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A Word from London

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A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research and is co-author with Jed Babbin of The BDS War Against Israel.

Inflexible Progressivism: The Rise of a New Dogma

As a young man coming from a left-wing pedigree, I embraced a liberal agenda which included most notably, a belief in Israel as a bastion of socialism and democracy. In the 1950s a good progressive was a good Zionist.

Oh, how the world has changed. Now progressives have moved 180 degrees to anti-Zionist position. As one wag put it, the Left is now the congenial home of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. One of the leaders of the progressive left recently said, “Nothing is creepier than Zionism.”

Linda Sarsour, the leader of the Woman’s March in Washington and a commencement speaker at the City University of New York, clearly embodies the new spirit on the Left. She has praised Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, once anathema to liberals. She has honored Rasmea Odeh, a terrorist murderer. She has spoken in favor of Sharia finance.

What is truly remarkable, and to some degree ideologically shattering, is that the New York Times wrote a fawning profile about this woman who challenges all liberal principles. She had the audacity to say that “the vagina of Ayaan Hirsi Ali should be taken away” — the same Ayaan who has worked so hard to promote women’s rights throughout the Muslim world. Yet the Anti-Defamation League defends Sarsour.

For the Left, Zionism has promoted Islamophobia — a false critique from the standpoint of Islamists. As a consequence, anti-Semitism is rendered a virtue, as a way to discourage negative sentiment about Islam. Yet even when the evidence of anti-Semitism is incontrovertible, the Left contends anti-Semitism is a figment of an hysterical, oversensitive imagination. For the most part, Jews are being systematically written out of the progressive agenda, even though they were responsible for that agenda in the first place. But why quibble?

This new age, already upon us, has sheltered many Jews from the harsh reality of contemporary progressivism. Jews still gravitate to a Democratic party led by two men (Tom Perez and Keith Ellison) avowedly anti-Zionist. In casual conversation, Jews will say Democrats represent grassroots movements and people. However, it is important to note the party of the hard Left is the government party relying on rules and mandates imposed by Washington D.C. bureaucrats. It no longer represents the blue-collar worker who built the party during the New Deal.

At the Chicago “Dyke March” held recently Jewish Pride flags were banned because Jews “made people feel unsafe” and, after all, the march was pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist. The irony is that the Dyke March preaches inclusion and is billed as “anti-racist, anti-violent, volunteer-led, grassroots mobilization and celebration of dyke, queer, bisexual, and transgender resilience.” Yes, the march includes every permutation of homosexuality, but it does not include Jews, presumably these are the people found to be “offensive.”

In January 2016 a Shabbat service and reception for Jewish participants at a gay conference in Chicago was disrupted by hundreds of protestors who chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, pinkwashing has got to go.” “Pinkwashing” is a term to describe efforts by Israel to cover up its treatment of Palestinians by touting its strong record on gay rights. What the incident shows is that even on gay rights Israel will not be given the benefit of the doubt because anti-Zionism trumps homosexual acceptance.

That progressives would find common quarter with Islamists is the shocking part of this ideological evolution. Obviously, secularism has played a role for many Jews. But the Anti-Defamation League’s support for CAIR is nothing short of jarring, despite the extent of Jewish secularization.

To have been a progressive and to see how the word and movement have gone through the cauldron of ideological change demonstrates the influence of Orwellian logic. Orthodoxy is liberalism; dogma is openness; Sharia is expansive. Who would have thought that the modern Jew would imbibe this logic? But as Norman Podhoretz noted in his splendid book, Why Are Jews Liberals? Jews are liberal because liberalism is the new religion of Jews.

Trump’s Vision for The Middle East

President Trump arrived in the Arabian desert hoping to realign the politics of the Middle East in the aftermath of a failed Obama policy. For eight years Obama tilted in the direction of Iran believing that the influence of the Shia could balance Sunni dominance. The so-called nuclear deal with Iran was a geopolitical manifestation of this policy perspective. To put it simply, the policy didn’t work. In fact, it led to the widespread belief that the U.S. tacitly endorsed the Shia Crescent or the imperial Iranian design.

President Trump hinted that this has to be corrected. With his May 21, 2017 speech, there is no doubt the U.S. will push back on previous policy and offer Saudi Arabia and other regional Sunni partners a reliable counter-weight to Iranian ambitions.

In previous documents produced by the London Center for Policy Research, a Gulf States Red Sea Treaty Organization was proposed. Mr. Trump has called it an Arab NATO. As the president noted in his speech, the nations in the region have a primary responsibility to attack terrorism and the state sponsors of terrorism. He noted perspicaciously that the U.S. would not invest major troop deployments for this mission, but the U.S. will engage with its allies in logistical support, sophisticated arms, special forces when necessary, and intelligence on enemy movements and strategy.

More than anything else, the president offered assurance that the U.S. stands behind its allies. When, during the Obama presidency, Egyptian President el-Sisi noted that “I love America, but America doesn’t love me,” he meant the U.S. was an unreliable ally that makes promises, but doesn’t follow through. Specifically, he made reference to the Apache helicopters promised to Egypt but undelivered.

While presidential visits of this kind are invariably accompanied by hyperbole, this mission was indeed historic since it has already instilled in Saudi Arabia and Egypt confidence building measures missing from erstwhile diplomatic conversations.

Some critics contend this Middle East gambit was designed to offset the political troubles dogging the Trump team in D.C. However, the trip was arranged well before the press powder keg exploded. From the outset of his presidency, Mr. Trump vowed to reset the global war against terrorism. He also wanted to alter a perception he is intolerant of Islam.

Clearly there is a lot of work to be accomplished between announcements and an actual defense condominium. At this stage, inflated expectations have to face the bright light of regional realism. After all, there was a Middle East defense pact (CENTO) organized by President Eisenhower that lacked muscle and influence and, eventually, evanesced. There is also the Russian alliance with Iran and Hezbollah that could put a monkey wrench in Sunni planning.

A Sunni pact has as its target the Iranian influence in the Levant. But there are other goals as well. It is the Trump administration belief that Russia can be peeled from the alliance with Hezbollah and Iran. After all, why should Russian policy be determined, in large part, by Iranian imperial ambitions? Should this gambit be successful, Iran will be isolated and far more amenable to negotiation.

What the Trump visit to Saudi Arabia has done is open the region to a variety of options ignored by the Obama team. For eight years the Sunni states lived with apprehension. Shia goals would be realized with a complicitous United States cheering in the background. That view — true or not — has been interred. Clearly good will is not policy. It remains to be seen how the alliance plan can be realized. However, Trump’s visit was a symbolic triumph.

It is instructive that King Salman of Saudi Arabia greeted President Trump at the Riyadh airport, a gesture he did not extend to Mr. Obama. At this time, hope springs eternal. In a modest way, American leadership has been restored — at least for the time being. Now the pressure is on to translate the blaring trumpets and booming cannons of a state visit into policies that are sustainable and yield regional stability.

Religion and Secularization in the Middle East

Terrorism in the Middle East knows no limits. The ancient monastery of St. Catherine’s in Egypt’s Sinai desert was attacked with 40 worshippers slaughtered. This is the same religious shrine that has a decree of protection issued by the Prophet Muhammed himself until the end of days.

Also, a bus carrying Coptic Christians on a prayer vigil was attacked, with 26 people killed, including ten children.

As these incidents indicate the challenge for Middle East leaders is the maintenance of religious beliefs, within limits imposed by modernity, along with secularization that doesn’t trample religious observance.

The terrorists had clear goals in mind. One, they wanted to demonstrate that the government does not have the ability to deter terrorism. Two, the attacks were a way to discourage tourism, the major source of revenue in the country. And three, by making these attacks distinctly religious, it is believed this would cause defections from the secular impulse in the nation.

Religious freedom is clearly being threatened in Egypt, a condition that goes back 50 years ago to the publication of Sayyid Qutb, Islamic theorist and member of the Muslim Brotherhood. This trend applies throughout the Levant where secular nationalism has had to compete with the orthodox stance of radical Islam. General Nasser walked a fine line between the two positions by evoking a sense of national pride, but when his regime descended into pan-Arabism and economic collapse, secularism suffered as well.

In the Middle East, it is apparent that what is dormant is not dead. President el-Sisi is a pious Muslim who cautions against the extremism within his faith. Those who want to weaken him do not fully understand the political alternatives. Removing loathsome dictators, as was done in Iran, Libya, and Iraq, does not yield the blossoming of a new Spring, but rather emergence of extremist forms of religions far more destructive than the regimes replaced. Radical elements do understand the meaning of replacement. A pathway to an Islamized Egypt lies in the “bulls-eye” on el-Sisi’s back.

Western goals in the region invariably refer to Ataturk’s secularization program in Turkey. But while Ataturk’s influence was profound, President Erdogan has disinterred religious ideas imposing them in a manner that would have been unthinkable before 2002, when he was first elected. Religion may have been in a long slumber in Turkey, but it is now awakened and playing a profound role.

President el-Sisi, to his credit, understands the need to balance religion and modernity; perhaps that explains why he is a threat to Islamists. In his case, dedication to his faith is real, but it is not a faith imposed on the Egyptian people. Surely, his critics contend the blasphemy laws are not applied fairly to non-Muslims. And this may be true. Nonetheless, the balance his government has achieved, however imperfect, is a veritable model for the region and the best hope for stabilization.

“Buy American” May Not Be American

President Trump asserts with patriotic fervor that his administration stands for America First, a commendable but somewhat ambiguous concept. What gives it meaning is the idea that Americans “buy American.” Presumably when facing consumer choices Americans should look for a label that keeps them at home.

The problem with the concept is that it defies an American commitment to the free market — an argument at least as patriotic as America First. Comparative advantage has been a hallmark of trade, notwithstanding many abuses and currency manipulation. Trade is never entirely fair, since each of the trading partners seeks an advantage. Yet the market has a mechanism for addressing excesses, such as “dumping.”

If there is confusion in the market, it is over production provenance. The Ford, manufactured (or should I say assembled) in the United States has parts from at least 14 nations. Globalization, for better or worse, has changed the nature of trade and the method of manufacturing. We may choose to call a Ford an American car but it is no more American than a Volkswagen assembled in Mississippi. Even when one says “I want to buy American because it is good for the country I love,” one cannot be sure the product in question doesn’t have parts from abroad.

“Buy American” invariably requires an undesirable economic choice. Americans may be willing to pay a premium for a product manufactured here, but that is a choice rarely considered as Walmart’s gross sales suggests. Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, accounts for 11 percent of the unfavorable trade balance with a reliance on electronic products manufactured elsewhere. Unless a tariff is imposed on these products, it is unlikely U.S. counterparts can compete on economic terms. That is a reality the Trump position seemingly overlooks.

Ultimately what is good for the nation is not easy to determine. Job loss is a real problem when U.S. companies are unable to compete. Free market economics often overlook the plight of a steel worker — to cite one example — whose company cannot compete against foreign rivals. This individual may be less interested in efficiency than job protection. On the other hand, an unfavorable balance of trade may have a salutary effect on the economy. The allocation of resources based on products from abroad allows the U.S. economy to concentrate on sectors likely to be most productive. Were it not for this internal market allocation, most Americans would be farmers today.

Clearly the free market is imperfect. Many are left behind in the process of rewards and penalties or what Joseph Schumpeter described as creative destruction. As I see it, mature economies must put an emphasis on retraining. The idea that an employee will hold the same position throughout his working life is anachronistic. In fact, while trade has resulted in some job loss, the real culprit in this matter is technological advancement. Yet most Americans are not Luddites and any referendum on the matter would favor advancement.

Hence “Buy American” has a nationalistic appeal but is limited as a policy prescription. President Trump is right to reach out to Americans left behind on the pathway to success. Unfortunately, what this headline ignores is the hidden tax that one group in America pays another. Surely taxes are never equitable, but in trade policy, it is often a matter of the poor subsidizing the poor.

Iran and Israel Are Poised for War — in Syria

When it comes to the Middle East the only surprise is when there aren’t surprises. At the moment, the defeat of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa in a force led by Hezbollah and Iraqi troops, with U.S. Special Forces, has led directly to the elevation of Hezbollah as a military entity — since it bore the brunt of the combat burden in Syria, and paid the highest price in casualties.

Since Hezbollah is a proxy for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, its enhanced status has given both forces the opportunity for a military buildup on Israel’s northern border. For Israel this emerging reality constitutes a strategic game changer. Ironically, the victories over ISIS have yielded a strategic failure vis-à-vis the Shiites.

In fact, Iran is transferring Sunni populations from areas once held by ISIS and replacing them with Shiites in an effort to maintain territorial continuity between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. Paradoxically, this is being done with either the active or passive complicity of the United States. So desirous is the Trump team for a victory over ISIS that it seems willing to allow Iran to reach Israel’s front lines as a consequence. Among Israeli military sources there is the belief in a disparity between Trump’s rhetoric and his actions.

In fact, the success of Hezbollah has had the added benefit of attracting Shiites across the globe to its revolutionary cause. Moreover, Hezbollah has been able to warehouse up to approximately 150,000 missiles, more than exist in European NATO sites. These missiles are targeted at Israeli cities. To make matters even more complicated for Israel’s military leaders, the United Nations has confirmed that the Hezbollah missiles have been placed in schools. And the Israeli military reports that missiles are also placed in hospitals and community centers. These placements will ensure carnage if destroyed and will likely yield an anti-Israel backlash across European and Northern American media outlets.

This human shields issue has been discussed in the United Nations as well as in talks among Israel, Russia, and the U.S., but it tends to be ignored when anti-Israel sentiment becomes an instrument to clobber the Jewish state. However, this factor cannot be ignored by military planners anticipating a preemptive strike against Hezbollah missile sites.

As far as Russia is concerned, Iran has assisted in establishing and reinforcing its presence in Syria. While there is probably no love lost between the two states, there are mutually reinforcing interests.

Russian presence in the region gives Iran an ally with advanced weaponry and a clear, unequivocal reason for the maintenance of its position in the eastern Mediterranean. It appears as if Russia believes Iran is a stabilizing force in the Middle East, notwithstanding Iranian promotion of extremist organizations. This stance is not dissimilar from President Obama’s suggestion that an assertive Iran can counter the aspirations of the Sunni nations, thereby creating a balance of regional power. The fact that this belief has been rendered nugatory by Iranian actions, seems to be ignored or forgotten by U.S. analysts.

From Israel’s point of view, there is a desperate need to convince the Trump administration it is being outflanked and outmaneuvered by a combination of Russian and Iranian diplomacy: First with the Iran deal on nuclear weapons, and now the acceptance of Iran on the border of Israel. With missiles that can reach every major Israeli city, the Iranians are effectively saying “checkmate.”

Needless to say, Israel will fight to its last citizen in order to challenge the Iranian scenario. But it is still worrisome when one observes the movement of armed forces across the Levant, as well as the capitulation of the U.S. in negotiation.

When Iran and Iraq were preoccupied with the defeat of ISIS, Israel was generally safe from mobilization against it. That condition has changed as quickly as the weather. And whether one agrees or not, Israel will probably be obliged to act against Hezbollah, increasing the chances of all-out war and increasing the odds blood will flow.     *

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Herbert London

Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research and is co-author with Jed Babbin of The BDS War Against Israel.

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