Pence’s visit to Jerusalem aimed more at evangelicals at home — by Trudy Rubin

Posted on Saturday February 3 2018

Some years ago, at a bookshop in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, I noticed a shelf of paperbacks aimed at the many Christian evangelicals from the United States who visit the Holy Land.

I bought one paperback, by end-times theologians Thomas Ice and J. Randall Price, titled Ready to Rebuild: The Imminent Plan to Rebuild the Last Days Temple. It detailed what Jews must do in Jerusalem to bring on Armageddon, which in turn would lead to the rapture and lifting up of those who accepted Christ. (The rest, including Jews who refuse to convert, are, of course, doomed.)

I thought of Ice and Price as Vice President Pence visited Jerusalem this week, a trip that aimed at pleasing the 81 percent of white evangelicals who backed President Trump rather than advancing any peace process.

In fact, Pence’s visit illustrates the confused mess of Trump’s Middle East policy one year after his election.

Yes, the president achieved his goal of eradicating the ISIS caliphate, an acceleration of a process well on its way under President Obama (whose allergy to Iraq inadvertently enabled ISIS).  The administration’s further goals were to prevent ISIS 2.0, counter Iran, and achieve the “deal of the century” between Palestinians and Israel.  As I write, NATO ally Turkey is threatening U.S. troops in northern Syria, while the White House and Pentagon publicly argue over Syria policy. Iran and Russia are gloating.

And nothing better illustrates the administration’s Mideast muddle than Pence’s religion-infused pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The vice president’s effusive speech to the Israeli Knesset (parliament) was filled with so many biblical references some Israeli journalists called it a “sermon.” Its exposition of faith as the link between American and Israel thrilled Israeli leaders and parties of the religious right. So did Pence’s announcement that U.S. Embassy functions would be moved to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, after Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

But the speech did nothing to make Israel more secure.

By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – with no reference to the city’s Arab sectors, whose final status Israel and the United States had pledged to negotiate – the Trump team already doomed its peace efforts. If the fate of Arab East Jerusalem is off the [negotiating] table, as the president has tweeted, neither Palestinians, nor Sunni Arab leaders can endorse any peace proposal by Trump.

And Pence’s pandering to Trump’s evangelical base – encouraging hard religious right forces in Israel – adds a dangerous new element to the Israeli-Palestinian standoff.  (The political clout of those forces could be seen in the fact that female reporterscovering Pence’s visit to pray at the Western Wall — the holy Jewish religious site — were made to stand in back of male reporters out of viewing range.)

In his blind faith, the vice president seemed clueless of the havoc his religious endorsement could unleash.

Keep in mind that back in 1984, a small group of messianic Israeli Jews nearly succeeded in a plot to blow up Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount. That was the site of the Second Temple (destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD) and Islam’s third holiest mosque. That’s also the site where Ice and Price call for Jews to rebuild their Third Temple in order to accelerate the coming of Armageddon (because it would spark a hoped for conflagration between the Muslim world and Israeli Jews).

True, Pence called on “all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including at the Temple Mount, also known as the Haram al-Sharif. And true, Israeli orthodox religious scholars oppose the idea of rebuilding the temple before the coming of the messiah.  But the Trump team’s position on Jerusalem and Pence’s religious embrace, could inspire religious radicals inside Israel, who feel emboldened by the current political climate inside Israel.

And leaks of the long-awaited Trump “peace plan” do little to discourage radical thinking – on both the Israeli or Palestinian side.

The Trump plan reportedly would leave Palestinians with limited control of roughly 40 per cent of the West Bank, not including Jerusalem or Gaza. Borders, water, airspace, internet, and security would be controlled by Israelis.

Neither Palestinians nor Arab states will accept this as a solution. That will leave Israel ruling over 4.5 million Palestinians (not including another 1.7 million inside Israel or 300,000 who live in Jerusalem). The Arab population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean will soon outnumber Israeli Jews.

So it is no wonder that the Pence visit inspired black humor from some Israeli journalists.  “After Pence leaves and Bibi takes off for Davos, the Arabs will still be here,”  political columnist Ben Caspit wrote on Tuesday in the Maariv newspaper, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

“How unfortunate that we can’t replace all the Arabs with evangelicals, heralding the era of the Messiah. But it’s actually better that the Messiah not come, because then we’ll have to convert to Christianity.”

Pence was certainly no political messiah, nor did his message enhance the prospects for peace.

Why it’s time to stop calling these hurricane disasters ‘natural’ by Kerry Emanuel

Posted on Sunday December 31 2017

As the United States struggles to recover from two back-to-back hurricanes, it would be wise to reflect on why we keep having such calamities and whether they are likely to get worse.

We must first recognize the phrase “natural disaster” for what it is: a sham we hide behind to avoid our own culpability. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and wildfires are part of nature, and the natural world has long ago adapted to them. Disasters occur when we move to risky places and build inadequate infrastructure.   [Continue reading.]

 

John Harvey’s “Notes on the Trump Nuclear Posture Review”

Posted on Friday December 22 2017

I hope to entertain you today by guessing at some decisions that may arise from the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review being carried out by the Trump team and their associated implications. Can the fragile political consensus that has supported comprehensive modernization –  [Click to continue reading.]

Attention Scott Pruitt: Red teams and blue teams are no way to conduct climate science

Posted on Monday December 18 2017

By Kerry Emanuel, Benjamin Santer, and Naomi Oreskes

 

In a recent op-ed, Steven Koonin, a professor at New York University, called for the establishment of a “Red Team/Blue Team” process for climate science. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt made a similar request in an interview with Breitbart News, and demanded “a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2.”

Such calls for special teams of investigators are not about honest scientific debate. They are dangerous attempts to elevate the status of minority opinions, and to undercut the legitimacy, objectivity and transparency of existing climate science.

The basic premise of these “Red Team/Blue Team” requests is that climate science is broken and needs to be fixed. The implicit message in the requests is that scientists belong to tribes, and key findings of climate science — such as the existence of a large human-caused warming signal — have not undergone adequate review by all tribes. This tribalism could be addressed, Koonin believes, by emulating Red Team/Blue Team assessment strategies in “intelligence assessments, spacecraft design, and major industrial operations.”

In Koonin’s view, “traditional” peer-review processes are flawed and lack transparency, and international scientific assessments do not accurately represent “the vibrant and developing science.” He implicitly accuses the climate science community of “advisory malpractice” by ignoring major sources of uncertainty. To use present-day vernacular, both Koonin and Pruitt are essentially claiming that peer-review systems are rigged, and that climate scientists are not providing sound scientific information to policymakers.

We do not consider ourselves to be members of any team or tribe. Our goal is not to “win” against “the other side.” Our prime motivation is to understand the natural world, and to use that knowledge and understanding to inform sensible decisions on important public policy questions. Whether we succeed in doing so is what we are ultimately judged on.

The peer-review system criticized by Koonin and Pruitt is imperfect, but it is the best system we have, and has served science well for several centuries.

The international assessments Koonin has questioned are made by large groups of experts, and are reviewed in an extraordinarily open and transparent way. These assessments receive detailed comments from many hundreds of scientists uninvolved in the writing of the assessment, with expertise in a wide range of fields, as well as from industry stakeholders and government representatives. All comments received are logged and made publicly available, together with responses from the assessment authors. Independent review editors determine whether the authors’ responses are accurate and adequate. Developing science, far from being ignored, is confronted directly and openly in such assessments.

Koonin’s claim that important uncertainties are neglected is patently incorrect. Scientists have spent many decades kicking the tires of climate science, identifying and quantifying key uncertainties, and trying to reduce those uncertainties. Critical examination of models, data and theory is not a fringe activity.

All scientists are inveterate tire kickers and testers of conventional wisdom. To paraphrase the Geico commercial, “If you’re a scientist, that’s what you do.” The highest kudos go to those who overturn accepted understanding, and replace it with something that better fits available data. Even after all the tire kicking, there is strong scientific consensus that planetary-scale warming is now unambiguous, and that human activities are the dominant contribution to this warming.

Critiques of this consensus have been offered up for decades. Each critique is often presented as a kind of smoking gun — one piece of evidence that falsifies all other evidence and understanding. There are many examples of such putative smoking guns. The ballistics of each gun has been carefully tested by thousands of scientists around the world. The “natural causes” gun doesn’t fit the overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change. The “no warming” gun is inconsistent with reality.

If you’re a climate scientist, you’ve likely spent years of your career going down such rabbit holes, evaluating “natural causes” and “no warming” claims. You’ve considered and debated these claims. You’ve put them through their paces. They do not hold up to available evidence. Only the most robust findings survive peer review and form the basis of today’s scientific consensus.

Science has substantially improved our understanding of the physical climate system, the reality of human-caused warming, and the likely climatic outcomes if we do nothing to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Rejecting this tried and tested understanding would constitute real “advisory malpractice,” and would delay effective action to address human-caused climate change.

In short, climate science is not broken. It does not need fixing. We hear similar “broken” arguments about the media, the courts and our democracy itself. We are told that only one team or person can fix the problem; that if we place our trust in that one team, that one person, everything will be fine. In the case of climate science, we choose to place our trust in peer review and in the scientific community — not in teams appointed by Koonin or Pruitt.

Benjamin Santer is an atmospheric scientist and member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Kerry Emanuel is a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Naomi Oreskes is a professor of the history of science at Harvard University.

How Putin Checkmated The US In Syria by Anna Borshchevskaya

Posted on Saturday October 28 2017

September 30 will mark the two year anniversary of Moscow’s intervention in
Syria that saved Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from an eminent collapse.
Assad is largely responsible for one of the worst humanitarian tragedies since
World War II. Today, in no small part thanks to Russian President Vladimir
Putin, he has emerged in the strongest position since massive uprisings swept
the country in March 2011.

Iran and its proxy Hezbollah have done much to prop up Assad in the last six
years. In late spring of 2013, a Hezbollah surge kept him from falling. But in
September 2015 it was Russian airpower that saved Assad from losing
ground.

Putin had stood by Assad from the very beginning and protected him
in multiple ways. He armed him, protected him on the U.N. Security Council,
and sustained Syria’s military and economy. But the intervention was a game
changer that signaled Russia’s escalation in Syria.

Today, on balance, Putin achieved virtually everything he wanted in Syria. He
kept Assad in power. He entrenched Russia’s military presence in Syria for at
least the next 49 years—Russia’s largest military presence outside the former
Soviet Union at that. Thus, Putin reduced US ability to maneuver militarily in
the region and assured Russia’s influence in one of the most strategicallyimportant
countries in the Middle East.

Putin’s support for Assad’s ethnic cleansing campaign exacerbated massive
and destabilizing refugee flows into Europe. As long as Assad or someone like
him remains in power, the majority of refugees will not return home. Assad’s
traditional foes, such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have come
to accept Moscow’s view on Assad, and even Saudi Arabia may be shifting its
position in Moscow’s favor.

Most importantly for Putin, he can now showcase cooperation with the West
—on his terms. He created a perception of Russia as a great power broker and
obtained international recognition for his latest ceasefire initiative in
southwest Syria that led to establishment of de-escalation zones after Putin
met with Trump in July of this year. Russia, Iran, and Turkey serve as
ceasefire guarantors. Putin always resisted Western-protected safe zones in
Syria, but a Russia-led ceasefire allows him to preserve his interests in the
country.

De-escalation zones have a weaker protective framework than Westernbacked
zones would have had. Moscow deployed its military police to
monitor the ceasefire but it’s unclear how this arrangement will be enforced.
The agreement barely acknowledges Iran’s role in Syria. Meanwhile, two key
US allies in the region, Israel and Jordan, now have to deal with Russia on
vital US national security issues. With Russia as a partner, the US now also
has to share the moral burden of Russian airstrikes that kill civilians.
Far from getting himself into a quagmire in Syria that President Obama
had predicted in October 2015, Putin has been able to carry out a relatively
cheap campaign and is now on his way to extricating himself from the conflict
while ensuring Russia’s presence and influence at the same time. He boosted
Russia’s arms exports by using Syria as a testing ground for Russian
weaponry. Now that the situation is stabilizing in certain key regions of the
country, Russian energy companies are looking to rebuild Syria’s energy
infrastructure.

Saudi Arabia wants to improve Image; Here’s How (by Juan Cole

Posted on Saturday September 16 2017

Saudi Arabia is alleged to be hiring a PR firm to improve its tattered image in the West .

As usual, such a campaign confuses substance with fluff and the money will be wasted.

I am sympathetic to Saudi feelings that they get an unfair rap. In my Engaging the Muslim World I argued that it is wrong to confuse the Wahhabi form of Islam that the Saudi regime favors with terrorism. The kingdom is pragmatic, and supported the secular nationalist regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, for instance. It is not that I agree with almost any Saudi policy, I am just trying to be even-handed.

The Saudis were not involved in 9/11, despite the desperate arguments of the lawyers of the 9/11 victims. The Saudis are innocent but have a lot of money, so it is profitable to railroad them. Saudi Arabia is heavily invested in US stocks and companies, and it was foreseeable that 9/11 would harm those investments pretty badly.

Al-Qaeda did it, not the the Al Saud. Bin Laden had been kicked out and deprived of his citizenship, and was plotting to overthrow the royal family.

Moreover, at least publicly, the Saudis under King Abdullah were against the Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq.

But since Crown Prince Muhammad b. Salman has emerged as the power behind the throne, the kingdom has been flexing its muscles and engaging in an astonishing adventurism that has roiled the region. But the heir apparent is young and inexperienced, and the kingdom has no checks or balances. It is not too late to step back from the brink.

So here are 7 policies the Saudi government can change if it wants a more positive image in the US press.

1. They have to end their savage and fruitless war on poor little Yemen, which has been bombed intensively by Saudi Arabia and its allies. The war has caused 600,000 cholera cases and 2000 cholera deaths, not to mention the people who have died being pummeled from the sky.

2. They have to give up on overthrowing the government of Bashar al-Assad of Syria and recognize that Salafism (the Sunni version of Wahhabism) wouldn’t work in Syria. There are too many powerful religious communities, from the Alawites to the Christians to Druze that just would not accept a Salafi state, and nor would most Sunni Syrians. Now that Russia has come in strongly to back al-Assad, funding anti-Assad hard line rebels will just prolong the country’s agony. Syria is resource-poor and poses no threat to Saudi Arabia. Let it go.

3. They should cease their effort to force Qatar to fall in line behind Riyadh. A divided Gulf Cooperation Council is a laughingstock, and it is highly unlikely that mere talking will resolve this one.

4. They should seek a diplomatic resolution of the stand-off with Iran. Actually if they stopped bombing Yemen and made peace with Syria, there wouldn’t be much reason to demonize Iran.

5. They should license churches for their Christian guest workers, the way Qatar has. There isn’t any reason in Muslim law that Christians can’t worship in the Arabian Peninsula. The Qur’an deplores interfering with or destroying churches and other houses of worship (The Cow 2:114).

6. Stop pushing climate change denialism. Petroleum is done; put a fork in it. The crown prince realizes that the kingdom has to move away from petroleum to fund its government. But guess what. The Empty Quarter would be perfect for a huge solar farm.

7. Let women drive.

“Fire & Fury” or “Shock and Awe”: it is always the start of a Quagmire (by Juan Cole)

Posted on Wednesday August 9 2017

If we weren’t talking about two nuclear-armed states with unhinged leaders, the war of words between the US and North Korea would be hilarious. Trump’s threat Tuesday that “”North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” was empty rhetoric and the government of Kim Jung-un knows it, which is why they immediately teased Trump that they were going to hit Guam with a missile strike. The counter-threat was just as absurd as the initial one.

This sort of over-heated rhetoric is hardly unprecedented and always weakens the United States.

North Korea is a country with a $17 billion gross domestic product (nominal) and a population of 25 million. I’m sure it has its virtues, but military weight in world affairs isn’t one of them. It is in a league with Nepal, Gabon and Iceland economically. Population-wise it is in the same league as the Cameroons and Madagascar. The US has a population of 320 million and a GDP of $18.5 trillion.

When I heard the phrase “fire and fury,” I couldn’t help thinking of George W. Bush’s threat of “shock and awe” against Iraq in March of 2003.

The threat was intended to convince Saddam Hussein and other embers of the Iraqi elite to flee the country without preconditions.

It did not work. The US failed to find Saddam, and failed to decapitate the regime.

The American Air Force did rain down destruction on Baghdad, but Baghdad did not surrender.

The army was sent in, grunts on the ground having to fight Iraqi armor and other units. Increasingly the military realized it had been duped by W.’s rhetoric. As Iraqi soldiers discarded their uniforms the better to engage in a guerrilla war, one general got into trouble with the highly scripted White House when he admitted that this was not the war they had gamed for.

The shock and awe that was supposed to make Saddam surrender without a shot, and to cow the Iraqis into submission, Instead the US was drawn into an Iraqi quagmire that continues to this day.

When they start talking shock and awe in Washington, friends, it is time to hunker down for the long haul.

America’s Misadventures in the Middle East (by Chas Freeman, our May speaker)

Posted on Tuesday April 25 2017

“From now on,” President Donald Trump declared in his inaugural address, “it’s going to be only America first, America first!” If so, no region stands to be more affected than West Asia and North Africa—what Americans call “the Middle East.” America’s interests there are now entirely derivative rather than direct. They are a function of the self-appointed roles of the United States as the warden of world order, the guarantor of other nations’ security, the shepherd of the world economy, and the custodian of the global commons. If America is now to look out only for itself, it has little obvious reason to be much involved in the Middle East.

Continue reading: Freeman2017-04

 

ISIL Terror-Trolls French Election by Juan Cole (our September speaker)

Posted on Sunday April 23 2017

Thursday’s shooting at the Champs Elysee, left one policeman dead, another gravely injured, a third lightly wounded along with a German tourist shot in the heel. It was carried out by Karim Cheurfi, a French national aged 39, born at Livry-Gargan in Seine-Saint-Denis. He had opened fire with a Kalashnikov machine gun and was killed by police at the scene.

The site of the attack was politically symbolic in French terms, near the Arch of Triumph and the presidential palace. It clearly was intended to help elect the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen. The question is whether the French electorate, which is pretty canny, will fall for this transparent terror-trolling.  (Continue reading.)

Recent New York Times Article by Julia Preston

Posted on Sunday February 5 2017

IMMIGRANTS WHO CAME TO U.S. AS CHILDREN FEAR DEPORTATION UNDER TRUMP

                           

Brought to the United States from Venezuela as a toddler, Carlos Roa was among the first young undocumented immigrants to be protected from deportation under a program President Obama set up in 2012 by executive action.  More . . .

Colin Woodard on the Trump Election

Posted on Thursday January 19 2017

Since Election Day, many readers of “American Nations” have been asking for an analysis of the election via the underlying regional cultures identified in the book. Finally, with help from my colleague, Christian MilNeil, at the Portland Press Herald and Will Mitchell of Portland, Maine’s NBT Solutions, I’m able to comply.   Continue reading

 

Upcoming Speakers

  • Monday, March 5, 2018
    Dominic Tierney
    Topic: America in an Era of Unwinnable Wars
  • Monday, April 2, 2017
    Dimitri Simes
    Topic: The Cost of Ignoring Russia
  • Monday, May 14, 2018
    Chris Miller
    Topic: Putonomics: Power and Money in Resurgent Russia
  • Monday, June 18, 2018
    Sarah Mendelson
    Topic: Combating Human Trafficking 2.0

View all speakers past and present »

Announcements

Pence’s visit to Jerusalem aimed more at evangelicals at home — by Trudy Rubin

Posted on Saturday February 3

Some years ago, at a bookshop in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, I noticed a shelf of paperbacks aimed at the many Christian evangelicals from the United States who visit the Holy Land. I bought one paperback, by end-times theologians Thomas Ice and J. Randall Price, titled Ready to Rebuild: The Imminent Plan to Rebuild […]

Read full announcement »

Why it’s time to stop calling these hurricane disasters ‘natural’ by Kerry Emanuel

Posted on Sunday December 31

As the United States struggles to recover from two back-to-back hurricanes, it would be wise to reflect on why we keep having such calamities and whether they are likely to get worse. We must first recognize the phrase “natural disaster” for what it is: a sham we hide behind to avoid our own culpability. Hurricanes, […]

Read full announcement »

John Harvey’s “Notes on the Trump Nuclear Posture Review”

Posted on Friday December 22

I hope to entertain you today by guessing at some decisions that may arise from the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review being carried out by the Trump team and their associated implications. Can the fragile political consensus that has supported comprehensive modernization –  [Click to continue reading.]

Read full announcement »

Attention Scott Pruitt: Red teams and blue teams are no way to conduct climate science

Posted on Monday December 18

By Kerry Emanuel, Benjamin Santer, and Naomi Oreskes   In a recent op-ed, Steven Koonin, a professor at New York University, called for the establishment of a “Red Team/Blue Team” process for climate science. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt made a similar request in an interview with Breitbart News, and demanded “a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, […]

Read full announcement »

How Putin Checkmated The US In Syria by Anna Borshchevskaya

Posted on Saturday October 28

September 30 will mark the two year anniversary of Moscow’s intervention in Syria that saved Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from an eminent collapse. Assad is largely responsible for one of the worst humanitarian tragedies since World War II. Today, in no small part thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he has emerged in the strongest […]

Read full announcement »

Saudi Arabia wants to improve Image; Here’s How (by Juan Cole

Posted on Saturday September 16

Saudi Arabia is alleged to be hiring a PR firm to improve its tattered image in the West . As usual, such a campaign confuses substance with fluff and the money will be wasted. I am sympathetic to Saudi feelings that they get an unfair rap. In my Engaging the Muslim World I argued that […]

Read full announcement »

“Fire & Fury” or “Shock and Awe”: it is always the start of a Quagmire (by Juan Cole)

Posted on Wednesday August 9

If we weren’t talking about two nuclear-armed states with unhinged leaders, the war of words between the US and North Korea would be hilarious. Trump’s threat Tuesday that “”North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” was […]

Read full announcement »

America’s Misadventures in the Middle East (by Chas Freeman, our May speaker)

Posted on Tuesday April 25

“From now on,” President Donald Trump declared in his inaugural address, “it’s going to be only America first, America first!” If so, no region stands to be more affected than West Asia and North Africa—what Americans call “the Middle East.” America’s interests there are now entirely derivative rather than direct. They are a function of […]

Read full announcement »

ISIL Terror-Trolls French Election by Juan Cole (our September speaker)

Posted on Sunday April 23

Thursday’s shooting at the Champs Elysee, left one policeman dead, another gravely injured, a third lightly wounded along with a German tourist shot in the heel. It was carried out by Karim Cheurfi, a French national aged 39, born at Livry-Gargan in Seine-Saint-Denis. He had opened fire with a Kalashnikov machine gun and was killed […]

Read full announcement »

Recent New York Times Article by Julia Preston

Posted on Sunday February 5

IMMIGRANTS WHO CAME TO U.S. AS CHILDREN FEAR DEPORTATION UNDER TRUMP                             Brought to the United States from Venezuela as a toddler, Carlos Roa was among the first young undocumented immigrants to be protected from deportation under a program President Obama set up in […]

Read full announcement »

Colin Woodard on the Trump Election

Posted on Thursday January 19

Since Election Day, many readers of “American Nations” have been asking for an analysis of the election via the underlying regional cultures identified in the book. Finally, with help from my colleague, Christian MilNeil, at the Portland Press Herald and Will Mitchell of Portland, Maine’s NBT Solutions, I’m able to comply.   Continue reading  

Read full announcement »

Read all announcements »