News and Opinion Based on Facts

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Way it Used To Be

The old man sold cigarettes on the corner of Elm Street, today he was slightly whiskered, he wore a blue denim cap and jacket, and his piercing blue eyes caught my attention as I pulled my battered Lincoln to the curb.
In this part of town, intelligent conversation was all that some people had.
His name was Gary, I considered him a friend, even though he'd threatened me with physical violence a time or two when he felt I'd gone to far in defending modern ideas, or as he called it, "the secular progressive agenda."
I called him the "Russ Limbaugh of the Ghetto," except Gary was pretty sharp, intellectually stimulating,generally sober and usually pleasant.
I walked over and bought a pack of Camels, tax free.
The way of the future, I mused.
You could buy anything downtown.
It was a whole other world.
It was abandoned by society.
There were regular Police patrols, of course, but as long as the poor people kept a low profile they weren't hassled.
A pretty Indian girl walked by and smiled.
Like I said, you can buy anything downtown.
"so, Mike." Said Gary.
"Here we go." I thought, dryly.
"How's your man Obama today?"
I smiled, "You tell me, Gary."
Gary shoved his case of cigarettes to the other side of the cement table and spread out the paper.
"Do you know Obama's stand on the death penalty?"
I lit a cigarette, "Yes, Gary, he favors it in the most extreme cases. The most heinous crimes.
Basically he sides with the Court on the issue."
We bantered about a few more issues, Gary pointed out that he felt Obama's positions changed, I countered that that's the nature of the political beast, if one wants to be elected, one has to capture the center.
During our conversation bums,. drifters, hookers and street people came and went, doing their tobacco purchases with the wise man of Elm Street, he bartered and sold, made change, thanked the customers smoothly, not breaking the focus of his attention on me and our little debate.
A rag-tag group of welfare mothers and their kids, pensioners and assorted poor people were forming a line down the street, it was time for breakfast.
A schizophrenic passed by, muttering excitedly.
Gary leaned back and took a drag from his non-filtered smoke.
“Mike, I'm voting for McCain.
I am sick of the way this country is going.
You liberals are going to finish it off.
Obama wants to surrender to the Arabs.”
I pointed out that Obama's position was a phased withdrawal if it could be done while protecting our strategic position globally.
He grimaced, “Look how immoral this damn country has become.
When I was young, if your wife got outta line you could slap her around a little bit, and she'd get back into line. That was the way it was when we had the power, when America was a decent place.
Blacks, who we called niggers back then, knew their place, too.
And “Gays”, who we called Queers, kept their mouths shut.
If we found out someone was a Queer, we'd beat the Hell out of them.
If someone came out with some utopian idea about rich people paying taxes, we'd call them communists and that would be the end of them, Brother.
Everyone looked the same and acted the same, and women stayed in the kitchen, pregnant, and out of the man's world.
If your kids irritated you or sassed off, you could back hand them.
If you got some trollop pregnant, that was her problem, she was stuck with it, and everyone called her what she was, a Whore.
If the politicians wanted to kick some gook countries ass, you had to go, and die if the politicians needed it.
That's the way it was when America was decent.”
I smiled, “Well, Gary, I doubt many conservatives would disagree with you, that is the way it was.
But I don't think those days are coming back.
You see, now, women, blacks, conservatives and even communists can vote.
The times are changing again, Gary.
Hang on, it's going to be a wild, but I believe, a rewarding ride.
America, and the world will be better for it.”

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

To Know Others is Power, To Know One's self is Virtue

Ruch Limbaugh, Bill O, and Sean Hannity seem like clowns to me.
Limbaugh is on drugs, O'Reilly is an oppressive pervert, and Hannity, I think, means well, but he is not very bright.
I get most of my news from summaries, on line.
I read what is interesting, and I decide on the veracity of the stories based on my own knowledge of world events and history.
If I'm uncertain, I double check, I come at the story from different angles and read opposing views.
There are some sources that I just don't find credible, and we've discussed three of them. Have you seen the O'Reilly meltdown on youtube?
The guy is a bum, I suggest readers view the clip and see what he is like when he doesn't know the cameras are rolling.
He has ruthlessly, sexually harassed female underlings.
He is not a nice man, and he is not very honest at all.
The appeal of all three of these “gentlemen “ is that they say what their viewers want to hear.
It is difficult to seek out the truth, it is not for everyone, it leads to frustration and uncertainty, but for my personal well-being it is a must. I believe that for me to feel that I am a moral person it behooves me to learn what is right and what is not.
Thats just my feeling, for me, I don't necessarily ask others to follow that path.
And yet, throughout history, people, countries, have don't horrible things because they believed propaganda that would have been easy to see for what it is if they had opened their minds and listened to opposing views.
I do not believe that America needs to fear an Arab invasion in the near future.
Israel does.
Israel is being attacked as we speak and yet Bush is demanding a Palestinian terrorist state, a new one, which he has promised to subsidize.
In an article Professor Barry Rubin pointed out that

President George Bush recently stated that a Fatah-ruled Palestinian state
should be quickly developed since, "It will serve as an alternative vision to
what is happening in Gaza." This is rubbish. No matter how much money the West
pumps in, the nationalists are not going to offer an attractive regime. Fatah's
lower level of still-considerable repression is counterbalanced by the
corruption and anarchy included in the package. Jawad Tibi, a former Fatah
cabinet minister, explained, "Hamas is Fatah with beards."
The American people are being manipulated into believing that a rag tag group of Arabs will be fighting in our streets, an yet told to provide money for criminals that bomb Israel daily.
That we are doing nothing to protect Israel, and spending billions to turn Iraq into a more powerful Shiite terrorist enclave is ridiculous and maddening.
For people to continually repeat the Bush mantras is close to a kind of insanity.

And to view the “pundits” we've discussed here is like going to meditate with the Maharishi , it may feel good, but the bottom line is the only real benefit is to the Maharishi.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fear and Loathing In America

Do you want to know about fear?
Listen to C-Span in the morning.
The call in show.
Caller after caller chimes in, the supporters of the left and the supporters on the right repeat, almost verbatim, the talking points of the political candidates.
No one seems to have an original or illuminating thought.
I was watching Michael Reagan on Larry King last recently and I thought, how unlike President Reagan he is.
Well, he's not a blood relation, he is adopted, but he is making a good living trading on the popularity of his adopted father, and spouting his views of his father's views.
Ron Reagan Jr., on the other hand, reminds me of his father, his biological father.
He is charming and intelligent.
Like his father, (until he swung to the right) Ron Reagan is a liberal.
Michael Reagan seems like a not terribly bright man, rather typical of commentators on the right, and Ron Reagan seems bright and intellectually gifted.
There are good arguments to be made on both sides of many of the issues in the political contest for the White house, the major problem is the doctrinaire adhesion to political dogma.
And some of the choices being offered to voters are bad anyway one looks at them.
Take the issue of Israel, for example.
The right wishes to push through a Palestinian State, although it seems that they have empathy for Israel.
The left's sympathy is with the Palestinians.
The left is so far from the truth on this issue, that it is hard for many to take them seriously on the issues that they are correctly addressing.
The right has good issues, but they can't seem to attract anyone with personality and intellect to get their random good ideas across.
Their message seems to be fear, fear of women having equality, gays not being repressed and government losing power over the poor.
Many of the fears of the right are completely irrational, such as their fear of an army of Arabs invading and conquering America.
The left has the personalities, and they are generally right on the issues.
They have the brain-power and educational endowments that the right lacks.
However, at least on the issue of Israel, and the middle-east in general, they fall back on beliefs that once were true, in general terms, and extrapolate them to any “minority”, such as the Palestinians.
The Palestinians are not being oppressed by Israel, and the Arab culture is the most backward culture on the planet in terms of human rights, particularly in regards to women.
Until the left understands reality vis a vis the Islamic sub-culture, the generally irrational and confused politics of fear and hate which is the staple of the right will continue to be a thorn in the side of civilization.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Don't be Fooled by Good Reviews

Barry Rubin

June 16, 2008
Golda Meir once said that a bad press was better than a good epitaph. In other words, pragmatic considerations must take precedence over public relations.
Sometimes it seems as if contemporary Israeli governments have forgotten that concept. Yet in general, especially where it counts, this principle continues to prevail in Israel.
Not so in the Arab world. There, maintaining a rhetoric of war, militancy, and refusal to compromise--as proof of the regime's impeccable Arab nationalist and Islamic credentials--has always been a powerful factor in governance. This method has great benefits by mobilizing popular support for dictators and a high cost because it blocks their making peace and leads them into costly foreign adventures.
For rulers, the good news is that they remain perpetually behind the steering wheel; the bad news, at least for their citizens, is that the vehicle never gets anywhere good. But this is not to say that the masses are mere dupes in this process. Tempting as it is to say, dictators bad; people good, the fact is that even if the masses don't (in the words of George Orwell's classic on modern dictatorship, 1984) love the ruling Big Brother, they at least like what Big Brother says.
What Big Brother, and all his helping little brothers, says, however, has changed internationally if not locally. The old script, still used in Arabic, was very macho: We'll fight forever, spill oceans of blood, and win completely in the end.
The new script, available only in English, is: we're poor victims who want peace and. In tune with current world thinking, this generates much sympathy.
But the resulting public relations' victories avail them not.
First, let's ask: what, in material terms, has the shift in Western opinion and media coverage actually cost Israel? It's easy to say Israel has been restrained from triumphs by Western pressure as a result of this change. Yet that situation dates back to the early 1970s, before the public relations' blitz, and has more to do with geopolitics than public opinion.
One can argue that there have been some costs to Israel (beneficial advantages from the European Union) and some benefits to the other side (more money to the Palestinian Authority). There's been a lot of personal discomfiture for Israelis treated as pariahs and Jews abroad dismayed by waves of hatred and misunderstanding.
Yet this has amounted to relatively little material disadvantage for Israel and not much real benefit for its adversaries. After all, there's still no Palestinian state, Palestinians are more divided than ever, Hamas is isolated, there's not much pressure on Israel for concessions, the Israeli presence on the Golan Heights remains, Israel's economy thrives, Israel's relations with the major European countries are good, the international campaign against Iran's nuclear drive is as strong as can be expected, and so on.
In short, the radical Arab nationalists, Islamists, Arab regimes, and Palestinian movement have squandered their public relations' victories in the West. The main reason for this is their extremist goals. They are like a bettor who wins at the gambling table but never cashes in his chips since defeat makes him more determined and success makes him over-confident.
If, for example, Palestinian leaders had wanted a deal to get an independent state or Syria had preferred to get back the Golan Heights in exchange for full peace they would have succeeded. A good press and favorable Western opinion, reflected through government policies, would have helped them make a better deal. As it is, however, they are merely enabled to continue their endless struggle with a smile on their faces.
A second way they have lost is by failing to be constructive. Aid given Palestinians was thrown away rather than used to build a productive stable society. The same principle applies to many Arab countries, with a partial exception for high-income, low-population Gulf Arab oil-producing states. Fickle fortune doesn't favor one forever. If you don't grab an advantage it flies away. The moving finger writes and having writ moves on, as Omar Khayyam put it. And sometimes, within a very short time, the very same finger that once praised you gives you, so to speak, the finger.
Third, specific actions undermine temporary popularity. Such events as September 11, the London subway bombings, the Islamist specter, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's demagoguery turn off the Western audience.
Finally, what Arab nationalists and Islamists often cite as their strongest card that time is on their side--because of high birth rates, which also mean lower living standards, or due to Israel's impending miraculous collapse--is among their worst mistakes. You could call it the vulture strategy, wait around in hope your adversary will die. They go on fighting and suffering--postponing peace, progress, and prosperity--while Israel, despite costs, prospers and its people live much better lives.
Rather than being used as part of an integrated strategy to obtain the best possible deal, public relations' successes act as morale builders to keep fighters going in the belief that victory is inevitable. In short, the more sympathetic stories about suffering victim Palestinians, the stronger the impetus to continue policies ensuring Palestinians continue in that status.
One reason for this malady is that most Arabs and Muslims are misled by a history often characterized by the cycle famously described by the historian Ibn Khaldoun. City-centered civilizations grown rich and decadent were destroyed by warlike tribes who reveled in battle. Sheep-like peasants were preyed on by nomadic warriors who raided them like wolves, killing and pillaging.
This was before, however, developed societies built technology, organization, discipline, and identity which gave them real military superiority beyond the strong right arm of individual hero warriors who courted death in battle. Now would-be conquerors sacrifice all for a future that'll never come. A strategy based on loving death and hating life reaps the commensurate result.
Jews know well from history that it is wrong to say "sticks and stones" are physically damaging while "words will never hurt me." Experience has shown that one day, blood libel; next day, pogrom. Yet Golda Meir was in fact right: progress trumps propaganda; quality triumphs over quantity; building beats destroying; and pragmatism is superior to ideologically-based wishful thinking.
Having a nice scrapbook of press clippings doesn't equal victory. Indeed, it can spell defeat.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). Prof. Rubin's columns can be read online.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It's a Wonderful life...

Isn't it though?
Summertime is beautiful in Albuquerque.
If you don't weaken.
I'm spending most of my blogging time on IsraelAmerica.
It has occurred to me that my time is rather limited and I can only really do justice to one site at a time.
I will pop back here from time to time, however.
So... a shout out to Mary Anne, Michele, Toby, Mary Kate, Ashley, Logan,Mikey, Ricky, Dylan, Evelyn, and Patrick.

I work hard these days, perhaps a kharmic payback for something I did at some other time in my life, who knows?
But, thank the gods, I seem to be incredibly healthy.

I don't have a hell of a lot of social life these days, which is ok, I mean, I don't really want to hang out a lot with the people I know.

I guess I need a female companion, maybe have a couple more kids.
Only after getting my finances and other issues resolved, of course.

I will be back at some point.

Check out IsraelAmerica.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


By Barry Rubin
Ramat Gan, Israel
Forget all the wimpy claptrap about Israel disappearing. Anyone who believes such nonsense has obviously never been to an Israeli soccer game.
One thing for sure: if Israelis are so tough and determined over team loyalties in football, anyone who actually threatens our freedom and existence has pretty dim prospects.
I’m at the national championship match between Betar Jerusalem and Tel Aviv Hapoel along with 50,000 other Israelis. The crowd is mostly male and young but quite a mixture. Many might pass muster at a Puerto Rican day parade; a lot could raise a, “Funny you don’t look Jewish,” remark elsewhere in the world.
It’s a laboratory of essential Israeliness, not as an exact cross-section of the country but as a reminder of just how three-dimensionally real Israel actually is. It shows how Israel has evolved from historical Jewish experiences through distinctive Zionist and Israel society ones.
This event has nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel’s image in the Western media, or Middle East politics. And that’s precisely the point.
What a cultural clash this match seems. In one corner, the Tel Aviv Worker team. Can you imagine another sports team—outside of the old Soviet bloc—with such a name? Colors are red and white. It comes out of the labor movement (and Labor party) pre-state movements.
This is one aspect of basic Israeliness. The glorification of labor is a big part of the Zionist movement’s history, a large part of how the state and society was built. We have no capitalists and little capital so the people who do the work have to create the companies and thus the jobs. After centuries of being forced into mercantile pursuits, Jews must return to the land and the factory, basic production, and depend on themselves.
Now, it is something like a joke, though also integrated into the mentality and society. While Israel may have become less egalitarian in many ways, the psychology is still there. When workers come into my house, we sit around, drink coffee, and are on a first-name basis. A strong sense of community persists. In school, kids in a class stay together several years. More effort—sometimes relatively too much—is built on teaching social skills and personal interaction than on academics.
A big banner at the last game over the fanatic fan section read, “Long Live Hapoel!” which could be more literally translated as, “Long Live the Working People,” adorned with a hammer and sickle. That’s not literal politics though it does reflect something. One of my colleagues, who came to Israel at age 15, said the first question she was asked by another girl at school was, “Are you left or right?” a question that life in Ohio had not prepared her for.
Today, Hapoel is a Tel Aviv local team. Yet Tel Aviv is also something of a state of mind: Mediterranean, secular, somewhat bohemian, Israel’s intellectual and cultural capital. It is not so much to the left politically—elections are close and there is often a small majority for the political right—but Tel Aviv is a deeply rooted, multi-level phenomenon.
Then there’s the other side. Jerusalem Betar, colors black and yellow, equally legitimate as basic Israel. Betar was the last place to fall in the revolt against the Romans. It’s the name of the youth movement of Herut, now Likud, Israel’s conservative party. Its self-image is nationalistic, poorer, Sephardic, Middle Eastern, and religious, reflecting Jerusalem’s ethos as much as any political stance.
Betar fans are intense. If there’s any football hooliganism in Israel it’s from them, though tame stuff compared to Europe. In the last minute after Betar won a critical game recently, fans flooded the field in celebration. As a result, the game was cancelled, a disaster for their team.
Security is tight; the police out in force. All plastic water bottles are confiscated at the gates. “But it’s plastic!” one fan protests while handing it over. “You can still throw it on the field,” says the policeman.
The stadium is packed, half yellow; half red. Yet while there’s a sense of war in it, civility is good, by Israeli standards fantastic. When players fall, the guy on the other team who knocked them down often helps them up. About one-quarter of the players is foreign, non-Jewish and often black African, though Hapoel has one Ethiopian-origin Jewish Israeli player. Hapoel’s big fan favorite is Fabio Junior, from Bulgaria.
Despite the overtones, the rivalry is good-natured. Israelis scream at each other but confrontations that in the United States would end in violence stay verbal.
This game is a good metaphor for Israeli politics. There is passion and even hatred but people know where to stop. And tragic events to the contrary—the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin being the most obvious—actual clashes only reinforce those limits. There is an underlying sense of something so much in common that it cushions these conflicts. Few remember that a couple of decades ago the Ashkenazic-Sephardic and religious-secular rifts were thought likely to bring down the state. Now they are at most minor nuisances.
Nevertheless, while deep down everyone may know that we are all one family, the emotional experience is so intense that when I think a huge amount of time has gone bye and think I am completely exhausted, I look at the game clock to find that only 18 minutes has actually elapsed. The seats are for decorative purposes only. No one sits down during the almost four hours.
Another element is the subtext of Jewish/Israeli history embedded in the society. Those noxious noisemakers going off full-blast in my ears are modeled on the shofar and sound just like one. When another team’s fans wanted to convey their certain victory over Betar they proclaimed, “The walls of Jerusalem will crumble!” Israel has a foundation as solid—more so in many cases—than that of any other country in the world.
And there’s something else, very important, that I want to convey to you. It’s hard to do so but I will do my best. The basic view of Israel in the world, whether pro or con, is pretty flat. It comes from media reports and focuses on the Arab-Israeli conflict. As a result, the actually existing country gets short shrift. Yet Israel is a fully realized state with a mass of subcultures, an overarching national ethos and sense of unity, a distinctive language, and a powerful set of cultural-psychological norms built on history, both 3,000- year history and 60-year history.
Those who support Israel, including the great majority of Jews elsewhere, are largely reacting to two concepts. First, Israel is imperiled, a very familiar theme in Jewish history. Second, Israel is religious, relating to their own basic definition of Jewishness. For some, though this is fading, there is a nostalgic, ethnic shtetl-oriented perspective, and also the charitable impulse toward poorer Jews.
Yet Israel is a fully realized vision of what Jews as a people should be and be doing. It could certainly stand to learn some very good ideas and examples from Jews elsewhere, but the opposite is also true. The world view is different here, based on relying on ourselves, not dealing with assimilation, existing in a Jewish environment in which religion as a direct factor is greatly diminished yet, indirectly as a diluted cultural influence, very powerful. Friday evening to Saturday evening is the weekend; Jewish holidays are the public cycle of the year; and so on.
From far away, Israel is small and its future may appear dim. From close up, apart from a small set of café intellectuals often the main source for foreign journalists, Israel looks very strong.
Oh, and what happened in the game, you ask? Double overtime, 0-0; settled by a sudden-death, alternating one-on-one, face off between players and goalkeepers. Betar won. Left meets right. End of the game: fireworks and unity. Colors: blue and white.
Well, look at it this way. Two thousand years ago we lost a critical game to the Romans. It was very bad. Israel sunk to last place for a long time, but also stayed in the league when many apparently stronger teams went kaput.
Now, Hapoel, after winning two consecutive championships, lost a game. If Israel has lost a few lately, it’s still high in the standings. And if it didn’t collapse that evening, Israel is going to go on for a very long time.

A version of this article was published in the Jerusalem Post Magazine, March 23, 2008.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit

Professor Barry Rubin,
Director, (GLORIA) Center Global Research in International Affairs

Editor, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal
Editor, Turkish Studies

Monday, June 2, 2008


By Barry Rubin

Engagement doesn’t always produce marriage. In the U.S.-Iran case, diplomatic engagements have been repeatedly disastrous. Yet many think the idea of engagement was just invented and never tried.
1. President John Kennedy pressed Iran for democratic reforms in the early 1960s.. The Shah responded with his White Revolution which horrified traditionalists and moved them to active opposition. One of them was named Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
2. President Richard Nixon urged Iran in the early 1970s, under the Nixon Doctrine, to become a regional power since America was overextended in Vietnam. The Shah embarked on a huge arms-buying campaign and close alliance stirring more opposition and fiscal strain, contributing to unrest.
3. In the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter pushed Iran to ease restrictions. The result was Islamist revolution. Next, Carter urged the Shah not to repress the uprising, helping bring his downfall.
4. After the 1979 revolution, Carter engaged the new regime to show Khomeini that America was his friend. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, today advising Barack Obama, met Iranian leaders. Tehran interpreted this engagement as an effort to subvert or co-opt the revolution, so Iranians seized the U.S. embassy and took everyone there hostage.[1]
5. The Reagan administration secretly engaged Iran in the mid-1980s to help free U.S. hostages of its terrorism. Result: a policy debacle and free military equipment for Iran.
6. In recent years there was a long engagement in which European states negotiated for themselves and America to get Tehran to stop its nuclear weapons’ drive. Iran gained four years to develop nukes; the West got nothing.

The history of U.S. engagement with the PLO and Syria is similar. The Oslo era (1992-2000) was engagement as disaster, establishing a PLO regime indifferent to its people’s welfare, increasing radicalism and violence, with no gain for peace. Aside from the worsened security problem, Israel’s international image was badly damaged by concessions made and risks taken. America’s making the PLO a client brought it no gratitude or strategic gain.[3]
Similarly, Syria used the 1991-2000 engagement era to survive its USSR superpower sponsor’s collapse while doing everything it wanted: dominating Lebanon, sponsoring terrorism, and sabotaging peace. U.S. secretaries of state visited Damascus numerous times and achieved nothing, a process that continued up to 2004. Syria first helped Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, then sponsored terrorists who disrupted Iraq and killed Americans.[4]
There have, of course, been successful engagements—but not with Iran, Syria, or the PLO. The most successful was Egypt’s turnaround by Nixon and Kissinger. A partial success was changing Libya’s behavior. In those two cases, American power, not compassion, achieved success. Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi and Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat (“America holds 99 percent of the cards”) knew they were weak and needed to stop America from hitting them hard.

Engagements, of course, have effects other than direct success. One is to buy time for someone. But who? If one party subverts other states, builds nuclear weapons, demoralizes the other’s allies, and sponsors terrorism during talks while the other side…just talks, the first side benefits far more.
Second, if one side gets the other to make concessions to prove good faith and keep talks going, that side benefits. Keeping engagement going becomes an end in itself as the weaker side uses a diplomatic version of asymmetric warfare to make gains.
Finally, while using talks to deescalate tensions apparently benefits everyone, matters are not so simple. By talking, a stronger side can throw away its leverage. The weaker side does not have to back down to avoid confrontation.
So engagement, without pressure or threat, benefits the weaker side. If the stronger side is eager to reach agreement, the weaker side has more leverage. The advantage is transferred from the strongest side to the most intransigent one. Here, Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah have the upper hand.
Senator Obama doesn’t understand these points. To see how alien a normal liberal concept of foreign policy is for him, note what he could have said:
“America must be strong to protect its interests, values, and friends against ruthless adversaries. But if America is strong, it can also be flexible. Let us engage countries and leaders by telling them clearly our demands and goals. Once Iran understands the United States will counter its threats of genocide against Israel, involvement in terrorism against Americans, and threats to our interests it may back down. If Iran gives up its extremism, we are ready to offer friendship. But if Iran remains extremist we will quickly abandon engagement and never hesitate to respond appropriately.”

This way, a leader shows he knows how to use both carrots and sticks. But Obama has never said anything like this. He has no concept of toughness as a necessary element in flexibility, or of deterrence as a precondition to conciliation. Nor does he indicate that he would be steadfast if engagement failed. He defines no U.S. preconditions for meeting or conditions for agreement. He offers to hear Iran’s grievances but says nothing about American grievances.
Radical Islamists interpret this strategy as weakness of which they will take full advantage. That’s why Iran, Syria, and Hamas favor Obama. Thus spoke Lebanese cleric Muhammad Abu al-Qat on Hizballah’s al-Manar television on May 10: “The American empire will very soon collapse….This won't happen as a result of war….An American Gorbachev will surface in America, and he will destroy this empire.[5]
Islamists and radicals want Obama because they understandably expect him to play into their hands. By the same token, more moderate Arab regimes and observers are horrified.
Obama is so scary and is accused of appeasement not because he wants to meet enemies in person but because he doesn’t want to meet them in struggle. He doesn’t know how international politics work through power, threats, deterrence, self-interest, and credibility. He doesn’t comprehend that totalitarian ideologies cannot be moderated by apology or weakness.

Whatever you think of Senator John McCain, he understands these basic concepts. That’s why he’s a centrist who can be trusted to protect American national interests. Whatever you think of Senator Hillary Clinton, she understands these basic concepts. That’s why she’s a liberal who can be trusted to protect American national interests. And that’s why Obama is both a dangerously naïve amateur and a leftist posing as a liberal.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and
The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit
[1] On Points 1-4, see Barry Rubin, Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran, (Oxford, 1980; Viking-Penguin, 1981)
[2] On Point 5, see Barry Rubin, Cauldron of Turmoil: America in the Middle East, (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1992.) available for free at
]. See also Barry Rubin, "Lessons from Iran," in Alexander T. J. Lennon and Camille Eiss, Reshaping Rogue States: Preemption, Regime Change, and U.S. Policy toward Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, (Boston: MIT Press, 2004), pp. 141-156, and “Regime Change and Iran: A Case Study,” Washington Quarterly, 2003.
[3] On U.S. policy and the PLO, see Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin, Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography Oxford University Press 2003; paperback, 2005.
British/Commonwealth edition: Continuum 2003. Australian edition: Allan & Unwin. Italian edition: Mondadori, 2004; Hebrew edition, Yediot Aharnot, 2005; Turkish edition, Aykiri Yayincilik, 2005.
[4] On U.S. policy and Syria, see Barry Rubin, The Truth About Syria, Palgrave-MacMillan (2007); paperback, 2008.
[5] Barry Rubin,Director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center <>Editor, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal <> Editor, Turkish Studies