Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Religious-Dynastic Alliance of Saudi Arabia

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian 

How did a dynasty allied to a religious movement come to acquire control over most of the Arabian Peninsula?

Near the end of the 18th century the central part of the peninsula, known as Najd, fell under the control of a militant fundamentalist Sunni Islamic movement founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

After 1744 he and his followers were being supported by the Saud family governing the town of Dariyya, and what we now call Wahhabi Islam was born.

By 1802 the Wahhabis were strong enough to capture the holy Shi’ite city of Karbala, in present-day Iraq, from the Ottoman Turks, resulting in 5,000 deaths and the plundering of the Imam Husayn Shrine Three years later, they had wrested control of Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities, from the Ottoman Empire.

At its height, this first Saudi state included most of the territory of modern-day Saudi Arabia, and raids by its allies and followers reached into present-day Yemen, Oman, Syria, and Iraq.

The loss of Mecca was a significant blow to the prestige of the Ottomans, who had exercised sovereignty over the holy city since 1517. The Saudi-Wahhabi alliance denounced the Ottoman sultan himself and called into question the validity of his claim to be the caliph and guardian of the sanctuaries.

The attack on Karbala, too, had convinced the Ottomans that the Saudis were a threat. An Ottoman counterattack retook Mecca and Medina in 1811 and by 1819 had also captured Dariyya itself, destroying the new state.

But this did not put an end to the Wahhabi-Saud alliance. A few years after the fall of Dariyya, the Saudis were able to re-establish their authority in Najd, establishing an emirate, with its capital in Riyadh.

Throughout the rest of the 19th century, they fought for control of the interior of what was to become Saudi Arabia with another family, the Rashids. The latter were temporarily victorious and by the beginning of the 20th century had ousted the Saudi ruling house from the peninsula.

However, the Saudi fortunes turned beginning in 1902, when Abdulaziz Ibn-Saud regained Riyadh, the start of three decades of campaigns that made him the ruler of nearly all of central Arabia.

He took advantage of the political vacuum in much of the Middle East following the defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War.

Ibn-Saud consolidated his control over all of Najd by 1922, then conquered the Hejaz in 1925. With further gains in eastern and southern regions of the peninsula, he proclaimed his new Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

One intriguing footnote is the role played by Harry St. John Philby, the British writer and colonial intelligence officer. Philby was a convert to Islam and, as one of Ibn-Saud’s principal advisers, played a key role in the emergence of the Saudi state.

Ibn-Saud presided over the discovery of petroleum in 1938 and the beginning of large-scale oil production after the Second World War. By the time he died in 1953, he had fathered 45 sons, and all six of the subsequent rulers of the kingdom. 

Saudi Arabia has had its setbacks as well as successes over the succeeding 63 years, but the kingdom remains a major player in the Middle East. Its Wahhabi form of Islam is promoted throughout the world using the kingdom’s oil wealth.

What Makes a State Legitimate?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer 

What gives a state its claim to legitimacy in the international order? This is an oft-asked question and the answers have varied over time.

Alexander Murphy, a geographer at the University of Oregon, has developed a typology of different types of state legitimation based on the construction of territorial ideologies.

What do national leaders imagine their territory to be? How does this shape their political-territorial arrangements? The answers will determine the way they define their “regimes of territorial legitimation,” he writes.

The modern state system presupposes a world divided into discrete spaces, each belonging to a particular sovereign country. State boundaries, once established, are to be seen as legitimate. But how is this determined and recognized?

The construction of narratives of national distinctiveness is necessary, writes University of Chicago historian Prasenjit Duara, for peoples to lay claim to specific geographic territories. Only then can these be regarded, by themselves and others, as being, in his words, “regimes of authenticity.”

Murphy has created a model that encompasses the political-territorial and the cultural-historical categories that have allowed for the formation of legitimate political entities.

Peoples that had created culturally, ethnically and linguistically homogenous nation-states, such as Japan and Sweden, have very strong claims to territorial legitimacy. The same is true of states formed as the result of national unification movements; Germany and Italy are two examples. These are all “homeland” nations, even if they also contain minority groups.

We also find ethnically-based states that emerged following the collapse or retreat of empires.

Bulgaria gained its independence during the decline the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, and Uzbekistan from the demise of the Soviet Union in the 20th.

The obverse involves the ethnic core remnants of multi-national states that disintegrated: Austria emerged from the detritus of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Turkey from the Ottoman Empire.

We also find colonial states emerging into nationhood when a colonial empire collapsed and fragmented into individual administrative units. This is in particular the way most Latin American Spanish-speaking states, such as Chile or Venezuela, were born.

Because they all emerged out of the same imperial past and therefore typically have little or no differentiation, ethnically or linguistically, their somewhat artificial boundaries have often been the subject of disputes.

There are also examples of unions of colonies achieving statehood, such as Canada and Australia. In most cases in Africa and Asia, however, individual colonies emerged full-blown as sovereign states within their existing boundaries, regardless of their multi-ethnic nature, whether large (Nigeria) or tiny (Equatorial Guinea). Their territories are simply legacies of empire.

With little or no arguable cultural-historical foundation – the very names sometimes tell the tale, think of the Central African Republic or the Ivory Coast – they are prone to destabilization and internal conflict. Their regimes face substantial challenges in the construction of unifying territorial ideologies, which often fail -- Angola and Sudan come to mind.

A number of states were the result of initiatives taken on the part of outsiders. Afghanistan was created to serve as a buffer between two competing empires: tsarist Russia, expanding into central Asia, and Britain, with its Indian Empire. Liberia was the product of an idiosyncratic desire on the part of some 19th century American Blacks to “return” to Africa.

States founded specifically to accommodate an ethnoreligious group, though rare, also fit this category, with Bangladesh and, especially, Israel as prime examples. Religion was part of their raison d’être from the beginning and both result from partitions of extant colonial possessions.

Some states evolve simply because they are physical and environmental units: the world’s many archipelagos (Fiji) and individual islands (Jamaica) are in this category.

Finally, some states lay claim to territorial legitimacy just because in one form or another they have had a longstanding existence as a definable political and historical construct; Egypt and Iran fit this grouping. And they may also have a core ethnolinguistic nationality, as in the case of Ethiopia or Myanmar.

As Murphy notes, interstate and intrastate conflicts are often rooted in territorial arrangements, and so a frame of reference that does not address the geographic context of such disputes will remain incomplete.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A November Election for the Ages

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
Donald Trump has faced more media criticism than any other candidate in recent memory. Yet he beat Ted Cruz and John Kasich in the Republican primary in Indiana on May 3 and is all but assured of his party’s nomination.
He also bested all of the 15 other entries that started the marathon back in the fall. That field included Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who had piles of cash from the “donor” class.
But the talking heads in their silos on CNN, MSNBC and elsewhere immediately announced that Trump will lose to Hillary Clinton in November. They’re sure of this. The mainstream media, especially the Boston Globe, New York Times, and Washington Post, concur, and remain positively vitriolic in their denunciations of Trump.
The fact that they’ve been wrong all along about this race doesn’t matter, because they have the Ivy League diplomas and go to the right Washington cocktail parties.
They’re forgetting, but Trump will remind America, that Clinton has now been around for almost four decades, starting with Bill Clinton’s victories in Arkansas, serving as an enabler for her sexual harasser husband. And that she is the candidate of the financial establishment on Wall Street.
Certainly Clinton is more vulnerable than the “punditocracy” thinks. An April Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found that just 20 per cent of independents viewed Clinton positively, compared with 62 per cent who viewed her negatively.
And in a Washington Post-ABC News survey taken in March, only 37 per cent of respondents said they found Clinton honest and trustworthy, while 59 per cent said they did not. She has a scandal-ridden past.
It’s possible that more Americans hate Clinton than hate Trump – and that includes a lot of women, holding down horrible jobs while their unemployed husbands sit at home. These are not the older women who have done well for themselves, even if not as well as men, since the 1990s.
Will Republicans in November be able to bring themselves to vote for Clinton, after despising her for decades? Hard to believe.
Remember this: Clinton was unable to beat a 74 year old Brooklyn socialist in Midwestern "redneck" Indiana and West Virginia in the Democratic primaries of May 3 and May 10, because so many young Democrats, including women, prefer Bernie Sanders.
I’m not sure she will get their vote in November either. They might sit it out. (Many Republicans will do the same, with Trump as their candidate.)
This will be an election between two nominees who between them are hated by the vast majority of Americans. A CNN poll released May 4 showed that 51 per cent of those backing Clinton said it comes from their opposition to Trump, while 57 per cent of those supporting Trump said it was driven by opposition to Clinton.
But win or lose, I’m sure Trump will do better than Mitt Romney did in 2012. Romney was so delusional he actually thought he would win! Sell this guy a bridge! Trump will also do better than the McCain-Palin duo did in 2008.
“He ridicules the leftist propaganda machine, its brainless Hollywood cohorts, and their power-hungry political enablers,” writes Julian Wan in “Trump Isn’t Hitler, He’s Galileo,” in the Daily Caller of May 3. “He openly mocks neoconservative warmongers and corporatist profiteers.”
Bill Clinton during the 1992 campaign famously told a voter that “I feel your pain.” But now it’s Trump, not Hillary Clinton, who is using that message effectively.
Ironically, in this coming contest it’s the Republican who is the populist, the Democrat the ultimate insider. This election will be one for the ages, no doubt of it.

The Return of Ross Perot

--> Henry Srebrnik [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Even though Donald Trump has effectively claimed the Republican Party nomination for president, for much of the party’s elders and donors, his victory is still being treated as a hostile takeover.
Neither George H.W. Bush nor his son George W. , the last two Republican presidents, will be endorsing Trump, and the last two Republican presidential candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney, will not be coming to the Cleveland convention in July.
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, said that he could not support Trump until the New York businessman changes his tone and demonstrates that he shares the party’s values.
Trump will be getting so little help from establishment Republicans that he will in effect be running as the equivalent of a third party candidate.
Maybe that’s as it should be, because his political forebears are not the previous Republican presidents, the two Bushes and Ronald Reagan, but Ross Perot, who ran as a third party candidate in 1992 – and whose politics in many ways mirrored those of Trump.
Perot was the billionaire entrepreneur who formed the Reform Party and took on both George H.W. Bush, the Republican incumbent, and Democrat Bill Clinton.
Perot ran the most successful third party presidential campaign in the United States since 1912 and for the better part of three months, he was ahead of both Bush and Clinton.
He won an astounding 18.9 per cent of the popular vote, though he carried no states and therefore won no electoral college votes. Still, in 31 states he garnered more than 20 per cent and in nine, over a quarter of the total.
His voters shared the fiscal conservatism of the Republicans and the social moderation of the Democrats but were angry with both parties when it came to their domination by special interests and their lack of interest in serious political and governmental reform.
Like Perot, Trump has an appeal across demographics and party lines and is benefitting from today’s negative attitudes toward Washington and career politicians.
Both Trump and Perot are part of a long-established American tradition: the well-meaning amateur, sometimes even naive outsider, challenging the system and battling the entrenched forces of corruption.
Populists rather than either conservatives or liberals, both could claim that only a successful businessman can fix the corrupt political system. “I was not put on the ballot by any PAC money, by any foreign lobbyist money, by any special interest money,” Perot said in an October 1992 presidential debate. 
He singled out “our own political elites who enter government to gain expertise and personal contacts while on the public payroll, then leave to enrich themselves by taking inside knowledge to the other side.”
Perot evinced a mistrust of the establishment media, convinced that no matter what he did or said, they would make every effort to discredit him and portray him as unpredictable, dangerous, an egomaniac and loose cannon.
Perot wanted an end to foreign entanglements to solve other countries’ problems, as does Trump, who in a speech on April 27 asked why “our politicians seem more interested in defending the borders of foreign countries than in defending their own.”
Perot’s economic nationalism provided him with a ready-made political base. Like Trump, he channeled economic resentment through opposition to free trade; some may recall his famous line about the “giant sucking sound” of American jobs going south to Mexico if NAFTA were enacted.
Trump too is an avowed opponent of recent trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and contends that America’s disastrous trade policies is destroying the middle class.
He noted an estimate made by the Economic Policy Institute -- a liberal think-tank affiliated with the labour movement, by the way -- that the country has lost three million jobs to China since 2001.
In 1960, about one in four American workers had a job in manufacturing. Today fewer than one in 10 are employed in the sector. Since 2000 alone, the U.S. has shed five million manufacturing jobs.
“America’s politicians -- beholden to global corporate interests who profit from offshoring -- have enabled jobs theft in every imaginable way,” Trump charged. “They have tolerated foreign trade cheating while enacting trade deals that encourage companies to shift production overseas.”
How will Hillary Clinton answer these charges?

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Revenge of Sykes-Picot

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press
On May 19, 1916, representatives of Great Britain and France secretly reach an accord, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, by which most of the Arab lands under the rule of the Ottoman Empire were to be divided into British and French spheres of influence with the conclusion of the First World War. 

The Ottoman Turks had entered the war on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary. While the Turks had already lost virtually all of their European possessions, they still controlled a vast expanse of territory in the Middle East. 

On March 18, 1915, Britain had signed a secret agreement with Russia, whose designs on the empire’s territory had led the Turks to join forces with the Central Powers in 1914. By its terms, Russia would annex the Ottoman capital of Istanbul (Constantinople) and retain control of the Dardanelles, the important strait connecting the Black Sea with the Mediterranean.

In return, Russia would agree to British claims on other areas of the Ottoman Empire, including the oil-rich region of Mesopotamia.A year later, Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot, respectively acting on behalf of Britain and France, authored another secret agreement to divide the Middle East.

With the Sykes-Picot Agreement, as it became known, France and Britain agreed to divide up the Arab territories of the former Ottoman Empire into spheres of influence. The Syrian coast and much of modern-day Lebanon went to France; Britain would take direct control over central and southern Mesopotamia, around the Baghdad and Basra provinces. 

Palestine would have an international administration, as other Christian powers, including Russia, held an interest in the region. 

The map closely associated with their names, with its borders cutting across ethnic, linguistic, and religious lines, was formalized and made official in 1920 with the San Remo Agreement. It defined the borders of what would become Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine (after 1948, Israel), and Syria. These would all become League of Nations Mandates.

Of course, the Arabs, who had been encouraged to revolt against the Turks by Sir Henry McMahon, Britain’s high commissioner in Egypt, and T.E. Lawrence, among others, were not informed of the deal, though Arab troops played a vital role in the Allied victory over the Ottoman Empire.

In June 1916, Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the Hashemite monarch who ruled over Mecca and the Hejaz, had initiated the Great Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule. His sons, the emirs Abdullah and Faisal, led the Arab forces, with Faisal’s troops liberating Damascus from Ottoman rule in 1918. 

At the end of the war, Arab forces controlled all of modern Jordan, and much of the Arabian peninsula and southern Syria. They hoped to create a unified Arab state stretching from Syria to Yemen. But their aspirations would be dashed.

Apart from the Arabs, the biggest losers were the Kurds, a distinct ethnic and linguistic group who weren’t given a state at all. Today the Kurdish heartland stretches into corners of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran.

“Sykes-Picot was a mistake,” Zikri Mosa, an adviser to Kurdistan’s President Masoud Barzani, has said. “It was like a forced marriage. It was doomed from the start. It was immoral, because it decided people’s future without asking them.”

Although the European powers left after the Second World War, the states they created remained. Pan-Arabists and Arab nationalists ever after have condemned the “Sykes-Picot borders” as artificial, illegitimate, and undeserving of recognition. 

Rejection of Sykes-Picot has, at times, moved from discourse into action: the United Arab Republic (Egypt and Syria,1958-1961), the United Arab States (Egypt, Syria and North Yemen, 1958-1961), and the Federation of Arab Republics (Libya, Egypt and Syria, 1972-1977) were among many attempts to create a pan-Arab alternative to the post-1918 fragmentation.

Now we have a new entity determined to erase these borders. In 2014, the militant Islamists who call themselves the Islamic State (ISIS) proclaimed a caliphate in the region straddling the border between Iraq and Syria. In a propaganda video, the group’s leadership chose to highlight the destruction of the border; its title was “The End of Sykes-Picot.”

The message of the fifteen-minute video is clear: a former site of division, statehood, and military might is now an unremarkable stretch of desert. By conquering this region, ISIS has triumphed over the institutions that once governed the area.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has boasted that the establishment of his Caliphate amounts to tearing the Sykes-Picot Agreement to shreds. And at the moment, the Islamic State is stronger militarily than many states in the region.

Both Iraq and Syria have indeed fallen into virtual anarchy. Iraq is basically now three distinct regions of Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, and Kurds. Syria has totally imploded and is now embroiled in a vicious civil war. We may eventually be confronted with a new map of new entities born or re-born.

Meanwhile, as millions of refugees flee and try to enter Europe, we might term this the “revenge of Sykes-Picot.” Indeed, not only has the mess in the Middle East rendered the 1916 deal null and void, but the European Union, now trying to deal with the influx, may, ironically, itself begin to disintegrate and so in a sense also fall victim to Sykes-Picot a century later.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Intolerance on British University Campuses

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
One of Britain’s premier institutions of higher learning, Oxford University, in February was ordered by Jo Johnson, the British government’s minister for universities, to investigate allegations of intolerance towards Jews. 

The university’s Jewish Society released a dossier of eight separate allegations against the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) following the resignation of co-chairman Alex Chalmers, who claimed that “a large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews.”

The club’s committee members were accused of singing a song called “Rockets over Tel Aviv.” A campaign of harassment saw one student facing regular calls of “filthy Zionist.”

Louise Ellman, the MP for Liverpool Riverside, said she was “deeply disturbed” by the OULC’s support for Israel Apartheid Week, adding that comparisons between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa “are a grotesque smear.”

Another hotbed of anti-Zionist activity is London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. During its Israel Apartheid Week in February, Rafeef Ziadah, the event chairman, described Israel, which was created in 1948, as “ ’48 Palestine.” 

Malia Bouattia, now the president of the National Union of Students (NUS), claimed the government’s attacks on the event were fuelled by “all manner of Zionist and neocon lobbies.”

In the past she has described the University of Birmingham, which she attended, as a “Zionist outpost in higher education” and refused to vote for a motion condemning the Islamic State. She spoke at a meeting that was advertised with a poster featuring Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hamas.

Labour MP John Mann, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, said the NUS “is not doing enough to combat anti-Jewish hatred, and as such is failing in its responsibilities to its members.”

In March, the University of Sussex Student Union voted overwhelmingly to implement a full boycott on Israel goods, while the board of the student union at University College London passed a nonbinding motion endorsing the anti-Israel boycott movement. 

Prior to the voting, the Friends of Palestine society had organized a series of anti-Israel displays, dubbed the “Palestine Experience,” that included setting up checkpoints at the university that were manned by students dressed as Israeli soldiers.

More and more, at many British universities, one hears the word “Zio” used, not as a shortened reference to a Zionist, but as slang for Jew, the way “Yid” was used by fascists in the 1930s.

London’s new Labour Party mayor, Sadiq Khan, criticized the use of the term “Zio” as a slur and noted that anti-Semitism is “not just a problem for the Jewish community, it is a problem for society.”

He also rejected recent comments made by Ken Livingstone, a former Labour mayor, who recently claimed that Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism before he “went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has launched a probe, headed by Labour’s former leader of the House of Lords Baroness Jan Royall, into the allegations of anti-Semitism at Oxford’s student Labour Club.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Are Our Politicians Now Merely Celebrities?

Henry Srebrnik [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
A recent exchange between Democratic Party rivals Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton about which of them had the “qualifications” to be president of the United States came after Sanders, when being interviewed by the New York Daily News editorial board, struggled to outline his policies on Wall Street and foreign affairs.
But this was silly, really, because obviously no politician has the depth of knowledge about specific events or countries that tens of thousands of historians and political scientists with PhDs have. So what. That’s not why we elect them.

Look at Justin Trudeau -- this is a man who spent most of his life as a dilettante; his only “jobs” were as a substitute drama high school teacher and snowboarding instructor. 

Yet he won a resounding victory in last year’s federal election, bringing the Liberal Party back from the dead (or – the same thing for our natural governing party -- third place in the House of Commons). 
He not only bested our dour Conservative prime minister but also, in the NDP’s Tom Mulcair, an excellent debater and very competent politician, whose own party has now cast him aside.
Trudeau’s two Liberal Party predecessors, he might remind people, were both accomplished academics and intellectuals. But Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, the latter probably the best-known Canadian public intellectual in the world right now, almost brought the party to ruin.

Perhaps politicians have become merely celebrities. This hit home to me while watching television news clips of the recent visit to India by the royals Will and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. 

They were shown playing with children, opening venues, visiting temples and iconic landmarks, and so on. But how different, really, is this from Justin Trudeau taking pictures with people and practicing yoga with his wife Sophie? (In December, they also recorded themselves singing “Jingle Bells” in a clip posted on YouTube.)
Trudeau has been called, among other things, “vapid,” “emotionally manipulative,” “a rich-kid pretty-boy,”  “an airhead,”  “a flake,” “PM Selfie,” and a “faux feminist.” Given his “sunny ways,” though, this doesn’t faze him; he just keeps on smiling. 
And why not? As an April 16 article by Niraj Chokshi in the Washington Post, “Watch Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Charming Quantum Computing Lesson,” observed, The Internet’s love of Justin Trudeau knows no bounds. And it grows greater still.” 
His “all-around handsomeness” has made him the focus of “countless viral memes.”
In fact, “Trudeau’s one true asset as a politician is his talent for performance,” noted Jen Gerson in her April 19 National Post commentary, “The Talented Mr. Trudeau.”
In “A Liberal Government Styled by Dorian Gray,” National Post, April 20, Andrew Coyne concurs. He describes Trudeau as being “dimpled of smile and tousled of hair,” the embodiment of “eternal youth.”
He is “on every magazine cover, in every news cycle, opening this and announcing that. Occasionally he even shows up in Parliament.” Has any teenager ever had this much fun?
And now this: The men’s magazine GQ board has named Trudeau “the most stylish politician alive right now,” and he has made Time magazine’s  list of the 100 most influential people in the world. 
Time also noted that Trudeau visited Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn April 21 and sparred with young boxers, before signing a climate change accord at the United Nations. The magazine added that the outing “wasn’t that unusual for Trudeau, who boxes regularly.” 
Talk of virility! The Liberals have certainly been, in the words of Joni Mitchell, “stoking the star maker machinery.”
While Trudeau traipses around the world, the darling of the media in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere, others are doing the actual work of governing. Because it’s 2016!

Trump's Foreign Policy Heresy

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian 
As Donald Trump vies for the Republican Party’s nomination for president, the foreign policy establishment, and especially its neoconservative hawks, grow ever more frenzied in their denunciations of him.
What are Trump’s foreign policy sins?  “Instead of denouncing President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Trump proposes to treat him as a reasonable negotiating partner,” observes Stephen Kinzer of Brown University, in “Trump’s Refreshing Foreign Policy Heresy,” in the April 14 Boston Globe
Trump has dared to suggest that the United States should be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians. Asked about Washington’s commitment to defend Japan and South Korea against all threats forever, he replied that it “could not go on forever.”
Trump has also remarked that “We spend billions of dollars on Saudi Arabia, and they have nothing but money. And I say, why?”
As for NATO, “It was really designed for the Soviet Union, which doesn’t exist anymore,” Trump remarked. “It wasn’t designed for terrorism.”
Of course this “apostasy” cannot go unchallenged! 
So Yale University historian Timothy Snyder, in “Trump’s Putin Fantasy,” NYR Daily of April 21, paints a picture of a Trump being taken in by a devious Putin.

Because Trump has praised Putin’s “strong” leadership and has called NATO “obsolete and expensive,” writes Snyder, the Russian president sees Trump as a potential “Kremlin client.
For good measure, he also labels Trump an “oligarch who enjoys the backing of American neo-Nazis.”
Robert Zubin, in “Trump: The Kremlin’s Candidate,” published April 4 in the influential National Review, notes that Trump has “the enthusiastic endorsement of the Putin chorus because he promises to gut NATO, thereby enabling Russian domination of Europe.” 
In a follow-up piece on April 14, Zubin developed an even more apocalyptic scenario. Putin wants to restore the Soviet bloc, according to Zubin. This means that “Polish independence must be crushed.” 

He also asserts that Russia’s Middle East strategy “is centered on building up an Iranian empire” as a “powerful junior partner to Moscow.” 
So a pro-Putin Trump administration “offers Israel the terrifying prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian regional hegemon.” It “could lead to the end of Poland’s independence and Israel’s existence.”
But consider this: I’m sure Trump would not have bombed Belgrade on behalf of the Kosovar Liberation Army in 1999 to set up another Albanian state in the Balkans. 
He would not have invaded Iraq in 2003 and destroyed thousands of lives and wasted hundreds of billions of dollars on what has become an Iranian vassal state. 
He wouldn’t have first warned Syria’s Bashar al-Assad about “red lines” and then turned tail when the dictator used chemical weapons, as Barack Obama did in 2013. 
He wouldn’t have signed the nuclear deal with Iran last year. And he wouldn’t be antagonizing Russia in the Baltic Sea on behalf of corrupt oligarchs in places like Georgia and Ukraine.
On the other hand, according to Mark Lander, White House correspondent for The New York Times, Hillary Clinton is “the last true hawk left in the race.”
In “How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk,” in the April 24, 2016 New York Times Magazine, he contends that she has displayed instincts on foreign policy that are more aggressive than those of most Democrats. It’s why so many neoconservatives support her. 
The ultra right-wing Republican super-donor Charles Koch, one of the two billionaire Koch brothers regularly painted by Democrats as ogres, in an interview which aired on ABC Television’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on April 24, said he could imagine Clinton as preferable to Trump or Ted Cruz.
“Let me put it that way,” he remarked. “It’s possible.”
So who’s the scary one?

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Way We Live Now

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
Maybe this is just youthful nostalgia on my part, but I think the best period in recent times was the mid to late 1970s. 

The wild political activities of the 1960s, including political assassinations and campus unrest, which were partly a reaction to the Vietnam War, were over. 

The Cold War was in remission: there was détente with the Soviet Union, and China was recovering from the lunacies of the Cultural Revolution.

Keynesian economics, the welfare state, and strong unions were the norm. Whatever their faults, they did provide a sense of security. Perhaps the “soft folk rock” sound of the Eagles summed up the era musically.

An unprepossessing and decent president, Jimmy Carter, occupied the White House. And, whatever you may think of his politics, a serious person, Pierre Trudeau, governed Canada. 

But a number of concerns have led to our current zeitgeist. 

First, we now have to confront the absurd oversensitivity and competitive “victimology” on the part of every conceivable group in society. What we call “political correctness” has almost made free speech a thing of the past.

Ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation have become the preoccupations of today’s left. People can now lose their livelihoods with one unguarded comment on Twitter or Facebook, never mind a lecture or article. Maybe we should call them “anti-social media.”

Second, we have witnessed the rise of Islamist terrorism, which would only really come to the fore with the coming to power of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Who back then could have, even in their worst nightmares, imagined 9/11?

And, finally, in the United States, there has emerged a witch’s brew of hyper-capitalism and ultra-nationalism run amok, it began in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan, and continued with the two Bushes and Bill Clinton. 

The new neoliberalist ideology advocated massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services, and the virtual end of antitrust enforcement.

It has led to the terribly deformed plutocratic political system of today, with an increasingly unequal distribution of wealth and income, especially since the financial crash of 2008.

Millions live in what is now called the “precarious economy” while the super-rich have appropriated the lion’s share of the country’s wealth. 

I might also throw in as a negative factor 24/7 cable television, which magnifies and hypes every little political issue. Rational political discourse gives way to polarization and vilification, and everything becomes spectacle.

Cable serves as an irritating background noise, like the sound of a buzz saw or the screaming of spectators at a wrestling match.

What do we face in this new century?  Cultural fragmentation, terrorism, environmental anxiety, and economic inequality.

The latter half of the 1970s, by comparison with what came both before and after, was a rather soothing time. I now remember it wistfully, but we won’t see it again.

Anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
The left-wing ideologue Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership of the British Labour Party last year, and it’s been downhill ever since for the vast majority of the country’s Jews, who are increasingly denounced as “Zionists” because they don’t want to see Israel destroyed.

Whether Corbyn intends it or not, he has created a climate whereby people feel free to voice absolutely egregious opinions, in language that increasingly crosses the line into old-style anti-Semitism.

This is more than a bit ironic, given that the previous party leader Ed Miliband, who lost the 2015 election to the Conservatives, was Jewish. And Labour, for that matter, was the political home for a majority of British Jews for many decades.

As late as 1997, 70 per cent of the British Jewish community voted for the Labour Party. Today it is less than 25 per cent.

Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, remarked that under Corbyn “most people in the Jewish community can’t trust Labour. In the last few weeks we have witnessed a stream of clear-cut cases of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, which can’t just be fobbed off as differences over Israel.”

Michael Foster, who ran as a Labour candidate in the 2015 general election, recently denounced Corbyn, maintaining that “the Jewish community cannot support a political party that, at its top levels, appears by its inaction to tolerate anti-Semitic speech and behaviour.”

Such people, added Foster, “blend Israel and Zionism into the supposed demagoguery of the classic Jew, an all-controlling malevolent demon, and a rich one, intent on committing incremental genocide against the Palestinian people.”

Yet Corbyn “makes no attempt at all to put at ease a Jewish community in Britain that for more than 100 years has supported Labour spiritually, politically and financially.” This has given a green light to his supporters to denounce Israel and those who defend it.

A Labour councillor in Luton, Aysegul Gurbuz, has been suspended after a series of anti-Semitic tweets were found on her Twitter account in early April. She described Hitler as the “greatest man in history” and hoped Iran would use a nuclear weapon to “wipe Israel off the map.” Other tweets expressed “disgust” that “Jews are so powerful.”

Mohammed Dawood, another Labour councillor, in the east Midlands city of Leicester, recently described Israelis as “colonisers” and stated that Israeli troops are “Zionist terrorists.”

However, two other party activists were recently readmitted following their suspension for anti-Semitism.

Gerry Downing had posted a tweet in 2014 that claimed prominent historian Ian Kershaw had a “Zionist minder.” Downing had been excluded from the party but has now been reinstated as a full member.

The Labour Party had also suspended Vicki Kirby for comments on social media in 2014. One message claimed that “We invented Israel when saving them from Hitler, who now seems to be their teacher.” 

But she was subsequently not only readmitted but selected as the vice-chair of the Woking Labour Party’s executive committee this past March. 

On the other hand, Louise Ellman, a Jewish Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, has been targeted by activists at meetings of her constituency party.

A small group have attended the sessions specifically to attack her, asking questions only about her position on Israel. One non-Jewish man said that when he defended her, he was threatened and told he was a “Zionist fascist.”

Ellman called on Corbyn to take action. That prompted his brother, Piers Corbyn, to post a tweet claiming that “Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine.”

The Labour Party candidate in London’s mayoral race recently said he is “embarrassed” and “sorrowful” about his party’s failure to take on anti-Semitism.

Sadiq Khan told a London Jewish community centre that Corbyn needs to be “trained about what anti-Semitism is.” He noted that this is “not just a problem for the Jewish community, it is a problem for society.”