July 19, 2010

This Blog Has Moved

My blog is no longer being updated at this location. I've moved to Pajamas Media. If you're reading this message, you'll need to set your bookmarks here instead:

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And if you use an RSS reader, you will need to change your feed to this one:

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:15 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

July 18, 2010

Why Obama Just Might Fight Iran

Walter Russell Mead argues in the American Interest that President Barack Obama is more likely to go to war with Iran than many conventional observers believe. “In my view,” he wrote, “Iran and this president are headed toward a confrontation in which President Obama will either have to give up all hope on the issues he cares most about, or risk the use of force to stop Iran.”

The president is not likely to go to war with Iran for Israel’s sake. He’s even less likely to go to war with Iran on behalf of the Middle East’s Sunni Arabs. He’s not even all that likely to go to war with Iran to protect American interests in the Levant and the Persian Gulf. He just might, though, as Mead says, go to war to protect what he values most and hopes to accomplish as president.

Obama is often described as a cold-blooded “realist,” but in some ways he’s a Wilsonian. He’s a different kind of Wilsonian from President George W. Bush, but he is one nonetheless. “In many ways a classic example of the Wilsonian school of American foreign policy,” Mead writes, “President Obama believes that American security can best be safeguarded by the construction of a liberal and orderly world,” like a loose and less centralized European Union on a planet-wide scale. And yet, as Mead points out, “Iran’s success means the complete, utter and historic destruction of everything President Obama wants to build.”

He’s right. If Iran emerges as a nuclear-armed terrorist-sponsoring hegemon over the world’s primary energy fields, Obama’s neo-Wilsonian project — which is already a long-shot, at best, as it is — will stand no chance at all for the duration of his tenure and most likely beyond. His domestic American agenda will go sideways, as well, if he loses a re-election bid in 2012 for sending the Middle East and the stability of the world’s energy economy into a tailspin.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:49 PM | Permalink | 41 Comments »

July 15, 2010

Gallows Humor

One thing I like about the Middle East is its pitch black sense of humor.

Here's an example from a New York Times piece about Yemen, via the Happy Arab News Service.

Beneath the familiar Arab iconography, like pictures of the president that hang in every shop, there is a wildness about the place, a feeling that things might come apart at any moment. A narcotic haze descends on Yemen every afternoon, as men stuff their mouths with glossy khat leaves until their cheeks bulge and their eyes glaze over. Police officers sit down and ignore their posts, a green dribble running down their chins. Taxi drivers get lost and drive in circles, babbling into their cellphones. But if not for the opiate of khat, some say, all of Yemen - not just those areas of the south and north already smoldering with discontent - would explode into rebellion.

[…]

Last year I expected to see at least a few government soldiers when I visited the ancient city of Shibam in Hadramawt, the vast eastern province where Osama bin Laden's father was born. A few months earlier, four South Korean tourists were blown up by a suicide bomber as they admired the view of Shibam from across the valley. I was a little nervous. "Don't worry," my guide said, patting my shoulder as we walked up to the ridge where the Koreans died. "Ever since the bombing they have put this place on high security." But when we got to the top of the ridge there was not a single soldier or policeman to be seen. We gazed out over the valley in silence. A sign stood nearby, showing a pair of binoculars and the words in English "Discover Islam." As we began to leave, my guide smiled broadly and gestured at the sign. "The Koreans - they discovered Islam," he said, giggling at his joke.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:44 PM | Permalink | 39 Comments »

July 14, 2010

I’m Glad I Don’t Live in Washington

Believe it or not, what Reuel Marc Gerecht reports about frank discussions of Islam in the Middle East is true:

Throughout the greater Middle East, frank discussions about Islam are easier to have than they are in Washington, D.C.—especially among government officials. Ask someone in the Obama administration about jihad and, unless the official knows the conversation is off the record—and sometimes even if it is off the record—that official likely will become a bit panicked, nonplussed, and try to change the subject.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:05 PM | Permalink | 69 Comments »

July 13, 2010

Israel Derangement Syndrome in Spain

Israel is the only country in the entire Middle East where it's not a crime to be gay, yet the organizers of the gay pride festival in Madrid forbade the municipality of Tel Aviv from sponsoring the float it had planned.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:55 PM | Permalink | 78 Comments »

July 12, 2010

The Age of the Zipped Lip

Paul Berman takes the thesis of his outstanding new book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, to the pages of the Wall Street Journal and dubs the age we live in that of the Zipped Lip.

"You are not," he writes, "supposed to observe that Islamism is a modern, instead of an ancient, political tendency, which arose in a spirit of fraternal harmony with the fascists of Europe in the 1930s and '40s. You are not supposed to point out that Nazi inspirations have visibly taken root among present-day Islamists, notably in regard to the demonic nature of Jewish conspiracies and the virtues of genocide."

As he said to me on the phone when I interviewed him in May, the mere mention of Nazi Germany's foreign policy in the Arab world and its lingering effects in our day "gets people red in the face."

Lest you think there aren't any lingering traces of Nazism in the Arab world, along comes Wiam Wahhab, a former member of Lebanon's parliament, and confirms that there are. "I like the Germans," he says in an interview on Al-Jadid/New TV, "because they hate the Jews and they burned them." Then he laughs like it's the funniest thing he's heard in a week.

Now, this man isn't mainstream. He belongs (of course) to the Hezbollah-led "March 8" coalition, which is apparently incapable of winning an election or getting its way except by using or threatening violence. And he claims that the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon — which was set up in 2005 to investigate the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri — is an Israeli-American plot to destroy the country. He's firmly in the minority camp.

Still, can you imagine any American politician from either the House or the Senate, from either the Republican or Democratic party, saying something like that and yukking it up on TV? It would be the instantaneous mother of all career-enders. Wahhab's career, though, won't suffer one bit as a result of his saying this.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:01 AM | Permalink | 86 Comments »

July 9, 2010

“Hussein” Has Nothing to Do With It

President Barack Obama agreed to be interviewed by Israel's Channel 2, and at one point he came across like a peevish and blinkered man who hasn't a clue how others see him or how the Middle East works.

During the interview Wednesday, when confronted with the anxiety that some Israelis feel toward him, Obama said that "some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion."

If he was trying to reduce anxiety among Israelis by making that comment, I can assure him he failed.

I was in Jerusalem the day he was inaugurated. Everyone knew his middle name then, and the Israelis I met on that trip swooned over him as much as my bohemian neighbors in Portland did. Whether for good reasons or bad, his plummeting poll numbers are based entirely on what has occurred between then and now.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:58 PM | Permalink | 112 Comments »

July 7, 2010

Web Site Move

I recently announced that this Web site will be moving to Pajamas Media. We still have a few technical database issues to iron out before going live, and once that happens you should be automatically re-directed from here to there.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:28 PM | Permalink | 35 Comments »

What Arabs Think of The Persian Bomb

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic recently interviewed the ambassador from the United Arab Emirates about the threat to Arabs from Iran's nuclear weapons program.

A number of readers emailed Goldberg in surprise, but what the ambassador said isn't new. It's the stock response from several Sunni Arab governments, though delivered a little more desperately and without any subtlety this time. I've been writing about this phenomenon now for five years. I don't have much to add at this point except that I dearly hope the Obama Administration doesn't also find this surprising.

Here's what the ambassador said when Goldberg asked him if the United States should use military force to stop the Iranian bomb:

Absolutely, absolutely. I think we are at risk of an Iranian nuclear program far more than you are at risk. At 7,000 miles away, and with two oceans bordering you, an Iranian nuclear threat does not threaten the continental United States. It may threaten your assets in the region, it will threaten the peace process, it will threaten balance of power, it will threaten everything else, but it will not threaten you.

I am suggesting that I think out of every country in the region, the U.A.E. is most vulnerable to Iran. Our military, who has existed for the past 40 years, wake up, dream, breathe, eat, sleep the Iranian threat. It's the only conventional military threat our military plans for, trains for, equips for, that's it, there's no other threat, there's no country in the region that is a threat to the U.A.E., it's only Iran. So yes, it's very much in our interest that Iran does not gain nuclear technology.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:09 AM | Permalink | 78 Comments »
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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