Friday, June 05, 2009

The Arab lack of candor: A closer look

There is a story I'm hearing a lot, that supporters of Zionism keep making trips to Arab countries and these supporters of Zionism are told that the Arabs really like Israel and want to ally with Israel against Iran, but this opinion has to be kept secret.

Obama touched on this story in his speech:

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. (Applause.) We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true. [Like how "many" turned into "everyone"?]

We see the story again in a reported interview with Thomas Friedman (who famously always seems to find Zionist taxi drivers in every Muslim country he sets foot in.)

A key part of his message, he said, will be: “Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something else publicly.” He then explained: “There are a lot of Arab countries more concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapon than the ‘threat’ from Israel, but won’t admit it.” There are a lot of Israelis, “who recognize that their current path is unsustainable, and they need to make some tough choices on settlements to achieve a two-state solution — that is in their long-term interest — but not enough folks are willing to recognize that publicly.”

This op-ed added so little value. If would have been much better for Friedman to write the story in question/answer format. Friedman relates himself telling a joke that takes more space than all of Obama's reported statements put together. Not necessary. Not useful.

We see this story a lot though, b over at moonofalabama wrote enough of a take-down of this genre of story that I hadn't thought to go back until I see it from the President of the United States.

But we're here. Let's discuss this idea that the Saudis accept that Israel will always be here according to Obama's speech, and believe Iran is a bigger threat than Israel if we believe what Friedman chooses to relate from his interview with Obama, but are not willing to say what they believe publicly. The question that immediately comes to mind is: why are they keeping their belief secret?

One possible way to look at the question is to ask what secrets does the US hold. Which of Obama's beliefs is he not willing to say in public? Possibly the Arabs have similar motives, but even if they do not, we can establish that when parties say one thing in public and another in private there is a reason for that, it is not just to be needlessly coy.

Barack Obama will not say that Israel has nuclear weapons. Everybody knows it does, I'm sure he admits it off the record, if only to avoid insulting the intelligence of whatever party he is speaking with. Obama mentioned Iran's nuclear program which certainly has not produced a weapon but did not mention Israel's which certainly has. If there is a reason for this lapse in candor, it is part of a fundamental hypocrisy that US policy is that Israel should have a monopoly on nuclear technology in the region, a policy that is indefensible on many different grounds. Not mentioning it prevents Obama and other US officials from having to defend an indefensible policy.

Another lapse in candor. Egypt is more than just an authoritarian dictatorship. Mubarak is more than a dictator who does not succomb to the urge to demagogue the issue of the conflict with Zionism, as Obama said in his recent BBC interview. The Middle East is not a region where the US innocently finds a bunch of dictatorships that it has to tolerate. Abbas hasn't happened to expand his powers beyond Palestinian law when Hamas won the election and he doesn't happen to remain in power, refusing to run for re-election after his legal term in office has expired.

The United States supports dictatorship in the Arab world, and in fact supports them in ways without which they would be unable to survive because if the over 100 million Arabs of the region had democracy, it would be difficult for the fewer than 6 million Jews of the region to maintain the luxury of a political majority in Israel.

Here is a rare moment of candor from prominent US supporter of Israel, MJ Rosenberg - but we'll never see a statement like this from any US official, much less the President:

Personally, I never much cared whether Israel's neighbors were democratic so long as they were willing to live in peace with Israel.

Jordan, for instance, is not a democracy in the western sense but it is precisely the kind of neighbor Israel needs. Egypt is not a democracy but is at peace with Israel. A democratic Egypt probably would not be. So let's lay the democratic crusade aside (which, of course, we do anyway if we don't like the choices made by the voters in these various countries).

So why this lapse in candor on the part of Obama? Because to be candid is to openly contradict the general value system of his society. Obama, when he is less than candid, is not so because he has to hide from the naive stupid naive people he rules over. If he says in public "Israel should be able to threaten its neighbors with nuclear attack but none of its neighbors should be able to threaten Israel" even reasonable Americans will recognize that as ridiculous and unsustainable, to say less of the countries in the region. If Obama says in public "100 million Arabs in authoritarian dictatorships is a small price to pay to ensure Jews have a Jewish-majority state" even reasonable Americans will see that as absurd.

So why do the Saudi not say in public "the Iranians, with whom we have relations, whom we invite to our conferences, are more a threat than Israel" because by Saudi values, that is an indefensible position. By Saudi values. It is not that the Saudis are afraid of their stupid naive "street".

So, with that in mind let's try to figure out what's going on in these meetings. A US official, or even a US journalist - who by Middle East standards is a rabid supporter of Zionism, the type who would describe the connection between the US and Israel as "unbreakable" meets a Saudi or Arab who is somehow connected to some Arab decision-making establishment.

The ruling power structure the Arab is somehow connected to would not be able to remain in place as a dictatorial regime without US support. The Arab, realizing that Israel is very vocally identifying Iran as the most important threat facing Israel, tells his US counterpart: "we hate Iran too, ever since the Shiites split from the Sunnis we've had it in for them. The thing we're most afraid of is their rising to power, but don't tell anyone I said this."

Why this "lack of candor" that Obama is decrying?

The same reason for Obama's lack of candor. Because the statement is absurd by his own value system.

There is another lack of candor. These Arabs never make the obviously true statement: "we oppose Iran at least in some small part because our patrons, Israel and the US, oppose Iran." Same reason. People do not speak candid truths that go against their values.

If we're not deliberately naive, we can see though the lack of candor both in the US side and the Arab side.

No comments: