Wednesday, April 27, 2011

More on the Hamas-Fatah Deal - and Syria

As reported in the NY Times:
Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said that the Palestinian Authority’s failure to reach an agreement with Israel and the anger following an American veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution against Israeli settlement construction in February encouraged Fatah to come to an agreement with Hamas. The Islamic group, he said, was motivated to get closer to Fatah by regional changes, especially the protests in Syria, where Hamas’s politburo is based. If President Bashar al-Assad of Syria were to fall, Hamas might no longer be able to use Syria as a base or enjoy the protection, money and arms the country has extended.

“We have ended a painful period in the history of the Palestinian people where Palestinian division had prevailed,” Moussa Abu Marzouk, a representative of Hamas who negotiated the deal, said at the Cairo news conference. “We gave the occupation a great opportunity to expand the settlements because of this division. Today we turn this page and open a new page.”

Again, it's difficult to predict that this agreement will hold, given the depth and duration of the tensions between the two.  But the situation now is markedly different compared to any time for the last few years; hopes are high; and especially notable, the young people who comprise an increasingly large percentage of the population in both the West Bank and Gaza seem to be insisting that the two groups find a way to make this work.

Major problem, of course, is that Fatah and the West Bank have relied on funding from the US that likely will evaporate if Fatah indeed sticks to this deal with Hamas.  And notably, Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian official most beloved by the US (including Tom Friedman, who rhapsodized about him, for good reason, less than a year ago), evidently will be allowed no part in the unity government, at Hamas' insistence.  Hamas undoubtedly views Fayyad as a collaborator in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, even though his efforts have brought a modicum of prosperity there as well as a much improved security force (criticized by some, though, as essentially doing Israel's bidding). His intention was to build the institutions of a state in the West Bank, looking to the day when . . . .   But when Israel meanwhile continued its colonization of the West Bank, gobbling up more and more of the land needed to actually make a state, it's not difficult to envision that some might see Fayyad as Netanyahu's dupe, diverting attention from the reality of the ongoing, expanding occupation.

FOOTNOTE: I cannot recommend more highly the new piece posted at the National Interest by Franck Salameh - a lyrical, historically rich examination of Syria's cultural diversity and how the Assad regime's embrace of Arab nationalism obscured it.  And speaking of the regime: an interesting development = around 200 Baath party members are reported to have resigned in protest of Bashar al-Assad's crackdown.

A Third Intifada on the Horizon?

Aluf Benn in Haaretz accuses Netanyahu of falling into "the Palestinians' diplomatic trap."  At least, that's how the essay is headlined, but in fact, Benn lays the blame for this squarely at Bibi's feet:
Netanyahu is now visiting Western capitals, pleading with world leaders not to turn their backs on Israel in order to buy the affection of the Arab revolutionaries. He has warned his interlocutors that if they expel Israel from the West Bank and Jerusalem, they will only broadcast weakness and facilitate the rise of Iran. He has offered them ransom in the guise of vague promises about a future withdrawal. Meanwhile, he has no buyers for this merchandise, and even if he garners a few Western votes against the declaration of Palestinian independence at the United Nations, the decision will pass by a large majority, and the intifada will erupt the following day.

Netanyahu is correct in his assessment that America and Israel are in a state of strategic withdrawal, following the overthrow of their ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. It is clear that a flight from the territories under threats of an imposed agreement, or in a third intifada, will be interpreted as weakness. But like every tragic hero, Netanyahu has trapped himself. Had he continued with the Annapolis process after coming to power, instead of throwing the policy review into the trash can, his situation today would have been better. At the time, Mubarak was securely in power, America had proposed a new leaf to the Arabs, and Israel could have jumped on the bandwagon and said "Yes." Had Netanyahu accepted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's map at the time, as a basis for negotiations, the world would have cheered him, and he could have asked for the adjustments that are important to him, such as recognition of a Jewish state and an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley.

But Netanyahu refused to discuss the core issues, beyond vague declarations ("Bar Ilan 1" ) and fell into the diplomatic trap set for him by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Barack Obama. Now it's too late. The world sees Netanyahu as recalcitrant and stubborn and hopes for his downfall. He will not be able to prevent the third intifada, and like its two predecessors, it will cost Israel unnecessary victims and ultimately lead to the withdrawal Netanyahu tried to prevent.

Reported Fatah-Hamas Deal; Bibi Rejects it

As reported this morning by the NY Times, Fatah and Hamas have reached a deal in Cairo that would lead to a temporary unity government and the holding of elections.  What's up?  I'd note the following:
  • Bibi says no: “You can’t have peace with both Israel and Hamas,” Haaretz quoted him as saying. “Choose peace with Israel.”
  • Any movement toward a unity government is a big plus as the Palestinian leadership approaches the upcoming UN General Assembly meeting, where an overwhelmingly positive vote to recognize a Palestinian state according to the pre-1967 borders is expected.  It remains to be seen, though, if Hamas and Fatah can sustain this unity.  Such deals have been announced before, only to evaporate.  But . . .
  • One has to wonder if Hamas may be seeing the writing on the wall as the Asad regime in Syria faces its most severe threat ever.  Damascus has been Hamas's most stalwart Arab supporter; Hamas' leader, Khaled Meshal, lives there, sheltered by the Asad regime; and Syria is believed to be a funnel via which arms and other support reach Hamas (and Hezbollah) from Iran.
On the other hand, if the Asad regime were to succumb to the current uprising, and the nation-state of Syria survive the chaos that likely would ensue, it's entirely possible that a new government would include significant representation from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and similar Sunni Islamist groups, and would therefore be more than willing to maintain support for Hamas.

We're getting way ahead of ourselves here.  But the important repercussions in the short run, in re Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, center on the possibility that Netanyahu may need to take more seriously those who are calling for him to offer truly substantial "concessions."  Bibi sais "Choose peace with Israel."  Perhaps the more appropriate exhortation - to Bibi - is, "Choose peace for Israel."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Libya: Obama Needs to Finish the Job?

From the armchair generalissimos at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) comes an exhortation from retired general James Dubik to Mr. Obama in today's NY Times to "finish the job."  Specifically, he suggests, send in US military advisers and combat air controllers - and then be ready to send in peacekeepers once the fighting is over.  The current deployment of air power and drones will not be enough to prevail over Qaddafi's forces.  Bottom line: to amend slightly a common aphorism, in for a dime, in for 75 cents.

Dubik is not the first commentator to insist that relying on air strikes won't be enough to oust Qaddafi.  But rather than throw more (very expensive) resources into the pot, why not consider the advice in another aphorism: when you're deep into a hole, stop digging?

And I'm surprised that the general who helped train Iraq's forces in 2007-2008 doesn't care to note a fact that he surely must be aware of: Libyans constituted a major percentage of the non-Iraqi jihadists who ventured to Iraq to take on US forces.  Rather than hastening Qaddafi's end, the introduction of US military into what is - let's not forget - a Libyan civil war in which, no matter how much we like and admire the good guys, we may have no business participating - is going to attract to Libya jihadists by the score.  Some will be Libyans (many of them already there, and likely eager to get at the Americans), some will be Yemenis; many will be funded by money from Saudi donors.  But as soon as the first American advisers/controllers are killed by such people, you can be sure that the McCain/Graham/Lieberman cohort of chest thumpers will demand the insertion of Marines, and/or the carpet bombing of Tripoli, or portions thereof.

So much of the motivation of people like Dubik seems to be the belief that America must prevail, that American resolve must never waver if the world is to be safe (read: if America is to preserve its "global leadership").  It's high time that the DC establishment - including the folks at the Kagans' ISW - read people like Andrew Bacevich, and start getting over themselves so that Americans in general can start getting over themselves and their John Wayne visions of America and start fashioning a more realistic and more sustainable notion of what America can really do, and mean, in the 21st century.

Monday, April 25, 2011

NY Times on the "Peace Process"

Getting to this editorial in today's NY Times belatedly. . . .  Bless their hearts for encouraging Mr. Obama to get his peace plan on the table asap before Bibi "pre-empts the debate with what is certain to be an inferior proposal when he addresses a joint meeting of Congress next month" - and before the UN General Assembly votes to approve a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders.

But they miss the point, seems to me.  This Congress - especially the House's tag-team of Boehner (who made the invitation to Bibi) and Cantor (who assured Bibi months ago that the GOP-led Congress has his back) - has made it plain that on this issue, it's Netanyahu's voice that they want to hear and are eager to respond to.  Bibi will use his address to throw Abbas and the Palestinians a bone and call it filet mignon; Congress will hail him as a peacemaker and visionary.  If Obama chooses to make his pitch before Bibi's, Congress will hold its applause until they hear what Bibi has to say.

By now, the Palestinians have to recognize that their next step has to be the UN General Assembly, where an overwhelmingly positive vote will put pressure on Israel to either respond or risk further isolation and delegitimizing - and this at a time when a Pew poll indicates that a majority of Egyptians want to annul the 1979 treaty with Israel and also support the Muslim Brotherhood's (Hamas' godfather) participation in politics, when the Asad regime in Syria (a non-enemy enemy as far as Israel is concerned) is under fire, and when Turkey, formerly a cooperative neighbor, turns a cold shoulder.

For the first time in recent memory, the ducks are lining up to the Palestinians' advantage.  Returning to the negotiating table - especially without a promise from Bibi to stop completely any further West Bank construction or dispossession of Palestinians in East Jerusalem - would be a sucker's bet, no matter what pressures Team Obama brings to bear.

Poll: Egyptians have unfavorable view of U.S., are divided on fundamentalists

As headlined in the WaPo.

The headline doesn't note that 70% are positive about the Muslim Brotherhood, and a majority want to renegotiate treaty with Israel.  That's going to set off some alarms.

Already Embattled Team Obama Hit with New Shots

This is a dark day indeed for the US foreign-policy establishment, as well as for US public diplomacy in general, courtesy of Wikileaks in an immediate sense, but in the longer view, courtesy of American self-righteous high-handedness in the wake of 9-11.  We already knew that Guantanamo was a black stain on America's self-promoted image as a beacon of human rights and fair treatment, but the revelations emerging from the new release by Wikileaks has blown up completely whatever was left of that image.

The NY Times has extensive coverage (you can start here, with links to other NYT stories), but as one commentator has noted already, the NYT's perspective seems overly geared toward the issue of US security.  The Guardian, on the other hand, as can be expected, is much more up-front with the human-rights issues.  To wit:
  • Innocent people interrogated for years on slimmest pretexts
  • Children, elderly and mentally ill among those wrongfully held
  • 172 prisoners remain, some with no prospect of trial or release
Add to that the evidence that many of those who were detained - for very long times - were detained not as "bad guys," but because they might provide intelligence about the Taliban (like the al-Jazeera reporter who, it was determined early on, did nothing wrong, but might be otherwise useful).

And compounding all of this - as again reported in The Guardian - is the revelation that any detainees for whom there was evidence of links with the ISI - Pakistan's military intelligence - were to be treated as if they were al-Qaeda or Taliban terrorists.  This comes on the heels of a very bad couple of weeks in US-Pakistan relations on account of drone strikes, Raymond Davis, and US accusations that the ISI is unreliable and in cahoots with the Taliban (which to a significant extent has been true, but which the Pakistani military claims is not).  The damage-control teams at Foggy Bottom are going to be working overtime for a long time trying to dampen this one down.

Add to all this the continuing bloodbath in Libya (where, in the eyes of many commentators, Team Obama is not doing nearly enough - but that is an issue that surely is debatable), and the rapidly worsening bloodbath in Syria (at least 11 more killed today), where tanks have rolled onto the streets in Daraa, security forces are going house to house to round up and "disappear" protesters, and Team Obama is again being hammered for not doing enough to get onto the "right side of history" and for being too credulous with its hopes that Bashar al-Asad just might step up and become the reformer he always claimed to be.  It's not happening - but I recommend this NYT piece that at least paints Bashar as not so much a monster as someone who's trapped between his better inclinations and the more repressive elements surrounding him (especially in his family):
Some diplomats who know him personally say they believe Mr. Assad understands what is happening — and what he needs to do to stop it — but is too hesitant, or too timid, to carry it out. “I think Bashar knows there has to be a political solution,” said one former European diplomat who spent years in Damascus. “But he doesn’t have the courage to do what he needs to do for the sake of the country, and perhaps for his own survival.”
It's reported today that the Obama people - and the UN - are putting together a set of sanctions against the regime.  But as others are noting, that will be of little help to those protesters who are being killed, maimed, and detained.

As some noted at the start of the US's intervention in Libya, we did so there because, in essence, we could.  It was perceived to be a low-risk, high-reward gamble.  To date, it hasn't quite worked out that way.  The sense about Syria is that it's a place where we can't step in with much more than sanctions.  But if Asad's security forces continue as they are, the bloodbath that's being inflicted systematically on innocent civilians who have resisted, so far, quite peacefully may end up making the toll taken by Qaddafi - on citizens who are indeed fighting back, with the help of NATO airstrikes and US drones -  look mild in comparison (but I shudder to put it that way; what's happening in Libya is awful). 

At what point will people like the WaPo's editorial board start insisting that we launch drones to decapitate the Asad regime?  Some will argue that that might be a dagger in Iran's heart; ergo, a good thing.  But as opposed to the situation in Libya, the aftermath's impact on Israel is anything but sure.

We'll see . . . .

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Killing Fields of Syria

The video linked to here is powerful, horrible, extremely graphic - but shows up-close what repression looks like. We read the words every day now, and note the counts of those killed in Damascus, Deraa, and elsewhere in Syria - as well as the hundreds who have died at the hands of repressive regimes in Yemen, Libya . . . and, yes, Israel. This clip gives you a sense of the horror - and the kind of unpleasant truths that we need to look fully in the face.

The Killing Fields of Syria: "The footage is hard to watch and not weep, but it must be shown around the world as the testimony of the criminal regime of Bashar Assad. Th..."

Friday, April 22, 2011

McCain on Drones

Visiting Benghazi today, John McCain lauded Obama's decision to deploy US drones over Libya.  Notes CNN
McCain defended the track record of predator drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan, arguing that their use has only resulted in civilian deaths when targets have been misidentified.
Let's be sure to check back with the good people of Libya in a few weeks - and see if McCain might want to clarify his comments.

The Unique Character of the "Arab Spring"

Superb essay in the NYT/IHT today from former UN undersecretary Jean-Marie Guehenno, who argues that the 2011 Arab Spring is not to be compared to the 1989 Berlin Wall revolution, but needs to be understood on its own terms, as a movement not just for democracy, but for human dignity and possibility.  The author further makes important points about the role of the West, which can no longer be the central player in what must be a Middle Eastern - and Islamic - phenomenon.  I paste a major chunk of the essay here:

The more we try to polarize secular forces against Islamic movements, the more unlikely it is that secular values will win. We must abandon the illusion that the defining issue in the region is a battle between moderates and hardliners. Europe and the United States could send a strong signal by ending their policy of “à la carte democracy” and start talking to movements such as Hamas or Hezbollah — which does not mean that we in any way agree with their views.
Bringing the Muslim Brotherhood and related organizations into mainstream politics rather than trying to isolate them should be a priority. This is all the more necessary as the aspiration to justice will lead to demands that the present élites — and in particular security establishments — relinquish their grip not only on power, but also on the economy, and that demand may eventually trigger a second wave of upheavals.
A more democratic Arab world is also likely to be less tolerant of the benign neglect with which the international community has often addressed the Israel-Palestine and the Israeli-Arab conflicts since 2000. That should not be seen as a threat by countries that support a resolution of the conflict in accordance with international law and a two-states solution, but it will require a “reset” of the policies of the last 10 years.
Lastly, as we discover that 2011 is not 1989, and that we are no more the trusted reference, we will have to navigate in unchartered waters: our engagement in Libya will probably have less moral clarity at the end than it has had at the start. Political processes will inevitably be messy, and we will be tempted, especially in oil-rich nations, to pick winners and manipulate outcomes.
That would be disastrous for our long-term standing: in a region whose future has repeatedly been decided by foreigners since the end of the Ottoman empire, outside powers will have to demonstrate that this time they are genuinely willing to support home-grown political processes.
The West has to accept that it is not the central player anymore. But it need not be an indifferent and passive spectator. Finding the balance between engagement and restraint will be the policy challenge of this new phase.
In Libya and possibly in some other situations, the active involvement of the United Nations to find a political solution may help us find that new balance by providing the impartiality and sufficient distance from great powers politics without which no political process will have a sustainable outcome.

Pakistan, Libya, Drones . . . and Syria

Bashar al-Assad's security forces have gone after anti-regime demonstrators today with a vengeance, in what some are calling the Good Friday massacre.  As Anthony Shadid's NYT report notes, the claimed numbers of dead vary, with one report as high as 72, including as many as 37 dead near Damascus. (For more see the WaPo coverage here.)  Yet even with all this, Shadid soberly reports:
despite the bloodshed, which promised to unleash another day of unrest as the dead are buried on Saturday, the momentum of the protests seemed to fall short of the popular upheaval that revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia represented. Organizers said the movement was yet in its infancy, and the government, building on 40 years of institutional inertia, still commanded the loyalty of the military, the economic elite and sizable minorities of Christian and heterodox Muslim sects who fear the state’s collapse.

Coming a day after Mr. Assad endorsed the lifting of draconian emergency rule, the killings represented another chapter in the government’s strategy of promised concession and grim crackdown that has left it staggering but still entrenched.

“There are indications the regime is scared, and this is adding to the momentum, but this is still the beginning,” said Wissam Tarif, the executive director of Insan, a Syrian human rights group. “Definitely, we haven’t seen the millions we saw in Egypt or Tunisia. The numbers are still humble, and it’s a reality we have to acknowledge.”

Some argue that Assad is too well entrenched, his security forces too powerful, even if (as Hisham Melhem claims) his credibility as a would-be reformer has been demolished and Bashar has been exposed as a dictator every bit as authoritarian as his father, Hafez, but not nearly as politically astute.  Nonetheless, Melhem notes, Bashar's overthrow will be much bloodier than was Mubarak's demise in Egypt:
 Minority based regimes such as the one in Syria will fight back with tenacity and show no mercy. The regime has convinced many members of other religious minorities, mainly Christians and Druze, that it is the only guarantor of stability and that its demise will lead to civil war. But recent demonstrations in Homs and other cities show that Syrians from all religious backgrounds are participating in the protests, thus undermining the regime's threat of sectarian chaos, although sectarian tension and even violence is still possible.

As Syrians rise up against the regime, says Melhem, the US needs to take a stand:
If the Obama administration wants to be "on the right side of history" in Syria, as it was in the case of Tunisia and Egypt, it has to forcefully say that and act on it. The U.S. cannot of course determine the future of Syria; this is the responsibility of the Syrian people. But the U.S. can help shape and influence the behavior of both the regime and the opposition, assuming that the demonstrations will continue and produce a more cohesive leadership. Clear, consistent messages of support should be sent to all those Syrians willing to invest in positive political change. The U.S. should assure the Syrian people that it will use its influence to prevent and avoid sectarian violence, that it will not tolerate retribution by any group, and that it will lean on its friends in the region to refrain from exploiting events to serve their narrow interests.

We've already begun to see US commentators exhort Mr. Obama to apply American leverage to Assad, via sanctions and other means. . . .

Which, of course, is how the US and its allies started off in their support of the rebels who rose against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya.  We're way past that now.  Having promised the nation a military intervention in Libya that would last days, not months, Obama has taken us from no-fly zone, to air-strikes, to a non-withdrawal withdrawal of US air power, to - as of yesterday - a recommitment of US Predator drones, armed with missiles.  The rebels now claim that they've taken the western city of Misrata (not confirmed), and say that NATO strikes helped with that and that drones will now help even more.  Now, John McCain (who tends to grandstand and likes to piggyback when he spots heroes - perhaps to remind us that he was one once) has taken himself to Benghazi to dub the rebels as heroes (no quarrel from me on that), but also used the photo-op to demand that the US recommit AC-130 gunships to back up rebel ground forces.  (If you recall, Obama pulled them out - perhaps owing in part to the fact that they're propeller-driven, relatively slow, must fly low to do the job - ergo, vulnerable to ground fire; think: Black Hawk Down scenario, which would require the insertion of US boots on the ground = the last thing Obama wants or needs at this point.)

Disturbing, though, is the growing sense that drones are becoming the US's default option for military intervention.  The reliance on drones in Pakistan - especially since Obama took the reins from Bush - has become obvious, and increasingly a source of friction with the Pakistani military.  The latest strike there - conducted after General Kayani's vehement protest to Admiral Mullen - as the BBC reports, killed 25, including 5 women and 4 children.  This collateral damage has occurred all too often in Pakistan, and it belies William Saletan's comments today (in Slate) that drones, although they can't win wars by themselves, "increase our ability to kill the enemy while sparing civilians and avoiding risk to ourselves. To that extent, the unmanned invasion of warfare is a force for good."

David Ignatius makes a different point:
 My quick reaction, as a journalist who has chronicled the growing use of drones, is that this extension to the Libyan theater is a mistake. It brings a weapon that has become for many Muslims a symbol of the arrogance of U.S. power into a theater next door to the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, the most promising events in a generation. It projects American power in the most negative possible way. I wrote late last year that the problem with the Predators is that they provide too easy an answer to political and military problems. They Saudis asked for them last year to go after Yemenis they didn’t like; the Turks use them (looking over our shoulders) to target Kurdish extremists in Iraqi Kurdistan. And now the United States will use them to beef up a stalemated NATO campaign in Libya, on behalf of a rebel army that very well may include Islamic radicals who, under other circumstances, might themselves have been targets of Predator attack. Not a good idea, Mr. President. And a rare error of judgment by Secretary Gates.

(John McCain, on the other hand, would hasten to assure Mr. Ignatius, and us,  that there are no al-Qaeda among the rebels. After all, he says, he's been to the Benghazi hospital and seen them.  Gosh, senator, thanks; for a minute there I was worried.)

Extremely timely in this regard is Michael Beschloss' review of Martin Van Creveld's new book, The Age of Airpower (at the NYT site).  He concludes:
the widespread faith of the American people and the American political class in air power’s potential to win quick victories has been a dangerous delusion, especially when combined with the eagerness of presidents to plan military engagements that will be finished swiftly and with few casualties. Much-ballyhooed successes — like bombing Saddam Hussein’s armies out of Kuwait and helping to drive Slobodan Milosevic from power — as well as minidramas like the 1975 rescue of the American cargo ship Mayagüez from the Khmer Rouge and the 1983 invasion of Grenada, have encouraged Americans to go on believing that our awe-inspiring air power will enable us to win major wars without paying a heavy price. As Iraq has most recently shown, it won’t. I hope that this spring, van Creveld’s timely book will remind NATO leaders supervising the bombing campaign in the Libyan civil war of how often in history we have watched air power lead unexpectedly to ground fighting on quicksand.
That slippery slope again, and Obama's insertion of drones takes us a few yards farther down it. . . . 

Which brings me back to Syria, and its pro-democracy and pro-dignity uprising against a regime that the US numbers - like Qaddafi's in Libya - among those we love to hate.  One wonders if today's Good Friday massacre might have moved popular opposition there beyond a tipping point, and people are going to start rising up - and being killed - in even greater numbers.  Add to that the reports that have already appeared that accuse Iran - whose regime certainly does not want to see Assad's go down - of furnishing material support to Assad as he tries to crush the uprising, and you have lots of ammo for the Max Boots and William Kristols of the neocon establishment (and perhaps our pals at AIPAC, even though one could argue that from Israel's standpoint, a known Assad might be preferable to the unknown that would follow him) to urge Obama to use US military leverage to give Assad a little push.  There's no need for boots on the ground.  After all . . .

We have Predator drones, with Hellfire missiles.  Instant regime change.  Sound absurd, ridiculous? Surely.  But three months ago, could any of us have predicted drones over Tripoli?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Disturbing Report about US Officer Corps Attitudes

David Wood at Huffington Post details some of the friction between the Obama team and the Pentagon regarding the scope of the military intervention in Libya.  Essentially, the White House wanted a plan for a limited operation that would secure US interests; the Pentagon said that no such plan was possible.  Obama went ahead.  We are where we are.

But buried in the middle of the piece is a report on a survey of 4000 officers conducted by a Georgetown PhD candidate:
the current generation of military officers, matured in a decade of combat, want a bigger voice in making policy. In a recent exhaustive study of 4,000 officers, Heidi Urben, an active-duty officer and doctoral candidate at Georgetown University, found that few of them are content with the traditional role of providing advice to civilian policymakers.

More than half of the officers in the random survey said the military should "insist" on clear political and military goals for any proposed operation; 46 percent said senior military leaders should "insist" on a clear exit strategy. And 37 percent of officers agreed with the statement that, to be respected as commander-in-chief, the president should have served in the military. [my emphases]
In the wake of the military fiasco in Iraq and the mess in Afghanistan, such results perhaps ought not surprise us.

But the potential danger to the Constitution ought to be obvious. 

Cordesman: Destroy Tripoli to Save It

CSIS think-tank generalissimo Tony Cordesman reiterates his earlier prescription for Libya: no more screwing around, it's time to crush Qaddafi! (Wasn't it the comic-book hero Thor of decades past who used to jump into action by hollering, "It's hammerin' time"?)  To his credit, Cordesman properly pole-axes Obama/Clinton, Sarko, et al. for not thinking through the failed crap-shoot that their Libya intervention has turned out to be.  (Would be that he had similarly skewered John McCain and his amen chorus, who berated Obama for not being first to roll the dice.)  And Cordesman also points out that the longer the current stalemate goes on, the more misery and death for the people of Libya.

But then, he reiterates the brutal prescription he issued 2 weeks ago:
France, Britain, the US and other participating members of the Coalition need to shift to the kind of bombing campaign that targets and hunts down Qaddafi's military and security forces in their bases and as they move - as long before they engage rebel forces as possible. Qaddafi, his extended family, and his key supporters need to be targeted for their attacks on Libyan civilians, even if they are collocated in civilian areas. They need to be confronted with the choice between exile or death, and bombing needs to be intense enough so it is clear to them that they must make a choice as soon as possible.

This kind of operation cannot be "surgical' - if "surgical" now means minimizing bloodshed regardless of whether the patient dies. Hard, and sometimes brutal, choices need to be made between limited civilian casualties and collateral damage during the decisive use of force and an open-ended war of attrition that will produce far higher cumulative civilian casualties and collateral damage. The Coalition will also need to avoid the trap of blundering into some kind of ceasefire, where Qaddafi's forces and unity will give him the advantage. This will be a "peace" that simply becomes a war of attrition and terror campaign by other means.

At the same time, France, Britain, and the US now have a special obligation to both finish what they started in military terms, and deal with the aftermath.
[emphasis above is mine]

Again, does this not hearken back to the old Vietnam adage of destroying the village in order to save it?  If memory serves, hundreds of thousands of villagers' deaths later, the villages were - in fact - not saved.  Nor does Cordesman seem willing to acknowledge any possibility of the blowback that might ensue against the US - and the West, in general - from the kind of ruthless bombing campaign he prescribes, which would feature the slaughter of hundreds, even thousands, of Muslims - most of them the victims of a situation they had no hand in creating - at the hands of mostly American bombardiers, some of them joystick-aces - their "cockpits" kitted up with cigarettes and insignia-mono'd coffee cups  - guiding Hellfire missiles into congested urban areas.

For Cordesman, a cease-fire is unacceptable ("a trap"), as, he assumes,  it would engender a long war of attrition.  He frets that this would result in more civilian casualties.  I'm not convinced that a cease-fire would necessarily fore-ordain such a result.  But I am concerned that Cordesman's governing considerations here are not the welfare of the people of Libya, but the reputation of the US military and the re-assertion of US global pre-eminence after the fiasco of Iraq and the looming fiasco of Afpak.  Cordesman's world-view has rested on that foundation for many years.  He can neither envision nor accept any other.

GOP Invitation to Netanyahu Puts Obama on Spot

Republican House Speaker John Boehner has invited Israeli PM Netanyahu to address Congress, where Bibi is expected to propose some version of a peace plan.  Notably, the invitation comes immediately after Hillary Clinton had announced that Obama was planning an important speech on the issue.  The NYT also says that her announcement  "electrified" (read: "panicked"?) Israeli officials.

Not to worry though.  Boehner and Eric Cantor have Bibi's back.  So, Bibi gets to put his marker down before an adoring Congress (and at the same time that AIPAC, Israel's most powerful US lobby, is having its annual convention in DC) before Obama can get a chance to enunciate what likely would be a peace plan asking more of Netanyahu than he wants to give.

The NYT also reports:
Two American officials, speaking on condition of anonymity out of diplomatic caution, said they thought that if Mr. Netanyahu intended to make a bold proposal for a peace deal with the Palestinians, he would do so before his own people in the Knesset.
It's obvious now - as if it wasn't before.  The Republican-led House of Representatives of the United States of America is hereby saying, straight up, that in the matter of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is looking for its marching orders from (and is poised to obey them as well; AIPAC's money will see to that) not the president of the United States, but the prime minister of Israel, which is (at least the last time I checked) a foreign nation, one of whose operatives was convicted of spying against the United States and still sits in federal prison with a life sentence (deservedly, in the eyes of the US security establishment).

If the Palestinian people are looking for a just settlement, they won't find it in the halls of the US Congress - and the US Congress will afford the US president no room to help devise one.  It's going to be up to the Quartet, and the United Nations General Assembly, and Israel's neighbors in the Middle East, and the international community at-large, and the efforts and good will of principled people everywhere, to compel the Israeli government to make the "painful concessions" it has consistently refused to make.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Advisers to Libya Rebels: Shades of Vietnam and the "White Man's Burden"

The NYT reports that in the wake of the British decision to send about 20 military advisers to help Libya's rebels, France and Italy have decided to follow suit, each with smaller contingents.  As the report also notes, some see here the danger of the Vietnam-war-style slippery slope down which the US careened decades ago:
The moves to send military personnel have been likened by some critics to America’s decision to send military advisers to Vietnam, raising worries in both countries that they are being drawn closer to a conflict with no clear resolution on behalf of a fractious and militarily ineffective insurgent force about which little is known.

Facing restive electorates and with their forces already deployed in Afghanistan, European governments want to be seen in strict compliance with the U.N. resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya, short of an occupation.

But, in Britain at least, some lawmakers have noted that their government’s involvement has already progressed from the supply of body armor and communications equipment to the rebels, announced a week ago, to sending advisers, prompting questions about what further embroilment might entail.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, which is now part of a governing coalition with the Conservatives, said Tuesday that the advisers “must not be seen as a first installment of further military deployment.” He added, “Vietnam began with an American president sending military advisers.”

However well intentioned or well placed on the so often cited "right side of history," it's difficult to see how this is going to accomplish all that much, especially when the overall command of the rebel forces is still up for grabs between two claimants, each of whom sees himself as "the man."  And quite frankly, this smacks of the kind of paternalism - an early21st-century version of the "White Man's Burden" of civilizing the barbarous natives - in this instance, by trying to bestow upon them superior European techniques of operational command and logistics.  Moreover, what kind of welcome can these advisers expect from those rebels motivated even in part by jihadism (or, for that matter, rebels who've spent time waging jihad in Afghanistan or Iraq)?

Ahmed Rashid on the US End-game in Afghanistan

Esteemed journalist Ahmed Rashid's Financial Times essay on how the US intends to bring closure to its war with the Taliban in Afghanistan is a must-read - well-informed and wide-ranging.  He concludes:
The Pentagon has dominated discussion of Afghanistan since Mr Obama came to office, by talking about troop numbers. The administration now wants to change direction and talk less about troops and more about a political strategy to end the war. Many of the top generals, including General David Petraeus, who commands all US-Nato forces in Afghanistan, will be replaced over the next nine months – giving Mr Obama the opportunity to bring in officers who will concur with his strategy.

One hiccup ahead is Mr Karzai’s request for a “strategic partnership agreement” with the US after 2014. The Pentagon is keen on this so it can maintain between two and six bases in Afghanistan to keep the pressure on al-Qaeda. Most countries in the region – such as Pakistan, China and Russia – will object to an indefinite US military presence, while Iran will see it as a permanent threat.

For the US to want to maintain bases after 2014 directly contradicts with the US desire to win the co-operation of Afghanistan’s neighbours. A further concern is the escalating dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran over the Arab revolt. The Saudis accuse the Iranians of fuelling Shia unrest in the Gulf and the Saudis now want to secure Pakistan and Afghanistan on their side. However, no peace process in Afghanistan can succeed without Iran’s full participation.

The end game has begun in Afghanistan. How the US and Nato play their cards will be vital. A rush for the exit by some Nato countries could prove catastrophic. As negotiating partners the Taliban are at best an unknown quantity.

But there is at last a determination in Washington to have a political strategy rather than depend on a military outcome – and in the context of the past decade that is a breakthrough.
As I posted earlier, keep an eye on those talks that Marc Grossman et al. are having with Karzai's government about those permanent US bases that Hillary et al. swear are not intended to be permanent.  Some of the project-American-power advocates have been holding up as parallels the post-WWII US presence in Japan and Germany and the post-Korean War presence in South Korea.  Personally I find the parallels to be flawed, at best.  Japan and Germany were compelled to surrender unconditionally, and South Korea was a willing ally in the wake of that war.  But in Afghanistan, no one is projecting a realistic scenario in which the Taliban are going to be defeated or are going to become willing allies of the US.  Rather, any permanent/enduring/whatever bases that the US tries to maintain in Afghanistan are going to be major irritants to the Taliban, as well as the Pashtun tribes on the whole, as well as targets for jihadist/insurgent/resistance elements who will be supported by regional neighbors (Iran, Russia, China, Pakistan, among others) who will resent the US presence in their neighborhood.

Our bazillion military bases across the globe are bleeding our coffers dry.  Our economy is threatened by an unsustainable debt  and huge budget deficits - a situation perilous enough for Standard and Poor to admit that at least some thought has been given to reducing the US's rating.  A destabilized Middle East is causing gasoline prices to rocket upward, at growing cost to Americans' confidence back home.  And one of our most critical foreign suppliers of oil - Saudi Arabia - no longer sees us as a reliable partner after we bailed out on Hosni Mubarak (which put us on the right side of history, for sure, but could easily wind up costing all of us at the pump.

The US had better wise up.  We've been accustomed to having all the leverage, or at least a preponderance of it.  Those days are coming to a close.  If the US is going to have any chance of cutting its losses, Mr. Obama needs to stop calling his plays out of W.'s playbook, quit listening to the chest-thumpers who bang on about projecting American power and achieving American victory, and start coming to terms with the emerging new world order.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's with the NY Times' Fact-checkers?

At the bottom of an otherwise unremarkable NYT story by Ethan Bronner and Jennifer Medina about Richard Goldstone's "shift on the Gaza war" comes a note that an earlier version had included two blatant inaccuracies about Alfred Dreyfus, the French military officer whose framed conviction in 1894 exposed the anti-Semitism rampant in French society.  Specifically, the flawed version had stated that Dreyfus was convicted of murder, and that he was a naval officer.

Honestly, I'm very surprised that a journalist as experienced and presumably well versed in Zionist history as Bronner would have published a piece with mistakes that a first-year grad student in Middle East history would have been ashamed to make.

Just sayin' . . . .

Monday, April 18, 2011

Permanent Bases in Afghanistan?

The NYT has the story.  In essence,
  • the US wants a long-term presence (but swears that that doesn't mean permanent), and some Afghan officials want the US to stay, in part to train their military and police (neither of which, by the way, the Afghans can pay for at currently projected levels).  Of course, Lindsey Graham has been insisting for weeks now that the US needs permanent bases there.
  • The Taliban, with whom the Karzai government has begun talks, insist adamantly that they will accept no agreement that leaves US troops occupying Afghan soil.
  • The Russians are likewise adamantly opposed to an enduring US presence, as is Iran and (evidently) India - all of which have sent envoys to Kabul to ask what the hell is going on.  (And, I expect, China is likely to be beating a path to Karzai's door as well.)
And let's not forget that Afghanistan is deeply enmeshed in the pipeline politics of our era (what Asia Times' Pepe Escobar has coined "Pipelineistan"), or that, by some estimates, Afghanistan has as much as $1 trillion worth of natural resources waiting to enrich those with the technology and connections to harvest them.
Iron and copper are Afghanistan’s best-known resources: US and Afghan officials estimate that the country’s reserves could be worth up to $700 billion. Newer surveys have also found large quantities of niobium, a rare metal used in specialised alloys; and lithium, a key component in many modern electronics.
Welcome to Great Game 3.0!

Syria and the Pottery Barn Rules

On the eve of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Colin Powell famously cited to George Bush what he called the Pottery Barn rules: "You break it, you own it."  (Rules that, as I posted earlier today, Max Boot and those fine scholars at ISW seem to be taking to heart.  And I beg forgiveness of the for-real scholars at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World - at NYU - for mistakenly using their acronym of ISAW in that post to refer to the Institute for the Study of War.)

Today we read in the WaPo about the Wikileaks revelation that over the last few years (starting under Bush) the US has been funneling money to opposition groups in Syria for purposes of democracy promotion (read: regime change).  Well, Syria is now awash in protests against the Asad regime, which are  being suppressed at considerable cost in lives.  There's a growing sense that Syria may indeed "break."  I'm not contending that the US will then "own" Syria, but I do hope that our policy establishment is mulling over the extent to which, by our actions, we might own the unforeseen consequences that are sure to follow.

Neocons Planning for Continued US Presence in Iraq

How reassuring it is to know that one of our favorite neocon think-tanks (The Institute for the Study of War, or ISAW) has held a conference to come up with ideas on how to prolong - seemingly indefinitely - the US troop presence in Iraq.  Max Boot (who has also published today a WSJ piece on this theme) gives us the heads-up (in Commentary, another neocon bastion):

Among the scenarios we batted around: Beefing up the Office of Security Cooperation, currently scheduled to be roughly 150 military personnel stationed in the U.S. Embassy, tasked with advising Iraqi forces. Perhaps it might be possible to expand this office and set up a U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group that could in total number several thousand soldiers. Set up a NATO Training Mission that could also assist this task. Schedule regular exercises between the U.S. and Iraqi armed forces that would allow thousands of U.S. troops to visit Iraq for a brief period. Expand our exchange program with the Iraqi military to allow more officers to study in the U.S. and other Western countries. Expand the existing Strategic Framework Agreement, also signed by Bush and Maliki in 2008, into an explicit U.S.-Iraq alliance with mutual-defense obligations. Set up a United Nations peacekeeping force to patrol the border between the Kurdish Regional Government and Iraq proper. Station U.S. troops in the Kurdish region where they would definitely be welcome.

And from his WSJ essay:
We don't need to keep 50,000 troops there, but a continuing presence of 20,000 military personnel, as argued by military analysts Frederick and Kimberly Kagan [BTW, two of ISAW's "luminaries"], would seem to be the minimum necessary to ensure Iraq's continued progress. It would also make possible an Iraqi-American alliance that could become one of the linchpins of security in this strategically vital region. Having active bases in Iraq would allow us to project power and influence, counter the threat from both Iran and al Qaeda, and possibly even nudge the entire Middle East in a more pro-Western direction.
What you have here is basically a game plan for end-running the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement that Bush negotiated with the Maliki government back in 2008) and finding a way to station a significant US military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future - this, despite the fact that it would bring the Mahdi Army into the streets, rejuvenate Sunni resistance (be it al-Qaeda/jihadist related or Iraqi nationalist), and completely de-legitimize the Maliki government, which is already struggling to sustain its legitimacy  in this era of the Arab Spring  - as is the Kurdistan Regional Government in the north, where protesters against the corruption of the KRG's two dominant political parties (those led by the long-feuding Barzani and Talabani clans) were yesterday fired upon by KRG forces in Suleimaniya, with at least 35 wounded.

And, of course, in neither piece does Boot discuss how the US pays for this extension of an occupation that has already cost a trillion dollars at least.  Or perhaps he also sees US military bases on Iraq soil as a means of leveraging payment from Iraq via its oil?  Perhaps Boot is angling for a spot as Secretary of State in a Donald Trump administration?  (Don't laugh too soon. It was reported yesterday that in a recent poll of prospective GOP candidates in 2012, the Donald finished tied for first.  And he's stated in at least two venues his belief that when you take a country, you own its resources.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

MSM's Iraq Mantra: "Overall Violence is Down"

If I had a dime for every time I've seen this phrase in MSM reporting on Iraq since 2009 . . . .   This time, it's CNN, reporting on an incident yesterday in Baghdad, where at least 6 gunmen invaded a house and shor dead three women and a man.  Says the report:
 "Overall, violence is down considerably in Iraq from its peak between 2005 and 2007. However, assassinations, bombs, gunfire and mortar attacks remain regular occurrences."
Yet, if you're paying attention (as and Joel Wing have), you'd know that this kind of thing has been happening daily in Iraq since the "victory" via the Surge.  At, Margaret Griffiths has been noting the daily tolls in Iraq. 
On Saturday,
At least four Iraqis were killed and six more were wounded in light violence.

In Baghdad, a policeman was shot to death in Ilam. A bomb targeting an Education Ministry official wounded two bystanders in Karrada. Gunmen wounded a policeman in Kadhimiya. A Washash bombing left two wounded. A federal policeman was killed in a shooting in Saidiya.

In Hawija, the body of a Sahwa leader was found several days after he had been kidnapped. Two suspects were arrested in an unrelated event.

A sticky bomb killed a man in Kirkuk.

A sticky bomb wounded a policeman in Khalidiya, severing parts of his legs.

Four suspects were arrested in Anbar province.

For the rest of last week
Friday: 2 Iraqis Killed, 10 Wounded – April 15th, 2011
Thursday: 3 Iraqis Killed, 32 Wounded – April 14th, 2011
Wednesday: 2 Iraqis Killed, 28 Wounded – April 13th, 2011
Tuesday: 15 Iraqis Killed, 27 Wounded – April 12th, 2011
Monday: 29 Iraqis Killed, 51 Wounded – April 11th, 2011
I'm sure you noticed the extensive coverage all of this received in your newspaper or on TV . . . didn't you?

Let's face it.  As far as the US is concerned, the continuing violent deaths that Mr. Bush's Iraq adventure set in motion in Iraq have become no more than a footnote, the occasionally sour, faint notes in the background noise to what Thomas Friedman would tell us is the triumphal march to democracy that "our" liberation of them has brought to Iraqis.  After all, says he,
The primary ingredient of a democracy — real pluralism where people feel a common destiny, act as citizens and don’t believe their minority has to be in power to be safe or to thrive — is in low supply in [Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya]. It can emerge, as Iraq shows. But it takes time.
Our work is done there, isn't it, Tom?  Everyone is getting along, aren't they?  I mean, the prime minister cares so much about his citizens that he's decided to restrict demonstrations in Baghdad to three sports stadiums.  Guess he just wants them to be comfortable, huh?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Don't Palestinians Just Give Up?

Anyone reading Aaron David Miller's op-ed in the WaPo this morning might be forgiven for asking why Palestinians ought even to bother any more in working for the creation of a state.  Counting on the UN General Assembly to mandate the creation of a Palestinian state - which is precisely what the Zionist movement counted on in 1947, when the UNGA voted to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states - is, in his view, a "dumb idea."

Why? Because, says Miller,

  • it's only a paper resolution - ergo, worthless
  • the US will veto it anyway
  • Israel will resent being pressured, and will (among other reactions) harden its insistence that resumed negotiations between themselves and the Palestinians - mediated, of course, by the US as a "fair broker" - is the only path to peace.

And, Miller admonishes, just because negotiations don't look promising right now is no reason for Palestinians to go running to the UN.

Miller recognizes realities very selectively, seems to me, and he completely overlooks the bazillion-pound gorilla in the corner: Israel continues to deepen its colonization of east Jerusalem and West Bank, as well as humiliate and enrage (and threaten with a new war even more devastating than the Cast Lead war of 2008-2009) the million or so Palestinians that they continue to bottle up in Gaza.  It's as if he's recommending that the Palestinians simply be patient, endure, wait for all the ducks to be lined up properly, and just you see, your wishes will come true.

Except, those ducks are never going to be lined up.  Indeed, it's probably more accurate to state that they're dead ducks as far as the Palestinians are concerned. Why?

  • There's no real peace movement in Israel anymore that's able to steer the Israeli public toward "concessions" meaningful enough to afford Palestinians some measure of justice, and some dignity. (And if you've been tracking the recent Arab uprisings across the Middle East, you're aware that the thread that links them all is the demand for recognition of dignity.)   Indeed, the pro-settler faction in Israeli politics - captained in the government itself by a demonstrably anti-Arab racist, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and bolstered by the Ultra-Orthodox religious Right and the xenophobic Russian immigrants - more or less can dictate that there will be no movement on the negotiations front.
  • No US president in the foreseeable future will be able to take a stand that would demand truly meaningful concessions.  By virtue of the money and influence of the Israel lobby and the electoral power of Israel's (literally) amen corner in the American Christian Zionist community, the Netanyahu government has the support of the US Congress locked up.  Want more proof of that? The US Senate yesterday voted unanimously in support of a resolution urging the UN to, in effect, rescind the Goldstone report - and this despite the fact that the report's other investigators (who include a Brit and an Irishman; can't blame those nasty Arabs this time) have insisted that they stand by its findings and conclusions.

What's left, then, for the Palestinians to do?  Exactly what they're doing: go to the UN.  In fact, one might deduce from recent developments that, from their point of view (and pardon the metaphor shift), the stars are aligning quite nicely for the Palestinians in terms of calling upon the international community for its help:

  • the efforts of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have helped create the basic administrative infrastructure of a functioning Palestinian state in the West Bank - and the international community is aware of that.
  • Israel's once most stalwart ally in the region - Turkey - has turned a cold shoulder to Israel ever since the 2008-2009 Gaza war, followed by the Israeli commando raid on the Gaz Freedom Flotilla that ended up killing eight Turkish (and one American) citizen.
  • Israel's reputation in the international community has reached it lowest point in decades, even to the point where the leader of Germany, normally Israel's most solid ally in Europe, recently upbraided Netanyahu for his foot-dragging in the peace process.
  • A recent effort by the Quartet to assert a leadership role in the "peace process" was derailed by the US, which continues to insist that only it can lead, and then fails to do just that.
  • Finally, Egypt and Jordan, the two Arab neighbors that have peace treaties with Israel, and that have reliably acquiesced in Israel's domination of the Palestinians, can no longer be counted on to do so.  Fouad Ajami once famously noted that those treaties had "no legs" - i.e., that they were the result of initiatives by their respective leaders, and not expressions of their citizens' will.  That may be catching up with the Israelis.  As Daniel Levy noted a couple of months ago, with the Arab uprisings, Israel is facing a new strategic reality.  Business as usual in re the "peace process" - Israel calling the shots, kicking the can farther down the road, and all the while strengthening its grip on the West Bank and Gaza - may no longer be an option.

Bottom line: With all due respect to Mr. Miller, for the Palestinians, there may be no better time to take their case to the United Nations.  And for the Israelis, there may be no better time (or even, no more chances) to adopt the courageous option that Levy proposed two months ago:

 It would be perhaps Israel's best and last chance for a two-state solution. While it would involve cutting Israel's losses, it would also have the potential of unleashing huge benefits -- economic, security and more, for an Israel accepted as part of the tapestry of a democratic Middle East.

Broadly speaking, this option has three components. First, an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 armistice lines almost without preconditions or exceptions (minor, equitable and agreed-upon land swaps and international security guarantees could fall into the latter category ). Second, Israel should undertake an act of genuine acknowledgment of the dispossession and displacement visited on the Palestinian people, including compensating refugees where appropriate, and thus set in motion the possibility of reconciliation. Third, there needs to be a clear Israeli commitment to full equality for all of its citizens, notably including removal of the structural barriers to full civil rights for the Palestinian Arab minority.

Admittedly, this is a path less traveled and one likely to remain so, and while the alternatives to this path may well include democracy in the region, they could preclude a future for the State of Israel.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Brent Scowcroft's Call for Renewed "Peace Process"

On many occasions over the last several years, Brent Scowcroft has been a voice of reason and moderation in US public diplomacy, no more so than when he tried to warn George W. Bush off from his precipitate invasion of Iraq.  Today, he offers an op-ed essay (linked here from the New Atlanticist site, but published first at Financial Times) calling for Mr. Obama to spearhead a renewed effort to sit Messrs. Netanyahu and Abbas, with their entourages, down together once again, to produce a lasting peace agreement.  This is, of course, something that most of us have been eager to see happen, and many of us have assumed that only the US has the ability to shepherd such a process to a happy ending.  Scowcroft says it again:

No other country can convince Israeli and Palestinian leaders to reach a binding compromise that results in two states living side by side in peace and security, ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and all claims related to it.

I only wish it were true, but if the last two years plus have taught us anything, it's that Mr. Netanyahu's government as now constituted - and quite probably, Mr. Netanyahu himself - is constitutionally, even viscerally, unable to propose the kind of "concessions" (there's that ridiculous word again; sorry) necessary for a viable, even minimally just resolution that would address the issue of Jerusalem and the effects of Israel's colonization of the West Bank.  And given that Congress is well and truly dug in to support Israel's intransigence on these and other issues, Obama and his team - who've not shown any real stomach for the peace process anyhow - are unwilling to exercise any of the leverage that ought to be at their disposal.  Add to that that Obama has two hot wars (Afghanistan and Libya) and a rapidly reheating war (Iraq) already on his plate, as well as the budget battles ongoing with Congress.  Given the extremely dim chances of success, this is no time for Team Obama to turn back to trying to fix Israel-Palestine.

What's becoming more apparent though is that Israel needs to start facing, squarely, some very serious music that may be building to a crescendo - in the UN General Assembly, in the steady swell of countries that have decided to recognize an independent Palestine, and in its steady loss of once reliable "friends" in the Arab and broader Middle East.  Arab publics across the region are rising up to demand self-determination and more open societies, including more public and political space for the expression of Muslim identity.  The Muslim Brotherhood is positioned to prosper in the new Egypt; is feeling its oats in Jordan; and will likely emerge as a potent force in Syria when Bashar al-Asad's Baath regime is eventually forced to open up the political process or even forced out.

Aluf Benn (in Haaretz) recently wrote that Israel might be able to play to its own advantage the destabilizing that will accompany these changes in the region:

Israel is directly involved in the struggle over the establishment of an independent Palestine and the shaping of its borders, and would be significantly affected by the disintegration of its neighboring states, chiefly Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia. A smart Israeli policy, which correctly identifies the opportunities inherent in the emergence of new states and knows how to take advantage of these opportunities, will be able to leverage the inevitable process to reinforce Israel's power and influence in the region.

 But it seems just as likely - especially if Islamist groups across the region are able to gain their footing - that Israel will be faced by a welling-up of previously suppressed popular anger against it, especially in view of its harsh treatment of Palestinian fellow Muslims in Gaza and the West Bank.   To the extent that newly emerging governments embrace democratic principles of freedom of expression and responsiveness to their voting publics, they will bring that anger to bear on their policies toward Israel.
How Israel responds - the accommodations it will be forced to make - may likely determine whether or not a Jewish state can survive other than behind the "iron wall" that Zev Jabotinsky prescribed so many years ago.  And those accommodations will need to address - first and foremost - the injustice and dispossession that the Arabs of Palestine suffered at Israeli hands in 1948 and 1967.

Bahrain Monarchy to Ban Main Opposition Party; US Acquiesces

Al-Jazeera reports that the Sunni Bahraini monarchy has begun legal steps to ban the Shii Wefaq party, which is the single largest political party in Bahrain's parliament, with 18 out of the total of 40 seats.  The regime also hopes to ban a smaller, allied party, the Islamic Action party.   Quite a trick: If your chief political opposition is bugging you, then simply have them made illegal.

All this will proceed, of course, with the implicit encouragement of the Saudi regime (which treats Bahrain - as Caryle Murphy put it recently in Global Post, in an extremely informative piece - somewhat likes the US treats Puerto Rico). 

And, it will proceed with no effective opposition from that great champion of democracy, the United States, who evidently has done no more that to express "concern." This, of course, after Bahrain's security forces have shot and killed numerous protesters, have pulled wounded protesters out of hospitals and into detention, and have stoked fear among the doctors and nurses in those hospitals.  But the US has more important imperatives:
  • don't do anything to piss off the Saudis
  • don't do anything to mess with the Fifth Fleet's welcome in Bahrain
  • don't do anything that might in any way be perceived as helpful to Iran, who simply must - must, mind you - be behind these protests by those pesky Shia on Bahrain.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Yemen Tipping Toward Civil War?

The NYT reports that opposing groups within Yemen's military fired on each other in Sana, with one or two  killed and six wounded.  Meanwhile, efforts to persuade President Saleh to step down evidently have been dealt a blow by the Egyptian military government's decision to detain and interrogate ousted Pres. Hosni Mubarak:
 The Yemeni government official said that the detention of Hosni Mubarak, the ousted Egyptian president, and his two sons on Wednesday appeared to further dissuade Mr. Saleh from leaving power. Yemen’s youth-led protest movement is demanding that he be prosecuted upon stepping down.

The Iraq-Libya Parallels

Except for Robert Fisk, the Independent's Patrick Cockburn is English-language journalism's most experienced hand in the Middle East, with especially long experience in Iraq (and books to testify to it).  His piece in today's Independent notes ominous parallels between Iraq after the 1991 "Desert Storm" war and the situation that seems to be taking hold now in Libya (even if these two interventions by the West are of markedly different scale).  In 1991 Saddam was defeated, but hung on for another 12 years even as the Iraqi people were reduced to misery under the extremely harsh UN sanctions regime (a misery that, as Joy Gordon has documented, the US went to extraordinary lengths to ensure would be unrelenting, at horrible cost to Iraqis, especially children).

Qaddafi, on the other hand, has weathered an initial onslaught by both the rebels and their NATO patrons, and the situation currently is at a stalemate.  Cockburn's view seems to be that it's only a matter of time before the West grabs the reins:

The opposition leaders in Benghazi hope that time is on their side and that the increasingly isolated regime will crumble from within as it faces irresistible pressure from abroad. Possibly they are right. But Iraqi opponents of Saddam Hussein thought much the same 20 years ago. And conflicts before and after his fall inspired hatreds that wrecked their country beyond repair.

When this Libyan war started I was struck by the parallels with foreign intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, at close range, I find the similarities even more ominous. We have joined somebody else's civil war, and it is a war in which Britain, France and the US must inevitably play a leading role. Without our support, the local partner would be defeated within 24 hours. [my emphasis]

But 2011 is not 2003, when the US and Britain jumped back into Iraq with both feet in order to eliminate Saddam.  The British economy is a shambles, and the Brits are downsizing across the board.  The US military is overstretched, with more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan (where their presence is not bringing anything close to an ending that can be termed "victorious," and is hemorrhaging money from the American treasury), expensive missiles from drones still being rained down in Pakistan, and expensive  bases across the globe.  (And with all that, an extension of the US military presence in Iraq is still being discussed seriously.)

Virtually no serious analyst is calling for the kind of massive injection of boots on the ground in Libya that ousted Saddam in Iraq.  Yet, it's becoming increasingly obvious that, short of carpet-bombing Tripoli or sending in CIA or Special Ops assassins to eliminate Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator may not be "oustable" unless ground forces are inserted.  That would entail, however, an expenditure of treasure and personnel that the American and British publics might find completely unacceptable.  Yet, to simply back off and let things play out would be to invite numerous wild cards into an already chaotic game: among them, jihadists, and mercenaries of various stripes, as well as exacerbated flows of refugees who might destabilize already volatile situations in Egypt and Tunisia and whose arrivals are already creating rifts among EU countries.

At some point, somebody has to make a move.  Whose turn is it?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Obama's Hamster Wheel

Stephen Walt on the speculation as to who's leaving and who's staying on the Obama foreign-policy team - and how little it matters:
By now, it is crashingly obvious that Obama is a very conventional foreign policy president, that whatever novel ideas or approaches he brought to office have been thoroughly diluted by entrenched interests in Washington, and his own governing style militates against taking bold positions and sticking with them in the face of opposition.   Just look at how he caved on Gitmo, indefinite detention, drone strikes/targeted killings, or Israeli settlements.   One gets the impression that the administration is already suffering from battle-fatigue, and that there won't be many (any?) shiny new initiatives even if he wins a second term. 

Indeed.  Kinda like the wheel in a hamster cage.  Whichever of the little critters gets on to run, thinking "yes I can" -- still going nowhere.

The US's Bloated Military Budget - and Global "Mission"

I detest much of the white-folks-first message that underlies much of the Tea Partiers' agenda, but on one score at least, I find a lot of sense in a message at least some of them (like Rand Paul, of whom - on most any other point -  I most assuredly am NOT a fan) espouse:
  •  the US military budget is out of control
  •  so is the US foreign-policy establishment's sense of the US's global mission

The first point is nicely addressed by Jacob Heilbrunn's recent post at The National Interest, where he contrasts pov's of Paul Krugman and Ross Douthat in the NYT.  Krugman's larger point, by the way, focused on how the visionary "yes we can" Barack Obama that leaped to the forefront of our imaginations in 2008 seems to have disappeared.  Anyhow, here's Heilbrunn:
One thing that neither [Douthat] nor Krugman mentions . . . is the bloated state of the military budget. There can be no doubting that Medicare and Medicaid are due for reform. But so is the military. The budget for 2011 is set to exceed $700 billion. According to Time, America spends about 35% of the total military outlays on the planet. These sums are astronomical. They pose a dire threat to the health of the economy. Not only are these exorbitant outlays, but they also encourage other democratic countries to allow America to shoulder burdens they should be assuming—the well-known free-rider syndrome.

Germany's budget deficit, for example, will be about 2.5% this year and is slated to fall to 0.5% by 2014. This means that, barring a total collapse of the European Union, the Euro will be a very healthy and strong currency. Meanwhile, the value of the dollar may decrease further. American leaders will increasingly face the temptation to inflate their way out of the deficit, thereby debauching the dollar. Once inflation begins expectations of further price hikes set in. It's very difficult to curb it.

The bloated state of the military budget, of course, is linked directly to the bloated expectations of the US foreign-policy establishment - something that former US Army officer and Vietnam-veteran Andrew Bacevich has dealt with in numerous forums, perhaps most notably in his recent book, Washington Rules, and most recently today, via TomDispatch.  Like Paul Krugman, Bacevich also points out that the visionary Obama we thought we'd elected has disappeared himself into the mold of presidents past when it comes to foreign policy, and especially when it comes to the "Islamic world":
even as journalists and historians preoccupy themselves with trying to explain why something happened, they are playing a mug’s game.  However creative or well-sourced, their answers are necessarily speculative, partial, and ambiguous.  It can’t be otherwise.

Rather than why, what deserves far more attention than it generally receives is the question of how.  Here is where we find Barack Obama and George W. Bush (not to mention Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter) joined at the hip.  When it comes to the Islamic world, for more than three decades now Washington’s answer to how has been remarkably consistent: through the determined application of hard power wielded by the United States.  Simply put, Washington’s how implies a concerted emphasis on girding for and engaging in war.

Presidents may not agree on exactly what we are trying to achieve in the Greater Middle East (Obama wouldn’t be caught dead reciting lines from Bush’s Freedom Agenda, for example), but for the past several decades, they have agreed on means: whatever it is we want done, military might holds the key to doing it.  So today, we have the extraordinary spectacle of Obama embracing and expanding Bush’s Global War on Terror even after having permanently banished that phrase to the Guantanamo of politically incorrect speech.

And now, Obama and his crew have extended to Libya  this now ingrained  approach of what Bacevich calls "seeing the Greater Middle East as a region of loose nails badly in need of being hammered," even in the face of overwhelming evidence that, notwithstanding the lofty motives (read, for the Libya adventure: "humanitarian intervention" - though George Will's "humanitarian imperialism" probably rings just as true, especially in the eyes of people around that Greater Middle East), that approach does not, cannot, and will not work.

Indeed, as the news out of Pakistan suggests, that approach is self-defeating.  Obama's stepping-up of unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan - combined with the fallout from the CIA/Raymond Davis fiasco - has produced so much "collateral damage," and has enraged Pakistani opinion and offended the Pakistani military's sense of pride and national sovereignty so greatly, that Pakistan's military chief - arguably the most powerful and respected leader in the country - has demanded that the drone campaign - and activity by the CIA in Pakistan - be dramatically reduced.

And this, atop revelations that, because capture and interrogation are such a "headache" (to borrow Paul Pillar's characterization), CIA policy now is to kill suspected bad guys (except - so we're told - those captured in Iraq or Afghanistan).

Stupid.  Why?
  • It's illegal according to international law.
  • Many of the "bad guys" the US rounded up in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years turned out to be just local guys - wrong place, wrong time - who were nonetheless detained, interrogated (= often abused and tortured) - and if released, returned mad as hell and out to get revenge = new recruits for jihadism.
  • If they were indeed "bad guys," simply killing them also eliminates potential sources of the information the CIA so desperately wants in order to avert another 9-11-type attack.

Bottom lines?  The crush-'em approach
  • doesn't work.  It's counterproductive to the mission of protecting the US, and it makes the US an object of hate, not respect, abroad.
  • costs more than the US can bear, and robs the US of resources with which it could supporting its scientists and entrepreneurs to address both current and future needs: infrastructure, education, clean energy, the impacts of climate change both here and globally.

In other words, the kind of efforts that help the US build what Joseph Nye identified years ago as "soft power" - the kind of power that makes the US an object of respect, and a source of emulation - or, to borrow Mr. Obama's phrase, "who we are."

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Arab Spring - and Israel's Future

Michael Scheuer (at The National Interest) rails against what he sees as the short-sightedness of both Obama and the pro-Israel Likudnik commentators who have cheered on Obama's support of democracy movements vs. Arab autocrats:
if al-Assad is deposed, the lack of democracy in Syria will be the least of the West’s problems. The media and political leaders, each deathly afraid of even questioning the intent of anyone mouthing the word “democracy,” have made scarce mention of the fact that the one thing the Arab spring is unquestionably bringing is the destruction of Israel’s physical security, which has long depended on the maintenance of border-controlling tyrannies in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. The end of Mubarak regime’s has made the Egypt-Gaza border more porous, and the elimination of Assad’s Baathist regime would weaken Syria’s willingness—and perhaps ability—to control its border with Israel. This would leave only Jordan, which is a far weaker regime than those in Egypt or Syria.

If the West’s mindless democracy mongering succeeds in helping to topple the three Levant tyrannies in favor of Islamist-influenced regimes, Israel will face greatly increased infiltration and rocket attacks from mujahideen in each country, a costly and bloody form of war-making for Israel to fight and for which its WMD deterrent is largely irrelevant. Perhaps most ironic is that major pro-Israel U.S. pundits—Max Boot, Eliot Cohen, Charles Krauthammer, Elliot Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, and William Kristol, for example—have been shaking their pom-poms for the destruction of Arab tyrannies, an aspiration which, if attained, will—as did their support for destroying Saddam—put their signatures on Israel’s death warrant.

The real boogeyman, in Scheuer's view, is the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, whom Hafez al-Assad provided some breathing space in Syria after the 1982 Hama massacre by building mosques and schools and encouraging Quranic education.

Now, of course, Islamist groups seem to be on the ascendant in Egypt.  The Muslim Brotherhood already chalked up a political win in the recent referendum on constitutional amendments there.  Meanwhile, the Western media have been headlining articles about the re-emergence of harder-core Salafi groups in Egypt.  Other analysts besides Scheuer (most prominently, Patrick Seale) have warned about sectarian backlash from Sunnis against Alawis in Syria if the Assad regime were to fall.  One might deduce that the emergence of a more Sunni-Islamist regime in Syria would be bad news for Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon - as well as for the Syria-Iran ties that flourished under Assad - which Israel might see as a plus.  But with the recent outreach by Egypt to the Islamic republic of Iran, well . . . there's an interesting twist in the usual calculus.  And a pro-Sunni regime in Damascus might offer more support to Hamas.

The months to come are going to see an Israel that feels increasingly embattled and isolated in its own backyard, at a time when its main and most powerful ally is overextended militarily (yet, even with that, evidently considering maintaining an expensive presence in Iraq) and dealing with major fiscal problems.  If Egypt and Syria were to voice greater defiance of Israel, could the US guarantee Israel's security without massively disengaging from Afghanistan?  Indeed, the last 10 years have, if anything, exposed the limits of what the US can "guarantee" militarily.  Israelis ought to have taken note.

Bottom line: Israel has no time to waste if it is to find some way to ensure a viable future.  That will have to entail sitting down with Palestinian representatives - including Hamas - and offering huge "concession" that, in truth, would be no more than acceding to the demands that international law has been making of Israel for decades:
  • giving up all claim to territories occupied after 1967
  • helping to create a viable, permanent Palestinian state
  • sharing Jerusalem as the capital of two states in post-1919 Palestine
  • recognizing that they violated the rights of the Palestinians displaced in 1948 and after, and finding some way to compensate them


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