Daily Archives: February 15, 2011

Why the Jews, Bibi or Obama?

By William K. Black

Shmuel Rosner, in his Jerusalem Post column, criticizes Professor Telhami’s prediction in the New York Time’s “Room for Debate” feature that: “Benjamin Netanyahu will likely be seen by future Israelis as the prime minister who lost Egypt.” Rosner’s response: “you say ‘prediction’ – I say ‘wishful thinking.” Rosner explains:
Why? Does he think Netanyahu could have prevented Egyptian unrest? Did he provoke Egyptians in any way? Why would Israelis blame Netanyahu for something on which he had no control? I read Telhami’s column once and twice and couldn’t quite get it.
Rosner’s comment brings to mind the famous joke. It is 1936. A German Jew stops just at the entrance to a meeting hall where a Nazi speaker is whipping up the crowd.
Who stabbed Germany in the back? Who sabotaged the German army when it was on the verge of victory? Who betrayed the Fatherland by giving the British our secrets so that their Navy could blockade our ports and starve our people? Who destroyed our economy and our currency? It was always the same group and you know who they were. Answer me now – who did all these things?

The Jew yells an answer before the rest of the crowd can react: “the bicyclists!” The Nazi speaker and the crowd are stunned. The bewildered Nazi finally asks, “why the bicyclists?” The Jew responds: “why the Jews?”

I understand and agree with Rosner’s criticism of Telhami’s prediction. It makes no sense to blame Bibi (Netanyahu’s popular nickname) for something “on which he had no control.” But the JPost is chock full of columns, including one by Rosner, that blame President Obama for Mubarak’s fall. Unlike Telhami’s column, which is respectful, the tone of the JPost columns attacking Obama is exceptionally strident. Why doesn’t Rosner recognize that it is absurd to blame either the bicyclists (Obama) or the Jews (Netanyahu) for Mubarak’s loss of power? Why not blame Mubarak and his cronies and family – who the Egyptians came to despise?

The efforts by JPost columnists to blame Obama for Mubarak’s fall are less coherent than Telhami’s critique of Netanyahu. Ms. Honig claims “Obama ushered in chaos even if he chose Cairo as his venue for the 2009 speech in which he sucked up to Islam [sic].” Obama gave a speech on June 4, 2009 that supposedly caused street revolts in Cairo 18 months later. In reality, the revolt in Tunisia sparked the protests in Cairo and the revolt in Tunisia was caused by the usual combination of corrupt, failed, and autocratic leadership plus a random event. As even Honig concedes, Mubarak could not remain in power in any event because “Mubarak is old and ill.” He also had no successor with legitimacy that Israel would find desirable. Honig projects magic powers onto Obama – a speech, in English, by an American produced a national movement in Egypt.

But Rosner asks the right question, though he fails to ask it of his JPost colleagues: how was Netanyahu or Obama supposed to “control” either the Egyptian military or the protestors? Rosner finds the answer to that question about Netanyahu so obvious that it is clear that he considers the question foolish. Netanyahu could not “control” either the Egyptian military or the protestors. Netanyahu had no magic button he could push that would give him such control. Rosner sees all this with clarity. But he and his colleagues cannot see that Obama had no magic button. No one seriously believes that Obama can give a speech and cause the residents of Cairo to start or to end a revolt. The only conceivable magic button is bribery of senior Egyptian generals.

There are three crippling problems with the hypothesized Obama magic bribery button. First, what is supposed to happen if the bribe succeeds? “Successful” bribery would require the Egyptian army to kill, torture, and imprison enough Egyptians to terrorize the protestors to the point that the protests ended and did not resume. Even if the bribe and the repression succeeded, how long would Mubarak live and what destabilizing forces would the campaign of terror against Egyptians unleash? Second, the bribe would likely fail and blow up in the face of the nation offering the bribe. Imagine Al Jazeera interviewing an Egyptian general explaining that a foreign government offered him a $200 million bribe in return for a promise to order the Egyptian army to attack the protestors. Third, if Obama has a magical bribery button that can create a “successful” Egyptian army war of terror against the Egyptian people – then Netanyahu does as well. Mossad can run a “false flag” bribery operation of an Egyptian general by representatives of a pseudo-Saudi prince. Indeed, since JPost columnists have long employed their most derisive and insulting prose to demonstrate that the American government is hopelessly incompetent in understanding and influencing Arab and Iranian officials, Mossad should be dramatically superior to our CIA in arranging such bribes and directing the resulting campaign of terror against the Egyptian people. If Obama “lost” Egypt by failing to bribe the Egyptian generals, then Netanyahu “lost” Egypt. (Indeed, every major nation with a intelligence service “lost” Egypt under this “logic.”)

The U.S. should never Act as Israel’s “Shabbos Goy”
The three crippling problems with the magic bribery button theory also prompt a question: why do the JPost columnists think that Obama has a duty to act as Netanyahu’s “Shabbos Goy”? Is there some secret codicil to the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Accords under which America agreed to bribe the Egyptian military to terrorize and murder Egyptian civilians should they ever revolt? How many Egyptians did we agree to kill? If Israel felt it was essential to its national security to use bribery to spark a wave of terror against the Egyptian protestors then it was Israel’s responsibility to undertake that murderous strategy and to take the moral and strategic consequences of unleashing the terror. It is obscene for Israelis to criticize the U.S. for refusing to act despicably when Israelis (correctly!) refuse to engage in those same despicable acts. We should never act as Israel’s or any other nation’s Shabbos Goy.

Why didn’t Bibi order Mossad to bribe the Egyptian generals to order the army to attack Egyptian civilians? Because doing so would have been morally depraved, unsuccessful, and harmful to Israel. I am a white-collar criminologist. I study fraud and bribery by elites and have helped conduct investigations to detect it and systems to reduce it. Corruption is a severe problem in Egypt (and Israel), and corrupt senior leaders pose a risk to national security. But bribery has great limitations even in corrupt nations. A general who grows rich through kickbacks from defense contractors will typically refuse even huge bribes that would require him to murder fellow citizens who are peacefully demonstrating for change. It is easier to bribe the military to engage in terror when the nation is fighting a vicious civil war along ethnic divisions in which terror is the norm. That is not the situation in Egypt – and no Western nation understood that fact better than Israel. I predict that the Mossad did not present using bribery to instigate a wave of terror against the Egyptian protestors as an option to Netanyahu. I predict that the same is true of the CIA and Obama.

The CIA, contrary to JPost columnists’ typical derision, combined bribery, small units of special forces, and smart air strikes brilliantly in the initial campaign in Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks. But the CIA also learned early in that campaign the limits of relying on bribery (and financial incentives such as rewards) to capture or kill the most senior Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders. Afghanistan also demonstrates the typical weakness of trying to create a reliable national government – seen by the population as legitimate – through bribery and the provision of ample opportunities for corrupt gain.

Mubarak lost Egypt – to the Egyptian people – who no longer feared or respected him or his children. None of us know what will come next. Mubarak’s successors could be far worse. Neither the U.S. nor Israel has a magic button to push that will determine his successors. There are great limits to U.S. and Israeli power and life is uncertain. That is the nature of the real world.