“The little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil” (& “Life during wartime”)

September 20, 2016

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach six comment pieces that I found of interest. (There will be a separate dispatch later today with a series of news items.)

You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia



1. “The age of distrust” (By Roger Cohen, NY Times, Sep. 20, 2016)
2. “Life during wartime” (By Bret Stephens, Wall St Journal, Sep. 20, 2016)
3. “Who will run the U.N.?” (Editorial, Wall St Journal, Sep. 19, 2016)
4. “A future Palestinian state doesn’t have to be ‘ethnically cleansed’ of Jews” (By Moshe Arens, Haaretz, Sep. 19, 2016)
5. “How Egyptians’ conspiracy theories about Clinton explain Trump’s appeal to them” (By Eric Trager, Wall St Journal, Sep. 19, 2016)
6. “The Cold War is over. The Cyber War has begun” (By David Ignatius, Washington Post, Sep. 16, 2016)



The Age of Distrust
By Roger Cohen
New York Times
September 20, 2016

ATHENS – I have a profound respect for the intelligence of the voter. Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter, but more important is what he actually said in the House of Commons on Oct. 31, 1944: “At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper – no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly palliate the overwhelming importance of that point.”

Nobody, looking back at the first 16 years of this century, can suggest that the political, economic and financial elites who brought you the euro crisis, the war in Iraq, the Great Recession of 2008, growing inequality and (at least until last year in the United States) middle-class income stagnation have not made some very serious mistakes, of very enduring consequences, with very startling impunity. This has not been lost on the little woman with the little pencil in the little booth.

No wonder experts are increasingly viewed as being in the business of bamboozling for their own ends. Ordinary folk reckon the system is rigged, that elites are not in it for the people but, rather, the money. This is the Age of Distrust. No two presidential candidates have ever been as distrusted as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The grave mistakes that I have mentioned occurred in the midst of a technological whirlwind that moved factories offshore and migrants onshore, and offered huge opportunity for the initiated at the hubs of globalization’s churn while stripping many outlying places and outcast people of their raison d’être.

Technology is a wonderful thing if you are putting it to use, less so if it is putting an end to your usefulness.

Many people in our liberal democracies feel they are being tossed hither and thither by forces beyond their control – nowhere more so than in Greece where national elections in recent years – and there have been a lot of them – have revealed an almost complete disconnect between the vote itself and any tangible effect. What then is democracy, a mere game?

There has been another whirlwind, a cultural one. As Sylvie Kauffmann has suggested, when Poland’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, says the world must not move in a single direction – “toward a new mix of cultures and races, a world of cyclists and vegetarians” – he is expressing a nativist anti-liberal resurgence.

All this unease has been compounded by the sense of insecurity instilled by jihadi terrorism and other violence. A bombing in New York and a stabbing attack at a Minnesota mall are still under investigation, but whatever their origin they will impact an already tense American election.

All this is the backdrop to Trump, to Marine Le Pen in France, to Brexit, to the nationalist governments dominating central Europe, to the rise in Germany of the rightist Alternative für Deutschland, to the vogue for authoritarian models – in short to the challenges facing liberal democracies. Marx noted that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. The British exit from the European Union was the exception – simultaneous tragedy and farce, a disaster abetted by lies, energized by a buffoon and consummated in mayhem.

This was the moment when it became irrefutable that some of the very foundations of the postwar world and the spread of liberal democracy – free trade, free markets, more open borders, fact-based debate, ever greater integration – had collapsed.

I am pessimistic in the short-term, optimistic in the long-term.

I am pessimistic because the problems cannot be righted in short order. Politicians are going to have to work very hard to earn back the trust of the people. A serious issue exists with what Stephen Walt of Harvard University has called the “ruling elites in many liberal societies and especially the United States, where money and special interests have created a corrupt political class that is out-of-touch with ordinary people, interested mostly in enriching themselves, and immune to accountability.” This has to end.
Democracy has to deliver – not just to the rich but the most vulnerable. This is a fundamental lesson of recent times.

When democracy creates wealth on a broad scale there is no tension between it and capitalism. But when that is not the case, the value of democracy becomes less clear to some. There are tremendous tensions between democratic national sovereignty, open global markets and mass migration.

The answer is not to build walls. Western societies need to build education and innovation and opportunity. A time of great uncertainty is upon the world.

Still, I believe in the resilience of liberal democracy, in the little man in the little booth. Greece knows that the democratic idea is stubborn.

Technology has prized the world open. Nobody – not Vladimir Putin, not Xi Jinping, not Trump – can shatter that interconnectedness. Nor can anybody quash forever the human desire to be free and to live under the only form of government consistent with that desire – representative government installed with the consent of the people.

Liberalism demands acceptance of our human differences and the ability to mediate them through democratic institutions. It demands acceptance of multiple, perhaps incompatible truths. In an age of polarization and vilification this may seem a lofty aspiration. But democracies have a habit of rising to the challenges they face.

Democracies need to be challenged, unlike dictatorships that fear broad challenge because it may cause them to buckle. Challenge in democracies is also rebirth.

Respect the intelligence of voters. Sooner or later they come to their senses. Churchill, of course, was re-elected in 1951.



Life During Wartime
As terrorist attacks become more common, public tolerance for liberal pieties will wane.
By Bret Stephens
Wall Street Journal
September 20, 2016

Long after I returned to the U.S. after living in Jerusalem I kept thinking about soft targets. The peak-hour commuter train that took me from Westchester to Grand Central. The snaking queue outside the security checkpoint at La Guardia Airport. The theater crowds near Times Square.

All of these places were vulnerable and most of them undefended. Why, I wondered, weren’t they being attacked?

This was in late 2004, when Jack Bauer was an American hero and memories of 9/11 were vivid. Yet friends who were nervous about boarding a flight seemed nonchalant about much more plausible threats. Maybe they expected the next attack would be on the same grand scale of 9/11. Maybe they thought the perpetrators would be supervillains in the mold of Osama bin Laden, not fried-chicken vendors like Ahmad Khan Rahimi, the suspected 23rd Street bomber.

Life in Israel had taught me differently. Between January 2002, when I moved to the country, and October 2004, when I left, there were 85 suicide bombings, which took the lives of 543 Israelis. Palestinian gun attacks claimed hundreds of additional victims. In a small country it meant that most everyone knew one of those victims, or knew someone who knew someone.

To this day the bombings are landmarks in my life. March 2002: Cafe Moment, just down the street from my apartment, where my future wife had arranged to meet a friend who canceled at the last minute. Eleven dead. September 2003: Cafe Hillel, another neighborhood hangout, where seven people were murdered, including 20-year-old Nava Applebaum and her father, David, on the eve of her wedding. January 2004: Bus No. 19 on Gaza Street, which I witnessed close-up before the ambulances arrived. Another 11 dead and 13 seriously injured, including Jerusalem Post reporter Erik Schechter.

Living in those circumstances had a strange dichotomous quality. Things were absolutely fine until they absolutely weren’t. Memories of bombings mix with other memories: jogs around the walls of the old city, weekend outings to the beach, the daily grind of editing a newspaper. The sense of normality was achieved through an effort of will and a touch of fatalism. Past a certain point, fearing for your own safety becomes exhausting. You give it up.

But it wasn’t just psychological adjustment that made life livable. Israelis recoiled after each bombing, mourned every victim, then picked themselves up. Cafe Moment reopened weeks after it was destroyed. The army and police could not provide constant security, so every restaurant and supermarket hired an armed guard, every mall and hotel set up metal detectors, and people went out. More than a few attacks were stopped by lone Israeli civilians who prevented massacres through the expedient of a handgun.

As for the Israeli government, after much hesitation it did what governments are supposed to do: It fought. In April 2002 then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent Israeli tanks into Jenin, Bethlehem and every other nest of Palestinian terror. He trapped Yasser Arafat in his little palace in Ramallah. He ordered the killing of Hamas’s leaders in Gaza.

All this was done in the teeth of overwhelming international condemnation and the tut-tutting of experts who insisted only a “political solution” could break the “cycle of violence.” Instead, the Israeli military broke that cycle by building a wall and crippling the Palestinians’ capacity to perpetrate violence. In 2002 there were 47 bombings. In 2007 the number had come down to one.

What’s the lesson here for Americans? This past weekend’s terrorist attacks hold at least two. One is that there is a benefit for a society that allows competent and responsible adults to carry guns, like the off-duty police officer who shot the knife-wielding jihadist in St. Cloud, Minn. Another is that there is an equal benefit in the surveillance methods that allowed police in New York and New Jersey to swiftly identify and arrest Mr. Rahimi before his bombing spree took any lives.

These are lessons the political left in this country doesn’t want to hear, lest they unsettle established convictions that weapons can only cause violence, not stop it, and that security is the antithesis of, not a precondition to, civil liberty.

But hear them they will. The eclipse of al Qaeda by Islamic State means the terrorist threat is evolving from elaborately planned spectaculars such as 9/11 or the 2004 Madrid train bombings to hastily improvised and executed blood orgies of the sort we saw this year in Nice and Orlando. As attacks become more frequent and closer to everyday life, public tolerance for liberal pieties will wane. Not least among the casualties of the Palestinian intifada was the Israeli left.

Living in Israel in those crowded years taught me that free people aren’t so easily cowed by terror, and that jihadists are no match for a determined democracy. But it also taught me that democracies rarely muster their full reserves of determination until they’ve been bloodied one time too many.



Who Will Run the U.N.?
The best choice for reform at Turtle Bay is Serbia’s Vuk Jeremic.
Wall Street Journal
September 19, 2016

There’s an election on, and the top candidates include a Vladimir Putin favorite and a lifelong socialist who mismanaged a global humanitarian organization. We speak of the race to become the next United Nations Secretary-General.

That was the state of play when the U.N.’s Security Council took its fourth straw poll this month to suss out the leading contenders to succeed Ban Ki-moon, whose decade at Turtle Bay ends in December. Topping the list of 10 candidates is António Guterres, a former Socialist Portuguese Prime Minister who was recently the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Mr. Guterres is the favorite of Western Europeans, despite a UNHCR record that the U.N.’s Internal Audit Division lambasted in April for failing to comply with rules, safeguard U.N. assets, provide accurate financials and conduct effective operations.

U.N. tradition also dictates that the position rotate among regional blocs, and now it’s Eastern Europe’s turn. Among that group, the current favorite is Slovakian foreign minister Miroslav Lajcák, who was a Czechoslovak diplomat under the former Communist dictatorship and holds a doctorate from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

There’s also Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova, who runs Unesco, the notoriously anti-Israeli cultural and social welfare agency. Ms. Bokova is Russia’s preferred candidate and attended the Kremlin’s Victory Day Parade in Moscow last year, which most Western leaders boycotted after the invasion of Ukraine. Ms. Bokova’s chances seem to have waned, falling to fifth from fourth place in the latest straw poll. Another woman in the mix is Argentine Foreign Minister Susanna Malcorra, who was Mr. Ban’s chief of staff and is a favorite of the Obama Administration.

But as our Mary Anastasia O’Grady reported in June, Ms. Malcorra has used Argentina’s position at the Organization of American States to block discussions of human-rights violations in Venezuela. An Argentine candidate is also unlikely to pass muster with the U.K. given Buenos Aires’s history of using the U.N. to cause diplomatic trouble over the Falklands.

That leaves former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, who polled third and is the only commendable candidate in the mix. At 41, the Harvard-educated Mr. Jeremic is young, but he was a leader of the social movement that helped topple Slobodan Milosevic’s dictatorship in Belgrade in 2000. He later served in the pro-Western government of Boris Tadic, who in 2010 issued a historic Serbian apology for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica.

Mr. Jeremic also seems to understand that his first job as Secretary-General is to bring proper managerial controls to the U.N.’s sprawling bureaucracy and require U.N. officials to file annual public financial disclosures to avoid the corruption that became endemic in the days of Kofi Annan. That alone would restore some public trust in the broken U.N. system.

Whoever wins the job will inherent an organization that is failing on multiple fronts, from taking responsibility for the cholera epidemic it caused in Haiti to the failure of its peacekeepers in South Sudan to stop atrocities. The Obama Administration could do worse than endorse a candidate who believes in democratic values and bureaucratic accountability.



A future Palestinian state doesn’t have to be ‘ethnically cleansed’ of Jews
Why ‘ethnic cleanse’ when Jews and Arabs are living peaceably together in the State of Israel?
By Moshe Arens
September 19, 2016

Ethnic cleansing is the forced removal of ethnic or religious groups from a particular territory with the intent of making it ethnically or religiously homogeneous. That’s the generally accepted definition of the phrase, and there are no differences of opinion on that, or for that matter on whether ethnic cleansing is abhorrent in the civilized world.

Unfortunately, ethnic cleansing is being carried out at this moment in parts of Iraq and Syria. Shi’ites are getting rid of Sunnis and Sunnis are getting rid of Shi’ites, and both are getting rid of Christians.

So why did Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent use of that phrase cause such an uproar? Is it because he referred to Judea and Samaria, a territory that the proponents of the “two-state” solution envisage as part of the future Palestinian state? Is it because many consider the presence of Jewish settlers in this area illegal and an obstacle to peace, and therefore view their removal as something positive and refuse to consider it ethnic cleansing?

Let’s look at the facts. An act of ethnic cleansing was carried out in the Gaza Strip 11 years ago when all Jewish settlers were forcibly removed from their homes. But that was a case were Jews uprooted Jews, you’ll say. Does that make it any less a case of ethnic cleansing?

The objective of that “disengagement” was to leave the Gaza Strip without Jews. But the objective was to advance the peace process, you’ll argue. Still, that’s the claimed objective of almost everyone who engages in ethnic cleansing. Leave behind a homogenous population and you’ll avoid future conflicts, they insist. That may be true in some cases, but can that justify ethnic cleansing? Does the end justify the means?

So how about the immediate subject of the debate that followed Netanyahu’s recent statement – Judea and Samaria (or the West Bank if you prefer)? There, in Gush Etzion on May 13, 1948, two days before the declaration of the State of Israel, ethnic cleansing in the area may have begun. When the settlers, attacked by Jordan’s Arab Legion and irregular local Arab fighters, surrendered after resisting for more than a week, over a hundred were massacred, and the rest were taken prisoner and sent to Jordan. The four Jewish settlements were destroyed.

Destroyed they remained until Jewish settlers returned to the area after the Six-Day War. No Jew was allowed to live in Jordan, including in the areas of the West Bank that were annexed to Jordan after the war. In the fate of the defenders of Gush Etzion, the Jewish community saw the fate that awaited them if the Arabs had succeeded in their attack.

Nowadays, some people claim that the settlements in Gush Etzion are illegal and constitute an obstacle to peace. That’s a claim directed at all Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, based on the assumption that this area should be reserved for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and this state should be a homogeneous Arab state. It can’t be argued that the removal of the Jews there would not be an act of ethnic cleansing.

Underlying the opposition of many who object to Jewish settlements in the area is the assumption that Jews and Arabs cannot live peaceably together and should therefore be separated. The more extreme proponents of this view, like Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, would like to “export” some of Israel’s Arab citizens to the future Palestinian state by moving the border and transferring the territories where they live to that state. This is presumably a more humane form of ethnic cleansing.

They all need to be reminded of the obvious – that Jews and Arabs are living peaceably together in the State of Israel, and if ever a Palestinian state were to be established existing side by side with Israel in peace, there is no reason it shouldn’t contain a Jewish minority. As a matter of fact, such a minority might actually prove an economic asset to that state. So what’s all the fuss about?



How Egyptians’ Conspiracy Theories About Clinton Explain Trump’s Appeal to Them
By Eric Trager
Wall Street Journal (blogs)
September 19, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. Whereas Mr. Trump’s meeting is consistent with his admiration for strongmen and therefore unsurprising, Mrs. Clinton’s meeting is raising some eyebrows in Egypt given prevalent conspiracy theories that depict her as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and therefore an enemy of Egypt’s current government.

Many Egyptians, including senior government officials, believe that Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi won the June 2012 presidential election thanks to pressure from Mrs. Clinton. As with most conspiracy theories, this one is rooted in a twisted interpretation of what Mrs. Clinton actually said at the time.

Four days before Egypt’s election results were announced, Mrs. Clinton remarked that “it is imperative that the military fulfill its promise to the Egyptian people to turn power over to the legitimate winner.” (In the same interview, she also said that “we don’t know yet who’s going to be named the winner.”)

Clinton inadvertently played into this conspiracy theory two weeks after Mr. Morsi took office, when she visited Cairo. During a press briefing, Mrs. Clinton said, “The United States supports the full transition to civilian rule, with all that it entails.” This was interpreted in Egypt as supporting the Brotherhood in its low-grade power struggle with the military. Hours after her visit, Egypt’s defense minister, then Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, said, “The armed forces will not allow anyone, especially those pushed from outside, to distract it from its role as the protector of Egypt.” This was widely interpreted as a rebuke of Mrs. Clinton; he also said that he would never allow “a certain group” – meaning the Brotherhood – to dominate the country.

Some Egyptian media outlets continue to suggest that Mrs. Clinton’s top aide Huma Abedin is secretly a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (they often cite far-right American sources as proof), pointing to comments such as Mrs. Clinton likening Ms. Abedin to a “second daughter” as a sort of evidence of Mrs. Clinton’s closeness to the Brotherhood. Moreover, various Egyptian media outlets claimed last year that Morsi’s wife was threatening to release “secret communications” between her husband and Mrs. Clinton that would supposedly reveal their “special relationship.”

These conspiracy theories badly mischaracterize Mrs. Clinton’s outlook on the political situation that followed Egypt’s January 2011 uprising. Mrs. Clinton was vocally skeptical of the uprising and disagreed with President Barack Obama’s decision to embrace the Tahrir Square protests. In her 2014 memoir, Mrs. Clinton recounts her negative first impressions of Mr. Morsi and speaks deferentially of Gen. Tantawi. And while she wrote that Mr. Sisi “appears to be following the classic mold of Middle Eastern strongmen,” her takeaway from the Obama administration’s experience navigating the Arab Spring is that Washington’s attempt to “walk a tightrope, promoting democratic values and strategic interests without taking sides or backing particular candidates or factions” bred further mistrust.

Many Egyptians are not familiar with those views. Instead, it is widely believed in Egypt that Mrs. Clinton admitted in her memoir that she helped create Islamic State, and Donald Trump’s remarks accusing her and President Obama of that have been widely reported in Egypt.

These conspiracy theories have bred a not-always-subtle preference for Mr. Trump among Egyptian officials and elites. Although many dislike his comments about Muslims, those remarks are often viewed as campaign rhetoric, and more attention is paid to Mr. Trump’s pledges to destroy ISIS and to work with autocratic leaders. Former parliamentarian Mohamed Kamal, who once served on the policy committee of Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party, recently wrote in the Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm: “Anyone following Trump’s statements will find that many of them agree with the positions of the Egyptian state during the current period.”

News that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sisi would meet has been welcomed within Egypt and even inspired suggestions that the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to prevent their conversation.

Former Foreign Minister Mohamed Orabi, chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said in an interview on Saturday that he expects bilateral relations to improve no matter who wins the U.S. presidential election and that Cairo had no preference. But he added that no matter who wins in November, American thinking will continue to impose chaos within the Middle East. That last remark is an important reminder that news and developments do not tend to debunk conspiracy theories, and that the ones about Mrs. Clinton will linger well past her meeting this week with Mr. Sisi.



The Cold War is over. The Cyber War has begun
David Ignatius
Washington Post
September 16, 2016

Contemplating Russian nuclear threats during the Cold War, the strategist Herman Kahn calibrated a macabre ladder of escalation, with 44 rungs ranging from “Ostensible Crisis” to “Spasm or Insensate War.”

In the era of cyberwarfare that’s now dawning, the rules of the game haven’t yet been established with such coldblooded precision. That’s why this period of Russian-American relations is so tricky. The strategic framework that could provide stability hasn’t been set.

Russian hackers appear to be pushing the limits. In recent weeks, the apparent targets have included the electronic files of the Democratic National Committee, the private emails of former secretary of state Colin Powell, and personal drug-testing information about top U.S. athletes.

The Obama administration is considering how to respond. As in most strategic debates, there’s a split between hawks and doves. But there’s a recognition across the U.S. government that the current situation, in which information is stolen electronically and then leaked to damage and destabilize U.S. targets, is unacceptable.

“A line has been crossed. The hard part is knowing how to respond effectively,” argues one U.S. official. Retaliating in kind may not be wise for a country that is far more dependent on its digital infrastructure than is Russia. But unless some clear signal is sent, there’s a danger that malicious hacking and disclosure of information could become the norm.

As always with foreign-policy problems, a good starting point is to try putting ourselves in the mind of our potential adversaries. The point of this exercise isn’t to justify Russian behavior but to understand it – and learn how best to contain it.

The Russians have a chip on their shoulder. They see themselves as the aggrieved party. The United States, in their view, has been destabilizing Russian politics by supporting pro-democracy groups that challenge President Vladimir Putin’s authority. To Americans, such campaigns are about free speech and other universal human rights. But to a paranoid and power-hungry Kremlin, these are U.S. “information operations.”

Russian officials deny meddling in U.S. politics, but it’s clear from some of their comments that they think the United States shot first in this duel of political destabilization.

This payback theme was clear in Russian hackers’ disclosure this weekof information stolen from the World Anti-Doping Agency about Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams. The Russians have been irate about the exposure of their own doping, which led to disqualification of many Russian Olympic athletes. And so — retaliation, in the disclosure that Biles and the Williams sisters had been given permission to use otherwise banned substances.

If you’re a Russian with a sense that your country has been humiliated and unjustly maligned since the end of the Cold War – and that seems to be the essence of Putin’s worldview – then the opportunity to fight back in cyberspace must be attractive, indeed.

How should the United States combat Russian cyber-meddling before it gets truly dangerous? I asked a half-dozen senior U.S. officials this question over the past few weeks, and I’ve heard competing views. The Defense Department’s cyber strategy, published last year, argues thatthe United States should deter malicious attacks by a combination of three approaches: “response . . . in a manner and in a place of our choosing”; “denial” of attack opportunities by stronger defense; and “resilience,” by creating redundant systems that can survive attack.

A few caveats to this official strategy were cited by many of the officials:

● The U.S. response probably shouldn’t come in cyberspace, where an advanced America is more vulnerable to attack than a relatively undeveloped Russia, and where the United States lacks sufficient “overmatch” in cyberweapons to guarantee quick success. “Don’t get into a knife fight with someone whose dagger is almost as long as yours,” explains one expert.

● The Obama administration should disclose more of what it knows about Russian actions, much as it did with Chinese and North Korean hacking. But getting in a public argument with Moscow will be fruitless, and the United States may blow its cyber “sources and methods” in the process.

What would the Cold War “wizards of Armageddon” advise? The nuclear balance of terror finally gave way to arms-control agreements that fostered stability. But this model probably doesn’t work in cyberspace. Such agreements wouldn’t be verifiable in a world where cyber-warriors could reequip at the local Best Buy.

Norms for global behavior emerge through trial and error – after a messy period of pushing and shoving, accompanied by public and private discussion. Starting this bumpy process will be the last big challenge of Barack Obama’s presidency.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.