Sunday Reads: Obama’s Calculated Realism, Israelis’ Distrust of Europe, Syria’s Palestinian Refugees

March 2, 2014

The US

Fred Kaplan writes an interesting piece about President Obama's cold, calculated foreign policy realism –

Like all postwar presidents, Obama speaks in hallowed terms about America’s global mission. But his actions reveal an aversion to missionary zeal. He has ended the regime-changing wars he inherited, and done much to avoid new ones. He rarely hectors foreign leaders about their internal affairs, at least in public. He suffers no ideological hang-ups about negotiating with dreadful rulers or sworn enemies, such as Iran, for the sake of national-security interests. To ease America’s way out of Afghanistan, he has cozied up to Central Asian autocrats and tolerated Pakistan’s duplicity. With almost clinical detachment, he has reassessed U.S. relationships in East Asia, embracing authoritarian regimes in Myanmar and Vietnam to promote trade and check an expansive China.

John Hudson reports on AIPAC's struggle to produce a meaningful piece of Iran legislation ahead of its conference –

To be sure, strenuous efforts were made to introduce some kind of legislation on Iran's nuclear program before the start of the confab, including a long-delayed House resolution outlining the acceptable terms of a final nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers. But multiple Hill sources say that the nonbinding resolution, fleshed out by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), will not be introduced before the conference. Instead, aides in the Senate and House said lawmakers may join together to draft letters to the president, but even the fate of that effort is uncertain.

“They just want something,” said a GOP Senate aide. “They've spent so much political capital, they'll accept just about anything at this point to not have egg on their face.”


Die Welt's foreign news editor Clemens Wergin examines Israelis' growing mistrust of Europe

It is always comfortable for Europeans to demand that Israel make hard decisions for peace. But Europe must now ask itself some hard questions, too. What guarantees could Europe offer Israel in return for a Palestinian state to protect it if the peace experiment failed and radicals took over the West Bank? Would Europe be ready to offer membership in NATO and the European Union if the Israelis asked for it?

I am not sure there are any promising answers to these questions. But if all Europe has to offer Israel is criticism and disapproval, then it will be part of the problem, not the solution.

David Rosenberg points out that after 10 years of BDS campaigning there has been no real movement towards any kind of boycott on Israel –

A real boycott wave would be devastating for Israel both economically and morally. Indeed, the cost would be many times higher than it was a generation ago because the country's economy is more reliant on international trade and cross-border investment. But for now the boycott is nothing more than a creature of the media's imagination.


The Middle East

TNR's Marc Tracy looks at the story behind a truly devastating photo of a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria –

In the past, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earned a good deal of credibility with Syrians, and throughout the Arab world, with his “resistance” to Israel. It is clear he cares about Palestinian rights exactly to the extent that doing so is convenient for him.

Washington Institute Fellow Adel El-Adawy examines the implications of a Sisi Presidency in Egypt –

Field Marshal Sisi is part of a new generation of U.S.-educated Egyptian military leaders who tend to be more adaptive to the fast-changing security threats across the region. His close relationship with various power centers — especially his same-generation military colleagues — enhances his prospects of enduring if he becomes president. Given his extremely good chances of winning the election, it would be shortsighted for Washington to jeopardize its three-decade investment in close relations with Egypt's armed forces by prolonging its military aid suspension. Moreover, Sisi's greater focus on counterterrorism compared to his military predecessors creates an opportunity to better advance mutual strategic security interests.

The Jewish World

J.H Chayez writes a curious piece about the Jewish magic books and the complicated attitudes Rabbis have had towards them throughout history–

The binary status of magic gave rise to contested formulations of its cultural position among rabbinic authorities. Was magic the most profound degradation of the spirit, or the highest actualization of human potential? Medieval German pietists, whose eponymous piety may have been ultimately conceived as preparatory to engagement in magical activity, seem to have favored the latter evaluation, as did the Italian Renaissance rabbis who placed the study of magic at the apex of their ideal curriculum.

Ahead of the 86th Academy Awards, Film PhD student Michael Lipiner offers a quick guide to the history of Jews in American Cinema –

With the 86th Academy Awards coming up on March 2, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on America’s “Jew view” and acknowledge those in Hollywood who cautiously — and later brazenly — embraced their Jewishness on screen. We may be well past the days when Betty Joan Perske became Lauren Bacall or Tony Curtis distanced himself from Bernard Schwartz, but the Jewish experience in America, as told by Hollywood films, is still a gripping one.

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