Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Middle East Media Sampler 2/14/2013: Obama And The Decline of the Western World

From +David Gerstman:

1) Decline and its consequences

In October, 2009, Charles Krauthammer wrote, Decline is a choice:
The president then denounced the idea of elevating any group of nations above others--which takes care, I suppose, of the Security Council, the G-20, and the Western alliance. And just to make the point unmistakable, he denounced "alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War" as making "no sense in an interconnected world." What does that say about NATO? Of our alliances with Japan and South Korea? Or even of the European Union? 
This is nonsense. But it is not harmless nonsense.
It's nonsense with a point. It reflects a fundamental view that the only legitimate authority in the international system is that which emanates from "the community of nations" as a whole. Which means, I suppose, acting through its most universal organs such as, again I suppose, the U.N. and its various agencies. Which is why when Obama said that those who doubt "the character and cause" of his own country should see what this new America--the America of the liberal ascendancy--had done in the last nine months, he listed among these restorative and relegitimizing initiatives paying up U.N. dues, renewing actions on various wholly vacuous universalist declarations and agreements, and joining such Orwellian U.N. bodies as the Human Rights Council. 
These gestures have not gone unnoticed abroad. The Nobel Committee effused about Obama's radical reorientation of U.S. foreign policy. Its citation awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize lauded him for having "created a new climate" in international relations in which "multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other institutions can play." 
So what are the consequences of President Obama's choices? Richard Cohen answers in The Obama Doctrine - look the other way:
Obama, of course, has been asked about his policy. The answer he provided the New Republic recently is troubling: “How do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?” The statement is disingenuous, suggesting that the inability to do everything excuses the unwillingness to do anything. It also prompts the question of why he militarily intervened in Libya, the Congo civil war notwithstanding.Obama’s reason for inaction in Syria is so unconvincing that it suggests the election is what prompted him to play it safe. Here, after all, was a president seeking reelection on what amounted to a peace platform: He had ended U.S. combat involvement in Iraq and was winding things down in Afghanistan. How could he justify intervention in Syria? Maybe by saying that the region was about to blow up, that Syria was lousy with chemical weapons, that the Kurds might break away (Kurdistan is the next Palestine), that a sectarian blood bath loomed and that thousands of civilians were in mortal danger. By now, more than 70,000 of them have been killed.
The point that Cohen missed is that the the difference in Libya was that someone else was leading.

One other interesting note on this topic comes from Barry Rubin's analysis of the recent State of Union address:
It is true that U.S. forces are largely out of Iraq, yet this was inevitable, with one key reservation. There was no likelihood they would be there in a large combat role forever. Whatever one thinks of the invasion of Iraq, the American forces were staying for an interim period until the Iraqi army was ready. Any successor to George W. Bush would have pulled out the combat forces. The reservation, of course, is that it was the success of the surge — which Obama opposed and his new secretary of defense (yes, he will be confirmed) Chuck Hagel opposed. So he is taking credit for a policy that was inevitable and that was made possible by a success that he was against. Lest you think that assessment is unfair to Obama, consider this: he did absolutely nothing to make this outcome happen. No policy or strategy of his administration made the withdrawal faster or more certain. 
President Obama will take credit for foreign policy successes (as he defines them) even if they occur despite him.

2) More Prisoner X fallout

Honest Reporting carries a summary of the most recent revelations about the Prisoner X story. Shmuel Rosner explains, in general terms, how the story (and similar ones) got promoted.
One should know that in stories of this sort people usually play the roles they are used to playing. Without naming names or giving too much detail I believe I could comfortably say that: Security officials tend to try to keep things secret where it's necessary but also where it's not. 
They also try to keep things secret where they have a realistic chance of succeeding but also where they don't. The courts tend to be slow in understanding what they can and can't control by way of censoring public debate and limiting public knowledge. The Israeli press is of two minds: it wants to be kept in the loop – but also wants to hype the scandal. Scandals are good for ratings, and fighting the evil forces of censorship is good for journalistic morale. The foreign press is the great laundry factory through which stories are disseminated – some true, some half-true, some false. As we all know, junior politicians would use anything to draw attention, and with such stories there are two ways of doing this: One is leaking, hinting, provoking, and wearing the mantle of 'Knights of human-rights'; the other is denouncing and inciting against those knights and wearing the mantle of patriotic 'Knights of national-security'. Senior politicians just want to distance themselves from the story. There's nothing they can benefit from being associated with it.
 Israelly Cool got New York Times reporter, Jodi Rudoren, to acknowledge on Facebook:
Jodi Rudoren: To Brian John Thomas and others who have questioned my inclusion of Richard Silverstein’s reporting. I didn’t quote him as an authority, but simply referred to him because of his role in the development of the news story. Until yesterday, some people thought the prisoner was Iranian, which was based on his report. We needed to say that, and then of course needed to say he had acknowledged he was wrong. Including this does not indicate some kind of endorsement of his writing or viewpoints.
While it's a start, it's not enough. Rudoren needed to include a sentence in her report saying that Silverstein regularly passes off unsourced and unverifiable information as "scoops."

3) Saudi education dollars

In March, 1995 the New York Times featured an editorial, Yale and Mr. Bass's $20 million gift At issue was a gift to Yale by Lee Bass to fund a curriculum in Western civilization. Yale rejected the gift, and the Times applauded that decision:
Universities must also resist the temptation to solicit and accept gifts from donors with a strong political agenda. No doubt this is a particularly difficult thing to ask of a place like Yale, which is big, expensive to run and sorely in need of funds. But the Bass case proves that it does not pay to pander to a donor's political quirks in the hope of finding a way around his intent. 
That was then. Now Susan Schmidt reports, Saudi Money Shaping U.S. Research (h/t Daily Alert):
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology opened its doors in 2009 and already has lavished more than $200 million on top U.S. university scientists. Stanford, Cornell, Texas A&M, UC Berkeley, CalTech, Georgia Tech—all are awash in new millions of Saudi cash for research directed at advancing solutions for Saudi energy and water needs. The new university, known as KAUST, has similar partnerships with scientists at Peking University and Oxford. Many American universities and their scientists, lured by research grants of as much as $25 million, have jumped at the chance to partner with KAUST. Some of those scientists do research at their universities here and spend a small part of their time in Saudi Arabia creating “mirror” labs. The arrangement with KAUST raises novel and largely unaddressed issues for American universities. With the United States determined to become energy self-sufficient, what are the ramifications of having scientists at top university labs—many of them recipients of U.S. government research dollars—devoting their efforts to energy pursuits selected by Saudi Arabia?
If there's been a New York Times editorial decrying the spectacle of a foreign country dictating research priorities to American universities, I haven't seen it.

There are other costs to these partnerships. Charlotte Allen wrote in 2008:
U.S. universities pride themselves on their tolerance - religious, ethnic, gender-based, sexual orientation-based, whatever. But when it comes to lucrative consulting fees for partnering with universities in Mideastern countries where none of the above categories of toleration seems to exist, the campus open-mindedness apparently evaporates, and a strange variety of mulitculturalism takes over. Case in point: the California Polytechnic Institute, a highly regarded state-funded university in San Luis Obpispo, Calif., that prides itself on its 21-year-old Women's Engineering Program, designed to encourage female students to enter an overwhelmingly male-dominated field. All well and good - except that Cal Poly is in the process of negotiating a $6 million consulting deal in which its faculty would develop an engineering program at Jubail University in Saudi Arabia. Since the Saudi government forbids co-education, the program would be male-only, at least at the beginning. Later maybe, women might also be able to study engineering at Jubail, but only if the campus hires an all-female faculty to teach them, for Saudi law also prohibits academic instruction of students by members of the opposite sex. Jubail currently enrolls women students, but in separate classes taught by female professors. This sort of compromise, in which colleges seem willing to abandon vaunted principles of equality in exchange for lucrative partnerships with Mideast institutions, is surprisingly common on U.S campuses. The University of California at Berkeley, for example, is currently in confidential negotiations with another Saudi university, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (known by the acronym Kaust), in which UC-Berkeley professors would collaborate on research projects and help King Abdullah hire faculty for its mechanical engineering program. Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin are in the process of negotiating similar arrangements with Kaust to consult in engineering departments - deals that total a reported $25 million for each. Kaust also has partnerships with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and an array of foreign universities. Although the yet-to-open Kaust, set up with a $10 billion endowment and aiming to turn itself into a world-class research facility, has said that it will not be subject to the usual Saudi sex restrictions, it remains unclear whether and how women will participate. Even more ominously, the New York Times has reported that no Israelis would be allowed to join the Kaust faculty - a prohibition that probably applies to Jubail as well.
The New York Times applauded Yale when it rejected a gift that would teach the historical underpinnings of our society. However it is silent when many of the academic and cultural values one would expect the Times to hold dear are compromised in the name of Saudi oil money.

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