Category Archives: US foreign policy

D. Broder and the war fever in Washington

Just how serious the current, rising epidemic of war fever is in Washington DC is indicated by a column in today’s WaPo in which veteran pundit David Broder argues quite clearly that for Pres. Obama, “orchestrating a showdown” with the regime in Iran in 2011 and 2012 will be a successful policy at both the political level and that of the U.S. economy.
Broder, whom I hitherto long respected as a voice of relative (and relatively conservative) sanity on the Washington DC, seems to have lost his capacity for rational argument.
The last five paragraphs of his column need to examined in full:

    What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy.
    Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.
    Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.
    I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

The rhetorical thrust of that last paragraph is confused. “I am not suggesting… that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century… ”
The claim that he is “not suggesting … that the president incite a war to get reelected” is perhaps true in some purely technical sense. But if he is not suggesting that Obama “incite a war”, he certainly is arguing outright that,

    he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

I almost do not know where to start in explaining the intensity of the disappointment I feel in reading this piece from Broder.
Let me try:
1. David Broder has not traditionally been one of the war-mongers (like Jackson Diehl, Jim Hoagland, etc) on the WaPo’s opinion page. I think I remember him expressing some caution when writing back in 2002 about the possibility of an imminent war with Iraq. If the irrationalities of war fever have reached even into David Broder’s soul at this time, then the miasmas in Washington must be even worse than I thought.
2. No-one who has any idea of the effects warfare has on the lives and livelihoods of the residents of the war-zone should ever talk or write glibly at all about the possibility of yet another of humankind’s too-long history of wars being launched. Broder may write that the implications of the possibility of another war “are frightening”. But then, he goes to say that Obama can— and also, by very strong implication should— do this if he wants to be “regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.”
David Broder, what has happened to your sense of humanity??
3. At the purely “technical” level, the argument that launching a war (sorry, “orchestrating a showdown”) with Tehran will ipso facto be good for the U.S. economy is just mind-boggling. David Broder, don’t you remember all the claims made in 2002 that invading Iraq would help the U.S. economy by “bringing down the cost of oil”– and that even if that did not occur, well anyway, the whole invasion and occupation would be largely self-financing because the Iraqis and others would end up paying for it, not the U.S. taxpayer. Why, I believe you even argued against some of those claims back in 2002.
But what effect did the invasion of Iraq actually end up having on the U.S economy? It has been– continues to be– a horrendous drain, having eaten up more than $1 trillion already, and still counting.
Where, David Broder, can you find even one shred of evidence that a war against Iran would be any better for the U.S. economy than that?
Your FDR/World War II argument is flawed, as well. It was true that World War II ended up, at some level, being “good” for the U.S. economy. But by no stretch of the imagination can it be said that Pres. Roosevelt entered the war with the goal of improving the U.S. economy. For him and other members of his generation, the searing economic privations that they had seen the previous World War inflicting on Europe was a powerful disincentive to go to war. When Washington did enter the war it was because the U.S. Navy had been attacked.
No-one has attacked the U.S. on this occasion.
Indeed, the almost certain effects that a U.S. “showdown with the mullahs” would have on the world economy, and therefore on our own, are staggeringly negative. World oil markets could be brought to a standstill. Most other major players in the world economy would not blame Iran for this. They would blame the country that unnecessarily escalated the tensions with Iran toward the “showdown”. The costs they might impose on the U.S.– economically and in other ways– could well be staggering. (Remember that the soundness of the dollar is, actually, dependent on the kindness of strangers.)
… You mention none of these probable economic consequences of a war. Indeed, you don’t even attempt to adduce any evidence as to why, in the 2010’s, the forcing of a “showdown with the mullahs” could be good for the U.S. economy at all. You just write, “as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve;” and you use the facile comparison with FDR and World War II– which happened in an era when the world’s economy, as well as its political balance, were very different from today.
You are discussing an extremely serious issue here in a way that is intellectually lazy to the point of near-dishonesty, as well as mind-bogglingly belligerent.
David Broder, I am very disappointed.

Chas Freeman’s somber look at U.S. Middle East policy

    I am happy to be able to publish here– with his permission– the text of the presentation that Amb. Chas W. Freeman, Jr., made at a conference on the Middle East held at Tufts University, October 14-15. Freeman’s book America’s Misadventures in the Middle East is, of course, the first title to be published by my new publishing company, Just World Books.
    Two days before the Tufts event, Freeman launched the book at a swanky lunch organized by the international affairs committee of the Cosmos Club, in Washington, DC. I have audio of the book launch that I am about to put up onto the JWB website. Not surprisingly, he made many of the same points at the two events. (So you will have the choice of either reading them here, or listening to him delivering them in his wonderful, gravelly voice, over there.)
    They were very important points to make. He invited his American audiences to engage some serious empathy, and to imagine how they (we) would feel if our country had been subjected to the kinds and scales of wounding that our government’s policies have inflicted on Iraq and Afghanistan– and have helped to bring about in the Israeli-Palestinian theater, especially among Palestinians– over the past decade.
    He also made some very important arguments about the damage that the policies pursued by Washington in the Middle East over the past decade has inflicted on our country: the huge losses inflicted in terms of human lives, money– and the assault on so many of our key values that Washington’s endless warmongering has caused.
    The very last argument he makes in the text below is central, I think.
    But let me let him speak for himself.

Remarks to the Fares Center Conference,
Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts,
October 15, 2010
by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)

As an American, I look at the results of U.S. policies in the Middle East and they remind me of the T-shirt someone once gave me. It said: “Sinatra is dead. Elvis is dead. And me, I don’t feel so good.”
The Middle East is a constant reminder that a clear conscience is usually a sign of either a faulty memory or a severe case of arrogant amorality. It is not a badge of innocence. These days, we meticulously tally our own battlefield dead; we do not count the numbers of foreigners who perish at our hands or those of our allies. Yet each death is a tragedy that extinguishes one soul and wounds others. This deserves our grief. If we cannot feel it, we may justly be charged with inhumanity.
All that is required to be hated is to do hateful things. Apparent indifference to the pain and humiliation one has inflicted further outrages its victims, their families, and their friends. As the Golden Rule, common – in one form or another – to all religions, implicitly warns, moral blindness is contagious. That is why warring parties engaged in tit for tat come in time to resemble each other rather than to sharpen their differences.
War is in fact not the spectator sport that the fans who watch it on television or on big screens in theaters imagine. Nor is it the “cakewalk” that its armchair advocates sometimes suggest it might be. War is traumatic for all its participants. Recent experience suggests that 30 percent of troops develop serious mental health problems that dog them after they leave the battlefield. But what of the peoples soldiers seek to punish or pacify? To understand the hatreds war unleashes and its lasting psychological and political consequences, one has only to translate foreign casualty figures into terms we Americans can relate to. You can do this by imagining that the same percentages of Americans might die or suffer injury as foreigners have. Then think about the impact that level of physical and moral insult would have on us.
Consider, for example, the two sides of the Israel-Palestine struggle. So far in this century – since September 29, 2000, when Ariel Sharon marched into the Al Aqsa mosque and ignited the Intifada of that name, about 850 Israeli Jews have died at the hands of Palestinians, 125 or so of them children. That’s equivalent to 45,000 dead Americans, including about 6,800 children. It’s a level of mayhem we Americans cannot begin to understand. But, over the same period, Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed 6,600 or so Palestinians, at least 1,315 of whom were children. In American terms, that’s equivalent to 460,000 U.S. dead, including 95,000 children. Meanwhile, the American equivalent of almost 500,000 Israelis and 2.9 million Palestinians have been injured. To put it mildly, the human experiences these figures enumerate are not conducive to peace or goodwill among men and women in the Holy Land or anywhere with emotional ties to them.
We all know that events in the Holy Land have an impact far beyond it. American sympathy for Israel and kinship with Jewish settlers assure that Jewish deaths there arouse anti-Arab and anti-Muslim passions here, even as the toll on Palestinians is seldom, if ever, mentioned. But, among the world’s 340 million Arabs and 1.6 billion Muslims, all eyes are on the resistance of Palestinians to continuing ethnic cleansing and the American subsidies and political support for Israel that facilitates their suffering. The chief planner of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, testified under oath that a primary purpose of that criminal assault on the United States was to focus “the American people . . . on the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel against the Palestinian people . . . .” The occupation and attempted pacification of other Muslim lands like Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the shocking hate speech about Islam that now pervades American politics lend credence to widening Muslim belief in a U.S. crusade against Islam and its believers.

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When is an act of war not an act of war?

The inimitable Matt Duss has a great post on Wonk Room today in which he notes that recent polling data from CBS News and Vanity Fair “indicates pretty strongly that Americans are not in favor of a U.S. war with Iran.”
He adds, however, that supporters of a U.S. war on Iran realize that a “war”, as such, is very unpopular– and hence, they prefer to couch their bellophilic musings in the less openly warlike (and more apparently “neutral”, or “surgical”) discourse of “military strikes”, “air strikes”, etc.
Thus, as Duss notes, though CBS and VF found that only around 10% of Americans would admit to supporting a “war” on Iran even if it tested a nuclear bomb or attacked Israel, when the Chicago Council on Global Affairs carried out its nationwide opinion survey recently it showed that Americans were “evenly divided” on whether Washington should launch military strikes against Iran “if diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions fail to stop or slow down Iran’s nuclear program.” (p.46 of the Chicago Council survey, PDF here.)
Well, two things are happening there to produce this interesting juxtaposition of results. Note first of all the difference in the scenarios the two polls were referring to. CBS/VF was asking what policies should be pursued if Iran actually tests a nuclear bomb, while the Chicago Council poll was referring merely to the (slightly vague) scenario in which– according to undefined criteria and unidentified judges of those criteria– it might seem that diplomatic efforts and sanctions have “failed to slow or stop” Iran’s nuclear program. (With the unexamined assumption embedded in there being that– “of course”– Iran’s program is indeed aiming straight at the possession of nuclear weapons… Wow!)
And so, under those circumstances, which might occur at a point when Iran’s nuclear-tech programs are still at a point far short of possession or testing of a nuclear weapon, around half the Americans surveyed say they would favor the launching of a “military strike” against Iran… Whereas a presumably similar sample of Americans, when asked the slightly different question about what would justify an American war against Iran, overwhelmingly say that even Iran’s performance of an actual nuclear weapon test would not persuade them that a war as such would be justified.
Oh, what a difference those weasel words, a “military strike”, can make!
But make no mistake about it, an unprovoked attack against the territory of another country is an act of war…. An act of war does not require the formal “declaration” of a state of war. The state of war is initiated with the launching of an act of war itself. A declaration of war can come after (or even, as as often happened in recent times, not at all.)
Think Pearl Harbor.
And this, I think, is where Matt Duss was a little misleading. He was robust in arguing that a Western “military strike” against Iran would indeed lead to a war. But his argumentation there suggested strongly that this would happen only because the hostilities would be long-drawn-out. He wrote, “war is what it would be. The idea that the U.S. or Israel will deal with the problem through a few days or weeks of air strikes should be put to rest.”
Japan’s air attack on Pearl Harbor did not last more than a few hours. But it was certainly more than grave enough to justify– under the international law situation prevailing at the time– the U.S. entry into the broader war on the anti-Japanese side, and therefore the United States’ sperpetration of all kinds of hostile acts against Japanese targets both inside and outside Japan.
In 1945, as the Crimes of War website notes,

    the United Nations Charter banned the first use of force, putting an end to declarations of war. Article 2(4) of the Charter states: “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.”

Well, it is true that that prohibition on the launching of acts of war–and even on the voicing of threats of such acts–has become sadly diluted in the 65 years since 1945. (The U.S. government itself has done a lot, especially under Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush, to hasten that dilution. So has Israel over the years.) But the prohibition still stands. It applies equally to the United States, and to Iran, and to all other states.
As revealed in the CBS/VF poll, the American people seem to have a gut understanding of the wrongness of starting a war.
But ask them about “military strikes”? Then, their answer is different.
The weasel words by which the warmongers try to tell people that an act of war is somehow not actually an act of war but only a “military strike” should be everywhere challenged.
And yes, that would include Sen. Joe Lieberman, who on Sept. 30 told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations that “the military option [is a] real and credible alternative policy” to diplomacy and sanctions, in dealing with Iran… But also that, ”we’re not talking a war.”
(Kudos to Ali Gharib and his colleagues for picking up on Lieberman’s dreadful weaseliness.)

Obama reining in anti-Iran militarists?

David Ignatius had an extremely important piece in today’s WaPo, in which he reported on a small-group interview in which Pres. Obama spoke about Iran in a way that seemed calculated to rein in the numerous militarists who still populate some of the upper reaches of his administration (though notably not the Department of Defense.)
David’s money quote from Obama:

    “It is very important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons,” Obama said, adding: “They should know what they can say ‘yes’ to.” As in the past, he left open the possibility that the United States would accept a deal that allows Iran to maintain its civilian nuclear program, so long as Iran provides “confidence-building measures” to verify that it is not building a bomb.

It is certainly significant that the President himself met with these journalists– the other participants have not yet been named– to send this message, rather than leaving the task to someone else in his administration who might then become the subject of smear and whispering campaigns from the dedicated coterie of Likud supporters that’s so powerful in Washington DC and the U.S. mainstream media. (Such as happened, for example, to his national security adviser, Gen. Jim Jones, around a year ago. And before that, of course– and to even more deadly effect– to Chas Freeman.)
Obama also gave Ignatius and his colleagues the message that the administration is eager to talk to Tehran about Afghanistan– though David gave no record that he said anything similar about coordination over Iraq. That, even though the politics/diplomacy of the the U.S. military effecting its now firmly promised cessation of combat operations in Iraq remain extremely unclear, complex, and potentially hazardous.
Ignatius wrote that after Obama left the room two un-named “senior officials” (one of whom was almost certainly Jones– the other, who knows? Dennis Ross???) in effect spun, or perhaps more politely “contextualized”, what the journos had just heard from the commander-in-chief by saying that the timing is now good to “test” Tehran through a diplomatic overture because Tehran has now started hurting from the new sanctions imposed by the U.N. in May/June.
Right now, the President needs all the support he can get for a policy of real and sincere diplomatic engagement with Iran. (As opposed to the kind of faux ‘engagement’ that is designed to fail, and whose sole intention is to prepare the way for a new war.)
Over at Time mag, Joe Klein has a thoughtful essay summing up the woeful series of developments that was set in train the last time pro-Likud extremists managed to jerk our nation into a quite unnecessary and unjustified war of aggression in the Middle East. (Iraq, 2003.)
It must not happen again.

Arabist and others on the flotilla massacre

Issandr el-Amrani of the Arabist has been doing some of the best blogging on today’s IDF flotilla massacre.
Among his great posts have been these: How Israel sets the TV agenda and The flotilla crisis seen from Cairo.
In the latter post he writes:

    this is the biggest protest about Palestine since the Gaza war, in an atmosphere in which such protests have not been tolerated. We might see more in the next few days, including on Friday after prayers. This may revive local activism on Gaza as well as linkages made between the situation there and the situation in Egypt — notably the Mubarak regime’s collaboration with Israel on the blockade. Expect a fierce fight in the media over this in the next few days, and more opportunities to express all sorts of grievances. But when Turkey expels its ambassador and Egypt is seen to be doing nothing, it looks very, very bad for Cairo.

Egypt is of course a central ally for the U.S. military in the Arab world. Plus, its leadership is now in the throes of a long-drawn-out succession crisis. (Has anyone actually seen the elderly Pres. Mubarak in public any times recently?)
I watched ABC News here in the U.S. this evening. They had Jim Sciutto reporting from London on the international fallout from Israel’s thuggish act of piracy today. He and the other reporters made these two centrally important points:

    1. Israel’s assault on the ship took place in international waters and is thus considered by many to be an outright act of piracy, and
    2. The anti-Israeli feeling engendered by the Israeli assault is also spilling over in many places into anti-U.S. sentiment– and this has direct consequences for the many U.S. service members now serving in vulnerable places in Muslim countries.

Good for ABC News! Let’s hear those very salient facts from a few more members of the U.S. political elite.

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

Mike MccGwire on the Iraq war

One of my dearest friends and most esteemed mentors in the field of strategic studies is Mike MccGwire, a veteran analyst of (then-)Soviet military affairs who started out life as an officer in Her Majesty’s Navy. Or maybe His Majesty’s Navy, since MccGwire is now 85 years old.
I’m on a brief visit to England, and today I had the immense pleasure of going down to the MccGwires’ home in southern Dorset to visit Mike and his wife Helen. He always makes such good, succinct sense. We talked a little about the mega-lethal debacle of the US-led invasion of Iraq. One of his judgments ran something along these lines: “It was doomed to fail, anyway. Cheney wanted to use it to project a fearsome threat against Iran, along the lines of ‘Look, see, this is what you’ll be facing very soon.’ That involved pummeling Iraq very hard; pulverizing it. But Wolfowitz wanted it to be a little island of pro-American democracy in the region; an example of a completely different sort to the whole region. Their goals were at complete odds with each other.”
He also said, with his characteristic air of amazement, that he couldn’t understand why, whenever the American government is faced with a tricky problem on the international scene, “Its first instinct is to reach for the gun.”
Anyway, it was great to see him. Sorry this is all I have time to blog tonight.

Mearsheimer writes obituary for ‘two-state’ option

Prof. John Mearsheimer gave a great talk at the Palestine Center in Washington DC on Thursday, under the title “The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs. the New Afrikaners.”
His most important conclusion was this:

    Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a “Greater Israel,” which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa. Nevertheless, a Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term. In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens. In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream.

(I should note that there is more than one form of Zionist dream. Judah Magnes and other pioneers of the revival of Hebrew language and Jewish life in Palestine in the early and mid-twentieth century had a “dream” of a binational state there. That dream can still be revived today. But Mearsheimer does recognize that stream in Zionist thought, as well– see below.)
Mearsheimer also gave this good, short analysis of the situation in American Jewish community:

    American Jews who care deeply about Israel can be divided into three broad categories. The first two are what I call “righteous Jews” and the “new Afrikaners,” which are clearly definable groups that think about Israel and where it is headed in fundamentally different ways. The third and largest group is comprised of those Jews who care a lot about Israel, but do not have clear-cut views on how to think about Greater Israel and apartheid. Let us call this group the “great ambivalent middle.”
    Righteous Jews have a powerful attachment to core liberal values. They believe that individual rights matter greatly and that they are universal, which means they apply equally to Jews and Palestinians. They could never support an apartheid Israel. They also understand that the Palestinians paid an enormous price to make it possible to create Israel in 1948. Moreover, they recognize the pain and suffering that Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories since 1967. Finally, most righteous Jews believe that the Palestinians deserve a viable state of their own, just as the Jews deserve their own state. In essence, they believe that self-determination applies to Palestinians as well as Jews, and that the two-state solution is the best way to achieve that end. Some righteous Jews, however, favor a democratic bi-national state over the two-state solution.
    To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.
    On the other side we have the new Afrikaners, who will support Israel even if it is an apartheid state. These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. This is not to say that the new Afrikaners think that apartheid is an attractive or desirable political system, because I am sure that many of them do not. Surely some of them favor a two-state solution and some of them probably have a serious commitment to liberal values. The key point, however, is that they have an even deeper commitment to supporting Israel unreservedly. The new Afrikaners will of course try to come up with clever arguments to convince themselves and others that Israel is really not an apartheid state, and that those who say it is are anti-Semites. We are all familiar with this strategy.
    I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.
    The key to determining whether the lobby can protect apartheid Israel over the long run is whether the great ambivalent middle sides with the new Afrikaners or the righteous Jews. The new Afrikaners have to win that fight decisively for Greater Israel to survive as a racist state.
    There is no question that the present balance of power favors the new Afrikaners. When push comes to shove on issues relating to Israel, the hardliners invariably get most of those American Jews who care a lot about Israel to side with them. The righteous Jews, on the other hand, hold considerably less sway with the great ambivalent middle, at least at this point in time. This situation is due in good part to the fact that most American Jews – especially the elders in the community – have little understanding of how far down the apartheid road Israel has travelled and where it is ultimately headed. They think that the two-state solution is still a viable option and that Israel remains committed to allowing the Palestinians to have their own state. These false beliefs allow them to act as if there is little danger of Israel becoming South Africa, which makes it easy for them to side with the new Afrikaners.
    This situation, however, is unsustainable over time. Once it is widely recognized that the two-state solution is dead and Greater Israel is a reality, the righteous Jews will have two choices: support apartheid or work to help create a democratic bi-national state.

The global politics of an Israeli-Palestinian peace

I was just thinking a little more about the global-political context within which any soon-foreseeable Palestinian-Israeli final peace might be concluded… That was after writing this blog post yesterday in which I looked briefly at the question of the international auspices under which any peacekeeping/peace-monitoring force might be deployed to the OPTs.
I noted there that the body or bodies directing the PK force would most likely be the body or bodies directing the diplomatic effort to achieve the peace agreement. Which in the present context would be the U.S.-led Quartet.
The Quartet’s three “junior” partners are the E.U., Russia, and– quite anomalously– the U.N. (The U.N. certainly should not be the junior partner of any single member state. It’s supposed to represent the interests of the whole of humanity.) I very much doubt, however, if any of those junior partners would be prepared to supervise, underwrite, or contribute troops to the maintenance of a PK force sent to “keep” any form of peace that does not meet the full requirements of international law.
Most peacekeeping forces around the world are supervised by either the U.N. or by the relevant regional organization like, in West Africa, ECOWAS. One major exception, that is in the Middle East, is the U.S.-led Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) that supervises the U.S.-brokered peace treaty that Egypt and Israel concluded in 1979. The MFO has 12 national contingents, all of them coming from very strongly pro-U.S. nations. Those countries’ governments are happy to contribute forces because they know that this peace is a stable one that is strongly underwritten at the political level by the U.S.– and because it is fully based on the international-law principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force. Egypt did not cede one inch of its national territory to Israel in the peace agreement, though it did of course agree to very extensive demilitarization measures, economic terms highly favorable to Israel, etc.
But because that peace is both stable and based on international law, participation in the MFO has never, to my knowledge, come in for any serious criticism from the publics of those nations contributing forces.
So now, let’s come to the challenge of forming and supervising a PK force to keep an Israeli-Palestinian peace…
Which nations are going to contribute troops to this force, and under whose supervision?
In the CNAS study (PDF) I was writing about yesterday, Marc Lynch even posited as one of the “scenarios” he was considering, the idea that the PK force– whose supervisory auspices he studiously avoided discussing– might have to engage in some counter-insurgency missions against Hamas’s very extensive networks in the West Bank!
(Hamas, remember, being the party that won the PA’s 2006 parliamentary elections.)
Truly, how many countries are going to be contributing troops to this PK force?
But also, how many governments or or inter-governmental bodies would be willing to participate– in either a supervisory/legitimizing capacity, or a troop-contributing capacity– in a peacekeeping operation designed to “keep” any peace that would fall far short of the requirements of international law?
I think the answer to that question is that only one seriously-sized government anywhere in the world would be willing to consider doing that, and that is the U.S. But this is really a non-starter. Can anyone imagine the reaction worldwide (and in the region) if the U.S. were to try to dominate a PK force in the OPTs, with a big part of the mandate of the force being to protect Israel’s illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank from the many Palestinians– including the actual owners of many of those lands– who still maintain their claims to them?
We are not in 1979.
Back then, the U.S. stood aside the world and was able to convince everyone else that it could (and perhaps even should) monopolize the entire diplomacy of Arab-Israeli peacemaking. Jimmy Carter and his team were also able to persuade the Israeli government of the day that, despite its earlier desire to hang onto much of the Egyptian territory of Sinai, indeed it could not; and it would have to withdraw completely to the international border. Hence that peace agreement met the requirements of international law.
Today’s U.S. president is not nearly as powerful– either within world politics, or even, it seems, in the ongoing tussle of wills with Israel.
For all these reasons, it therefore seems to me quite implausible that the U.S. could hope to replicate the MFO model of 1979 and plan to deploy a U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” type of PK force in the OPTs.
The “willing” are far less numerous, and far less willing, than they used to be. Even NATO, having gotten dragged by Washington into both the war in Afghanistan and the beefed-up UNIFIL operation in Lebanon, now has many members who reportedly pushed back hard against Jim Jones’s late-2008 suggestion that NATO run the post-peace (and perhaps also the peri-peace) PK force in the OPTs.
I think everyone is agreed that if there is to be a two-state outcome in the foreseeable future–a HUGE ‘if’ there– then the Palestinian state that thereby emerges would be substantially demilitarized. (Personally, I think that in the context of a comprehensive peace, that includes the Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli tracks as well, then Israel should emerge substantially demilitarized, as well… But that’s a slightly different issue.)
But if the Palestinian state is demilitarized, then the citizens of that state of course need considerable reassurances that they won’t be subjected to resumed forms of Israeli aggression. They would thus probably need some form of international force to help provide that reassurance– as well as to help police their side of the border against any attempts by Palestinian militants to breach it.
Probably the best kind of force for that purpose would be one in which both the Palestinian citizens themselves, and the “international community”, and Israel, all have high confidence. A Turkish-led force is one model that immediately comes to mind. A U.N. force is another. (After all, UNDOF and UNTSO have very successfully kept Israel’s 1974 ceasefire line with Syria quite quiet for the past 36 years.) Actually, a Turkish-led U.N. force would seem to me to be the best of all possible options.
Bottom line here: Any PK force that goes into Palestine in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian two-state peace has to have a high degree of international legitimacy, both in its institutional structure and in the content of the peace that it’s keeping. The model of a U.S.-led force, that worked in 1979, is incapable of working today. It’s the U.N. or nothing.
Therefore, if the folks in the Obama administration truly want to see a stable, two-state peace emerge, then they will need to find a way to hand the peace-making baton over to the U.N. as rapidly as possible.
But maybe they don’t want it that strongly?

Ambitious think-tankers on peacekeepers and Palestine

A think-tank in Washington DC called the Center for a New American Security recently released a weighty-looking study (PDF here) that claims to examine issues relating to the deployment of an international peacekeeping force to a Palestinian state, once achieved.
The report is titled “Security for Peace: Setting the Conditions for a Palestinian State”. Note that: “Security for Peace”– not “Land for Peace”. And amazingly, as you read through this report you will find not a single map of where the Palestinian state will actually be.

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