Monday, August 22, 2016

It's All Fun Until Somebody Loses an Eye: From the "No One Could Have Foreseen This" Casebook

It looks like the US had another one of those "Oops!" moments in Syria recently.
The Pentagon warned the Syrian government Friday not to strike U.S. and coalition personnel in Syria, a day after the regime carried out airstrikes in an area near American special operations forces, prompting the U.S. to scramble jets to protect them.
Daniel Larison, who wrote about this incident, pointed out that the longer US troops remain in Syria, no matter how "non-combat" their role supposedly is, the more likely it is that the protection will fail and an incident will turn into an excuse to invade.
When the U.S. backs proxies in a foreign civil war and puts U.S. forces on the ground with them, it opens the door to new and unexpected conflict with other armed groups in the country. By extending protection to U.S. proxies in Syria, the U.S. could find itself drawn into yet another conflict in Syria. Anti-regime groups would have a strong incentive to put the U.S. in that position. The more U.S. forces that are sent into the country, the greater the chances of an incident that could lead to a wider war, and Clinton is on record in favor of sending more special forces into Syria. This episode underscores the absurdity of the administration’s many statements that U.S. forces aren’t in combat in Syria, and it reminds us how quickly a supposedly “limited” intervention could spiral into something much worse.
I wonder again: what are US forces doing in Syria -- a country which is neither our client nor our ally, with whose government we aren't even nominally friendly, but with which we are not, supposedly, at war either?  Suppose that some foreign government, Russia for example, were to station its troops in the United States in order to extend protection to its proxies here.  Suppose that some other country were to decide that white supremacists, say, were its proxies in the United States.  Suppose that Mexico decided to station some of its troops in the US to protect its citizens here -- in a purely advisory, non-combat role, of course.  Would most Americans, regardless of their party affiliation, consider such intervention and presence a sign of that other country's disinterested commitment to peace?

It's tempting to suppose that US troops are in Syria as bait, with the conscious intention that some of them will be hurt or killed by the bad guys so that the US can invade and kill lots of civilians, including children.  (The recent vital photo of a little boy outraged so many Americans -- nobody gets to hurt or kill Syrian kids but us!  When that picture turned up on my Facebook feed last week with much lamenting about the sadness of this world and the badness of people, but what can you do, I pointed out the US' support for Saudi Arabian killing of civilians in Yemen, which Americans could do something about by pressuring our government to stop its participation in the atrocities.  The reaction was predictable.  It's so much more satisfying, as Noam Chomsky has been pointing out for decades, to weep about the crimes of our official enemies than to notice the crimes of our friends.)  If Hillary Clinton wins this election, it's a good bet that US intervention will escalate; but very possibly Trump would do the same if he's elected.

Still, going by the US' record, our leaders aren't thinking that far ahead; they are, on the evidence, too stupid to do that.  It never occurs to them that if they put American troops in hostile territory, someone will shoot at them.  I recently saw an item about US troops in Ukraine a couple of years ago, where some of the locals threw stones at them.  Again: what were US troops doing in Ukraine?  One can't expect grunts to have a realistic idea of what they're getting into, I know, but the Wise Leaders who sent them there should have known better.  It wasn't the Existential Danger Donald Trump who made these blunders, it was a Democratic administration -- but Republican politicians and pundits have been agitating for a US invasion of Syria for years too.  But no one could possibly have foreseen that anything would go wrong.  We are America, after all, and nothing ever goes wrong on our watch.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Their Glory Is Their Shame

I imagine you've heard about the statues of Donald Trump in the nude, with miniscule genitalia, that appeared in several US cities this week.  Rawstory ran a story headed "NYC Parks & Rec pulls down naked Donald Trump statue - then brilliantly mocks him in a statement."  The statement in question was "“NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small."

I don't see any mockery of Trump in that NYC P&R statement. Y'all are getting desperate, I think, and it's not like you really need to be.  The schoolyard aspect of the Trump hate is not attractive: We keep making fun of him, and he still won't go away!  What is wrong with the guy?  It mainly serves to show that certain segments of the anti-Trump population are not very different from the pro-Trump population, in this respect at least.

That being said, I'm not displeased by this action; Trump is eminently and deservedly mockable, and it's far better to do it this way than to try to slut-shame his wife. Any halfway feminist person should recognize that attacking a woman to get at her husband is a no-no, but I've been surprised at how many feminists are ready to jettison their principles in the cause of Democratic supremacy. And while, again, mocking Trump is a good thing, I see again how many people after a century and more of feminism and anti-sexist activism still haven't figured out that having testicles (or not, or having small ones or big ones) is not a moral trait. To say nothing of fat-shaming anybody.  Yeah, I'm sure Trump thinks so, but he's not the authority around here -- let alone a role model.

Oh, and PS: "The Emperor Has No Balls." Trump isn't the Emperor. Barack Obama is. Shall we talk about his balls?  If you want to play on that level, let's discuss the kind of huevos it takes to joke on TV about killing some pop singers with predator drones if they look upon his daughters to lust upon them.

And PPS: I fully expect to be accused of "political correctness" for pointing out these issues.  Well, go for it, bitchez!  We all know that Political Correctness is destroying this country ...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Useful Geniuses; or, Resistance Is Futile

To my half-surprise this meme turned out to be authentic.  It's from Huxley's Brave New World Revisited, published in 1958, when his 1931 novel Brave New World had become a classic and a watchword.  (The passage originally began: "Under the relentless thrust of accelerating over-population and over-organization ...", which I think changes its import a bit, and not for the better; and "a new kind of totalitarianism" read "a new kind of non-violent totalitarianism" [italics added].)  It's the kind of supposed prophecy that appeals to a certain set of mind.

Yet despite all this mind-manipulation, Donald Trump is the Republican candidate for President, and Bernie Sanders came very close to beating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Brexit passed in the UK. Most citizens disagree with most of the corporatist agenda in the US. Governments around the world are losing legitimacy, the consent of the governed that makes it possible for them to rule at all. Our would-be rulers are not pleased. The Sheeple aren't as manipulable as they like to think -- or, oddly, as wise truthtellers such as Huxley like to think.

None of this means that I think the People are necessarily wise, or always right.  Trump's success, like the Brexit vote, has various causes, some of which are edifying and others not.  The point is that "the ruling oligarchy" and its technicians are not as omnipotent or competent as they and this meme would have you believe.

I recently read H. Bruce Franklin's M.I.A., or Mythmaking in America (Lawrence Hill, 1992), in which he described how the Nixon administration, hoping to raise domestic support for its war in Vietnam, concocted the fantasy of thousands of American troops being held prisoner by the North Vietnamese.  Enlisting the participation of families of soldiers who were missing in action, Nixon's people were fairly successful in selling the fantasy -- but when they found it an impediment to negotations and ending the war, they were trapped by their own invention.  The families and their supporters, understandably, felt betrayed; unwilling to accept that they'd been sold a bill of goods and used so cynically, they clung to the myth and turned on Nixon.  When even Ronald Reagan, several years later, accepted that there were no American POWs alive in Southeast Asia, they denounced him too.  As Franklin said, the long-term result was the rise of a politically reactionary group of Americans, officially patriotic but bitterly hostile to their government, constructing a paranoid mythology of bold Rambos trying to free large numbers of captive Americans but undermined and stymied by government bureacrats.  M.I.A. was originally published almost a quarter century before Donald Trump declared his candidacy, but his supporters clearly live in the alternate universe built by the Nixon gang.  The "ruling oligarchy" has only very limited control over the tigers it unleashes.

It's a mistake to think that that oligarchy or its technicians really know what they're doing.  Today I was looking at the chapter on political lying in Hannah Arendt's Crises of the Republic.  Writing of the processes that led to a major American war, Arendt refers to
the strange fact that the mistaken decisions and lying statements consistently violated the astoundingly accurate factual reports of the intelligence community ... The crucial point here is not merely that the policy of lying was hardly ever aimed at the enemy ..., but was destined chiefly, if not exclusively, for domestic consumption, for propaganda at home, and especially for the purpose of deceiving Congress [14].
Arendt was writing about the Pentagon Papers, the internal history that revealed how U.S. interference in Vietnam had been "planned" -- though that word is probably far too generous -- but she could just as easily have been describing the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  The same is true of what follows: 
Of even greater interest is that nearly all decisions in this disastrous enterprise were made in full cognizance of the fact that they probably could not be carried out: hence goals had constantly to be shifted.  There are, first, the publicly proclaimed objectives -- "seeing that the people of South Vietnam Vietnam are permitted to determine their future" [in reality, this was the last thing the US was interested in] or "assisting the country to win their contest against the ... Communist conspiracy" ... The same flexibility marks tactical considerations: North Vietnam is being bombed in order to prevent "a collapse of national morale" in the South and, particularly, the breakdown of the Saigon government.  But when the first raids were scheduled to start, the government had broken down, "pandemonium reigned in Saigon," the raids had to be postponed and a new goal found.  Now the objective was to compel "Hanoi to stop the Vietcong and the Pathet Lao," an aim that even the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not hope to attain.  As they said, "it would be idle to conclude that these eforts will have a decisive effect" [15].
And so on.  Those who, like me, are old enough to remember the promulgation of the War on Terror and the invasion of Afghanistan (to say nothing of the First Gulf War, which also fit this pattern), will remember how the goalposts were moved repeatedly for propaganda purposes.  The manipulation of public and Congressional opinion was scattershot: rationales generated almost randomly and thrown at audiences in hopes that one or more would stick.  Far from controlling events or the public, our rulers and their publicists were careening along in panic, and the results were far from what they had hoped.  (Not that either group has ever taken responsibility or accepted accountability for their blunders and crimes, of course.)

The corporate media gladly gave Donald Trump plenty of free publicity by their diligent coverage of his every blurt and mindfart; now that he's the Republican candidate, they're horrified: this is not what they meant at all.  Non-corporate media, not to mention liberal Democrats, are equally fascinated by him, and can't seem to tear their fascinated gaze from the trainwreck his campaign seems to have become.  But Trump and his supporters dismiss and denounce the "lamestream media" as readily as his opponents do.  On Brexit, liberal commentators here and in the UK tended to line up with the Establishment Right; they usually missed the irony.  So did right-wingers, usually contemptuous of the Mob, who suddenly but briefly became populists -- on Brexit, though not on Trump, whom they tried to repudiate.

And yet many people who believe themselves to be smarter than the canaille want more control -- laws (for example) that would require the press, or politicians, to tell the truth, on pain of State punishment. (Who do they think would decide what is true and what is false?) Again I find myself wondering why so many people who suppose themselves to be the sapient elite, mysteriously free from the control of the Bad Guys, sound so weirdly complacent and smug when they inform the rest of us that Resistance Is Futile. Whose side are they are on, really?


I've been trying to decide whether to buy Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, an anthology in tribute to the late Octavia Butler edited by Walida Amarisha and adrienne maree brown, published by AK Press in 2015.  I like Butler's work, and I've seen positive remarks about this collection lately.  So I took a look at the preview on Amazon.

In the foreword, Sheree Renee Thomas writes,
Octavia E. Butler wrote in her novel Parable of the Sower that our "destiny is to take root among the stars." The activist [Martin Luther King Jr.] and the artist ... embraced a shared dream for the future.  Their work is linked by faith and a fusion of spiritual teachings and social consciousness, a futuristic social gospel.  In its essence, social justice work, which King embodied and Butler expressed so skillfully in her novels and stories, is about love -- a love that has the best hopes and wishes for humanity at heart.
I feel like a Scrooge picking on a passage so full of warm fuzzy sentiments, but Thomas seems not to have read Butler's work, the brief quotation notwithstanding.  I know that can't be true, since Thomas is the editor of an important anthology of science fiction "from the African diaspora," Dark Matter; but that means she's deliberately misreading and misrepresenting Butler.  What she says may well be true of Butler the person, but Butler's work, while not devoid of hope or love, is anti-utopian and harshly pessimistic.  (The Patternmaster series is often as violent as Mortal Kombat.) That's particularly true of her late works Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. which are set in a near future that resembles the worst of the world we know.  Even when Butler writes about love, it's ambivalent, as in her short story "Bloodchild," which she insisted was a love story.  It's about the relationship between human refugees on another planet, who must maintain a symbiotic relationship with the people there, which involves implanting the latter's eggs/larvae to gestate in the earthlings' bodies.  It's also "my pregnant man story," Butler added, "a dramatic story of a man becoming pregnant as an act of love."  Butler's love stories are extremely anti-romantic, exploring the prices we pay for binding ourselves to others and them to us -- which is a good thing, but far from Thomas's huggyface-kissybear tone.

In the Parable books, it seems to me, Butler allowed herself some romanticism.  She wanted to write several more books in the series, but was unable to work out how to do it.  The projected third novel, Parable of the Trickster, was to be set on an another planet that people from the earth had colonized:
an alien world where [the protagonist] and most of her fellow Earthseed colonists are saddened to discover they wish they’d never left Earth in the first place. The world — called “Bow” — is gray and dank, and utterly miserable; it takes its name from the only splash of color the planet has to offer, its rare, naturally occurring rainbows. They have no way to return to Earth, or to even to contact it; all they have is what little they’ve brought with them, which for most (but not all) of them is a strong belief in the wisdom of the teachings of Earthseed. Some are terrified; many are bored; nearly all are deeply unhappy. Her personal notes frame this in biological terms. From her notes to herself: “Think of our homesickness as a phantom-limb pain — a somehow neurologically incomplete amputation. Think of problems with the new world as graft-versus-host disease — a mutual attempt at rejection.”
One of the many things I disliked about the published Parables was the protagonist Lauren Olamina's affirmational verses: "the poetry that drives the Earthseed religion actually mirrors the style of the daily affirmations, self-help sloganeering, and even self-hypnosis techniques Butler used to keep herself focused and on-task."  I'm not a fan of affirmations, and the one Sheree Thomas quoted is particularly noxious.  It's at odds with Butler's general pessimism about humanity, for one thing: she believed that what she thought of as our innate tendency toward "hierarchy" would probably be the trait that dooms us.  But as a lifelong sf fan, she apparently bought into the delusional fantasy of interstellar colonization as human "destiny."  If science teaches us not to see ourselves as the center of the universe, not the crown of creation, then we ought to recognize that we are already rooted among the stars.  The earth is among the stars, a miniscule planet circling a nondescript star in one galaxy among billions in the universe, and we human beings are rooted here.  Where else would we be?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Universalize Me, Daddy, Infinity to the Bar

While wasting time this evening I came upon an Amazon listing for a book of essays that had garnered one brief review: "This solipsistic writer thinks he is extremely liberal, but tho he claims all religions are valid, he secretly hates Christians."

Reviews like that usually make their targets more interesting to me.  I noticed that it had four comments, so I clicked through and found that the author of the book had riposted:
It has always been my observation that when a book is trashed by fundamentalists it must really be worth reading... especially, I would say, this one, which respects all the great religions and wisdom traditions. Perhaps that's the real problem. Much of the book repeatedly expresses respect for what is universal in Christianity.
Oh, dear.  That made the book less interesting to me.  I decided to see if the reviewer was just a troll; his other reviews indicate that he's capable of intelligent comment, and for what it's worth, I don't believe he's a Christian fundamentalist -- but that makes the review I noticed all the more discrediting to him.  Even if his target hated Christianity, it wouldn't follow that he hates Christians.

The author's reply, however, is not really a defense of his beliefs or attitudes.  "What is universal to Christianity," whatever he imagines that to be, is of little interest.  If I go by what others have meant when they said something like that, what is "universal" in Christianity is a little collection of platitudes -- be nice to people, love love love, and so on -- that don't really mean anything without some idea how to carry them out, and why.  Being nice to people always comes encrusted with exceptions.  (Was Jesus being nice when he threatened the vast majority of human beings with eternal torment?  Was the Buddha being nice when he told a soldier that if he died in battle he would probably be reborn "in a hell or as an animal"?  And so on.)  So does love.  Justice is at least as murky.  And so on.  I don't know if the poet being trashed is Baha'i, but I looked into that sect during the 80s when I was researching religion, and found nothing much there; the poet does seem to be echoing Baha'i doctrine in his remarks, though.  What the various religions have in common probably has more to do with the fact that human beings invented them, and with cross-cultural and cross-tradition borrowing than with any cosmic universals.

The universal is all very well, but I've learned to be suspicious of those who invoke it, whether in art, religion, sexuality, human nature, or most other realms.  Often they seem to be anxious about, if not hostile to, human difference.  From a safe, nose-holding difference, we are all pretty much alike.  But up close, viewed with interest (which is greater and stronger than love), the differences become apparent, and valuable.  If you can't love the differences, then I question the reality or worth of your love, let alone your spiritual wisdom.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Triumph of The Gay

Once again I find myself wondering how certain things find their way into print.  As a warming-up exercise, I'll share with you a passage from a book I read earlier this summer, aimed at a readership of helping-professionals, published by a press that specializes in such material.  I won't name either the book or the publisher for now.
The report states that a majority of the respondents held an undergraduate degree (31.5% of men and 32% of women) ...
It appears that the writer of this passage added together the percentages in order to conclude that they constituted a majority of the respondents.  In reality the respondents of both sexes who held undergraduate degrees constitute a minority, about 31 or 32 percent of the whole.  I couldn't believe that a professional would make such an elementary error, or failing that, that the editor and the referees who vetted the paper wouldn't have caught it.  After reading it repeatedly to make sure I hadn't missed something, I posted the passage to my page on Facebook, asking friends with backgrounds in statistics if I'd missed something.  They didn't think so.

Now, I could make a mistake like this -- but I'm not a professional with a graduate degree, and I write a blog, not for a professional press, presumably peer-reviewed but certainly run by and for professionals.  And the rest of the book is not much better than this, though not as blatantly off.

So, on to what got me started today.  I've begun reading Tongzhi Living: Men Attracted to Men in Postsocialist China (Minnesota, 2015) by Tiantian Zheng.  It's been getting positive attention, and it's a topic that interests me, so I picked it up.  Unfortunately it seems to have many of the same flaws of most studies I've seen of homosexuality outside the US, and I'll probably have more to say about it when I've finished it.  For today I want to point to a really egregious passage that's indicative of the problems in the book.

Stephen Murray (1992) theorizes Western homogenization as a neo-evolutionary process toward a universal, egalitarian, Western gayness.  He maps out an evolutionary model of homosexuality from unequal relations based on age (ancient Greece), gender roles (modern Mesoamerica), and class (early capitalism) to equal relations.  In Murray's evolutionary model, an increasingly strong gay and lesbian culture, identity, and politics have been diffused little by little throughout the Western world.  Eventually this Western model will be what other countries and cultures will follow [location 126 of the Kindle version].
I was immediately suspicious, because I've read a lot of Murray's work, and Zheng's summary didn't sound like him.  So I tracked down the reference, to his paper "The 'Underdevelopment' of Modern/Gay Homosexuality in Mesoamerica", published in Modern Homosexualities: Fragments of Lesbian and Gay Experience, edited by Ken Plummer in 1992.  The opening paragraph should suffice.
In what has been written about male homosexuality in the world's cultures, three basic social organizations recur.  In so far as changes over history are visible, the types occur in the order (1) age-stratified, (2) gender-stratified, (3) gay.  When and where homosexuality is age-stratified, for instance in ancient Greece, medieval Japan, or the New Guinea highlands until recently, the 'boy' is sexually receptive to an older boy or man who takes responsibility for helping the boy to become a man.  In societies with gender-stratified homosexualtiy, as in the recent past in Northern Europe and North America, contemporary Latin America, and indigenous Polynesia, one partner acts the role of a woman, generally specializing in what is considered 'woman's work' in a society, frequently stereotyping women's dress and behaviour.  The 'gay' or 'modern' organization of homosexuality breaks from assigning one partner to the inferior role of 'boy' or 'wife' and -- without regard to their sexual behaviour -- insists that both are men who should have equivalent privileges, not the least of which is autonomy.  Because the historical succession has been from age to gender to gay, it is tempting to consider this a necessary, evolutionary order.  In this chapter, I will argue that such an 'evolution' is not inevitable, and discuss some of the obstacles to the globalization of an egalitarian (gay) organization of homosexuality even in the relatively industrialized and 'modern' capitals of 'developing' countries [29].
As you can see, Murray very clearly rejects an evolutionary reading of the differing models (or organizations) of homosexuality that he lists here.  I'd go further myself, and point out that differing models coexisted and overlapped, not least in the supposedly developed West.  In Japan, for example, as in China and probably elsewhere, there was a model involving boy actresses (in the Noh theater and Beijing opera, respectively) who were defined as insertees with respect to their older patrons, both because of their youth and because they "stereotyped women's dress and behaviour."  In ancient Greece, the age-stratified model was dominant, but males copulated with each other outside that model, and as John Boswell showed for medieval Europe, in age-stratified relationships the "boy" might be middle-aged and might even be older than the "man."  In Mesoamerica, the model of the vestida (as he's known in parts of Mexico) defines the homosexual, but a lot of (probably most) male-to-male sex involves men who play a "woman's role" only as sexual insertees, not in dress or general behavior.  I've noticed before that when a white gay man visited a gender-stratified gay community in South Africa, both gents and ladies not unreasonably tried to parse him in terms of the system they knew, and gents propositioned him as if he were a lady.

As Murray later remarks:
In Thailand, as in Latin America, the typological system is very simple, with gender roles and sexual behaviour in neat conformity with each other.  But in messy reality, sexual behaviour, gender appearance, and sexual identity are more complex [30].
These templates do not describe behavior and presentation, they prescribe it and are imposed on it.  The same is true of the "gay" model: despite our supposedly "egalitarian" homosexuality, American gay men still talk about "daddies" (insertive) and "boys" (receptive), "men" (insertive) and "twinks" (receptive), tops and bottoms, and the prevailing Western pseudoscientific model of homosexuality is gender-stratified.

Murray does mention class in his paper, but not as an organizing system of homosexuality; I don't know where Zheng got that.  While class can be a factor, it goes all over the map, from the poor cross-dresser hired by a man with more money to the wealthy older man patronizing a younger man from a lower class, to middle-class men hiring working-class trade.  In some cases lower class signifies femininity and penetrabilility, in others masculinity and impenetrability.  It appears from what I've read, not only in Tongzhi Living but in other writings about male homosexuality in China, that a similar variety of styles can be observed there.

I've made similar misreadings of material I've read, and for similar reasons: I had a thesis, and I needed grist for it.  But again, I'm not an academic writing for an academic press, running a gauntlet of editors and referees.  (And when I've found myself, or been caught, in such an error, I try to acknowledge and correct it.)  Zheng seems to have misread Murray's opening paragraph (I wonder if she even read past it) because she wanted to cast him as a Western gay imperialist, exulting in the triumph of "this Western model" over all "other countries and cultures."  That binary, which is beloved of many international, post-colonial scholars of queer life, is at best an agenda-driven oversimplification.  (Quite a few American scholars love it too.)  To recognize the common features of homosexual life in different societies is not, in itself, to impose a "neo-evolutionary" template on them, or to regard one model as "modern" and the others as "primitive" or "undeveloped."  But to refuse to recognize them distorts and impedes understanding of people's real lives, both in the East and in the West.  I'd like to think that in time, this particular bias will be recognized and corrected, but by then there will probably be a new consensus with its own distortions and errors.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sit Back, Relax, and Leave the Foreign Policy to Us

I've been reading Ben Ehrenreich's new book The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine (Penguin, 2016).  It's a long, grim slog, but worth it, and every now and then there's a touch of comic relief.  Describing the 2014 collapse of talks between Israel and Palestine, mediated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Ehrenreich writes:
Another month would pass before a frank American narrative of what had occurred in Jerusalem and Ramallah hit the press.  In May, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth's Nahum Barnea published an interview with anonymous senior U.S. officials who, he wrote, had been closely involved in the talks. The story that emerged from what Barnea called "the closest thing to an official American version of what happened" was one of Israeli cynicism and an almost astonishing American naivete.  "We didn't realize," said one of Barnea's sources, that "Netanyahu was using the announcements of tenders for settlement construction as a way to ensure the survival of his own government.  We didn't realize continuing construction allowed ministers in his government to very effectively sabotage the success of the talks."  If true, this is a shocking admission: the Americans, with all their vast data-collecting capabilities, did not know waht even the least observant reader of Israeli newspapers had for months understood to be self-evident [262].
The theme of American naivete unto gullibility when faced with conniving Oriental slick dealing is well-worn by now, and makes me suspicious.  American elites have always tried to excuse their short-sightedness and (let's not mince words) incompetence and/or collusion with authoritarian regimes by claiming that they were babes in the woods, outclassed by tc the ancient wiles their opposite numbers deployed.  It's echoed by the Vatican apologists' claim that, confronted with sexually predatory priests, they were so unprepared to deal with such Evil that they could do nothing but send them to new parishes to prey some more.  In either case the defense is unconvincing, and could only be supported by immediate resignation, confessions of incompetence, and departure from public life, except perhaps as garbage collectors.

On the next page Ehrenreich continues:
In the end, the officials pinned the blame for the negotiations' failure squarely on Israel, and on Netanyahu's insistence on continuing settlement expansion throughout the talks: "The Palestinians don't believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when at the same time it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state.  We're talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less.  Only now, after the talks blew up, did we learn that this iis also about expropriating land on a large scale." 

When I first read that line, I nearly coughed up a small piece of my kidney. "Only now," the unnamed official said [263].
And, of course, six weeks "after the talks collapsed ... Obama sent his secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel," to Israel to pledge eternal U.S. fealty, along with "$3.1 billion per year in foreign military financing, which is not only more than we provide to any other nation, but the most we have provided to any nation in American history" (264).

Which brings me to another bit of comedy.  After the end of the talks, Hagel's opposite number, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, complained to the same newspaper about Kerry's "naive and meddlesome 'messianic fervor' ...'The only thing that can save us ... is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Peace Prize and leave us alone" (234-5).

Of course, Ya'alon doesn't really want Kerry or the U.S. to leave Israel alone, any more than corporate CEOs want meddlesome big government to leave them alone.  Leave them alone -- but continue to send vast amounts of money, stand by them in the United Nations, and make it illegal for any Americans to organize boycotts against them.

The other examples I gave show that this is not a new problem in American foreign policy or diplomacy.  But once again, combined with Obama's (and his fans') feckless responses to domestic opposition, it makes it impossible for me to believe that he or his advisors know what they're doing.