* BBC and Financial Times among the major news outlets failing to report on the firing of phosphorous shells into Israel yesterday
* America and the Saudis: The largest arms deal in history
* Anti-Israel letters containing white powder sent to foreign embassies
* Below: interesting anecdotes on Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Henry Kissinger
* Barry Rubin: Western government officials and journalists “nowadays produce instant miscomprehension and disastrous policies” because they “pretend that Farsi- and Arabic-speaking, Muslim-majority societies think precisely the same way as do Westerners.”
* Harold Rhodes: In the Middle East, “power is more important than politeness. All the speeches about respect for Islam, feeling Arab pain, and proving you’re nice by making concessions not only amount to nothing but actually are often counterproductive by making you look weak and hence someone to be walked over.”
1. U.S. and British flags are burned outside the US embassy in London, Sept. 11, 2010
2. Why does Saudi Arabia need $60 billion worth of weapons?
3. Egyptian paper caught doctoring peace talks photo in favor of Mubarak
4. Rocket attacks into Israel on the increase – including some with phosphorous
5. Letters containing white powder sent to U.S., Spanish and Swedish embassies
6. Iranian regime donates $25 million to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s party
7. “A timely reminder”
8. “This is not some idle mistake”
9. “Do Muslim-majority societies think precisely the same way as Westerners do?”
10. “An insider’s assessment of four Israeli PMs” (By Lee Smith, Tablet, Sept. 15, 2010)
11. “The airbrushing of Middle East history’ (By Melanie Phillips, Spectator, Sept. 14, 2010)
12. “The sources of Iranian negotiating behavior” (By Barry Rubin, Sept. 14, 2010)
[Note by Tom Gross]
I attach three articles below. Usually I try and “theme” these dispatches if possible, but the three pieces below don’t have that much in common. Before that, I attach a number of my own notes.
U.S. AND BRITISH FLAGS ARE BURNED OUTSIDE THE US EMBASSY IN LONDON, SEPT. 11, 2010
There has been much kerfuffle over the aborted plans of a Florida pastor with a congregation of about 30, to burn the Koran on September 11. But there has been almost no coverage of the actual burning of Christian and Jewish symbols, U.S. flags and the U.S. constitution in various places around the world this week.
In this video, for example, U.S. and British flags are burned outside the U.S. embassy in London on Sept. 11, 2010. The chanting accompanying the burning is also disturbing.
While, of course, the plans to burn a Koran were rightly condemned, it is bizarre that some of the very same American commentators at the forefront of objections about the proposed burning of a Koran had argued that the exhibition “Piss Christ” a few years ago deserved federal funding. Why should the desecration of Christian symbols be subsidized by U.S. taxpayers when the planned desecration of Muslim ones be so roundly condemned?
In the latest example of inconsistent principles, a hip new musical reportedly poking fun at Mormons will be opening soon on Broadway, to the delight of some.
WHY DOES SAUDI ARABIA NEED $60 BILLION WORTH OF WEAPONS?
President Obama is set to tell Congress officially of plans to sell $60 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. The arms deal – which is the largest in world history – could be worth tens of millions of dollars more if additional naval and missile-defense add-ons are agreed upon. The existing deal will include 84 F-15 fighter jets, upgrades for 70 older model F-15s, and more than 150 helicopters including Black Hawks, Apaches and Little Birds.
The Israeli authorities are said to be deeply concerned by this massive arms deal, which casts doubt on the commitments to Israel of successive American administrations that it would retain the technological edge in weaponry in the region. Congress is expected to approve the deal. (See also, last week’s dispatch on “The Arab Lobby.”)
EGYPTIAN PAPER CAUGHT DOCTORING PEACE TALKS PHOTO IN FAVOR OF MUBARAK
The official Egyptian government newspaper Al-Ahram was caught on Tuesday tampering with pictures from last week’s Washington peace summit between Israel and the Palestinians.
The original photo of the leaders walking down the red carpet at the launch ceremony depicts U.S. President Barack Obama leading the other four leaders, with Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak walking on the far-left of the line.
However, the Egyptian paper chose to use a graphically edited picture that placed Mubarak at the helm instead of Obama.
The fabricated photo published in Al-Ahram.
The original official White House picture, Sept. 1.
Of course, many Arab media outlets manipulate photos and fiddle with the facts on a regular basis, as do some local employees working for Western media and news agencies in the Middle East. I documented this most recently in June when a local Reuters office doctored a photo of a Turkish flotilla “peace activist” so as to remove his knife. (See the updates dated June 6, 7 and 8 near the top of this dispatch for photos and news about that.)
ROCKET ATTACKS INTO ISRAEL ON THE INCREASE – INCLUDED SOME WITH PHOSPHOROUS
In the first three days of this week, almost unreported by the Western media, 14 rockets and mortars were fired indiscriminately into Israel from Gaza. Yesterday, one Qassam rocket and eight mortar shells – including two containing phosphorus – hit Israel, making it the largest number of missiles fired from Gaza in a single day since March 2009.
Haim Yalin, head of the Eshkol Regional Council where the phosphorous mortars landed, said “These weapons have been banned by the Geneva convention. They cause burns among victims and they kill.”
Among the news outlets failing to mention (even in the context of their Middle East reporting today) that phosphorous shells which were fired into Israel yesterday, were The Financial Times, The Times of London and BBC News (both online and on air). (The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph did report on the use of the phosphorous shells but their articles failed to lead with this point.)
In response to the attacks, the Israeli air force – working on intelligence provided by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) – bombed a tunnel on the Gaza-Israel border that the IDF said was to be used by Hamas to infiltrate terrorists into Israel.
LETTERS CONTAINING WHITE POWDER SENT TO U.S., SPANISH AND SWEDISH EMBASSIES
Envelopes containing anti-Israel letters and a suspicious white powder were sent to the embassies of the United States, Sweden and Spain in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
The letters included pro-Nazi statements and condemnations of Israeli policy in the West Bank.
Firefighters, police officers and environment ministry personnel were summoned to the U.S. embassy as soon as the envelope was opened there. Within a short time, similar envelopes were discovered at the Spanish and Swedish embassies.
All employees who came in contact with the suspicious powder were placed in isolation, and field showers were created at the U.S. embassy to deal with the situation.
Israel Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said it was still unclear what the substance was, but that officers believed it was not poisonous as no one was hurt.
IRANIAN REGIME DONATES $25 MILLION TO TURKISH PRIME MINISTER ERDOGAN’S PARTY
Iran has agreed to donate $25 million to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in a move that will increase fears that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is preparing to abandon the country’s secular constitution, reports the (London) Daily Telegraph.
Under the terms of the deal Iran has agreed to transfer $12 million to the AKP, with further payments of up to $25 million to be made later in the year. The money is to help support Erdogan’s campaign for re-election for a third term in next year’s general election.
The Turkish prime minister announced he would stand for a historic third term following his success in last weekend’s referendum on constitutional reform.
Secular critics of the reforms in Turkey, which provide the government with powers to overrule Turkey’s independent judiciary, argue that they will pave the way for a key Western ally to become an Islamic state. The judiciary is widely regarded as the guardian of Turkey’s secular constitution.
“A TIMELY REMINDER”
In the first piece below, Lee Smith (writing for the online New York-based magazine Tablet), interviews Yehuda Avner, who worked as a speechwriter, adviser, and private confidant for four Israeli Prime Ministers. This article (and Avner’s book) provide many interesting anecdotes about Israeli politicians (and about others such as Henry Kissinger) and “is a timely reminder that Israel has not survived these last 60-plus years because it has satisfied the claims of the world community, but has rather thrived thanks to the ingenuity, inspiration, and courage of its leaders.”
“THIS IS NOT SOME IDLE MISTAKE”
In the second piece, writing on the website of Britain’s Spectator magazine, Melanie Phillips points out that The Guardian refers to Jesus and other Jews of that era, when Israel was known as Judea, as “early Palestinians”.
“This is not some idle mistake,” she says. “This is the wholesale adoption of the fictional Arab narrative which airbrushes the Jews out of their own story and claims, falsely, that Jesus was a Palestinian.”
She cites Palestinian leaders who have said that “The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily” and “Israel’s founding can be compared to Jesus’s death sentence and the construction of a security barrier with his crucifixion.”
“DO MUSLIM-MAJORITY SOCIETIES THINK PRECISELY THE SAME WAY AS WESTERNERS DO?”
In the third piece, Barry Rubin writes that Western government officials and journalists “nowadays produce instant miscomprehension and disastrous policies” because they “pretend that Farsi- and Arabic-speaking, Muslim-majority societies think precisely the same way as do Westerners… Paradoxically, Politically Correct Multiculturalism decrees that diversity is the highest value of all yet, strangely, amidst this diversity equally argue that everybody is basically the same.”
As Rhodes points out, says Rubin, in the Middle East, “power is more important than politeness. All of the speeches about respect for Islam, feeling Arab pain, and proving you’re nice by making concessions not only amount to nothing but actually are often counterproductive by making you look weak and hence someone to be walked over.”
I attach the three articles below. They are well worth reading in full. The writers (Lee Smith, Melanie Phillips and Barry Rubin) are all longtime subscribers to this list (as is Harold Rhode whose new “Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior,” Rubin writes about).
[All notes above by Tom Gross]
GIVING MENACHEM BEGIN THE VOICE HE NEVER HAD
A new book gives an insider’s assessment of four Israeli prime ministers – and Menachem Begin the voice he never had
By Lee Smith
September 15, 2010
Yehuda Avner is a British-born Israeli diplomat who spent many years in the prime minister’s office, where he worked as speechwriter, adviser, and private confidant for Levi Eshkol, Yitzhak Rabin, Golda Meir, and Menachem Begin. As it turns out, he was also keeping notes. “In very many of these meetings I was the note-taker, employing my own invented shorthand which I would then transcribe for the official record,” Avner told me on the phone from Jerusalem earlier this week. “However, I never threw away those scribbles. I confess I was naughty. Not that I ever contemplated I would one day use them.”
Now the career diplomat has turned his surreptitious scribbles into a 700-page narrative, The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership, that he explains “is not history, but a story about history.” His insider’s account of the founding and building of the state of Israel is also a memoir of sorts, peculiar in that the memoirist gives all the best lines away to others. “Of course, I have my feelings, philosophies, ideas about things,” said the 81-year-old Avner, “but the book is not about me. My intent was to bring back to life episodes showing how these figures behaved, primarily under situations of stress, and also some unforgettable intimate moments.”
But The Prime Ministers is also a sobering post-Oslo account of pre-Oslo Israeli leadership. With the conclusion of the Cold War, U.S. presidents could afford to entertain fantasies of a new world order and a peace dividend, but not Israel. In many ways, Jerusalem forgot how to make its case to Washington, that it was not merely a chip in a game of geopolitical poker, but a strategic asset in its own right – and had been recognized as such even by a U.S. president, Richard M. Nixon, who seemingly had no love for the Jews. It was Begin who clearly explained that the Jews had rights, not merely claims, to their historical homeland. Avner’s book is a timely reminder that Israel has not survived these last 60-plus years because it has satisfied the claims of the world community, but has rather thrived thanks to the ingenuity, inspiration, and courage of its leaders.
The major figures here are the four prime ministers for whom Avner worked, with Begin as the book’s undisputed protagonist, often stealing scenes from the other three even when they are the sitting prime minister and Begin is the leader of the opposition. In this telling, Begin towers over them all, an Israeli leader, Avner writes, “possessed of a unique, all-encompassing sense of Jewish history.”
While the election of the right-wing Begin government moved mainstream Israeli politics to the center (in the same way that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher affected the United States and the United Kingdom), Rabin forged a strategic relationship with the United States. These two more than any of the country’s other famous patriarchs are the founders of current-day Israel.
Rabin’s influence came in part from his direct involvement in domestic U.S. politics beginning with his support of Richard Nixon against Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election. As Avner writes, Rabin explained his tactical style to a somewhat astonished Begin:
“It is not enough for an Israeli ambassador here to simply say ‘I’m pursuing my country’s best interests according to the book.’ To promote our interests an Israeli ambassador has to take advantage of the rivalries between the Democrats and Republicans. An Israeli ambassador who is either unwilling or unable to maneuver his way through the complex American political landscape to promote Israel’s strategic interests would do well to pack his bags and go home.”
I asked Avner, the former ambassador to the United Kingdom and Australia, if he thought this sort of direct involvement should be part of the Israeli ambassador to Washington’s job description. Not at all, Avner insisted. “It could only happen by default, if one wins trust and is invited into the inner sanctums of power. But you can’t set out to do it. And I don’t know of anyone else before or after Rabin who had the chutzpah to say it this way as he did.” Rabin was special. “He was the right man there, winning the trust of the Nixon Administration and not least Kissinger himself. He once said the only secretary of state who truly understood the Israel-Arab conflict in all its complexities was Henry Kissinger. Nevertheless, for much of the time, they had a love-hate relationship with each other.”
Avner’s book is something of an anomaly among political memoirs, where mid-level bureaucrats typically assert a centrality for themselves that rarely survives book reviews, never mind the first draft of history. Avner on the other hand is a major player, “one of that same impressive generation of British-born Israelis who made their mark in serving the State of Israel, like Efraim Halevy and the late David Kimche,” said Jonathan Spyer, a British-born Middle East analyst who moved to Israel 20 years ago. Nonetheless, Avner’s own account of his career invariably forces him to the margins, which becomes the book’s source of self-effacing humor.
Avner writes, for instance, of how Eshkol once stopped in the middle of delivering a speech Avner had written to disapprove of a passage and chastise Avner in front of the audience. On another occasion, at a White House banquet, Avner’s lavish kosher meal created such a stir with his table companions that across the room President Gerald Ford wondered what was going on. It was Avner’s birthday, explained Prime Minister Rabin. Accordingly, the U.S. commander-in-chief led the entire banquet hall in a chorus of “Happy birthday, Yeduha,” unaware that Avner’s name had been misspelled on his place card. Afterward, Rabin explained to Avner that he had no choice but to fabricate the story about his birthday. Otherwise, he tells him, “there’d be a headline in the newspapers that you ate kosher and I didn’t, and the religious parties will bolt the coalition, and I’ll have a government crisis on my hands.” Justice is served when Betty Ford drags Rabin out on to dance floor, where he nearly trips over his own shoelaces, only to be saved by the comparatively light-footed Henry Kissinger.
The book’s much more significant duet is Kissinger and Rabin’s, which helped consolidate the alliance between Washington and Jerusalem. Eshkol named Rabin ambassador to the United States in 1969, and Avner followed him there, marveling at this future prime minister’s access to the White House.
“Rabin was central to the U.S.-Israel relationship, especially within the Cold War context,” said Avner. Rabin understood that the Nixon White House’s chief concern was the Soviet Union and made the case for Israel as a strategic asset primed to take on Moscow’s regional allies, Egypt, and Syria. He also teamed up with Kissinger in an intra-Beltway battle against Nixon’s less than Israel-friendly Secretary of State, William Rogers.
As in most portraits, Kissinger comes off as a complicated character, best understood, in Avner’s reckoning, in light of two of Kissinger’s German precursors, Metternich, the 19th-century statesman and strategist, and Heinz, a teenage refugee from Nazi Germany who wound up at George Washington High School in upper Manhattan – that is, the adolescent Kissinger.
Avner relates a remarkable story of sitting at the King David hotel in Jerusalem with a Washington psychiatrist whom Avner pseudonymously refers to as Willie Fort. As Kissinger makes his way through the lobby, Fort hails him – “Heinz, Heinz” – and Kissinger’s face turns flush, before he moves on, ignoring Fort. Avner demands an explanation for the strange scene, and his companion relates how he and Kissinger were close friends in high school, both of them refugees from Hitler’s Germany. Avner writes:
“Henry Kissinger, [Fort] said, habitually insisted he had no lasting memories of his childhood persecutions in Germany. This was nonsense! In 1938, when Jews were being beaten and murdered in the streets, and his family had to flee for their lives he was at the most impressionable age of 15. At that age he would have remembered everything: his feelings of insecurity, the trauma of being expelled, of not being accepted; what it meant to lose control of one’s life, to be powerless, to see one’s beloved heroes suddenly helpless, overtaken by the brutal events, most notably his father whom he greatly admired. Those demons would never leave Henry Kissinger however hard he tried to drown them in self-delusion.”
How, Avner asks Fort, does this impact his role as mediator between us and the Arabs?
“‘People like him invariably over-compensate,’ “ Avner quotes Fort. “ ‘They go to great lengths to subdue whatever emotional bias they might feel, and lean over backwards in favor of the other side to prove they are being even-handed and objective.’ “
For Avner, at the opposite end of the spectrum from Kissinger is Begin, who would do anything for his own people. “He was a quintessential Jew,” said Avner, who, as he explains, had not been a Begin supporter until then. “For years the word ‘terrorist’ clung to him,” Avner told me, “and when he was elected in 1977 he was described in many a corridor of power as a ‘warmonger.’ Nevertheless, it was he who won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the peace with Egypt. Upon election he asked me to stay on working with him as an adviser, and I was hesitant at first. I asked him for time to think it over, and he said, ‘You want to speak to Rabin don’t you?’ Yes, I told him. So I called Rabin and he said, ‘Take the job, Begin is an honest and responsible man. He’s your kind of Jew, observant.’ Before Begin, all of Israel’s leaders were diehard socialists. It was unheard of before him, for example, that a dinner at the White House would be kosher. After him, all White House dinners for visiting Israeli prime ministers are kosher.”
Avner stayed on to “shakespearize,” as Begin said, the prime minister’s Polish English, but the most important piece of writing Avner may have done on Begin’s behalf is this book. In the afterword, Avner recalls explaining to Margaret Thatcher that Begin never produced his own memoirs. Accordingly, Begin is the presiding spirit of The Prime Ministers, which opens with Avner’s first recollection as a boy of hearing English neighbors cursing the name of the Irgun leader, and concludes with Begin’s death in 1992.
“What opened my heart was the man himself,” Avner said. “His nobility stretched into the small things. I was recently telling Natan Sharansky something about Begin, which he didn’t know and which brought tears to his eyes. When Sharansky was imprisoned in the Soviet Union, his wife, Avital, received a government stipend to make phone calls to Moscow each week to keep the campaign for his freedom alive, but some bureaucrat told her she was overstepping her budget. When Begin heard about this, he instructed that all of these bills should come to him, and he would pay for them out of his own pocket.”
I asked Avner where Begin’s reputation stands today. “In all the polls for the last few years, Begin has overtaken Ben Gurion. Why? Overwhelmingly, people ascribe to his credit the peace treaty with Egypt. He is also fondly remembered for his humble and chivalrous lifestyle. He is particularly revered by the Sephardic Jews who gave him his majority in 1977. In fact it was Begin who emancipated them into the democratic system, virtually all of them having come from lands – North Africa and the Middle East – where democracy is an eccentricity. He was the first to appoint a swath of Sephardic Jews to his cabinet. Moreover, Begin is the man credited for having prevented two civil wars,” said Avner, referring to the sinking of the Altalena in 1948 and before that when Begin and Ben Gurion squared off against each other in 1944. “Begin believed that a Jew must never raise a finger against another Jew. He was haunted by the Holocaust and lived Jewry’s ancient past when Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 CE because Jews were fighting each other. He was so steeped in Jewish history, he talked about the destruction of the temple as if it had happened yesterday.”
And what, I asked Avner, would Begin make of Israel’s strategic situation today? After all, against the good opinion of the international community, including Washington, Begin ordered the destruction of Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak. Would he do the same thing with Iran?
“I don’t know. He would have opposed sanctions from the start,” said Avner, believing that Begin would have had no faith in their efficacy against an ideologically driven regime like Iran. “At the same time,” Avner continued, “Begin, having himself once commanded a force of his own – the Irgun during the British mandate – knew the limits of military power, and I don’t know if he would have thought that Israel had the power by itself to defang Iran. But as obsessed as he was with the Holocaust, he would have mounted a vociferous worldwide campaign against the Iranian leaders who deny the Holocaust and threaten to wipe the Jewish state off the map. I don’t think our present leaders – and the Diaspora Jewish leadership for that matter – are doing enough to alert the world of the existential dangers for the whole of the West, and not only Israel. Begin would be shouting from the rooftops demanding that this be put at the very top of the international agenda. For all the talk it is still not at the top of the international agenda. One thing is clear: Given our geopolitical situation, Israel simply cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran.”
‘EARLY PALESTINIANS’, EH?
The airbrushing of Middle East history
By Melanie Phillips
The Spectator (UK)
September 14, 2010
In the Guardian, Giles Tremlett writes about Europe’s first Christian theme park in Mallorca. He writes: “Exact details are scant, but the Buenos Aires park offers its re-enactments of the creation of mankind, the birth of Christ, the resurrection and the last supper eight times a day. With a cast of extras in the costumes of Romans and early Palestinians, the park advertises itself as ‘a place where everyone can learn about the origins of spirituality.”
‘Early Palestinians’, eh? And just who were these ‘early Palestinians’? Well, they were what we would otherwise call... Jews. Jesus was a Jew. The ‘last supper’ was the Jewish Passover seder. The land of the New Testament was called Judea and Samaria. The people who lived there and were persecuted by the Romans were not called Palestinians. They were Jews.
Yet Jews do not figure at all in Tremlett’s story (whether they figure as such in Mallorca’s theme park itself is not clear). This is not some idle mistake. This is the wholesale adoption of the fictional Arab narrative which airbrushes the Jews out of their own story and claims, falsely, that Jesus was a Palestinian.
Much of this rewriting of history comes from Arab Christians based at the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem under the aegis of Father Naim Ateek (who is such a personal favourite with so many in the Church of England), and which is a crucial source of systematic, theologically-based lies and libels about Israel. Ateek has revived the ancient Christian doctrine of supersessionism, or replacement theology – the doctrine which said the Jews had forfeited all God’s promises to them which had been inherited instead by the Christians, and which fuelled centuries of Christian anti-Jewish pogroms -- and fused it with ‘Palestinianism’ to create the mendacious impression that the Palestinian Arabs were the original inhabitants of the land of Israel and that Jesus was a ‘Palestinian’.
Ateek has sought to plant the impression that the Jews are crucifying the ‘Palestinians’ just as they helped crucify Jesus. In December 2000, he wrote that Palestinian Christmas celebrations were ‘marred by the destructive powers of the modern-day ‘Herods’ in the Israeli government.’ In his 2001 Easter message, he wrote: ‘The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull.’ And, in a sermon in February 2001, he likened the Israeli occupation to the boulder sealing Christ’s tomb. With these three images, Ateek has figuratively blamed Israel for trying to kill the infant Jesus, crucifying him and blocking the resurrection of Christ. And in 2005 Sabeel issued a liturgy titled ‘The Contemporary Stations of the Cross’ that equates Israel’s founding with Jesus’ death sentence and the construction of a security barrier with his crucifixion.
It is a narrative which gives the lie to the naive belief that the Middle East impasse is a fight over land boundaries. It is instead an attempt to excise from the region not just the Jewish state of Israel, not just every single Jew from a future state of Palestine, but the historical evidence that this land – including Judea and Samaria – was the Jewish national home centuries before Arabs invaded and conquered it, and many more centuries before Arabs started to style themselves as Palestinian. It is an attack on Jewish historical national identity in order to justify the attempt to destroy the Jewish nation state.
That is why the Arabs have destroyed so much archeological evidence of the ancient kingdom of Judea gathered from excavations on the Temple Mount. That’s why the Jews are being airbrushed out of the history of the region, the origins of Jesus and of their own story.
Isn’t it wonderful to have quality newspapers written by educated writers?
A CRITICAL NEW TEXT FOR UNDERSTANDING THE MIDDLE EAST
A critical new text for understanding the Middle East: “The Sources of Iranian negotiating behavior”
By Barry Rubin
September 14, 2010
There are basically two ways to approach the Middle East:
* Option 1: Understand what makes Farsi- and Arabic-speaking, Muslim-majority societies different from the West given their history, experiences, culture, politics, and other features.
* Option 2: Pretend that these countries and leaders think precisely the same way as do Westerners.
The second approach is often taken by government officials and journalists nowadays and produces instant miscomprehension and disastrous policies. This lesson has been provided over and over again. Yet actually things are worse today than has usually been true in the past.
Why? Because, paradoxically, Politically Correct Multiculturalism decrees that diversity is the highest value of all yet, strangely, amidst this diversity equally argue that everybody is basically the same!
Another reason is that if you are completely ignorant about other countries and societies or know the barest minimum, option 2 is much easier to take. After all, you already know something about politics and manners in the United States so simply transliterate them into situation thousands of miles away!
Now that Harold Rhode has retired from his long career at the U.S. Defense Department, however, we can expect a really good teacher explaining Option 1. In his new paper, “The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior,” Rhode lays it all out in clear language and less than 20 pages. Even if you don’t usually read studies like this, make an exception here. You won’t be sorry. (Tom Gross adds: Harold Rhode’s paper can be read here.)
The title, I assume, is taken from George F. Kennan’s classic post-World War Two article explaining Soviet behavior that came to be the basis of U.S. policy during the Cold War. Would that Rhode’s writing would have the same effect. This is going to be a critical text for the Nuclear Iran era we are about to enter, one way or another.
As you read it (or just the summary) make mental notes on all the mistakes it shows being made by U.S. leaders and how much reality varies from the model Western academics, leaders, and mass media use and try to teach you to use about the Middle East. One good theme to keep in mind is that power is more important than politeness. All of the speeches about respect for Islam, feeling Arab pain, and proving you’re nice by making concessions not only amount to nothing but actually are often counterproductive by making you look weak and hence someone to be walked over.
And some – the part dealing most directly with perceptions of Western behavior – of this analysis can be transferred to an understanding of Arab politics and policies also.
I want to stress that I don’t think merely putting on pressure will make the Iranian regime give in, change direction, or be overthrown but such a policy would be more likely to do so than a strategy focusing on concession and flattery. At a minimum, too, it will reduce the regime’s ability and eagerness to act in an aggressive manner.
Another issue that could be raised would be that things like dissimulation are also seen in Western democratic diplomacy. Of course, that’s true. But there are other features – willingness to compromise, eagerness to avoid conflict, high priority on understanding the other side, etc. – that are different, too. Remember also that even the Obama Administration’s containment policy for a post-nuclear Iran is also based on a fair amount of parallel thinking about the use of power deterring Tehran, though of course there are major differences as well.
Here’s the executive summary:
* This analysis identifies patterns exhibited by the Iranian government and the Iranian people since ancient times. Most importantly, it identifies critical elements of Iranian culture that have been systematically ignored by policymakers for decades. It is a precise understanding of these cultural cues that should guide policy objectives toward the Iranian government.
* Iranians expect a ruler to demonstrate resolve and strength, and do whatever it takes to remain in power. The Western concept of demanding that a leader subscribe to a moral and ethical code does not resonate with Iranians. Telling Iranians that their ruler is cruel will not convince the public that they need a new leader. To the contrary, this will reinforce the idea that their ruler is strong. It is only when Iranians become convinced that either their rulers lack the resolve to do what is necessary to remain in power or that a stronger power will protect them against their current tyrannical rulers, that they will speak out and try to overthrow leaders.
* Compromise (as we in the West understand this concept) is seen as a sign of submission and weakness. For Iranians, it actually brings shame on those (and on the families of those) who concede. By contrast, one who forces others to compromise increases his honor and stature, and is likely to continue forcing others to submit in the future. Iranians do not consider weakness a reason to engage an adversary in compromise, but rather as an opportunity to destroy them. It is for this reason that good-will and confidence-building measures should be avoided at all costs.
* What Iranians really believe, they usually keep to themselves. Instead, they tell those with power what they think their leaders want to hear. This is the concept of ketman, or dissimulation. Iranians do not consider ketman (taqiyah in Arabic) to be lying. And they have developed it into a fine art, which they view as a positive form of self-protection.
* Western cultural biases regarding, and demanding, honesty make it easy to misunderstand Iranians. Iranians have learned to cope with adverse situations by being warm, gracious, polite, and obsequious. Westerners, especially Americans who place a high value on candor, straightforwardness, and honesty, are often bamboozled by Iranians who know that those in the West are easily taken in by their effusively friendly, kind, generous, and engaging behavior.
* Negotiations are opportunities to best others, to demonstrate power, and to make sure opponents know who is the boss. In politics, Iranians negotiate only after defeating their enemies. During these negotiations, the victor magnanimously dictates to the vanquished how things will be conducted thereafter. Signaling a desire to talk before being victorious is, in Iranian eyes, a sign of weakness or lack of will to win.
* When the West establishes itself as the most powerful force and shows strength and resolve, Iranians will most likely come on board. They do not want to be on the losing side. If military action is eventually required, the targeting of national symbols and leadership strongholds may be enough to demonstrate that the balance of power in Iran is quickly shifting. By applying this principle, the West may not need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities or launch a large-scale invasion to bring down Iran’s rulers and stop the nuclear program.
* Iranians look around them and see that others in their neighborhood such as Russia, Israel, Pakistan, India, and China all have the bomb. To say that Iran shouldn’t have the bomb is considered an affront to Iranian patriotism. Using a little ingenuity, we could drive a wedge between the Iranian government and the Iranian people. We should make clear that we are not opposed to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. We are only opposed to the current government having a nuclear arsenal because it is the largest state-sponsor of terrorism in the world and does its utmost to undermine its neighbors and remove U.S. influence in the region. If the current government acquires nuclear weapons, it might very well use them.
* If the West is to succeed, Iranians must be convinced, in terms they understand, that America is prepared to establish itself as a powerful force and help the Iranian population liberate themselves from the tyranny under which they live.