Sunday, June 10, 2012

Soccer Dad's Mideast Media Sampler 6/10/12

Today's sampler and analysis of Mideast media content from my pal Soccer Dad:

1) Freedom optional

In a widely derided column from September 2009, "Our one party democracy," Thomas Friedman wrote:
One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.
In case one believes that this misplaced fondness for dictatorship is a mistake or one time aberration, Friedman faults the "Facebook" revolutionaries of Tahrir Square for not being enough like Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan! In Facebook meets Brick and Mortar Politics, Friedman writes:
Let’s be fair. The Tahrir youths were up against two well-entrenched patronage networks. They had little time to build grass-roots networks in a country as big as Egypt. That said, though, they could learn about leadership and the importance of getting things done by studying Turkey’s Islamist Justice and Development Party, known as A.K.P. It has been ruling here since 2002, winning three consecutive elections.
What even the A.K.P.’s biggest critics will acknowledge is that it has transformed Turkey in a decade into an economic powerhouse with a growth rate second only to China. And it did so by unlocking its people’s energy — with good economic management and reformed universal health care, by removing obstacles and creating incentives for business and foreign investment, and by building new airports, rail lines, roads, tunnels, bridges, wireless networks and sewers all across the country. A Turkish journalist who detests the A.K.P. confessed to me that she wished the party had won her municipal elections, because she knew it would have improved the neighborhood.
Ah, but even Friedman admits that there's a caveat here:
But here’s the problem: The A.K.P.’s impressively effective prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has not only been effective at building bridges but also in eliminating any independent judiciary in Turkey and in intimidating the Turkish press so that there are no more checks and balances here. With the economic decline of the European Union, the aborting of Turkey’s efforts to become an E.U. member and the need for America to have Turkey as an ally in managing Iraq, Iran and Syria, there are also no external checks on the A.K.P.’s rising authoritarianism. (Erdogan announced out of the blue last week that he intended to pass a law severely restricting abortions.)
Erdogan has done more than intimidate journalists - he's jailed them on trumped up charges.

Also note all of the liberal talking points in these paragraphs: Erdogan is good because he supports universal health care and built up infrastructures; he's bad because he just restricted abortion rights. (Why Friedman would be surprised by that last item is astonishing: Erdogan is a religious Muslim. Such a declaration is hardly "out of the blue.") Still that's a lot of investment in infrastructure. I suspect that sort of spending is not sustainable and if Turkey's economy slows, the AKP will have to resort to slowing the spending or raising taxes.

One item that Friedman leaves out is that Erdogan, last week, said that Turkey didn't need Israeli tourists. That's a very interesting view for someone who is so savvy about the economy.

Aside from Friedman's unhealthy nostalgia for authoritarian regimes, this latest column shows his limits as a prognosticator. In Out of touch; out of time from February, 2011, he wrote:
This narrative is totally out of touch with the reality of this democracy uprising in Tahrir Square, which is all about the self-empowerment of a long-repressed people no longer willing to be afraid, no longer willing to be deprived of their freedom, and no longer willing to be humiliated by their own leaders, who told them for 30 years that they were not ready for democracy. Indeed, the Egyptian democracy movement is everything that Hosni Mubarak says it is not: homegrown, indefatigable and authentically Egyptian. Future historians will write about the large historical forces that created this movement, but it is the small stories you encounter in Tahrir Square that show why it is unstoppable.
I spent part of the morning in the square watching and photographing a group of young Egyptian students wearing plastic gloves taking garbage in both hands and neatly scooping it into black plastic bags to keep the area clean. This touched me in particular because more than once in this column I have quoted the aphorism that “in the history of the world no one has ever washed a rented car.” I used it to make the point that no one has ever washed a rented country either — and for the last century Arabs have just been renting their countries from kings, dictators and colonial powers. So, they had no desire to wash them.
Well, Egyptians have stopped renting, at least in Tahrir Square, where a sign hung Thursday said: “Tahrir — the only free place in Egypt.” So I went up to one of these young kids on garbage duty — Karim Turki, 23, who worked in a skin-care shop — and asked him: “Why did you volunteer for this?” He couldn’t get the words out in broken English fast enough: “This is my earth. This is my country. This is my home. I will clean all Egypt when Mubarak will go out.” Ownership is a beautiful thing.

Even then, it wasn't clear that the revolution was "unstoppable." What Friedman saw was admirable, but it was also limited. In February of last year the Muslim Brotherhood had a vast organization, even if it was underground.

Friedman as quoted above regrets that the pro-democracy demonstrators face "two well-entrenched patronage networks." One was the military; the other would be the Muslim Brotherhood. The central point Friedman makes is that the pro-democracy forces in Egypt should follow the path of Erdogan and the AKP.
Think about that. Friedman wants Egypt's democrats to follow the path of one of the closest analogues to the Muslim Brotherhood!

Finally even as Friedman now seems to be leery of the Muslim Brotherhood, five months ago he was cheering them on.

Other than his disturbing attachment for dictators who agree with his dubious public policy prescriptions and his criticisms of Israel, there is little consistent about Thomas Friedman. He latches onto fads and employs pithy quotes, substituting them for analysis. He know that his little con game works as he has an op-ed column in the New York Times and rich folks pay to hear him at the Aspen Ideas Festivals. However it doesn't take an academic or an expert to realize that there is little substance or logic to his columns.

2) Reversing history

In commemoration of the Six Day War, Jewish Ideas Daily has presented a synopsis of each day of fighting as well as the conditions prevailing on the eve of the war. According to the introduction, this synopsis is based on Ambassador Michael Oren's, Six Days of War. The final installment, with links to the previous six, is here.
But to see victory as a worse outcome for Israel than defeat is to forget that Israel fought the war just to survive; victory was the only option.
Rick Richman neatly summarizes a number of unlearned lessons 45 years later:
In 1978, Israel traded the entire Sinai for peace; Egypt has recently demonstrated that withdrawals from land are permanent but promises of peace are not. In 2000, Israel offered the Palestinians a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza; they declined in favor of a barbaric war on Israeli civilians. In 2001, after Israel accepted the Clinton Parameters, the Palestinians rejected them. In 2005, Israel removed every settler and soldier from Gaza, and got a rocket war in return. In 2008, Israel offered a state again, and got no response at all.
The three Israeli offers of a Palestinian state were three more than Egypt or Jordan offered during their illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank from 1948 to 1967. Currently, the Palestinians refuse to negotiate a fourth offer, without pre-negotiation concessions by Israel on the issues to be negotiated. They reject “two states for two peoples,” insist they will “never” recognize a Jewish state, demand a “right of return” to reverse history, and insist on borders repositioning the parties to the same lines that led to the war 45 years ago.
Forty-five years later, they are no closer to recognizing the “fundamental truth” that Eshkol identified as the basic requirement for peace.

As Challah Hu Akbar notes, the efforts to "reverse history" continue apace.
On Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that he would seek non-member status for Palestine at the United Nations if peace talks with Israel do not resume. “If we don’t return to the (peace) negotiations, we’ll of course go to the General Assembly to obtain the status of non-member state, as is the case for the Vatican,” Abbas said. Similarly, presidential secretary Tayyeb Abdul Rahim recently said that "at the right time" the Palestinian leadership will "take our case back to the international body, which was responsible for it when it decided to partition Palestine in 1947 and ask it to shoulder its responsibility for this issue."
Abbas’ statements took place following a meeting with France’s newly elected president, Francois Hollande. Hollande himself said that “Today, we must do everything to facilitate the recognition of a Palestinian state via a negotiated process.” Since those statements, Abbas has said that he is not sure if going before or after U.S. elections is the right time.
Additionally, in a recent interview with the Saudi Okaz newspaper, Saeb Erekat said that the United States has threatened to cut off aid and close down the PLO mission in DC if the Palestinians go to the UN to upgrade their status.

This is one of those instances of language abuse. When Abbas goes to the UN it is to avoid negotiation and dictate terms to Israel; it is not a "negotiated process."

I'm skeptical that the United States made any such threat to the PA. Not that the United States would be unjustified in doing so, but why would the Obama administration make such a threat now and not last year? I'm inclined to think that his another Erekat lie.

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