Germany: Holding Down the Lid

As some readers know, my wife and I spend part of each summer in Potsdam. On the face of it the city has remained what it used to be. The relaxed atmosphere on the most important throughway, the Brandenburger Strasse with its eighteenth-century, two-story, houses; the beautiful flat countryside, fit for walking; the even more beautiful lakes, ideal for swimming; and the superabundance of cultural facilities both in Potsdam itself and in neighboring Berlin.

Yet under the surface Potsdam, and with it Germany as a whole, seems posed for the greatest challenge since at least re-unification back in 1989 and possibly even since the end of World War II back in 1945. How to best explain what has been going on? Perhaps by referring to the position of Frau Angela Merkel, the long-time chancellor who has now been in charge of the country’s destiny for eleven years. Two years ago she was on top. Both in Germany and abroad, many saw her both as the best chancellor Germany had ever had and as the most successful woman in the world; by contrast, her opponents seemed to be bleating in the wilderness. I myself was able to witness this, watching the spontaneous applause with which she was received when, in her typical unassuming way, she attended a Bundeswehr ceremony in Berlin.

No longer. Perhaps in Germany more than abroad, Frau Merkel is now the topic of fierce debates, not seldom accompanied by the kind of language we have come to expect of Donald Trump and his ilk. By some polls, no fewer than two thirds of voters want to get rid of her. The reason? The way she has dealt with the hundreds of thousands of refugees flowing into the country. In particular the words, “wir schaffen das” (we shall make it, i.e. successfully “integrate” the newcomers) have become by far the most famous ones she has ever uttered. Unless something truly dramatic happens, they are likely to be remembered as her legacy.

Frau Merkel grew up in the former East Germany. Such being the case, she at first seemed a strange choice for dealing with Germany’s past; that past which her native country had always firmly refused to confront but which, in both Germanies, simply does not want to go away. Both abroad and, except for the usual lunatic fringe, in Germany itself, her ability to create the impression that she not only understood but cared was one of the main reasons why people admired her as much as they did. Perhaps the fact that her father was a Protestant clergyman helped.

In come the refugees. From Albania, from Libya, from Syria, from Iraq, even from places as far away as Afghanistan. They do not speak the language. They have no education. They have no skills—in Germany, a country in which skills are acquired by means of lengthy and carefully organized apprenticeships, that counts as one of the worst sins of all. They have nothing and have to be supported, economically, at a cost that sometimes makes Germans who are on welfare or simply pay their taxes green with envy and resentment.

Some refugees resolutely refuse to “integrate,” insisting on retaining their own culture in respect of food, clothing, and the treatment of women and homosexuals. Contrary to what one sees on the media, which likes to present veiled women and innocent children being carried by their parents, the great majority are unattached young men; that fact, as well as sheer poverty, explains why they commit far more crimes than their numbers would warrant. Including some which can only be described as terrorism, and including some which their perpetrators themselves describe as such. I am told that, in the Rhineland, there are entire prisons inhabited exclusively by immigrants.

Some other EU countries, notably those of Eastern Europe, have resolutely challenged Brussels and refused to accept Muslim immigrants. Others, though subtler, also do what they can to put all kinds of obstacles in their way and, where possible, get rid of them. However, partly because it is a central pillar of the EU—which, without German support, would quickly far apart—and partly because of its own past, Germany cannot do the same.

Unfair? Yes. After all, a quick calculation shows that even the grandparents of young Germans under 25 cannot have participated in Nazi crimes in any meaningful way. The same goes for the parents of anyone under sixty years or so. To have been eighteen, the age at which, back in 1945, people were drafted into the Wehrmacht or Waffen SS, one must be at least 89 today. That only applies to less than one percent of the population.

So the sons, the grandsons, and in some cases even the great-grandsons are paying for their ancestors’ sins. One and all, they have been nailed to the swastika from which nothing and no one can liberate them. No wonder the “extreme” right, in the form of newspapers such as the Junge Freiheit and parties such as AfD (Alternative fuer Deutschland, An Alternative for Germany, which, incidentally, is led by a woman) is flourishing). Let me emphasize: neither the Junge Freiheit nor the AfD are in any sense Nazis. To the contrary, well aware that their opponents are doing whatever they can to describe them as such they do whatever they can to stay away from any such accusations. The Junge Freiheit, for example, is conservative. Knowing them well, as I do, I sometimes feel they would like to turn the clock back to 1871 if not before.

And how does Frau Merkel respond to the problem? By denying that there is any. So far she and the establishment she heads, consisting of the moderately right wing CDU and the moderately left wing SPD, have been able to hold down the lid on their people’s growing resentment. But for how long? And what happens then? As Hamlet might have said, those are the questions.

Guest Article: US Position is Untenable

by

by Karsten Riise

The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has newly released a projection of Federal debt 2016-2046.

US Fed debt 2000-2045

The CBO analysis shows that Federal debt is on path to increase from 75% of GDP to 146% of GDP in 2046. These figures exclude state & local government debt of approimately 16% of GDP (source: Fed.Reserve Z1,D1 and BEA.gov), meaning that the total public debt in the USA is on track to increase from 90%+ to 160%+ of GDP.

A public debt of 100%-200% of GDP is possible in Japan and Italy, where nearly all public debt is owned nationally—in Japan, by (often state-promoted) enormous private entities. However, for the USA, such high public debt figures are bound to lead to a fundamental crisis of non-confidence in the US dollar. 

Falling dollar rates and rising interest rates will incur still higher deficits to pay the interests on the public debt. 

A vicious circle threatens the US economy.
When and how it may start, we don’t know.

The biggest driver of the US Federal debt is the aging of the US population. Today 15% of Americans are aged 65+. This percentage will increase by two thirds, so that by 2060 about 24% of the US population will be 65+. Until now, the USA has benefited from a young population. The strain on medicare and social spending of an aging population, even with the still limited entitlements in the USA, will be enormous.

The CBO has calculated, that just to keep the Federal debt at its present level, the balance between tax revenues and federal expenditures must be improved by 1.7% of GDP—every year the next 30 years. In other words, tax revenue must increase and government expenditures must be curtailed.

The US economy is becoming less and less competitive. One reason for this is because the USA has some of the worst 3rd world-like public infrastructure in the western world. Roads, bridges and railways in the USA are a sham. High-speed trains are non-existent. Not only is China building far more kilometers of inter-state high-ways than the US, but it is also one of the world’s leading countries in the field of high-speed trains; in fact, China may become the main-supplier of America’s first high-speed railway line.

Furthermore, American public schools, hampered as they are by violence and other problems. are not exactly the best in the world, The US level of education is going down, as pointed out by the economic guru Michael Porter, who also points out, that the level of bureaucracy and red-tape hindrances to business are enormous in the USA. The middle class is disappearing in the USA, with now barely 50% of the population perceiving themselves as middle class. Median incomes have barely improved or even gone down the past 40 years, significantly reducing the middle-section of the tax base, which is normally the most reliable. The American Dream is a night-mare for most Americans. The Laffer-curve, stating that heavy tax-burdens on the rich will incur less total tax-revenues, still applies for the top-section of the US tax base. Any attempts to heavily taxate (fiscate) the upper 10% (or 0.1% !) of the US tax base will lead to US dollar capital-flight, and acute economic crisis. 

Ueber-rich people in the US will prefer to dump their American passports and go with their money to the Bahamas, Belize, the UK, Australia, Singapore, UAE, or even South Africa, or Brazil, if doing so is what it takes to protect their enormous fortunes from high taxes.

Poor Americans lack education and training to make them competitive in the global labor-market. America’s left erroneously blames the high percentage of unemployed poor on free trade, but the real problem is the lack of education which prevents the under-class from obtaining productive jobs. Poor Americans are too expensive compared to Asians, and too badly educated and trained, and the infrastructure around them too lousy, to make them able to earn a higher pay. The risk of starvation amongst the poorest in the USA remains high: In Obama’s presidency, one in seven Americans (14%) face the risk of not having enough to eat.

At the same time, the US military inventory is aging, and declining. The number of US ships and combat aircraft is declining, their average service-age goes up and their operativeness goes down. New US military hardware often take the form of useless “white elephants”, meaningless prestige-products like the 20-30 billion dollar Zumwalt class destroyer. The US addiction to over-investments in such relatively useless symbols of “strength” as the Zumwalt, in spite of economic problems and American city-disintegration, violence and poverty, is in the USA a sure sign of decay and decline – just like Rome in its latter days. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO report 15-364 ) has demonstrated, that the US military, in spite of spending 4% of US GDP (source: BEA.gov – extra spending is hidden in separate budgets), has no overview of its own economic needs, and the economy of the mega-expensive F-35 aircraft, according to GAO, has a big chance of not being economically sustainable over time, even for the USA.

http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-364

The US military is simply on its way to run smack into a wall of economic impossibility.

In absolute strength levels, the American military is standing still or going backwards.

The US military now delays military purchases in order to keep overall military expenditures flat the next 5 years. 

https://www.cbo.gov/publication/51050

If military budgets are not increased, the aging of the US military will be tough in the 2020’ies. In light of the overall budget problems of the USA from now on until 2045 (as mentioned above), it must be expected that the US military will be economically forced to cut down on absolute strength levels the next 10 years. 

At the same time, absolute strength levels of militaries in Russia and China is going up. 

The qualitative lead in high-precision weapons, cruise missiles, and high-quality combat aircraft has come to Russia and China too. Though the USA still has a number of unique capabilities, especially its carrier fleet, advanced submarines, other ships, and “stealth” aircraft, Russia and China are specifically building up (and exporting!) cheaper weapons to off-set US advantages. 

Military lobbyists in the USA dream of a new US “revolution in military technology” to regain American tech-lead in weapons, but so far such US “wunder-weapons” as rail-guns, laser-cannons etc. have shown to be elusive and too costly, even for the USA. 
On the political front, the UK exit from the EU is a devastating blow to the US system of alliances.

The US economy is unsustainable – and the US military is going down in absolute as well as in relative strength.
Costly wars like Libya have been counter-productive. Afghanistan is becoming a failure. China is getting the upper-hand in the Straight of Taiwan, and Russia surprises (though still under-estimated in the west).
Without the tools-of-power or greater wisdom, Mrs. Hillary Clinton wants to increase the force-confrontation against Russia, China, and others.

A new world order is already developing. Mr. Donald Trump seems to have realized the new situation of the US. Mrs. Hillary Clinton has not – which makes her dangerous in world affairs.

Frauenparkplaetze

1358I am writing this from Potsdam, the German city (population, 200,000) near Berlin where my wife and I spend part of every summer. Wherever we go, we see designated Frauenparkplaetze, i.e. parking spaces for women. Potsdam and Germany are not by any means the only places that are blessed with them. That is why it pleases me to say a word about them today.

First, who is and is not entitled to use the Plaetze in question is by no means clear. Women driving on their own? Surely. But how about women drivers with male passengers (like myself) in the car? Wouldn’t a situation whereby I get the kind of protection originally designed for women be morally flawed as well as counterproductive? And how about male drivers with female passengers in the car? Are they permitted to use the spaces in question? And don’t old people (again, like myself) deserve protection just as much as women do? No one knows; no one cares. As befits an idiotic regulation which has long turned into a joke and which only a few half-crazed feminists, seeing “discrimination” at every step, give one penny for.

Second, the location of the Plaetze. One often sees, right beside them, spaces for behinderte (cripples). No accident, that, because both categories tend to be located in well-lit areas near elevators or staircases. Are we to conclude that women, by virtue of their sex, are cripples and deserve to be treated as such? Apparently so.

Third, the rationale. The declared reason for having Frauenparkplaetze is because parking lots and building are favored by male rapists eager “to carry out their nefarious schemes,” as the Hebrew phrase, which is used almost solely in that context, puts it so very nicely. Women, so the common view, have weak bodies and, as we shall see in a moment, weak minds as well. Ergo they cannot protect themselves but need to have special measures implemented in their favor.

What applies to female drivers and passengers seems to apply to every other field too. Women need to be protected against male violence at home (never mind that, statistically, in every country where the question has been researched, female-on-male domestic violence was found to be just as frequent as male-on-female violence; see on this the work of the late Murray Straus). Women need to be protected against rape. Women need to be protected against sexual abuse. Women need to be protected against sexual harassment. Including, it seems, being greeted with the words “hey, beautiful” instead of some more conventional way. Women need to be protected against “gazing” “staring,”, and “leering.”

But that is only the beginning. Delicate souls that they are, women need to be protected against “’objectification” and “verbal abuse.” Women need to be protected against cunning pimps who first promise them the earth and then enslave them. Women need to be protected against photographers who promise to turn them into models but do not deliver. Women need to be protected against having their naked pics published on the Net (I hereby formally grant permission to anybody who has a pic of mine to do so; I shall even be happy to provide him or her with one).

Women need to be protected against “economic terrorism.” Women need to be protected against wicked, but charismatic and clever, men who first promise them marriage and then disappear with their, the women’s, money, or turn out to be married already, or both. Women need to be protected against male physicians, psychologists, gurus, university professors, teachers, coaches, and masseurs, all of whom, which God forbid, first cause them to become “dependent” on themselves and then try to “exploit them by having sex with them.

Women need to be protected against their own preference for convicted male criminals (as shown by the fact that such criminals tend to have more offspring than average, mostly because they have more partners). Women need to be protected against the possible consequences of their taste in dress and comportment (they are, it seems, too dumb to understand those consequences on their own). So stupid are some women that they only understand that they have been “raped” years after the event, and often after some lawyer tells them they can make money by suing. Once they do, they have to be protected from confronting their alleged attackers in court and also from having their own names revealed. Women need to be protected against “offensive” speech, including, no doubt, this essay. So numerous are the things women must be protected against that I found it impossible to put them in any kind of logical order. In short, women are seen—and, what is much worse, see themselves—as complete idiots incapable of looking after themselves.

However, there is a catch. Men are physically stronger than women. As the fact that they commit most violent crimes shows, men also tend to be considerably more aggressive and more assertive on the average. By some accounts, this is likely to remain the case not only in our world but even in one where our place is taken by computers. That is why, when the chips are down, only men can protect women against other men; also why, throughout history, countless men have died to protect women whereas the opposite has rarely ever been the case. The more protection women demand and receive, the more dependent on their protectors and the less equal and free they become.

Starting with Frauenparkplaetze, the need for protection on one hand and equality on the other run at cross purposes. The resulting inability of women to decide what they want most—protection or equality—is the main reason why, whatever the common wisdom may say, they will never be equal with men.

Not, should humanity survive that long, in a million years hence.

What Must Be Done

Some of those who read my recent book, Pussycats, have asked me to say a little more about what could and should be done to restore the West’s waning fighting power. Given the differences between various Western countries, obviously there cannot be a single solution: still the following should apply, more or less, to most.614WXaCRlAL

To start at the beginning, the all-pervasive system whereby many young people are doomed to remain crybabies and forcibly prevented from growing up should be terminated. Provide them with opportunities to be among themselves and play with as little, if any, supervision as possible. Give them freedom to experiment—or else how are they going to learn? Instead of drugging them, demand performance from them and encourage them. Put an end to what one writer called “the war against boys,” under which boys keep being told how bad, how wicked, how oppressive, they and their male friends and relatives are and punished whenever they make a “gun” out of schnitzel and shout “pow-pow” or even look at a girl. Terminate the situation whereby boys over six, or eight, or ten, or fourteen, are taught mainly by women. Have more male teachers in elementary school. If necessary re-segregate the education system so as to allow boys to be boys and save them the humiliation of having to compete with girls.

Second, recognize that training, unless it incorporates some risk, will turn into a childish game and re-organize it accordingly. Bring down the average age of the troops while at the same time ceasing to treat them as if they were infants. Stop subjecting them to all kinds of petty restrictions and trying to turn them into eunuchs. Those sent by their country to kill and be killed should also have some latitude to drink and wench as troops have always done and, if they are worth their salt, will continue to do until doomsday comes. And stop denouncing “militarism.” Instead, recognize the fact that troops are unlikely to fight well if, in a word gone berserk with political correctness, they are not permitted to express their pride and joy in their chosen profession. Including, yes, the joy of fighting enemies and killing them.

Third, women in the military. That many women do their job as well as any man no one questions. However, their widespread presence in the military gives rise to three major problems. First, even a cursory look at the way things are managed will show that women are privileged, causing widespread resentment among the male personnel (the more so because they are not allowed to talk about it). Second, it deprives that personnel from what is perhaps their most important reason for enlisting and fighting, which is to prove their masculinity to themselves and to others. Third, it opens the door to all kinds of claims about “sexual harassment,” to the point any male soldiers are now afraid of being accused or it (and sexual assault, and rape) than of the enemy. To solve these problems, 1. Cut down the number of women to, say, 10 percent of the total. 2. Put an end to coed basic training, which is a pure waste of (to see what such “training” looks like, watch http://i.imgur.com/t3CF25z.gif ) and a humiliation to the men who participate in it. 3. Remove women from all combat and direct combat support jobs, which also means capping the ranks to which they can rise. 4. Reconstitute the woman’s corps in such a way that only women will command woman and sexual harassment of inferiors by superiors brought to an end.

Fourth, the vexed question of PTSD. The idea that war is necessarily harmful to the soul and, unless properly treated by all kinds of experts, will tend to destroy it is peculiar to the modern West. Looking back into history before 1860 or so, there is little or no evidence to support it; nor does it seem to be, or have been, a major problem in non-Western forces such as Hezbollah, Daesh, and, four decades ago, the Viet Cong. Ergo the phenomenon, which in recent year has grown to the point where it is threatening to undermine what little of the West’s will to fight remains, is a cultural one. So stop the system whereby anyone returning from war is automatically suspect of carrying the problem and practically forced to suffer from it. Reward those who do not contract PTSD instead of those who do so. Instead of pitying veterans and treating them as damaged good, find ways to reward them and above all, celebrate them for their heroism and their sacrifice.

Finally, it is vital that the old truth be recognized once again: Yes, war is a terrible thing. It destroys, it injures, it kills, often on a massive scale. Unless it is very carefully controlled, moreover, it may very well escape control while giving rise to the worse instincts in us humans—sadism, brutality, and what not. Still it should be understood that some things are even worse. Including to mention but a few, injustice, persecution, and slavery. Should the Spartans have surrendered and provided the King of Persia with soil and water, as the latter demanded? Should Abraham Lincoln have avoided war and allowed slavery to continue? Should Britain and France have avoided war and allowed Hitler to proceed with his plan of conquest? War, to repeat, is a terrible thing. But the situation whereby, in Europe and among some left-wing American democrats, this idea is carried to the point where society is incapable of waging it and pay the price it demands should be brought to an end. As the ancient Romans used to say: si pacem vis, bellum prepara (if you want peace, prepare for war.) Not just by improving your technology and purchasing new weapons, which seems to be the preferred Western answer to any military problem. But by changing attitudes.

Note that it is not a question of money. The US and its Western allies comprise all the richest countries on earth. As I have argued in several of my past posts, they already spend enough on their armed forces and to spare. Instead, nothing less than a fundamental change in mentality is needed. Enough to keep Donald Trump, who back in April 2016 promised to spend the first months of his putative presidency fixing the US military, busy for a long, long time.

The End of the Road

It’s official: my career as a teacher has ended. It spanned 45 years during which I taught in Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba, Tel Aviv, Washington DC, Quantico VA, and Geneva. I taught both Israelis and foreigners, both civilians and soldiers. Here it pleases me to put on some of my experiences on record.

I always enjoyed teaching. Unlike some of my colleagues I never saw it either as largely irrelevant to my main work or as a burden. To the contrary, I always looked at it as an opportunity to interact with others, listen to what they had to say, and, from time to time, learn something important from them. As happened, for example, many years ago when a young female student opened my eyes to the fact that Sun Tzu’s famous Art of War is a Daoist text, causing me to totally rethink what it had to say. On another occasion another young woman asked me how I (like most Israelis) “knew” that most Jordanians are actually Palestinians, thereby forcing me to think it over. On yet another occasion a young man opened my eyes to the fact that women would only gain equality if and when they dropped their preference for hypergamy and started marrying dropouts. So let me take this opportunity to thank them, and my students in general, for everything they have taught me over the years.

Following from the above, I think that the seminar, or workshop as we at Hebrew University used to call those we offered first year students, are the most useful courses of all. Much more so than lectures in which students are merely passive listeners and in which feedback is necessarily very limited. Let there be no mistake: preparing lecture may be a most useful thing for professors to do. As has been said, the best way to master a field or subject is to teach it. Students, though, will not benefit nearly as much.

To be effective a seminar has to be neither too large not to be small. The minimum number of students present is around five, or else there will be insufficient room for discussion. The maximum is probably around twenty. The ideal, I think, is twelve. Jesus, it seems, knew what he was doing.

Meetings should start with presentations by students. The presentations should be presented according to a program, fixed in advance. Ideally each student, to benefit from his or her experience, should have at least two opportunities to present. Unfortunately, the way most seminars are constructed this is not the way things happen.

In conducting a seminar, the most difficult thing is to make students prepare. In my experience, as well as that of my colleagues, only a minority do. So what to do? You can, of course start each meeting by questioning some of them. Doing so, however, is largely a waste of time and can be humiliating to the students themselves. I am afraid that I only hit on the solution a few years ago: namely, to have them prepare questions about the material and use email to send them, in advance, to the student who is going to present next. With a copy to me, as the instructor. This method obliged me to read each student’s questions and reply to them very briefly. Quite some work, but worth it.

It is vital that students should treat each other with respect. I always told them that they could say anything about anyone or anything outside the classroom. Alive or dead. But that I would insist on them speaking to and about each other the way courteous people do.

That said, the best meetings were sometimes the noisiest. Let me give you an example. Years and years ago we were discussing Karl Marx. It was one of those occasions, which I tolerated and even encouraged up to a point, when students got so excited that everyone was shouting at each other. Suddenly a window opened, a young woman dropped in (the campus on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, had some odd places where you could do that, technically speaking) and asked us to keep our voices down because, in the class next door, they could not hear each other. Having finished laughing, we gladly obliged.

Students can be misleading. The most extreme example was Yuval Harari. When he first studied with me some twenty years ago he never opened his mouth during the entire 26 meetings that the course, whose topic was modern strategy, lasted. I hope he will forgive me for saying that I did not know what to make of him and thought he was completely autistic. In my defense I can only say that, no sooner had I seen his seminar paper, which dealt with command in the middle ages, then I realized the guy was a genius. By now, of course, he is world famous.

I always treated male and female students exactly the same. Doing so was in line with the kind of education we young Israelis received during the 1950s and 1960s, which in some ways was the most egalitarian in the world. It is my experience, though, that 1. In mixed classes, female students do not take nearly as lively a part in discussion as male ones do; and 2. That the most interested students, meaning those who sought me out in my office or wrote to me not just to ask for a deferment of this or that but to discuss all kinds of issues, are almost always male.

Let me conclude with a final point. Following in the footsteps of my reverend teacher, Prof. Alexander Fuks (see, on him, my post for 1.10.2014) I have always felt that teacher and students should work together to find out the truth as far as possible. Or else, why bother? To do this, absolute freedom of speech is needed. Even if it means the right to take up unpopular positions and follow them to wherever they may lead; particularly if it means the right to take up unpopular positions and follow them to wherever they may lead.

It therefore came as a surprise, and a most unwelcome one, to find that many students no longer share this idea. Instead, they regard the classroom as a place where their opinions, or perhaps I should say prejudices, should not be questioned. Any teacher who brings up a topic the local crybullies find “offensive,” as for example by daring to discuss nudity (as a young colleague of mine did) or suggesting that women, far from being oppressed, are privileged in many ways (as I did) is putting his or her head on the block. In several of the universities where I taught the outcome was likely to be a complaint. One which, having been launched, would almost certainly be backed by administrators who know only too well on which side their bread is buttered.

So farewell you students, the good as well as the bad. And shame on many of you, universities, for your cowardice in betraying your sacred mission: namely, to protect freedom of thought at all cost.

Jaeger

12Jaeger: At War with Denmark’s Elite Special Forces, is a book by former special forces soldier Thomas Rathsack. Originally it was published in Denmark where it was a best seller and is said to have inspired many youngsters to volunteer for the military; since 2015 it has been available in English too.

The book starts with a brief autobiographical sketch of the author’s life before he enlisted in the Danish special forces. Next, it describes the truly grueling training he and his comrades received; including insane physical effort and culminating in parachute jumps from 30,000 feet. Next, it outlines some of the action the author saw in uncongenial places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. It concludes with the half-hearted attempts, and ultimately futile, attempts of the Danish military to try the author for allegedly having revealed all kinds of secrets.

While no literary masterpiece, the book is very impressive. I was especially interested in what made a young man decide on such a career, perhaps the toughest and most dangerous on earth; and one, moreover, which leaves those who embark on it with no time for anything else. As Rathsack says, repeatedly, it was the desire to test himself that made him tick. To the utmost, again and again and again. No surprise here, really, since the same has been true since at least the time of Homer on.

But what really caught my eye, and my mind, was something else. Let me use the author’s own words, as far as possible, to describe it:

“American drones—MQ-1 Predators—had over the past week kept a watchful eye on the… regions in the mountainous provinces” along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Their drones had captured pictures of Taliban and al-Qaeda members crossing the border… However, the unstable weather conditions of the late winter had made the Predator less effective. Task Force K Bar was therefore assigned the task of observing activities in the area. Fortunately for us, this meant boots on the ground…”

“We would be inserted by helicopter at night flying over hills, mountains and valleys, through areas swarming with armed enemies… The operation was expected to span 10 days,” which meant that each of them would have to carry up to 180 pounds, including water. Preparations included gathering and compiling intelligence: “We needed information about wind, light, rainfall and temperature. We needed to know where the enemy was expected to be, whether they were armed and organized, and what their morale was. And finally we’d need information about whether the local population was friendly or hostile, and where the nearest town or settlement was located… Advanced computer programs provided us with information about the altitude and gradient of the mountains. We sought out the best places from which to observe the villages and the tracks we were interested in…”

“The landing zone couldn’t be too close to our observation base, since the enormous CH-47 helicopter taking us in was extraordinarily loud.” Communications, medical equipment, and plans for enabling the team to be extracted in case things went wrong had to be prepared. “We were privileged in that the pilots who flew us in were the best in the world.” In support would be jet fighters and “the awesome American flying fortress, the AC-130 Gunship, which carries a whole arsenal of weaponry systems.” All this, so just five men could be landed on a mountain 250 miles from base.

“I was in the best company possible—with some of the world’s top soldiers.” Once the team had been flown in and were on the ground, “we quickly secured our position for all angles. A deafening silence set in. Not a sound in the night… It was as if we had found ourselves in a vacuum… Getting away from the landing zone as fast as possible was crucial The Chinook had probably been heard in the villages a few miles away. That meant Al Qaeda and Taliban forces would be aware of special forces in the area.”

The men spent the rest of the night marching to their predesignated observation post. Given the altitude (9,000 feet), the terrain, and the loads they carried doing so required an almost superhuman effort. On one side were a handful of the world’s best soldiers, trained at great expense for years on end until they became perfect killing machines. Backing them up were entire forests of machines some of which, such as the F-16 fighter bombers AC-130 gunships (which, however, being slow and vulnerable, were only allowed to operate by night) cost tens of millions of dollars each. And what were they after? “The village beneath me consisted of 14-15 single family houses, all made of clay and enclosed behind the concrete walls that nearly all Afghan houses had… The only sign of life was a herd of goats, bound to a tree in the western part of the village… just after 9 A.M two men stepped out of one of the bigger buildings in the village. They were dressed in loose, brown robes, and walked slowly to the small grove of trees where the goats were tied up. They sat in the shade, leaning up against a tree and began conversing. I noted it in the logbook It was the only activity on this watch.”

A few nights later, payoff! “I froze at what I saw through the scope. A group of men were walking along a trail from one of the values south of the village. I counted 12, all armed with Kalashnikovs…. The group was clearly on its way across the border from Pakistan.”

Not long thereafter the commandos were discovered. Whether by accident or because the opponent, alerted by the helicopter’s noise, had noted their presence and was actively looking for them is not clear. Probably the latter, since the village appeared to be abnormally quiet. Thus another operation had to be prepared to get the commandos out before they were overrun and the survivors, if any, put to death in any number of interesting ways. This time, in addition to a Chinook and F-16s on standby, 30 soldiers from the American 10th Mountain Division (plus at least one helicopter to carry them) and an Advance Warning and Control System (AWACS) costing perhaps $ 200,000,000 were involved.

All this, I could not help but wonder, only to observe a handful of bearded men issuing from clay huts while armed with locally made assault rifles? And only to end up by failing to achieve anything?

PS: Those of you who have not seen the following link showing US male and female Marine on training, do yourself a favor and take a look. http://i.imgur.com/t3CF25z.gif.

Dreams

My wife is planning some changes in our house. Not just minor ones, but of the kind that will require demolishing half of it and will make it temporarily unlivable—the more so because, unlike modern American homes, it is made not of wood and cardboard but of reinforced concrete. Preparing for the builders, she has decided to deal with the accumulated rubbish of three decades. Collecting it, sorting it, putting it into plastic bags, and making me schlep it out to the place it belongs. It is the kind of work she likes and with which I, addicted to writing as I am, nilly-willy go along.

Her efforts were rewarded. On the way she stumbled on an essay I produced when I was fourteen years old. This was the spring of 1960. Just before I graduated from the eighth and final class of “Yahalom” (Diamond) elementary school which I then attended in my hometown of Ramat Gan, not far from Tel Aviv. Consisting of 400 words, it is written with the aid of one of those fountain pens I have always favored, in Hebrew, and in longhand. Apparently it was composed in one go, off the cuff, without errors or corrections. Proof, that, of a kind of self-confidence which, fifty-six years later, I no longer have; nowadays correcting often takes as long as, or longer than, writing, as it does in this case too. The essay must have been preserved by my mother, now dead.

The topic, apparently set by the teacher, was: “A Historical Age in Which I Would Like to Live.” I started my essay by making the rather philosophical observation that there was no good without evil and no evil without good. That, I said, applied to every field, historical periods included. History could be divided into three parts: ancient, medieval, and modern. Antiquity had been a time of “enormous achievements,” including writing, agriculture, and many kinds of art. The middle ages had witnessed a “general collapse” in all these fields, including art, trade, science, and culture. However, in 1492 progress resumed. Once again, the outcome was “enormous achievements” such as democracy. Again growing philosophical, I gave it as my young opinion that “every age has its advantages and disadvantages, but all have this in common that the advantages were greater than the disadvantages.”

“If there is a period in which I would like to live apart from what we call our own,” I went on, it is “the remote future.” In that future –

The world will reach an ideal state. All states will cease to exist, or at any rate abolish their frontiers and tariff-walls. All places on earth will be linked by scientific, cultural, commercial, and artistic ties. Armed forces, which today number millions of people, will completely disappear. Wars having come to an end, they will no longer be needed. As people come to obey the law without having to be coerced, even police forces will become more or less superfluous. In this future, remote though it is, class differences will disappear. The only way people for people to climb the social ladder will be by means of personal talent and knowledge. And even that ladder will not be material, as is the case today, but spiritual. Science, in its many forms, will govern the world. Everyone will recognize its power and will provide it with the wherewithal to make further progress. It will provide us with everything. Free us from our dependence on the weather and the earth’s orbit around the sun; [and] enable us to contact alien civilizations (supposing such civilizations exist or will exist) from which we shall be able to learn more than we could ever do on our own. Generally speaking, life will be ideal, similar to that envisaged by the prophets of our people.

I would like to live in that world because of the absolute equality and freedom on which it will be based. And also because of the material and spiritual wealth it will provide… Who knows? Perhaps this age will come one day.

I distinctly remember where I got my ideas about alien civilizations. It was Arthur C. Clark, Prelude to Space (1951), which had been translated into Hebrew and which I read several times. Looking back, I find that parts of it were truly prophetic, others pure rubbish. The words about the prophets of our people must have come from the Old Testament classes we took and to which I still owe most of such knowledge of it I possess.

As to the rest, I have no idea. Clearly, though, I was already taking a strong interest in what was to become my lifelong occupation: to wit, history in all its tremendous variety. Was my essay simply an expression of childish innocence? Did it reflect the “go-go” 1960s which, ere the Vietnam War took the fun out of them, may well have been the most optimistic, most hopeful, period in the whole of human history? Was it an outgrowth of what, now that I think about it, must have been excellent teaching indeed? Or all of these?

My teacher, bless her, whose name I can no longer recall, did not think any of these things. Near the end of the essay she wrote: “interesting and intelligent—but, ‘much to my regret,’ [apostrophes in the original] beside the point.”

Scholars, Journalists, Spies

spiesHere is a story I heard many years ago. On one occasion, someone asked US President Lyndon Johnson how important the various intelligence services—of which the US has plenty and to spare—were to his job. His response? I never got anything from the hush-hush crowd that I could not read next day on the pages of the New York Times. And there is a reason for that, Johnson is supposed to have added. Intelligence people are experts in gathering information. Journalists are also experts in gathering information. The difference is that the journalists are usually better.

The story may or may not be true. Assuming it is, Johnson may have meant what he said. Or else he may have been deliberately downplaying the role of secret intelligence so as to conceal the fact that he knew more; after all, dissimulation is said to have been one of his outstanding qualities. I can think of several other interpretations. No matter. Presumably we shall never know.

Why this story? Because, a couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to hold a public lecture here in Jerusalem. My topic was, “Where did the Iranian Threat Go?” A riddle indeed, considering the number of times Prime Minister Netanyahu referred to the issue; not to mention his repeated threats to bomb Iran so as to prevent it from building a bomb.

I took the occasion to argue, as I have often done on this site among other places, that the Iranian nuclear threat to my country was largely a myth. As I spoke, I did not have to wait for the Q&A to know what my audience was thinking—I have been through it so many times before. Do you, as a scholar, have access to secret intelligence? No, I do not (nor am I sure I would like to; such access creates its own constraints). If so, how do you know what you claim to know? Good question, that: and one which I want to address here.

Point No. 1. I do not claim to know nearly as much as the intelligence services about how many centrifuges Iran has, where they are located, by how many meters of concrete they are protected, how much enriched uranium they have produced, etc. Here I am largely dependent on the journalists, who themselves derive much of their information from the spies, who almost always have their own agenda in mind in releasing it at the time, and in the form, they do.

Point No. 2. Information of the kind just referred to, however accurate, is meaningless on its own. To understand its significance it is first necessary to answer much broader questions. Such as the roots of Iran’s behavior; its objectives; and its constraints. Briefly, its national strategy and the role its nuclear program is playing within that strategy. When it comes to these problems, the information at the disposal of scholars is often quite as good as, if not better than, that of the spies or, for that matter, the journalists.

Point No. 3. When it comes to still broader questions, such as the impact of nuclear weapons on international relations, the history deterrence and of proliferation, and so on, scholars may well be better informed than either spies or journalists. The reason being that members of these professions are unlikely to have the leisure to look into such problems as thoroughly as they should.

Point No. 4. Spies and the agencies for which they work often come under political pressure to tell decision-makers what they want to hear. An outstanding, indeed outrageous, example was provided by the attempts of the Clinton and Bush administrations to “prove” the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. What things did they not do, what stories did they not invent! Such as mobile laboratories for manufacturing germs, and God knows what else. I once had the pleasure of spending an hour with Hans Blix, the UN commissioner who headed the team appointed to find those weapons. He told me, as he has told others, how the Americans did it. Scholars, working in an academic environment, are much less likely to come under pressures of this kind.

Briefly, spies have their advantages. For any government, military, and even large corporation they are a must. But they cannot operate on their own. To some extent, this is recognized by the intelligence services themselves. Or why else recruit, train and use “analysts” as well as “collectors”?

I myself have some experience with this. Time upon time over the years, I have had meetings with intelligence people and journalists from all over the world. Quite a few visited my hometown near Jerusalem specifically in order to discuss various issues with me. Including events in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Time upon time, I expressed my surprise at the fact that they, who had been to those countries, came to see me, who had not. The answer I got was always the same: by adding context, you can explain to us what we have seen, heard, and experienced.

To which I can only say, Amen.

A Visit to Seoul

lotte-hotel-seoul-5-star-hotel-in-myeongdong-seoul-1-638A week ago on Thursday I was in Seoul. Owing to the North Korean missile tests some meetings I was supposed to attend were cancelled, as was a visit to the Demilitarized Zone. Damn! So I had a little time on my hands. For those of you who are curious, here are a few impressions. Remember, though, that they are more or less limited to the city’s central business district.

  • Service at the airport is polite, fast and efficient. On the way back I saw none of the gigantic security-occasioned queues you often meet in US international airports in particular. Bus service to town is good and reasonably priced.
  • My hotel, The Lotte, is reputed to be the best in Korea. Clean, posh, with very good service. The buffet is famous. Though a bit expensive, of course. Which made me wonder how come  so many guests are young. My one complaint is that there is no lobby where one can sit comfortably and meet a guest. Unless one pays, of course.
  • In China, hotels in this class often have a so-called KTV, meaning a brothel, built in. Here they don’t. The Seoul Lotte does, however, have a “ladies’ floor” where men are not allowed. I doubt that I missed much.
  • Down in the basement there is an arcade, quite posh. Aimed mainly at affluent young women who spend lots of money on designer dresses, shoes, accessories and jewelry. Gosh.
  • Both in the arcade and in the hotel, many of the young women who work there spend their entire time standing up. The idea that doing so is bad for one’s knees does not seem to have occurred to anyone. Strange, that.
  • Outside, the air is quite polluted. You hardly get into the street before you start feeling the acidity in your throat. Some people wear face masks. But not many. I would hate to raise children in such air.
  • An Israeli friend of mine, who is married to a Korean lady, has lived here for many years, and speaks Korean, assures me that this is a safe city. He himself, leaving his seat in a restaurant, leaves his bag behind. No one will take it, he says. Great.
  • They like it if you, a foreigner, speak Korean. Not enough people do. Including myself, of course.
  • Koreans are, on the average, probably as tall as Israelis. But smaller than West Europeans or Americans. If there are obese people like those you see in the US I did not see them. Koreans have lighter skins than Chinese, which makes it relatively easy to tell them apart.
  • Young Korean women are stunning. Many have sweet faces. Small breasts, but well-shaped asses and legs. Among them the shift back from pants to skirts (or shorts) is well under way. Makes them look even better.
  • Most cars are Korean made. Surprisingly few Toyotas and Nissans. Here and there, an expensive Mercedes or BMW. But few if any other, cheaper, Western models. Chinese cars, mainly the large, more expensive models, are beginning to multiply. Cars are clean and show few scratches or dents. What a difference from Israel, where a visiting friend of mine at first thought there was a law against keeping cars in good shape and cleaning them.
  • Even a short-time visitor can see that this, at bottom, is a Confucian society. What makes it tick is deference; the boss is always right. Perhaps that is why, at the conference which I attended as the keynote speaker, there was hardly any Q&A.
  • My friend tells me that the Koreans are the Protestants of the Far East. Tough and extremely hard working. So much so that the Chinese regard them as madmen.
  • He also says that feminism, long practically nonexistent, is becoming stronger. A very low fertility rate, 1.2 or 1.3 per woman, is already in place. Is this country going to follow some others in committing national suicide?
  • I visited a Buddhist temple. A loudspeaker was intoning prayers with the same tune repeated time and again. Having taking off their shoes, people of both sexes enter and kneel on small, thin, mattresses. As they left, one or two offered me theirs. They repeat the words of the prayers from printed prayer books. Few seem to be over forty-five. There are both men and women, though the latter are probably in the majority. Really well dressed men and women are conspicuously absent. Nevertheless, the yard outside is crowded with expensive cars. How come? A mystery.
  • During the afternoon the coffee shops and the Museum of Modern Art are crowded with young women, but hardly any men. At 1730 the streets are even more crowded with very well dressed young women returning from work. Hardly any men; apparently they work longer hours. At 1900 there are more men, but they are not anything like as well-groomed and dressed as the women. The mostly male bosses, it seems, are not on the street but in their cars. Same as in China.
  • My friend tells me that medical service is excellent. Up to date, quickly available, and very reasonably priced. I checked: health accounts for just over 7 percent of GDP. Not 19 percent, as in the US. And more modern and faster than in Israel, which spends about 9 percent. How do they do it?

All in all, except for the polluted air, not half bad.

Where Did the Iranian “Threat” Go?

41l9c6MZegLAs the illustration accompanying this text shows, starting as long ago as 2000, the world has been filled with discussions of the terrible, but terrible, Iranian nuclear “threat.” However, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action having been signed in Lausanne in July 2015, the “threat” vanished almost overnight. Now that the dust has settled and the air is clean, I want to return to that topic. Doing so, I shall start with a general account and continue with an Israeli point of view; both because of the role Israel and Netanyahu have played in the story and because I myself, after all, am an Israeli.

First, the background. The origins of Iran’s nuclear program go back to the days of the Shah. The idea, at that time, was to deter the Soviets, whom not only the Shah but President Carter and his National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, suspected of planning a drive through the Zagros Mountains to the Persian Gulf. This explains why the US, though not exactly enthusiastic about what the Iranians were doing, did nothing to oppose it.

The Shah having been deposed in 1978, the Islamic Republic took over. Eighteen or so months later Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, seeking to exploit the prevailing chaos in Iran, launched an unprovoked attack on his neighbor. However, he miscalculated; the war, which was supposed to be over in a few months or even weeks, lasted fully eight years. The demands, military and economic, which it made on both belligerents were enormous. The more so because, after 1982, the price of oil kept falling. The difference between the two countries was that Saddam had the Gulf countries to pay for his war whereas Iran did not. As a result, the Iranian nuclear program was suspended.

The war having ended in 1988, the Mullahs resumed their efforts. By then they had every reason to do so. Iran was surrounded by nuclear powers on all sides; proceeding counterclockwise, they were the Soviet Union/Russia, Pakistan, India, and Israel (which, unlike Iran had never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty). Not to mention Iraq, where Saddam Hussein was known to be working on his own program. Still things moved very, very slowly. So slowly, in fact, as to make one doubt whether the Iranians were really interested in building a bomb in the first place.

In 2002-2003 the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq again changed the situation. Sitting in Tehran, the Mullahs could see their country surrounded by American troops on all sides. Stationed in Iraq, several Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf—the Persian Gulf, nota bene—they formed an iron ring around Iran. The Mullahs had good reason to be worried. Partly because recent events had shown that, in a conventional war, their armed forces were no match for the American ones; and partly because, as the record since the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident shows only too clearly, one can never know which country the US will choose to bomb next.

Accordingly, the years immediately after 2003 were some of the most dangerous Iran ever went through. Scant wonder the nuclear program was accelerated. Come 2005-6, though, Tehran had good reason to heave a sigh of relief. With the Americans hopelessly stuck in both Iraq and Afghanistan and domestic criticism of both invasions growing, the threat to Iran diminished.

Enter Israel. Under the Shah, relations between Tehran and Jerusalem had been excellent. This changed after 1978, but not nearly as fast as most people believe; it may come as news to many readers that as late as the mid-1980s high-ranking Israeli military experts were still helping Iran fight Iraq. It was only after 1988 that things really started changing. Even so Jerusalem vastly exaggerated the threat. As I myself became aware as far back as 1992 when an Israeli officer, speaking confidentially, told me he had received official news that the Iranians already had the bomb.

Between then and 2015, not a year passed without the Israelis claiming that Iran would have the bomb in five years, or three, or one, or even in six months. Back in 2006 one Russian “expert” went so far as to publish what he said he knew was the exact day on which the Israelis would strike. As we now know, both the Iranian “threat” and the Israeli one were, to put it impolitely but accurately, bull.

1427730328899Which brings me to the last question: why did several Israeli prime ministers, Netanyahu above all, raise the ruckus in the first place? The answer goes back at least as far as the mid-1950s when Moshe Dayan, then chief of staff, suggested that Israel should behave like a “rabid dog.” By threatening to go to war (in self-defense, of course), it could loosen the money- and weapon strings in Washington and Bonn. This policy has always served Israel well, enabling it to push through its nuclear program among other things. Proof? In the whole of history, no other country has ever received so much money and so many weapons free of charge.

How close Israel has ever been to launching a military operation against Iran is hard to say. Judging by the fact that neither Prime Minister Begin before he destroyed the Iraqi Reactor nor Prime Minister Olmert before he did the same to the Syrian one ever uttered a single public threat, the chance was never great. As the saying goes, a barking dog does not bite; the more so because success depends more on surprise than on any other factor. Now that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is in force, it is down to practically zero, which is why talk about it has all but disappeared.

Rest thou in peace, dear Iranian “threat.” And while one never knows what some future Israeli prime minister will choose to do, I very much hope that it has been put to rest for a long, long time.