Sunday, February 20, 2011

A "Woodstock" of bad foreign policy ideas?

Matthew Duss reports for The Nation about the latest annual conference on security issues sponsored by the Institute for Policy and Strategy of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), the IDC being a private university, in Letter From Herzliya, Neocon Woodstock 02/14/2011. The conference takes place in the Israeli city of Herzliya. As the title indicates, the thinking we associate with neoconservatives in the United States played a prominent role there:

"Herzliya is the place where the neocons get together to pat themselves on the back about being right about everything," says Gershon Baskin, who leads the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. "That's the mentality. They are right and everyone else just doesn't get it." It's probably not correct to say that Herzliya is where a lot of big decisions are made. But it's a place where relationships that can shape those decisions are created and renewed.
Networking for warmongers, we might say.

The focus of the conference was planned to be on Iran. But then the Egyptian democratic movement upset long-standing assumptions:

The implications for Israel of the end of Mubarak’s thirty-year rule—which include the possibility of upending the peace accord signed by Begin with Sadat and Carter at Camp David in 1978, the most important treaty in the country’s history and the cornerstone of its regional strategic concept—permeated the conference like a fog. Begin continues to be venerated by many conservative Israelis as a warrior, a "man of the gun," an unapologetic Israeli ultra-nationalist. But it was Begin's legacy as a peacemaker—and the prospect that that legacy could be overturned in favor of a new and much less manageable order—that shadowed every discussion.

To be sure, drumbeating on Iran still dominated the official conference agenda. But, as if to demonstrate that everyone has limited bandwidth for worry, almost every discussion eventually circled back to Egypt. There was growing anxiety that while Israel continued to confront the threat from the East—the growth of a "poisonous crescent" (as one member of the Israeli government put it to me) consisting of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon—the peace on its western border could no longer simply be taken for granted. Egypt was raining on everything.
This part of his report is disturbing:

As a result of the revolution in Egypt, a key theme that emerged at the conference was hostility to Arab democracy and the assumption that it would bring only chaos and danger for Israel—a mantra that also exposed a division between Israeli neoconservatives and some of their American comrades. "In the Arab world, there is no room for democracy," Israeli Major General Amos Gilead told a nodding audience. "This is the truth. We prefer stability." Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval scoffed that George W. Bush's freedom agenda's "principle accomplishment seems to be the victory of Hamas in Gaza." Boaz Ganor, the executive director of the IDC's International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, warned, "When these people [Arabs] vote, they are voting for what Coca-Cola calls the real thing and that is fundamentalism." Shmuel Bar, Director of Studies at the IDC’s Institute of Policy and Strategy, declared that the US had "become an agent of revolutionary change in the Middle East, at the expense of stability."
Disturbing, but not particularly surprising. Israel policymakers have worked themselves into an unenviable dilemma. They've effectively eliminated the option of a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem. They now are faced with the choice of being with a Jewish state that practices apartheid toward Arabs, or a democratic state that will eventually be majority Arab. Israeli hardliners find increasing reason to worry about Arabs participating in the democratic process even in Israel.

The comment by Shmuel Bar saying the United States has "become an agent of revolutionary change in the Middle East, at the expense of stability" sounds downright delusional, as Brian Katulis is quoted in the next paragraph as saying of some of the more extreme ideas being tossed around at the conference. Someone should warn him that Republican Party hysteria coming out of the US is often decoupled from reality.

Duss reports a less ideological view of the prospects of democracy in more Arab countries:

"Obama is perceived, in a moment of truth, to have abandoned an ally," said Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog, now a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute. "It's unfair, but that's the perception." Herzog also doesn’t characterize Israeli views on democracy as harshly as some others. "Many, if not most, Israelis would lean at this point towards stability" rather than democracy, Herzog said, "not because they don’t want to see democracy around them—they do—but because they are highly skeptical whether the upheaval in Egypt will lead to real democracy in the foreseeable future." And many Israelis are deeply concerned over potential negative developments in the meantime.
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