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Of Noteworthy Items in the Press

First Things First: In this corner: “Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense; Richard Perle, the chairman of the Pentagon’s Policy Board; William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, and other neoconservatives [who] see removing Saddam Hussein as an overriding priority, and Hussein himself as a figure of transcendent evil.” In the other corner: Secretary of State Colin Powell and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who feel that “if the U.S. objective is to win the war on terrorism, the most important thing it can do is to pressure the Israelis and Palestinians into resuming the peace process.”

John B. Judis, writing in the January 13 issue of the American Prospect, sizes up the two sides and calls the fight for Powell and Scowcroft. The neoconservatives, he writes, share a “millenarian” view that by overthrowing Hussein, the United States “will intimidate and isolate Palestinian radicals.” The same neoconservatives “also reject Scowcroft’s argument that achieving reconciliation in Israel is essential to eliminating Arab anti-Americanism. They contend that Arab hostility toward Israel and the United States is the result of despotic Arab leaders trying to displace onto Israel and the United States the anger that the Arab masses might otherwise feel toward them. If the overthrow of Hussein were to lead to the overthrow of these despots, that could lead to regimes that wouldn’t have to use anti-Israeli and anti-American propaganda to curry favor with ‘the street.’”

Judis begs to differ. “For one thing, Arab hostility toward Israel is not simply the product of current manipulation by cynical elites. While the Jewish settlement in Palestine was justified by the oppression of Jews in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, it was seen in the Mideast as an outgrowth of European imperialism that had earlier carved up the region and robbed its resources. That resentment was reinforced and deepened by Arab military defeats in 1948 and 1967, the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Opportunistic and cynical leaders certainly have stoked this hostility, but it won’t disappear if Saddam Hussein is overthrown. If anything, it will grow and intensify, providing a breeding ground for the deeply reactionary currents of Islamic radicalism from which al-Qaeda recruits.”

Judis sees a dark future if Saddam is overthrown and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved — particularly a future of spreading Palestinian terrorism in Europe and the United States.

“Scowcroft and Powell’s realistic approach to the region can be boiled down to two propositions,” Judis writes. “First, that if forced to choose among waging the war against terrorism, seeking regime change in Iraq and reviving the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, regime change in Iraq is the least important and should be approached the most gingerly; second, that immediately resuming negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians is integral to waging the war on terrorism.”

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Logical Fallacy Alert: The Nazis used barbed wire. Israelis use barbed wire. Thus, the Israelis are like Nazis.

Or so goes a throwaway premise in Neve Gordon’s review of “Barbed Wire: A Political History” by Olivier Razac. The review by Gordon, who teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, appears in the January 6 issue of In These Times. Razac’s book is apparently a technological and philosophical history of barbed wire, with examples ranging from the Wild West to the Nazi era, “when concentration camps helped turn the image of barbed wire into a graphic symbol of captivity, political violence and death.”

Writes Gordon: “Explicating and trying to understand the continued widespread use of barbed wire could have added an additional dimension to this fascinating book. For example, examining the architectural similarity and differences between the camps Israel has constructed to hold Palestinians and the concentration camps Jews were held in during the Holocaust, urges one to ponder how it is that the reappearance of barbed wire in the Israeli landscape does not engender an outcry among survivors. Does this silence put into question the symbolic power of barbed wire, or does it underscore that this power is always limited by its own context?” Or does it underscore that survivors, unlike some Israeli academics, aren’t nitwits?

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Circular Reasoning: Sunday’s New York Times had a big two-page calendar showing the highlights of the “Year in Review.” Ongoing news stories were marked with special symbols: a cross for developments in the Catholic church scandals, a pink box for corporate failures and a brown circle for events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One item earning a brown circle was this July 31 event: “Senate fails to pass bill providing some prescription drug benefits to the elderly.” Is an AIPAC-AARP showdown far behind?

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