Memo To The US: Avoid Extremes While Fighting Islamists

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-18-12

With anti-American riots persisting, and the loved ones of the murdered American diplomats and security personnel mourning, the debate about Middle East matters remains polarizing – and depressing.  Two schools of thought dominate, and both are wrong. The first group, the submitters, is too quick to apologize, too quick to appease. The second, even more unappealing group, the bigots, is too quick to demonize, too quick to swagger.   In the long torturous history of the clash between East and West, both extremes err – by negating Western values in a pathetic attempt to woo the East or by perverting Western values in a contemptible expression of contempt for the East.

Unfortunately, too many American diplomats and Obama administration officials are submitters. These are the people who immediately accepted the false rationale blaming the anti-Mohammed video clip as the rationale for the Libyan riots, without noticing that these events were occurring on 9/11 – and that the Libyan “protestors” came well-armed and well-briefed about the Benghazi diplomatic compound.  These Arabist apologists quickly repudiated the now-infamous video, forgetting that citizens in a democracy cannot take responsibility for every ugly way fellow citizens might use freedom of speech – while also forgetting that throughout the Middle East official government organs, especially religious leaders, spew anti-American bigotry.

David Harris, the thoughtful Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, notes that Palestinians have a culture of blame, Jews have a culture of guilt; his insight applies more broadly too.  Especially since the 1960s, the West is perpetually seen as guilty of many sins, while anti-Americanism has become as ubiquitous in the Middle East, as sand, oil, Islam, kaffiyas, and anti-Zionism.   Too many Americans have internalized this detailed indictment of our culture as imperialist, colonialist, and racist.

As Westerners who talk about diversity and tolerance but are surprisingly limited in their imaginations, the submitters tend to believe that every one around the world thinks and acts as they do.  And as rationalists unable to fathom the Arab street’s twisted illogic, too many assume that if we demonstrate our goodwill, if we behave properly, we will reconcile with our Eastern neighbors.  This thinking prompted Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, and fed elite America’s enthusiasm for the so-called Arab Spring. Seeing Arab protestors as incipient Jeffersonians with laptops – without fathoming that they might become Islamist warriors with RPGs – they waxed poetic about the new democracies aborning, abandoned American allies, and condemned Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israelis for daring to doubt, for worrying before celebrating.

Especially at the start of his administration, Obama frequently telegraphed a sense of American guilt. While anti-Americanism existed long before Obama appeared on the national scene, it is fair to ask whether his apologetics – and general hesitancy in leadership – broadcast a dangerous message of American weakness which emboldened the Islamist attackers.

These submitters frequently apologize for and feel superior to the bigots, who tap into longstanding prejudices against anyone who is different, as well as particular Western condescension toward Muslims and Arabs, as pagans and savages.  The reprehensible video clip; the misinformation that the producers were an Israeli with 100 Jewish donors backing him, reflect the bigots’ simplistic, perverse, dog-eat-dog – or more accurately group-fight-group – worldview – how convenient to scapegoat Israelis and Jews.  Moreover, these people think that patriotism is about bluster, xenophobia, and demonization, when democratic patriotism entails pride, moderation and discernment. Mitt Romney has to be wary of stirring these extremists, either directly or indirectly.

In 1975, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan was American ambassador to the United Nations, he rejected the State Department culture of guilt and appeasement. He found most American diplomats unprepared for the realities of the new world, where the US was in opposition, a world of blaming America as a way of absolving your own country of responsibility.  Moynihan wanted to hold countries accountable for their rhetoric –- and their UN votes — especially if they received American subsidies.

Moynihan took what other countries said and did seriously, and he wanted to end America’s post-Vietnam self-flagellation spree. His approach thrilled the American people. He became an American pop star, cheered for his stand, beloved for his courage, and won four elections to the US Senate over the next quarter-century. But Moynihan’s approach was too countercultural for a State Department that had internalized the Sixties Counterculture’s values.  He only lasted as Ambassador for eight months, resigning after being undermined by Henry Kissinger’s Machiaevellian moves.

Channeling Moynihan’s defiant defense of American democracy, a proper, patriotic defense of America should include Mitt Romney’s refusal to apologize, with Barack Obama’s sharp reminder to Egypt’s president to act like an ally. It should avoid demonization of Islam, Muhammad, or any Arab country, without apologizing for American values and American freedoms. Countries which accept American help should be expected to accept America as a friend, which includes not having official state organs and nationally-subsidized religious leaders rabblerousing against the US.  Americans have every right to be furious – and should attack this anti-Americanism indignantly and aggressively. American diplomats should confront leaders who use anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism as the stimulant of the Arab masses.  Diplomats must remember their primary mission is to defend their country’s interests and dignity, not make friends at any cost.

There is a perverse reversal in the Middle East today.  Americans should be the ones rallying on 9/11 against their enemies—because they were victimized.  Americans should be demonstrating angrily against the outrageous attacks against their representatives in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere. Fortunately, overall the tradition of national self-restraint holds, even as marginal loudmouths like the Reverend Terry Jones spew hatred. Neither submitting meekly nor succumbing to racism, Americans should continue resisting this constant, systematic assault, championing democracy, American values with a proud, constructive, strategic but strong, don’t tread on me approach.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and an Engaging Israel Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism” will be published this fall.

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Stop rockets by seizing Palestinian territory

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

Targeted actions depriving Gaza of territory in response to attacks will put a specific price tag on each rocket and terror attack.

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-30-11

My cousin Adele Raemer lives on Kibbutz Nirim in the Western Negev. It is an idealistic community in an idyllic setting. Over the years, the kibbutzniks have created a lush, intimate oasis that is as warm communally as it is hot meteorologically. Unfortunately, their beautiful lives are interrupted far too often by sirens and explosions as rockets bombard them from neighboring Gaza.

To let people in Israel and throughout the world know what it’s like to live from warning to warning, from safe house sprint to safe house sprint, Adele recently started the Facebook group “Life on the border with Gaza – things people may not know (but should).” This apolitical on-line diary paints a picture of the courage involved in living an ordinary life under extraordinary circumstances, when “everyone” is suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress, when kids go back to wetting their beds, dogs are “frightened to death” by strange noises, and adults are living on edge. This diary portrays the Israeli refusal to be defeated. It puts a human face on the callous decision of Gaza’s Hamas rulers to turn their fiefdom into a launching pad for Islamist terror. And it details, warning by warning, missile by missile, stress by stress, a massive failure on the part of the Israeli government – handcuffed as it is by the international community.

A government’s primary mission is to protect its citizens. When tens of thousands of those citizens endure barrages from hostile neighbors, the government must act. Fearing international condemnation for the simple act of defending its citizens, Israel’s government has decided to build shelters in most schools and many homes within rocket range. This limits physical casualties but ignores the psychological toll. It is the reaction of the “galut Jew” – the oppressed accommodator, not the proud, independent Israeli fighter.

I hate war. I don’t wish to see unnecessary bloodshed. But residents of the Western Negev, including Sderot, have suffered too much. Barack Obama himself said, in Sderot on July 23, 2008: “I don’t think any country would find it acceptable to have missiles raining down on the heads of their citizens. The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens…. If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Israel’s leaders should quote Obama’s rationale to Obama, the UN and the Palestinians, restating the implicit deal Israel made when it withdrew from Gaza in August 2006. If, five years ago, Israel returned territorial control to the Palestinians in the hope for peace or at least quiet, it now needs to deprive Palestinians of some of that territory every time Palestinians break the peace. Every rocket launched from Gaza should bring two reactions. First, Israel should close the border completely for 24 hours, with no supplies or services, including electricity, emanating from Israel. And second, the IDF should push the border fence back into Gaza, seizing a pre-determined amount of territory each time. If the rocket fire intensifies, Israel should take back the evacuated settlements, one by one.

To the inevitable charges of “collective punishment,” and the absurd claim that “militants” beyond Hamas’s control are responsible, Israel’s leaders – after quoting Barack Obama – should reply, “Hamas is claiming to be responsible for Gaza, so it must take responsibility for Gaza. These are the rules of war: when aggressors from one territory attack their neighbor, the neighbor has the right to respond in self-defense. Traditionally, the currency in these matters has been land. Israel is returning to that traditional calculus. If the people of Gaza are unhappy about it, they should pressure their rulers.

And if there is quiet for six months, Israel will begin withdrawing again, proving that it has no territorial designs on Gaza, only a desire for peace.”

Given its failure to respond clearly for years, Israel should not employ this strategy immediately. The renewed rocket attacks and terrorist crimes of the past two weeks are attempts to provoke an Israeli reaction that will trigger world condemnation, thus easing the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration of independence. The international community has made it clear, especially in the corrupted UN, that Israel is the only country in the world that lacks the right of self-defense. Preferring Jews who are defenseless or dead to Jews who defend themselves, the world will probably reject this new Israeli doctrine. So Israel should devote time this month to preparing the legal rationale, finalizing military plans, and quietly conveying to the Palestinians, the Americans and the international community that the new response will go into effect in October.

Too many Palestinian radicals have made it clear over the years that they are willing to sacrifice Palestinians lives to terrorize Israelis. But the Palestinian outrage when Israel built the security fence proves how precious every inch of land is to Palestinians. Targeted actions depriving Gaza of territory in response to Palestinians targeting of the Western Negev will put a specific price tag on each rocket and terror attack, making Palestinians responsible for their actions. The heroic inhabitants of the Western Negev know the cost of each Palestinian rocket attack. It is time for Palestinians to pay a steep price too for these aggressions – or better yet, end them.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, his most recent book is The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

giltroy@gmail.com