Portsmouth Historical Commission Dedicates May as Southern Unionist History Month

March 22, 2012

For a whole slew of reasons, Southern Unionism during the War of the Rebellion is of special importance to me. Some time in 2010 (during the whole Confederate History Month brouhaha), I came up with the idea of Southern Unionist History Month. Late last year, a friend of mine (Greg Eatroff) who serves on the Portsmouth Historical Commission came across a memorial in Lincoln Cemetery built by the Silas Fellows Post #7 of the Grand Army of the Republic, in honor of local Unionist veterans who had gone to their greater reward.

That inspired us to push forward on SUHM. Greg took the ball and presented this resolution to the Portsmouth Historical Commission; the Commission passed it last Tuesday night:

Whereas the history of the Civil War has at times, understandably but mistakenly, been seen as a battle between regions . . .

Whereas in reality the dedication to Union and Emancipation was shared by millions of Americans north and south . . .

Whereas there were many in the states that formed the Confederacy “who in the darkest hour of slavery kept alive in their souls a love of manhood rights, justice, and the unity of the United States of America”

Whereas these men and women who risked everything to preserve the Union are rarely remembered as much as they should . . .

Whereas in Virginia especially, support for Union was so pronounced that the state split itself in two . . .

Whereas many of the people of present day Virginia can also look to the family histories of Unionism of which they can be proud . . .

And whereas the city of Portsmouth was, for much of the war, a haven for Virginia’s Unionists, both black and white . . .

Be it resolved that the City of Portsmouth through its History Commission. . .

Declare May of this year to be Southern Unionist History Month,

Encourage other localities in Virginia and the Commonwealth itself to join in this declaration, and

Provide for various events and information during May to make Virginians more aware of Civil War Unionism in and around Portsmouth, Virginia.

The resolution will be present to the Portsmouth City Council next week.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift

Elections matter – even in 2012

March 6, 2012

The Washington Post is writing in public what most conservatives have heard from some of their brethren in private (except in George Will’s case, where he also went public): better to write off the presidential election this November and move on to 2016. Granted what Will says publicly (focus on flipping the Senate and holding the House) and what the unnamed sources are telling Chris Cillizza privately (better to crash and burn now for a complete rebuild later) are not quite the same things, but I would humbly submit that neither should be entertained.

Both Will and insert-consultants-bending-Cillizza’s-ear-here cite the election of 1964, which has been stunningly rewritten as a “victorious defeat” reminiscent of the Republicans’ first ever effort to win the presidency (1856). The consultants see the ’64 race as a time when the party just hit rock-bottom and then . . .

Four years later, Republicans — showing their lesson learned — nominated establishment favorite and political pragmatist Richard Nixon. (Nixon had been defeated by John Kennedy in 1960 and declined to run in 1964.) Nixon ended eight years of Democratic control of the White House when he beat Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 election.

This analogy has so many problems that I can only assume none of Cillizza’s sources actually lived through the 1960s. Admittedly, I didn’t either, but I have reviewed the accounts of several who did, and it tells a very different story of 1968.

For one, the “pragmatic” moderates and liberals in the GOP did not want Richard Nixon as their candidate. Nelson Rockefeller was their man, without question. It was the conservatives in the party (John Tower, Strom Thurmond, and others) who pushed for Nixon to come out of his self-induced, post-1962 retirement. The 1960s equivalent of the consultants whispering in Cillizza’s ear were terrified of Nixon being nominated (he had, after all, lost the nearly unlosable election for Governor of California in 1962). We remember Ronald Reagan as the conservatives’ choice in 1968, but Reagan was a “favorite son” of California until the day the convention opened. For much of the campaign, it was the Nixon and the conservatives against Rockefeller and the moderates.

Secondly, Richard Nixon hardly helped the Republican recovery – and probably damaged it. With the exception of Zachary Taylor, no president-elect in American history ever provided less support to his fellow party nominees in the year he won. Nixon’s 1968 vote (43%) was the lowest of any president-elect in over a century. Even as he won his 1972 re-election in a massive landslide, he became the only president to never deliver even one house of Congress to his party. By the time his second term expired (without him) in 1977, the Republicans were in worse shape than they were in 1968.

Finally, the Democrats used Johnson’s full term to dramatically expand government. Medicare and Medicaid were created in 1965, two-thirds of the entitlement monster that threatens to devour us (while the former has become the Democrats’ “model” for their health care end-state). This dovetails with Will’s assertion that the right might be better off letting the White House go in 2012. Johnson’s 1964 campaign made little mention of the massive expansion of government he was planning, but that didn’t stop him from doing it anyway.

Now, one could say that Obama – faced with a GOP Congress – could do less damage. However, two of the biggest government encroachments of the “aughts” – in campaign finance and Medicare Part D – began as talking points used by Clinton to brow-beat Republican Congressional majorities.

All of this is just in the domestic realm. We have said nothing of the foreign policy consequences. After romping to victory in 1964, Johnson moved forward on Vietnam in a manner so confusing, limited, and hamstrung that the entire GOP was united against him (even Rockefeller was more hawkish than LBJ). Meanwhile, as the 1970s progressed toward the event that in Will’s mind supposedly justified the ’64 drubbing (the election of 1980), Vietnam fell to the Communists, Cambodia was bled white by Pol Pot, Central America was sucked into the Cold War (with devastating consequences), and long-time ally Iran was abandoned by the Carter Administration and seized by a radical Shiite cleric who imprisoned his own people and built a regime that is still the scourge of the region.

Is that really the model we want to follow?

I understand the frustration so many on the right have with the current field. It was one of the reasons I waited so long to make a decision myself. However, just because the nominee won’t be perfect, or the campaign may become difficult, doesn’t mean you discount the importance of an election. An elected President Ford might have made the history of Iran – and by extension, the rest of the Middle East - very different. A re-elected President Bush the Elder might have put more focus on Afghanistan as the Taliban first stretched its muscles. President McCain would have reacted very differently to the 2009 Iranian protests and Hamid Karzai’s blatant election theft that same year; dramatically rewriting recent history in both places.

So, as fashionable as it may be to think or say otherwise, elections always matter. If they didn’t, no one would miss them.

This one matters, too.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon

Steve Jobs: Only in America

October 6, 2011

The passing of Steve Jobs has led to a lot of commentary. Most, as expected, focuses on his later life: the innovations he spawned, the consumer tech revolution he led, the fact that his vision came without government regulations or subsidies, etc. Kevin Williamson – over at NRO - summarizes it better than anyone:

Mr. Jobs’s contribution to the world is Apple and its products, along with Pixar and his other enterprises, his 338 patented inventions — his work — not some Steve Jobs Memorial Foundation for Giving Stuff to Poor People in Exotic Lands and Making Me Feel Good About Myself. Because he already did that: He gave them better computers, better telephones, better music players, etc. In a lot of cases, he gave them better jobs, too. Did he do it because he was a nice guy, or because he was greedy, or because he was a maniacally single-minded competitor who got up every morning possessed by an unspeakable rage to strangle his rivals? The beauty of capitalism — the beauty of the iPhone world as opposed to the world of politics — is that that question does not matter one little bit. Whatever drove Jobs, it drove him to create superior products, better stuff at better prices.

This is how most will remember Jobs, and I can understand why. However, there was more to it than that. Steve Jobs wasn’t just a great success story, he was arguably one of America’s greatest failure stories as well. His success speaks well for him, but the fact that he could recover from the depths to which he fell speaks more profoundly for America (and, I hope, to America as well).

Lest we forget, at age 30, Steve Jobs was an abject failure. Fired from his own company, bested by rival Bill Gates, he was – in 1985 – just another visionary who had a hand in the computer age, but was laid low by his own hubris. The 1980s Steve Jobs was a tragic story about the rough-and-tumble world of American business (the best depiction of this comes from a now long-forgotten 1998 TNT TV Movie, Pirates of Silicon Valley). That said, at least the 1980s Jobs was a noble failure. By contrast, the 1997 version was a joke: a last gasp move by a desperate and dying Apple; a has-been who needed funding from Gates himself retake the tech version of the Titanic. Those who remembered and admired Jobs shook their heads as he talked about moving Apple into consumer products. What could he be thinking?

Fourteen years later, the joke’s on us. Hardly anyone remembers (and no one under 30 is even knows) the events of the paragraph above. But I think they should, because while Jobs’ success is praiseworthy, his recovery is a remarkable and stunning tale that should provide hope and inspiration to every American.

We’d like to think that Steve Jobs could only succeed here, but success stories circle the globe these days. However, I genuinely believe there is nowhere else on Earth where someone could fail as spectacularly as Jobs did and come back to be such a great success and pivotal person. Jobs “had it all,” lost it all, and earned it all back.

That happens only here, in the land of the second chance; the land where we still let the market pick winners and losers; where we still let the market turn yesterday’s winner into today’s loser and – if justifiable – tomorrow’s winner once more.

Steve Jobs began his second act in technology at 42; in just fourteen years he rescued his company, restored his reputation, and revolutionized how we work, live, and play. As I said, he could have “made it” just about anywhere. But plumb to the depths he fell and still come back to do all he did?

Only in America; only in America.

Why the 1967 borders are not safe for Israel (Part 4)

October 3, 2011

The long-interrupted series on the history of Israel now – finally – picks up where it left off in the 1990s (here’s the Intro, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3): the decade that should have made clear why returning to the 1967 borders was not feasible for Israel. Sadly, it did not.

In 1991, fresh off defeating Saddam Hussein in Gulf War I, the United States decided it could bring Israel and the Palestinians together in peace. Two years later, Israel and America had replaced leaders (each newcomer greatly pleasing to the other’s elite) and an interim deal with Yassir Arafat was a reality. A final deal seemed on the way.

Then things got problematic.

Arafat put himself up for “election” as Palestinian leader in 1996 – and only an ex-DFLP terrorist backer was willing to provide token opposition - but by 1999 he decided to cancel all elections and enforce his rule via the guns of his Fatah organization. Palestine has seen four “elections” – ballots in which only members of the various terrorist groups active in the place (Fatah, Hamas, PFLP, and DFLP) were allowed to compete (and Islamic Jihad called for boycotts - thus even tainting that option). In short, rather than present to their voters records of good governance, Palestine’s “leaders” preferred intimidation and extreme nationalism to silence and intimidate opponents. This meant only those who also had guns and wallowed in extreme nationalism had any chance of competing for power – and thus the people were forced to “choose” between Terrorist Group A, Terrorist Group B, Terrorist Group C, etc.

While all of this was going on, America and Israel tried to make peace with Arafat and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, with increasingly generous offers.  All have been refused since 2000, since neither Arafat nor Abbas had a true mandate for anything accept appeasing the militants who kept them in power.

Today, Abbas is trying to get recognition from the United Nations for a Palestinian state without bothering to make peace – so he can have his state and the guns that keep him in office, too. Meanwhile, Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, having won the corrupted “elections” of 2006. Neither has made any attempt to even acknowledge that Israel would remain in existence.

So, in effect, President Obama and his defenders, in calling for Israel to go back to roughly the 1967 borders, want her to watch a Palestinian tyranny under terrorist control spring up on both sides of her, while supposedly relying on a deeply conflicted ally with an unreliable history (that would be us) to prevent her from disappearing in a bloody massacre.

Should it really surprise any of us that she refuses to do that?

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift

We were all Keynesians once

August 5, 2011

One thing about the debt-ceiling debate that completely threw the chattering classes was the victory (however temporary) for opponents of tax increases. Every previous “bipartisan” deficit reduction plan, save one, since 1982 included a hefty tax increase – and the execption (the 1997 deal) involved a Democrat in the White House who had rammed a massive tax hike through a friendly Congress in 1993.

There was, however, one major difference between all of those deals and this one: the academic environment. If that sounds strange (and I know it does), just keep reading.

Behind the various political back-and-forth on political economics was the overarching Keynesian consensus – confirmed in no uncertain terms by Richard Nixon, who famously declared himself a Keynesian in 1971. Keynesian economics was a mathematical construct that essentially favored government spending over tax reductions, tax increases over spending cuts, paper money (and lots of it) over hard money, and in general, more intervention over less intervention. It was also the unquestioned dominant school of thinking in academia in the 1960s, and in politics once Nixon signed up in 1971.

Clearly, some folks still cling to the spirit of ’71, such as the folks behind the new Better Choices in Virginia crew, an amalgam of left-of-center groups who are calling on Virginia to raise taxes should a shortfall occur during the next budget cycle. Here’s Michael Cassidy’s take on things (WaPo):

If Virginia chooses to close this future budget shortfall with a cuts-only approach, it will impede our economic recovery and cost jobs in both the public and private sectors. We need to preserve what works in Virginia and get the state back on course.

If you bend your ear, you can even hear George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” in the background. However – as much as I hate to break it to Cassidy - it hasn’t been 1971 for a long time.

Keynesian economics started losing the professors almost as soon as it conquered the Republicans. Nixon hadn’t even left office before Thomas J. Sargent began building the Rational Expectations Theory. By the end of the ’70s, Keynesianism was fighting RET and Monetarism in the academic world and supply-siders in the political world. As the latter shifted from an economic argument about Aggregate Supply to a political one about the financial effect of tax cuts, it slowly lost steam, while in academia, “New Keynesianism” joined the battle.

Through it all, however, Keynesians’ greatest argument – the one that still trumped its rivals – was the idea that government spending was “multiplied” throughout the economy (Keynesians themselves call the effect “the mutliplier”). So long as that multiplier was left unchallenged, politicians in both parties gravitated towards more spending and away from low taxes. This was the case throughout the 1980′s, 1990′s, and even the aughts. Arguments against tax increases were largely political; arguments for them were financial; and most importantly, the government spending that caused the argument in the first place always seemed to occupy the high ground in economics.

That is, until 2009.

In what can only be described as an irony no literary artist would dare to conceive, economists began probing the real-world effect of the Keynesian multiplier just as the most ardent Keynesian president in 40 years assumed office. What they found eroded the basis for Obamanomics in a way no one could have guessed during the 2008 campaign.

In truth, anti-Keynesians always had trouble with the “multiplier.” The biggest problem they had with it was the fact the government spending (particularlky deficit spending) meant the feds were taking investment money awy from someone else. In other words, a project paid for via taxes or bonds takes away money that could have been invested in new or expanding businesses, thus negating any initial benefit to the economy. The effect of this “crowding out” of private investment was a raging debate between Keynesians and their opponents . . . until empirical examinations of the multiplier started coming in.

What they found was eye-opening. The OECD economists found crowding out to be so heavy that it drove the multiplier below 1. Stanford economist John Taylor found a similat multiplier-turned-divider (his was 0.5). Harvard economist Robert Barro determined through his research that the multiplier was effecitvely zero, i.e., government spending’s benefit to the economy was nonexistent.

Suddenly, the economic arguments behind Keynes’ theory – even to those who accepted the constructs behind it – were turned on their heads. If government spending had such a weak effect, then tax cuts were better, while raising taxes were worse than cutting spending. Sure enough, when the president initially unveiled the stimulus of 2009, several leading economists whacked it, including Taylor and Sargent themselves.

This is the new divide that was reflected during the debt debate. The Teabrewers are not crazy, out-of-touch loons; they are the political force behind the greatest economic challenge to Keynesianism that the old school has ever faced – but if you’ve kept yourself stuck in 1971, you wouldn’t know anything about it.

Thus the disconnect from Cassidy, Obama, MSM, and others. The ground has shifted beneath their feet, yet the don’t understand why they’re falling.  All they need to do is look at a calendar.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift

Why the House Republicans are right to oppose tax increases

July 18, 2011

As the latest attempt to preserve the sovereign debt bubble resolve the debt-ceiling issue careens toward its conclusion, the pundits, experts, et al are lamenting the refusal of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives to accept tax increases as part of any debt-ceiling/deficit-reduction deal. The arguments aimed at the GOP have only two problems: history and economics.

Yes, that’s harsh, but it’s also true. Here’s why.

History: This may surprise folks, but permanent tax increases after World War II are actually less than three decades old. Much of the 1940, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s involved tax reductions, tax shifts, and a slew of temporary tax increases. The first sturctural tax increase since FDR came from none other than Ronald Reagan in 1982. Eight years later, George H. W. Bush agreed to another one. The last of the three came courtesy of Bill Clinton in 1993 (only one, Reagan, dealt with a split Congress, the other two had Congresses wholly controlled by the Democrats).

Reagan and Bush’s tax increases are repeatedly cited as the hallmarks of bipartisanship, reason, and common sense. The deficits of the time paled in comparison to our current trillion-dollar-figures (our budget didn’t hit 1T until 1987), but they were considered big back then, and Reagan himself – followed by his VP and anointed heir – swallowed hard and accepted some tax increases in order to reduce the deficit. That’s the story everyone sees, reads, and hears.

Here’s the part they missed: within three years of each tax hike, the deficit rose to record levels. Funny how that epilogue gets cut from the story.

The 1993 tax hike, meanwhile extended the post-recession “slowth” (think what we’re experiencing now) for another three years. Only by 1996 did the economy recover to a pre-recession state. The next year, Clinton and the Republican Congress agreed to the second of four major tax cuts in thirty years (1981, 2001, and 2003 being the other thrree) and the only one to be accompanied by spending cuts. The next four years saw the only federal budget surpluses in four decades.

So how did tax increase lead to record deficits two out of three times while a tax cut preceded a surplus boomlet? That goes to the economics. First off, we need to realize the importance the economy has on tax revenue. I did a quick regression on revenue and economic growth since Fiscal Year 1983 (when Reagan’s tax hike took effect), and I found that for each % of GDP growth in Year X, revenue rose 0.38% of GDP in Year X+1. That means a policy that reduces GDP growth by a 1% would in the current economy cost Washington $759 billion in revenue over the next ten years. So clearly, the economy has a tremendous effect on the federal revenues.

The question becomes how best to go forward from there. In the Old Keynesian model, tax increases are always better than spending cuts, because the tax multiplier is by theory lower than the government spending multiplier. However, those multipliers are coming into serious question these days. Numerous economists are putting the “multiplier” at less than 1 (making it an actual divider) and some even have it at zero. Thus, spending hikes have been found to be less effective – and spending cuts less damaging – than previously believed.

Meanwhile, on the tax side of the ledger, the supply-side revolution has forced economists to see both sides of the agreggate economy (instead of relentlessly focusing on demand, as Keynesians do). Tax reductions done properly can increase capital, and thus grow the economy without inflationary pressures by increasing aggregate supply. Thus any effect on aggregate demand that comes from spending reductions is counter by demand and supply increases from the tax cuts. Thus the economy can grow while government shrinks and the budget balance is initially unaffected, and the resulting growth can lead to increased revenue.

In certain cases, that increased revenue could cover some spending increases, or even the initial lost revenue from the tax cuts (thus was born the tax-cuts-pay-for-themselves argument, which was meant only for certain tax rate reductions by themselves, but ended up being used to hide spending hikes along with tax reductions).

Unfortunately, only once was this tax-and-spending-cut model adopted: in 1997. That surpluses followed for four years should have made its superiority clear. Sadly, it did not.

In fact, the lack of spending cuts is the where history and economics come together to explain why opposing tax increases now is the right idea – the spending cuts promised in 1982 and 1990 never materialized, while the reductions for 1993 were replaced in 1995 by the Republican Congress’ own plans to balance the budget and the eventual 1997 deal.

So, to recap, tax increases have been tried three times in 30 years: twice, they led to broken spending-cut promises and record deficits, and the third set of reductions were scrapped by a new Congress (albeit in favor of other cuts). Meanwhile the tax cuts of 1981 were followed by the 1982 hike, and the 2001-3 set of reductions came with massive spending hikes that at the time were records.

The one time spending reductions without tax increases were enacted, they actually came to fruition and led to our only budget surpluses since 1970. That should be the lesson learned today. Unfortunately, it appears that, for now, only the House Republicans have learned it.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift

Why the 1967 borders are not safe for Israel (Part 3)

July 1, 2011

This post is a return to the interrupted historical series on the history of Israel (here’s the Intro, Part 1, and Part 2); it picks up just after the 1967 war which won Israel the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula. To recap, the first two decades of Israel’s existence included near-constant war, boundaries that shifted repeatedly, and deeply inconsisent support from the United States until the ’67 war itself. Events in the 1970s quickly and painfully reinforced the last view.

In fact, one could say the 1970s was when Israel’s place in the world permanently shifted. She began the decade as the darling of the democratic left around the world, and ended it as a hero of the right. Her already small number of allies dwlindled further still. She watched numerous American presidents pledge fealty to her on the campaign trail only to leave her hanging once they reached Washington.

Things began to go wrong for Israel when Egypt’s new leader – Anwar Sadat – made it clear he wanted the Sinai back, and found an interesting way to win over American favor: he kicked out the Soviets. Suddenly, Israel had competition for America’s favor. Thus when Egypt went to war for the Sinai in 1973, Nixon refused to come to Israel’s aid until the last minute (which made it clear Israel was, once again, vulnerable). Arab nations, unhappy the U.S. provided any support to Israel, responded with an oil embrgo that shocked the American economy into its first “stagflation” – and further made it clear the American and Israeli interests did not always coincide.

Meanwhile, the American support for Israel – as weak as it was – alienated much of the left from the Jewish state. Given that Israel was still a social democracy, this came as quite a shock to her. Yet “anti-Zionism” quickly became gospel in left-wing circles around the world. Much of the democratic right was warming to Israel, but she had few, if any, contacts there. In the world of geopolitics, she was very much alone.

Despite this, things still looked bright when Israel made peace with Egypt. Sadat became the first Arab leader to make piece with Israel, a stunning move that seemed to mark an end to hostilies.

It took four years for the more painful reailty to hit home. In 1979, Israel oldest ally – Persia – had fallen to a radical anti-Semitic regime that turned a three-millenia friend into the vilest enemy. To drive the point home, the Iranian regime honored the assassins of Sadat (murdered in 1981), while Syria – now Iran’s new ally – used their Hezbollah puppets in Lebanon to wage guerrila war against Israel, who responded with an invasion in 1982.

By then, Ronald Reagan was president – a man who ran as a friend of Israel. Yet while Israel was battling its proxy war with Syria and Iran, the Reagan Administration refused to offer unvarnished support for its ally. For the third straight time, a Republican Administration had let Israel down – and even drove Prime Minister Menachem Begin to retire in frustration.

Once again, Israel was isolated, vulnerable . . . and lucky. Arab nations that normally could have united against her were instead taking sides in the Iran-Iraq War (the Iraq-allied Palestine Liberation Organization and Syria battled repeatedly in London, the former on occasion even tactically allying with Israel).

Amidst the chaos in the Arab world, Israel continued to survive. Egypt’s new leader – Hosni Mubarak – maintained peace with Isreal, but it was a “cold peace.” Jordan, long considered by Israel to the be the moderate force, officially handed its claim to the West Bank over to the PLO, granting Palestine its first claim to sovereignty in the modern era.

It was at this point that the call for “1967 boundaries” began in earnest. Yet few, if any, remembered that Israel had not been granted the ’67 lines, but won them through battle in 1948-49, with the fervent support of both superowers (whereas it now had only one), most of Europe (who now were distancing themselves from her) and Iran (which was now a virulent enemy).

In part it was Israel’s history of military victories that led to this global amnesia. It was simply assumed that Israel was invincible, and as such would be safe with 1967 boundaries. In reality,  Israel had always relied on outside support to win its wars, and without that support, it was in trouble. Moreover, nothing had shown them that the Arab world would accept the 1967 lines (they were, in fact, preparing to wage war in 1967 itself to reverse Israel’s 1949 gains at the least, and destroy Israel altogether at the most).

Yet in the 1990s, Israel would try the peaceful route at the request of its American allies. The results should have been enough to convince anyone never to try it again. That, however, is for Part 4.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift

Why the 1967 borders are not safe for Israel (Part 2)

May 24, 2011

This post in the series dealing with recent Israeli history (here’s the Intro and Part 1) details the events of the 1960s, a critical – and perhaps the critical – decade for examining the region. It was in this decade that the Israeli-American alliance was forged and the “occupied territories” became occupied.

The decade began with a new American President: John F. Kennedy, and a sea-change in American attitude toward Israel. One of the great ironies of history: the president who first exposed the Nazi concentration camps to America (Eisenhower) became the most anti-Israel president in the 20th century, while his successor – the son of an Irish pol who ruined his career as an isolationist in the 1930s (Kennedy) – made Israel an American ally and arms recipient. In the view of the Kennedy Administration, Israel was in peril and had to be defended from its Arab enemies.

Fortunately for Washington and Tel Aviv, said enemies were in complete turmoil. Gamal Abdel Nasser, tried to expand his United Arab Republic beyond Egypt and Syria to include all Arabs. In 1961, a military coup in Syria ripped it out of the UAR and left Nasser with just Egypt. While Nasser contined to pine for Arab unity, Syria suffered a series of weak regimes and violent turmoil until the Ba’ath Party took over in 1963. A similar Ba’athist putsch in Iraq led to a three-way effort at Arab unity in Cairo . . . which fell apart. Iraq’s Ba’athists were bounced from power by the end of the year. More instability plagued both countries.

Nasser, meanwhile, grew ever closer to the Soviets, as did the various Syrian and Iraqi regimes. Only Jordan and Lebanon remained close to the West and less than beligerent towards Israel.

Then came 1967. By this point, Syria’s Ba’athists were in radical Marxist mode; Jordan’s King Hussein was under internal pressure for not being anti-Israeli enough; Iraq was now firmly in Nasser’s corner again; the Egyptian/UAR leader decided to make his move.

First, he tossed out UN peacekeepers who had been in Sinai since Israel withdrew from it in 1956. Then he blocked Israeli shipping from the Tiran Straits – the only way Israel could avoid the Suez Canal. Israel had repeatedly stated such a move was an act of war. That didn’t seem to bother Nasser, who on May 27 announced his plans for “the destruction of Israel” (BBC). Three days later, King Hussein solved his internal problems by signing a defense treaty with Nasser, one in which Nasser would control both Egyptian and Jordanian forces in case of war. On June 1, Israel’s ruling Alignment Party invited its opponents into a national unity government. The only question left was who would hit first.

As it turned out, it was Israel, and less than a week later (hence the term Six Day War), Nasser had lost the Sinai again, but Jordan also lost the West Bank and Syria – having come into the war on Egypt’s side, lost the Golan Heights. It was yet another dramatic military victory for Israel, except that unline 1956, the U.S. would not pressure them to give the gains back. Israel’s smashing victory with American arms over the Soviet-armed Egypt and Syria was considered a huge embarrassment to Moscow and a feather in Washington’s cap.

The Arab regimes went back into turmoil. Nasser resigned his post at the end of the war, only to reverse course the next day. Hussein dealt with more internal unrest, including the Palestinian Liberation Organization led by one Yassir Arafat. Syria’s Ba’athist dictatorship continued to rule, but not in a very stable manner.

Meanwhile, America held an election in 1968. While voters here focused on the Vietnam War and civil rights, the Middle East noted the leading figures were John Kennedy’s younger brother and Dwight Esienhower’s Vice President. Robert Kennedy was taken by a Palestinian assassin on the one-year-anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day war, while Richard Nixon was narrowly elected in November, leading everyone to wonder if he would follow in Ike’s footsteps.

Nasser would never be able to find out, he died in 1970 while trying to mediate a bloody civil war in Jordan between Hussein and Arafat’s group. That same year, Syria – who had intervened in Jordan on Arafat’s behalf – had another coup, this one led by Hafez al-Assad, who had apparently opposed the intervention in the first place.

So, much like in 1960, the Arab nations that would have wanted to eliminate Israel were felled by military defeats and internal turmoil. Unlike 1960, Israel now had large buffer zones and an American ally. It would take less than five years for both to become far less than met the eye, but that’s for Part 3.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift

Why the 1967 borders are not safe for Israel (Part 1)

May 22, 2011

Israel in its current form was born in 1948; her first war with her Arab neighbors began almost immediately; myths about that war came soon after.

Most Americans know that the United States was the first nation to grant diplomatic recognition to Israel. From there, the myth goes that Israel, all on its own with little but American cheerleading, smacked around their Arab enemies and humiliated them.

That’s not quite how it happened. For starters, there was the role of the other superpower of the time – the Soviet Union. Joe Stalin saw Harry Truman grant recognition to the Israelis . . . and followed suit two days later. In fact, his minions in Czechoslovakia actually contributed arms to the Zionist cause.

This shouldn’t really surprise. Israel’s leader were of a heavily socialist bent, and whether the Isreali people were native Jews to the Palestinian mandate, those who had reached it before World War II, or those who came after the war, few of them witnessed the painful experience of Soviet occupation of eastern Europe. As for Stalin, this was when he was still hoping all of Europe would thank the Red Army for defeating the Nazis and choose the Communist way.

The point is this: the Arab states (Jordan, Egpyt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia and North Yemen) were going up against a state backed by both superpowers, with one providing weapons. One other factor to keep in mind: two of the Arab states in question were just decolonized (Syria and Lebanon), while three (Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq) were moving away from satellite states of Britain. This was as new to them as it was to Israel.

Finally, we all know that Israel won the war, not only because it survived, but also because it expanded into what are now the “1967″ borders. Since Israel won, the Arab lost, right?

Well, that depends on which Arabs you mean. See, not a single Arab state lost any territory in the 1948-49 war. In fact, Jordan and Egypt actually gained territory in the war’s aftermath: Egypt took the Gaza Strip, and Jordan took the West Bank. Arab “Palestine” ceased to exist, and Israel now had two hostile neighbors inside the old British mandate.

So while Israel certainly won, it would be hard to call Egypt and Jordan losers. Nor could Israel call itself secure with the 1949 armistice. It had the unusual support of both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., something that just about everyone in the region knew wouldn’t last.

It didn’t. When Egypt’s monarchy fell in 1952, the nationalist president Gamal Abder Nasser quickly sought to play the superpowers against each other. Meanwhile, the concern about the Communists getting footholds in the Middle East led American and British diplomats to build alliances with Jordan, Iraq, and the Saudis (among others), three of the nations that had put men into battle against Israel, whose position began to look increasingly problematic from a geopolitical perspective.

In time, though, Nasser ensured that Israel did have friends. Britain was aghast at Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal, while France was alarmed at Nasser’s support for the independence movement in Algeria (which France considered part of itself). Both were looking take action against Nasser, while Israel was watching its Suez shipping constantly harrassed by Egypt. In 1951, monarchist Egypt was condemned for this by the United Nations Security Council (Soviets included), but Nasser had ensured that the Soviets take no such position by 1956.

So, for various reasons, Israel, Britain, and France all wanted to take action against Egypt, although the British and French would austensibly intervene as neutrals merely to “protect” the Suez Canal from turmoil. On the ground, it all went as planned: Israel quickly took the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt and an Anglo-French force controlled the canal. Meanwhile, the other Arab states largely sat 1956 out militarily, although they raised holy h*ll diplomatically.

It was the reaction of the superpowers that revealed a world changed. Nikita Krushchev all but declared Israel a colonialist throwback and threatened Soviet military intervention if the UK, France, and Israel didn’t withdraw. More quietly, Eisenhower leaned hard on the UK and France (including refusing to back fill a Saudi oil embargo of them until they withdrew from Egypt), and established himself as the only American president to ever oppose Israel in wartime.

The trouble for Israel was this: Ike was only the second American president she had seen, and it was clear he was not fond of her.

In the aftermath of the second war, Israel was very isolated and alone. Forced by the UN in 1957 to go back to the 1949 boundaries, she had no reason to believe that her Arab neighbors would allow her to remain in them for a month, let alone for a decade. as the world had united against her.

As it was, Israel’s would be conquerers were beset with internal turmoil and (in Egypt’s case) intra-Arab ambition. Iraq succumbed to a military coup in 1958; Syria dissolved itself into Egypt under the United Arab Republic, which freaked out Jordan and Lebanon - in part because both had pro-Nasser factions within.

Yet for Israel in 1960, all of this just seemed a temporary argument over who would lead the Arab charge against them – and even worse, Nasser was winning.

At this point, Israel had fought two wars, and while she had militarily won both, none of her enemies suffered actaul losses. Jordan had gained the West Bank; Egypt had first picked up Gaza and then Syria, while Lebanon and Iraq had lost no territory. Meanwhile, internal turmoil meant a more hostile regime in Iraq, while Egypt’s star was rising in the Middle East. Add to this Soviet support for the Arabs and American suspicion of them (to the point where Eisenhower essentially endorsed Nasser’s Arab nationalism as the way of the future in 1958), and Israel looked to be in a very, very precarious position.

If anything, the 1950s should explain why Israelis are so worried today. The decade showed them that allies are fleeting (they lost both superpowers in less than five years), military success can be taken away by political pressure, and that was was in their best interest meant nothing to the rest of the world. The boundaries that now are considered so certain and permanent seemed highly fluid and likely to change – and not to Israel’s favor – just over fifty years ago.

As we’ll see in Part 2, the 1960′s led to dramatic change in the region, and led to the myths that many attach to it today.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift

Why the 1967 borders are not safe for Israel (Introduction)

May 21, 2011

Israel has been in its current form (the parliamentary republic) since 1948. From roughly that time until 1967, it held certain borders – borders to which President Obama basically demanded she revert. That demand has caused great anger in Israel and among her strongest supporters here, which has caused confusion with everyone else.

This confusion is based on several assumptions imposed by recent history: namely the security of an alliance with the United States, a continuous claim to a Palestinian “homeland”, and relatively stable views from Israel’s largely Muslim neighbors. In fact, during the critical yet largely ignored period in Israel’s history (the first two decades), none of these were completely true – and for a time, none of them were true at all.

This series of posts will work forward from Israel’s re-founding (1948) to explain why the pre-1967 borders were anything but stable in the eyes of the Middle Eastern powers of that time, and how events since then have clouded this critical historical reality.

This, of course, is the introduction. The parts will be forthcoming.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift


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