The wisdom of Ari Shavit

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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

Editor’s note: In the mainstream media, Ari Shavit continues to rake up honors. Four days ago the Times ran a rave for his book— “a gale of conversation, of feeling, of foreboding, of ratiocination…. a love story and a thriller at once…. a moral cri de coeur and a ghost story” –and tomorrow the Times will run Leon Wieseltier valentine on the front page of its book review, in which Shavit is judged to be an unblinking balanced viewer of Israel. “This is the least tendentious book about Israel I have ever read. It is a Zionist book unblinkered by Zionism. It is about the entirety of the Israeli experience, etc.” 

Meantime at +972, False Prophet has a piece up saying that no one should take Shavit seriously, based on his own record of hysterical prognostication: “Studying Shavit’s columns (from 2006 until today) reveals that he is a hysterical fellow who thinks that every year is one in which a pivotal decision must be made, that every moment is crucial like no other. Every leader ‘must immediately understand’ the things Shavit is saying, or a terrible disaster shall occur. A review of Shavit’s columns reveal him to be a false prophet par excellence, some sort of reverse version of Cassandra – the Greek mythological figure who was sentenced to tell true prophecies which no one would believe, while Ari Shavit tells false prophecies and everybody listens to him.”

And Jerome Slater has a piece up at his site also emphasizing Shavit’s untrustworthiness as a seer, which he allowed us to republish.

Ari Shavit is the current toast of the mainstream US media, among others NPR, Charlie Rose, the New Yorker, and the New York Times, which two days ago glowingly reviewed Shavit’s new book, “My Promised Land,” on the first page of the Arts section, on Sunday will publish another glowing review in the Book Review section, and yesterday published an oped column by him.

Shavit is entirely undeserving of all this acclaim. I’ve been reading his opinion pieces in Haaretz for years– gritting my teeth and reading him, I should say, because more often than not he is infuriating. His writing is typically arrogant, self-referential, dead certain about matters he has no business being certain about, shamelessly exaggerated, and his arguments frequently are so unclear or contradictory—not only from column to column but within the same column—as to border on incoherence.

I will be analyzing and deconstructing Shavit’s book in due course, but first let’s look at yesterday’s Times column, “How Bush Let Iran Go Nuclear,” which illustrates almost all of his failings. I will reprint the entire column, in quotes, interspersed with my own comments, in italics.

               How Bush Let Iran Go Nuclear

“AMERICAN and Iranian negotiators yesterday began a second round of talks in Geneva, seeking a deal on Iran’s nuclear program.  If such an agreement were signed, it would represent an Iranian victory — and an American defeat.”

He already knows this, even though no agreement has yet been reached, let alone made public.

“The Iranians would be able to maintain their nuclear program and continue to enrich uranium, while the Americans and their allies would loosen the economic siege on Iran and allow Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the economic oxygen needed to sustain his autocratic regime. Yes, Iran’s race to the bomb would be slowed down — but an accord would guarantee that it would eventually cross the finish line.”

Note: not “leave open the possibility,” but “guarantee.”

“The Geneva mind-set resembles a Munich mind-set: It would create the illusion of peace-in-our-time while paving the way to a nuclear-Iran-in-our-time.”

Munich again, the favorite analogy of Netanyahu and Israel’s hardliners when insisting that other states must go to war on Israel’s behalf: Iran is just like Nazi Germany on the eve of seeking to conquer all of Europe, if not beyond.

“But don’t blame President Obama. Indeed, this American defeat was set in motion long before he took office. What three American presidents, four Israeli prime ministers and a dozen European leaders vowed would never happen is actually happening. What was not to be is almost a reality. The Iranian bomb is nearly here.”

“Why wasn’t the West able to mobilize its political, economic and military resources in time to force Tehran to give up its nuclear ambition? The answer may be described as a spelling error.”

This is merely a lame effort at a joke—bad judgment, dumb writing, but at least harmless.

“After 9/11, the United States was determined to strike back, destroy terrorist sanctuaries and display its imperial might. President George W. Bush chose to do all of this in Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan may have been a mistake, but it was an understandable one: Al Qaeda enjoyed the Taliban’s support and had found refuge in Taliban-controlled territory. But invading Iraq was an incomprehensible mistake, as there were no links between Saddam Hussein and the 19 terrorists who attacked New York and Washington in September 2001.”

“If Mr. Bush had decided to display American leadership and exercise American power by launching a diplomatic campaign against Iran rather than a military one against Iraq 10 years ago, the United States’ international standing would be far greater today.”

A “diplomatic” campaign? Reread the preceding paragraphs, not to mention the ensuing ones. Surely we expect him to say here a military campaign, not a diplomatic one. What’s going on here? Surely Shavit can’t be certain that earlier Bush-era diplomacy would have stopped Iran’s nuclear program in its tracks. My guess is that he wants to have it both ways: say diplomacy instead of military, but mean military, because he knows that an American audience is not in the mood for another US-launched war in the Middle East.

“The Bush administration’s decision to go after Iraq rather than Iran was a fatal one, and the long-term consequences are only now becoming clear, namely a devastating American failure in the battle to prevent a nuclear Iran, reflected in Washington’s willingness to sign a deeply flawed agreement.”

How does Shavit know that Washington will sign a deeply flawed argument that is not yet negotiated? Answer: he doesn’t.

“Mr. Bush’s responsibility for the disaster now unfolding is twofold: He failed to target Iran a decade ago, and created a climate that made it very difficult to target Iran today.”

NB: “target,” which clearly implies “attack,” not merely engage in diplomacy.

“The Bush administration didn’t initiate a political-economic siege on Iran when it was weak”–Oh, now it’s a “siege” that Bush failed to undertake—more than diplomacy, then, but short of a military attack—“and Mr. Bush weakened America by exhausting its economic power and military might in a futile war. By the time American resolve was needed to fend off a genuine global threat, the necessary determination was no longer there. It had been wasted on the wrong cause.”

“The correct way to confront the Iranian threat would have been to establish a broad coalition including Russia, the European Union, Sunni Arab countries, Israel and the United States.”

No problem—how could Bush have missed this solution? Brings to mind an old joke: Guy runs into a hamburger joint, snaps his fingers, and says to the short-order cook: “Quick, make me a hamburger.” “Poof,” says the cook, “You’re a hamburger.”

“This would have placed Iran’s leaders in a real stranglehold and forced them to abandon their nuclear project — just as Libya did in 2003.”

“Stranglehold?” Sounds like more than diplomacy to me. Just like the diplomatic and economic pressures employed by the broad coalition against North Korea succeeded in stopping its nuclear weapons program?

“The Republican Party could have done that in 2003 or 2005 or 2007. But Republican leaders squandered the opportunity. Worse still, the United States got bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and that sucked all the oxygen out of America’s lungs. Mr. Bush passed on to Mr. Obama a nation that had lost much of the resolve it had possessed. When faced with a real threat to world peace, America’s will was spent. It had evaporated in the violent streets of Basra and Baghdad.”

“Sure, Mr. Obama has made mistakes, too. After coming to office, he wasted time on a futile policy of engagement and then on ineffective sanctions. He ignored the British, French, Israelis, Egyptians and Saudis who warned him that he was being naïve and turned his back on the freedom-seeking Iranian masses in June 2009. When Mr. Obama finally endorsed assertive diplomacy and punitive sanctions in 2011 and 2012, it was too little, too late.”

“But Mr. Obama was operating within the smoky ruins of the strategic disaster he had inherited. After Iraq, America is a traumatized nation, with a limited attention span for problems in the Middle East. The empire is weary. It has lost the ardor and wisdom needed to deal with the cruelest of the world’s regions and with the most dangerous of the world’s evil powers.”

Note the over-the-top rhetoric (which I have italicized) in these three paragraphs. He’s lost it.

“The Geneva agreement being negotiated is an illusion. The so-called moderate president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, is an illusion, too.”

How does he know that? That’s what the hardliners said–for quite a few years– about Gorbachev in the Soviet Union. And Rouhani, who like Gorbachev has been saying almost all the right things, has been in power for less than four months.

“So is the hope that Iran’s supreme leader can be appeased. Because America missed the opportunity for assertive diplomacy, all the options now left on the table are dire ones. Rather than pursuing a dangerous interim agreement, the West must insist that all the centrifuges in Iran stop spinning while a final agreement is negotiated. President Obama was right to demand a settlement freeze in the West Bank in 2009. Now he must demand a total centrifuge freeze in Iran.”

Good idea. As we will recall, Obama’s “demand” that Israel stop the settlements in the West Bank stopped  them cold, so why wouldn’t a similar demand be just as successful in stopping Iran’s nuclear program?

Does anyone at the Times actually read the opeds before they are printed?

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I think Jeremy missed an important point: Ari Shavit obviously wants the policy to be “regime change” in Iran. Read: … allow Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the economic oxygen needed to sustain his autocratic regime … Many of Ari Shavit’s statements in this editorial are only a bit plausible, when the whole editorial is read against the goal of regime change using the nuclear issue as a mere pretext for that. But when… Read more »

Looks like Ari Shavit is doing a great job, if he is mentioned so much here.
I bet he knows it and will continue to do a great job.

Shavit is probably no different to any journalist close to power. They all lie.
It’s more that he represents a failing ideology.

Shavit: “The Geneva mind-set resembles a Munich mind-set: It would create the illusion of peace-in-our-time while paving the way to a nuclear-Iran-in-our-time.”” Well, well, always pleasant to compare people to Hitler (provided, however, that the person doing the comparison must ALWAYS be a hardline-Israel promoter”. But he seems to forget that “Munich” was a deal done in the context of a supremely powerful re-armed and belligerent Germany. Whereas the Iran case is one of a… Read more »

I’ve been reading his opinion pieces in Haaretz for years– gritting my teeth and reading him

A couple of his early pieces and one TV appearance convinced me, years ago, that he simply wasn’t worth reading.