Archive for the ‘Blogroll’ category

Israel/Palestine Afterthought

January 29, 2009

After my recent rather hopeless posting on a possible Israel/Palestine conflict, I have become aware of an alternative that just might offer hope. This is the suggestion that Israel might be able to keep some of its setrtlements if it were willng to trade for them lands which Arabs live on within Israel proper. Much of the Arab population lives on the edge of the West Bank, including some Bedouin tribes in the northeast Negev. This is part of the solution offered by President Carter in his latest book. Thomas Friedman in a recent NyTimes Op-Ed has made this a part of his solution. And so has the leader of one of the hardline parties in Israel (he is concerned with losing out to the “population bomb” unless something like this is done). If this solution were to include giving East Jerusalem back to the Palestinians, perhaps there could be a deal. The down side is that we do not hear enough about it, particularly from the Arabs.

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Peace in Palestine-Israel

January 26, 2009

Last night, “Sixty Minutes” tore the veil off the discussion of peace in Palestine. It pointed out that there is little or no chance that a peace can be attained. Events have moved too fast, and positions are too entrenched. Specifically, by establishing more and larger colonies in the West Bank, Israelis have foreclosed any opportunity for a resolution. Arabs are never going to agree to the maintenance of these settlements in anything like their present condition and no Israeli government will be strong enough to actually move the bulk of the settlers out.

One hates to admit that this is probably right. The two state solution opportunity has vanished, destroyed by the ambitions of the radical settlers who believe all of Palestime is their god-given inheritance.

In a recent Op-Ed, Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, has argued that the only solution is a one-state solution with an elected government for all people living in Palestine. This seems right, for it would lay the basis for a truly democratic state, something that a state founded on a particular religion can never achieve. However, the fact that the Arabs would soon outnumber the Jews also makes this a nonstarter.

The only hope has to be growth in the strength of moderates on both sides. On the Arab side, the moderates have been seriously weakened by Israeli actions, such as its decimation of Gaza. It is unlikely that Fatah would be able to negotiate anything but the most pro-Arab and thus most unlikely agreement under present conditions. The Israelis have many moderates, one of whom hopes to become their leader in the near future, but the record of their being able to significantly alter what the Arabs see on the ground is not promising. They have not controlled the settlements in the past: how could they destroy the homes of hundreds of thousands of Israelis and move them out after an ageement? Sixty Minutes suggested that the army would simply not carry out such orders.

Afghanistan: More or Less?

January 19, 2009

There has been a great deal of discussion lately of the stated intention of the new administration to significantly increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. When we invaded Afghanistan, I wrote that we should use several hundred thousand troops as part of a major attempt to transform the country. I was thinking of what we did for the people of the Axis powers after World War II. It was also before the Iraq effort had siphoned off our troops and our will as a nation to make such efforts. The reader may also be interested in a 2004 blog discussing the thoughts of the Afghan expert Barnett Rubin on this topic (See Rubin) Rubin had already concluded by that time that the situation was getting more and more difficult and was unsure where to go from here.

It is well to remember that the Russians went through approximately the same effort that we are making, and with about twice the number of troops we have. It was also a high-tech effort. It is also useful to remember that their chief human rights achievement, like ours, was to raise the status of women. They also had their Afghan government and their projects. But in the end, they decided to give it up. Their regime collapsed and the Taliban eventually conquered most of the country.

Some conclude that adding more troop would be repeating the errors of the Russians and the British before them. They argue that we have little need to control Afghanistan, that the Taliban are no threat to us, and that they will not automatically harbor al-Qaeda.

But their arguments are too facile. The Taliban represent the worst of Islam. We have developed oases in the country in which a more humane life style is widely accepted. Were we to leave, we would be abandoning millions of the country’s most promising citizens to severe repression. We cannot easily avoid this responsibility.

This leaves the observer in a quandary. We appear to be losing ground. The more we fight, the more civilians we kill, the more enemies we have. I have many different suggestions, as do others, but how to make the most fundamental decision, more troops or less, escapes me.

Iranian Access Routes into Afghanistan

January 5, 2009


In a recent item in the NYT (December 31), there was extensive discussion of the need for alternative supply routes into Afghanistan for both military and development assistance. The Khyber pass may simply become too exposed to use successfully.


Although a quick look at the map would suggest that transit through Iran is the obvious alternative, Iran was notably absent from the discussion. Compared to the use of Central Asia, which was emphasized in the article, it would be much more cost effective to land supplies at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf and use its rail and road connections to Mashhad in northeast Iran. From Mashhad, there are well developed roads and may soon be railroads to Herat in Afghanistan.


We may not like the Iranian regime, but we did not let such considerations bar us from using Iran as a conduit for supplies for Stalin’s USSR in World War II.


Iran helped us in the beginning of our Afghan adventure, has maintained good relations with Kabul, and its Shiite adherents are mortal enemies of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Let us build on our common interests so that we might forge a more effective and less costly Middle Eastern Strategy. This should be high on the agenda when President Obama “sits down” with the Iranians.

Balancing Military and Nonmilitary Actions in Afghanistan

January 5, 2009


We certainly need a rethinking of foreign and military policy that places more emphasis on the nonmilitary tools of policy (“A Handpicked Obama Team for a Sweeping Foreign Policy Shift” [NYT, Dec 1]. But the changes need to be carefully calibrated in terms of the facts on the ground in each situation rather than thoughtlessly replacing one ideologically driven policy by another.


For this reason I was discouraged to read the quotation from Secretary Gates that our recent emphasis on force alone “[was] almost like weorgot everything we learned in Vietnam”. For what we learned in Vietnam was certainly not that we should have provided more nonmilitary assistance or exercized more “soft power”. What we learned in Vietnam was that we could never win a conflict in which the opponent was continuously resupplied in men and materiel from territory into which Washington had decided not to enter. (In the end we lost Vietnam because of a conventional military offensive by the North that was led by tanks.) This lesson is particularly important as we consider how we might balance military and nonmilitary options in Afghanistan under a new administration.

We cannot hope to win in Afghanistan as long as we or our allies do not control the tribal areas in Pakistan. I would suggest that as we develop future policy only after we carefully reflect on “The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost” (the official story written by the Russian General Staff). The Soviets tried everything and yet they lost.

Leaving Iraq: What to Do?

July 12, 2007


On July 8, the editors of the New York Times joined the chorus of Iraq leavers in a very long editorial. It was a reasonable job, yet it left many things to be desired. First, it ignored the growing evidence from Anbar and neighboring provinces that we can work with local Sunni militia in our efforts to defeat the extremists. This is the most promising opening in several years. It would surely close were these Sunnis to learn that American withdrawal were imminent.


I assume part of the reason for this omission is the general assumption that success in Iraq rides of the shoulders of the Shi’a majority. This ignores the very real probability that the Sunni will once again lead the country, a hope that the Sunni resistance certainly clings to. As I have pointed out before in these blogs, minorities frequent lead countries, often for centuries. The role of the Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi is a well-known example. This suggests that developing alliances with Sunni movements in the west and north of the country may be more fruitful than it appears at first.


Of course, one of the problems with getting out of any situation, is that if one stayed just a little longer, it might turn around. There are always indications that “things are about to change”. Yet it is always possible that in this instance, they are.


Second, although the editorial advocates negotiations with neighboring states, it does this in a decidedly American-centered, imperialist manner. The editors write that we should negotiate with neighboring states “to avoid excessive meddling in Iraq”. The editors seem to forget that we do not own Iraq. We are not the people who will have to live alongside the results of America’s “excessive meddling” for the next generation. We would lay a much firmer basis for our withdrawal, were we to include neighbors more positively in our plans, eliciting their ideas as to how we should withdraw and what they could do to help.


Iraq should have taught us the “doing things our way” can be disastrous. Let us try a new approach.

Torture as American Policy

June 22, 2007


Seymour Hersh has long been the conscience of America’s foreign and military policy. It has not earned him much credit with our military. Nor is his reporting always above reproach. But he has played a necessary, perhaps ever more necessary role.


In the June 25 New Yorker, Hersh zeroes in on the efforts of General Taguba to look into and report fairly on the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and, by extension, at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Taguba had been asked by the Pentagon to investigate what went on in Abu Ghraib, and who knew what when.


Taguba’s conclusions were that events at Abu Ghraib were well known all along. In fact, they had brought an expert from Guantanamo to introduce some of the measures used at Abu Ghraib. There were copious photos available for people at many levels to see and they had been ignored or dismissed. His conclusion was that what went on at Abu Ghraib was part of a pattern and not an isolated aberration by underlings.


However, on repeated occasions, before committees of Congress and elsewhere, Taguba was contradicted, put down, and dismissed. The brass above him simply lied about what they knew and what had come up to their level months before it all became public. In spite of the fact Taguba had done exactly the job he was asked to do, he was sidelined for the next two years and asked to resign early. They do shoot the messenger.


But it is more than that. Top persons in the government, presumably including the President and the Vice-President, although Taguba’s research did not actually go to these levels, appear to have concluded early on that “do whatever you have to do” was to be the guiding principal behind interrogations. What we saw in the pictures was, at least in part, the result of an deliberate policy of getting the military police and jail keepers to “soften up” prisoners so that information could be more readily extracted from them. There was, incidentally, little or no attempt to investigate whether the individual prisoners softened up were at all likely to have the information that was to be extracted from them.


Our campaign against al-Qaeda and the Islamists has been seriously compromised by our treatment of prisoners in the eyes of much of the world. This is not to say, that extreme situations do not require extreme solutions. It is to say that we must take much more seriously than we have the establishment and adherence to acceptable limits on the way in which we treat those who comes into our control.