Category Archives: United Nations

On war

I have been meaning for a while now to blog some of my thoughts on the nature of, and prospects for, our country’s continuing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq…. That intention was rekindled by reading the latest issue of Middle East Report, which has some good articles on the subject– as well as a good piece on Washington’s political interventions in Iraqi politics by none other than Reidar Visser.
Regarding U.S. military doctrine, and the whole issue of Gen. Petraeus having been rushed in to take over from McChrystal in Afghanistan, I’ve been thinking for a while that we really need to do a thorough re-examination of this whole “doctrine” of “counter-insurgency” (COIN), of which, of course, Petraeus was one of the principal authors. In this issue of MER, Rochelle Davis, Laleh Khalili, and B.D. Hopkins all have good articles on various aspects of ‘COIN’, and Steve Niva has a good piece on the ‘lessons’ from Israel’s failure to win the 33-day war against Hizbullah in Lebanon in 2006. You can read the whole text of Davis’s and Khalili’s pieces there, free.
My own emerging thoughts are that the entire “doctrine” of COIN may well be most appropriately thought of as a huge, elaborate Potemkin village, designed mainly to bamboozle the U.S. public into thinking our brave men and women in uniform are actually able to do something of some value in those distant battlefields, and that they will “achieve” something of value there before– as will inevitably happen– financial constraints at home and the constraints of the hugely intractable facts on the ground in those distant places will force a U.S. withdrawal “redeployment” from them. (As I wrote in Boston Review, last December.)
Maybe we should start calling it (Potem-)COIN.
… And in a very important and related development, Gen. Ray Odierno, the guy who’s in charge of all the U.S. forces in Iraq, told the AP on Tuesday that,

    U.N. peacekeeping forces may need to replace departing U.S. troops in the nation’s oil-rich north if a simmering feud between Arabs and minority Kurds continues through 2011.

That is not a direct quotation from Odierno, but the version reported by AP’s Lara Jakes. She also commented,

    A U.N. force might offer both the Iraqi leadership and President Barack Obama a politically palatable alternative to an ongoing U.S. presence to prevent ethnic tensions from descending into war. Although occasional bombings by Sunni extremists on Shiite targets grab the headlines, many observers believe the Kurdish-Arab dispute is the most powerful fault line in Iraq today.

To which, all I can say is two things: (1) Yes! Make this a role and challenge for an invigorated UN– a body in which all the nations of the world, including Iraq’s neighbors, are represented; but (2) How tragic that it has taken Washington and the U.S. military so many long years to get this far towards the idea that it might indeed not be the U.S. alone and its chosen lackeys inside Iraq who determine the future of that severely war- and occupation-battered country.
Of course, it would have been far, far better if the U.S. had never invaded Iraq at all. But Bush and Cheney were determined to do so, and did. Then, relatively soon after the invasion/occupation I started arguing– e.g. here in Kansas in May 2004 (scroll down to the comment from my dear, subsequently deceased, friend Misty Gerner), and doubtless also earlier– that the best way to deal with the tough challenges the U.S. faced in running the occupation would be to hand the whole basket of big questions involved over to the U.N.
But of course they didn’t take my advice. 3,000-plus U.S. service-members have been killed in Iraq since then, and many scores of thousands wounded. And more than 100,000 Iraqis probably lost their lives in the waves of sectarian violence that erupted in 2006 and 2007– stoked in good part by Washington’s blatant policy of emphasizing sectarian and ethnic differences in a sustained attempt to suppress adherence to any continuing form of (pan-)Iraqi nationalist feeling.
… And all for what? Because the powers that be in Washington did not want to admit that they needed to share decision-making power in Iraq with the U.N.
So now here’s Ray Odierno in July 2010 saying, Oh yes, and maybe now we need the U.N. in Iraq.
Staggeringly tragic. Much, much more to write about here.
But I have a huge bundle of things I need to do for my business in the days ahead. Stay tuned…

Flotilla: U.S. supports a U.N. enquiry (oops, no?)

I just read the report of the consultations the UNSC held yesterday and in the wee hours of this morning into the flotilla massacre.
The presidential statement and most of the recorded comments from SC members noted correctly that the flotilla would never have been necessary if Israel had responded to earlier SC resolutions that called on it to ease the siege against Gaza considerably– and called on it once again, with more urgency, to do so.
I think that was excellent.
The presidential statement also committed the the UNSC to undertaking its own enquiry into what happened, noting that Israel’s confiscation of the documentary materials held by flotilla participants meant that no-one could currently be clear as to what actually occurred.
The U.S. rep there, Alejandro Wolff, went on the record expressing support for the UNSC enquiry.* That was excellent.
Of course, we should also remember the extremely hostile and ill-informed campaign the U.S. delegation mounted against the last investigatory report the UNSC produced into affairs related to Gaza: the Goldstone Report.

* Update Tuesday 1:45 pm:
In the UN’s record of the discussion, the rapporteur said this of Wolff statement during the UNSC session:

    He expected a credible and transparent investigation and urged the Council to conduct one fully.

However, I just looked at CNN’s video clip, available here, that includes a record of a statement Wolff made after the UNSC session. He was explicit there that he thought Israel could conduct a thorough and credible investigation on its own.

Obama cool toward ‘mid-size states’ deal

Pres. Obama’s spokesperson Robert Gibbs was yesterday extremely cool toward the agreement that Turkish PM Rejep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazil’s Prez Luiz Ignacio Lula Da Silva reached with Iran concerning a swap of low-enriched uranium for medically suitable fuel rods.
By the way, I should have noted explicitly in the post I wrote on this yesterday that Turkey and Brazil are both currently members of the U.N. Security Council. Which obviously makes the active engagement of their leaders in this diplomacy much more important and immediately operational than it would have been otherwise.
Here in the U.S., some of the MSM commentary has been along the lines of, “Gosh, how worrying that this latest deal might lessen our chances of getting the U.N. to support tougher sanctions against Iran!”
Well, yes, they are right to the extent that it does that. But why on earth be worried about that prospect? … Unless, that is, your main aim is the sanctions themselves– often seen over the past 17 years, qua Martin Indyk, as an important way of weakening the regime prior to its overthrow– rather than resolving the questions and uncertainties around Iran’s avowedly civilian nuclear program?
(Of course, the kinds of sanctions imposed by the U.S.– and Israel– on their opponents– have usually has the reverse effect, of strengthening regimes those states don’t favor. But the primal urge to punish, punish, punish is so strong in these countries that simple rationality sometimes doesn’t even get a look-in.)
U.S. commentators who’ve been railing against the mid-size states deal also fail to take into account the fact that in today’s world, Brazil and Turkey are both democratic states that enjoy real power, in a number of different ways. Both are relative economic power-houses, whose current, well-regarded governments have done a lot to ensure that the economic growth of recent years has been paired with some good (and innovative) attention to social justice issues within their own societies. Both enjoy wide respect from their neighbors. Both have numerous economic, political, and military ties to ‘western’ nations.
In addition, Turkey– as I’ve noted here numerous times before– is a key member of NATO in that it is NATO’s only majority-Muslim member state at a time when NATO’s fate as an alliance really hangs on the success (or quite possible failure) of the lengthy expeditionary mission it has been undertaking in Afghanistan. Which, hullo, is a Muslim country many of whose people have a deep distrust of westerners, including Christians and perhaps especially the sporadic efforts of western Christian evangelizers.
Does Obama really want to maintain a stance of publicly belittling and disrespecting the diplomatic engagement and real diplomatic achievement of Turkey’s prime minister (and of Brazil’s president)? I can’t believe he does.
Reaction from other P-5 powers includes this from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman:

    China welcomes and places importance on the agreement that Iran signed with Brazil and Turkey on fuel supply to its research reactor, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said here Tuesday.
    … Ma said at a routine press conference that China hopes this move will help advance the peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiation.
    Ma said China has always adhered to the dual-track strategy on resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. China has always insisted that dialogue and negotiation are the best way to resolve the issue.

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev gave the deal a seemingly more measured welcome. Moscow Times reported that he “cautiously welcomed a uranium swap deal between Iran and Turkey, but warned that it may fail to fully satisfy the international community.”
As for the European “powers”– Britain and France who, as nuclear-weapons-waving states, by an amazing coincidence get a veto on the security Council; and Germany, which by some sleight of hand got folded onto that strange, ad-hoc, Iran-focused body called the “P5+1”– right now they are all fairly busy with other things like, um, Europe’s own continuing financial crisis and the Brits’ attempts to establish a workable direction for the new coalition government in London.
And besides, I really don’t intend to puff Europe up by giving it any kind of equal billing with the other governments mentioned here. Three seats out of six in a global body, just for Europe? Didn’t anyone think at the time that that was just a tad nineteenth century?*
Well, back here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., I was interested to see this exchange in Robert Gibbs’s press conference yesterday:

    Q And did the President speak with leaders of Turkey or Brazil as this proposal was being put together?
    MR. GIBBS: No, again, I believe the State Department has been in contact with them. But the President has not talked directly with any leaders.

Boy, that looks like a very serious mis-step, right there.
I was also interested to see, in that press conference, the degree to which some of the questioners really did seem more concerned about the fate of the sanctions efforts per se rather than getting the nuclear issue with Iran actually resolved. There’s the MSM for you!

* Population figures for these states:
China………….. 1,330 million
U.S………………… 304 million
Brazil…………….. 196 million
Russia……………. 141 million
Germany………….. 82 million
Turkey……………. 72 million
Iran………………… 66 million
France…………….. 61 million
Britain…………….. 61 million

Malta: Notes from the conference, part 2

Washington long ago—under Henry Kissinger– elbowed the United Nations completely out of the lead role that, by all rights, it should play in spearheading the search for lasting peace between Israel and all of its neighbors, including the Palestinians. And under George W. Bush, Washington was even able to formalize the subordination of the U.N. to Washington’s diktats in the matter, through its inclusion as a junior member in that new and at some levels quite anomalous outfit, the “Quartet”.
But the U.N. is not only a set of principles and policies; it is also, certainly, a bureaucracy. And there are two little chunks of it whose budgets are still justified primarily in terms of the contribution they can make to the pursuit of Palestinian rights.
This means holding conferences. Lots of them. The Division on Palestinian Rights is sponsoring the one I have just been participating in, here in Malta. Next month, they’re having one in Vienna; and in May they’ll be in Istanbul. The pace seems dizzying.
So you can certainy ask, “What are all these conferences good for?” And when I am at one—this one has been my third—there are always some periods of time when I ask that question. These usually come when some elderly Palestinian or other Arab participant bloviates, usually from the floor, for ways longer than is necessary or helpful.
But still, jaw-jaw is always better than war-war, so one grits one’s teeth and bears it.
These gatherings do also have some significant uses, however. I would describe them roughly as follows:

Continue reading

Nonsense from Blair

Mondoweiss today gives us a Youtube clip of Tony Blair dodging a tough question from a University of Buffalo student about the Goldstone report.
The student, Nick Kabat, asked Blair why the US and Israel should be allowed to get away with blocking the Goldstone Report, how (as the “Quartet”‘s peace envoy) he could explain that proceeding with Goldstone’s recommendations might harm the peace process, and whether he didn’t think that the blocade on Gaza also harmed the peace process.
You could see Blair ducking and weaving. (The questions had all been pre-screened by the university; but Kabat submitted a bland dummy question then asked this one instead.)
Blair said he’d been to Gaza “twice– in the recent period” and that the situation there is difficult… But you also “have to understand” that Israel has received a lot of rockets from there since it withdrew in 2005 and still has its young soldier Gilad Shalit held there as a prisoner…
No mention from Blair that there have been almost no rockets coming out of Gaza since Hamas announced the currently-operant ceasefire there on January 18– but despite that lack of rocketings, the Israeli siege is harsher even than it was prior to last winter’s war.
No mention of the roughly 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners and detainees being held in Israeli jails. They include more than two dozen elected Palestinian MPs and thousands of others elected for purely political reasons. Shalit, by contrast, was on active military service and thereby knowingly ran the risk of being taken as a prisoner-of-war.
What a dishonest schmuck Blair is. (Nothing new there.)
Then he said that this “situation” could only be resolved through a meaningful peace process that involves action from the top down “and from the bottom up”. This “bottom up” approach is, of course, where he concurs to a large degree with Netanyahu. It involves some elements of Netanyahu’s fallaciously announced “economic peace”, along with a colonial-style approach/argument that the Palestinians somehow “aren’t yet ready for independence”… And thus it will take many more years to painstakingly build Palestinian institutions “from the bottom up” before Tony Blair can even think of “allowing” them to have independence.
So in the meantime, his argument clearly implied, it is really quite alright for the Israelis to continue maintaining their quite inhumane tight siege on Gaza.
He also later said that his best indicator of the “good news from Israel and Palestine” is that he can now travel around the West Bank to cities that previously he was unable to travel to.
Quite unself-consciously! It was just all, quite unabashedly, about him and his freedom to travel.
(And Gaza’s 1.5 million besieged people are supposed to take what kind of comfort from that?)
Memo to the UN Security Council: This guy’s attitudes and policies are actively harmful to the Palestinian people and to world peace. Take him off the job immediately.
Actually, what the Security Council needs to do most urgently is mount its own struggle for independence from US colonialism, as embodied in the whole concept of the UN being subordinate to US leadership in this grotesque body, the so-called “Quartet”, and to leave the Quartet immediately.
Well, either that or reconfigure it to be under the control of the UN, not Washington.

Peter Galbraith, oil contracts, and Kurds

Reidar Visser informs us today that the independent-minded US “free-lance diplomat” Peter Galbraith reportedly, from 2004 through 2008, held a five-percent share in the production-sharing agreement concluded between the small Norwegian private oil company DNO and the Kurdish Regional Government.
Galbraith, a longtime supporter of Kurdish (and before that Croatian) independence, was most recently working as deputy to Kai Eide, the head of the UN’s mission in Afghanistan. Eide fired him last week for, essentially, insubordination.
Back in 2003-05, Galbraith was an influential adviser to the US occupation authorities as they drew up Iraq’s new, heavily decentralized Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) and Constitution, and to various Kurdish political leaders. He was also hailed– and published– by major western news organizations as a credibly neutral (and presumably disinterested) analyst of Iraqi constitutional affairs.
But now it appears that, instead of being the idealist and the brave proponent of the rights of embattled minorities that he had always portrayed himself to be, in reality he was acting as a one-man East India Company, consorting with compliant “locals” (= “natives”) to rip off their country’s resources.
Visser writes,

    Norway’s most respected financial newspaper, Dagens Næringsliv (DN), has been focusing on the operations of DNO,… especially reporting on unclear aspects concerning share ownership and its contractual partnerships related to the Tawke field in the Dahuk governorate. One particular goal has been to establish the identity of a hitherto unknown “third party” which participated with DNO in the initial production sharing agreement (PSA) for Tawke between 2004 and 2008, but was squeezed out when this deal was converted to a new contract in early 2008, prompting a huge financial claim of around 500 million US dollars against DNO which has yet to be settled. Today, DN claims to present proof that one of the two major “mystery stake-holders” involved in the claim was none other than Peter Galbraith, who allegedly held a five-percent share in the PSA for Tawke from June 2004 until 2008 through his Delaware-based company Porcupine… DN has published documents from Porcupine showing Galbraith’s personal signature, and today’s reports are complete with paparazzi photographs of Galbraith literally running away from reporters as they confront him in Bergen, where he is currently staying with his Norwegian wife. He refused to give any comment citing potential legal complications.
    If proven correct, the implications of this revelation are so enormous that the story is almost unbelievable. As is well known, DNO has been criticised for the way its operations in the Kurdistan region interfere with Iraq’s constitutional process. To their credit, though, DNO are at the very least perfectly forthright about their mission in the area: They are a commercial enterprise set up to make a maximum profit in a high-risk area currently transitioning from conditions of war. Galbraith, however, was almost universally seen as “Ambassador Galbraith”, the statesmanlike former diplomat whose outspoken ideas about post-2003 Iraq were always believed to be rooted in idealism and never in anything else. Instead, it now emerges, he apparently wore several hats at the same time, and mixed his roles in ways that seem entirely incompatible with the capacity of an independent adviser on constitutional affairs.

Visser then notes the multiplicity of “hats” that Galbraith was wearing as he strode around post-invasion Iraq in the early years of the US occupation– including “ABC News consultant” (a generously compensated gig, that one usually is), and a compensated consultant for “Kurdish clients”, as well as a constitutional adviser in general and a fairly prolific author of pro-partition analyses.
Visser gives an excellent, detailed analysis of the influence Galbraith claimed he had, and the influence he almost certainly did have, on the drafting of the ‘Transitional Administrative Law’ (TAL) that was imposed on Iraq by Bush appointee Jerry Bremer in March 2004– quoting Galbraith’s own words from the book he published in 2006 that was notably titled The End of Iraq:

    Galbraith urged the Kurds to be maximalist about their demands: “The Bush administration might not like the Kurds insisting on their rights, I said, but it would respect them for doing so (163)”. Then, leading up to the TAL negotiations in the winter of 2004, Galbraith worked specifically for the Kurds in framing their demands. It is very easy to see how the Kurdish gains in the TAL and not least in the 2005 constitution are based on this contribution from Galbraith. Galbraith writes, “On February 10 [2004], Nechirvan [Barzani] convened a meeting at the Kurdistan national assembly of the top leaders of the PUK and KDP. I presented a draft of a ‘Kurdistan chapter’ to be included in the interim constitution [i.e. the TAL]… Except for a few matters assigned to the federal government (notably foreign affairs), laws passed by the Kurdistan national assembly would be supreme within the region. The Kurdistan Regional Government could establish an armed force…The Kurdistan Region would own its land, water, minerals and oil. Kurdistan would manage future oil fields (and keep revenues) but the federal government in Baghdad would continue to manage all oil fields currently in commercial production. Because there were no commercial oil fields within Kurdistan as defined by the March 18, 2003 boundaries, this proposal had the effect of giving Kurdistan full control over its own oil…The permanent constitution of Iraq would apply in Kurdistan only if it were approved by a majority of Kurdistan’s voters (166–67).” Subsequent achievements noted by Galbraith as personal successes include staging the informal 2005 referendum on Kurdish independence (171).
    The influence of Galbraith can be discerned already in the 2004 Transitional Administrative Law (where the principle of residual powers for the provincial entities was put in place), even if Galbraith was dissatisfied with the relatively long list of powers accorded to Baghdad and blamed the “centralising” policies of Paul Bremer and the Bush administration generally for this “defect”. But his hand is even more evident in the 2005 constitution, which combines residual powers for the regions with the supremacy of local law (albeit not if it contradicts the constitution, a “shortcoming” Galbraith later tried to gloss over), and which also specifically mentions the regional right to local armed forces…
    While he was advising the Kurds on the principles of federalism and trying to persuade an American Democratic audience about the virtues of partition as an alternative to the Bush administration policies in Iraq, Galbraith supposedly held a 5 per cent stake in an oil field whose profit potential was directly governed by the constitutional and US policy decisions Galbraith was seeking to influence (his suggestions also included the idea of a permanent US airbase in Kurdistan).Under any circumstances, this new development is likely to strengthen the tendency among Iraqis to be more critical about the details of the 2005 constitution and not least the historical context in which it was conceived – a criticism that even Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki articulated during the run-up to the last local elections. Seemingly, Maliki’s ideas of rectifying this towards greater centralism (i.e. removing some of Galbraith’s pet projects from 2005) have met with success among voters so far.
    Another problem related to this issue is the close association in the past between Galbraith and the apparent Iraq tsar of the current Obama administration, Vice-President Joe Biden…

Visser concludes by noting,

    It is of course somewhat ironic that these revelations should come at a time when Galbraith seems to possess the high moral ground in another controversy also involving Norwegians and Middle Eastern conflicts: The ongoing dispute with UN diplomat Kai Eide over Afghanistan’s elections result.

Personally, I don’t think that Galbraith does occupy the moral high ground in his dispute with Eide. It was a matter of insubordination– by an arrogant American– to his boss within a duly authorized and well-run UN mission. If he disagreed with Eide (as he evidently did) there were things he could do other than try to make end-runs around him.
Anyway, do go read all of Visser’s excellently argued piece there at Historiae. You cannot leave any comments there– but you can at the linked post on his blog. Or, of course, you can leave them here, with a very good chance that Reidar will read them here, too.
By the way, Dagens Næringsliv is apparently going to be publishing follow-up pieces on this matter.

China and the US in Afghanistan

It’s good to put yourself into the shoes of others from time to time. For a while now, I’ve been trying to imagine the conversations that the Central Committee of the Chinese Committee Party doubtless hold from time to time about the various overseas adventures (!) of the US military.
I’m guessing they were intrigued but not, in the circumstances, very surprised by Pres. G.W. Bush’s original decision to invade Afghanistan in October 2001. That invasion brought the US military into a country that shares a short and extremely inhospitable border with China. So the arrival of the US military there– and in various of the other Central Asian Stans that share longer borders with China– must have caused the CCP planners some concern. But the US campaign was wholly focused on Islamist opponents of one variety or another; and it did significantly distract the attention of US military planners from the confrontations they had previously been gaming over in the South China Sea and other areas where China would be the direct target…
(Hainan incident, anyone? That had been GWB’s debut involvement in international affairs, remember.)
So after October 2001, I’m guessing it was “watchful waiting” for the guys in the CCP as they watched the US military maneuvering around the inhospitable mountains of Central Asia.
Then, 18 months later, came the US invasion of Iraq. I’m imagining the guys in the CCP being delirious with delight, toasting Rumsfeld in copious mao-tai or whatever, rubbing their eyes in amazement at just how amazingly stupid the leadership of the US could be!
And then, over the six years that followed, they watched quietly as Washington poured vast amounts of treasure and blood into Iraq in a campaign that very soon started to seriously degrade both the US military and the US economy.
Finally, after the November 2006 elections, Bob Gates’s realism started to pull the US ship of state slowly around from continuing too strongly with that folly.
But then, there was (and still is) the US campaign in Afghanistan.
Now, I’m thinking that the guys in the CCP are having serious second and third thoughts about that. Oh yes, how fabulous (from their POV) to see Washington continuing to degrade the American military and economy even more– over yet another completely un-“winnable” military campaign in a distant-from-the-US Asian country. But there is this other thing the CCP guys very strongly (and probably quite realistically) believe in, which is the deep inter-dependence of the US and China in world affairs.
There’s a portion of the US-China relationship that’s fairly zero-sum-gamey. But there is another portion, which I– and I think they– believe is bigger, which is pretty win-winny (though still not without some elements of competitiveness: sibling rivalry, if you will.)
Win-winning-ness is most evident in the economic relations between the two countries. But it is also present in the need they both share to find a way– preferably, of course, a way that is based neither on confrontation nor on oppression– to deal with various strong currents in the Muslim ummah.
So how long can Beijing go on just watching as the US beats itself to a bloody pulp in Afghanistan? And/or, at what point will the guys in Beijing choose to step in and, first, “offer” their help; or, at a later point, perhaps even start to insist that Washington take it?
Might we be reaching the first of those two points just now?
… From time to time I try to check up on what various Chinese sources are saying about the US’s various military adventures. Which is another way of saying that in between those times, I don’t pay the topic nearly enough attention.
But this week, helpful JWN commenter JohnH directed me to this recent piece in Asia Times, written by a retired, senior Indian diplomat… And that piece then sent me to this important article, authored, as the AT piece says, by deputy general of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies, Li Qinggong, and published by Xinhua in English on September 28.
Li writes,

    Afghanistan’s political and social turmoil has been aggravated by different intentions of the participating nations that constitute the coalition forces.
    In the short term, the fragile Afghan regime is finding it difficult to tame its restive domestic situation. Still, a prescription could help bring the country out of the mess if key players adopt a peaceful and reconciliatory approach in their push for the end of the war.
    The United States should first put an end to the war. The anti-terror war, which the former US administration of George W Bush launched in 2001, has turned out to be the source of ceaseless turbulence and violence in the past years.
    To promote much-needed reconciliation among the parties concerned, the US should end its military action. The war has neither brought the Islamic nation peace and security as the Bush administration originally promised, nor brought any tangible benefits to the US itself. On the contrary, the legitimacy of the US military action has been under increasing doubt.

And here’s where it gets even more interesting:

    Support from the international community is needed to help Afghanistan make a substantive move toward peace. The international community can take advantage of the ever-mounting anti-war calls within the US to prompt the Obama administration to end the war and withdraw US troops. Germany, France and Britain have planned an international conference this year to discuss the gradual withdrawal of Afghanistan military deployment. International pressures may offer Obama another excuse to withdraw US troops. The UN Security Council should carry the baton from the three European nations to convene a conference on the Afghanistan issue and try to reach a consensus among its five permanent Security Council members and draft a roadmap and timetable for resolution of the thorny issue. In the process, a ticklish issue is whether parties concerned can accept the Taliban as a key player in Afghanistan and how to dispose of the Al Qaeda armed forces, an issue that has a key bearing on the outcome of any international conference on the Afghanistan issue.
    Surely, an international peacekeeping mission is needed in the absence of US troops. With the aid of international peacekeepers, the Afghanistan government and its security forces can be expected to exercise effective control over domestic unrest and maintain peace and security.

So far, this still looks like a very preliminary trial balloon. But it is a trial balloon that this evidently well-connected figure has now gone ahead and floated, in the government’s own English-language media.
It’s one we should all think about.
… Longtime JWN readers will be well aware that one argument I’ve made repeatedly over recent years is that the western nations who constitute NATO are just about the worst instrument one could image for trying to “pacify” Afghanistan; and that if the help of non-Afghan outsiders is needed for this task– as it seems to be– then having the UN play the lead role would be far more effective than imagining that “the west” can do this job alone. (Or, perhaps, at all.)
Just one final note. There’s an ardent young American “COIN”- admirer called Andrew Exum who’s gained some publicity in the past couple of years for the blog he “cheekily” decided to call “Abu Muqawama” (Father of the Resistance). Recently, Exum and his blog got hired by a “liberal hawkish” new think-tank in Washington called the Center for a New American Security, which is famous mainly for the fact that its previous head, Michele Flournoy, is now the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy. (Several other previous CNAS people have also gone into the Obama administration. Not, altogether, good news: I have a deep wariness about liberal hawks.)
So anyway, yesterday the breathless young Exum reported on his blog that around the halls of CNAS,

    there is a pretty lively debate among the scholars and staff who work here about whether or not we should continue a counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan when we might instead be focusing on preserving our energies for rising powers. Obviously enough, those of us who work on Afghanistan and counterinsurgency feel one way (more or less), while those who work on China and the rest of Asia feel another way (again, more or less… )

This strikes me as an incredibly naive– but also revealing– view. “Rising powers” obviously refers to China. But what still-extant “energies” is he talking about preserving? Energies for fighting China sometime in the future? Can he really mean that?
Also, is he telling us that the people at CNAS who “work on” China are working mainly on thining about plans for a future military confrontation with it? If so, that is very worrying indeed. (But not surprising, all in all, from such a hotbed of liberal hawks.)
But here’s where Exum’s naivete lies. Rather than the US fighting China any time soon (or ever), my judgment is that at some point within the next 4-5 years, the US government will be begging China and the rest of the international community to help it to find a way out of Afghanistan.
Unusually enough, I agree more on this point with Robert Kaplan than I do with Andrew Exum. Kaplan wrote in the NYT yesterday,

    if we stay in Afghanistan and eventually succeed, other countries will benefit more than we will. China, India and Russia are all Asian powers, geographically proximate to Afghanistan and better able, therefore, to garner practical advantages from any stability our armed forces would make possible.

Actually, at this point, whether the US stays in Afghanistan or leaves, and whether it “succeeds” there (whatever that means) or doesn’t, then the sheer indisputable fact of the costs the US has paid on account of its two military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past eight years (both initiated by GWB) means that all the elements of US national power have been considerably degraded over the past eight years, while important elements of the national power of China and Russia– I’m not so sure about India– have meanwhile continued on a path of growth.
I guess ever since I did the little bit of research that led to this August 2008 blog post on the sheer size and scope of China’s investments in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve had this idea that one of the main effects of George W. Bush’s two big military (mis-)adventures in distant countries has been to make those countries safe for Chinese mercantilism.
Now there’s irony for you, eh?

Goldstone’s careful documentation & argument

I’ve had the chance to be reading more of the report of the Goldstone Commission Report (PDF). It’s 425 pages long, so not an easy or light read!
But I’ve been very impressed with the thoroughness of both the documentation and the argumentation in the report. Goldstone and his team are very professional and careful investigators of atrocities. He, of course, got his first experience of doing such work when he was investigating allegations of serious wrongdoing by the security forces in his native South Africa in 1989-90. There, too, his investigation was hampered by serious non-cooperation from the state authorities and he was subjected to some fairly vile slurs mobilized by the state’s propaganda apparatus… But he persisted; and his report opened a chink of understanding among many White South Africans who until then had preferred to turn a blind eye, into the actions the Apartheid-era security forces took against their non-White compatriots, allegedly on their behalf…
His latest report shows the same thoroughness he brought to his work there, and later to the indictments he drew up against leading perpetrators of atrocities in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
For example, the Report has pulled together an excellent chronology of all the military incidents that occurred during the six-month ceasefire that started June 19, 2008. This account makes clear– as many official Israeli sources already have– how few in number were the incidents of firing any kind of ordnance from Gaza into Israel during the whole period until November 4– the day on which Israel itself undertook a major and deliberate violation of the ceasefire. But it goes beyond the official Israeli sources in noting that those rockets and missiles that were fired from Gaza prior to November 4 were not attributable to Hamas. many were attributed to– or even claimed by– the Fateh-affiliated Al-Aqsa Brigades. Others, to Islamic Jihad.
So this picture of an “unstoppably violent” Hamas that Israelis like to portray to the world is quite simply untrue. Yes, Hamas uses violence for political ends. (Like Israel.) But it does not do so irrationally or uncontrollably; and indeed, it turns out that Hamas– like Israel– is deterrable.
The report has a lengthy consideration of the Israeli forces’ firing, on January 6, of four mortars against Al-Fakhoura Street, near to an UNRWA school being used as a shelter for civilians who had fled other zones of fire. The mortars apparently killed more than 31 people. In the course of many, heavily-footnoted pages the report considers all the evidence available to it concerning what actually happened. It noted that the Israelis’ official version of what had happened changed over time.
It finds, para. 690, that:

    the attack may have been in response to a mortar attack from an armed Palestinian group but considers the credibility of Israel’s [argument to this effect] damaged by the series
    of inconsistencies and factual inaccuracies.

It then does some very thoughtful legal analysis of the Israelis’ decision to use mortars in this quite evidently heavily populated area, and concludes thus:

    696. [T]he Mission finds the following:

      (a) The military advantage to be gained was to stop the alleged firing of mortars that posed a risk to the lives of Israeli armed forces;
      (b) Even if there were people firing mortars near al-Fakhura Street, the calculation of the military advantage had to be assessed bearing in mind the chances of success in killing the targets as against the risk of firing into a street full of civilians and very near a shelter with 1,368 civilians and of which the Israeli authorities had been informed.

    697. The Mission recognizes that for all armies proportionality decisions will present very genuine dilemmas in certain cases. The Mission does not consider this to be such a case.

I note that one of the other three members of Goldstone’s fact-finding team was Colonel Desmond Travers, a former officer in the Irish Armed Forces and member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations (IICI).
One of the real strengths of the report is that it provides, for the world public, real details about the terrible way in which named people were hurt during the fighting. It also provides a record of evident and systematic disinformation about the nature of the Israeli actions.
In discussions here and elsewhere in the week since the report came out, supporters of the government of Israel have ranted and raved against the report, against Judge Goldstone himself, and against the UN. They have not, however, presented any factual evidence that refutes any of the report’s findings.
And most of them have given no indication whatsoever that they have even read the report. They should. So should everyone concerned about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. And so should all US citizens who are concerned about how Israel uses all the financial and military aid our government gives to it.

Goldstone Commission reports on Gaza-war war-crimes

The Goldstone Commission, appointed in April by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that were committed during last winter’s Gaza war, has now presented its findings to the Council.
Regarding actions undertaken by the armed forces of the State of Israel, the report states,

    The Mission found that, in the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip. During the Israeli military operation, code-named “Operation Cast Lead,” houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings were destroyed. Families are still
    living amid the rubble of their former homes long after the attacks ended, as reconstruction has been impossible due to the continuing blockade. More than 1,400 people were killed during the military operation.
    Significant trauma, both immediate and long-term, has been suffered by the population of Gaza. The Report notes signs of profound depression, insomnia and effects such as bed-wetting among children. The effects on children who witnessed killings and violence, who had thought they were facing death, and who lost family members would be long lasting, the Mission found, noting in its Report that some 30 per cent of children screened at UNRWA schools suffered mental health problems.
    The report concludes that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.
    The Report states that Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy, could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed.
    The report underlines that in most of the incidents investigated by it, and described in the report, loss of life and destruction caused by Israeli forces during the military operation was a result of disrespect for the fundamental principle of “distinction” in international humanitarian law that requires military forces to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects at all times. The report states that “Taking into account the ability to plan, the means to execute plans with the most developed technology available, and statements by the Israeli military that almost no errors occurred, the Mission finds that the incidents and patterns of events considered in the report are the result of deliberate planning and policy decisions.”

Regarding actions undertaken by Palestinian armed groups, the Commission found,

    [T]he repeated acts of firing rockets and mortars into Southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups “constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity,” by failing to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population. “The launching of rockets and mortars which cannot be aimed with sufficient precisions at military targets breaches the fundamental principle of distinction,” the report says. “Where there is no intended military target and the rockets and mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population.”
    The Mission concludes that the rocket and mortars attacks “have caused terror in the affected communities of southern Israel,” as well as “loss of life and physical and mental injury to civilians and damage to private houses, religious buildings and property, thereby eroding the economic and cultural life of the affected communities and severely affecting the economic and social rights of the population.”

Three Israeli noncombatants and ten Israeli soldiers were killed during the war. Of the Palestinians killed, more than 1,000 were noncombatants, including more than 300 children.
Here are the Commission’s conclusion and recommendations (reformatted by me for clarity):

    The prolonged situation of impunity has created a justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants action, the Report says. The Mission found the Government of Israel had not carried out any credible investigations into alleged violations.
    * It recommended that the UN Security Council require Israel to report to it, within six months, on investigations and prosecutions it should carry out with regard to the violations identified in its Report.
    * The Mission further recommends that the Security Council set up a body of independent experts to report to it on the progress of the Israeli investigations and prosecutions.
    * If the experts’ reports do not indicate within six months that good faith, independent proceedings are taking place, the Security Council should refer the situation in Gaza to the ICC Prosecutor.
    * The Mission recommends that the same independent expert body also report to the Security Council on proceedings undertaken by the relevant Gaza authorities with regard to crimes committed by the Palestinian side.
    * As in the case of Israel, if within six months there are no good faith independent proceedings conforming to international standards in place, the Council should refer the situation to the ICC Prosecutor.

What a fascinating road-map towards accountability.
Longtime JWN readers will know that I have long reflected and written about how the demands of peacemaking and the demands of seeking full accountability for past acts can best be reconciled. This is a very important case-study in this field.
Meantime, of course, if Pres. Obama is serious about his support for the human-rights agenda and for building a new, more constructive relationship with the UN, then he needs t get behind this process of holding both parties acountable.
Including, he should immediately signal to both Israel and Hamas that he will condition all future US aid to both of them on their compliance with these recommendations.

Goal of the Mumbai attacks: Sparking India-Pakistan war?

The perpetrators of the recent wave of anti-civilian (i.e. terror) attacks in Mumbai were evidently well organized and well prepared for their mission. It was almost certainly planned as a series of suicide attacks. These indicators point to (but do not prove) the responsibility of Lashkar-i-Taiba, “Army of the pure”, a group that originated in Indian-occupied Kashmir but has also operated elsewhere throughout the subcontinent and in Afghanistan. The nature of their attacks evidently had a strong anti-western and anti-Jewish/Israeli cast to it, along with an even stronger readiness/willingness to kill Indian civilians. Those in the west who have centered on the deaths of westerners– who included two devoutly spiritual followers of a Hindu swami who live near my home-town Charlottesville, one of them a 13-year-old girl– should remember that westerners have made up fewer than ten percent of the deaths confirmed so far, with the rest being Indian citizens.
Given the amount of planning, coordination, dedication to martyrdom, and resources that went into this mission, it must have had a political purpose broader than “simply” killing people (for revenge, or for “expressive” purposes, or whatever.) One possible purpose may have been precisely to try to spur a strong Indian military “counter-attack” against Pakistan that would also– because of the western casualties involved– receive the backing of the US and other western nations.
India may oblige. In fact, its military, security, and political chiefs are meeting right now to decide how to respond to the attacks. On Friday, Indian Foreign Minister already accused unidentified “elements in Pakistan” of being behind the attacks.
Islamabad seems to be bracing for the possibility of some harsh Indian response. Earlier, the Pakistani government had said it would send the head of the powerful (but Hydra-like) ISI intelligence, Lieut-Gen, Ahmed Shuja Pasha to New Delhi to help in the investigation. But now, as the cabinet holds an emergency session in Islamabad, it has also announced it will downgrade the level of that cooperation mission.
I’m sure the Indian government feels itself under a lot of pressure to “do something” forceful and rapid to re-assert an appearance of control over the national situation, to reassure its citizens and its foreign partners, and to “avenge” those who died.
Launching a military attack against Pakistan at this time would be the height of counter-productive folly. It would not solve, but rather would seriously exacerbate, the many problems India already has with its neighbor to the north. The governance system in Pakistan is already extremely shaky and stretched to near collapse. Does the Indian government want to push Pakistan– and with it much of the rest of the subcontinent– over the brink?
Where is the Security Council? It was precisely to deal with and defuse these kinds of crisis that the UN was established. But apart from issuing a pablum-y type of statement yesterday, the SC has taken no action on the crisis. Nor has Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon.