A Book Review

Ruthie Blum, To Hell in A Handbasket: Carter, Obama and the ‘Arab Spring’, RVP Press, New York, 201 pp.


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The New York Review of Books, that platform of extreme progressivism and home to many of the anti-Zionists crowding the ranks of the self-annointed intellectuals, has a surprise.   Christian Cryl has a recent piece in which he writes


“The year 1979—when Iranian student revolutionaries stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took dozens of American diplomats hostage, and Muslim radicals in Saudi Arabia, a staunch US ally, brazenly laid siege to the Grand Mosque in Mecca—marked the debut of a new political phenomenon known as “Islamism.”…“Political Islam” was no longer a theory. It had become an active, practical force in global politics. Perhaps it’s helpful to recall the events of 1979 as we contemplate the tragic death of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and the storming of American diplomatic buildings in Cairo, Sanaa, Tunis, and elsewhere in the Muslim world." 


But having already read Ruthie Blum’s new book, not only did I know that but I have been educated and reminded of the parallels to today’s events and moreover, to the dangers of the thinking, or more properly, the lack thereof, of the crew currently in the White House.


Books should be read for three reasons: to learn something, to be entertained or to simply pass the time.  The cover of Ruthie Blum’s book uses the phrase “going to hell in a handbasket”, one frequently employed in 19th century sermons.  As Blum makes clear, while both Presidents Carter and Obama may be church-driven in their outlooks and as to their policy actions in an almost politico-theological fashion, the hell they have arrived at is not their own personal one but rather one in which we all share, much to our regret.


Her book offers the thesis that the highest elected official of the American republic, who takes an oath that to the best of his ability that he will “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”, serving as the country’s Commander-in-Chief to do so, can, and did, err not in misusing military force but in misunderstanding the role of the military in diplomatic battles.  Furthermore, it is apparent that a greater danger lurks in the White House corridors in that a philosophy that rejects the use of force in diplomacy even as the term “engagement” is misemployed.


Since this book makes the case for the failures, repeated, of American presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama to face-up to the challenges of Islamist polities and, in a by-product, to debilitate the traditional American support for Israel, it should be read as excellent background to contemporary events and, hopefully, prevent future political and military developments.  The exclusion of Jerusalem from the Democratic party platform is a flashing yellow light in this matter.


Just under 200 pages long, two-thirds of Blum’s essay is devoted to Carter and Iran and the remaining third to the behavior of Obama in the face of the Arab Spring. Blum is determined to trace the chronology of the crisis Carter could not manage adequately for it is her conviction that the events and positions of that incident, - affect now the current resident in the White House.


By the way, what could have been mentioned is that the first major challenge faced by the United States when Muslims first took Americans hostage was in 1784.  The sailors of some merchant marine ships were kept in captivity for over a decade.  


The book is enriched with recent interviews with some of the central characters as well as analysts.  Blum is concerned that American foreign policies are based on “fantasies” that “hasten the spread of…pernicious extremism” and she pursues the historical record with no regard to respect for office or officeholder or, for that matter, the language she wields in her cutting and scathing critique. 


The book is prefaced with a forward by David Azrieli who expresses his outrage at the appeasement approach Carter adopted both then as regards to Iran and other leaders antithetical to American values of democracy and justice and also his concern that this ideological course is the one currently being played out from the present occupant of the White House.


Ruthie has made a significant contribution to our need to comprehend the convergence of politics, diplomacy and ideology as Israel continues to proceed along the maze of protecting its national security and maintaining strategic alliances.


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I always try to pay careful attention to the text, any text, and so I caught these errors and typos:


Former President Jimmy Carter did not earn a Nobel Prize together with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat.(p. 156).  On p. 184, a verb is missing and we do not know what General Suleimnai did although I presume he “called” or “termed”. The quoted words on pp. 155-156 are not sourced so we do not know who authored them. On p. 123, a sentence reads “…that the commit to…” and I guess the words “United States” should follow the word “the”.  The full title of the aircraft carrier at the bottom of page 73 is the USS Kitty Hawk.




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