Flamesem & Japesem (All-Contentions Edition)

[T]he leaking of this memo and the notion that it represents the opinions of many in the Pentagon ought to scare Israelis and leave them less willing than ever to make the sorts of concessions Washington believes can strengthen the peace process.

Might be more persuasive if any writer ever in the history of Contentions, and possibly in the longer history of Commentary, had judged any news item as justifying a more favorable Israeli disposition toward “the sorts of concessions Washington believes can strengthen the peace process.”  Anyone ever seen such a thing?


There are stories in the news right now that in most of their themes are similar to stories that recently set off waves of condemnation and hysteria in much of the world, especially in the delicate global conscience of “the international community.”

But today the denunciations are absent, the criticism muted, the calls for investigation nonexistent, and the world’s attention fixed firmly on other issues. Why could this be?

I presume that Noah Pollak believes the “real” explanation is bias, implicitly as originating in anti-Semitism, but that explanation gets us nowhere:  It seems to ask, “Why is the world anti-Semitic?” – and to answer, unhelpfully, “Because it’s anti-Semitic.”

We’ve tried answering “Why could this be?”  We’ve tried religious history:  Possession of the Holy Land matters to some people very intensely.  We’ve tried it in terms of common sense:  If you declare something supremely important to you, and for good reason, your enemies are more likely to try to take or destroy it – and everyone else will be more likely to recognize an interest in the outcome.

Here’s a parallel and quite neutral geopolitical description from Tamim Ansary’s Destiny Disrupted:  A History of the World through Islamic Eyes:

People living around the Mediterranean had good reason to think of themselves at the center of human history, but people living in the Middle World had equally good reason to think they were situated at the heart of it all.

These two world histories overlapped, however, in the strip of territory where you now find Israel, where you now find Lebanon, where you now find Syria and Jordan–where you now, in short, find so much trouble.  This was the eastern edge of the world defined by sea-lanes and the western edge of the world defined by land routes.  From the Mediterranean perspective, this area has always been part of the world history that has the Mediterranean as its seed and core.  From the other pespective, it has always been part of the Middle World that has Mesopotamia and Persia at its core.  If there not now and has there not often been some intractable argument about this patch of land:  whose world is this a part of?

The globalization of economics and politics has merely added another concentric field around this “overlap.”  The transnational moment following World War II, under American tutelage, also saw the recognition of the new state of Israel.  From the international perspective, from within a Western-dominated globalism – which I fully understand is not an obligatory Zionist perspective, but which nonetheless may remain critical to the Zionist interest – the justice of the original “partition” can only be established within a vision of “universal,” all-inclusive human rights:  a unitary global theory of justice.

Perhaps, rather than complain about being under too much scrutiny, offering the equivalent of a “but the other guys do it” excuse, Israel and friends of Israel need to begin with an entirely realistic, morally and historically inescapable premise that everything the Israelis do will be judged according to this higher, universal standard, because it’s the only standard available to a virtual international/global community – a.k.a., the world; a.k.a., as Pollak derisively scare-quotes it, “the international community.”  The world will require more from Israel than from anyone else:  It was a given from the moment the modern Zionist project was conceived, and confirmed the moment that the new state sought international recognition and support from the “leader of the Free World.”

A corollary would be that the world must also forgive a little more – because the world owes Israelis a debt for putting them in this humanly near-impossible position.  Instead, Zionists and friends of Zionists can be found asserting one or the other end of their founding paradox:  The universalism of an exclusionary particularism.  The logical result of overemphasizing one against the other is an Israel detached from international protection and, specifically, American interest.

If Israel is a nation-state like any other, rather than a matter of central moral and geopolitical importance, then why, indeed, should Americans or anyone else be more interested in Israel’s fate than Uruguay’s, Mali’s, or Kyrgyzstan’s? On the other hand, if – as seems obvious to everyone except for Noah Pollak and colleagues when they argue a position that, in truth, none really believes in – there is something special about the “patch of land,” then everything that bears on what’s done with it or for its sake, or that’s said about or against it, will be magnified.

Unless the friends of Israel really are ready to see Israel completely on its own, they should forget “just like the other guys”:  At best, it’s an argument whose time has not yet come.  For now, it’s an argument against paying much attention to Israel in the first place – for caring as relatively little about Israel, including other people’s exaggerated and unfair interest in Israel, as we do about everything else (not much).  It’s an argument for tuning out the Zionists at a moment that, if people like Noah Pollak are to be believed, represents maximum peril.


If Petraeus can promptly persuade Obama to remove those conditions and the personnel who will impede success, he will do his country and his troops an immense service. If not, he has set himself and those he commands up for failure.

I think she’s just upset that Obama didn’t appoint her instead of Petraeus, once again ignoring her much more impressive military and diplomatic credentials.

51 comments on “Flamesem & Japesem (All-Contentions Edition)

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  1. It seems to be more alarmism from Perry, who’s been wrong on many things since his CIA profile “Eclipse” in the Early 90s, but there is a contingent of the military like Zinni, Jones, who clearly can’t tell who
    the good guys are and vice versa, and they have the ‘whip hand’ in this administration

  2. @ CK MacLeod:
    The fact that Commentary is pro-Israel is not a reason to dismiss what it says.
    The world is anti-Semitic because Christianity teaches that Jews are so evil and so powerful that they killed God. Marxism teaches that Jews are so evil and so powerful that they invented capitalism. Islam teaches that Jews are so weak and helpless that Mohammed evicted them from Medina and then from Khaybar (see Sura 33:26-32).

  3. @ George Jochnowitz:
    That’s a lot like saying that the Jews are enemies of humankind because the Old Testament called upon them to destroy non-believers, women and children included.

  4. Does Tobin have an alternate suggestion about what to do about Hamas? Does he not know that the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah that the Arab League has been pushing is designed to force Hamas into recognizing israel as a legitimate state and result in a peace deal?

    For all his alarm about the corrosive effect of extremist religious views in national politics, does he ever address the danger that israel faces from the ever-increasing number of its own extremists?

  5. The Amalekites weren’t the only ones under threat. I think there are several independent reasons why the Jews aren’t often associated with Old Testament genocidalism, but the most compelling one is that the ideas follow the will, the will follows perceived needs and interests, and that a pretext with a direct connection to the present is more useful. Likewise, when Christians, Muslims, and “Marxists” have perceived philo-Semitism or neutrality to be more useful, lo and behold the ample present rationales backed up by historical and scriptural precedents flow forth.

  6. @ Parson Logic T ReFog:
    Vot, chu need to ask?

    Seriously, I know my question in the first part may have seemed rhetorical, but some of you may have been reading Commentary a lot longer and more closely than I have. Can you think of an example of a post or article there that significantly called for Israel to be less “scared,” take it easy, defer to Washington?

  7. @ Parson Logic T ReFog:
    I’d be very surprised if Hamas could be pushed into recognizing Israel as a legitimate state. Virtue–or what is thought to be virtue–always triumphs over need.
    The Arab world rejected a Palestinian state in 1947. It did so with the Three No’s of Khartoum in 1967. It did so at Taba in 2001. It did so when Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005.
    Every time Hamas launches a rocket against Israeli civilians it is telling Israel not to withdraw from the West Bank. “Oh, but the rockets are mostly ineffective,” says the world. They wouldn’t be so ineffective if aimed at Tel Aviv from 8 miles away.

  8. @ George Jochnowitz:
    So, you’re saying that at NO time since the birth of Israel, there never was a time that it might have made sense to ratchet the fear factor down… maybe just to see what it was like?

  9. @ CK MacLeod:
    Israel did so many times. It withdrew from Sinai in 1956. 11 years later Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran. It withdrew again after the Camp David Agreements. Egypt never quite lived up to its half of the bargain but continued to broadcast programs on government television showing how bad Jews are.
    Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. Hezbollah began launching rockets and then kidnapped two Israelis. When Israel negotiated a deal to free the prisoners, their bodies were returned.
    Furthermore, the West Bank is autonomous. Israel maintains checkpoints, but its soldiers stay out of the populated areas most of the time.
    Most striking of all, Israel dared to leave Gaza in 2005. The world will never forgive Israel for committing such a brutal act.

  10. After the first fedayeen campaign, typified by that location that Sharon struck in ’53, then there was the Suez campaign, after that,
    the chemical rocket campaign masterminded by former Nazis like Bruenner, and Buensch, that Shamir played a small part in disrupting
    then you have the first Fatah efforts, the ’67 war, the ’73 war, the
    attacks from Lebanon in ’78, really were you not that aware of all the provocations against it.

  11. @ George Jochnowitz:
    George, Hamas is at or very near having to make some hard choices about how to proceed. It’s been extraordinary skillful at avoiding making those decisions, but they can’t de postponed much longer.
    Hamas actually initialled the reconciliation agreement that implied recognition, but pressure/promises from Iran can’t hold them from signing off the final draft much longer.

  12. A hudna, Mssr Frog, not a real truce, the summer camp for the little ones, with the favorite bits from Nahoul the Bee, is proof of this

  13. @ George Jochnowitz:
    @ narciso:
    You’re both changing the subject, which wasn’t whether or not Israel ever did a single righteous thing, or ever took a risk for peace, or ever lacked justification to keep its guard up, but whether Commentary/Contentions has ever taken a position on any issue of interest to both Israel and the US other than the one typified by Tobin’s statement.

  14. They surrendered autonomy to the PA in ’94, redeployed from Southern Lebanon in 2000, from Gaza in 2005, how many times should they go after the football,’ before they crack their skull, now you’ll argue well Hamas and Hezbollah are just following the model that the Phalangists did in Beirut, but that’s not really true

  15. @ CK MacLeod:
    Commentary takes the positions it believes in. What’s wrong with that? Would you expect The Nation to take a pro-America, pro-Israel position?
    As a matter of fact, on several occasions Commentary has asked a question and invited a large number of people to write answers to that question. They don’t all agree with each other.

  16. Contention’s Commentators,with the possible exception of JED, favor an immediate first strike on Iran.

  17. @ narciso:

    Israel isn’t going to agree to any truce with Hamas that isn’t a prelim to real negotiation.

    You might have read something about Israel making that point just before Obama was sworn in.

  18. Rex Caruthers wrote:

    Contention’s Commentators,with the possible exception of JED, favor an immediate first strike on Iran.

    Rex, you are jesting with that “possible exception” spit, right?
    Dyer’s in for three strikes and flattening the fences.

  19. Rex, you are jesting with that “possible exception” spit, right?
    Dyer’s in for three strikes and flattening the fences.

    I’ve been blogging with JED for years,and I’ve known her to equivocate,but maybe her previous fluid positions have solidified,I’ll take your word for that.*

  20. @ George Jochnowitz:
    It’s been many years since I read the Nation with any frequency. One of the reasons I stopped was that I found it so predictable on the issues that interested me. So I have very low expectations. As to Commentary’s openness, I have seen evidence of it on issues ancillary to its central interests. The fact remains that when I read a sentence like the one quoted from Tobin’s post, I have no reason to treat it as anything other than ideologically pre-determined – agreeable to the already-persuaded or inclined-to-be-persuaded, unpersuasive to anyone else, uninteresting to anyone who has already read a version of it countless times.

  21. @ Rex Caruthers:
    JED, in my reading, favors regime change by any means necessary, with a sustained US military campaign against the nuclear and military complex held in ready reserve if less intensively “kinetic” alternatives don’t do the trick in time.

    I think most of the Contentionistas put nullification of the perceived Iranian threat first, regime change second.

  22. What confidence can there be, in such a memo, seeing as the President took the occasion of his UN appearance to denounce settlements and propose unilateral nuclear disarmament, when his
    National Security Adviser has campaigned against the Separation wall, when State’s planning chief, has explicitly supported military intervention in support of the Palestinians, while it sought to undermine Karzai practically from the get go

  23. @ CK MacLeod:
    Back to your post #7. You say that the will follows perceived needs and interest. Suicide bombers in Pakistan just killed some of their fellow Muslims.
    Did they perceive that it was in their interest? No. They thought it was virtuous to blow oneself up in order to kill those who are less rigid in their beliefs. I repeat: Virtue triumphs over need.

  24. @ George Jochnowitz:
    Why ever would you assume that the recognition and realization of interests would be uniform across a massive population of human beings? The fraction in any population for whom virtue long triumphs over need is usually quite small.

  25. dude!
    the blockade is the friend of Hamas. they don’t want it ended.
    This is just a replay of the summer war, with Hamas playing the role of Hizb and the 7,832 palestinian prisoners standing in for Sameer Kuntar. Membah how that went down?
    Hizb’ was negotiating for Kuntar with a german arbitration team, and the zzrealis backed out. So Hizb’ snatched 2 zzreali soljahs to sweeten the deal. Then all hell broke loose. Bush (that retard) gave Israel carte blanche to wipe out Hizb’ in Leb. Do you remember our ally President Sinoria begging Bush with tears in his eyes to get the zzrealis to stop shelling his citizens and infrastructure?
    n/e ways, 1500 dead leb civilians later, Israel gets 2 dead soljahs and Hizb’ gets Kuntar.
    The longer the blockade goes on the more swag Hamas will get at the end.
    bi la kayfah

  26. @ George Jochnowitz:no, you don’t understand.
    The Taliban HAVE ALWAYS blown up shrines and sufi schools.
    Its what they do, like conservatives kill abortion doctors and homosexuals and burn evolution textbooks and lynched niggers when they had the chance. A functioning government maintains the tension between the two sides of human nature with the rule of law. Afghanistan doesnt have a functioning government.

  27. @ Rex Caruthers: there is no “success” for us in the graveyard of empires.
    McC’s resignation is a signifier that COIN has failed.
    COIN is a patch for the Epic Fail of the Bush Doctrine, you know.
    It didnt work in Iraq either.

  28. @ George Jochnowitz:Did they perceive that it was in their interest?

    they certainly did.
    the fundies have attacked sufi forevah.
    The Taliban hate the sufis in MENA like conservatives hate liberal intellectuals in America.
    the serial invasions of Afghanistan and the proxy war we fought with the sovs has left no one to stop the Talis. The ISI and the Pakistani government arent going to stop them.
    The pakistani gov’t is just filling the moat of afghanistan with taliban crocodiles. their greatest fear is that the Americans will come to Pakistan and bring COIN.
    You think you are righteous, but you are making things worse.
    big white christian bwana go home.

  29. I’ll clue you in on a secret, Kate, we don’t have much of one either, I mean Biden has been wrong about most everything since 1973, yet he is the elder statesman. Holbrooke flubbed every single step of the Vietnam experience yet he’s supposed to be much of an authority.

    The problem with the “Summer War” as you call it, was the Israelis were not prepared for it. They had elected Sharon and Kadima, in order
    to prove that they weren’t interested in war, but as the saying goes;
    “war was interested in them”

  30. You know you inadvertently stumbled into the truth, there Kate, Cawthorne’s legacy the ISI is at the heart of this, along with Mawdudi’s proscription of Deobandism, but you want to surrender
    to them, that I don’t understand

  31. @ narciso: tell me how the zzraelis could have won the summer war……and what would “winning” have meant? not giving Hizb’ Kuntar in return for their soljahs bodies? Decimating Lebanon?
    All those people would still be dead.
    Don’t be dumb……everyday the blockade goes on is a win point for Hamas.
    what is “winning” in Afghanistan? did we win in Iraq? what is “winning” in Gaza?

  32. @ narciso:“war was interested in them”
    the zzraelis chose war when they reneged on Kuntar.
    they chose war when they bombed the leb airport.
    in the end, they lost not just the summer war, but the meme war.
    And they are losing the meme-war still.
    Like one zzraeli said, you can’t market occupation.

  33. strangelet wrote:

    @ narciso: Petraeus should start the withdrawal and open negotiations with the Taliban.
    its too late for anything else.

    Petraeus is a professional. He should do what he probably will do – what he’s always done: Assess the situation in relevant logistical, political, strategic dimensions; define to the best of his ability the best likely achievable attainable/sustainable alternatives, then sell the plan according to a persuasive and defensible theory of comparative advantage – re-define and re-conceptualize the “game” as necessary to establish (or re-state) a range of outcomes representing “victory.” That may also entail not saying certain things that all the same are embedded in the outcome, such as “we’re more concerned that no one else wins than that we do,” and “we just want to establish a pretext for a more firepower-intensive punitive-style response in the future if playing patty-cake doesn’t get the job done.”

    Petraeus is supremely skilled at not saying the wrong thing – though he’s human, as we saw during his Iraq testimony. But think back to what his “mistake” was: He answered a question regarding the larger strategic purpose, whether or not “victory in Iraq” was essential to our security back here at home, and honestly admitted uncertainty – because, as he later explained, it wasn’t his job to think that question through in all particulars and time frames. Part of what he was doing was also re-defining the terms of the entire conflict, establishing a transition from “essential to win” to “good enough not to lose” but without saying as much, because you don’t motivate the troops and the civilians by saying “we’re in it not be seen to have lost.”

  34. But Highlander…..COIN doesn’t work. It can’t work.
    It is based on social network theory.
    The accrued mass of adversary trusted networks will always be exponentially larger than the potential trusted networks generated by COIN strategies, because of double influence propagation over both social and bloodkinship network connections.
    That is the Dragon’s Teeth Axiom.

    McC said, give me 100k troops, a billion/year in dollahs, COIN mini-surge doctrine, and three years and we can withdraw with “success”.
    July 2011 is one year out and we can’t get there from here.
    that is why McC resigned.
    Petraeus is on record as saying the surge doctrine wont work in the Graveyard of Empires.
    Why should even one more American soljah have to die?
    Game over….time to go.

  35. strangelet wrote:

    Why should even one more American soljah have to die?
    Game over….time to go.

    That’s for Petraeus to seek to answer. If he can’t persuade himself that there’s significant ROI after costs, then it’s his duty to say so, but it’s naive simply to assume that hastily departing could be costless and riskless, just as it’s wrong to assume that it might not turn out to be the best solution after all. His credibility is such that he could sell that alternative.

    He has to deal with the real boys, girls, toys, and stuff, and all of the interested parents, relatives, friends, and enemies. He doesn’t have a magic wand. “Get out quickly as possible” would itself be a major logistical, political, and military challenge – in which well more than “one more soljah” would very likely “have to die.” It may very well turn out that the real world difference between “in it to win it” and “get the Hell out” isn’t very great after all. I’ve always leaned toward that view.

  36. The Taliban meanwhile told the BBC’s John Simpson that they would not negotiate with Hamid Karzai or NATO until foreign troops left Afghanistan, because they felt were they were ‘winning’.

    And they are.

  37. Kuntar should have been delivered in a box, he’s a butcher plain and simple, much like the late Effendi Mabdouh. It was Garlasco among other elements in the Soros underwritten HRW that put the Israelis
    on the defensive with the provenance of that single shell on the beach
    ;Garlasco the Nazi memorabilia fan, Yes the BBC just like the Time’s
    Aparasim Ghosh, Tim McGuirk, Newsweek’s Moreau and Yousafsai (yes from those Yousafsai) always was a Taliban pen pal

  38. As for the context, the Russians pulled out because they were extended by their puppet Najibullah, who ironically was who Zazi
    was named after, was hung about four years later. The Brits were
    not driven out in the same way, from the NorthWest Frontier, they
    followed the bloody partition, on the way out, if Jinnah had managed
    to live longer and the Khans hadn’t monopolized the society who knows
    what might have happened. After perusing the works of Robert Kaplan, Arthur Bonner Milt Bearden et al, the leading figures of the time, knew
    what Hekmatyar, Raisul Sayyaf, Khalis were, but they didn’t care

  39. @ narciso:so what?
    was Kuntar worth 2 dead zzraelis and 1500 dead leb civilians?
    i learned this in sailing class when i was little.

    here lies the body of John O Day
    who died defending the right of way
    he was right, dead right as he sailed along
    but hes just as dead as if he’d been wrong

    time to grab the two-state solution or drown in a deluge of adorable malnourished big-eyed palestinian babies.

  40. McGuirk was the one who took the word of a known AQI stringer to generate the “Haditha massacre, Ghosh, is an interesting one, where
    he goes people often die, and the following weeks he was able to be in contact with them

  41. I find that our discussions of the Afghan War are extremely depressing,so I’m searching for a viewpoint that can lift this cloud off me,so I turned to the NEOCONS for help,and I was so elated to find:
    “Afghanistan Can Be Won”
    A bottom-up approach like that exercised by Marines in southern Helmand could build a sustainable foundation for success.
    BY Frank Biggio
    July 2, 2010 11:30 AM
    “With all the difficulties in Afghanistan, and especially in light of the grim fact that June has been the deadliest month since the beginning of the war, it is understandable that some paint a picture of a bleak and hopeless future for Afghanistan and our efforts there. But places like Nawa and Garmsir are an example of our prospects for success and demonstrate that our objectives in Afghanistan can be achieved” SO FAR SO GOOD

    “Three months after Marines gained a foothold in Nawa, scores of teachers who had previously been threatened, beaten or expelled from the district because they worked for the government were able to reopen 11 schools. A major health clinic and two smaller clinics that had been ravaged by the effects of war, neglect and abandonment were being renovated or reopened, supported by competent and eager staffs. Local government officials (who today are supported by representatives from 15 Afghan ministries and a locally elected 45-member community council) hold regular meetings to discuss infrastructure projects, resolve local grievances and coordinate long-term initiatives for the district. A well-trained and equipped police force patrols population centers, including two large market-places that serve as community gathering sites which draw crowds of several thousand on the twice weekly market days. Garmsir, about 25 miles to the south of Nawa, saw similar improvements. In short, the counterinsurgency approach of providing security and then empowering the local government and population worked.” LOOKING GOOD

    “It’s not likely that Afghanistan will become a model state anytime soon. But a bottom-up approach like that exercised by Marines in southern Helmand COULD build a sustainable foundation for success. This COULD take time, likely extending past the July 2011 timeframe set forth by President Obama in his December 1, 2009, speech at West Point. That makes one of the biggest potential threats to Afghanistan’s future not only the drug trade, Taliban influence or corruption at the higher levels of government, but rather the PATIENCE AND PERSISTENCE of her foreign partners.”
    My elation is getting unelated a bit.

    “There are daunting tasks ahead in Afghanistan, and when I think of the Marines who lost their lives in Nawa and Garmsir, I’m reminded that a truth of any war is that success comes at an awful cost.” Now he tells us,but what are the details of the cost,Blood/Treasure?

    “But there are strategic reasons why it’s worth it—and human ones: A farmer named Wali Jahn who hadn’t had a good job in three years but is now leading a construction crew in the Nawa district center. A widow named Sahaba who cried tears of joy and thanks when Marines gave her enough rice, beans and cooking oil to last a month. Haji Mohammad Hajem, who brought his family back to Nawa after having fled to Lashkar Gah 18 months ago. Or Haji Abdul Ghafar from Khojibaba village who embraced a Marine for a full minute after being given a Koran and a prayer rug, then looked him in the eye and told him in broken English “You are good men. I will pray for you as long as I live.” Afghanistan is tough. But, based on what I saw, we can succeed.”
    The Strategic Reasons? I missed that part. And,call it sour grapes,but it sounds like we could do some of that stuff for our own deprived citizens,without having the war part.??????

  42. THe strategic reasons is what happens if Kabul falls, it was illustrated on a dark September Morning, although the ‘Fire next Time” might be something we can’t put out

  43. narciso wrote:
    THe strategic reasons is what happens if Kabul falls

    Wish Biggio had mentioned that,I wish you would describe that Fire that we can’t put out,after all,are you referring to the heat that Pakistanian/Iranian Nukes put forth:I understand that American and Israeli Nukes burn pretty hot also.

  44. Rex Caruthers wrote:

    I find that our discussions of the Afghan War are extremely depressing

    Imagine how depressing they would be to the kind of person in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or beyond, whom we would like to encourage – including the people Biggio describes in his heartstring-plucking conclusion.

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