Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Boil, bubble, Brooks makes trouble

"I'd like to help you, son, but Res. 242."

Hey la, hey la, my Brooksie's back; he took two weeks and he had a fine vacation, but he didn't see what the United Nations had to do with it:
It’s amazing how much of the discussion of the Gaza war is based on the supposition that it is still 1979.
Whoa, what have you been reading? I want to be amazed too.
It’s based on the supposition that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is a self-contained struggle being run by the two parties most directly involved.
Let's see, that would be when all the Palestinian fighters and politicians were in Lebanon and Syria, and after 1976, when an Air France Flight from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by German and Palestinian terrorists from Athens to Uganda; 1977, when a PLO representative was murdered by Israeli agents in Paris; 1978, when PLO representatives were murdered by Abu Nidal agents in London, Kuwait, and Paris, and a framework for negotiating a two-state solution was signed by the prime minister of Israel, the president of Egypt, and the president of the United States, and no Palestinians were invited. But in 1979 itself, to be fair, it was a little more self-contained, with just the one Fatah guy blown up by Israelis in Beirut and the Egypt-Israel agreement going into effect.
It’s based on the supposition that the horror could be ended if only deft negotiators could achieve a “breakthrough” and a path toward a two-state agreement.
I think in 1979 most people thought they could achieve a breakthrough; "if only they could", meaning they can't, is now.
But it is not 1979. People’s mental categories may be stuck in the past, but reality has moved on. 
You're really not going to tell me where all this 1979 talk is taking place, are you?
What’s happened, of course, is that the Middle East has begun what Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations has called its 30 Years’ War — an overlapping series of clashes and proxy wars that could go on for decades and transform identities, maps and the political contours of the region.
As I feared. There probably isn't anybody who thinks it's 1979, outside of the Brooksian brain which somehow came up with that opening sentence in the belief that it sounded like Friedman, which it does, but also that if it sounds like Friedman it must have some kind of meaning, which is not necessarily the case.
Georges Méliès, Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902).
It isn't really about 1979 at all, anyhow, it's mainly about how nothing whatever happened in 2003, just in case you happened to believe there was something that year in Iraq that destabilized the entire region for the next decade and more that Brooks is for some reason sworn not to disclose. No, of course it wouldn't be that, it's that poor guy who burned himself to death in Tunisia in 2011 who suddenly changed everything just like the defenestration of Prague, and now we suddenly have Hamas and chaos.

Actually, Haass acknowledges that something happened in 2003:
Outside actors, by what they did and failed to do, added fuel to the fire. The 2003 Iraq war was highly consequential, for it exacerbated Sunni-Shia tensions in one of the region’s most important countries and, as a result, in many of the region’s other divided societies.
Brooks doesn't, though; he just keeps boiling away:
The Sunni-Shiite rivalry is at full boil. Torn by sectarian violence, the nation of Iraq no longer exists in its old form....
The rivalry between Arab authoritarians and Islamists is at full boil. More than 170,000 Syrians have been killed....
The Sunni vs. Sunni rivalry is boiling, too. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other nations are in the midst of an intra-Sunni cold war....
The Saudi-Iranian rivalry is going strong, too...
So it's just endless toil and trouble for those poor Israelis, waking to find themselves suddenly embroiled, or should I say emboiled, in Bohemian rebels, Habsburg troops from Spain and Flanders, Hungarian Protestants and their Ottoman allies, and who knows who else!

And Egypt. See,
Authoritarians and Islamists have been waging a fight for control of Egypt. After the Arab Spring, the Islamists briefly gained the upper hand. But when the Muslim Brotherhood government fell, the military leaders cracked down. They sentenced hundreds of the Brotherhood’s leadership class to death. They also closed roughly 95 percent of the tunnels that connected Egypt to Gaza, where the Brotherhood’s offshoot, Hamas, had gained power.
Which is actually pretty much true.

But the Brooksian hypothesis is that this is what drove the Hamas organization to attack Israel out of the blue:
Hamas needed to end that blockade, but it couldn’t strike Egypt, so it struck Israel. If Hamas could emerge as the heroic fighter in a death match against the Jewish state, if Arab TV screens were filled with dead Palestinian civilians, then public outrage would force Egypt to lift the blockade.
I think if it emerged as the heroic fighter in a death match it would almost certainly be dead. But seriously, this is right up there with the Russian theory of the dead Chinese aboard Malaysia flight 370 being piloted over Ukraine four months after they disappeared in order somehow to make the Donbass rebels look bad. The Hamas organization hurled its rockets, totally unexpectedly, at Israel, because it wanted to get Egypt's attention, because Egypt was keeping them under siege?
Civilian casualties were part of the point. When Mousa Abu Marzook, the deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau, dismissed a plea for a cease-fire, he asked a rhetorical question, “What are 200 martyrs compared with lifting the siege?”
He literally has no idea, along with being totally unaware of anything that happened between June 12 and July 8, that that six miles of Gazan border controlled by Egypt is controlled under Egypt's treaty obligations to the state of Israel from that blessed year 1979, or that, while pretty bad, especially after the brief relaxation under the Morsi government gave way to a renewed and redoubled stringency under Sisi, it is nothing compared to the hardships of Israel's control of the other 50-odd miles of border, which keeps people from jobs, medical care, education, family and friends, and even fishing. On both counts, the siege Marzook was talking about lifting, that has been strangling the territory over its nine years as a prison camp of 150 square miles and getting on for two million inmates, is an Israeli siege!

So that sending the rockets to Israel is really not such a perverse response, though no doubt not the right thing to do.

I don't have the heart to take this any further, since as far as I can tell Brooks can't even get the Israeli propaganda straight to provide something to argue with, but there are some points to stress while we're in this high diplomatic-history mode:
  • It was always going to be a regional problem, the question of the Zionist colonists and the displaced Palestinians, at least from the dissolution of the Ottoman empire and the cynical and greedy maneuvers of the British and French diplomats dividing it up; it wasn't the only regional problem by any means, but it was one of the worst, and they were all bound to complicate each other, many decades before 1979.
  • And particularly from 1948, for Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon in the first place (the beloved King Hussein dealing with it in an especially repulsive manner, as the Israelis like to remind us), and then for Egypt, and finally for the timorous Sons of Saud, it remains a problem before you even start considering what's happened since 1967.
  • The Arab Spring, which Brooks would bizarrely like to see as the original source of the Gaza crisis, may have been an overall less positive development than I imagined a couple of years ago, but it is the big Neoconservative projects that have made the situation in the Middle East so much worse than it was already—the creation (by Saudi Arabia, the US, and Israel looking to divide the Palestinians) of an international Salafist Sunni army* in the 1980s, and the Iraq invasion of 2003; it's not the Arab Spring that blew Syria up into civil war but the well-armed force of Sunni Iraq veterans inadvertently installed in Syria by George W. Bush. This is just true.
  • The idea of Israel as a kind of island in a sea of Arabs and Kurds and Druze and Persians, with no connection to the political ecology of the region, because they don't socialize much, is fiction: Israel has always been intensely involved with politics in Lebanon and Jordan, Egypt and Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and even Syria—sometimes even in positive ways! And the idea Brooks has, apparently from Avi Issacharoff, that Israel this summer is just an innocent casualty caught in the crossfire of conflict between Palestinians and Egyptians, is just an Onion parody.

*Hamas itself, of course, is far from Salafist, and is regarded by the Islamic State organization in Iraq and Syria as a useless moderate organization, overly attached to democracy.

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