Romney Roils Middle East Waters With Diversions from U.S. Policy and Insults to Palestinians

Mitt Romney’s 36-hour stop in Israel lasted long enough for him to add a new set of gaffes and missteps to his itinerary for this foreign trip designed to showcase his foreign policy chops. Yesterday, I outlined a series of misadventures for the Mitt which included a Dan Senor-initiated embrace of a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran, which he soft-pedaled in a subsequent “clarification” to CBS. Romney also called Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a nuance that diverges from decades of U.S. policy, which does not recognize the disputed city as either Israel’s or Palestine’s capital (until a peace agreement when, presumably, it would become the recognized capital of two countries).

The Washington Post noted several sour notes in Romney’s public remarks which inflamed tensions with the Palestinians and showed Romney’s general ignorance of how the Occupation impacts both Israel and Palestine:

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney said.

The Post notes here that Romney completely botched these statisitics and that the Israeli GDP is actually $32,000, while Palestinian GDP is $3,000. While no one would make the mistake of calling Romney an economist, one would think as a corporate executive he would understand what innate differences between a proto-nation under modified siege and one fully independent would mean. Israel has observed economic policies that have long rendered Palestine dependent on it in numerous ways. Among them, is the lack of a deep water port in Gaza or airport which Israel has deliberately nixed. As the Times wrote:

Mr. Romney did not speak to the deleterious impact of deep Israeli trade restrictions on the Palestinian economy, an effect widely described by international organizations including the World Bank, which recently reported that “the government of Israel’s security restrictions continue to stymie investment.”

No matter how many profiles the NY Times runs on the Palestinian “economic miracle,” such as the one penned by Isabel Kershner yesterday, Israeli occupation stifles many aspects of Palestinian life, including this. Any economist worth his salt would concede that after a peace agreement that offers Palestine its full independence, its economy will grow by leaps and bounds.

The presidential candidate appeared to endorse the racist anti-Arab views of his chief donor, Sheldon Adelson, in claiming an innate cultural difference between Jews and Arabs that allows Israel to outshine its neighbors:

“[I]f you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it’s this: culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

“Culture” of course, has nothing to do with the fact that Israel is more economically developed than Palestine. Those differences are entirely political and economic in nature. Thankfully, John McCain noted that as well in subtly criticizing Romney’s remarks:

It’s government, “not cultures” that define the difference between Israelis and Palestinians. That’s according to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who appeared to differ with presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney as he tried to defend him.

“I am sure that Gov. Romney was not talking about difference in cultures, or difference in anybody superior or inferior,” said McCain. “What I’m sure Gov. Romney was talking was that the Israeli economy has grown and prospered in a dramatic fashion. And unfortunately, the Palestinians have not had that same economic development.

Of course Romney intended his comments to reflect a cultural superiority of Israel over the Arabs, including the Palestinians. I just hope that McCain’s shot across the candidate’s bow will restrain any further racist notions from entering into his Israel-related pronouncements. To the Arizona senator’s credit, he’s more sensitive to the appearance of a Republican presidential candidate appearing to insult all of the Arab and Muslim Middle East. But of course with Adelson donating $100-million or more to the campaign, money outranks truth and reality every time.

The Post even notes that Israelis themselves disagree with Romney, which indicates the Republican’s weak grasp of the issues:

The assessment is one not widely shared within Israel, and suggested a lack of sustained study or nuanced understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

The White House too noted Romney’s insensitivity and divergence from accepted government policy:

“One of the challenges of being an actor on the international stage, particularly when you’re traveling to such a sensitive part of the world, is that your comments are very closely scrutinized for meaning, for nuance, for motivation,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said about the Monday remarks.

The comments have left some people “scratching their heads a little bit,” Earnest told reporters at the daily White House briefing…

Earnest said Romney’s position on Jerusalem, the eastern half of which Palestinians claim as the capital of a promised future state, runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy.

“It’s the view of this administration that the capital is something that should be determined in final status negotiations between the parties,” Earnest said. “If Mr. Romney disagrees with that position, he’s also disagreeing with the position that was taken by presidents like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.”

What this points out is that a Romney presidency would mark a sharp departure from decades of U.S. policy, because it would be largely inspired by ultra-nationalist donors like Adelson who don’t even believe a Palestinian people exist, let alone that Jerusalem should be shared with it. It’s important for Americans to note the likely radical changes to be expected with an Adelson takeover of Israel policy in the next administration.

The Palestinian reaction to these misguided remarks was swift and sharp:

Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said: “It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.”

AP noted how incendiary such attitudes can be both in a presidential campaign and in a region that is a tinder-box of ethnic tension:

…His decision to highlight cultural differences in a region where such differences have helped fuel violence for generations raises new questions about the former businessman’s diplomacy skills.”

The Romney campaign is exasperated with the coverage saying their candidate said nothing in his remarks he hasn’t said before. They even called the story “manufactured.” But the truth is that what upsets them is that only now has the press focussed on his racist attitudes. Before he had only expressed them in a book nobody read. Here he’s said them before some of the wealthiest Jews in the world while being covered by scores of international journalists. Not to mention the setting of the disputed city of Jerusalem. I think this is a case of a presidential campaign coasting and expecting what they’ve always done would get them through this particular set of events. What they didn’t realize is that they placed themselves under a microscope by taking this foreign policy junket to burnish Romney’s credentials. Of course you’re going to face extra scrutiny and what worked in the past might not work here.

Romney also made another embarrassing off-message gaffe in praising Israel’s nationalized health insurance plan (Kupat Holim) which provides low-cost, taxpayer subsidized health coverage to all citizens:

Romney noted that Israel spends just 8 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, while the United States spends 18 percent. “We have to find ways,” he said, “not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to [fund] and manage our health care costs.”

The answer, of course, to Mitt’s claim is for the U.S. to adopt a comparable system, which would dramatically lower the cost of health care to the same percentage of GDP as Israel’s (or less).

Jodi Rudoren in the NY Times typically downplayed or misapprehended the level of Romney’s gaffe-prone performance, not picking up on the general media criticism of the candidate, even by a reporter for the pro-Likud/pro-Romney Yisrael HaYom:

The visit to Jerusalem, in the middle of a seven-day overseas tour that began in London and continues on Monday in Poland…went smoother than the London stop…

Even her own colleagues appear to disagree, as this story, Romney Trip Raises Sparks at a 2nd Stop, points out.

I’m guessing that Rudoren’s inattentiveness to Hebrew language press coverage may have something to do with her lack of knowledge of Hebrew (though there are critical reports published in English language Israeli media). This caused her to miss some of the major elements of this story.

VERIFIED: Where Wars Do — and Don’t Come From

Where wars DO come from:

It is not civilizations that promote clashes. They occur when old-fashioned leaders look for old-fashioned ways to solve problems by rousing their people to armed confrontation.–Kenichi Ohmae, The End Of The Nation State, (New York: The Free Press 1995), p. 11.

Why of course the people don’t want war. … That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along –Head Nazi Hermann Goering

Mr. Bertie Felstead: “A German began singing All Through The Night, then more voices joined in and the British troops responded with Good King Wencelas… the next morning, all the soldiers were shouting to one another, “Hello Tommy, Hello Fritz” … The Germans started it, coming out of their trenches and walking over to us. Nobody decided for us – we just climbed over our parapet and went over to them, we thought nobody would shoot at us if we all mingled together… There wouldn’t have been a war if it had been left to the public. We didn’t want to fight but we thought we were defending England. England’s Oldest Man Remembers The 1915 Christmas Truce

People do not make wars; governments do. –U.S. President Ronald Reagan

President George W. Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials… made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. …an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that …led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses. –Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith, False Pretenses: Iraq THE WAR CARD Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War, www.publicintegrity.org

Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. …The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose–especially their lives. …the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace. Yours not to reason why; Yours but to do and die. That is their motto The Anti-war Speech That Earned Eugene Debs 10 Years in Prison, Socialist Party convention in Canton, Ohio, 16 June 1918

By contrast, where wars DON’T come from:

…we preferred hunting to a life of idleness on our reservations. At times we did not get enough to eat and we were not allowed to hunt. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone. Soldiers came and destroyed our villages. Then Long Hair (Custer) came…They say we massacred him, but he would have done the same to us. Our first impulse was to escape but we were so hemmed in we had to fight. Crazy Horse/Tashunkewitko

The Aztec strategy of war was based on the capture of prisoners by individual warriors, not on working as a group to kill the enemy in battle. By the time the Aztecs came to recognize what warfare meant in European terms, it was too late. Aztec

New England’s first Indian war, the Pequot War of 1636-37, provides a case study of the intensified warfare Europeans brought to America. Allied with the Narragansetts, traditional enemies of the Pequots, the colonists attacked at dawn. … The slaughter shocked the Narragansetts, who had wanted merely to subjugate the Pequots, not exterminate them. The Narragansetts reproached the English for their style of warfare, crying, “It is naught, it is naught, because it is too furious, and slays too many men.” In turn, Capt. John Underhill scoffed, saying that the Narragansett style of fighting was “more for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies.” Underhill’s analysis of the role of warfare in Narragansett society was correct, and might accurately be applied to other tribes as well. Through the centuries, whites frequently accused their Native allies of not fighting hard enough. -James W. Loewen, LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME, (New York, NY: Touchstone 1996), p. 118

Why We Fight

It’s no Kony 2012!

I’m enough of a cynic to know that no one learns anything from the past, at least Eugene Jarecki can sleep well knowing he was right.

While Jarecki’s documentary “Why We Fight” was released in 2005, it (sadly) seems just as fresh as it did seven years ago. Featuring: John McCain, the late Chalmers Johnson, Richard Perle, William Kristol, Gore Vidal, Joseph Cirincione, Karen Kwiatkowski and the family of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

(Hat tip to Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich)

Dear Department of Justice: Please Investigate Your Old Boss for Material Support of Terrorism!

Dear Department of Justice and Department of Treasury Officials:

We might have just helped you bag another material supporter of terrorism this week! And you’ll never believe who the culprit is! We were even able to tape record some of his own damning admissions! (That’s the reason for my calls last week to your duty attorneys and media offices.)
Continue reading “Dear Department of Justice: Please Investigate Your Old Boss for Material Support of Terrorism!”

Journey to the Center of an Islamophobe’s Mind

I don’t know how my arcane little post on Frank Gaffney’s World War I theories launched a discussion of Shariah law, bikinis, “executive gays,” and Ted Nugent, but Eric Dondero dropped in, so…

Do you want to see this in a Speedo?

Dondero is raving about, among other things, a county in Maryland providing twice-weekly women-only swim times at public pools. (You can read a reasonable account of what’s happening here, or you can get frothed on over at Pam Geller’s site.) My failure to wet my swim trunks over this issue ultimately led Dondero to demand that I stop calling myself a libertarian.

Now, this strikes me as a little ironic, since the doctrinaire libertarian position on public pools is that there shouldn’t be any. They hardly seem like an essential function of the night-watchman state, after all (and don’t even get those crazy anarcho-capitalists started). Let individuals and organizations build their own pools and swim however they like, whether in the buff or in burqas.

But public pools aren’t really that central an issue to any libertarians I know, even the misguided, pro-war ones. What a luxury it would be to live in a time and place where abolishing the parks and rec department was even arguably a priority! And note that Dondero doesn’t call for privatizing the pools — he just wants to make sure that a state agency that shouldn’t even exist doesn’t in any way accommodate a certain subset of taxpayers.

And Dondero doesn’t stop there:

Or, maybe we should kick these Islamic “immigrants,” out of our country?

If you do not wish to assimilate into American culture of tolerance, open sexuality, and freedom to live as you please without a nanny-state telling you how to live your life, than why in the bloody hell are you here in the first place?

But as the article I linked to explains, it’s not just Islamofascists who like the women-only swim times. In fact, there’s a worldwide market for women-only gyms, and the biggest provider started right here in the USA. But in their hatred of Muslims, these twisted libertoids end up enemies of the open society they’re supposedly defending. Like the puritans they claim to despise, they feel oppressed by the consensual activities of others. That’s why most libertarians disdain Dondero and company.

Full disclosure: I sometimes swim at a local public pool, so when the revolution comes, I will dutifully drown myself by tying a copy of Man, Economy, and State to my ankle and jumping in the deep end. Now rock out to the Nuge in better days.

Frank Gaffney Slams Noted Libertarian Isolationists Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson

I missed this Frank Gaffney column from a couple of weeks ago:

I had an unsettling flashback last week listening to two of the Republican presidential candidates talk about foreign policy. Representative Ron Paul of Texas and former Utah Governor Jon Hunstman espoused isolationist stances that called to mind one of the most preposterous public policy debates in decades.

As I recall, the occasion was a Washington, D.C. event sponsored in the early 1990s by a group of libertarians. A colleague and I were invited to rebut the following proposition: “Resolved, the Constitution of the United States should be amended to prohibit the use of military force for any purpose other than defending the nation’s borders.”

Our side of the debate pointed out that, however superficially appealing such an idea might appear, it was ahistorical, irrational and reckless.

After all, if history teaches us anything, it is that wars happen – as Ronald Reagan put it – not when America is too strong, but when we are too weak. In the run-up to World Wars I and II, we followed more or less the libertarians’ prescription, and disaster ensued.

It continues, but I’ll just home in on the best part: World War I happened, or was worse than it would have been otherwise, because America was following a libertarian — i.e., “isolationist” — foreign policy.

Frank Gaffney takes refuge in a libertarian-free zone.

Now, in the 16 years before the outbreak of the Great War in Europe, the United States took part in the Spanish-American War, a savage occupation and counterinsurgency in the Philippines, and various smaller interventions in places such as Panama, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, China, and Haiti. What this has to do with the Triple Entente, the Triple Alliance, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand is anyone’s guess, but “isolationism” it isn’t.

But Frank Gaffney has been peddling this story for decades. When I was looking for something on his harrowing run-in with libertarians, the World War I thing popped up again. In his opening remarks at a January 1990 Cato Institute debate on foreign policy after the Cold War*, Gaffney said:

I think that it is equally evident that we have tried a policy of disengagement from Europe, a policy known in varying eras as “America-first-ism,” “isolationism,” what have you. And I think our experience is unmistakably clear. It has been a disaster every time it has been tried. The obvious, most glaring cases in point, of course, are World War I and World War II.

Later, in the Q & A portion, an audience member asked:

I have a single, simple question for Mr. Gaffney.

Mr. Gaffney, you suggested that America’s traditional pre-World War I policy of disengagement was an unmitigated disaster in part because it permitted wars on the European continent. In your opinion, at what date before World War I, 1898, 1870, 1848, 1815, whatever, should the United States have entered into formal military commitments to send and station troops in Europe?

To which Gaffney responded:

Well, it’s an interesting rhetorical question. I think that, obviously, at that particular juncture in history, let’s say, prior to 1914, the United States was neither terribly well equipped and certainly not disposed to be a world power. As was evident, starting with 1917, it had the resources to play a major role in restoring what I believe was the proper arrangement — the proper post-war configuration. Unfortunately, I think, in part because it once again withdrew[,] the proper order, the institutions of democracy that flourished briefly in the post-war period did, indeed, fall apart as Chris Layne indicated and gave rise to the seeds of World War II.

Actually, Layne had said that “one could make a very convincing argument that it was precisely the American intervention in World War I that prevented that war from ending in a compromise peace and that gave rise to many of the problems that led subsequently to the rise of Hitler and fascism and thence to World War II, and ultimately to the problems we’re facing now.” Rather different, no? But in Frank Gaffney’s mind, all of this could have been prevented if the United States had dispatched troops to Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. Yes, there are actually people who think like this.

*Sorry, I can’t find a link online. I got this transcript off LexisNexis. Gaffney’s questioner was probably Michael Lind, though the transcriber wrote “Lindt.”