Syria (and Afghanistan) in Detail
Published on: July 30, 2012
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  • rr

    Regarding Afghanistan: I think in some way the nation building talk was just a convenient way for pro military hawks who knew that the hearts and minds and democracy part was a farce to increase the level of force available to kill taliban. And it gave the do-gooders a slice of the federal pie as well. Obama’s talk about nation-building at home but a “counterinsurgency” surge for two years (what else is counterinsurgency but nation building) shows the cynical nature of the decision-making.

  • I have just one question here: do snakes really suck eggs? I’m familiar with the expression “teach your grandmother to suck eggs,” although I confess I’ve never quite gotten the point of it, but a snake?

  • WigWag

    I know that it’s off-topic, but it would be fascinating to get Adam Garfinkle’s take on whether he thought Mitt Romney was guilty of “Jewcentricity” when he made his recent remarks attributing the economic success of Israel to it’s “culture.” In my opinion Romney was right, at least in part. Culture is related to economic success as Walter Russell Mead has demonstrated in his book “God and Gold” and as Jerry Z. Muller has demonstrated in his book, “Capitalism and the Jews.”

    Where Romney’s critics get it wrong is when they suggest his comments were a slap at the Palestinians. Economics is not a morality play; wealthy people (and nations) are not better or more virtous than poor people (or nations). Economically successful nations are not automatically more or less moral by virtue of their accomplishments.

    Nevertheless, it is perfectly apparent, at least to me, that some cultures are more likely to excel in a capitalistic system than others.

    Anyway, Adam has probably pondered the concept of “Jewcentricity” in a more thoughtful way than any other American. It would be interesting to know if he thought Romney’s comments in Jerusalem were “Jewcentric.”

    • Adam Garfinkle

      OK, a few comments.

      OK, then, a few comments in response to your interesting questions.

      First, of course I have pondered Jewcentricity more than anyone else, and that’s because I invented it. I coined it.

      Second, it is very hard to tell from a distance what Mitt Romney was thinking in Jerusalem a few days ago. Everything that happens viz Israel in an American presidential campaign is Jewcentric, for reasons I laid out in part 2 of the book. But it seems to me that in this case politics and money have a lot more to do with what Romney said and when he said it, what with Sheldon Adelson around–and also noting the influence of Dan Senor, whom I know. (For what it’s worth, I have also met Dan’s sister Wendy, who is married to his co-author, in Jerusalem. My friend and literary agent lives in the same building on Smuts Street as Wendy.) But it is very hard to separate the strands. As Walter pointed out some days ago, Mormonism is itself very Jewcentric. So much so, and Walter neglected to mention this, that Joseph Smith believed that early American immigrants were descended from the tribe of Menasseh. So yes, it could be that Romney has very warm feelings for Israel derived from some (in my view) extremely exotic theology, but it is certainly the case that his speech reflected a desire to raise money from wealthy Jews and lock in the evangelical vote. Is that combination Jewcentric in some way? Sure it is. How could it not be?

      Third, Romney’s statement about culture was very much rounded off at the edges. He mentioned David Landes. I know Professor Landes many years and I know his books, and he did not say and would never say that culture is everything. It’s a lot, yes, but geography also matters, policy matters, leadership matters, accidents matter and so forth. Fareed Zakaria, who occasionally has very lucid moments on such subjects, does a fine job in today’s Washington Post explaining what Romney rounded off. He ends with a famous quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, which you and everyone else would be wise to memorize.

      Fourth, the context in which Romney spoke was certain to ignite Palestinian anger. Anybody with a brain could have foreseen that. The Palestinian reaction, especially courtesy of Saeb Erekat, was extremely foolish, as usual. The Palestinians have now biased Romney against them more than would otherwise be the case, should he become President. Was what they said true? Partly. It is certainly true that the Palestinian economy has suffered from the political circumstances surrounding it, although historically the Palestinian economy has also benefitted in some ways from proximity to Israel. It’s also true that culture has advantaged Israel over the Arabs; all you have to do is look at how the other Arab economies function, economies that are not constrained by Israel. Are Palestinians typical Arabs in this regard? Yes and no. These things are not simple, alas.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: “Where Romney’s critics get it wrong is when they suggest his comments were a slap at the Palestinians. Economics is not a morality play; wealthy people (and nations) are not better or more virtous than poor people (or nations). Economically successful nations are not automatically more or less moral by virtue of their accomplishments. ”

    I assume you remember the famous words of some Afghani Mujahid: “The Americans love Pepsi Cola, we love death”. Many Palestinian Arabs think it is more virtuous to continue the struggle against Israel than to pursue lucre. Right or wrong, that’s what they devoutly believe. Let’s not patronize them by pretending that their beliefs don’t have obvious consequences.

  • WigWag

    Thank you for your insights, Adam. As usual, they are very helpful for those of us who have not thought as deeply about these issues as you have.

    I have to disagree with you about the Zakaria piece in the Washington Post; I think the only part of the column which made any sense at all was the quote from Moynihan. The rest of his remarks were (as is frequently the case) mendacious.

    The abject horror that many on the left have expressed about Romney’s comments about the influence of culture on economic development is really quite entertaining. Because Romney was comparing a country with Western values (Israel), to a third world entity, (the Palestinian Authority), Zakaria and his fellow travelers could not help seeing Romney’s comments through the lens of their deep affection for multiculturalism. You know what I mean; the Western nations are the oppressors and the third world is the perpetual victim. As anachronistic as this sounds to rational people, the left is still deeply wedded to this narrative.

    If Zakaria and others believe that culture plays little or no role in explaining the difference in economic accomplishments of Israel and the Palestinians (or Israel and the Arabs more generally), I wonder if they would also deny that the differences in economic accomplishments of the Germans as opposed to the Greeks are also significantly rooted in culture.

    For those who have not seen it, Zakaria’s column can be found here,

    To my way of thinking, most of the examples that Zakaria cites do little to prove his point; in fact they disprove his thesis.

    Zakaria mentions China, Japan, Singapore and India as examples of nations that have progressed remarkably on the path to economic development and he implies that culture can’t have much to do with it because cultures change at a glacial pace. He suggests that while the economies of these nations have taken off in a big way, their cultures can’t be that different than they were 50 or 100 years ago when they were economic backwaters.

    I think this is hogwash. It may not be politically correct to say it, but China, India and Singapore (not to mention Hong Kong, Canada, Australia and the United States) were profoundly influenced by the colonial presence of the British Empire. Each of these nations had their indigenous cultures upended by the British influence. While many aspects of their indigenous cultures may remain, would Zakaria have us believe that their recent economic success is unrelated to the manner in which British culture impacted the native culture that the British found when they first arrived (and invaded) these nations?

    Zakaria also mentions Japan. Has it not occurred to Zakaria that Japan’s culture was upended by its defeat in World War II? Isn’t it possible that Japan’s post war economic success has alot to do with the cultural influences inflicted on the Japanese (against their collective wills) by the United States occupation of their island nation?

    In short, it seems to me that most of the examples Zakaria cites don’t make his point at all; the point that they make is that Anglo-Saxon cultural influences are so particularly amenable to economic development under a capitalistic system that these cultural traits are still consequential even when they are fused with indigenous cultural traits.

    Breathless as Zakaria is to point out that Islamic culture does not inhibit economic development, he mentions the fact that two of the next nations on track to achieve GDPs in the $1 trillion range are Turkey and Indonesia. What Zakaria forgets to inform his readers is that on a per capita basis, Turkey’s GDP trails the per capita GDPs of economic powerhouses like Botswana, Estonia, Trinidad and Tobago and Gabon. He also neglects to mention that most of the economic development that Turkey has achieved since the fall of the Ottoman Empire occurred in the context of a specific rejection of Islamic culture that Ataturk enshrined in the modern nation that he founded. As for Indonesia, in terms of per capita GDP, it trails paragons of rapid economic growth like Armenia, Swaziland and Bolivia.

    My point is simple; I think that in this case at least, Zakaria does not know what he is talking about.

    One other thing; you mention that “the context in which Romney spoke was certain to ignite Palestinian anger. Anybody with a brain could have foreseen that.” My guess is that Romney knew his remarks would anger the Palestinians and that he viewed that as a virtue not a problem. Perhaps Romney and Dan Senor suspected that angering the Palestinians (something which Obama has been loathe to do, at least with his public remarks) would go over well particularly with undecided Jewish voters in Florida and with Christian Zionists who might mistrust Romney because of his religious beliefs. The only Americans likely to be angered by Romney’s willingness to anger the Palestinians are hysterical leftists and faux-intellectuals like Zakaria who have no intention of voting for Romney anyway.

    But there also may be a less cynical explanation. Leftist members of the chattering classes such as Tom Friedman never tire of complaining about how the United States government is forced for political reasons to coddle Israel. What they never mention is that our Government also coddles the Palestinians. They are showered with money (albeit far less than the Israelis); they are never treated rudely in public (like Obama treated Netanyahu at a White House meeting where Obama left a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister so he could have dinner with his family in the White House residence); they are allowed to maintain the fantasy that Palestinian “refugees” may someday return to Israel in large numbers; and their political concerns are attended to with far more sympathy than most other groups with a desire for a nation of their own receive (the Kurds come to mind).

    Perhaps Romney believes that the willingness to coddle the Palestinians demonstrated by both Democratic and Republican Administrations has actually been an impediment to peace. Perhaps Romney believes that Aaron David Miller was wrong; most American Administrations haven’t been Israel’s lawyer, they’ve mostly served as the Palestinians lawyer. Perhaps Romney believes that the time has finally come to lower the expectations of the Palestinians about what they can achieve in a peace deal and that if they are treated less affectionately by the American Government and other western governments that they will actually become more flexible about their national aspirations, not less flexible.

    If this is indeed what Romney believes, I think he’s right.

    ps: The LDS belief that American Indians are descended from the Israelite tribe of Menasseh may be amendable to verification by techniques that have now become routine in modern molecular biology. This may be one of the few occasions where science can actually confirm or disprove a religious tenet.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: “the willingness to coddle the Palestinians”

    A “soft bigotry of low expectations”, to coin a phrase?

  • Militant Catholic

    When Bush named Syria in the ‘Axis of Evil’ speech, Liberals were outraged and called him a warmonger. But Obama has us well into this conflict and we’re supposed to believe this is somehow different because a Liberal is doing the killing now. What happened to ‘Not In Our Name’ and ‘War Is Not The Answer’ and the antiwar Left and the ‘No Blood For Oil’ crowd? Do you ever hear about the record US troop death toll in Afghanistan? Or any of the ten other MENA and central African countries Obama has sent ‘advisors’and arms to?

    • Adam Garfinkle

      I don’t think I have ever seen such a short comment with so many errors.

      First, the axis of evil speech named North Korea, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and Iran. Syria was not mentioned.

      Second, The Obama Administration has strained NOT to get involved militarily in Syria. The administration has refused to respond to calls for a no-fly zone, humanitarian safe zones, and it refuses to directly arm the rebels. There are no US combat troops in Syria and none are on the way.

      Third, what “record” death toll in Afghanistan could you possibly be talking about? It is tragic that we have lost 1,940 dead, because in my view, as you know if you read my piece, this is all in vain. But how is 1,940 a record? A record of what? It’s actually a very low number by any historical comparison — say for example, well over 50,000 dead in Vietnam.

      Fourth, the Obama Administration has not sent advisers or arms to any MENA country that the US has not already been engaged with since the mid-1970s. What in the world are you talking about? Can you name a single country (aside from Libya, a special case) with which the Obama Administration has opened a new military/security support arrangement? You can’t, because there isn’t one.

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