Mahbubani Responds: Western Intellectual and Moral Cowardice on Israel/Palestine is “Stunning”

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mahbubani steve clemons robert kimmitt.jpg
(Kishore Mahbubani speaks at New America Foundation reception on the “Rise of Asia and the Decline of the West. Pictured are Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Robert Kimmitt, Kishore Mahbubani, and New America Foundation/American Strategy Program Director Steve Clemons. photo credit: Samuel Sherraden)
The following is the fourth installment in an evolving series of guest commentaries on an original post on The Washington Note titled “The Next Fault Line in Foreign Policy Combat: “The U.S. Matters” vs. “No, It Really Doesn’t“.
This guest post and response is offered by former State Secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Singapore Ambassador to the United Nations Kishore Mahbubani. Mahbubani, who now serves as Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore has authored the new book, The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East. Mahbubani also published this
Foreign Affairs article, “The Case Against the West” that offers in abbreviated form some of the key points in his book.
npq post globalization.jpgA video clip of Kishore Mahbubani speaking for the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program in Washington, DC can be viewed here. Mahbubani also recently did a Q&A titled, “Peeling Away the Western Veneer” in Spring 2008
New Perspectives Quarterly. The rest of the pieces in a series organized by Nathan Gardels on Post-Globalization are quite thought-provoking.
The posts in this series thus far are:

The Next Fault Line in Foreign Policy Combat: “The U.S. Matters” vs. “No, It Really Doesn’t
G. JOHN IKENBERRY RESPONDS: The Rise of Asia AND the West
The Debate on East vs. West Continues: Anne-Marie Slaughter Challenges Mahbubani

Mahbubani Responds: Western Intellectual and Moral Cowardice on Israel/Palestine is “Stunning”
Parag Khanna and Michael Lind will offer their responses this week — and we expect G. John Ikenberry to be back as well. Others too.
The following is a guest post by Kishore Mahbubani
John Ikenberry is spot on when he stated at the outset “Kishore and I clearly have major points of agreement”. Indeed, I may agree with John more than he thinks. In addition to agreement on the seminal importance of the rise of Asia, I also agree with the three big points he makes in his Foreign Affairs article, namely that we should reaffirm and strengthen the Western-led post-war global order; that China will be tomorrow’s (if not today’s) greatest supporter of this order and that America should prepare well for a post-American world order.
I deeply respect and admire both John Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter. They are formidable scholars who have the right instincts and approaches toward current global challenges. I hope that their voices will be the dominant voices of the next Obama Administration. If that happens, the world will be a safer and better place. I want their voices to become stronger in our world.
Given these many agreements, where are the points of disagreement? In the interest of a good debate, let me state three major points of disagreement as bluntly as possible (while emphasizing that I would nuance many of these points if I had more time and space to do so).
The first point of disagreement is over the nature and impact of Western power on the world. The post-1945 liberal international order created by the West has been benign. This does not necessarily mean that Western power has been or is inherently benign. There is increasing evidence that given a choice between promoting Western values (at some self-sacrifice) and defending Western interests, interests inevitably trump values.
The West incessantly preaches its noble goal of eliminating global poverty. But when America or EU have to reduce or eliminate agricultural subsidies that clearly harm the poorest people on the planet, no Western politician dares to advocate this. Similarly the West has provided the moral and intellectual leadership in educating the world on the dangers of global warming. Yet the West remains the single biggest obstacle to addressing the challenges of global warming because of its refusal to accept moral and political responsibility for the “stock” of greenhouse gas emissions the Western industrialized economies have put into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.
How can China and India, which are still relatively poor, be expected to pay an economic price for the new “flows” of greenhouse gas emissions, if the West refuses to pay an economic price for the “stock” it is responsible for? In short, the rest of the world clearly perceives Western power as acting to defend the sectoral interests of the West against global interests while the West continues to nurture the illusion that it is only defending the global interests of humanity.
The second point of disagreement is about the impact of Western double-standards. Many Western intellectuals (including, I believe, John Ikenberry) are anguished by America’s betrayal of its human rights values in places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. But they believe that they are exceptions reflecting the aberrations caused by the Bush Administration. Once this Administration leaves office, all will be well again. The rest of the world does not believe that such double standards were invented by the Bush Administration. Nor will these double standards disappear with it.
The liberal internationalists were at the forefront of calls to hold Sudan and China accountable for the misery in Darfur under the concept of “responsibility to protect”. Yet, many of these same voices did not bring up the concept of responsibility to protect when collective punishment was imposed on the people of Gaza. There is one point that needs to be emphasized here: there is always a litmus test to assess a person’s intellectual and moral courage. In the West, especially in America, this litmus test is provided by the Middle East issue.
The intellectual and moral cowardice of Western intellectuals on this issue is stunning. Paradoxically, by censoring their views on Israel, they have done great damage to Israel by failing to point out to it the sheer folly of remaining in perpetual conflict with its neighbors. The next time any Western intellectual calls upon the rest of the world to show courage by speaking “truth to power” he or she should lead the charge by speaking “truth to power” on the Israel-Palestine dispute.
No liberal international order can be sustained if it is not seen to be responding to key challenges of the day. If we believe in the United Nations (as I believe we should), we cannot ignore the resolutions of the UN, especially the critical UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, on the Middle East. These resolutions serve the interests of Israel. By walking away from them, American Administrations have both damaged Israel and undermined the UN. It is our response to the hard cases which determine where we really stand on the liberal international order.
The Arab-Israeli issue is not the only area where double standards surface. China has been given a hard time on the Darfur issue (and here I agree that China should be doing more to help alleviate the plight of the poor people of Darfur). However, the premise on which China is criticized is that it is immoral for China to buy oil from Sudan. When my Chinese friends hear this, the question they ask is: “does the West only buy oil from moral regimes? If not, why should China be subjected to a higher standard than the West in the purchase of oil?”
The third point of disagreement is about the nature of the dialogue between the West and the Rest on the nature of our international order. Many in the West believe that they are open and listening to the voices in the rest of the world. However, what the 5.6 billion people living outside the West see is an incestuous, self-referential and self-congratulatory dialogue which often ignores the views and sentiments in the rest of the world.
This can lead to a dangerous disconnect between the West and the Rest.
The most recent example of this divide was seen over the Olympic Torch protests. Many in the West believed that the protestors were justified in trying to protect the interests of the oppressed Tibetan minority. Western leaders, like Merkel and Sarkorzy, were applauded for saying they might boycott the Beijing Olympics. The universal Western refrain was “what political courage!”.
Actually, these Western leaders were showing political cowardice because they were only interested in looking good in the eyes of their own populations, without worrying about the impact of their actions on the liberal international order. Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, China has committed itself to rising peacefully and to become a “responsible stakeholder”. (Steve Clemons makes this point compellingly in a debate on China, the Olympics, and American politics with New Republic editor Richard Just)
However, by stoking the fires over Tibet, the Western protesters may unleash a virulent form of Chinese nationalism which may veer China away from the liberal international order. In short, we are at a very plastic moment of history. If the West mishandles it, it could destroy the liberal international order which has benefited humanity. The tragedy here is that few in the West can see how the West is now jeopardizing it more than the Rest.
This is why I wrote “The Case Against the West” in the current issue of Foreign Affairs to point out how the Western refusal to cede and share power with the Rest as well as the growing Western geopolitical incompetence pose the biggest threats to our international order.
In short, there is a real divide between the West and the Rest. The challenge for the West is to both understand the nature of this divide and figure out how to handle it. The good news here is that the Rest is willing to work with the West in bridging this divide.
— Kishore Mahbubani

Comments

23 comments on “Mahbubani Responds: Western Intellectual and Moral Cowardice on Israel/Palestine is “Stunning”

  1. water meter says:

    Every single poll ever taken shows that
    Americans overwhelmingly support Israel, even as a Jewish state. And many support the two-state solution.

    Reply

  2. David says:

    Thank you, Pauline, for your post.
    Daniel Levy has an interesting analysis of John McCain’s speech, but moreso of the audience’s enthusiastic reaction. Daniel Levy seems to me to understand AIPAC for its failings as a voice for Israel in the United States. And Pauline’s post makes it clear just how powerful, and how biased, this group is, as reflected in the speakers and the presentations. And I would offer the observation that AIPAC is also an enabler for the ultimate implosion of Israel as a force for good in the Middle East.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-levy/mccain-at-aipac-offers-am_b_104824.html

    Reply

  3. pauline says:

    “AIPAC’s in Town, and the Line-Up is Hawkish”
    Jim Lobe June 1,2008
    Monday morning marks the formal opening of the annual three-day policy conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which, according to AIPAC’s press announcement of the event, is “consistently ranked as the most influential foreign policy lobbying organization on Capitol Hill.” You can expect a strong focus on Iran and a very hawkish line towards same. The press release makes the point that “ALL three remaining Presidential candidates, ALL four leaders of Congress… AS WELL AS Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will address the conference. (Emphasis in the original.) So much for the argument that AIPAC really isn’t as powerful as its critics, like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, claim.
    While all major Jewish organizations, including the more peace-oriented ones like Americans for Peace Now and the Israeli Policy Forum, are represented on AIPAC’s board, the actual line-up of speakers, particularly in the “breakout sessions” on specific issues, is very narrow, ranging (in Israeli terms) from the far right (as in pro-settler), to the center-right governing Kadima Party. Thus, it’s notable that the highest-ranking Labor Party member (as listed in the program) is former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh, who actually resigned from the Labor Party last week to form his own group that is expected to soon join Kadima. Sneh, it should be noted, strongly favors concessions for the Palestinian Authority led by Abu Mazen, but he is strongly anti-Hamas and considers Iran an existential threat. The U.S. spectrum is also remarkably narrow; on the “left” are former Clinton officials Daniel Benjamin (speaking on how to reach “moderate Muslims” on a panel that includes two serious extremists, Martin Kramer of the Adelson Institute at the Shalem Center, and Walid Phares, the former Phalangist who is now based at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, or FDD) and that perennial, Dennis Ross. Ross will be speaking along with Sneh, Liz Cheney(!), and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (who could have some interesting things to say) in the opening plenary session after an introductory speech by Sen. John McCain. Those in the U.S. Jewish community who favor some form of engagement — direct or indirect — with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, or Iran will simply not be represented on the podium and will have to satisfy themselves, I suppose, with asking questions from the floor.
    Much attention, as in the past several years, will be devoted to Iran, which dominates the list of lobbying priorities (”taking action”) cited on AIPAC’s home page. A panel on financial sanctions against Iran will be monopolized by individuals who strongly favor them; same with another panel on divestment; and a third panel on “what does Iran really want?” will feature two Iran hawks, Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council, and Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), as well as a former adviser to the Israeli prime minister (although I don’t know which one). This group believes a lot more in sticks than in carrots.
    The session on Syria looks to be even more hawkish. In addition to New York Rep. Eliot Engel, presenters include Tony Badran, a regime-changer at FDD, and WINEP’s David Schenker, who spent much of Bush’s first term in Donald Rumsfeld’s office working with Elliot Abrams at the White House and Scooter Libby in Cheney’s office on ways to destabilize and/or attack Syria. The panel on Hamas and Hezbollah doesn’t look much better. Entitled “Double Trouble,” the presenters include an AIPAC official, Leah Odinec; Avi Jorisch, who used to be with FDD and now heads something called the Illicit Finance Group; and Bret Stephens, the pro-settler foreign affairs columnist at the Wall Street Journal.
    Another panel, “Shifting Sands: The Changing Landscape of Today’s Middle East,” is also dominated by hawks or, as described by the program, “three of America’s most renowned foreign policy experts.” They include former U.S. Amb. and to Morocco and bona fide FOB, Marc Ginsberg, who until recently was on FDD’s board of advisers; Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and WINEP’s executive director, Robert Satloff. Ginsberg will also be appearing opposite (if that’s the correct word) Bill Kristol on a panel entitled “The Presidential Situation Room: How Candidates Develop Their Foreign Policy.” Ginsberg is a frequent contributor to Kristol’s Weekly Standard.
    For Islamophobes, “Terror in Our Backyard: The Reach of Radicals Operating in America” should be a big attraction. Steve Emerson of the Investigative Project and Jonathan Schanzer of the Jewish Policy Forum, a group whose board of directors includes Daniel Pipes and Michael Ledeen, will be the sole presenters.
    Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu will also be presenting in plenary session of course. I’m betting we’re going to hear about how this is 1938, and Iran is Nazi Germany.
    Sens. Clinton and Obama will open the final session Wednesday. It will be very interesting if Obama, in particular, restates before this crowd his remarks about the distinction between being ”pro-Israel” and being “pro-Likud,” or his sympathy for Palestinian suffering, or his belief that expanding settlements is not conducive to peace. The Israeli government’s decision to build nearly 900 new housing units in East Jerusalem this weekend certainly highlights the issue.
    As of late morning, however, more than 5,000 anticipated AIPAC delegates will be let loose on Capitol Hill to tell their elected representatives about what they’ve learned in the previous two days, and engaging Israel’s enemies is not likely to be one of the lessons they’ll take with them.
    see —
    http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/?p=153

    Reply

  4. WigWag says:

    Wow, sweetness and David; both your comments are so smart, well reasoned and so eloquent. I wish you would both comment on this site much more often.
    Your exchange was very illuminating.
    By the way, sweetness, your writing is extraordinarily lucid.

    Reply

  5. Sweetness says:

    Dear David–your reasons are also mine. You’re most welcome.

    Reply

  6. David says:

    Probably as far as I can go in this exchange, sweetness, but one of my reasons for posting is to get other takes on what I think. Thanks for responding to my thoughts on the issue.

    Reply

  7. Sweetness says:

    I would say you have a number of facts wrong here…
    One can be both Jewish and secular; they aren’t opposed as you
    suggest here. Similarly, one can be Palestinian and non-religious. To call Israel expansionist for the past 60 years is simply to oppose
    Israel’s existence per se. There are no “facts” involved; simply
    judgement and condemnation. Comparing Zionists to the early
    English settlers is factually wrong because there are far too many
    differences between the two to give the comparison any factual
    credibility. Almost everything was different. The point of the
    comparison is to condemn, morally, the Zionists.

    Reply

  8. David says:

    “Expanionist Israelis may be doing what the original US settlers
    did, but the original Jewish emigres, and those who had been
    there from time immemorial, most certainly were not. It’s hard
    to compare people fleeing extermination–after centuries of
    oppression in lands where they were never considered to be or
    treated as “natives”–and who actually agreed to share Palestine
    (however unfair the split was) with those who were out, simply,
    to conquer other lands and/or plunder resources and who
    simply slaughtered any who got in their way to make room for
    themselves and their slaves. Making that equivalency takes a
    certain moral obtuseness.”
    Expansionist Israelis have defined the Israel-Palestine conflict since Israel’s inception as a de jure secular, de facto Jewish state. The attempt in the early days to destroy Israel only exacerbated an already explosive situation. And with only a very few moments of potential light at the end of this very, very dark tunnel, one extinguished by a hard right orhodox Jewish assassin, this has been misery and death versus horror and death.
    Criticize me when I get a fact wrong. I don’t think there’s anything morally obtuse about attempting to assess official Israeli policy for the past 60 years, an assessment some veteran Israeli political figures are candidly acknowledging.
    J-Street is a breath of fresh air.

    Reply

  9. Sweetness says:

    “Israel was created by dispossessing and displacing Palestinians.
    That is a simple, historical fact. The reasons for it are more
    complex, of course, including the bizarre notion that God is an
    overarching king who can make land grants to whomever He
    favors regardless of who might be inhabiting the lands so
    granted, rather like an abstract I have for a piece of land I used
    to own, which abstract traces through a grant by the US
    government to a railroad to the grant from the King of Spain,
    which grant ultimately was passed on to the United States, of
    course. And right now Lousiana is celebrating the Lousiana
    Purchase.”
    Actually, religious justifications for the creation of Israel–both
    by the theorists and the first emigres–played a relatively small
    role. Zionism, at its start, and at its heart, was almost entirely a
    political movement, a secular one. But, of course, the most
    bizarre reasons and statements are the “reasons” that are always
    cited–as if Herzl were simply religious loon.
    Expanionist Israelis may be doing what the original US settlers
    did, but the original Jewish emigres, and those who had been
    there from time immemorial, most certainly were not. It’s hard
    to compare people fleeing extermination–after centuries of
    oppression in lands where they were never considered to be or
    treated as “natives”–and who actually agreed to share Palestine
    (however unfair the split was) with those who were out, simply,
    to conquer other lands and/or plunder resources and who
    simply slaughtered any who got in their way to make room for
    themselves and their slaves. Making that equivalency takes a
    certain moral obtuseness.
    Plus, there is the “small” problem that Jews–actual living
    beings–a minority, but a substantial one– had lived in the
    region forever. Unlike the English settlers or the Spanish
    settlers or the French settlers or the Portuguese settlers. So a
    good argument could be made that Jews had SOME right to
    SOME of the land in the region. It wasn’t simply “Arab land” in
    toto…as if the Arab conquests from the peninsula to the Atlantic
    were themselves, somehow, acts and decrees of Allah.
    But again, I dare say that Zionism and Zionists would never have
    come into being in the first place had these folks ever been
    accepted as “Europeans” with full rights, unafraid for life and
    limb, and not felt forced to “do something” to save themselves
    and arrive at a place where they could, at last, live normal lives.
    To be sure, Zionism was not the only possible option–it
    probably not have been for me–but it was an eminently
    reasonable one. And during the years in question, its
    assumptions about Western society proved remarkably prescient.
    I like your option a). I don’t think the US has permanently
    screwed up its role if it can assume the role of an honest broker,
    not an easy thing. There are a number of new voices in the “pro
    Israel coalition”–including J Street and IPF–who also like
    option a). So I continue to hold out hope.

    Reply

  10. David says:

    Israel was created by dispossessing and displacing Palestinians. That is a simple, historical fact. The reasons for it are more complex, of course, including the bizarre notion that God is an overarching king who can make land grants to whomever He favors regardless of who might be inhabiting the lands so granted, rather like an abstract I have for a piece of land I used to own, which abstract traces through a grant by the US government to a railroad to the grant from the King of Spain, which grant ultimately was passed on to the United States, of course. And right now Lousiana is celebrating the Lousiana Purchase.
    It was the British who granted the existence of modern Israel, and it was Truman who recognized its statehood. And it is expansionist Israelis who are doing exactly what American settlers did to territories inhabited by Native Americans. My suspicion is that the only way the current Israel powers will agree to a two-state solution is if they can keep the settlements and then claim justification for state-to-state war to defend their new lands.
    And all the United States can do, without being hypocritical, is accept Israel’s continuing annexation of Palestinian land, the Native Palestinians (at least of the past two millenia) be damned.
    Fortunately, wiser voices seem to be emerging in Israel, some of whom recognize that Israel might well implode if it continues on its current path.
    I still like the idea of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories being given the option of either: a) withdrawal by Israel from all of the Occupied Territories and all of the settlements, with Palestine being granted statehood, knowing that any further attacks on Israel after that point would constitute an act of war; or b) Israeli citizenship for all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, if Israel has no intention of withdrawing, including from all the settlements. The status quo, which Israel is actually expanding, and which Netanyahuh would pursue full tilt, I suspect, is a formula for disaster for everyone involved.
    I suspect that at this point only Israel can right itself, and it is currently dead wrong, if morality is a consideration, as wrong as the suicide bombers and those who send them.
    Unfortunately, the United States has so screwed up its role in any peaceful resolution that I don’t see how we can help the situation, and I really don’t think Israel needs us to defend them. They are perfectly capable of defending themselves; Iran has no intention of launching a suicide war against Israel (they are not that stupid); and even-handed US policy in the Israel-Palestine debacle has been rendered impossible by a very powerful American “pro-Israel” coalition, so powerful that Howard Dean caught hell for suggesting in 2004 that the US needed to be even-handed in seeking a peaceful resolution.
    At least TWN is offering a forum for uninhibited assessment of the US in the world, and the world in which the US now finds itself. That can’t hurt, and it could help. And a second to the comment about Josh Marshall.

    Reply

  11. Sweetness says:

    “If Israel was formed by an act of ethnic cleansing, then it makes
    perfect sense for the people who share the same religion and
    ethnic background as its victims to wish for the destruction of such
    an odious regime.”
    I guess, then, it makes sense, and is justified, for the Jews of the
    world to wish and work for the destruction of all the odious Arab
    regimes under which they have lived as second-class dhimmis–
    not to mention the odious Christian religion, whose tenets have
    justified Jewish massacres, pogroms, expulsions, and all around
    bad treatment.

    Reply

  12. Sweetness says:

    “And I disagree with the statement that ..” “The fact remains that
    the United States is, as it has been for 60 years, committed to
    Israel’s existence as a Jewish state;”………”
    This is nonsense. Every single poll ever taken shows that
    Americans overwhelmingly support Israel, even as a Jewish state.
    And many support the two-state solution.

    Reply

  13. morzer says:

    Intellectually dishonest and lazy commentary. The Tibetans are NOT a minority. They are an oppressed people, whose independence was taken from them first by Britain, and then by China. Until the writer faces this simple truth, his nonsense about China and Tibet will continue to be vacuous, kneejerk West-bashing falsehood.

    Reply

  14. St. Michael Traveler says:

    One Nation: The Federal State of Israel-Palestine
    We have had 60 years of experimenting about the Israeli- Palestinian struggle. The region would need help before we will be dragged into a World War III.
    The basis for Israeli claim to the region is that once there were Semitic Jewish tribes who formed a state before rise of Assyrian Empire. This state was controlled by Syria, Persian Empire, Greece, Romans, Arabia, Turkish, France and England. The population later became mostly Muslim. Jews mostly left the region during the period of 2000 years.
    The United Nations created Israel after the World War II on the land settled mostly by Muslims and Christians.
    Thus, those who had lived in the region for 2000 years had to be displaced to create space for Zionist invaders. The act created struggle between Israel and the original population.
    We should be looking at the region as a Federal States with one government elected by all of the people. As one nation the region may have a much better chance of peace.

    Reply

  15. Carroll says:

    Quite a number of Americans have been speaking truth on Israel-Palestine…but “power” doesn’t listen.
    And I disagree with the statement that ..” “The fact remains that the United States is, as it has been for 60 years, committed to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state;”………
    The US government ight support Israel but Americans don’t support Israel, the politicans do because of the AIPAC cult, big difference. In the past six years of my ranting and raving about this hellish marriage between congress and Israel to everyone I know and every one I get into a political discussion with which is hundreds of people, I have only met one non jewish person who supported Israel. The local Jews that I know in my own area don’t even support Israel.
    And I will go with Mahbubani over Slaughter’s views. She’s another delusion neo-lite in sheep’s clothing.

    Reply

  16. arthurdecco says:

    Zathras said:“It is nonetheless a serious display of bad taste on Mahbubani’s part to compare the quarrel in Gaza with the campaign of extermination waged by the Arab government of Sudan in Darfur since 2003.”
    Anyone who could describe the deliberate and never-ending illegal assaults on the Palestinians now imprisoned in Gaza by a belligerently racist, heavily-armed, militarist society that only wishes them harm and never shows anything but contempt to them a “quarrel”, isn’t worth reading a second longer.

    Reply

  17. Max says:

    I too find Mr Mahbubani’s final point oddly lacking in perspective, given the double-standard basis from which he start.
    I seriously doubt we have forgotten there will never be any way around the innate predisposition of “local interest” in human nature, much less international relations. Hence, and moving forward from such realistic initial conditions, all parties are on notice: expect the weak links in your logic to spawn criticism, ethically justifiable criticism, practically verifiable criticism. So the US, in a context of agreeable international fairness, is wrong to uncritically support Israel, as China, in just one of many ways, is wrong to attempt to limit the free exchange of cultures amongst athletes, and the local community, during the Olympics.
    And the wheels on the bus go round…. There once was a time in America when the SCOTUS sat above the fray, at least in the general perceptions, endeavoring for truth and justice, whatever such might have been at the time. But they appear to have entered a dip in the sine function of integrity, alas. So I am at a loss to provide realistic models for international fairness. Hell, in all its existence the UN has yet to grant full membership in important ways to all members; the UNSC for example hamstrings international progress and, like the US with slavery, was corrupted from its inception in granting the power to veto any substantive resolution by permanent SC members. With such international agreements, are we really anything but ignorant fools to expect aspirations to truth and justice?
    Notwithstanding, this is the one and only real world, and we move forward in the context of initial conditions relative to perceptions of power, interest and opportunity. But intelligent, informed and well-positioned experts might safely presume all parties are gaming the “system” to best suit their advantage, always. Thus any tit-for-tat logic/argument might be reasonably suggested to progress back in history until such times as an innocent party is found and, from there, proceed forward so long as an innocent party is viable; failing that, dispense with all such comparisons.
    Thanks, TWN.

    Reply

  18. Matthew says:

    Zathras’s comment, “The fact remains that the United States is, as it has been for 60 years, committed to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state; Israel’s opponents are, nominally, committed to its destruction. Of course “nominally” is a loaded word in the culturally backward Middle East; nonetheless, this is a pretty basic difference in values between the Americans and the Arabs,” merits a response.
    If Israel was formed by an act of ethnic cleansing, then it makes perfect sense for the people who share the same religion and ethnic background as its victims to wish for the destruction of such an
    odious regime.
    When I was in college, we used to have a permanent “shanty” built on the mall to reflect the horror of South African apartheid. Many African-American students took this issue very seriously. Little did I know that their outrage over apartheid was just evidence of their “backwardness.”

    Reply

  19. Jakebnto says:

    Gaza vs Darfur. Gaza, as a “crux” issues, may bring about the apocolypse. To the extent that 9/11 was a response to the Palestinian issue, such a thing may already be underway.
    Darfur is a humanitarian disaster, but the fate of the world does not rest upon its resolution.
    Mahbubani may be perfectly correct that Western Intellectuals have been silent with respect to the Palestinians, but that is not true of all of the west. The liberal blogosphere is replete with angy voices decrying both sides of that crucial issue. Those same voices point to the West, and the US in particular, as the party(s) who have done little, or worse, to resolve the issue.
    Western Intellectuals are as much a part of the “consensus” as any politician in Washington. They have too much to lose in this poisoned environment, where truly free speech never is.
    Jake

    Reply

  20. Zathras says:

    Mahbubani’s points deserve thoughtful consideration, and perhaps the elaboration he might be able to give them had he more space. I ask that any lack of nuance in my responses be regarded in the same light.
    His first point is well taken, in the sense that rhetoric from Western countries about values often conflicts with actions of their governments in pursuit of interests. I’d argue that since all governments at all times in history pursue interests, the appropriate place to start in repairing any inconsistencies is a review of Western rhetoric. No man or nation should persist in making promises that cannot be kept.
    Yet it is also true that Western values of individual liberty are in conflict with the values prevalent in certain other areas of the world. China is an obvious example; a perhaps less obvious example is Mahbubani’s own country of Singapore. The Hindu caste system would run afoul of the law in most European or North American countries were it applied there as it is in India; the feudal merging of family, state and economy that characterizes some Arab countries is something most of the West left behind centuries ago. Further examples could be multiplied. The issue is whether a debate over Western hypocrisy about whether men should be free and equal is to substitute for frank discussion of the fact that there is disagreement among cultures about how free and equal men should be.
    This is not a new thing. During the Cold War representatives of governments that styled themselves without irony as “People’s Republics” and “democratic” leveled charges of hypocrisy against the West for decades. Some of them (including some that originated in the West and were echoed by its Communist enemies) were valid. That didn’t alter the fact that they were only part of a clash of ideas between imperfect champions of freedom and those who objected less to the West’s occasional betrayal of its values than they did to the values themselves. Some in the West mistook one for the other even then. We should have learned enough not to do it now.
    Incidentally, it has not been true that “no [Western] politician” dares to criticize agricultural subsidies. The Reagan administration fought to reduce them for years, and the pre-Bush Republican majority in Congress forced the Clinton administration to slash subsidies to American farmers drastically. Indeed, the loudest and most persistent critic of European and Japanese agricultural protectionism has historically been the United States, because America is a net exporter of most farm commodities. The recent record of the Bush administration has admittedly muddied these waters.
    Mahbubani’s second point is about the Palestinians, the litmus test issue for Arabs, and thus for those who want the Arabs’ goodwill. Here, too, the recent record of the American government has muddied the waters; its reflexive and unvarying deference to the wishes of the least reasonable political factions within Israel has helped identify the United States with them. The fact remains that the United States is, as it has been for 60 years, committed to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state; Israel’s opponents are, nominally, committed to its destruction. Of course “nominally” is a loaded word in the culturally backward Middle East; nonetheless, this is a pretty basic difference in values between the Americans and the Arabs. Westerners outside the United States are less committed to Israel; non-Arab “Easterners” are outraged about the Palestinians because Arab governments and media demand shows of outrage.
    It is nonetheless a serious display of bad taste on Mahbubani’s part to compare the quarrel in Gaza with the campaign of extermination waged by the Arab government of Sudan in Darfur since 2003. I grant that from the Chinese perspective (and I confess I wonder how large that looms, compared to other “Eastern” perspectives, in Singapore) the comparison might occur to people, because for some reason Western groups concerned with Darfur have decided China is the decisive factor there. The contemptuous indifference toward Darfur’s victims by Arab governments and media since the fighting there began is taken for granted somehow. At any rate, the fact is that more people have died in Darfur during the last five years than have been killed in Gaza during the last fifty. For that matter, more people have likely died in the last month in one part of Burma than have been killed in fighting in Gaza while I have been alive, and Mahbubani doesn’t think them worth mentioning in the context of the UN’s declared “responsibility to protect” at all. Here again, perhaps, a difference in values.
    Mahbubani’s final point is a curious one. He begins it with an observation about the dangers of disconnect between “the West and the Rest,” and continues by denouncing a pair of European leaders for being more deferential to feelings among their own people than they are to the Chinese government. Now, I happen to agree with him about an Olympic boycott, and think that disrupting Olympic torch relays amounts to nothing more than petty rudeness. But enforcing silence on a subject like Tibet (or China’s role in Africa, or its suppression of Christians) is not something Western countries can do as easily as, say, the government of Singapore can. There isn’t a good reason they should. There is no threat to the international order arising from the West here; I don’t take for granted that one must arise from China, but can’t agree that the way to avoid one is for non-Chinese to go around walking on eggshells, not talking about anything the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t want them to talk about. Singapore may well have reasons for taking a different position, but those reasons are not persuasive in the United States. They may not be that persuasive in many places outside of Singapore.
    I commend Steve Clemons for hosting this stimulating discussion.

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  21. SassySuzy says:

    That is a hilarious picture. Looks to me like the West is pretty big and the East is still pretty small, even if it is rising and the West is declining. The gap still is huge.

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  22. sdemetri says:

    Deploring the hypocrisies Mahbubani lists, I find his arguments presented here more compelling than either Slaughter’s or Ikenberry, though both make excellent points. The “real divide” seems largely driven by the US as arbiter of the Washington Consensus, though specific cases of reform being blocked, such as what Ikenberry mentions with Security Council reforms by China, aren’t trivial either.
    The question for me is, as US power wanes, whether through missteps and loss of confidence, or through a rise in other power centers, what will be the US response to what look like inevitable power shifts?
    The John Bolton’s of the world ostensibly would dismantle the UN, and other international institutions in favor of unilateral power resting in the US. A strengthening of the status quo. The theorists behind the Bush admin ideology seem intent on expanding US military reach and permanence, securing the resources necessary to that task, and ignoring or undercutting the institutions which have traditionally moderated such actions.
    Mahbubani has the courage to bring up the gross inconsistency of neglecting Israel’s role in the middle east’s hostilities and US support for Israel’s role, whereas both Ikenberry and Slaughter make no mention of this deep, festering wound that continues to infect, and potentially sicken the international order in larger, global ways. I have read opinions that place the middle east conflict in a context of a regional squabble, of less importance to the big picture than advertised, but adding Iran’s role in oil production and trade with China, and Iranian/Israeli hostilities, breaks this out of a regional sort of model. They must have an opinion. The hypocrisy of the West’s position, particularly the US’s, on this is not so trivial. Isn’t the military might of the US the 9000lb gorilla in the room, or is our military’s reach and dominance more benign up against the world order institutions it is touted as protecting?

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  23. lurker says:

    Say what you will, but these pieces that Clemons has assembled are better than a graduate course on international affairs and we are getting all this for free.
    I’m thinking more and more that Steve Clemons and Josh Marshall are like the only progressive bloggers who have any credibilty talking about foreign policy and national security issues.
    Bravo TWN team! This made my morning.

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