March 21, 2006

"Charles Manson praises WSJ's defense of Iraq War"

That hasn't happened (so far as I know), but it would be no more lame-brained a headline than this headline on James Taranto's "Best of the Web" blog at the WSJ OpinionJournal website:

"David Duke praises a Harvard scholar's views on Israel."

The New York Sun reports on the latest trouble in Cambridge:

A paper recently co-authored by the academic dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government about the allegedly far-reaching influence of an "Israel lobby" is winning praise from white supremacist David Duke.

The Palestine Liberation Organization mission to Washington is distributing the paper, which also is being hailed by a senior member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization.

But the paper, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," by the Kennedy School's Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, is meeting with a more critical reception from many of those it names as part of the lobby. The 83-page "working paper" claims a network of journalists, think tanks, lobbyists, and largely Jewish officials have seized the foreign policy debate and manipulated America to invade Iraq. Included in this network, the authors say, are the editors of the New York Times, the scholars at the Brookings Institution, students at Columbia, "pro-Israel" senior officials in the executive branch, and "neoconservative gentiles" including columnist George Will.

Duke, a former Louisiana state legislator and one-time Ku Klux Klan leader, called the paper "a great step forward," but he said he was "surprised" that the Kennedy School would publish the report.

Is that pathetic, or what? Two scholars put together a lengthy analysis and the best the NY Sun can come up with is to email David Duke and get his endorsement of it. And then Taranto repeats it! It's just embarrassing...

(Here's an evenhanded summary of the report from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. As I've often pointed out, some Israeli newspapers and American newspapers aimed purely at a Jewish audience, such as The Forward, do a much better job of covering potentially embarrassing issues like this than either the American mainstream media or neocon agitprop mouthpieces like the NY Sun and the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page.)

The ultimate responsibility for the Iraq Attaq lies within the opaque psyches of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Clearly, however, the Israel Lobby was the main cheerleader. The funny thing is that while the Israel Lobby in America was crazy for the war, the Israeli government itself was more ambivalent. As well they should be. As I wrote a few days after Paul Wolfowitz called for invading Iraq four days after 9/11:

The neo-conservatives need to wake up to realize that if America really takes up the Imperial Burden in the Middle East like the Wolfowitz Wing is demanding, then America's special relationship with Israel is history. Support for Israel is purely a matter of domestic idealism. The American institution that thinks in the broad picture - the State Department - has always found Israel to be a nuisance.

The more the U.S. becomes responsible for running the whole Mid East, the more of an inconvenience Israel becomes. Republics can indulge warm and idealistic commitments precisely because their foreign entanglements are limited in number; empires must be cold and calculating because their burdens are so manifold.

As George Orwell pointed out in "Shooting the Elephant," imperialism winds up being much less fun than you thought it would be -- you wind up being, in some ways, the servant of the masses you nominally rule. And if the masses you rule want you to shoot the elephant, or to prove you don't like Israel either, well, in the long run it's hard to keep saying no.

The neocons are trying desperately to have their cake and eat it too -- to make America an imperial presence in the Muslim world at the service of Israel. And if they have to compare anyone who questions them to David Duke to get away with it, well, intellectually humiliating themselves in the service of demonizing dissenters is a price they are more than willing to pay.

This little brouhaha raises a more general issue.

I'm one of the very few conservatives who takes identity politics seriously. Most identity politics warriors are liars and/or fools, but the emotions they feel are very real, and are a very normal part of human nature. When typical conservatives like Jonah Goldberg denounce anyone for even thinking about identity politics, well, in response to this kind of unilateral intellectual disarmament, I can only echo Trotsky's great statement about war: You may not be interested in identity politics, but identity politics is interested in you.

I'm not a terribly emotionally intuitive person, so to understand other people well enough to get along in life, I have to go through a conscious, rational process of putting myself in somebody else's shoes. I try to think about what incentives they face, what emotions they feel, what skills and weaknesses they have, and so forth.

Over the years, I've taught myself to be fairly insightful at thinking like gays, lesbians, women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and the other usual identity politics categories. But the most important category for thinking about intellectual life and ideology, and one of the most important for thinking about politics, culture, and foreign policy, is by far the most complicated identity category to comprehend well: Jews.

One reason is because in 21st Century America, you aren't supposed to think about Jews as an identity politics category. You really aren't supposed to think about them at all. So, you don't get much help from the media in understanding this hugely influential group.

Moreover, the complexity of Jewish identity politics is quite boggling. Where does this contradictoriness stem from? The difficulty and relative uniqueness of the Jewish historical predicament combine explosively with the Jewish cultural emphases on intellectual creativity, argumentation as test of manhood, and the supremacy of ideas over practicality to create a vast outpouring of ideologies, all of them fundamentally tied to profound Jewish concerns, but many of them at odds with each other. There are no pan-Jewish conspiracies as paranoid anti-Semites assume because Jews are the least likely to agree with each other. But, Jewish identity politics still has a sizable impact that needs to be understood.

The complexity of Jewish identity politics helps create easy rhetorical trump cards for persuading people that there is nothing to think about. Just move along, folks, nothing here to think about. A classic is: "How can Jews be disproportionately both capitalists and Communists? Huh? Huh?" But, of course, historically they have been both, and the interaction between the two has been of world historical importance.

Going back to the 1840s, many of the world's intellectual concerns, and going back to 1917 many of the world's political conflagrations, have been driven by the often contradictory needs and obsessions of Jews.

As Berkeley historian Yuri Slezkine pointed out in The Jewish Century, Marxism appealed to educated secular Jews because it promised to dissolve the Jewish problem. Jews were resented for being so good at capitalism, so intellectuals Jews were excited that Communism would destroy capitalism. They were discriminated against because of religion, so Communism would abolish religion. They were discriminated against because they had no national homeland, so Communism would eliminate nationalism. What's not to like? And, indeed, as promised, secular educated Jews flourished under Soviet Communism for the first two or three decades.

Freudianism made little sense outside of the framework of bourgeois Jewish Mitteleuropean family structures (and not much there either), but Jewish intellectuals needed Jewish intellectual heroes, so Freud's silly waste of time was inflicted on the world for a half century.

Boasian cultural anthropology, the Frankfurt School, and numerous other intellectual cults are most profitably analyzed in Jewish terms.

Even a largely beneficial ideological phenomenon like Milton Friedman's Chicago School of free market economics is heavily based on the sensible post-Marxian realization that if Jews are good at capitalism, well, then capitalism is good for the Jews.

Neoconservatism began in the 1960s as a rebellion by Catholic and Jewish social scientists who saw that liberalism was unleashing black crime and rioting on white urban ethnics like themselves and their relatives. Over time, though, Catholic concerns got marginalized, and the hard work of crunching data got dropped. Neoconservatism turned into a front for pushing conservative Jewish foreign policy concerns. Francis Fukuyama finally figured out that he was being used to promote somebody else's agenda, but poor Victor Davis Hanson will likely never quite get it.

The problem is that Jewish intellectuals, for all their energy and ideological creativity, tend to be poor pragmatic decisionmakers about what actually is good for the Jews. They tend to get emotionally attached to the new ideas they've made up, push them too far, and don't understand how their ideas sound to others outside their hothouse.

For example, many neocons were enthusiastic for the Kosovo War of 1999 without ever realizing how it would backfire on Israel. I wrote in 2002:

Why has Europe turned so sharply against Israel in the last couple of years [since the beginning of the Second Intifada]? One overlooked factor is that Europeans see a distinct analogy between the West Bank and Kosovo. Consider: in 1997 a Muslim intifada began in Serbian (technically, Yugoslavian) owned Kosovo. In Kosovo, Muslims outnumbered Serbs about 2 million to 200,000, which is quite similar to the ratio in the West Bank. Legalistically, the Serbs had a better claim to Kosovo than the Israelis do to the West Bank, since "Yugoslavia's" sovereignty over Kosovo was universally recognized around the world. Further, the Serb population in Kosovo were not new settlers, but the rump of what had once been a larger Serbian population, which had been leaving as illegal Muslim immigrants poured in from Albania in recent decades.

The Muslim intifada in Kosovo was battled by Serbian troops, with about 2000 deaths total on both sides over the next two years. In 1999, NATO, led by the U.S., demanded an end to Serbian attempts to put down the rebellion in their sovereign territory of Kosovo. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright even demanded the Serbs agree to allow NATO to invade non-Kosovo Serbia. When the Serbs refused, NATO bombed Belgrade. Subsequently, the Serbs began throwing vast numbers of Muslims out of Kosovo. (There has been an enormous amount of lying about the order in which these events occurred over the last three years, as the aggressors try to rewrite history to make it seem as if the bombing was a response to Serbian ethnic cleansing, not the trigger. At the time, however, no one disputed that NATO struck first.) NATO proceeded to bomb Serbia's cities back into the industrial stone age. The Serbs eventually surrendered and NATO occupied Kosovo. Most of the Serbs and Gypsies were then ethnically cleansed from Kosovo by the triumphant Muslims.

All of this was accompanied by a vast campaign of ethnic hatred in Western Europe and America aimed at the Serbs and their elected leader Milosevic. You may recall the Newsweek cover photo of Miloscevic and the headline "The Face of Evil." Serbs have become Hollywood's all-purpose bad guys, as seen in "Bad Company" and "Behind Enemy Lines."

Now, is it all that surprising considering this recent history that so many Europeans see the Israelis as the Serbs and the Palestinians as the Kosovo Albanians? You say that the Israelis were slaughtered by the Nazis in WWII, so that makes things different? Well, try asking a Serb about what the Nazis and their Croatian allies did to the Serbs in WWII. Better hit the bathroom first, though, because you'll be there a long time. In reality, the Jewish losses were at least an order of magnitude larger. Still, Israelis and Serbs have long been sympathetic to each other because of their common victimization during WWII. Tel Aviv was quite sympathetic to Belgrade during the 1999 war.

Granted, there are major differences between Milosevic and Sharon. For example, Milosevic was indirectly responsible for a massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs that killed 7,000. The massacres that Sharon was indirectly or directly responsible for were one or two orders of magnitude smaller - the massacres of 800 or so Palestinians by Sharon's Christian Lebanese allies in 1982, and the massacre of 69 people in a Palestinian village by Sharon's Israeli army unit in 1953.

Personally, I argued strenuously at the time that the demonization of the Serbs was disastrous for the understanding how to prevent future conflagrations like the one that has engulfed the Balkans for the last eleven years. The Balkan wars were not caused by any race or person being exceptionally "evil." No, the violence was caused by a fundamental human problem that can happen anywhere. (See my National Post essay on the subject.) Fortunately, it can be managed, but only if we drop the intellectually lazy assumption that one side or the other is inherently evil.

The Balkan wars were caused by the collapse in 1991 of the "settled distribution of property." With the central Communist government of Yugoslavia gone, property rights because highly unsettled. People feared losing their property if they ended up on the wrong side of the new borders. So, they teamed up with their kin to try to preserve their property, and to prevent future threats to their property by driving their non-kin away.

Likewise, the distribution of property west of the Jordan River has been unsettled ever since WWI, when the Ottoman Empire was defeated, but the victorious British had made contradictory promises to both the Arabs and the Jews.

But this kind of dispassionate analysis seems to be something American neo-conservatives are largely incapable of. The same crew - Kristol, Kagan, etc. - who were beating the war drums for crushing Serbia's attempt to put down the intifada in Kosovo are baffled that Europeans might apply the same analysis to Israel's attempt to put down the intifada in the West Bank. Don't the Europeans realize, Kristol and Co. ask, that the Palestinians are evil? Don't they understand Moral Clarity? How could they not grasp this simple truth: Israelis Good - Palestinians Bad. Maybe the Europeans are evil, too! Yeah, that's the ticket. Everybody is Evil except for whomever is on my side!

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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