Clinton, Bush, the Middle East and the Politics of Failure
Richard J. Garfunkel
August 8, 2006
Thanks for the incisive letter and the perceptive thoughts. History is not rife with examples of many farsighted, sensible or brilliant individuals. For my money I have always been interested in World, American and mid-20th Century history. My focus has been our history from 1933 until 1945, with some extra thoughts on why we came to need the New Deal and the direct consequences of finally winning the war and dealing with the peace. For better or worse, every one I know, in the Tri-State metro area still generally likes Bill Clinton. If one looks back on his job ratings (CNN/Time, CNN/USA Today, NBC/WSJ, Pew, CBS, LA Times, etc) one would find that between 1997 and 2001, on a weekly tracking poll basis, he was never under 56% and was over 72% in certain weeks. With a considerable amount of animus against him, and with all the disappointments many of his friends had in his personal conduct, his poll ratings averaged in the 60's. Since then, the public's perceptions and warmth toward Clinton have only gone up. Obviously if one compares almost anyone with our current inarticulate so-called leader, they will look better. This current team of W, Rummy, and Rice-a-Roni leaves me and 10's of millions sick. But even if one thinks our policy is/was flawed, our direction miss-guided, and the reasons for its justification wrong, invented, or just stupid, no one can deny, even with the belief that it is too late to “cut and run,” our management over there is, and has been terrible and a disaster. Therefore, as it often has been said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” So even if one thought, right from the start, that the Bush gang was correct about WMD's and the need for regime change, the process was flawed with mistakes of poor judgment fraught with incompetence.
With regards to our information agencies and their lack of direction, funding and purpose, I cannot disagree with you. Whatever Clinton did, or did not do, vis-à-vis the CIA, NSA, FBI and the like, history will have to sort it out. Remember Carter was not liked by most of the public, and for sure I was one of his critics, but Harold Brown, Carter’s enlightened and brilliant Defense Secretary, put all the weapon systems that Reagan bragged about in place. Also by the way, it was Prince Ronnie who three days after a speech on “staying the course” in Lebanon, in the wake of the loss of 241 Marines to Hezbollah, pulled out of that land lock, stock and barrel. The information and spy agencies were politicized over the years and they have become fat, expensive and lazy! What else is new? They are like most of our other institutions here in the States.
Israel has as much right to the land they occupy as any one. In fact, they have a greater right. The Arabs, as a whole, are a stupid, backward, and venal group. Only a few of their vast numbers have the guts to stand up and say what is right. Brigands, and their tribal blood feuds lead them and religious insanity makes them the bane of the current world. The Orthodox Jews, whether Lubavitcher or Satmar, can be quite different and difficult to understand. They may be impossible to like or even deal with, but they are not a warlike, violent, or evangelical group. They have their arcane customs and so be it. They certainly are not the picture or profile of Israel. With regards to the borders, what makes ownership of the land start at 70 AD, 1919, 1947, 1948, or 1967? In fact, the Arabs never owned the land. They owned, as individuals, parts of the land just like the Jews who had lived there. Jews always occupied some part of the land since before antiquity. There was always a Jewish presence in Jerusalem, Safad, Hebron, and Tiberias since Biblical times. Jews lived all over the Arab world, under their domination and thumb for almost two millennia. It is not like it was the reverse. But in the so-called Holy Land, the Turks controlled that area from 1516 to 1918. So the land was never “Arab.” They lived there, along with the Jews as the subjects of the Ottoman Empire as they were to become subjects of the British Empire.
But as Martin Gilbert has written, in Tunisia there were 110,000 Jews in 1948, was life easy? No! In 1881, as a French Protectorate, conditions improved for the Jewish Community, but in 1917 Tunisian troops pillaged the Jewish quarters of many towns. Mobs attacked Jews in 1932 because of European immigration to Palestine. Eventually with independence in 1956 conditions worsened for the Jewish population and by 1974, 2000 Jews remained. In Yemen the Jewish population went from 55,000 in 1948 to 500 in 1974. Jews had lived there for over 2000 years in 1900. In Aden there were 8000 Jews in 1948 and almost none in 1974. Anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist laws were introduced in Yemen in 1905. For example there was a re-introduction of laws that Jews could not build houses higher than those of Muslims, or to raise their voices in front of a Muslim, or engage in religious discussion with Muslims, or be in any traditional Muslim trade or occupation. Even laws were enacted that forced the conversion of Jewish orphans to Islam. In Morocco the Jewish population was 285,000 in 1948, and 20, 000 in 1974. There were Muslim attacks in 1903, 1907, and 1912 and after WWII many riots leading up to the general immigration of Jews from that land. As late as 1965, the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” were published and disseminated again in Morocco. The Jewish population of Egypt in 1948 was 75,000, but by 1974 it had been reduced to 350. In 1844, 1881, and 1902 there were anti-Jewish riots emanating from accusations regarding the ritual use of blood. In 1882, 1919, 1921, 1924, Jews were attacked in anti-foreigner riots. In 1945 there were “Balfour Day” riots leading up to confiscation of lands, abrogation of rights and outright expulsions through the 1950's and up to 1967. In Syria, the population of Jews shrunk from 29,770 in 1943 to 4000 in 1974. The kind of anti-Jewish laws in Syria were and are unbelievable. But, historically in 1936-9, Nazi officers from Germany institutionalized violence against Jews after a visit. The story of Syria is too sick to even repeat here.
The saga of persecution, discrimination, prejudice and violence is unending. Therefore Palestine/Israel became the refuge of 100's of thousands of Middle Eastern Jews, no less the ones who wished to flee from Europe where they were not welcome. FDR met with King Ibn Sa'ud, of Saudi Arabia on February 14, 1945 in the Great Bitter Lake. Which is located in the Suez Canal. He conferred with Rabbi Stephen Wise and his cabinet before he left for Yalta, and told them that he would “try to settle the Palestine situation.” He had discussed the concept of a Jewish homeland with Stalin at Yalta and said that he was a Zionist, but he recognized the difficulty of the Jewish problem. After meeting with Sa'ud on the USS Quincy, and through much discussion, the suggestion from Sa'ud was that the choicest lands in Germany be given to the Jews. Of course there is much more to the story. That issue was a non-starter, as much for the fact that no one could be positive that German anti-Semitism would not arise in the future and make life impossible again for the Jews.
FDR tried to convince Sa'ud with all of his charm, and with the promise of economic aid, irrigation projects and improved living standards, about the need for a Jewish Homeland, but Sa'ud wanted none of it. He had little cares for any improvements regarding the lives of his own people. Sa'ud said, “Arabs would choose to die, rather than yield their land to the Jews.” What else in new? So the Arab world, for better or worse, did not want an avalanche of European Jews into Palestine. They also wanted to dominate and abuse the 800,000 plus Jews spread under their control throughout Arab lands, and they certainly did want those Jews to move to Palestine to create their own homeland. They wanted it both ways!
With regards to the Death Camps of Nazism, they are not a passion with me. They are only a part of the story, but for all Jews, a big part of the story. With regards to Israel, your point about anti-Semitism not being the core issue has some vague merit. I assume that if Israel was a country of evangelical Christians, I could guess or imagine there would be similar problems. But, then again, the problem of the Middle East is not only the one of control between the more western-leaning secular Sunnis versus the more religiously extreme Shi'ites, but the problem of modernism versus tribal traditionalism. The Islamic Arab and Non-Arab oligarchs from the Fertile Crescent to North Africa are not comfortable with a republican form of democracy or what it brings. They have yet to enter the age of enlightenment, and the specter of education, equality for women, religious freedom, and personal rights is still far beyond their ken and political interests. Israel, and the Jews, represents the freethinking pluralism of the West and the Islamists fear all of that, in the same way that Sa'ud would not accept the offer, given by FDR in 1945, to uplift his people. He told FDR that he was an uneducated Bedouin and was comfortable with his values.
With regards to today's current struggles, the President talks of this war on terrorism as WWIII. But he fights it on the cheap, is bogged down in both Afghanistan, where most of the original problem was concentrated, and is in a mess in Iraq. We are in a diplomatic black hole because of his inept leadership and the way up and out is not easy to even imagine.
For sure our military is too highly concentrated in carrier task forces, and nuclear submarines, our air force is a strategically oriented one and both of those branches of our armed forces are over-funded, over manned and staffed. At the moment we need a larger infantry and more mobile shock forces. We need more anti-missile defenses and less emphasis on the Cold War mission. No one, including ourselves can afford our military. But, with regards to North Korea, our strategic air force and our carriers groups still are vital. But how many task forces can we afford to “float?”
All in all, hopefully the first step is the destruction of Hezbollah. If they are put out of business, the Iran-Syria connection will degrade. We have to support regime change in Syria, which will unburden Lebanon as their vassal state. We than have to erode the mullah supported government of Iran by isolation, embargoes, boycotts, and propaganda. This action will strengthen the moderate Arab position. Syria is the heart of the problem and almost always has been. They must be marginalized. They are a poor worthless country that has no oil, and no real future accept as a conduit of violence and de-stabilization. The time is ripe to go after Assad and get him out!
From: Kaaren A. Hale [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, August 07, 2006 9:25 PM
To: 'Richard Garfunkel'
Subject: RE: The Strategy of Confronting Hezbollah
If this current shoot out were just about murdering Jews it really would be
clearer to one and all. Anti Semitism is a real phenomenon for whatever
reasons, religiously, historically,socially, but right now the world is
dealing with issues which are complex and troublesome in a different way.
We are dealing with an age old schism in the Arab world, a bid for
leadership by Iran, the results of our enslavement to fossil fuels,
resentment of colonialism, and the use of the Palestine/Israel issue as a
control tool of retrograde Arab administrations for decades.
The West is also paying a price for its decadence and inattention to threat.
Clinton was at fault for his lack of perception of the scope of the problem.
US Intelligence agencies have been gutted for decades and unable and
unwilling to share information effectively. Technology has impowered the war
making capacities of non nations. Bush and Co. has been criminally
naïve, fighting the Cold War and not the new NET war. Europe is dealing
with a declining birthrate and a work force that was augmented by its
nearest neighbours in North Africa and the Near East, just as the nature of
America is being inexorably changed by unstaunched immigration from Central
and South America.
I think the Nazi murder camps certainly are a legitimate passion and concern
of yours, but aside from moral implications, I see little relationship to
what is happening today, except Israelis are Jewish and they are located in
the contentious crossroads of the ancient world. The Arab press and
governments are rife with anti Israeli and Anti Jewish sentiment, but this
latest conflagration is about much more than that. It is about who will
rule, who will have a control of the declining oil supplies to the exclusion
of others in the coming decades.
One could wring one's hands endlessly, but I believe the reality is
realpolitick, with the added fillip of a religion that has never really
reformed itself and is in the middle of a chaotic revolution with very high
stakes. What a mess.