September 23, 2019

Sunday Reads: Trump’s upcoming speech on Islam, Rouhani’s re-election, The poem that ended Norway’s ban on Jews


Colum Lynch writes an interesting piece on how the Obama administration backed down from pressuring Russia on the Syrian chemical weapons issue:

The episode highlighted the limits of American diplomacy in dealing with a regime that had agreed to eliminate its chemical weapons program only under the threat of military action — and that flouted its obligations when the threat was removed. But the Obama administration’s caution fits a broader pattern of conflict avoidance with Russia over Syria’s use of chlorine as a chemical weapon. In contrast with its previous efforts to isolate Moscow economically with sanctions following it annexation of Crimea, the Obama White House depended on Russia’s cooperation in ending the civil war in Syria and containing the regime’s chemical weapons program.

Ahead of Trump’s big speech in Saudi Arabia, David Graham takes a look at the history of American presidents explaining Islam to Muslims:

Trump, in the footsteps of the predecessor he frequently criticizes but often emulates, now heads to give his speech having frequently voiced a fierce dislike for the religion. Stranger still, he’s giving the speech in Saudi Arabia, which is a far more religiously cosseted state, and perhaps the foremost exporter of extremism in the Muslim world. Given the errors of his better-intentioned predecessors, it is hard to imagine Trump, with his history of inflammatory comments, coterie of anti-Islam advisers, and general disregard for facts and detail, will avoid the trap of positioning himself as the authority of what Islam is, is not, and should be.


Ben-Dror Yemini refers to Trump as “a president in the service of BDS”:

His understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely no different from his understanding of other international issues, which isn’t much. His diplomatic vision is: “Do whatever you like, one state, two states.” Never before has an American president given equal importance to a solution presented by the BDS movement, which is in fact the solution of Israel’s radical right as well—one state.

Denis Ross and David Makovsky give President Trump a “peace game plan” ahead of his visit to Israel:

It is noteworthy that without any fanfare, Moscow announced last month that Russia recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Arab states have also implied it in their Arab Peace Initiative, which calls on Israel to withdraw to June 4, 1967 lines — lines that would mean West Jerusalem is part of Israel.

Trump should be willing to challenge both sides directly — pressing the Israelis to stop building beyond the security barrier, while demanding that Palestinians end incitement of terror, and Arabs at long last admit that West Jerusalem is part of Israel.

Middle East

Tom Rogan thinks the US should be tougher on the Turkish secret service men who beat up protesters during Erdogan’s visit to the US:

Still, in this latest incident — a premeditated assault on the U.S. constitutional right to peaceful protest — the TPPD has crossed a line. It, and the Turkish government more broadly, must face consequences for their actions. For a start, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson needs to show public anger. Outdoing yesterday’s placid semi-condemnation from the State Department, Tillerson should summon the Turkish ambassador and call out Turkey’s breach of U.S. law. Tillerson should also — and specifically — note the TPPD’s ludicrous hypocrisy. On its website, the TPPD takes care to outline “human rights” and diplomatic-communications training as key priorities. I’m not joking.

Robin Wright muses on the re-election of Iranian President Rouhani:

In 1979, the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini famously quipped that the revolution was about “justice and independence,” not “the price of watermelons.” He said economics was only “for donkeys.” Four decades later, the early revolutionaries are discovering that the price of watermelons—the issues of a normal state—can determine their fate. And having a hostile superpower determined to squeeze Iran harder, whether by empowering regional rivals or imposing new sanctions, will not make normalizing the Islamic Republic any easier.

Jewish World

Gary Rosenblatt reports on a curious event in which four Jewish thinkers shared their personal thoughts and dilemmas concerning Israel and the diaspora:

And so it goes. There are no easy answers to Israel’s dilemma as it continues to struggle to be both a Jewish state and a democracy. But the four writers — Klein Halevi, Stephens, Krauss and Friedman — each in their own way, continue to grapple with that reality, bringing their unique experiences and talents to bear on the Jewish condition today.

That was the takeaway for me. It’s not our responsibility to come up with “the answer,” but it’s crucial that each of us reflect on the hard questions and engage in the conversation.

Kenneth Steven tells the story of the Norwegian poet who helped end Norway’s constitutional ban on Jews:

Highly romantic though it was, and designed to make Christmas eyes weep, Wergeland’s purpose was clear, which was to awaken his people to the reality of the asp in the heart of their newfound and hard-won constitution. They had to see that the clause went against the whole spirit of the constitution, and the very character of the Norwegian people.