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The Atlantic: Arab Revolt Caused by Anger at–Wait for It–Israeli Settlements

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Posted on February 1 2011 9:11 am
Seth Mandel is the former managing editor of four New Jersey-based newspapers, where he won awards for his coverage of the Middle East and Russia. He has appeared on Shalom TV's current affairs roundtable. He is currently based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @SethAMandel

It was only a matter of time before someone in the mainstream media–watching helplessly as their hero president was caught unprepared and unready for the uprising in Egypt (to the point where he reportedly invited former Bush administration officials to the White House to explain it to him)–attempted to let President Obama off the hook by blaming Israel.

Leave it to the ridiculous Chuck Spinney and his platform over at The Atlantic. James Fallows’ introduction of Spinney made it clear we were in for trouble: “In the thirty-plus years that I’ve known him, I’ve never heard a partisan statement out of Chuck… This is for context about one of the most detached and relentlessly logical observers I have known.”

When you have to badger the reader with pleas and assurances that the writer is Mr. Nonpartisan, it pretty much tells you you’re about to hear some wacky stuff. And Spinney doesn’t disappoint. His meandering argument (such as it is) takes the position that Obama’s speech in Cairo in 2009 inspired Muslims in the Middle East to desire and demand Change They Could Believe In. When Obama failed to get the Jews kicked out of their homes (what Spinney calls “his spectacular failure to rein in the illegal Israeli settlements” and when “Israel just humiliated President Obama by scuppering his belated attempts to revive the peace process”), the Arabs exploded. So Obama gets credit for inspiring his audience but is thwarted by the nefarious Israelis from making good on his promise.

What’s more, Spinney says, Obama’s promise in Cairo was a continuation of his campaign for the presidency, which also “electrified” the Arabs (and Turks), which Spinney discovered now that he’s living “on a sailboat in the Mediterranean for nine months out of each year”:

“In fact, the impression he created boggled my mind. Once in a small shop in Syria, for example, a man of about 20, asked me in French, Syria’s second language, if I was French or English. I responded, pointing to my chest, saying slowly, ‘Aameerikaa.’ He broke into a huge grin, put his arm around me, and started chanting ‘Obama, Obama, Obama,’ while pumping a ‘thumbs up’ with his other hand, ending with a ‘high five’…

To be sure, I am only one guy, but I can say without exaggeration, this kind of enthusiasm was exhibited by at least ninety per cent of the people I saw (Israel excepted).”

The famous “linkage” theory, in which everything that happens in the Middle East is Israel’s fault for not giving up their land to the Palestinians, has been debunked by even those on the left. So to say that the Arab revolts were caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just the latest robotic response by those unmoved by logic and unvisited by the spark of an original thought. Spinney’s theory, remember, comes from his experience receiving a few thumbs-up for Obama while sailing around Syria grinning vapidly at passersby with whom he could not communicate verbally.

The most telling phrase in Spinney’s sophist symphony, however, is the parenthetical “Israel excepted.” Everyone was enthusiastic about Obama except Israelis, he says, which means the Israeli dissenters differed from the Arab high-fivers in two significant ways: They spoke English, meaning they could actually follow news and reports about Obama straight from the source, and they are committed to democratic pluralism and Western values.

This is of marginal, if any, importance to Spinney. What he found in Obama was exactly what the Syrians and Turks thought they found in Obama: A bully who shared their lack of affinity for Israeli civil rights and would simply force people to do what he wanted. In other words, someone who behaved like a dictator.

And who would be the beneficiary of this reorganization of other people’s property? Mahmoud Abbas–an Arab dictator.

And thus we have the unraveling of one of the looniest explanations for the Arab revolts of the last month. According to Spinney, the Arabs threw off the yolk of their dictators because they were inspired by Obama to side with dictatorial policies that would further empower the region’s dictators.

Back in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak is wishing this were so. But not even an old, ailing despot like Mubarak is delirious enough to believe what passes for sharp political commentary at The Atlantic.

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