Nationalism and Democracy.

One hundred years ago this year, the First World War ground to an end.  During the peace-making that followed, much attention focused on the American President, Woodrow Wilson.  Wilson was highly intelligent, well educated, and very articulate.[1]  He was also a fool.  Wilson hoped to remake the political system of the world by sponsoring democratic nationalism within the framework of an international organization.  In fact, during the “Twenty Years’ Crisis”[2] that followed the war, democratic nationalism clashed with international organization, and nationalism often got the better of democracy.  While Wilson sponsored democratic nationalism, he did not create it.  That already had been done.  The tension between democracy and nationalism ran through the last century and into our own.  Like the bulls at Pamplona, often trampling everything in its path.

Now people in search of explanations for current upheavals have rediscovered this history.[3]  Take the case of Israel.  It was a mistake from the get-go.  A colony of Europeans set down in the midst of a territory mostly populated by Arabs and at a time when the Arabs were first beginning to stir with nationalist ambitions of their own.  This had tragedy written all over it in John Deere green.  Far better if every Jew in Poland and Rumania and all those other benighted places had emigrated to the United States.[4]  But the United States had adopted immigration restrictions because many voters felt overwhelmed by strangeness.  Democratic nationalism at work.  These restrictions continued after the Second World War, so many Jews had no choice but Israel.  Wars followed (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973).  Israel expanded its territory and captured many Palestinians.  The Palestinians hate Israel, all the more so because Israel has held them captive for half a century[5] and Israel is a modern country that can continually slap-down their efforts.  In any event, Israel now seems to have jolted toward a position where democracy is for Jews, while non-Jews are excluded.  Probably, what has thinking people worried is that the next drawing-of-lines (and there will be one) will be over who is “more Jewish” or “really Jewish” based on ideological purity.

Then, what if Israel is not a circus-freak among the nations, but the wave of the future?  At least in the choice that people will have to make.  In Israel, that means “Is Israel a Jewish state or is it a non-sectarian democracy?”  What if the cosmopolitanism that appeals to many highly-educated, highly successful people collides with the nationalism of many less-qualified people?  Does the American left really want to adopt a politics that will lead them toward both anti-capitalism[6] and the authoritarian enforcement of their views?  I think not.

JMO, but Harris, Warren, Booker, and Biden are all losers in 2020.  Start looking.

[1] There are obvious parallels to Barack Obama.

[2] E. H. Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis: 1919–1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations (1939).

[3] Max Fisher, “Israel, Riding Nationalist Tide, Puts Identity First.  It Isn’t Alone.” NYT, 23 July 2018.  Is it just me, or have the headlines of the NYT become more “literary”?

[4] What if there were twice as many Jews in the United States today?  Think what we might be as a country.

[5] Well, OK, that’s only partially true.  The Arab countries refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees after 1948-1949, and kept them penned-up in squalid refugee camps paid for by Western (i.e. American) generosity.  The territories that the Palestinians now claim for their own state—the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem—were in the possession of Jordan and Egypt from 1948 to 1967.  If the Arabs had wanted to create a Palestinian state, they had every opportunity to do so.

[6] See; Venezuela under Hugo Chavez and Nicholas Maduro, or Nicaragua under Daniel Ortega.

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The Ascent.

Ancient cities all around the eastern Mediterranean were built on an “acropolis,” a piece of easily defended high ground. There is one in Jerusalem, called the Temple Mount. According to Jewish tradition, this is where God made Adam and where Abraham came close to sacrificing his son Isaac. Regardless of whether that is true, it is the site on which King Solomon built the First Temple (c. 1000 BC) and it later served as the site for the Second Temple (516 BC). The Western Wall is all that remains of the Second Temple.[1] So, it is a holy place for Jews. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad ascended into Heaven from the Temple Mount to receive Islam’s “Five Pillars” from Allah (621 AD). So it is a holy place for Muslims. Both the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock were later built to commemorate Muhammad’s journey.[2]

Possession is nine-tenths of the law, as someone said. From 1187 to 1967, Muslims ruled the Old City of Jerusalem. Jews were barred from entering the Temple Mount compound. In 1967, Israel seized the Old City during the Six Days War. A new regime allowed Jews to enter the Temple Mount compound, but not to pray there.

This arrangement didn’t please Muslims, but it drove some Jews crazy. They have demanded that Jews be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. After an Israeli-American murdered two Muslim in the Dome of the Rock in 1982, tensions rose. Sometimes Jews on the Temple Mount were attacked by rock-throwers. Eventually, in 2010, Ariel Sharon, then the leader of the opposition in Israel’s parliament (Knesset) visited the Temple Mount to visibly assert the right of Jews to be on the Temple Mount. This led to rioting by Palestinians that initiated what is called the “Second Intifada (Uprising).”

Then skip ahead to late 2014. More and more Israeli settlers have moved into East Jerusalem over the years, stoking fears that Arabs would be pushed out entirely. Without success, Jews had continued to lobby for the right to pray on the Temple Mount. One of the most vocal of these was shot by a Palestinian who was, in turn, killed by the Israeli police. Palestinians again rioted and the police pushed back hard. This bitter quarrel then became entangled in the equally bitter quarrel between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After Israel closed off access to the Temple Mount, Abbas called it “a declaration of war.” Rumors soon spread—almost certainly originating with Abbas—that Israel planned to take control of the site and to allow Jews to pray there. Netanyahu has repeatedly denied this, to no avail.

A whole series of knife attacks by Palestinians against Israelis have occurred. By early November 2015, eight Israelis were dead.

The dispute over the Temple Mount provides an excuse to fight rather than a cause to fight. Why are young Palestinians disposed to fight right now? One answer could be that yet another generation of Palestinians has grown up with the failed “peace process” that never yields a self-governing Palestinian state. The First Intifada (1987-1993) and the Second Intifada (2000-2005) were expressions of this frustration. Now a Third Intifada is beginning.

Another answer could be that the same forces that have sent so many young Muslim men to fight for ISIS and other Islamist groups are now gaining a hold on young Palestinians. This is by far the more ominous explanation. So far, the Palestinians only have knives. If ISIS can find a way to arm the rebels with guns and explosives, Israel will face a daunting threat.   A big “If.”

[1] The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 79 AD.

[2] “The struggle over the Temple Mount,” The Week, 20 November 2015, p. 11.

An Israeli Dilemma.

In 1958, Leon Uris wrote Exodus. While portraying the birth of the state of Israel, he imagined an Israel-yet-to-be: a secular, socialist-inspired Jewish state living on terms of amity with the Arabs. Today, Leon Uris’s vision seems far-fetched.

In the Six Days’ War of 1967, Israel over-ran the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.

What to do with the conquered territories? The Sinai was traded away in exchange for peace with Egypt. The Syrians lacked the strength to take back the Golan, even before the current massive uprising against the Assad regime. Gaza and the West Bank, however, were chock-full of Palestinian refugees from the creation of Israel in 1948. One of the founding illusions of Zionism had been that Palestine was “a land without people for a people without land.” In 1948, many Muslims had fled the fighting, or had answered an appeal from Arab leaders to clear the path for Arab armies, or had been driven out by Israelis by means of exemplary massacres. They had never been allowed to return. Now Israel had over-run the places where the Palestinians had taken refuge. What course would Israel follow? One option would have been to create a Palestinian state that consisted of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.[1] Another option would be to extend Israel’s territory into the newly-conquered lands. The loudest exponents of this policy were to be found among ultra-Orthodox religious zealots. This was the course pursued by Israel through the creation of settlements. Settlements—both “legal” and illegal under Israeli law—began to proliferate. Many successive governments turned a blind eye to the settlements and to the disastrous impact of the settlements on Israel’s international situation. While Israel has not—yet—annexed the West Bank and has withdrawn from Gaza, both the settlements and the inferior legal status of the Palestinians living under what is effectively Israel’s rule give the country something of the appearance of Prussia on the Jordan.

Why? Leftist critics argue that the country has come to be dominated by right-wing voters who pander to religious parties and are deeply hostile to the Arabs, both Israeli-Arabs and the Palestinian Arabs; and that military officers lean ever more toward Orthodox Jews who have a right-wing political bent.[2] Implicitly, a return to Israel’s leftist roots would facilitate a solution to the problems facing the country.

Attractive though it is, this interpretation ignores some realities. A return to its roots by Israel will not undo the radicalization of opinion among many Muslims, whether Palestinian or not. Hamas displaced the elected Palestinian Authority from control of Gaza, then turned the enclave into a base for attacks on Israel.[3] Hamas does not accept the right to survive of Israel, regardless of where its borders are drawn. In the future, Hamas could achieve domination, or at least the tolerance by a sovereign Palestinian government, on the West Bank. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is an Iranian client. Egypt is teetering on the brink of a civil war between Islamists and authoritarians. It isn’t entirely clear what kind of inroads ISIS could make in Jordan. It would be hard for any military adviser to argue that Israel should surrender strategic depth in return for promises of future peace. Not all problems have solutions.

[1] Between 1948 and 1967, this had been an option available to Egypt and Jordan. However, it appears that Egypt and Jordan were more interested in maintaining the Palestinians in misery as a stick with which to beat Israel in the square of international opinion than they were in actually creating a Palestinian homeland. Now the ball was in Israel’s court.

[2] Gershom Gorenberg, The Unmaking of Israel (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

[3] Last summer’s war began over rockets fired into Israel, but Israel’s response soon uncovered a network of tunnels driven into Israel for what could only be offensive purposes.

Menagerie a trois.

Many Saudis blame Iran for fomenting the fighting in both Syria and Iraq, fighting in which Sunnis have been the biggest losers.[1] Government spokesmen equate the Houthis in Yemen with Hezbollah in Lebanon. A spokesman for the Saudi military stated Saudi Arabia’s view of Iranian strategy: “Wherever the Iranians are present, they create militias against these countries. In Lebanon, they have created Hezbollah, which is blocking the political process and has conducted wars against Israelis, destroying Lebanon as a result. And in Yemen, they have created the Houthis.” (Obviously, this is a simplistic analysis that ignores many other factors. However, not many people doing applied politics have the spare time to read the American Political Science Review.) Facilitating this equivalence is the Houthis’ firing of rockets into Saudi Arabia, which Saudi officials compare to Hezbollah’s firing of rockets into Israel. That is, the Saudis see the rocket as the Iranian weapon-of-choice. Since Iran is in hot pursuit of nuclear weapons, it is easy to see why this alarms the Saudis.

Alarmed over the looming escape from sanctions by the Iranians, the Saudis are beginning to draw distinctions. “Israel is an enemy because of its origin, but it isn’t an enemy because of its actions—while Iran is an enemy because of its actions, not because of its origin,” said a former Saudi diplomat. In theory, the Palestinian issue still obstructs Saudi-Israeli co-operation. In practice, anything that appears to be an existential threat to both countries will lead to lesser issues being swiftly resolved or adjourned.[2]

There are hints of other ramifications as well. Saudi Major General Anwar Eshqi (retired), now the director of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, told the WSJ that Saudi Arabia wants Israel to be integrated into the Middle East. “[W]e can use their technology while they can use our money.” When the United States cut off aid to Egypt after the coup against Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, Saudi Arabia immediately stepped in to more than make up for the lost aid. Since then, Egypt has gone ahead pretty much as it prefers without paying much attention to Washington. What if the same thing happens with Israel? Well, the Israelis are not likely to make an open break with the United States because it is the chief source of advanced arms and cover in the UN’s Security Council. Still, the Bush Administration’s attack on Iraq and the Obama Administration’s embrace of the “Arab Spring” have had long-term consequences that undermine American influence in the Middle East.

[1] Yaroslav Trofimov, “Saudi Arabia and Israel Find Common Ground on Iran,” WSJ, 19 June 2015.

[2] See: What would Bismarck drive? 3,” May 2015.

What would Bismarck drive? 3.

ISIS looks like a coalition of old Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia survivors, Iraqi Ba’athists, and conservative Syrian Sunni rebels against the Assad government. If ISIS wins in western Iraq and eastern Syria and establishes a caliphate, what will happen to that coalition? Will the coalition hold together in happier times once external dangers are reduced? Or will “hunting season” open as the members pursue disparate goals?[1]

If you look at this over the long-run, working to strengthen good governance and economic development around the world is a good idea. The Islamist movements and the refugees seeking to break into Europe (and the US for that matter) are fleeing stagnant economies, misgovernment, and often violence.[2] “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Alas, I’m not sure that we know how to do this—aside from empires.

The Iraq War was a disaster.[3] As a result, Americans don’t want another real war at the moment. It would take a real war to slow down Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons by any significant amount of time. It would take conquest and occupation to stop it entirely.[4] So, the odds are that President Obama’s pursuit of an agreement with Iran to delay that country’s acquisition of nuclear weapons by some indefinite, but shorter, period is about the best that we can hope for.

However, confessing that we don’t want to do anything serious about Iran estranges us from Israel and Saudi Arabia. A nuclear Iran appears to both Israel and Saudi Arabia as a grave security threat. One of these days, the two countries may decide that Allah/Yahwey helps those who help themselves.[5] Perhaps the key decisions will be made in Jerusalem. Israel and Saudi Arabia have a community of interest in doing something about Iran’s nuclear program. The Saudis probably could not manage a pre-emptive attack on their own. The Saudis probably could not manage to fend-off an angry American reaction on their own. In both cases, a tacit alliance with Israel would be very valuable. On the other hand, Israel and Iran have a community of interest in doing something about ISIS, while Saudi Arabia has not made much of an effort against ISIS because it is beating up on Iranian clients in Iraq and Syria. It is difficult to imagine Israel working a deal with Iran over ISIS if it meant tolerating Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is easier to imagine Saudi Arabia turning on ISIS as part of a deal with Israel. The thing all the decision-makers—in Riyadh, Jerusalem, Tehran, and Washington—are bearing in mind is that any attack on Iran’s nuclear program will start a bigger war in the Middle East, rather than end the current ones. So, perhaps cooler heads will prevail. Perhaps there will be a grand bargain instead of Armageddon. An American presidential campaign in which a host of Republican hopefuls appear to have been recruited from clown college and the anointed Democratic candidate once voted for the Iraq War just to appear tough enough to be president doesn’t inspire confidence.

[1] See: Gordon Craig, Problems of coalition warfare: The military alliance against Napoleon, 1813-1814 (Colorado Springs: U.S. Air Force Academy, 1966); Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 6: Triumph and Tragedy. .

[2] It appears that the long drop in homicide rates in most American cities has been problematic for local television news stations. Perhaps they should just keep news crews in some place like South Sudan.

[3] In a few years, someone is going to add a chapter to one of those What If? books that explores “counter-factual history.”   My own version runs something like the following. Saddam Hussein was 66 when he was overthrown by the coalition of “the all-too-willing”; he had a bad back, but was afraid to have surgery because it would involve general anesthetic and something might happen; his sons were violent morons who were unlikely to be able to either share or hold power after the eventual death of their father; Iraq had attacked Iran in 1980 and the Iranians were—and are—eager for pay-back; the Shi’ite majority and the Kurds were eager to chart their own course, if only the Sunni minority would get their boot off the necks of the vast majority of Iraqis; and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (the ancestor of ISIS) was operating in Syria from about 2002. So, even without the invasion, things might have shaken-out pretty much as they did. Only, we wouldn’t have our finger-prints all over the rubble. See: Richard K. Betts and Samuel P. Huntington, “Dead Dictators and Rioting Mobs: Does the Demise of Authoritarian Rulers Lead to Political Instability?”, International Security, Vol. 10, #3 (Winter 1985-1986), pp. 112-146.

[4] Perhaps we could partition the place with Russia? See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Soviet_invasion_of_Iran

[5] One of the ways to think about Saudi Arabian intervention in the Yemen civil war is as an opportunity to give their soldiers and flyers some combat experience before, you know…..

What would Bismarck drive? 2.

Israel (and therefore the United States) is going to have to decide some things pretty soon.[1] First, would Israel rather have a whole Syria under Assad (weakened for a long time by its terrible civil war) or would it rather have a Syria partitioned between a mini-state headed by Assad and the rest of Syria run by ISIS? Second, is there anything that Israel can do to shape the outcome? I don’t know. Israeli intervention might bring down on the head of Israel all sorts of hostility from the Arabs, just because. The governments of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt probably wouldn’t object to Israel beating up on ISIS. How would Saudi Arabia view such action? Then, there is the tension in many Arab countries between “the Street” and “the Palace.” How would ordinary people respond to Israeli attacks, regardless of how sensible those attacks might seem to the rulers?

What will happen inside the Cauldron? ISIS can (but may not) tear apart the carcasses of Iraq and Syria. Then its advance slams up against both strong states (Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Israel) and hard cores of enemy peoples with their back to the wall (Kurds, Shi’ite Iraqis, Alawite and Christian Syrians). At this point, the going will get a lot tougher. Will ISIS pause to regroup or will it attempt to maintain the momentum? I don’t know. They’re a bunch of fanatics. They might try to topple a bunch of other governments. On the other hand, the original armed expansion of Islam came in stages. Maybe that analogy will authorize ISIS to pause to consolidate its base in preparation for a renewed advance. If ISIS does pause to consolidate its base, it isn’t going to have a lot with which to work. The caliphate will consist of landlocked desert without much oil. Most of the world will be hostile toward the caliphate. Still, in their own particular way, they’re “Goo-Goos.”[2] Perhaps they’ll find a way.

If ISIS can’t swamp the surrounding strong governments, does that mean it can’t do any harm? That’s hard to tell. Governments find it useful as a heuristic device to link every new outburst to some earlier example. Start listening to the newspeople on the Devil Box, count how often they refer to an “Al Qaeda-affiliated” or “ISIS affiliated” something or other. On the other hand, radical Islam has a wide appeal in certain geographic and psychological realms. (See: The Islamic Brigades I, II.) So it is hard for me to tell what ISIS or Al Qaeda really controls. What does seem clear is that Islamist uprisings will continue to occur and that “foreign fighters” will continue to flow toward where the fighting is taking place. Libya, northern Nigeria, and Mali already have their share of troubles. Cameroun, Niger, and Chad are feeling the effects. Tunisia is a small place with limited ability to defend itself. Algeria survived one bloody civil war between secularists and Islamists: it could flare up again. (If that happens, the fleets of refugees crammed on fishing boats will be headed for Marseilles instead of Sicily. See: The owl and the pussycat I, II.) Whatever the formal links between ISIS and the Islamist movements in these countries, ISIS will do whatever it can to support them. Pretty much on the principle of setting fire to a neighbor’s barn so that they themselves can sleep better at night.

[1] One of those things is NOT the creation of a Palestinian state. There isn’t going to be one. The current version of Fatah is a spent force. There is no way that Israel will agree to put a Hamas-controlled government endowed with all the trappings of national sovereignty in charge of the West Bank. No Arab government has ever shown a real concern for the fate of the Palestinians. If Egypt and Jordan, for example, had wanted a Palestinian state, they could have created one on the West Bank and Gaza when they controlled thos territories between 1948 and 1967.

[2] “Goo-Goos”: derisive late 19th Century American reference to “Good Government” reformers who preceded the Populists.

What would Bismarck drive? 1.

Why hasn’t ISIS attacked Jordan? First, Jordan isn’t a failed state as are Syria and Iraq. It has an army and an air force and a BYK.[1] They will fight. Second, if ISIS heads too far west, then ISrael will get into it. That won’t be calibrated airstrikes and under-motivated conscripts either.[2] Third, ISIS is still busy in Syria and Iraq.

Why hasn’t ISIS attacked Turkey? First, Turkey isn’t a failed state as are Syria and Iraq. It has an army and an air force and an SPI.[3] They will fight. Second, the Turks are Sunni Muslims, and Turkey is the conduit for foreign fighters. Third, ISIS is still busy in Syria and Iraq.

Can the government of Iraq reconcile the Shi’a majority with the Sunni minority? No. The Shi’ites had their chance when the Americans left. They threw it away by persecuting the Sunnis. Now, in a moment of great danger, the Shi’ites want to make nice with the Sunnis. You can see how the Sunnis would be suspicious. What happens when the crisis passes? Back to the previous behavior? Furthermore, it isn’t clear to me that the government put in place after the United States overthrew the Maliki government last Fall are doing more than putting up window-dressing to pacify the Americans.[4] So, I suspect that the country will have to be partitioned.

Can ISIS conquer Iraq? No. Two thirds of the population are Shi’ites; twenty percent are Sunnis; and the rest are Kurds. The Kurds will fight and the United States will support them. Iraq’s Shi’ite majority would not have anywhere to run. Their backs would be against the wall. The civil war in Iraq during the American occupation showed that the Shi’ites are capable of great violence. They would fight hard—even savagely—against ISIS. Iran will commit troops to prevent the fall of the Shi’ite parts of Iraq to ISIS. The Sunnis areas? Well, that’s another story. Perhaps Iran would be content to have Kurdish and Shi’ite Arab buffer states between itself and an ISIS caliphate. How would the United States regard this outcome? “Another fine mess.”[5]

Can ISIS conquer Syria? Well, that’s yet another story. Years of very destructive civil war have ravaged the country. This has eroded the strength of the Assad government in ways that are not yet true of the government of Iraq. Recep Erdogan, the president of neighboring Turkey, wants the Assad government gone. Saudi Arabia wants the Assad government gone. The Russkies and the Iranians want Assad to stay. My suspicion is that nobody will get all of what they want. Like Iraq, the country will have to be partitioned. I believe that most of the Alawite and Christian populations live in the west of the country. Like the Shi’ites in Iraq, they will have their backs to the wall (in this case, the Mediterranean) as ISIS advances. They will fight hard to hold it, while being ready to yield the rest of the country to ISIS. A revived Medieval Principality of Antioch could emerge to abut Lebanon. (Or perhaps the two will merge.) Between Hezbollah in Lebanon and Assad in “Antioch,” Iran would have a couple of client states on the Mediterranean. On the other hand, such a retreat by Assad would bring ISIS that much closer to Israel.

[1] Brave Young King.

[2] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_and_Nagasaki#/media/File:Atomic_bombing_of_Japan.jpg

[3] Semi-Psychotic Islamist, as President.

[4] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ngo_Dinh_Diem

[5] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3qcj2MzPYc