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The Key to Understanding the Middle East

Feb. 27 2017

Reviewing Ephraim Karsh’s The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, Elan Juorno writes:

Karsh’s central insight is contrarian: the region’s people and leaders are agents shaping their own history. To formulate sensible foreign policy, we must take seriously their prevailing moral-political ideas—above all, the embrace of Islam. . . .

Was the Ottoman empire, which ruled much of the area, the “hapless victim of secret diplomacy bent on carving up its territory”? No, Karsh says. It was instead the “casualty of its own catastrophic decisions to join the war on the losing side.” Did Britain impose London’s interests during its Palestine Mandate (1922–1948), regardless of local needs? Quite the contrary, Karsh argues: British policy was in fact “largely dictated by Arab violence prior to World War II and by Jewish political and military pressure in its wake.”

During the cold war the United States and the USSR—the world’s leading powers—affected the Middle East profoundly, interceding frequently to stop regional conflicts. But neither had a “decisive say in their smaller [regional] allies’ grand strategies,” Karsh shows, nor were they able to “contain undesirable regional developments,” such as Egypt’s defection to the Soviets in the 1950s or its later swing back to America’s side, or the 1979 Islamist revolution in Iran. And despite emerging as the lone superpower after the cold war, the United States could not “deter Saddam Hussein from invading Kuwait, or . . . induce him to leave peacefully.” . . .

Karsh argues that we must pay much closer attention to the Middle East’s distinctive ideas—particularly its tribal culture and Islam’s dominance. One implication is that the region’s people and intellectual leaders bear the primary responsibility for their problems—and for solving them.

Read more at Claremont Review

More about: History & Ideas, Imperialism, Islam, Middle East, Ottoman Empire, U.S. Foreign policy

Mahmoud Abbas Comes to the UN to Walk away from the Negotiating Table

Feb. 22 2018

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the United Nations Security Council during one of its regular discussions of the “Palestine question.” He used the opportunity to elaborate on the Palestinians’ “5,000-year history” in the land of Israel, after which he moved on to demand—among other things—that the U.S. reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The editors of the Weekly Standard comment:

It’s convenient for Abbas to suggest a condition to which he knows the United States won’t accede. It allows him to do what he does best—walk away from the table. Which is what he did on Tuesday, literally. After his speech, Abbas and his coterie of bureaucrats walked out of the council chamber, snubbing the next two speakers, the Israeli ambassador Danny Danon and the U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, . . . [in order to have his] photograph taken with the Belgian foreign minister.

Abbas has neither the power nor the will to make peace. It’s the perennial problem afflicting Palestinian leadership. If he compromises on the alleged “right of return”—the chimerical idea that Palestinians can re-occupy the lands from which they [or their ancestors] fled, in effect obliterating the Israeli state—he will be deposed by political adversaries. Thus his contradictory strategy: to prolong his pageantry in international forums such as the UN, and to fashion himself a “moderate” even as he finances and incites terror. He seems to believe time is on his side. But it’s not. He’s eighty-two. While he continues his performative intransigence, he further immiserates the people he claims to represent.

In a sense, it was entirely appropriate that Abbas walked out. In that sullen act, he [exemplified] his own approach to peacemaking: when difficulties arise, vacate the premises and seek out photographers.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Mahmoud Abbas, Nikki Haley, Politics & Current Affairs, United Nations