Enemy intelligence: our occasional look at what thoughtful ruling class commentators are saying.
With no ‘good’ side to support, Michael Walzer says Washington should increase humanitarian aid rather than intervene militarily
By ELHANAN MILLER (The Times of Israel)
As President Barack Obama and other Western leaders mull arming rebels fighting the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria, a leading American expert said the United States should avoid military intervention in a country where its ability to identify positive elements for the future is extremely limited.
Speaking to The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the Middle East in Transition conference at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University on Wednesday, Michael Walzer, a professor emeritus of political theory at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study and author of “Just and Unjust Wars” — perhaps the most authoritative book on the subject — said that his position on Syria gradually shifted from skepticism about US military intervention in the early days of the uprising to staunch opposition to it today.
“Now you have jihadi fighters on the one hand and Hezbollah on the other, and it really doesn’t look like there’s much to choose between,” Walzer said. “It’s almost impossible to describe a desirable outcome in this civil war, and if you don’t have a desirable outcome — you can’t intervene.”
Walzer’s comments come amid mounting Republican pressure on the administration of Barack Obama to arm the waning rebel groups in Syria, and Democratic indecision on the matter. Following a recent visit with rebels near Syria’s border with Jordan, Senator John McCain (R-Az) expressed confidence that the US could ensure that heavy weaponry reached “the right hands.”
But Walzer argued that it has become virtually impossible to identify “right hands” in today’s Syria.
From the early days of the Syrian uprising, Walzer argued that three conditions must be met for the US to intervene militarily, conditions that were sorely disregarded when it engaged the Qaddafi regime in Libya in 2011. Firstly, the US must “pick a winner” and make sure he is capable of governing Syria; secondly, the US must secure Assad’s weapons arsenal and prevent it from leaking into neighboring countries; and finally the new (presumably) Sunni government must guarantee the physical safety of the country’s minorities: Alawites, Druze, Christians and Kurds.
“The only way to achieve these goals is with troops on the ground,” Walzer argued, adding that no one in the American political system is willing to pay that price.
Walzer is by no means a non-interventionist. He supported American military action in places like Kosovo and Rwanda in the 1990s and in Darfur, Sudan, over the past decade. Nor does he believe that a democratic outcome is a prerequisite for military intervention where “systematic massacres” are perpetrated. For him, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in November 1978 and the Tanzanian invasion of Uganda that same year serve as models of justified military interventions, though neither were authorized by the UN and both were motivated more by geopolitical considerations than by humanitarian ones. ”But they stopped the killing,” he said.
The Syrian case is different, however.
“In Syria, there isn’t a deliberate systematic massacre of hundreds of thousands of people. There’s a war going on, and it’s being fought with great brutality on both sides, though there’s probably a greater capacity for brutality on the government side.”
As the official death toll in Syria reached 93,000 on Thursday according to UN figures, the lack of a military option does not mean the US must stand idly by, Walzer said. Humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees could be dramatically increased, he argued, and together with the Russians the US should explore the possibility of forming a transitional government.
“There are now generals from the Syrian army fighting on both sides. Maybe we could get them together and form a military junta that could stop the killing.”
Syria’s first government could not be created by elections, Walzer said, but only through negotiations between political and military forces.
“You can’t have elections where there are people whose goal is to to kill their enemies. A system of power sharing cannot be imagined if you don’t first have an end to violence, the beginning of civil society.”
Even if military intervention does eventually become justified, for instance if the government begins systematically using chemical weapons against civilians — “not experimentally, which seems to be what has happened so far” — the obligation to intervene lies primarily with Syria’s immediate neighbors and not with distant superpowers, “who are likely to do it less well.”
“The difficulty is that the Arab world is divided,” he concluded.
H/t: Prof Norm
I’ve liked Iain Banks’ writing ever since reading The Wasp Factory in the 1980′s. And although I never met him, I’ve liked what I’ve seen and heard of him personally: self-deprecating, witty and obviously a good leftie.
His humanity, humour and courage were all in evidence when he announced that he had terminal cancer a couple of months ago, adding that he’d asked his partner to do him the honour of becoming his widow.
So it was with genuine sadness that I heard about his death yesterday.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I agreed with everything he said and did. His decision to refuse to have his books published in Israel was, in my opinion, stupid, counter-productive gesture politics of the worst kind, and all too typical of the antics of the BDS campaign and the PSC (especially, it seems, the Scottish PSC).
The fact that immediately following his sad announcement, Banks agreed to let the Guardian publish his views on Jews and Israel, doesn’t make those views any less stupid or ignorant.
David Hirsh at Engage came in for some stick for attacking Banks at the time, but I like to think he (Banks) was a big enough guy, and serious enough about politics, to have taken the criticism on the chin:
What would you do if you only had a year to live?
What would you do? You’d do the important things, right? Iain Banks decided to have the stupid things he’d written about Jews re-published in the Guardian.
“A sporting boycott of Israel would make relatively little difference to the self-esteem of Israelis in comparison to South Africa; an intellectual and cultural one might help make all the difference…”
Yes, because white South Africans only care about Rugby while Jews spend their time with their noses in a book… Mike Cushman came up with this one ages ago: “Universities are to Israel what the springboks were to South Africa: the symbol of their national identity.” And Tom (Israeli archeologists are nastier than Nazi killers) Hickey too: “we are speaking of a culture, both in Israel and in the long history of the Jewish diaspora, in which education and scholarship are held in high regard. That is why an academic boycott might have a desirable political effect in Israel, an effect that might not be expected elsewhere…”
“Israel and its apologists can’t have it both ways, though: if they’re going to make the rather hysterical claim that any and every criticism of Israeli domestic or foreign policy amounts to antisemitism, they have to accept that this claimed, if specious, indivisibility provides an opportunity for what they claim to be the censure of one to function as the condemnation of the other.”
Jews as hysterical? People who say that “every criticism” is antisemitic? Classic Livingstone Formulation… The conflation of criticism with demonization combined with the charge of raising antisemitism in bad faith in order to silence “critics”.
“Of all people, the Jewish people ought to know how it feels to be persecuted en masse, to be punished collectively and to be treated as less than human.” [ach you know what comes next...]
The Jews should know better? The Jews should have learnt more at Auschwitz? Well, take your pick. Chris Davies? Jacqueline Rose? Desmond Tutu? “My heart aches. I say why are our memories so short. Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden?”
Why does everybody who comes up with this garbage think they’re really clever, brave and original to have thought of it?
Iain Banks’ illness is terrible news for a talented writer, a man who always seemed to be one of the good guys. I’m sad that he thinks that this clichéd, dangerous and stereotyped nonsense is the most important thing that he should do now.
Graun obit here
Matt Hill, writing at the New Statesman website, makes some very interesting comments on the Hawking “boycott” and the BDS movement in general. It’s well worth reading the entire article, but this section is especially telling:
The problem with the BDS campaign is that the message it sends Israel is anything but clear – and, as a result, it risks being counterproductive. In his letter to the conference’s organisers, Hawking wrote about his concerns about “prospects for a peace settlement”, saying that “the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster”. But Israel’s supporters claim that the BDS movement has little to do with the occupation, peace, and government policy, and is instead intended to bring into question the Jewish state’s right to exist.
It’s true that Israel’s supporters throw the word ‘delegitimisation‘ around to portray fair-minded criticism of Israel as invidious and sinister. But when it comes to BDS, the fact is that they have a point. The BDS movement doesn’t have a single leadership with stated goals, but most of the biggest groups within it make little secret of their preferred outcome to the conflict. Instead of a two-state solution, they support a single, Palestinian-majority state that would mean the end of Israel’s existence. Don’t take my word for it. Norman Finkelstein, the heroic pro-Palestinian author and activist, recently launched a blistering attack on the BDS movement, telling an interviewer: “[The Israelis] say ‘They’re not talking about rights. They want to destroy Israel.’ And in fact, I think they’re right. . . . There’s a large segment of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel.”
And just in case any readers haven’t yet seen the clip of Finkelstein (someone this blog would not describe as “heroic”) accusing the BDS movement of fundamental dishonesty about Israel, here it is:
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Stephen Hawking, explaining his decision to boycott the Shimon Peres Presidential Conference in Israel, describes what he had planned to say:
“Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”
That is a strong statement, but it’s not an eccentric or hateful view – and you certainly don’t have to be an enemy of Israel to share it. Yet although I can understand why some (particularly Palestinians) have urged Hawking to boycott this event, I very much regret his final decision. There are many countries which would not have allowed him to strike his planned dissenting note – and where requests for solidarity from those considering themselves oppressed could not even have been articulated. Here is Omar Barghouti’s response:
But Palestinians welcomed Hawking’s decision. “Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking’s support for an academic boycott of Israel,” said Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
I believe Barghouti is still registered as a PhD student at Tel Aviv University. That doesn’t mean that he can’t speak out against the injustices of occupation, checkpoints, detention or any other topic, or indeed call for boycott. Clearly he can. And that fact in itself might make one wonder, not whether Israel should be protected from robust criticism over its policies, but whether it is really the one country in the world which deserves to be the focus of such a very concerted boycott campaign.
Tom Lehrer was 85 on Tuesday. I was going to write something at the time, but events overtook me.
Lehrer was one of the wittiest, most intelligent and musically talented of all the 1950s and ’60s entertainers, yet somehow he never came to terms with either showbiz (he disliked appearing in public) or the ‘New Left’ of the 1960′s (despite his own left-liberal views). He was a humourist first and a political satirist second, saying. “If the audience applauds they’re just showing they agree with me. They’re not being amused by it. I’m sure in 1968, I could have gotten up and said something like ‘Cops are pigs,’ and they’d applaud.. But that’s not humor. So I dropped out just in time.”
Lehrer is the originator of the famous quote to the effect that satire died when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1973), but he had already more or less given up songwriting and performing years before then, and returned to the world of mathematics (he had an MA from Harvard and taught at MIT, Harvard and Wellesley). And, in any case, he’s always been highly sceptical about mixing politics with entertainment, saying in a 2000 interview ”I don’t think this kind of thing has an impact on the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the converted; it’s titillating the converted…I’m fond of quoting Peter Cook, who talked about the satirical Berlin kabaretts of the 1930s, which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the Second World War.”
Anyway, it’s good that the great man is still with us, even if he rarely performs and is not nearly well enough remembered. Happily, though, he’s been quite extensively recorded and filmed over the years:
Werner von Braun:
Poisoning Pigeons in the Park (warning: not political, just anti-pigeon – JD):
I Wanna Go Back To Dixie:
I’ve just used a Christmas book token to purchase the latest Noam Chomsky. Well, I say “latest” but in fact the modestly entitled ‘How The World Works’ is, in fact, a collection of “intensively edited speeches and interviews” (writes editor Arthur Naiman) from the 1990s and (in some cases) the late 1980s.
Above: the old genocide-denier himself
Both Naiman and David Barsamian, who conducted the interviews that make up most of the book, are clearly uncritical Chomsky fans, almost breathless in their hero-worship. Naiman writes “I think you’ll find Chomsky’s take on things more insightful than anything you hear on the airwaves or read in the papers today. His analyses are so deep and farsighted that they only seem to get more timely — and startling — with age. Read a few pages and see if you don’t agree.”
Not to be outdone, Barsamian writes “Chomsky is an electrifying speaker, and that’s due solely to what he says, not to the unpretentious, straightforward way in which he says it (he consciously avoids rhetorical flourishes). Sharp as a razer in debate but warm and amiable in convesation, he’s both the most moral and most knowledgable person I’ve ever met.
“I hope he lives to be 100. You should too. The world will be an emptier, lonlier and less just place without him.”
Given the period in which most of the speeches and interviews took place, and also some previous criticisms that I’ve made of Chomsky, I first checked the contents and index to see what the book contained about former Yugoslavia and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo; I was surprised to find just one piece on the subject, an interview that seems to be from the early 1990′s. Even more surprising, in the light of some of what Chomsky has written and said on the subject since, is the anodyne nature of what he has to say. In answer to the question “Would you comment on the events in the former Yugoslavia, which constitute the greatest outburst of violence in Europe in fifty years — tens of thousands killed, hundreds of thousands of refugees. This isn’t some remote place like East Timor we’re talking about — this is Europe –and it’s on the news every night”, Chomsky replies:
In a certain sense, what’s happening is that the British and American right wings are getting what they asked for. Since the 1940s they’ve been quite bitter about the fact that Western support turned to Tito and the partisans, and against Mikailhovich and his Chetniks, and the Croatian anti-Communists, including the Ustasha, who were outright Nazis. The Chetniks were also playing with the Nazis and were trying to overcome the partisans.
The partisan victory imposed a communist dictatorship, but it also federated the country. It suppressed the ethnic violence that had accompanied the hatreds and created the basis of some sort of functioning society in which the parts had their role. We’re now essentially back in the 1940s, but without the partisans.
Serbia is the inheritor of the Chetniks and their ideology. Croatia is the inheritor of the Ustasha and its ideology (less ferocious than the Nazi original, but similar). It’s possible that they’re now carrying out pretty much what they would’ve done if the partisans hadn’t won.
Of course, the leadership of these elements comes from the Communist party, but that’s because every thug in the region went into the ruling apparatus. (Yeltsin, for example, was a Communist party boss.)
It’s interesting that the right wing in the West — at least its more honest elements — defend much of what’s happening. For example, Nora Beloff, a right-wing British commentator on Yugoslavia, wrote a letter to the London Economist condemning those who denounce the Serbs in Bosnia. She’s saying it’s the fault of the Muslims. They’re refusing to accommodate the Serbs, who are just defending themselves.
She’s been a supporter of the Chetniks from way back, so there’s no reason why she shouldn’t continue to support Chetnik violence (which is what this amounts to). Of course there may be another factor. She’s an extremist Zionist, and the fact that the Muslims are involved already makes them guilty.
Some say that, just as the Allies should have bombed the rail lines to Auschwitz to prevent the deaths of many people in concentration camps, so we should now bomb the Serbian gun positions surrounding Sarajevo that have kept that city under siege. Would you advocate the use of force?
First of all, there’s a good deal of debate about how much effect bombing the rail lines to Auschwitz would have had. Putting that aside, it seems to me that a judicious threat and use of force, not by the Western powers but by some international or multinational group, might, at an earlier stage, have suppressed a good deal of the violence and maybe blocked it. I don’t know if it would help now.
If it were possible to stop the bombardment of Sarajevo by threatening to bomb some emplacements (and perhaps even carrying the threat out), I think you could give an argument for it. But that’s a very big if. It’s not only a moral issue — you have to ask about the consequences, and they could be quite complex.
What if a Balkan war were set off? One consequence is that conservative military forces within Russia could move in. They’re already there, in fact, to support their Slavic brothers in Serbia. They might move in en masse. (That’s traditional, incidentally. Go back to Tolstoy’s novels and read about how Russians were going to the south to save their Slavic brothers from attacks. It’s now being reenacted.)
At that point you’re getting fingers on nuclear weapons involved. It’s also entirely possible that an attack on the Serbs, who feel that they’re the aggrieved party, could inspire them to move more aggressively in Kosovo, the Albanian area. That could set off a large-scale war, with Greece and Turkey involved. So it’s not so simple.
Or what if the Bosnian Serbs, with the backing of both the Serbian and maybe even other Slavic regions, started a guerrilla war? Western military “experts” have suggested it could take a hundred thousand troops just to more or less hold the area. Maybe so.
So one has to ask a lot of questions about consequences. Bombing Serbian gun emplacements sounds simple, but you have to ask how many people are going to end up being killed. That’s not so simple.
Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as Arkan, a fugitive wanted for bank robbery in Sweden, was elected to the Serb Parliament in December 1992. His Tigers’ Militia is accused of killing civilians in Bosnia. He’s among ten people listed by the US State Department as a possible war criminal. Arkan dismissed the charges and said, “There are a lot of people in the United States I could list as war criminals.”
That’s quite correct. By the standards of Nuremberg, there are plenty of people who could be listed as war criminals in the West. It doesn’t absolve him in any respect, of course.
Now that is pretty inoffensive and uncontentious stuff, especially when compared with what Chomsky was writing and saying just a few years later. Take this commentary on Milošević and the Srebrenica genocide, published in Chomsky’s 2006 book ‘Failed States’:
Let us return to the Yugoslavia Tribunal, where Milošević was charged with genocide. The indictment was restricted to crimes in Kosovo. It kept almost entirely to crimes subsequent to the NATO bombing, which, as anticipated by the NATO command and the Clinton administration, elicited serious atrocities in reaction. Presumably because the Kosovo charges were so ambigious, Bosnia was later added, specifically the charge of genocide at Srebrenica. That too raises a few questions, if only because after these events, Milošević was accepted by the United States and its allies as a partner for diplomatic settlement. A further problem is that the most detailed enquiry into the Srebrenica massacre, by the Dutch government * concluded that Milošević had no connection to it, and that he “was very upset when he heard about the massacres,” the Dutch scholar who headed the team of intelligence specialists reported. The study describes the “incredulity” in the Belgrade government, including Milošević, when they learned of the executions.
Suppose we adopt prevailing Western opinion that such unwelcome facts are irrelevant. Even so, the prosecution has had considerable difficulty in establishing the charge of genocide. Suppose, however, that someone were to unearth a document in which Milošević orders the Serbian airforce to reduce Bosnia or Kosovo to rubble, with the words “Anything that flies on anything that moves” [Nixon's instructions to Kissinger to order bombing in Cambodia - JD]. The prosecutors would be overjoyed, the trial would be over, and Milošević would be sent off to many successive life sentences for the crime of genocide – a death sentence, if the tribunal followed US conventions. But as always, the principled exemption from moral truism prevails.
* Chomsky conveniently ignores the July 1999 findings of the International Criminal Tribunal which attributed the atrocities at Sebrenica to a “direct chain of military command” from Belgrade and, specifically, Milošević. He also ignores the fact that one of the two Serb generals who ordered the killings, Radislav Krstic (the other being Ratko Mladic), was promoted to general within a few days of the atrocity.
George Monbiot on the genocide denial of his former “hero” Chomsky (and others on the “left”), here
From the Daily Telegraph:
Rita Levi-Montalcini, who has died aged 103, overcame racial and sexual prejudice to become a leading neurobiologist and one of the handful of women scientists to win a Nobel Prize.
Her triumph came in 1986, when she shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with her student, the biochemist Stanley Cohen, for their contributions to the understanding of growth factors in human development.
By the 1950s, the pattern of cell growth and differentiation had long been established, and scientists knew that the addition of blood or organ extracts to cells in culture resulted in their successful growth. They did not know, however, the identity of the active substances, just as cancer researchers understood little of the unregulated growth of tumour cells.
In 1952, Rita Levi-Montalcini found that when tumours from mice were transplanted to chick embryos, they induced potent growth of the chick embryo nervous system . She concluded that the tumour released a nerve growth-promoting factor (NGF) which had a selective action on certain types of nerve cells.
Following this discovery, she began to measure the effect of NGF on cells in culture, and discovered that a sensory or sympathetic nerve cell reacted within 30 seconds of the addition of minute quantities of NGF. Just one billionth part of a gram of NGF per millilitre of culture medium exerted a potent growth-promoting effect.
In 1953 the biochemist Stanley Cohen joined her research group at Washington University, St Louis, and together they purified a nerve growth-promoting extract. Rita Levi-Montalcini’s discovery improved scientific understanding of the processes involved in certain physical malformations and diseases. It has led to improved therapeutic agents and could be central to eventual treatments for diseases such as multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s as well as psychiatric disorders such as depression or anorexia.
Rita Levi-Montalcini was born, with her twin sister Paola, in Turin on April 22 1909, the youngest of four children. Her father, Adamo Levi, was an electrical engineer and mathematician, and her mother, Adele Montalcini, a talented painter. Their elder brother, Gino, would become a prominent Italian architect and professor at the University of Turin.
Though the family was cultured, Rita’s father took a traditional view of a woman’s place and decided that his three daughters should not go to university. But Rita was convinced she could not be content with a merely domestic role and, at the age of 20, begged her father to be allowed to try for university. Eventually he relented and within eight months she had rectified her deficiencies in Latin, Greek and Mathematics, graduated from high school, and enrolled at the medical school in Turin, where she studied under the histologist Giuseppe Levi.
In 1936 she graduated with a summa cum laude degree in Medicine and Surgery, and began postgraduate work in neurology and psychiatry. But that year, Mussolini issued the Manifesto per la Difesa della Razza, signed by 10 Italian scientists, which called for laws barring academic and professional careers to non-Aryan citizens. She therefore left Italy for Belgium, where she worked as a guest of a neurological institute in Brussels. In 1940, on the eve of the German invasion of Belgium, she returned to the relative safety of Turin.
Realising it would not be possible to pursue her scientific interests openly, Rita Levi-Montalcini built a small research unit in her bedroom. By this time, inspired by a 1934 article by Viktor Hamburger reporting on the effects of limb amputation in chick embryos, she had become interested in the mechanisms controlling the development of the vertebrate nervous system. She had barely begun work when her former teacher, Giuseppe Levi, who had also escaped from Belgium, returned to Turin and joined her in her work.
Forced to leave Turin by the heavy Allied bombing of the city in 1941, she moved her laboratory to a cottage in Piemonte. But the invasion of Italy by the German Army in 1943 forced her to move again and she remained in hiding in Florence until the Allies liberated the city in August 1944. She was then taken on by the Allied armies as a volunteer physician and assigned to a refugee camp, where she had to treat cases of typhoid and other infectious diseases.
When the war ended she returned with her family to Turin and resumed her academic career at the University. In 1947 she received an invitation from Viktor Hamburger to join him at Washington University, St Louis, where he was a professor. She planned to remain in America for a year but, as a result of the success of her research, decided to postpone her return.
She continued her research on NGF for some 30 years. In 1956 she was appointed Associate Professor and in 1958 full Professor of Neurobiology at Washington University, a position she held until her retirement in 1977. In 1962 she established a research unit in Rome, and from then on, she divided her time between Italy and America. From 1969 to 1978 she was Director of the Institute of Cell Biology of the Italian National Council of Research.
After her retirement in 1979 she became an emeritus professor at the Institute, and from 1989 to 1995, by now well into her eighties, she worked at the Italian National Council of Research Institute of Neurobiology, testing new hypotheses on the action of NGF.
From 1993 to 1998 she was President of the Institute of the Italian Encyclopaedia. She was the author of numerous scientific publications, four bestsellers, and a short autobiography, In Praise of Imperfection. In 1992 she created, together with her twin sister, the Levi-Montalcini Foundation, in memory of their father, to assist young people in the difficult choices regarding their fields of study.
Rita Levi-Montalcini was a member of many scientific academies, including the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the Pontifical Academy, the Accademia delle Scienze, the American National Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society.
She was unmarried.
Rita Levi-Montalcini, born April 22 1909, died December 30 2012