Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Neocons smoking intellectual crack, oh btw Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays to everyone. I was very exhausted this past month and a half, both psychologically and physically. My ulcer even started acting up again. So I had to cut back on all my commitments. However I'm starting to feel better and will start writing again.

However first I'm traveling for the holidays and will be blogging only if I have access. The holiday food is sure to be good, nothing like good old fashioned home cooking. This year we're convening in Seattle. My family changed holiday plans on me three times! As in I had to change my plane ticket details three times! And in the last few weeks! No wonder I've been having a lot of personal stress, eh?

I want to be very thankful this holiday season, but not too thankful. What do I mean by too thankful?

Here is Brooks writing in the NYT.

How did we get to this sudden moment of cautious optimism in the Middle East? How did we get to this moment when Egypt is signing free trade agreements with Israel, when Hosni Mubarak is touring Arab nations and urging them to open relations with the Jewish state? How did we get to this moment of democratic opportunity in the Palestinian territories, with three major elections taking place in the next several months, and with the leading candidate in the presidential election declaring that violence is counterproductive?

How did we get to this moment of odd unity in Israel, with Labor joining Likud to push a withdrawal from Gaza and some northern territories? How did we get to this moment when Ariel Sharon has record approval ratings, when it is common to run across Israelis who once reviled Sharon as a bully but who now find themselves supporting him as an agent of peace?

It was a series of unfortunate events...

We owe this cautiously hopeful moment to a series of unfortunate events - and to a president who disregarded the received wisdom.

This is the neocons writing after having smoked intellectual crack. The middle-east has had so many false-dawns that I can't remember them all. Yet in the end, all these hopes have been shipwrecked. Even the intifadah has been an on-again, off-again affair. One good moment does not wipe out either four years of frenetic bombings on both sides and little girls shot up by both sides is a breather, it may even be a cause for temporary relief, but it is not a cause to be thankful.

We've seen this story way too many times before.

This reminds me of when the neocons got optimistic because the number of attacks on US troops went down. Until they went up again with more sophisticated bombs. Turns out the terroists had gone to insurgency summer camp and later came back to apply what they had learned. Or when the price of attacks on US soldiers in Iraq went up. That was a cause of neocon celebration too. Until of course that the the prices went down again. I don't think that the neocons ever considered that the price might be fluctuating because the economy in Iraq had improved from just after the war making competition with ordinary job incomes more expensive, or maybe that the sudden flood of reconstruction dollars into the local economy might be inflating prices in general.

Or how about when the electricity production in Iraq went up. That too was a cause of sudden celebration and back-slapping among the neocons. Until of course it went back down again, sometimes to lower than previous levels. These guys have no sense of discipline, patience, reality, or what it takes to get the job done. Any time something goes right, even if by chance, they start congratulating themselves on a 'mission accomplished'. However even a broke clock is right twice a day as the saying goes.

It would be truly remarkable if absolutely nothing ever in fact went right. What matters is the trend, that on balance and given net progress, what direction are things tending toward. That trend is simply not good. At best many numbers are unacceptably stagnant. At worst many key indicators are declining and the intangibles are truly awful in Iraq.

Back to the Israel/Palestein issue, I certainly would like to see things worked about. But Mahmoud Abbas is as PLO leader as yet untested, and while he has some political support, he has not consolidated his hold. It remains to be seen whether he can win the support of his people and sufficient concessions from the Israelis on Palestinian autonomy in order to maintain legitimacy. It is entirely possible, that we could have tried to deal with Arafat and been stonewalled by him this entire time and still be in the same spot. Mahmoud Abbas owes nothing to us and he's been on the scene for a long time. He is not exactly a surprise candidate.

Likewise the Israelis have not been listening to Washington to some time, indeed the converse is true that Washington has been placating Israel. Sharon is playing his own game, and using the US as a pawn. His internal political consolidation with Labor has more to do with Labor not being effective enough to win a majority government and Sharon outflanking the religious zealot hard right parties. That too has little to recommend US involvement either way for changing the situation.

The US has been singularly ineffective in the mid-east because it has understood the internal politics of neither the Israelis or the Palestinians very well, and so has missed what levers it could have used to create truly effective pressure and intervention. European and American dogmas on the holy land problem have been reduced to formulaic bromides about supporting Israel or negotiating with the Palestianians. The White House has no clue that the single greatest step they could do to promote peace in middle-east is to support and alliance between Abbas and the reformer Palestinian finance minister and help them provide social services and reduce corruption in local government. Once Abbas has obtain legitimacy among the populace on a non-military basis he can afford to show himself as against the extremist Hamas and Fatah derivative Brigade terroist organizations.

Before there can be peace between the two peoples, there must be a basis for legitimacy in the Palestinian leadership besides that of resistance to Israel. Sounds simple when it's put that way, but for want of such an insight and progress toward implementing it we have been languishing in the travails of the problems of the middle-east for three decades and more.

Of course for religious reasons I personally have sworn never to step foot in the holy lands so long as the temple either remains unbuilt or if built remains duly sanctified so I can not go there myself.

But still it would be nice for X-mas to have somebody in the West Wing with a clue, and it sure ain't Condi at this point. She's great at public speaking. She has no time for the small details of governance and on which all of diplomacy hangs however. Great figurehead, not so great ruling head.

That's what I would like to have for X-mas, I'd like to have one, just one, grown-up in the White House who was effective at execution and implementation. One would be all it would take if they were listened to, and a thousand would be insufficient if they were not. Just one grown-up in the West Wing quietly working away at making the world a better place. Is that too much to ask for?

Okay have a Merry X-mas and a Happy New Year. May all your Christmas wishes come true and may all your New Year resolutions be kept. My New Year's resolution is to get to the gym regularly and take off about ten pounds this next year. Fat chance that will happen but I'm gonna try.

I truly wish all of you the best,