rubin observed regarding a Turkish Islamist:
An investigative journalist named Ahmet Shek has been working on a book about Fatitullah Gulen. But Gulen, a controversial Islamist who has huge amounts of money, his own media empire, has bought off some American Middle East experts, runs lots of schools, practically owns the Turkish police, and engages in a variety of stealth Islamist activities, is apparently not to be criticized or investigated.
I'd guess that there's a lot more going on than what's listed here. It would seem that the Israel Lobby such as it exists serves to level a very un-level playing field.

An additional note about Walt.

Though not in the hard sciences, if Walt wishes to claim vindication, shouldn't he be able to point to a success that his thesis predicted?

When Binyamin Netanyahu was Prime Minister 1996-99, he met with a very chilly reception from President Clinton. In 1999, a PM more amenable to President Clinton, Ehud Barak, was elected. And did Israel achieve peace? Well no. But of course Walt and his co-author John Mearsheimer described Barak's offer at Camp David like this:
Ehud Barak’s purportedly generous offer at Camp David would have given them only a disarmed set of Bantustans under de facto Israeli control.
So if Israel doesn't achieve peace, these are "scholars" who will make excuses for Israel's enemies. But that was 10 1/2 years ago. Let's try again.

More recently - last year in fact - the Obama administration prevailed upon Israel to stop building "settlements" (including in Jerusalem) in order to spur negotiations. What was the result? Well the Palestinians waited until the final few weeks of the freeze, engaged in some talk and then stopped talking. In other words the administration pressured Israel, Israel gave into the pressure and ... the Palestinians hardened their position! Was that the result Walt expected?

(To see how misplaced the Obama administration's antipathy to Israel is, especially in context of current events, read Mona Charen's, "Obama's selective anger.")

Most curiously though, is why he decided to defend his thesis now. Yes, I know it's an anniversary and everyone loves an anniversary. (Especially if accompanied by cake and ice cream.)

But right now the big story in the Middle East are the revolutions challenging the various despots ruling throughout the region. (One of them, in fact, sponsored a trip taken by Walt and in return received a really nice review.) In fact none of these revolutions are in any way connected to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Or, more precisely, they are not inspired by the Israeli-Arab conflict. (They may affect the conflict, but that's a different story.)

In other words Walt is crowing, "Look at how important and prescient I am," when the news is saying, "You don't know what you're talking about."

If Walt wanted to show that his article was written in good faith and that he and Mearsheimer had "...Israel's long-term interest..." in mind he might have taken explained why events have not quite turned out as he would have expected. Instead he doubled down on his discredited thesis.
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