January 18, 2019

Sunday Reads: Can Tillerson reclaim his job?, The Muslim Brotherhood & the Qatar crisis, French Islam’s radical turn


Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky wonder whether Rex Tillerson can reclaim his job:

Without a reasonably close relationship with Trump and authority conferred by the White House, it matters little or not at all how talented the nation’s chief diplomat may be. He or she cannot succeed. Tillerson might decide at some point to have a make or break conversation with Trump about what issues he wants to own and make clear he needs the president to get out of his way. But the secretary strikes us as too risk-averse for that. More likely he’ll hang back, keep below the radar and wait for a crisis to exploit and allow him to shine — a moment, of course, that may never come.

Anne Applebaum writes about how George Bush and Barack Obama missed the Russia threat until it was too late:

Neither one of them ever understood the corrosive effect of Russian money, whether on New York real estate or Western democracy. Neither understood the subtle ways in which a large, kleptocratic, semi-criminal state on Europe’s borders could threaten Western political stability. Neither understood that the U.S. political system, like that of France, Germany and Ukraine, had become so vulnerable, or that U.S. political operatives may have turned to Russian hackers for help. By 2016, it was already too late to stop Russia, because most of the damage had already been done.


Einav Schiff believes that the Kotel struggle will not work if the Israeli public remains on the sidelines:

Despite the injustice suffered by Jews in the United States and in other countries, the reality is that the Western Wall’s fate won’t be determined by those who don’t live here. Alone, the Diaspora Jewry will be incapable of defeating the ultra-Orthodox community’s crowded and organized system. Even if the High Court does volunteer to pull the chestnuts out of the fire again, without the active involvement of Israeli Jews, the public domain will be shaped by those who care more. This applies to the educational system, to the army and to the Western Wall, which is losing its relevance among those who have had enough of the Haredi dominance at the site. At the moment, this battle is headed towards a major knockout.

And, just in case you missed it, Shmuel Rosner writes about Israel’s controversial Minister of Culture Miri Regev:

The minister is regularly booed when she attends plays or operas. These boos are well deserved. Ms. Regev shows no affinity for understated, nuanced, civil discourse. She has been also called “Trump in high heels” and the “Sarah Palin of Israel.” Much like these American politicians, Ms. Regev is blunt, occasionally foul-mouthed and thrives on controversy. In short, she is often an embarrassment — especially for those, like me, who think she has a point.

Middle East

Sam Heller tries to put some order into the relations between the forces on the ground in Syria:

Policymakers and analysts need to approach Syria with a realistic, nuanced view of how the country is organized – which, counterintuitively, is probably more comprehensible than any attempt to catalogue hundreds of armed factions. Understanding Syria is not about counting the number of enclaves, or rebel brigades, or pro-regime militias. It’s about understanding how they relate to each other, to the whole of the country, and to the historical course of the war.

Eric Trager sees the Muslim Brotherhood as the defining issue in the current Qatar crisis: 

On the surface, the policy disagreements at the center of this rift aren’t new. The anti-Qatar bloc has long viewed Doha as too chummy with Iran, too provocative in its backing of Al Jazeera and similar media outlets, and too supportive of Islamist movements. What’s new is the zero-sum stakes that the anti-Qatar bloc perceives in the current standoff. Saudi Arabia and the UAE particularly view Qatar’s support for Muslim Brotherhood affiliates as lethally threatening to their own regimes, and therefore see Qatar’s behavior as not merely objectionable, but utterly intolerable.

Jewish World

Liel Leibovitz believes that American Jews should not shy away from politics in the struggle for the Kotel:

If you’re upset by the compromise’s collapse, speak up. Not on Facebook or Twitter—at shul and in a letter to the editor and in a phone call to your local rabbi. Tell them you’re furious at Bibi for folding so predictably under Haredi pressure. Tell them you’re also exasperated with the Reform and Conservative leaders for handling this crisis so poorly. Tell them you refuse to be held hostage by two obdurate parties, neither of which seems to offer you much of a vision for the future. Tell them we’ve tried this sort of zero-sum thinking here in America, and it hasn’t worked quite well. There’s no reason to try and replicate it when it comes to our relationship with Israel. Instead, we need a new way of thinking and talking and feeling, one that begins where the grandstanding ends.

Neil Rogachevsky reviews Gilles Kepel’s new book on French Islam’s radical turn and discusses what this phenomenon means for the country’s Jews:

Kepel offers an interesting take on the role of Jews and anti-Semitism in this strengthening of Islamism in France. Anti-Semitism, he shows, has been one of the chief engines for the consolidation of Islamist opinion and belief. Over the last decade, pamphlets, speakers, and activists have intensively demonized Israel for its alleged crimes in Gaza and elsewhere. Islamist political propaganda, whose goal is to perpetuate the sense that Western Muslims are under siege, is riddled with references to the evil of Israel, Zionism, and the French government’s alleged favoritism toward the Jewish state. (You learn something new every day!)