Category Archives: US foreign policy

Israelis, Palestinians, and “feelings”

I have just published a “Chirpstory”– that is, a compilation of tweets– about the event I went to today at the New America Foundation, a Washington DC policy research institution (think tank), at which five panelists and a slightly out-of-her-depth moderator were trying to discuss the situation in Gaza. If you’re interested, you can see the archived video of the whole event, and the bios of all the participants, here. It was pretty interesting.

Here, I just want to add one additional comment, in reaction to some things NAF’s own Lisa Goldman said there about the heartfelt and apparently intractable feelings of “fear” that Israeli people have. (In the context, it was very clear she was speaking about Jewish Israelis.) She acknowledged that the Gaza Palestinians were in currently living in a situation of real danger; but she said people should not forget that Israelis live in a constant state of fear. “Any Israeli you talk to, they will tell you about how terrible it was in 2002 and they could not go and enjoy a pizza because of the fear of suicide bombers,” was one of the things she said.

I found this argument interesting, for a number of reasons. Firstly, she seemed to be equating the fear the Israelis feel with the danger the Palestinians are experiencing. In other words, the “feelings” of 6 million Jewish Israelis are just as important (or more important?) than the actual danger of imminent death that currently stalks 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. Secondly, she neglected to mention that (gasp!) Palestinians have feelings, too! And one thing all Palestinians in Gaza feel right now– along with many of their close family members and other fellow Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel, and around the world– is very intense fear. Thirdly, she seemed completely stymied by the phenomenon of the Jewish Israelis’ fear. She seemed to be saying– though I need to check the video for the exact quote– something like, “Well, because of those Israeli fears, that means there is nothing we can do.” Finally, making this argument to an audience primarily made up of US Americans, she seemed to consider that her invocation of the “fact” of the apparently intractable fears of the Israelis, on its own, constituted some kind of a reasonable and convincing argument. Very bizarre.

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Kerry’s road to nowhere

So PLO negotiator Saeb Erakat and Israeli minister Tzipi Livni have met in Washington, shaken hands, and agreed to sit down and talk some more… and this is considered an achievement by Secretary of State Kerry? Give me a break. Twenty years ago, negotiators from the PLO and the Israeli government who had considerably stronger mandates and positions than these two people were sitting down in Oslo and Stockholm and were far deeper into negotiators than these two are today. (Those Oslo-launched talks continued for many years but with rapidly decreasing momentum. In the Oslo agreement the two sides signed on Sept. 13, 1993, they agreed that they would conclude their final-status peace agreement in May 1999. We are now 14 years and 3 months behind that deadline– which was missed primarily because of the machinations of Israel’s PM at the time, a man named B. Netanyahu. Meantime, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has nearly tripled since 1993….)

In today’s WaPo, David Ignatius tries to present the ‘best case possible’ as to why this time around, the talks convened by Sec. Kerry will ‘succeed’. It is a sad and pathetic attempt.

He writes:

Skepticism about Kerry’s project is nearly universal, and it’s understandable when you look at the graveyard of past negotiations. But some interesting dynamics beneath the surface should make observers cautious about premature burial announcements.

What Kerry has done, in effect, is get the two sides to grab hold of a stick of dynamite. If they can’t defuse it within nine months through an agreement, it’s going to blow up: The moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank would collapse; militant Palestinians would take statehood to the United Nations, probably this time with broad European support; an angry Arab League would withdraw its peace initiative. It would be a big mess for everyone.

Riiiiight. Like the Obama administration’s last big attempt to use the ‘threat’ of a big-bang deadline to scare reluctant negotiators to reach agreement worked so well? I refer, of course, to the threat of a government-spending sequester if Congressional negotiators failed to reach agreement on a budget. That worked really well, didn’t it? No reason to think a similar big-bang deadline threat will work any better on the Palestine issue, now.

This time, the scenario that threatens is one that might be seen as a ‘big mess’ by liberal Zionists and all that top rank of PLO leaders who have been living high on the US/EU payroll for the past 20 years… But, ahem, those two groups of people are not ‘everyone’. (Actually, David, in case you hadn’t noticed, the situation in which many millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and the extensive Palestinian diaspora have been living for several decades now can certainly be characterized as an existing and chronic ‘big mess’. Protection for the 500,000 stateless Palestinian refugees in Syria, anyone?)

I don’t know how much slack I want to cut Ignatius for a piece that, at its best looks like a piece of lazy, access-ensuring backscratching. But really, I think he knows better than to come out with some of the statements he makes today.

Like this one: “If they fail this time, it will cost the parties dearly, probably Israel most of all. That provides harsh leverage for Washington.” Oh come on. This week, AIPAC just lazily rippled a little of its congressional muscle on two issues: increasing the pressure on Iran, and continuing U.S. support for Egypt’s coup-committing military. If there’s any kind of a showdown between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration, you think Obama would be in any mood to exercise “harsh leverage” on Israel? Get real.

And then, there is this stunning assessment from Ignatius: “The borders question is, at bottom, an Israeli political issue.” Whaaaat? Like, um, it has no particular consequence for the Palestinians?

The reason I think this is a lazy, access-ensuring article is that David appears not to have either talked to anyone except ‘special envoy’ Martin Indyk (whom he describes as “a longtime friend”), or to have done any thinking of his own as he composed the piece. As I know well, David has a lot of “longtime friends” he could have talked to– including many Palestinians, who could have set him right on many issues. But hey, maybe he was hurrying to get to the beach so just doing stenography for his buddy Indyk seemed like the easiest and quickest way to get today’s column written.

Stenography is not, of course, anything like the writing of a broadly informed and well argued opinion piece. But it does have a value, if it helps reveal what the policymakers are thinking. Maybe this is the money-quote from David’s piece: “An intriguing option for Kerry is a settlement that leaves unresolved some especially difficult issues, such as the status and division of Jerusalem.”

So it seems that Indyk and Kerry are not really insisting on concluding a final-status, i.e. conflict-ending, full peace agreement, at all. Which was, let us recall, what Israel and the PLO absolutely both committed themselves to concluding, back in the Oslo Agreement of 1993. So now, the relationship between the two parties seems less robust than it was 20 years ago… and what Kerry is aiming for, at best, is a renegotiation of the terms of the ‘interim self-government deal’ they reached at Oslo that year.

What a deeply tragic farce.

Meantime, the concrete continues to get poured in new emanations of Israel’s appalling, 19th-century colonial settler project throughout East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. Israel continues to maintain its tight, life-denying siege around Gaza. Jerusalem’s ancient and proud society of Palestinians continues to get squeezed extremely hard. Young Israeli conscripts continue to operate the cattle-pens known as ‘crossing points’ throughout the West Bank. The PLO/PA, lacking anything like sovereignty status, remains quite unable to offer its own, Palestinian, land as a safe haven to Palestinian refugees facing terrible assaults– from both sides– in Syria’s civil war…

And western governments continue their bizarre practice of financing Israel’s continued operation of all aspects of its military occupation of Palestine. Which means, basically, that it looks as if it can go on forever. Truly a diplomatic road to nowhere.

Obama admin wilfully blind on Gaza crisis?

Quick! Someone help free Pres. Obama from the kidnappers who are holding him hostage! The kidnappers in question are, of course, our old friends from the Israel Lobby, who have succeeded so thoroughly in their decades-long campaign to stuff the whole of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment with their acolytes and toadies that it seems that the President of the USA is currently unable to get any even halfway accurate information about the true situation in the Middle East.
Consider this statement that “Deputy National Security Adviser” (actually, a jumped-up speechwriter) Ben Rhodes made to reporters in Phonm Penh today: “the reason there is a conflict in Gaza is because of the rocket fire that’s been launched at Israeli civilians indiscriminately for many months now. And any solution to this challenge has to include an end to that rocket fire.”
That was it. Nothing about the many steps Israel has taken in the past ten days deliberately to escalate the tensions with Gaza (the killing of Ahmed Jabari, etc). Nothing about Israel’s maintenance of a crippling siege around Gaza for the past seven years. Nothing about Israel’s maintenance of a military occupation regime over and around Gaza for 45 years now… No, the only reason there’s a conflict in Gaza is “because of the rocket fire that’s been launched at Israeli civilians indiscriminately for many months now.”
And thus, the only step that Mr. Rhodes and his boss the president see as necessary in order to end the conflict is that Hamas should cease its launching of rockets. Nothing about Israel taking any steps whatsoever to halt its massive, sustained use of lethal violence against Gaza.
Mind-boggling. And outrageous.
There is no public recognition at all from Obama or his officials that both sides should be a party to any ceasefire if it is to have any chance of taking hold. (Preferably, too, some neutral monitoring mechanism should be put in place so that future infringements or accusations of the same can be speedily reviewed and resolved.)
Still today, one week into the current very lethal and tragic flare-up, Obama is giving a flashing green light to Israel: “Yes, Israel, go, go, go! Use all your lethal firepower against Gaza, as much as you want; and we will certainly replenish your military supplies if you need that!”
When Obama spoke with Egyptian Pres. Morsi on the phone yesterday, this is what, according to the White House, transpired during the call:

    The two leaders discussed ways to de-escalate the situation in Gaza, and President Obama underscored the necessity of Hamas ending rocket fire into Israel.

That was it.
My first question is, why this blindness? Well, I guess that’s easy. Time was, back in the old days, when there were people in the White House and in positions of influence in the State Department who understood the broad dynamics of Middle Eastern politics and who had a well-grounded sense of what, broadly speaking, the American people’s interests in the region were. Back in the day, “even-handed” used to be a term of praise for U.S. officials involved in the sometimes complex work of negotiating issues between Arabs and Israelis.
Oh boy, how that has changed. With the rise of AIPAC’s influence over all relevant branches of the U.S. administration (except for some remaining small pockets of resistance in some portions of the Defense Department), kowtowing to Israel became the order of the day. “Even-handed” even came to be understood as a slur expressed against those who were insufficiently zealous in the cause. Too deep and granular an understanding of the dynamics of a region that is host to some 300 million Muslims and just 6.5 million Jewish Israelis came to be seen by everyone in the self-referential bubble that is Washington as a clear career-ender. (Exhibit A: Amb. Chas Freeman, and the humiliation meted out to him in March 2009. But there are numerous other examples, too..)
A self-imposed blindness became the order of the day in Washington.
And today, that blindness matters.
The Middle East of late 2012 is not, it turns out, the same as the Middle East of 2006 (the days of George W. Bush, Condi Rice, and the “birth-pangs of democracy” criminality over Lebanon.) It is not even the same as the Middle East of 2008-09 when– as in 2006– an apparently strongly seated Pres. Mubarak was still in power in geopolitically massive Egypt, able to extend his support over other, more fragile U.S. allies in the region like the PA’s Abu Mazen and Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Hullo! Perhaps someone should tell Pres. Obama and his minions that, um, something rather serious has changed in Egypt over the past 22 months?
Just one small sign of this change is the fact that Egyptian solidarity activists have been able to go to Gaza this time. Back in 2008-09, Mubarak declared it “high treason” for any unauthorized Egyptian to even get as close to Gaza as crossing the Suez Canal (which is still a good three hours’ drive from Gaza.)
I don’t think we’ve seen Egyptian solidarity activists able to get into a zone under Israeli attack since 1982, when a number of leading Egyptian cultural figures went to Beirut at the time it was being pounded senseless by the Israeli military. (And the effect they had there was, by all accounts, quite pronounced, in terms of raising the morale of the city’s defenders and assuring them that they had not been forgotten by the world.)
Don’t under-estimate the effects of such sojourns, and of the reporting thereon, dear Mr. Ben Rhodes.
Do you think that Mr. Ben Rhodes has even heard of Mosa’ab Elshamy, an Egyptian social activist whose Twitter profile reads, quite straightforwardly, “I revolted and overthrew a dictator.” Well, perhaps there is just a tad of exaggeration there– Elshamy didn’t do it ALL by himself back in February of last year… But during those amazing days of January-February 2011 in Cairo, he certainly was one of the key activists…
So today, Elshamy is in Gaza. Today, he posted this slideshow onto the U.S. website Foreignpolicy.com. U.S. officials don’t even have to know Arabic to be able to appreciate the impact of his photos and their (English-language) captions. But imagine how much more they might understand about the geopolitical dynamics of the whole region today, if regional knowledge had not been systematically besmirched and derided by the past 30-plus years of campaigns by AIPAC and its allies?
Actually, it doesn’t even require a Ph.D. in area studies, or anything close to it, to understand such things. All that’s required is a recognition that you can’t carry on privileging the claims, interests, and assertions of 6.5 million Jewish Israelis over those of their 300 million neighbors forever and expect that situation to be stable and sustainable.
To imagine that that might be possible requires a certain, very extreme kind of colonial (and essentially racist) blindness!
If there is to be a ceasefire that works for Gaza– as I so sorely hope– then evidently, it has to be reciprocal. It is strongly preferable, in addition, that some neutral monitoring mechanism be in place. And it is absolutely necessary– for the sake of the 1.7 million Palestinians of Gaza, and for all Israelis and Palestinians everywhere– that a decent and sustainable end to the longstanding conflict between the two peoples be attained in the shortest possible time.
For 39 years now, ever since the Geneva Conference of December 1973, Washington has successfully maintained its monopoly over all Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy. The record of this tenure has been especially poor regarding the crucial Palestinian strand of the effort. Over the past 39 years, the Israelis have implanted 500,000 settlers into the occupied Palestinian territories. They have maintained total control over all of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. They have killed several tens of thousands of Palestinians– between Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank– and have displaced hundreds of thousands more from their ancestral homeland. They have completely transformed the human geography of Jerusalem. They have refused any attempts by the eight million or so Palestinians living in exile to return to their homeland. Palestinian acts of violence over that period have killed some hundreds of Israelis.
Every so often throughout the past 39 years– and especially in the aftermath of a flare-up of tensions– Washington would trot out some version or another of a new “peace initiative”, or even (heaven forbid!) a peace “process”, involving the Palestinians. All of it was flim-flam, smoke and mirrors whose main effect (and in some cases, also the intention) was to give the Israelis more time to continue their colonial taking of the Palestinians’ land and resources.
It is time to end that charade. Time for the grown-ups in the world system to take the reins away from Washington and work to speedily find and implement a solution to the Palestine-Israel question that is based on international law and a respect for the basic equality of all human persons.
… But first, we need that two-sided ceasefire in Gaza. Two-sided. How blind must this U.S. president be if he can’t understand that?

Fundraiser for key new book on Iran– please help!

As some JWN readers know, twelve days ago I launched an online fundraising campaign to support the writing and publication of one of my company’s most important books for 2013, a book by award-winning investigative reporter Gareth Porter that exposes how the U.S. and Israel have “manufactured” the whole scare about Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons.
(Big thanks to Mr. Netanyahu for providing us with such a fabulous book cover image, by the way.)
The book will be called Manufactured Crisis: The Secret History of the Iranian Nuclear Scare. Gareth, who in June traveled to London to receive the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, is uniquely qualified to write this book. You can see more details about his qualifications over at the fundraising page. But he needs some financial support if he is to take time out from his continuing duties as a cutting-edge investigative reporter, and pull together the huge amount of material that he has amassed, into the form of this very sorely needed book.
We want, obviously, to get the book out as early in 2013 as we can… But it still all needs to be written!
My company, Just World Books, has given Gareth a small advance. But he needs quite a lot more support, if he is to be able to devote the time that this project needs– and to do so, starting in early December! We don’t have access (as the vast majority of the warmongers and scaremongers do) to huge gobs of funding from foundations or think-tanks. So this has had to be a “people’s” fundraising campaign; and in a way I’m very glad about that.
The fundraising platform that we’re working with, Kickstarter, has a generally good format. But it has an important feature that we all need to know about: Anyone launching a Kickstarter campaign has to designate both an end-date, and a target amount of money that she or he wants to raise before that end-date… And if the pledges made to the campaign as of that date don’t meet the target, then none of the money gets collected!
From the point of view of a project’s backers, that is probably a good thing. It means that you don’t end up pouring money into a project that never gets fully funded and that may therefore never get completed. From our viewpoint as the project’s authors, however, it means we absolutely need to meet the $10,000 fundraising target we set, before December 12, which was the cut-off date that I designated.
If we don’t reach the goal by then, not only we don’t get any of the money pledged, but also, I think we don’t even get access to the contact details of the pledgers, to ask them if they could find a way to support us, anyway.
Right, I agree that that latter aspect of the Kickstarter system seems really horrible.
But the Kickstarter folks are quite right to stress, as they do in some of their literature, that running a successful fundraising campaign takes time and energy; and that people who are planning creative projects should try to be strategic about minimizing the amount of time they have to spend fundraising.
So let me ask all of you readers of JWN to help us meet our goal.
This is not a “charitable” endeavor. It is a serious pitch for backing for an important publishing project… and we’re offering a graduated series of worthwhile “rewards” to everyone who contributes $10 or more. You can check them out on the right sidebar of the Kickstarter page there.
When I was planning this fundraising campaign, I decided it should run for 42 days. We launched it on October 24. We knew it would be hard to get much attention for it during the lead-up to and immediate aftermath of the U.S. election. But now, the election has finished and all the dust that it raised has settled. The fact that Pres. Obama won re-election does not mean at all that the threat of continued tensions and future, perhaps sudden, escalations between the U.S. and Iran–or, between Israel and Iran– has gone away.
Far from it!
Today, according to the Kickstarter page, we have 29 days left for our campaign. (I would have pegged it at 30 days, but never mind…) And we are already 22.6% of the way towards our goal.
My huge thanks to everyone who has expressed their support of this project– and their confidence in Gareth and me– by pledging, so far!
But we still need to raise the remaining $7,740 by December 12.
Can you help us, please?
Kickstarter will accept pledges in any amount from $1 up. We offer good rewards, at pledge levels from $10 right through $1,000. If you haven’t pledged yet, could you consider doing so? Pledging can be done quickly and simply through the Kickstarter page.
In addition, we’d appreciate anything you can do to help us spread the word about this fundraising campaign. There must be many ways in which, for example, you could tell your friends about it, and urge them to make a pledge, too?
If you’re a fellow blogger, could you blog something quick and simple about it? (I’d be happy to help you by giving you some “talking points” you could use in your blog post… Or, just take down some of the key points that Gareth makes about the project in the great little video that we put onto the KS page.)
If you’re on Twitter and want to tweet about the campaign, we’ve created this handy short URL you can copy and use: http://bit.ly/ManufCrisis… Actually, anyone can use that short URL, which is a whole lot easier to remember or copy than the long version.
And let’s not forget physical-media ways of doing outreach, either. I’m just about to make some print flyers about the campaign, to start handing out, including at the annual conference of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, which runs in Denver, Colorado, this weekend. Let me know if you’d like me to send you the PDF of the print flyers, so you can distribute some, too.
…So please, give us all the help you can. We need this fundraising campaign to succeed. That way, Gareth can get started very soon on the deep, sustained work that is needed to pull together all the materials he has collected, into this important book… And we can then know that this book can make a real contribution to setting the record straight on the lies, manipulations, and actual DIS-information on this issue that too many in the “west” have been subjected to, for far too long.
Thanks, everyone!

Watching the imperium collapse

I apologize that I got too busy doing book publishing over the past few days to comment directly on the shameful decision by the Obama administration to veto last Friday’s Security Council resolution that condemned Israel’s continued settlement building program.
What on earth were they thinking?
Answer: They weren’t doing any real-world strategic “thinking”, as such. They were triangulating their chances of being able to retain AIPAC’s powerful financial-aid program through the next electoral cycle here in the U.S. (Which– hullo!– we’re still at the very beginning of, anyway.
Luckily, others have written good analyses of what was happening. Including Steve Walt, and Glenn Greenwald.
Greenwald included his little analysis of the terrible effects, as well as the terrible nature, of the veto decision as one of four items in a great piece titled (with great irony) “This week in winning hearts and minds.”
The other three were:

  • The Raymond Davis incident in Pakistan. (Today, by the way, the CIA admitted that Davis, who killed two people in Lahore last week, was indeed working on contract for them.)
  • The fact that most– though not all- of the dictatorial regimes that have been toppling and coming under threat over these past weeks have been “cherished allies” of Washington; and
  • The fact that the local tribal elders in Kunar, Afghanistan, say that many or most of the 64 people killed in NATO’s latest air-raids there were civilians…

    There are many other ways, too, in which the heavily militarized and diplomatically tone-deaf policies that Washington has pursued for many years now toward the majority-Muslim parts of the world (and elsewhere) have ended up actually undercutting the American people’s interests around the world.
    And now, with Washington continuing these policies in an almost completely solipsistic way, the imperium that the US military has been maintaining throughout (and over) most of the Greater Middle East is crumbling more and more visibly every day.
    I believe they don’t have any idea what to do about the vast challenge of (not entirely irrational) anti-Americanism in Pakistan. The WaPo’s Gregg Miller wrote this morning that though, under Pres. Obama, the CIA has significantly stepped up the use of killer drones to launch extrajudicial killings against “suspects” in the northwest of the country, they’re still not managing to kill any more of the (allegedly) “high value targets”:

      CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed at least 581 militants last year, according to independent estimates. The number of those militants noteworthy enough to appear on a U.S. list of most-wanted terrorists: two.

    See the graphics here.
    In Afghanistan, NATO (most likely U.S.) air raids have been busy killing scores of people in Kunar province (as noted by Greenwald)… and the very best case anyone can make as to how the U.S. could be described as “winning” this war, as made here yesterday by Fick and Nagl, was just a mishmash of wishful thinking.
    In Tunisia and Egypt, the U.S. has lost the compliant, totally toadying leaders it had been relying on for many decades– and whatever governments now get formed in those countries will have to be a lot more responsive to the popular will than Presidents Ben Ali and Mubarak ever felt they needed to be.
    Libya is in the middle of an extreme, megalethal crisis. Right now. With citizens being mowed down in their hundreds by a gun-happy military.
    Bahrain– home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet– is in the midst of huge upheavals.
    The rulers of Saudi Arabia, long a key pillar of the U.S. imperium in an area stretching from north Africa to Pakistan, are almost unable to do anything to arrest the decay. They are (as I’ve noted here several times before) locked into their own very long-drawn-out succession struggle. They have a crazily misdesigned society that is totally reliant on the contribution of contract laborers from elsewhere (including a large proportion from Pakistan) and on the deliberate exclusion of people from neighboring countries like Yemen… Where there is also right now, let’s not forget, a major social-political upheaval (along with truly shocking levels of mass impoverishment and also, ta-da, intermittent killings from U.S. drones.)
    * * *
    There is, indeed, too much going on right now to make easy or swift sense of it all. What is clear, though, is that throughout the Arab parts of the Middle East, a new spirit of liberation and self-empowerment has been unleashed that will change the politics of the region forever.
    What is also clear is that the the great big structures of war-fighting that the U.S. has supported throughout the Middle East, and the actual wars it has waged within it, have done nothing to protect the interests of the American people, but rather, have massively undercut our ability to have sane, friendly relations of mutual respect with the peoples of the region.
    And that is even without looking at the vast financial burden that all this militarization has imposed on us. Add that in, and the true craziness of the way our policies have been militarized since 2001– under George W. Bush and also under Obama– becomes stunningly, tragically clear.
    Time for a large-scale “re-set” in our priorities.

Standoff-ending precedents: The ‘USSR’ and Iran

I was just reading the generally sensible ‘Talk of the Town’ piece on Iran and WikiLeaks that Rick Hertzberg had in the Dec. 13 issue of the New Yorker, that landed on our stoop this afternoon. (Sorry, can’t easily find a link for it.)
The piece is interesting because– though Hertzberg seems to take for granted that Iran is actively toward possession of a nuclear weapon, which has yet to be proven– still, he argues that,

    the supposed remedy of a ‘military solution’ would be more unacceptable [than the things that might predictably happen if Iran does get a nuclear weapon.] A bombing attack on Iran’s far-flung, fortified nuclear facilities… would be the start of a war of unknown duration and immense human, material, and political cost… In the past decade, we have been drawn [he does not say by whom] into two wars on Muslim soil. Both began with promises of quick and nearly bloodless (for us) ‘victory.’ Neither has ended. We cannot afford a third.

Bravo.
However, Hertzberg then goes on to argue for a repeat of the containment policy that the U.S. pursued toward the Soviet Union from the late 1940s until the largely peaceful (well, peaceful for the U.S.) collapse of the Soviet Union from the late 1980s on.
However, if (as Hertzberg advocates) the people of Iran are to be successfully persuaded that following the path of the peoples of the former Soviet Union and bringing about the end of their current political system would be a wonderful thing for them (as well as for Americans), then this would have been a much more persuasive argument had the U.S. actually been a more generous and visionary ideological “victor” in the U.S.-Soviet Cold War.
In this regard, Pres. George H.W. Bush looks to have been a lot more skillful, smart, and persuasive than Pres. Clinton. It was Bush Senior who famously noted to Pres. Gorbachev in 1990 that he “wasn’t dancing on the ruins of the old Berlin Wall,” and who also reassured Gorbachev and the Russians that he had no intention of extending NATO further to the west. But after Bill Clinton became president in 1993 he did just that. He also worked through the IMF and other international financial institutions to force on the Russian people a humiliating dismantling of their social safety net that pushed millions of formerly middle-class former-Soviet families into poverty.
If Clinton had not acted in that triumphalist way, then the idea of an American “victory” in the kind of containment-based mini-Cold War that Hertzberg advocates against Iran might be more acceptable to Iran’s people. But how many people, anywhere in the world, would like to follow the kind of path that the Russian and other former-Soviet people were forced to tread throughout the 1990s? I suspect, not many…
Actually, the idea that in the 21st century the U.S. even has the global clout to mount and maintain– even against a decidedly second-class country like Iran– a replay of the Cold War it maintained for for more than 40 years against the USSR is already a chimera. Washington just doesn’t have that kind of global clout or that ability to assemble and maintain world-circling coalitions that it had throughout the second half of the 20th century.
Instead of advocating for a replay of that lengthy post-1948 Cold War, Hertzberg would do far better to concern himself with what it would take to get an actual, human-equality-based and tension-reducing negotiation underway between our government and Tehran. Now there’s a revolutionary idea…

U.S. diplomacy in tatters– and not from Wikileaks

Our country’s ability to influence events around the world is in tatters– and this was already the case before the latest round of Wikileaks started to dribble out to the public. Yesterday there were “elections” in Egypt and Haiti, two countries deep within the U.S. sphere of influence. Both elections were deeply flawed in terms of the most basic norms of democratic accountability and fairness. And both did much more to reveal and exacerbate the deep social and political crises in the countries in which they were held, than they did to resolve differences peacefully and to establish governments capable of providing real public security and other essential services to their citizens– outcomes which are, to be sure, among the basic benefits of a well-run democratic system.
After the end of the Cold War, remember, there was considerable crowing from many in the United States to the effect that the “victory” the U.S. had won in the Cold War was due to the superiority of the democratic American way of governing. The end of the Cold War would, we were told, inaugurate a new “Third Wave” of democratization all around the world. (And thus, the only sometimes spoken sub-theme had it, American power would be bolstered all around the world. For surely the citizens of all these new “democracies” would hanker only after the American way of life and American way of business?)
In Central and Eastern Europe, the countries of the former Warsaw Pact followed more or less that script. But in 2004-06, when Condoleezza Rice tried to extend the model to Iraq, Egypt, and Palestine, she got a rude shock. Citizens in those countries, given anything resembling a free vote, tended to support strongly anti-American candidates. After the relative victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary election of 2005 and the outright victory that Hamas won in the Palestinian parliamentary election of early 2006, Washington’s support for the export of formal democracy to most of the Arab world stopped in its tracks and was, indeed, abruptly reversed. In Egypt, the presidential election of 2006 was held under restrictive rules that met no protest from Washington– as were the parliamentary elections held yesterday, which were a mockery of any idea of fairness. In Palestine, after the 2006 election, Washington abruptly joined with Israel and a faction from the losing Fateh party to combat and plot the overthrow of the democratically elected government.
In this context, it was interesting that in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. and the rest of the (U.S.-led) “international community” persisted with the idea that some form of formal democracy should continue to be pursued. In Iraq, Washington’s motivation seemed to be mainly to establishing something– anything!– that could be said to be a positive fruit of the decision to invade the country in 2003. In Afghanistan, Washington evidently felt it needed to conform to the pro-democracy philosophy of the NATO alliance whose military help it so sorely needed. Thus, anyway, we had the November 2009 presidential election in Afghanistan, which was a deeply flawed process. And then in March this year we had the parliamentary election in Iraq, which was procedurally far less flawed than the Afghan election– but which resulted in a tough political impasse that has left the country effectively without a government ever since.
Then yesterday, there were parliamentary elections in Egypt and presidential elections in Haiti. Both are countries in which U.S. influence has been both longlasting and deep. Haiti is a country now mired in multiple, extreme social and humanitarian crises– to which the wide spread of cholera has now been added. Former President Bill Clinton has been the UN’s “special envoy” for Haitian reconstruction ever since the earthquakes of January. But what has he achieved? What has the diplomacy of his wife, Hillary Clinton, and her boss, Pres. Obama, achieved for the people of Haiti?
Yes, there is a deep (and chronic) crisis of governance in Haiti. But it is not one that can be solved simply through holding an election. It is a crisis that most certainly was exacerbated by the policies Bill Clinton himself pursued toward the country back in 1994…
In Egypt, there is also a deep crisis of governance– though thankfully, until now, not one that has had the same dire human consequences as the crisis in Haiti.
But in both countries, the deep flaws in the way the elections have been conducted are a clear mark of the failure of U.S. diplomacy.
When elections held in countries where the U.S. is influential go “well” procedurally, Washington is the first to take the credit. On this occasion, in both Egypt and Haiti, Washington must bear considerable responsibility both for the flaws in these elections and for the deeper crises of governance that underlie them.
(The above short essay does not, of course, even start to note other areas– like Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy, international financial governance, Korea, etc– in which U.S. diplomacy also currently lies in tatters.)

Virginians standing up to Cantor!

A group of home-state Virginians and I are planning to build a network of in-state activists– including our friends in the 7th congressional district– to stand up for our country’s interests against the near-treasonous positions on Israel being articulated by Rep. Eric Cantor.
Last Wednesday evening, on the eve of Israeli PM Netanyahu’s lengthy and difficult meeting with secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Netanyahu had an hour-long tete-a-tete in New York with Cantor, who will be the “House Majority leader”, i.e. the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, as of next January. During the meeting, according to a statement issued afterwards by his office, Cantor,

    stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington… He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.

Even Ron Kampeas, the veteran columnist over at the Jewish Telegraph Agency, was astonished, writing,

    I can’t remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president. Certainly, in statements on one specific issue or another — building in Jerusalem, or somesuch — lawmakers have taken the sides of other nations. But to have-a-face to face and say, in general, we will take your side against the White House — that sounds to me extraordinary.

You can find much more on the Cantor Rant, from Glenn Greenwald, here.
My friends and I haven’t decided yet what our new network will be called. Maybe something like “Virginians for Our Country’s Sanity” (VOCS)? If you’re a Virginian and you’d like to help us show Rep. Cantor that he doesn’t speak for us (or, indeed, for American military leaders responsible for the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens serving in very dangerous locations overseas), then drop us a line. Give us your name, email (obviously), street address, congressional district, and we’ll see what we can do to build the network.

The U.S. president, congress, and the world in 2010

I was at a meeting in Washington on Thursday where we were discussing the effects that the Democrats’ drubbing in the November 2 mid-terms could be expected to have on the so-called Israeli-Palestinian “peace process”. Most of the participants were understandably glum. (This was just after the news came out about Netanyahu’s Wednesday-night meeting with the GOP’s incoming House Majority Leader, the dreadful Eric Cantor. See Glenn Greenwald’s excellent commentary on that, here.)
My interest did get kind of piqued, however, when one fairly senior retired diplomat spoke up toward the end of the discussion, and said, “I disagree. I think we will see Obama liberated after the midterms, to conduct foreign policy as he sees fit. He will no longer feel he needs to look over his shoulder to keep his congressional followers behind him– because he won’t have any.”
Well, it was an interesting theory. The speaker went on to talk about how, back in 1994, Pres. Clinton had also had a horrible time in the first midterm elections of his presidency, losing the House to the GOP– but had then gone on to pursue a very successful and imaginative foreign policy.
Um, yes. Maybe. I think I disagree quite a bit about Clinton having pursued a great foreign policy. Weren’t those the years in which, fatally, and at Dennis Ross’s urging, he dropped the ball on nailing down the deadlines to complete the final-status Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement? Did he have to go on and bomb Serbia? Etc., etc.
But even if we “grant” Clinton some success… the world of 2010 is still very, very different from the world of 1994.
In 1994, the United States stood effortlessly astride the whole international system. A U.S. president could make bold moves in foreign policy (even though Clinton really didn’t do very much of that)… But he could have, both because all the other actors around the world were still much punier than the U.S., and because here inside the United States, the legacy of the Cold War and of many decades of custom before that meant that people really did act as if “politics stops at the water’s edge”… That is, even the most partisan critics of the president at home did not do anything that might undermine his ability to conduct an effective diplomacy on the world stage.
How things have changed– in both regards. Example number 1 of the latter shift is Eric Cantor himself, with the assurance he gave to Netanyahu in which, as reported by his office, he “stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration… ”
But the balance has changed a lot internationally since 1994, as well. Even the most cursory reading of the reports from the past week’s G-20 summit Seoul shows that.
In a good report on the FT website yesterday, Alan Beattie wrote,

    President Barack Obama arrived in Seoul at this week’s G20 summit chastened by the Democrats’ drubbing in the midterm elections. If he thought that he would find peace by retreating to the rarefied heights of international summitry, he was sadly mistaken.

He went on to note the tide of criticism that has been rising internationally (including among all other 19 members of the G-20), since the U.S. Federal reserve announced its policy of renewed “quantitative easing” (QE2,also known as “printing more dollars”) two weeks ago.
He commented,

    To be fair, Mr Obama’s administration, although few doubt it is highly sympathetic to QE2, cannot control the Fed and does not comment on monetary policy. Still, American policymakers have shown a curious reluctance to defend the US more generally in public. It was just this Thursday, more than a week after the Fed’s QE2 decision, that Tim Geithner, Treasury secretary, went on TV effectively to rebut the widespread international charge that it was pursuing a weaker dollar.
    Once, this reticence would not have mattered. In the heady days of the late 1990s when Mr Geithner was last at the Treasury and the department often appeared to be running global economic policy single-handed, it generally had the financial and reputational clout to get its way at international meetings without having to orchestrate the mood music beforehand. But being the strong, silent type only works for those powerful enough to let their strength do the talking.

Interesting observation…
Bottom line: Once upon a time, the U.S. was so powerful internationally that a U.S. president could almost always portray himself as successful if he took actions on the world stage… and many U.S. presidents used this power with some success to try to counteract the erosion of their political support at home. (Think of Nixon on his farewell tour to Paris; or earlier, going to China.)
Now, though, that card suddenly doesn’t seem available for a U.S. president. Indeed, Washington’s international clout is so diminished– in part because of the disastrous policies pursued by Pres. G. W. Bush, in part because of other, longer-term processes, including the country’s apparent inability to escape the shackles of heavy, longterm military spending– that today, if a president launches any significant initiative overseas he runs a serious and probably increasing risk of appearing even weaker at home because of the way his initiative gets dissed abroad.
…And so the world turns.

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.