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Shlomo Ben-Ami

Articles by Shlomo Ben-Ami

America’s Flawed State-Building Enterprise

7 days ago

After its Cold War victory, the US began to engage in liberal interventionism with great relish. The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban is just the latest example showing why this approach has never worked – and never will.

TEL AVIV – “Afghanistan was the ultimate nation-building mission,” former US President George W. Bush wrote in his 2010 memoir. “We had liberated the country from a primitive dictatorship, and we had a moral obligation to leave behind something better.” There is nothing surprising about this logic: colonial enterprises have always been described as “civilizing missions.” And, as in Afghanistan, they have consistently failed. In fact, the only way to build a nation-state is from the inside.

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Biden’s Iranian Opportunity

August 19, 2021

The election of hardline President Ebrahim Raisi in Iran has raised fears that the country will refuse to negotiate with the West. But with Iran’s economy in tatters, and the Sunni Taliban returning to power in neighboring Afghanistan, Iran’s leaders have every incentive to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

TEL AVIV – For years, Iranian moderates, such as former President Hassan Rouhani, tried and failed to reach an understanding with the West. Now, a hardliner is in charge. Does President Ebrahim Raisi’s election spell the end of what Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei once called Iran’s “heroic flexibility” in dealing with the West? In the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the question now matters even more.

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Managing a New Middle-East Order

July 20, 2021

Ongoing shifts in alliances in the region are being driven partly by Iran’s growing influence. But the real story is in the eastern Mediterranean, where the development of major gas reserves could lead to deep cooperation or breed further conflict.

TEL AVIV – Across the Middle East, alliances are shifting in unexpected ways. What does the emerging configuration mean for a region that is seemingly eternally walking a thin line between war and peace?
The Variant Threat Is Real

OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

The Rise of the Distributariat

PS OnPoint

Chesnot/Getty Images

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Bibi’s Poisoned Legacy

June 9, 2021

After 12 years with Binyamin Netanyahu in power, Israel is more divided than it has ever been, and Israelis have largely lost hope that their country can be both Jewish and democratic. Can the new government, united only by its aversion to the country’s longest-serving prime minister, push back against this legacy?

TEL AVIV – Soon, Binyamin Netanyahu will no longer be Israel’s prime minister. After 12 years in power, what kind of country will he leave behind?
Making America Global Again

Al Drago/Pool/Getty Images

Can We End the Pandemic?

PS OnPoint

Getty Images

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The End of Israel’s Illusion

May 13, 2021

The prevailing consensus among Israelis that Palestinian nationalism had been defeated – and thus that a political solution to the conflict was no longer necessary – lies in tatters. And even as the violence escalates, it has become clear to both sides that the era of glorious wars and victories is over.

TEL AVIV – The sudden eruption of war outside and inside Israel’s borders has shocked a complacent nation. Throughout Binyamin Netanyahu’s 12-year premiership, the Palestinian problem was buried and forgotten. The recent Abraham Accords, establishing diplomatic relations with four Arab states, seemed to weaken the Palestinian cause further. Now it has re-emerged with a vengeance.

The End of Israel’s

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Will China Be the Middle East’s Next Hegemon?

April 19, 2021

Despite its troop drawdown in Afghanistan, America’s military superiority in the Middle East will probably remain undisputed for some time. But military power will not be enough to stem China’s strategic rise in the region.

TEL AVIV – US President Joe Biden has announced that he will withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, finally ending his country’s longest war ever. The move was indicative of a broader shift by the United States away from the Middle East – one that has been a long time coming. Will anyone take its place in the region?

Build Back the State


Is Stagflation Coming?

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Resolving the Iran Conundrum

March 19, 2021

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken believes that Iran is only months away from being able to produce enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon. Mitigating this threat and addressing Iran’s broader destabilizing activities in the Middle East calls for a two-phase plan.

TEL AVIV – Former US President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran utterly failed to enhance regional or global security. His successor, Joe Biden, must not make the same mistake.

The Shape of Global Recovery

Viktor Morozuk/Getty Images

The Enduring Populist Threat

PS OnPoint

Jon Cherry/Getty Images

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America Is (Sort of) Back

February 17, 2021

From its botched pandemic response to the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, America’s political dysfunction has lately been on stark display. And that is only one obstacle President Joe Biden’s administration faces in pursuing a robust foreign policy.

TEL AVIV – In the first foreign-policy speech of his presidency, Joe Biden had a simple message for the world: “America is back.” But restoring the credibility of US diplomacy and implementing an effective foreign policy will be an uphill battle.

No Time to Waste

PS OnPoint

John Keatley 
Free to read

Impeachment’s Partisan Doom

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The End of Liberal Diplomacy

January 22, 2021

While Joe Biden is right to reject many aspects of Donald Trump’s toxic presidency, he should avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Only by recognizing the weaknesses of liberal diplomatic norms can the Biden administration advance the innovative, effective diplomacy the world so desperately needs.

TEL AVIV – On December 11, then-President Donald Trump proclaimed that the United States would recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara, an apparent reward for the country’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. The move was swiftly condemned as a blatant violation of diplomatic norms. But, with his facile approach to protracted conflicts, Trump inadvertently made an

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The Arab Spring Ten Years Later

December 17, 2020

From the return of Russia to the normalization of relations between Israel and a growing number of Arab states, the decade since the Arab Spring continues to redraw the Middle East’s geopolitical map. The outcome will depend on a several factors, not least whether – or when – the goal of democracy mobilizes Arab populations again.

TEL AVIV – When the struggling street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, on December 17, 2010, he could not possibly have imagined how consequential his desperate protest would be. By sparking a wave of civil unrest across the Arab world, he touched off the region’s most profound transformation since decolonization.

My Man of the Year

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Joe Biden’s World Order

November 17, 2020

Many hope that, when US President-elect Joe Biden takes over in January, he can salvage, and even renew, the American-led post-1945 liberal world order. That’s an understandable desire, but it is entirely unrealistic.

TEL AVIV – In less than four years, outgoing US President Donald Trump has achieved what, historically, only devastating wars had done: recast the global order. With his isolationism, wannabe authoritarianism, and sheer capriciousness, Trump gleefully took a sledgehammer to the international institutions and multilateral organizations his predecessors had built from the ashes of World War II and maintained ever since. What now?

Why Biden Can Overcome Political Gridlock

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The Consequences of the Israel-UAE Peace

September 14, 2020

It is highly probable that more Arab countries will, like Bahrain, follow in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates and normalize relations with Israel. Once the supposed epicenter of the region’s worries, Palestine has become a disposable cause.

TEL AVIV – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has hailed the agreement normalizing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates – which the two countries will sign at a White House ceremony on September 15 – as a historic step that equals Israel’s previous peace deals with Egypt and Jordan. The Israeli leader also boasted that the agreement with the UAE vindicated his “Netanyahu doctrine” of peace for peace, rather than land for peace.

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Lebanon’s Agony

August 11, 2020

The silver lining of the warehouse explosion that destroyed much of Beirut may be that the blast averts – or at least forestalls – a conflict between Hezbollah and Israel. But the root-and-branch reform of Lebanon’s political system and regional alliances that the country needs to weather its crises remains unlikely.

TEL AVIV – Last week, a warehouse stocked with nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate blew up, laying waste to the port of Beirut and ripping through much of the rest of the Lebanese capital. At least 137 people were killed, thousands were wounded, and hundreds of thousands were rendered homeless. For a country that was already roiled by political and economic crisis, the challenges ahead just became

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A Doomed Middle-East Peace

July 14, 2020

The late PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, was right to reject the peace proposal made at Camp David 20 years ago this month. It was in rejecting the so-called Clinton Parameters, proposed six months later, that he made a grave mistake, effectively burying the prospect of Palestinian statehood.

TEL AVIV – Twenty years ago this month, US President Bill Clinton invited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to a peace summit at Camp David, in a bold effort to resolve one of the longest-running conflicts of modern times. Though no agreement was reached, the summit, in which I participated, was not a failure: the framework it produced became the foundation upon which

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The Messiah of Mar-a-Lago

June 17, 2020

The US was a tinderbox of racism, inequality, and broken politics well before Donald Trump entered the White House, but he lit the match and added fuel. Unless Americans vote him out in November, putting out the fires – and repairing the national and international damage – may well become impossible.

TEL AVIV – US President Donald Trump says he is “the chosen one,” and many of his evangelical supporters agree. But standing, Bible in hand, in front of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, after the police used riot shields and tear gas to clear the area of peaceful protesters, Trump had more in common with Jesus Christ’s donkey than with a savior. Far from liberating a fallen civilization, Trump

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Democracies Are Better at Managing Crises

May 19, 2020

In a democracy, a crisis is a political test: a leader must retain or strengthen the public’s trust, or risk being voted out in the next election. But in an autocracy, a crisis is a threat to the regime’s legitimacy, which is why the official response is so often denial.

TEL AVIV – The COVID-19 crisis has become the latest front in the escalating clash of ideologies that has become a central feature of geopolitics in recent years. Representing authoritarianism is China, which has touted the success of its aggressive lockdown strategy in curbing the coronavirus’s spread. Representing democracy are a broad array of countries, some of which have responded far worse than others. So, which political system is better

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Why this Pandemic Is Different

April 17, 2020

From failures of leadership to the rise of conspiracy theories, the COVID-19 crisis resembles past pandemics in myriad ways. Yet it is likely to break the mold in one crucial – and perhaps fateful – respect: rather than upending the established order, it is likely to reinforce the trends that brought us to this point.

TEL AVIV – Long before people and goods were traversing the globe non-stop, pandemics were already an inescapable feature of human civilization. And the tragedy they bring has tended to have a silver lining: perceived as mysterious, meta-historical events, large-scale disease outbreaks have often shattered old beliefs and approaches, heralding major shifts in the conduct of human affairs. But the

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The Paradigm Shift on Palestine

February 18, 2020

The Trump administration’s Israel-Palestine peace plan has undermined the belief that internationally agreed principles, such as the need to adhere to the pre-1967 borders, are unassailable. Given how willing the rest of the world seems to be to abandon the Palestinians, these losses will not be easy to reverse.

TEL AVIV – Nobody should be surprised that US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal is heavily tilted toward the Israelis. What is surprising is that, rather than rejecting Trump’s proposal, the world has left the Palestinians largely on their own.
The White Swans of 2020

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

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What Does Suleimani’s Death Change?

January 4, 2020

The targeted killing by the United States of one of Iran’s top military leaders represents a significant symbolic defeat for the Iranian regime, but it does not augur all-out war. After all, Iran and the US have already been at war for decades, and neither side has an interest in an uncontrolled military escalation now.

TEL AVIV – We no longer live in an era in which wars are officially declared. The US drone strike that killed Qassem Suleimani, the charismatic commander of Iran’s Quds Force, is but one landmark event in a multiyear, multi-front war between the US and its allies and Iran and its many proxies.
The Suleimani Assassination and US Strategic Incoherence

Mark Wilson/Getty

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Not Another Arab Spring

December 19, 2019

Today’s Arab protesters have adjusted their tactics and objectives to reflect the lessons of the Arab Spring. But whether they can overcome the resistance of their governments’ repressive apparatuses to secure genuine governance improvements remains far from certain.

TEL AVIV – “A specter is haunting the rich world. It is the specter of ungovernability,” began an editorial in The Economist earlier this year, paraphrasing the opening line of the Communist Manifesto. But it is not only the West that is grappling with ungovernability. Across the Arab world, protesters have been making it clear that they will be ungovernable until their leaders deliver good governance.
A Post-Election Reckoning for

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Is Russia the Middle East’s New Hegemon?

November 18, 2019

With an economy the size of South Korea’s and military capabilities that are no match for America’s, Russia lacks the tools required to act as an uncontested hegemon in the Middle East. When the United States decides to take up the mantle of democracy and peace again, Russia will be no match for it.

TEL AVIV – The collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago meant that its once-formidable presence in the Middle East collapsed as well. Today, however, as the United States has withdrawn from the region, Russia has rushed to recapture the Soviet Union’s position there, through a combination of military force, arms deals, strategic partnerships, and the deployment of soft power. But its success is being significantly

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Trump’s Perfidious America

October 18, 2019

US President Theodore Roosevelt advised foreign policymakers to “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Trump seems to be doing just the opposite. Add to that his ignorance of history and geopolitics, his blind belief in his own wisdom, and his apparent disregard for the lives of anyone outside his inner circle, and the global danger that America’s 45th president poses can hardly be overstated.

TEL AVIV – US President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish offensive against the Kurds, is an unconscionable betrayal of a strategic ally. One would expect such disloyalty from a fascist or otherwise dictatorial regime. And yet, today, it is the United States – a

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The Last Days of Netanyahu?

September 19, 2019

In Israel’s recent parliamentary election, voters stopped Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s leadership of the country toward xenophobic theocracy. But Israel now faces a period of political deadlock, and it remains to be seen whether Netanyahu really will be politically sidelined.

TEL AVIV – At long last, Israel has taken a step back from the religious nationalist abyss into which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been leading it. In the September 17 parliamentary election, the country’s second in five months, the “natural coalition” of Netanyahu’s Likud party, Orthodox groups, and proto-fascist factions failed to reach the 61-seat threshold that would have enabled him to form another government.

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Forgetting Palestine

August 19, 2019

The two-state solution is virtually dead in the water, and the international community has largely abandoned the Palestinian cause. At this point, there is little to stop Israel from cementing the one-state reality that its right-wing government has long sought, regardless of whether that leads to a permanent civil war.

TEL AVIV – Israel is approaching another parliamentary election, and Palestinians have barely been mentioned. The vote comes at a time when the United States is pushing its poorly conceived economy-focused Peace to Prosperity plan. With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict no longer undermining Israel’s economic prosperity or global standing, it has all but fallen off the domestic political

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No Economic Peace for Palestinians

July 18, 2019

For the Palestinians, accepting an economic deal that is not an annex to a convincing political solution would be tantamount to betraying Palestinian refugees – and, indeed, the dream of statehood – for a fistful of dollars. But that does not mean that they should reject the Trump administration’s "Peace to Prosperity" plan outright.

TEL AVIV – Last month, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, unveiled an ambitious plan to strengthen the Palestinian economy, in the hopes that billions of dollars in investment will open the way for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. But, far from being the “deal of the century” that Trump has called it, the so-called Peace to

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Don’t Feed the Donald

June 19, 2019

For Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, appeasing US President Donald Trump is not so much a choice as a necessity: he must prove to Japan’s people and their neighbors, particularly the Chinese, that he knows how to keep Trump on his side. But Abe’s strategy won’t work with a US administration as fickle and self-serving as Trump’s.

TOKYO – What do French President Emmanuel Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have in common? For one thing, they both believe that, by stroking US President Donald Trump’s fragile ego, they can coax him into maintaining the traditional alliances that he has proved all too willing to abandon. But, while America’s narcissist-in-chief is undoubtedly

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The Resilience of the Arab World’s Pouvoir

May 17, 2019

Algeria and Sudan, neither of which was swept up in the turmoil of the 2011 Arab Spring, are now trying their luck at challenging the often-surreptitious powers that be – what Algerian demonstrators back in 1988 dubbed le pouvoir. Will Arab democracy movements fare any better than they did eight years ago?

TEL AVIV – Eight years after the Arab Spring, dreams of democracy in the Arab world have been dashed by the harsh reality of autocracy, corruption, and military rule. Yet Algeria and Sudan, neither of which was swept up in the 2011 turmoil, are now trying their luck at challenging the often-surreptitious powers that be – what Algerian demonstrators back in 1988 dubbed le pouvoir. Will Arab

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Israel Doubles Down on Illiberal Democracy

April 10, 2019

After another election dominated by disinformation and smears against Israeli Arabs, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has secured a fourth consecutive term. The outcome is an indictment of Israeli democracy, and particularly of the Israeli left and center, which responded to Netanyahu’s open racism with pablum and platitudes.

TEL AVIV – It is Bibi again. Having unapologetically allied with a racist, Jewish-supremacist party, Binyamin Netanyahu has secured a fourth consecutive term as Israel’s prime minister. The Union of Right Wing Parties says Netanyahu promised it both the education ministry and the justice ministry, and who are we to doubt it? Along with Netanyahu’s other right-wing allies, the URWP has already

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Maduro’s Useful Idiots

March 18, 2019

Much of the left in Europe and the US continues to subscribe to a Cold War worldview, in which virtually any domestic revolution stands in direct opposition to the ultimate enemy: Western imperialism. When it comes to Venezuela, that stance effectively advances the interests of multiple dictatorships.

LOS ANGELES – In his 1982 Nobel lecture, the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez condemned the West’s insistence on “measuring us with the yardstick that they use for themselves” and “forgetting that the ravages of life are not the same for all.” That is, in a sense, what the West’s progressive left is doing when, caught up in an outdated narrative about Latin American revolutions, it fails to recognize the associated

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The Ideology Trap

February 19, 2019

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow famously said that “it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” But when the hammer is wielded by a political leader, entire countries may end up walling themselves off.

LOS ANGELES – President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency at the southern border of the United States – where there is no emergency at all – in order to access funding to build the wall that he promised his supporters during his 2016 election campaign. It is yet another example of the enduring – and dangerous – tension between reason and ideology in policymaking.

Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images

Photographer is my life/Getty Images

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