Wednesday, November 1st, 2023
Another tour de force interview with Walter Russell Mead, this time with Bari Weiss.
I look at the last 300 years of world history as this contest, a series of contests, between English-speaking commercial, reasonably liberal maritime powers and these big land powers… We’re back to the Cold War when Russia was a huge sponsor of Palestinian terrorism. And Russia has decided to go back to that today. See, we don’t want, the Biden Administration doesn’t want, Russia and Iran and China to cohere because that just makes all of our problems worse. But they also know that cohering makes all of our problems worse. And that’s what they want.
Monday, August 14th, 2023
The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Metropolitan Elite
After realizing I am in complete agreement with whatever I’ve read by Michael Lind, I turned to his book The New Class War. Here Lind details how we got to the current dysfunction whereby the social order set in place after WW2 broke down during the 70s as a result of pressures from ideas from both the political left and right, leading to the majority losing power to the elites.
His fix is to reinstate democratic pluralism by re-establishing trade (guilds), local civic (wards) and religious (congregations) institutions and giving them power. But how to make that happen? Lind notes that historically only rivalry with another power has forced elites to re-enfranchise the majority, as it’s how to best marshal the nation to its fullest ability.
And indeed, there is something that might achieve this, a single issue around which the Left and Right, the majority and the elites, can agree on, which is that China must be contained.
Thursday, August 3rd, 2023
Sunday, March 5th, 2023
Prof. Nir Keidar, legal historian and President of Sapir College, appears on the predictably leftist podcast The Tel Aviv Review ostensibly to discuss his book David Ben Gurion and the Foundation of Israeli Democracy but the conversation is mostly about today’s judicial reform, and he is reasonable and helpful.
Saturday, March 4th, 2023
David Goldman, back on form, untangles Türkiye’s high-wire new stratagems that leverage its centrality every which way. But I don’t know, this all seems too clever by half and could unravel fairly instantly.
By the way, for ages Goldman was talking about how Türkiye was collapsing and becoming a vassal state to China. But of course, course-corrections happen among the living. For me as someone who believes Goldman is pretty prescient, it’s reassuring that he updates his views.
Thursday, March 2nd, 2023
Tuesday, October 4th, 2022
Some Twitter accounts posting frequent videos of the courageous protests by young women in Iran:
This, it seems to me, is inspiring, world-historical stuff.
Sunday, October 2nd, 2022
The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People
Walter Russell Mead
Mearsheimer and Walt — three words that do not appear once in this 1045-page book but are clearly its raison d’etre. John Mearsheimer is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago; Stephen Walt is Professor of International Relations at Harvard Kennedy School; together they are the respectable face of American anti-Semitism, sufficiently reputable that Walter Russell Mead seems unwilling to criticize them by name, sufficiently retrograde however that their book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy infuriated our southern-born dean of foreign relations to work on this book for a dozen years or so.
The Wikipedia article on the Lobby book illustrates Mead’s Southern Gentleman approach; whereas Israeli historian Benny Morris says “their work is riddled with shoddiness and defiled by mendacity,” Mead applauds the authors for “admirably and courageously” initiating a conversation on a difficult subject, but more in sorrow than in anger laments that while their intentions are surely strictly honorable, they commit “easily avoidable lapses in judgment and expression.”
Making multiple approaches from multiple angles, Mead demolishes their central notion, giving it the withering moniker of Vulcanist thinking. (Actually I take issue a little with this label, because since the book is so long I forgot the elegant historical anecdote that originates it — a theory of astronomy that attempted to explain celestial workings by means of an undetected planet that doesn’t actually exist. Instead I mentally defaulted to popular culture, where Star Trek’s Vulcan is a stand-in for excessive logic — a characterization quite antithetical to his notion of Vulcanist thinking. This is a shame because the term therefore probably won’t catch on, which it could have perhaps as a shorthand for tendentious yet respectable and therefore ultimately even more ridiculous thinking.)
Especially enriching are his fleshing out of the geopolitical maneouverings among the US, Britain and Russia at the time of Israel’s founding. Important here for Mead’s thesis is that the legend of Truman’s Jewish friend from back in Missouri inveighing on the flummoxed President to recognize Israel be relegated to Queen Esther-echoing myth. For it is WRM’s contention in his chapter “Cyrus Agonistes” that American support for Israel is endemic to the United States, rather than due to the influence of the American Jewish lobby qua Walt and Mearsheimer. Moreover this support comes despite American Jews, whose leaders have for most of Israel’s history been actively working against a Jewish state, their energies only turning once America as a whole pursued full-throated support for Israel after it became the Middle East’s unambiguous Six Day War strong horse.
It’s also a helpful historical insight that WRM groups 19th century American support for Jewish return to Israel with support for the birth of the Italian and Greek nationstates:
In the ancient world, as Americans saw it, the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews had been much like Americans of the nineteenth century. They were mostly agrarian people, nations of family-owned farms. They had free institutions and their societies were grounded in virtue. But corruption, urbanization, and monarchy had wreaked their ugly work; in time, all three of the ancient peoples fell from their virtue and freedom into slavery, superstition, and oppression.
As the nineteenth century progressed, and the Greek and Italian independence movements advanced, the possibility of a restored Jewish commonwealth also began to gleam on the horizon.
In fact the discussion of nationalism’s birth pangs from the empires of eastern Europe, the chapter entitled “Maelstrom”, is perhaps the richest part of the book.
As a columnist I have been irritated by what I perceive as WRM’s intellectual mealy-mouthedness. But as a full-throated podcast guest I realize this is merely his print persona, a tic I suppose similar to what he probably views as his Straussian icy politeness regarding Mearsheimer and Walt. That said, I took umbrage when in the book he referred to the Second Intifada, a wave of despicable terror attacks against Israel in the wake of the Oslo Agreements, using the BBC-like passive even-handed term: “violence flared”. I instantly recalled eyewitnessing the shellshock in the hours after the Dolphinarium suicide bombing that killed and maimed dozens of partying teenagers. I was only somewhat mollified later in the book when he mentioned this particular bombing by name, without mentioning that the victims were teenagers.
This is a book about America not Israel, and as well as constituting a scathing retort to Mearsheimer and Walt, is a continuation by other means of his 2001 book Special Providence that classifies the various streams of America’s foreign policy; in portraying America’s relationship with Israel, Arc explicates the fullest expression of the Jacksonian stream, a Meadian classification that, unlike Vulcanism, does seem to be sticking.
Tuesday, September 6th, 2022
The Mufti, Qadaffi, King Hussein — I’m vastly enjoying season 2 of the Israeli TV documentary series Enemies (streaming requires an Israeli IP). One thing I can’t help but notice is the impressive living rooms in which the interviewees — mostly military intelligence vets — sit. None of them are in apartments, all have leafy window views, there’s a lot of wood, and most of them aren’t furnished like typical Israeli dwellings. I guess these aren’t military men, they’re men and women of the world.
I can’t tell if I enjoy Israeli docs because they’re so good, or merely because I’m the target audience. If it’s the former, and I think it is, they really should be selling them subtitled to wider audiences, say to Netflix and Amazon Prime.
It’s great, this pounding away at Israeli history, each episode a different prism.
Tuesday, May 17th, 2022
Some 45 years after his victory, Kan tweets Menachem Begin’s historic victory speech [Hebrew].
Hispanics: the new world-historic anchor whilst America’s Whites flounder.
Religious liberty, always. Parental rights, always. Right to life, always. Free markets, always. Compassionate but firm on immigration, always.
Tuesday, May 10th, 2022
What a penetrating look at an earlier Israel by the recently-departed neoconservative scion Midge Decter. A paragraph chosen truly at random:
How was I to be prepared for the discovery that a kibbutz, salvation or damnation, transcendent new society or dustbin of failed transformations, was . . . a farm? I was, to be sure, quite aware that the kibbutzim engaged primarily in farming—that, too, was crucial to their ideology and mine—but from such awareness I had not even come near the image of those flat monotonous fields, unbroken by any visual mark of the drama that had created them, stretching to their termination at a dusty road or property line—the same as must be required anywhere in the world for the growing of cotton or corn or wheat. Degania Aleph, weeping Rachel of the whole movement, sits somnolently by the side of the road (for some reason, I can never envision History as taking place alongside an ordinary thoroughfare, accessible to any passing mortal; History must be climbed up to or stumbled down upon) near the Sea of Galilee, giving no physical hint of anything but a usually drab farm life—with neither marker nor monument to set her apart.
Monday, February 28th, 2022
In this interview, Francis Fukuyama points out:
One of the things that’s happened over the past couple of weeks is that Russia has effectively reabsorbed Belarus. It had been an independent country, after 1991, but it’s effectively become part of Russia.
Saturday, February 19th, 2022
Following Tyler Cowen’s growing presence of a web-surfing morning, I note that although the elite is Leftist, the most eminent and influential public thinkers are not. As well as TC I’m thinking of Peter Thiel, Marc Andreessen, Niall Ferguson, Elon Musk. Maybe now even Joe Rogan?
Perhaps it’s a question of age; these guys are all Gen Xers more or less, and all would probably have considered themselves socially liberal and economically conservative by the standards of their youth and early adulthood in the 80s and 90s. There is also a large swathe of others in their wake.
Who on the dominant Left has their stature? Paul Krugman? Is it still Noam Chomsky?
Three of the five I mention are or were known first as builders of enterprises, and TC is now getting into that game, as is Ferguson with the new University of Austin.
Sunday, January 23rd, 2022
Just a reminder of Walter Russell Mead’s wise words from 2012 regarding anti-Semitism:
The rise of anti-Semitism is a sign of widespread social and cultural failure. It is a leading indicator of a loss of faith in liberal values and of a diminished capacity to understand the modern world and to thrive in it. Societies that tolerate anti-Semitism take a fateful step toward the loss of both freedom and prosperity.
Tuesday, December 14th, 2021
Wednesday, November 3rd, 2021
Strong, strong piece by David Collier reminding us — with a list that just goes on and on — of how the Palestinian national movement is a corrupting force.
Tuesday, October 26th, 2021
Hijinks for the practicing intellectualoid: Mansfield on Machiavelli, acknowledging the Florentin’s modernity paternity.
Wednesday, December 16th, 2020
The first lab-grown chicken meat will be served at a Singapore restaurant this weekend!
Monday, November 30th, 2020
Sunday, November 8th, 2020
Robert Kagan puts recent US history into perspective, talking to the rather platitudinous Walther Russell Mead. Some choice cut:
Russia and China are always going to be fundamentally at odds. It would be a very strange universe in which they are not. If I really believe that if you’re a Russian and you wake up sweating bullets at 3:00 in the morning, what you’re sweating about is the fact that China is going to take over Siberia in one way or another. China is a big, and by the way, the racist feelings on both sides are enormous. They both think the other one is a monkey and have always felt that way.
Wednesday, November 4th, 2020
“How Israel Helped Win the Cold War” by Joshua Muravchik in Commentary Magazine. Great piece, great service. How I wish every American who writes anti-Israel comments in online threads all over — remember the Liberty, stop making us fight your wars for you, etc — would read this — very slowly.
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020
The New York Times abandons key claims of the 1619 Project, as reported by the World Socialist Web Site — this stuff it seems is too kooky even for them.
Friday, September 18th, 2020
“Recognizing that the Arab and Jewish peoples are descendant of a common ancestor…” — Let us savor the text of the Treaty of Peace between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Blessed are the peacemakers…
Monday, August 31st, 2020
UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan signs an order cancelling the boycott of Israeli goods. May they acquire a taste for Osem soup almonds and Beit Hashita pickles!
Dore Gold explains that Arab nations have long held common cause with Israel. This is part of Mosaic Magazine’s symposium on the Israel-UAE peace accords, and contains links to the other essays.
Sunday, July 5th, 2020
Poolside.FM, the lovely Mac throwback to 1997.
We are the nation that gave rise to the Wright Brothers, the Tuskegee Airmen, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Jesse Owens, General George Patton, the great Louie Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Elvis Presley, and Mohammad Ali.
Yet the media called the speech “dark and divisive”.
Friday, April 3rd, 2020
Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life
Nusseibeh’s central thesis (well, secondary thesis, the primary implicit one being that the Palestinian people should all along have appointed both his Dad and then him their oh-so-reluctant leaders) I too have felt almost in my bones: that Israelis and Palestinians are natural allies. Or, more accurately, that there’s a natural affinity which will enable us to be powerful allies if and when we ever get over our admittedly fundamental conflict.
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
A Beginner's Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations
Written aphoristically, long-time Kyoto resident travel writer Pico Iyer provided me with a new view of a major people: that the Japanese exemplify Oscar Wilde’s catechism that style is substance, surface depth. One telling anecdote from his pal the Dalai Lama: when speaking to Western audiences, they perk up at the philosophy and tune out for the rituals; with the Japanese it’s the opposite. There are many more such reflections. One reviewer says the book is profound, and I guess that is the case, yes.
Monday, October 7th, 2019
“Guidelines for Israel’s National Security Strategy” by Gadi Eisenkot and Gabi Siboni [PDF] published October 2019 by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Tuesday, October 1st, 2019
The future is real but the past is all made up.
Logan Roy in Succession, Series 2, Episode 8
Saturday, August 31st, 2019
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019
What a dreamteam of Übermenschen now leading my three countries: Trump, BoJo and Bibi. Not since Reagan, Thatcher and Begin have we seen the like. It demonstrates that these societies still function in that the leader is found.
Monday, July 22nd, 2019
Friday, October 12th, 2018
An interview at the impressive Fathom Journal with Lyn Julius, author of Uprooted.
The Jews were intrinsic to the rhythm of life in the Middle East. It all ended in the space of a generation. Some 850,000 Jews fled 10 Arab countries; most found refuge in Israel, where over half the Jewish population has roots in Arab or Muslim lands.
Tuesday, July 31st, 2018
“Shouting ‘Peace, peace’ may actually push peace away,” argues game theorist and Nobel Economics laureate Prof. Yisrael Aumann, New York-born head of the Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality at Hebrew University.
This is just about common sense — by that I mean it’s only a single twist of what Edward Luttwak calls the paradoxical logic of strategy. Yet perhaps there are further twists; I suggested one back in 2003 in “Allah Help the Jackals”:
Perhaps Israel is following a subconscious national strategy of the strong, in which it behaves too meekly for a decade or so, emboldens its vicious but feeble enemies until they go too far, then lashes out in a now-obviously-justifiable response and gains untold assets in the process.
Not to mention that the more time goes by, the more Israel strengthens and the Palestinians weaken.
This subconscious national strategy of delay by dint of wanting too hard, if it ever were effective, seems to have played itself out now, as demonstrated by Israel’s shift of focus towards undermining UNWRA, which plays such an underlying role in prolonging the conflict.
What with the Sunni warming to Israel and the supremely sympathetic Trump Administration, Israel it seems believes that allowing the conflict to fester for gradual gain has now become counterproductive, and so seeks a new path to end it.
All that notwithstanding, nothing ends until the Palestinians begin educating their children towards co-existence alongside Israel.
Tuesday, June 19th, 2018
Tyler Cowen: Why read news?
If you follow the news, you will work at it every day, more or less. Better those compound returns than to do something else once every three months and a half.
Thursday, May 31st, 2018
The Dawn of Day
This is a delicious book to pick up in spurts — BMW punchy as Emerson is Rolls-Royce bubbly — but I couldn’t say what it’s chiefly about, where it starts, where it ends, how it fits in with Nietzsche’s other books, nor whether I’ve even read it before (I do remember particular points but perhaps they’re also mentioned in the other books). As usual this 19th-century giant sounds as if he writes… this morning.
Friday, April 27th, 2018
This review of The Jewish Joke: An essay with examples (less essay, more examples) has examples.
Friday, March 30th, 2018
What a refreshing perspective in this must-read piece: “Israel is a democracy because democracy was the only mechanism that was available to mediate and settle the fierce debates about what it meant to be the Jewish state.;
Therefore: “Just as having no choice in war has meant that Israel had to win, having no choice but to be a democracy has meant that over time, Israel has become one of the world’s most successful and effective democracies.”
When Galileo looked up at the night sky with his new-fangled teslescope one profound effect was the dislodging of the nonsensical metaphysical notion from Aquinas of the perfection of the stars.
Wednesday, January 24th, 2018
Watching Mike Pence’s speech to the Knesset [transcript and video at Haaretz], Prime Minister Netanyahu can’t jump to his feet fast enough.
The US Vice President draws parallels between America’s and Israel’s stories. He sets a 2019 deadline for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. And he recites Shehechianu in Hebrew.
This historic speech furthers the momentum of the new American way in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To paraphrase the Grateful Dead: More than this I will not ask.
Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018
Saturday, December 30th, 2017
In Mosaic, Martin Kramer tells the tale, set over lunch in Ein Kerem, of the closest Jerusalem ever got to internationalization. (At one point I found the internationalization of Jerusalem a heady and exciting notion—providing of course that the UN move its HQ there.) A most vivid history op-ed piece.
Thursday, July 12th, 2012
“in casa un espresso come al bar”: On the marriage of coffee and aluminum, icons of modernity, in Bialetti’s Moka Express.
Tuesday, January 26th, 2010