AMERICAN NEAR EASTERN POLICY UNDER CLINTON: A NEW BROOM?
It’s my great honor to introduce the man who the President and I have asked to be the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace. He will lead our efforts to reinvigorate the process for achieving peace between Israel and its neighbors. He will help us to develop an integrated strategy that defends the security of Israel, works to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will result in two states living side by side in peace and security, and to achieve further agreements to promote peace and security between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Senator Mitchell will also work to support the objectives that the President and I believe are critical and pressing in Gaza, to develop a program for humanitarian aid and eventual reconstruction, working with the Palestinian Authority and Israel on behalf of those objectives.
AMERICAN SECRETARY OF STATE, HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, 22ND OF JANUARY 2009, in www.state.gov
"Polonius: What do you read, my Lord? Hamlet: Word, words, words".
William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, scene II.
The announcement on the 22nd of January by the new American Secretary of State, Mme. Clinton, alongside the new American chief Executive, of two 'special envoys', former Senator George Mitchell, and, former Ambassador Richard Holbrook, made the running in the American and European press about the 'return' of American diplomacy after the disastrous Bush the Younger years (see: www.ft.com, for typical comments of this vent). Mitchell of course, was named as the envoy to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. With Holbrook named to deal with Afghanistan-Pakistan. Today I want to take a brief look at whether or not the naming of Senator Mitchell, represents a substantive change in American policy from the Bush Regime, or not. So far we have been inundated with symbolic changes by the new American Administration. From talking to the Arab-language media, to mentioning that the Americans did not 'hate' Arab people (whoever said that they did?), and, that in the case of Persia, that the USA wanted to engage in a dialogue of mutual 'respect'.
Et cetera. Meaning of course, that what is on display is meaningless words `a la Hamlet to that supreme of early-modern chinovnkii, Polonius.
The fact of the matter is, that in absence of substance, meaning a concrete decision by the new American administration to break the logjam, that has been Neat Eastern peace-making in since the failure of the Camp David Summit of the summer of 2000, nothing, rien, zero, will occur. Notwithstanding all of the words ever spoken by all of the special envoys that Washington can come up with. Now of course George Mitchell, is a very very honorable and experienced man in the art of peacemaking. However the problem is that he is: a) not very well versed in the intricacies of the problem; b) he is at 75 years old, perhaps not best able to undertake the rigors of full-time peace negotiations; c) perhaps easily mislead by erroneous comparisons with his prior work in Northern Ireland. Where by the time that he helped to negotiate the 'Good Friday' agreement, in 1998, he was dealing with parties who were more than ready to negotiate a settlement. Unfortunately, there is not a great deal to suggest that this is the case now, in the Near East.
Indeed, as Aaron David Miller, one of the key officials who helped to formulate American policy in the Clinton years, has recently remarked, the naming of ex-Senator Mitchell, has more to do with "'station identification'", id est., giving the appearance of activity and change without the substance of the same. As Miller, who like his ex-colleague, Robert Malley, is rather harsh about the intentions of the new American Administration, argues:
"it's clear to me that they've substituted at this stage process for substance. They have no intention of making major changes in America's approach to the Arab-Israeli issue, because right now, the prospects of any sort of conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians are slim to none.
"Mitchell's Prospects for Lasting Israeli-Palestinan Accord: 'Slim to None'" 26 January 2009 in www.cfr.org
With according to Miller, the fact that it is Mitchell rather than Secretary Clinton herself who is going to be making the first trip to the region by a member of the new administration, evidence that, Gaza War or no Gaza War, the problem will be forced to take a back seat:
"I worked for six secretaries of state, from George P. Shultz [in the Reagan administration] to Colin Powell [in the Bush administration], and none of them agreed to bring in a high powered envoy like George Mitchell, who frankly could have been the secretary of state, who has political stature and negotiating skills and the kind of seniority to play the lead role on the Arab-Israeli issue. Secretaries of state very early in their tenure don't normally subcontract issues out. So in the end, it's something of a management problem for the secretary of state. More importantly, to become an effective and consequential secretary of state such as Henry Kissinger and Jim Baker, you need to "own" an issue, and not just own it, but you need to work it".
All of which just means, that with the resumption of tit for tat exchanges between Israel and Hamas, today, one can look forward to more such engagements in the future, as I do not envisage how a 'subcontracted' Near East Diplomacy produce anything but 'words, words, words' (see: "Israel hits Gaza Tunnels as US envoy due", in www.reuters.com
THE NEW AMERICAN REGIME: A CRITICAL LOOK FROM STRATFOR.COM
"there be little change on issues of global grand strategy. A refrain from the campaign was rebuilding damaged ties with America’s allies. But those ties have largely been rebuilt already—in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Obama can certainly improve these relations further, especially with real action on climate change. But another challenge may be managing the bubbles of overinflated expectations for his presidency that will soon begin bursting in allied capitals.
Bush will also bequeath to Obama a realistic strategy for managing the rise of great powers. By pushing China, India, Japan, Brazil, and others to be responsible stakeholders in the international order, the Bush administration showed that “the rise of the rest” need not be synonymous with America’s decline. In fact, it might actually enhance U.S. influence".
"George W. Obama?" by Nikolas Gvosdev, 16 January 2009, in www.nationalinterest.org
"Bliss was it that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!"
William Wordsworth, "The French Revolution, as it Appeared to Enthusiasts."
Thankfully, the regime of the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name, is not of a revolutionary vintage. But, that was never on the cards: upstarts and mountebanks of his ilk, are never revolutionaries. Essentially Balzacian characters like our new chief Executive, are by their very nature opportunistic, and, thus not in the least interested in being consistent or sincere. Thus the irony that while it could have been improved here or there (Senator Clinton was not on anyone's first list of possible Secretary's of State by a wide margin), for the most part, the incoming American Administration so far (!) is not altogether sub-par. Messieurs Geithner and Gates are first-rate choices, as is Mr. Summers. In terms of the overall foreign policy team, the real issues are (as many commentators have pointed out already: no originality here I must be first to admit): whether, and, who will do the co-ordinating of this rather heterogeneous group of individuals. The ex-junior Senator, is on the whole abysmally ignorant of foreign policy. And, while our new Secretary of State is au courant with the issues, her hands-on knowledge is about the same as her superior, id est., less than zero. That leaves as a possible co-ordinator, General Jones, who has been chosen to run the National Security Council Staff. The choice of General Jones is an interesting one, and, highly unusual in a couple of ways: first, he is the oldest person to hold the position of NS Advisor, which more often than not is held by someone who is in their forties, usually an ex-academic. Second, unlike the other military officers who have held the position (Scowcroft and Powell), General Jones, has had only a limited amount of staff experience, and, a great deal of command experience. Per se this does not rule out the General from being a good co-ordinator as National Security Advisor, it merely means that his own prior experience of serving in the Washington bureaucracy is limited. My own surmise is that while the General no doubt has wonderful qualities, running the National Security Council Staff, and, serving as the co-ordinator of American foreign policy is probably not one of them. Something which will soon enough be readily apparent.
And, if the rumors of the appointment of a plethora of 'special envoys' (one for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one for dealing with Persia, one for North Korea and one for Pakistan) are in fact true, then a co-ordinator, and a damned good one at that, will most definitely be needed. Especially, since at this time, it is not altogether sure who the envoys are supposed to report to. To the White House? To Foggy Bottom? And, what is the relationship of the Assistant Secretary (for Near, and Far East, et cetera) to these special envoys? What is the relation of the relevant NSC area staffer to the special envoy? The Fourth Republic French Premier, Pierre Mendes-France, once said: 'to govern is to choose'. One can very well wonder indeed, whether under the new regime this saying will be remembered. One may presume not. Indeed, one may presume that all of the emotions of the last few days will end as all millennial movements or moments end up: beginning in hope, laughter & smiles and ending in tears. With that in mind, I urge you all to read Stratfor.com.
"Obama Enters the Great Game", January 19, 2009, By George Friedman
"U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in on Tuesday as president of the United States. Candidate Obama said much about what he would do as president; now we will see what President Obama actually does. The most important issue Obama will face will be the economy, something he did not anticipate through most of his campaign. The first hundred days of his presidency thus will revolve around getting a stimulus package passed. But Obama also is now in the great game of global competition — and in that game, presidents rarely get to set the agenda.
The major challenge he faces is not Gaza; the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not one any U.S. president intervenes in unless he wants to experience pain. As we have explained, that is an intractable conflict to which there is no real solution. Certainly, Obama will fight being drawn into mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his first hundred days in office. He undoubtedly will send the obligatory Middle East envoy, who will spend time with all the parties, make suitable speeches and extract meaningless concessions from all sides. This envoy will establish some sort of process to which everyone will cynically commit, knowing it will go nowhere. Such a mission is not involvement — it is the alternative to involvement, and the reason presidents appoint Middle East envoys. Obama can avoid the Gaza crisis, and he will do so.
The two crises that cannot be avoided are Afghanistan and Russia. First, the situation in Afghanistan is tenuous for a number of reasons, and it is not a crisis that Obama can avoid decisions on. Obama has said publicly that he will decrease his commitments in Iraq and increase them in Afghanistan. He thus will have more troops fighting in Afghanistan. The second crisis emerged from a decision by Russia to cut off natural gas to Ukraine, and the resulting decline in natural gas deliveries to Europe. This one obviously does not affect the United States directly, but even after flows are restored, it affects the Europeans greatly. Obama therefore comes into office with three interlocking issues: Afghanistan, Russia and Europe. In one sense, this is a single issue — and it is not one that will wait.
Obama clearly intends to follow Gen. David Petraeus’ lead in Afghanistan. The intention is to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, thereby intensifying pressure on the Taliban and opening the door for negotiations with the militant group or one of its factions. Ultimately, this would see the inclusion of the Taliban or Taliban elements in a coalition government. Petraeus pursued this strategy in Iraq with Sunni insurgents, and it is the likely strategy in Afghanistan.
But the situation in Afghanistan has been complicated by the situation in Pakistan. Roughly three-quarters of U.S. and NATO supplies bound for Afghanistan are delivered to the Pakistani port of Karachi and trucked over the border to Afghanistan. Most fuel used by Western forces in Afghanistan is refined in Pakistan and delivered via the same route. There are two crossing points, one near Afghanistan’s Kandahar province at Chaman, Pakistan, and the other through the Khyber Pass. The Taliban have attacked Western supply depots and convoys, and Pakistan itself closed the routes for several days, citing government operations against radical Islamist forces.
Meanwhile, the situation in Pakistan has been complicated by tensions with India. The Indians have said that the individuals who carried out the Nov. 26 Mumbai attack were Pakistanis supported by elements in the Pakistani government. After Mumbai, India made demands of the Pakistanis. While the situation appears to have calmed, the future of Indo-Pakistani relations remains far from clear; anything from a change of policy in New Delhi to new terrorist attacks could see the situation escalate. The Pakistanis have made it clear that a heightened threat from India requires them to shift troops away from the Afghan border and toward the east; a small number of troops already has been shifted.
Apart from the direct impact this kind of Pakistani troop withdrawal would have on cross-border operations by the Taliban, such a move also would dramatically increase the vulnerability of NATO supply lines through Pakistan. Some supplies could be shipped in by aircraft, but the vast bulk of supplies — petroleum, ammunition, etc. — must come in via surface transit, either by truck, rail or ship. Western operations in Afghanistan simply cannot be supplied from the air alone. A cutoff of the supply lines across Pakistan would thus leave U.S. troops in Afghanistan in crisis. Because Washington can’t predict or control the future actions of Pakistan, of India or of terrorists, the United States must find an alternative to the routes through Pakistan.
When we look at a map, the two routes through Pakistan from Karachi are clearly the most logical to use. If those were closed — or even meaningfully degraded — the only other viable routes would be through the former Soviet Union.
One route, along which a light load of fuel is currently transported, crosses the Caspian Sea. Fuel refined in Armenia is ferried across the Caspian to Turkmenistan (where a small amount of fuel is also refined), then shipped across Turkmenistan directly to Afghanistan and through a small spit of land in Uzbekistan. This route could be expanded to reach either the Black Sea through Georgia or the Mediterranean through Georgia and Turkey (though the additional use of Turkey would require a rail gauge switch). It is also not clear that transports native to the Caspian have sufficient capacity for this.
Another route sidesteps the issues of both transport across the Caspian and the sensitivity of Georgia by crossing Russian territory above the Caspian. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan (and likely at least a small corner of Turkmenistan) would connect the route to Afghanistan. There are options of connecting to the Black Sea or transiting to Europe through either Ukraine or Belarus.
Iran could provide a potential alternative, but relations between Tehran and Washington would have to improve dramatically before such discussions could even begin — and time is short.
Many of the details still need to be worked out. But they are largely variations on the two main themes of either crossing the Caspian or transiting Russian territory above it.
Though the first route is already partially established for fuel, it is not clear how much additional capacity exists. To complicate matters further, Turkmen acquiescence is unlikely without Russian authorization, and Armenia remains strongly loyal to Moscow as well. While the current Georgian government might leap at the chance, the issue is obviously an extremely sensitive one for Moscow. (And with Russian forces positioned in Azerbaijan and the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Moscow has troops looming over both sides of the vulnerable route across Georgia.) The second option would require crossing Russian territory itself, with a number of options — from connecting to the Black Sea to transiting either Ukraine or Belarus to Europe, or connecting to the Baltic states.
Both routes involve countries of importance to Russia where Moscow has influence, regardless of whether those countries are friendly to it. This would give Russia ample opportunity to scuttle any such supply line at multiple points for reasons wholly unrelated to Afghanistan.
If the West were to opt for the first route, the Russians almost certainly would pressure Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan not to cooperate, and Turkey would find itself in a position it doesn’t want to be in — namely, caught between the United States and Russia. The diplomatic complexities of developing these routes not only involve the individual countries included, they also inevitably lead to the question of U.S.-Russian relations.
Even without crossing Russia, both of these two main options require Russian cooperation. The United States must develop the option of an alternative supply route to Pakistan, and in doing so, it must define its relationship with Russia. Seeking to work without Russian approval of a route crossing its “near abroad” will represent a challenge to Russia. But getting Russian approval will require a U.S. accommodation with the country.
One of Obama’s core arguments against the Bush administration was that it acted unilaterally rather than with allies. Specifically, Obama meant that the Bush administration alienated the Europeans, therefore failing to build a sustainable coalition for the war. By this logic, it follows that one of Obama’s first steps should be to reach out to Europe to help influence or pressure the Russians, given that NATO has troops in Afghanistan and Obama has said he intends to ask the Europeans for more help there.
The problem with this is that the Europeans are passing through a serious crisis with Russia, and that Germany in particular is involved in trying to manage that crisis. This problem relates to natural gas. Ukraine is dependent on Russia for about two-thirds of the natural gas it uses. The Russians traditionally have provided natural gas at a deep discount to former Soviet republics, primarily those countries Russia sees as allies, such as Belarus or Armenia. Ukraine had received discounted natural gas, too, until the 2004 Orange Revolution, when a pro-Western government came to power in Kiev. At that point, the Russians began demanding full payment. Given the subsequent rises in global energy prices, that left Ukraine in a terrible situation — which of course is exactly where Moscow wanted it.
The Russians cut off natural gas to Ukraine for a short period in January 2006, and for three weeks in 2009. Apart from leaving Ukraine desperate, the cutoff immediately affected the rest of Europe, because the natural gas that goes to Europe flows through Ukraine. This put the rest of Europe in a dangerous position, particularly in the face of bitterly cold weather in 2008-2009.
The Russians achieved several goals with this. First, they pressured Ukraine directly. Second, they forced many European states to deal with Moscow directly rather than through the European Union. Third, they created a situation in which European countries had to choose between supporting Ukraine and heating their own homes. And last, they drew Berlin in particular — since Germany is the most dependent of the major European states on Russian natural gas — into the position of working with the Russians to get Ukraine to agree to their terms. (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Germany last week to discuss this directly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.)
The Germans already have made clear their opposition to expanding NATO to Ukraine and Georgia. Given their dependency on the Russians, the Germans are not going to be supporting the United States if Washington decides to challenge Russia over the supply route issue. In fact, the Germans — and many of the Europeans — are in no position to challenge Russia on anything, least of all on Afghanistan. Overall, the Europeans see themselves as having limited interests in the Afghan war, and many already are planning to reduce or withdraw troops for budgetary reasons.
It is therefore very difficult to see Obama recruiting the Europeans in any useful manner for a confrontation with Russia over access for American supplies to Afghanistan. Yet this is an issue he will have to address immediately.
The Russians are prepared to help the Americans, however — and it is clear what they will want in return.
At minimum, Moscow will want a declaration that Washington will not press for the expansion of NATO to Georgia or Ukraine, or for the deployment of military forces in non-NATO states on the Russian periphery — specifically, Ukraine and Georgia. At this point, such a declaration would be symbolic, since Germany and other European countries would block expansion anyway.
The Russians might also demand some sort of guarantee that NATO and the United States not place any large military formations or build any major military facilities in the former Soviet republics (now NATO member states) of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. (A small rotating squadron of NATO fighters already patrols the skies over the Baltic states.) Given that there were intense anti-government riots in Latvia and Lithuania last week, the stability of these countries is in question. The Russians would certainly want to topple the pro-Western Baltic governments. And anything approaching a formal agreement between Russia and the United States on the matter could quickly destabilize the Baltics, in addition to very much weakening the NATO alliance.
Another demand the Russians probably will make — because they have in the past — is that the United States guarantee eventual withdrawal from any bases in Central Asia in return for Russian support for using those bases for the current Afghan campaign. (At present, the United States runs air logistics operations out of Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan.) The Russians do not want to see Central Asia become a U.S. sphere of influence as the result of an American military presence.
Other demands might relate to the proposed U.S. ballistic missile defense installations in the Czech Republic and Poland.
We expect the Russians to make variations on all these demands in exchange for cooperation in creating a supply line to Afghanistan. Simply put, the Russians will demand that the United States acknowledge a Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union. The Americans will not want to concede this — or at least will want to make it implicit rather than explicit. But the Russians will want this explicit, because an explicit guarantee will create a crisis of confidence over U.S. guarantees in the countries that emerged from the Soviet Union, serving as a lever to draw these countries into the Russian orbit. U.S. acquiescence on the point potentially would have ripple effects in the rest of Europe, too.
Therefore, regardless of the global financial crisis, Obama has an immediate problem on his hands in Afghanistan. He has troops fighting there, and they must be supplied. The Pakistani supply line is no longer a sure thing. The only other options either directly challenge Russia (and ineffectively at that) or require Russian help. Russia’s price will be high, particularly because Washington’s European allies will not back a challenge to Russia in Georgia, and all options require Russian cooperation anyway. Obama’s plan to recruit the Europeans on behalf of American initiatives won’t work in this case. Obama does not want to start his administration with making a massive concession to Russia, but he cannot afford to leave U.S. forces in Afghanistan without supplies. He can hope that nothing happens in Pakistan, but that is up to the Taliban and other Islamist groups more than anyone else — and betting on their goodwill is not a good idea.
Whatever Obama is planning to do, he will have to deal with this problem fast, before Afghanistan becomes a crisis. And there are no good solutions. But unlike with the Israelis and Palestinians, Obama can’t solve this by sending a special envoy who appears to be doing something. He will have to make a very tough decision. Between the economy and this crisis, we will find out what kind of president Obama is.
And we will find out very soon".
GENERAL SCOWCROFT SPEAKS: BRENT SCOWCROFT ON THE PRESENT SITUATION
General Brent Scowcroft, first Deputy National Security Advisor then National Security Advisor under Kissinger and Ford, during the years 1973 to 1976. Then
George Bush the Elder's closest foreign policy aide, again as National Security Advisor between 1989 to 1993. Brought up like Alexander Haig and Lawrence Eagleburger, in the Kissinger school of realpolitik, without however the maitre's taste for arrogance and one-ups-manship. The General was in the last Summer of 2002, one of the first people to sound the alarm about how dangerous a unilateral American invasion of Iraq would be. Caveats which were systematically ignored by the regime of Bush the Younger. The results of which are all too apparent still. Appropriately, the General was consulted by the incoming administration, notwithstanding the fact that he is in the educated public's mind, most closely associated with Henry Kissinger and George H. W. Bush. Given this background, I am of the opinion that his comments on our current situation merit more than just a hearing. Please read and enjoy:
"The National Interest’s editor Justine A. Rosenthal talks with the General about the tasks ahead and advice to be heeded by the incoming Obama administration".
What are the acute foreign-policy problems Barack Obama will face as he takes office?
The tasks ahead are enormous. The situations we face in the Middle East, Central and South Asia are at the heart of our most acute problems. By going into Iraq and Afghanistan with a transformationalist agenda, we have brought long-standing problems of the region to a boiling point. Whether it is a Shia, Sunni, Palestinian, Israeli, Persian or Arab issue, they all form one big mare’s nest, and they all feed off one another. The question is how the new administration will deal with these diverse issues. We can only hope that, at least for a time, America has had enough of transforming the world.
What would a more realist-driven approach look like?
We tend to throw terms around loosely these days—realism, idealism, isolationism, interventionism. Perhaps this is because U.S. foreign policy has followed a compound track with three distinct stages, and we have struggled between the ideals of a city on the hill and a city on the march. During the first one hundred years of our foreign policy, we adhered to a formulation of our goals conceived by George Washington: realism in the most traditional sense. The notion was best phrased by John Quincy Adams who said we welcome all those who are searching for freedom and democracy, but we go “not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” We are the well-wishers of all who seek freedom. We are the guarantors only of our own.
But with the advent of Wilsonianism, the Washington/Adams dictum was deemed insufficient. Instead, we aspired to be evangelizers of democracy. From that time until very recently, we have debated how important democracy promotion is to American foreign policy. During the cold war, it was acceptable to support dictatorships in the larger struggle against the Soviet Union. But with 9/11 came a new manifestation of foreign policy, perhaps best thought of as a battle between the realists and the transformationalists. Realists argued we needed to gather our friends, our allies, and join together in combating terrorism. The transformationalists—some people call them the neocons—disagreed. They contended we did not have time to reach out to our friends and our allies—such an approach would only slow us down. America knew what had to be done, we had unmatched resources and thus we should do what was needed—transform the world. We should do so starting with the Middle East; it needed to be turned into a bastion of democracy. This was transformationalism: idealism with a sword. Especially in light of the current crises we face, a return to a more realist approach would be an appropriate move.
How should we prioritize with this different modus operandi?
The enlightened realist would say we always ought to hope to do somewhat more than we think we are able to, but never try to do more than we clearly know we can. The most idealistic dreams sometimes lead to the worst disasters because they cannot be implemented. When it comes to making foreign policy, there is frequently a competition between the immediate and the important. When they coincide, action is clearly indicated. However, we need realistic assessments of how ready the world is to accept our policies before we offer our help.
The Palestinian peace process is such a case. Though the Bush administration tried to reach a resolution, our approach has been to ask the Israelis and Palestinians to sit down together, hoping they would then come to an agreement. But both sides are too weak for such a U.S. approach. Resolution requires the personal attention of the president. Washington will need to lead the way with a U.S. plan, based on the results of the Taba accords. They are considered by thoughtful people on both sides to be basically just. Implementation is now key.
If the peace process is abandoned at this point, it will be seen by the Muslim world as another indication that the United States does not care much about their interests. And while the Palestinian issue may not be on every Muslim’s mind, it stands as a symbol of injustice. That symbol of injustice, and our unwillingness or inability to do anything about it, weighs down everything America tries to do in the region. In the first Gulf War, for example, the United States had major military help from Arab countries. Now they are little to be seen, partly because they did not want us to go in, but also because it is politically dangerous domestically for an Arab regime to be seen as an ally of the United States.
A dynamic Palestinian peace process can help change the psychological climate. It would take some of the wind out of Hezbollah’s and Hamas’s sails. And Middle Eastern states might then be willing to use their influence to offset the power of Iran. It would as well tend to put Iran back on the defensive. After all, U.S. actions in both Iraq and Afghanistan destroyed Iran’s main adversaries and, in a way, empowered the leadership in Tehran. An on-track peace process would help liberate Arab states so they could potentially assist in the rehabilitation of Iraq. In almost every sense, American goals are facilitated by solving the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. And these are the tests we face: stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, containing the terrorist threat, preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, and creating better relationships with rising powers to do so.
Are there some specific actions you would take on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
We must not abandon Iraq. On its own merits, the Middle East is important, but Iraq and the surrounding countries also contain two-thirds of the world’s petroleum reserves. A dangerously unstable Iraq could have hugely negative economic consequences for the world, and therefore also for us. The way to start reversing our fortunes in the region is to take a more realistic tack. Our objective in Iraq ought to be facilitating a country that is an influence for stability in the region, not a source of chaos and conflict. Democracy is not a precondition for stability. Should it happen, all the better. But we must accept that such a change would now take more than is realistic for us to provide.
In Afghanistan, we must also redefine “victory.” We have tended to distort our original mission to destroy the Taliban (because of its refusal to deny sanctuary to al-Qaeda) into a mission to transform Afghanistan. Traditionally, Afghanistan has been a loose coalition of ethnic-religious groups, tribal leaders and warlords presided over by at times an almost-ephemeral central government. If America can restore that kind of Afghanistan, we can call it a success. To do so we will need to reach out to any groups and people that might be able to be useful in restoring such a system. Kabul should be helped to the extent it seeks our involvement—and as long as we can be useful. Again, the goal should be stability.
How does all of this affect our Iran policy? Will we be able to prevent them from realizing a full-blown nuclear capability?
When looking at Iran, we can see the spillover effects of our actions elsewhere. I do not believe the situation is hopeless at this point. We have not exhausted all of the possibilities for discussions with Iran that could yield positive results. There are two issues to keep in mind. First there is Iran in the region—we must consider what Iran’s goals are, as well as our own (what kind of Iraq might satisfy both of us), and the broader desiderata of the region. Iran is an outlier of sorts in the region. It is an ancient, historic culture, but it is a Shia culture in a Sunni region, a Persian culture in an Arab region. We should work to construct an Iraq of such a character that it will not cause Iran to fear another attack of the type perpetuated by Saddam Hussein. We should consider what kind of regional framework could be developed to deal with these concerns, and to give everyone in the region a greater sense of security.
The second issue is Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiating that issue are Iran on the one side and the five permanent members (P-5) of the Security Council, plus Germany, on the other. Neither the United States nor its negotiating partners wants Iran to have nuclear weapons. But, so far, Iran has been able to play one party against another, and to proceed without significant hindrance.
We need to approach Iran with a united front and demonstrate why it is not in Tehran’s security interests to develop the capability for uranium enrichment. Whether a country seeks nuclear weapons or not, such a capability is a relatively simple matter once a supply of enriched uranium is assured. And if Tehran produces enriched uranium, then countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will be encouraged to follow suit to protect themselves. None of that improves Tehran’s security. The P-5 plus Germany can offer to supply Tehran with enriched-uranium fuel, guarantee that supply and remove spent fuel as long as Iran adheres to IAEA safeguards. That is, after all, far more economical than Iran building an enrichment facility, and it is also better for Tehran’s own security.
Why hasn’t the approach you suggest been taken so far?
One of the reasons is the interests of other powers. China, for instance, does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons, but it imports a great deal of oil from Iran and considers Tehran an important commercial partner. Washington should explain to Beijing that it is much better to take tough multilateral economic measures to convince Iran to refocus its nuclear program, as any military action in the Middle East would disrupt or destroy the oil supplies so vital to the Chinese economy. It is better, then, to make a concerted, sincere, joint effort now.
Russia has an even greater stake in all of this. And on the Iranian nuclear issue, Moscow has been largely helpful. The Russians do not want Iran to have nuclear weapons. But in pique at the United States, they may be prepared to do things in their short-term interests that are against their long-term objectives. The United States’ problem right now, in addition to our somewhat-bristling relationship, is the very specific issue of Georgia.
The realist way to deal with that is, first of all, to sit down with the Russians. But before we do that, we must develop in our own minds a strategy for Russia, something we have not fundamentally rethought since the end of the cold war. Is our overall goal in Russia democratization? Is it to build a “cordon sanitaire” around Russia so it cannot spread its influence? Is it to try to get Moscow to help with the world’s energy problems? Is it something else? Washington has thus far done a little of everything, but in the process we have treated Russia as an afterthought, deepening the sense of humiliation held over from the end of the cold war and Russia’s subsequent economic crisis.
We need to convince the Russians that we take them seriously and their views do matter. One of the areas in which we can tangibly demonstrate that is on the nuclear front. Telling Moscow, as we have done, that we do not need to renegotiate lapsing arms-control treaties because Russia is no longer an enemy has produced an unintended effect. Such a proposition in essence translates as “You no longer matter.” Instead, we should approach Moscow by saying that we—America and Russia—the custodians of the nuclear age, need to start down a path with a goal of ensuring that nuclear weapons are never used. We should work together on issues of proliferation and devise a program to make nuclear power available to all nations without the threat of creating a nuclear-weapons capability.
How does the policy of NATO enlargement help or hinder bringing Russia into a more cooperative relationship?
Dealing with Russia on these priorities means not pressing NATO enlargement. Realism again calls for analyzing our goals. America became mesmerized by the “color” revolutions, seeing them as democracy on the march. And, in a sense, they were. But those movements were also the aftereffects of countries emerging from the Soviet Union; states that are still trying to figure out who they are and where they belong. Of course America should help with that process. But the best way to do so is to use the European Union as a vehicle for change. One of the EU’s missions is to prepare countries like Georgia and Ukraine by modernizing their political and economic structures so they can become members of the democratic-capitalist system. That is not the job of NATO; NATO is a military alliance.
We must remember the Russians, too, are searching. They have been liberated from the shackles of their history and are redefining who they are and where they belong. America needs to be patient. America needs to be helpful. And we should keep in mind our long-term goal: that the Russians conclude they are organically a part of Europe, and that they want to be a constructive part of the Continent. That is the ideal outcome. But for now, the “good-enough” outcome is a Russia with which we have more issues bringing us together than driving us apart. And the priorities we share—dealing with North Korea, Afghanistan, terrorism and Iran’s nuclear weapons—are vital. Though we may justifiably be separated by disagreements about Russia’s internal behavior, realism, again, would dictate that we have to be more concerned with their external behavior than their domestic makeup.
Does America still have the energy to take the lead in addressing these issues?
The United States remains the only country with the ability to coalesce people’s goodwill around great enterprises—Russia cannot, China cannot. The European Union may someday have the ability, but for now it also cannot.
America is not in decline. America is not in a state of exhaustion. Of course, we are no longer at the point where we stood almost alone in the world in terms of power. The world has changed. We need to be smarter. We need to realize we cannot accomplish our larger goals unilaterally.
Do you think President Obama will lead us in a more realistic direction?
His general approach thus far is encouraging. As I look at his foreign-policy team, hope does indeed run high. The new team is composed of people who are all serious, intelligent and strong. But all this said, Obama will need to recognize that a team like this—Jones, Clinton, Biden, Gates and many more—takes strong management, especially in light of all the issues fighting for attention.
If America can get itself oriented properly, gather people and countries of benevolence around us, we can create of the twenty-first century the best that mankind has yet seen. It will take hard work, not idealist romanticism.
MEXICO: THE NEXT FAILED STATE?
"I Thought that in visiting that part of the world in 1950, that I could detect a certain tragic quality in its civilization: the product of a combination of factors, including the less than happy accidents of geography, the enduring trauma of the cultural shock once administered to the Indian populations by the Spanish conquest, the rigidities of the Spanish cultural and political tradition, and so on....
There is no reason to exert ourselves beyond a point in the development of our relations with the countries of that region, particularly those of South America.
The cultural differences are great....Americans are not very popular, by and large, in those parts; and I can see no very good reason why they need be. The less we fuss
over these countries, the less we burden them with our presence, the less we interest ourselves in their affairs, the better we will be regarded and the less strained will be the relationship generally".
George F. Kennan, The Cloud of Danger: Current Realities of American Foreign Policy, 1976.
"Mexico is now in the midst of a vicious drug war. Police officers are being bribed and, especially near the United States border, gunned down. Kidnappings and extortion are common place. And, most alarming of all, a new Pentagon study concludes that Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state. Defense planners liken the situation to that of Pakistan, where wholesale collapse of civil government is possible.
One center of the violence is Tijuana, where last year more than 600 people were killed in drug violence. Many were shot with assault rifles in the streets and left there to die. Some were killed in dance clubs in front of witnesses too scared to talk.
It may only be a matter of time before the drug war spills across the border and into the U.S. To meet that threat, Michael Chertoff, the outgoing secretary for Homeland Security, recently announced that the U.S. has a plan to "surge" civilian and possibly military law-enforcement personnel to the border should that be necessary.
The problem is that in Mexico's latest eruption of violence, it's difficult to tell the good guys from the bad. Mexico's antidrug czar, Noe Ramirez Mandujano was recently charged with accepting $450,000 from drug lords he was supposed to be hunting down. This was the second time in recent years that one of Mexico's antidrug chiefs was arrested for taking possible payoffs from drug kingpins. Suspicions that police chiefs, mayors and members of the military are also on the take are rampant.
In the past, the way Mexico dealt with corruption was with eyes wide shut. Everyone knew a large number of government officials were taking bribes, but no one did anything about it. Transparency commissioners were set up, but given no teeth.....
In 2008, Mexico ranked 31st out of 60 countries studied in the Milken Institute/Kurtzman Group Opacity Index. The cost to ordinary Mexicans from poorly functioning institutions has been huge. My colleague, Glenn Yago, and I calculate that if Mexico were to reduce corruption and bring its legal, economic, accounting and regulatory standards up to U.S. levels (the U.S. ranks 13th and Finland ranks first), Mexico's nominal per capital GDP would increase by about $18,000 to roughly $28,000 a year. And it would also receive a lot more direct foreign investment that would create jobs....
And, this impacts the U.S. Thanks to Mexico's retarded economic growth, millions of Mexicans have illegally moved to the U.S. to find work. Unless the violence can be reversed, the U.S. can anticipate that the flow across the border will continue.
For more than a century, Mexico and the U.S. have enjoyed friendly relations and some degree of economic integration. But if Mexico's epidemic of violence continues, that relationship could end if the U.S. is forced to surge personnel to the border".
Joel Kurtzman, "Mexico's Instability is a Real Problem," 16 January 2009 in www.online.wsj.com
As readers of this journal know, I am not an expert or in fact much interested in the countries and nations south of the USA. At a certain point, they all seem to have for a variety of historical and other reasons, branched off on their own for the most part, and, distanced themselves from world-historical developments elsewhere. Currently, the only items of occasional interest seem to be (in no particular order): when the corpse which died twenty years ago named 'Fidel Castro', will finally be buried; when the upstart and mountebank called 'Hugo Chavez' will be ousted (for that watch the price of oil), and, how many more times will Brazil's hopes to obtain a seat on the UN Security Council be dashed. In a good many ways, the ultimate American Wise Man, diplomat and God-Father of American diplomatic studies as a genre, George Frost Kennan had it right: these countries are in a certain sense, 'cursed' by history and geography. They are in essence places to escape from, and, not to.
The article by Kurtzman, points up to the dangers which seem to be growing day by day in our neighbor to the south. It appears that in a lot of ways, the government in Mexico City, has lost control of a good many of its regions to a variety of bandits, gangsters and drug dealers. And, while the current government in power in Mexico appears to take the problem very seriously indeed, the upshot is that there has been a spiralling of violence upwards rather than the reverse. Particularly in areas immediately adjacent to the American border. One can only come to the chilling conclusion that it is merely a matter of time, before the endemic violence in Mexico proper, commences to make its way north of the border. Which in turn raises the question: what is to be done?
Ideally, Kennan's policy suggestion of 1993, that the USA institute a sort of ring fencing of itself off from Mexico and the countries to its south, makes even more sense today, than it did then. Whether it involves a wall for the entire border from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific, or some other means of a strict and immune border control is up for debate. What is not is the need for some means of ultra-restrictive and air-tight, sealing off of our borders to the south. Before it is too late. As Kennan noted back in 1993, the ultimate results of a quieta non movere policy are rather frightening to behold:
"Just as water seeks its own level, so relative prosperity, anywhere in the world, tends to suck in poverty from adjacent regions to the lowest levels of employment. But, since poverty is sometimes a habit, sometimes even an established way of life, the more prosperous society, by indulging this tendency, absorbs not only poverty into itself but other cultures in the bargain, and is sometimes quite overcome, in the long run, by what is has tried to absorb. The inhabitants of the onetime Italian cities along the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea made it a habit over several centuries, to take their menial servants and their ditchdiggers from the Slavs of the poorer villages in the adjacent mountains. Today, finally, the last of the Italians have left; and the beautiful cities in questions are inhabited entirely by Slavs, who have little relationship to the sort of city and the cultural monuments they have inherited. They have simply displaced the original inhabitants....The acceptance of this sort of dependence on labor imported from outside is, for the respective society, the evidence of a lack of will--in a sense, a lack of confidence in itself. And this acceptance, like the weakness of the Romans in allowing themselves to become dependent on the barbarians to fill the ranks of their own armies, can become, if not checked betimes, the beginning of the end".
George F. Kennan, Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy, 1993
ISRAEL'S GAZA WAR: AN UPDATE
"It is difficult to exaggerate the damage to Israel’s (and America’s) reputation among Arabs, Muslims and vast swathes of international opinion who increasingly see what is happening as more a war on Gaza than a campaign against Hamas. How could it be otherwise? After (by Israel’s count) 2,300 air strikes and daily pounding from land and sea, Gaza lies in ruins and around 1,000 Palestinians, more than 300 of them children, have been killed.
Mosques, schools and police stations, the finance, education, interior, foreign, justice, public works, labour and culture ministries, the parliament and every public building of significance, have been pulverised. Gaza is being reduced to Somalia, with no institutional basis left for anyone to be able to govern.
It is also a fantasy that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president whose Fatah party was routed at the polls by Hamas and driven violently out of Gaza, can be restored to power there by Israeli tanks".
"Endgame in Gaza," (Leader) 15 January 2009, Financial Times.
"The Fighting in Gaza: How Does It End? (And, Will It?) January 5, 2009
One thing is certain. The fighting has already become a strategic liability for the US. There is no good answer to what level of force is “proportionate” in this kind of asymmetric warfare. There is no equation that can decide how many rocket firings and acts of terrorism justify a given level of air strikes or use of conventional ground forces. The fact that the weak suffer more than the strong in war is a grim reality, as is the fact that no power is going to accept terrorism because its best military options produce civilian casualties".
Anthony Cordesman, "The fighting in Gaza: How Does It End?" 5 January 2009 in www.csis.org
The Israeli's army operations in Gaza continue. And, contrary to a lot of commentators (myself included at first), are much more successful than anticipated. As per the stories in the dovish (traditionally Labour Party inclined) Israeli newspaper Haaretz, as a military force, Hamas is kaputt. With even an 'elite', Persian trained brigade completely destroyed by the IDF (see: "Palestinian Sources: 'Iran unit' has been destroyed", see: www.haaretz.com
) . The IDF has almost complete freedom of movement in the entirety of Gaza, with many Hamas militants apparently re-thinking the 'martyrdom' concept entirely...According Haaretz the Israeli Cabinet's ruling troika: PM Olmert, Defence Minister Barak and Foreign Minister Livni, are still undecided as to whether or not to completely re-occupy the entire Strip, or to use the success of the operation to negotiate a cease-fire which secures Israel's main desiderata: a complete weapons quarantine of Gaza as well as a stoppage of missile attacks on Israel. With apparently the PM, being possibly in favor of the first alternative and the other two, who have a future in politics beyond the February elections being more inclined to the latter (see: "Israel Still Divided on Egypt Offer of Gaza Truce," in www.haaretz.com
). An added complication is whether or not Tel Aviv wishes to confront head on, the new American Administration with the ultimate diplomatic headache: an Israeli-Arab War. Given the fact that most of the leading foreign policy figures in the Administration-to-be either already announced (Clinton) or expected (Richard Holbrooke, Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk) are all pronounced supporters of Israel, there does not seem to be any point at this time for Barak and Livni to present the ex-junior Senator from Illinois, with a very awkward situation on his first days in office. Hence, my surmise is that Livni, who meets with American Secretary of State Rice today, will quickly come to a modus vivendi agreement with her American counterpart, which will incorporate most of Israel's goals, which in the absence of Hamas deciding to commit collective suicide by rejecting it, will be the basis of a cease-fire. The fighting coming to an end by say Sunday-Monday.
Final Observation: what one needs to recall, here is that however much Tel Aviv endeavors to avoid overtly displeasing its American ally the fact remains that come what may, Israel will be quite willing to do so, if it feels that its interests are at stake. Which of course points up to the logical absurdity of commentators like Cordesman or the leader writers for the Financial Times who point out the diplomatic dangers and damage sustained by the West in the Arab World by the Israel's war in Gaza(the almost total absence of concern for the diplomatic carnage for the West / USA brought about by the war is most readily apparent in: "Analysis: Would a weak Hamas or no Hamas be better in Gaza", 15 January 2009 in www.haaretz.com
). Which is of course absolutely true. When has it not been true? In 1948? In 1956? In 1967? In 1973? In 1982? In 2000? In 2006? Why should this time be any different?
HOW NOT TO NEGOTIATE WITH PERSIA: A RESPONSE TO SIGURD NEUBAUER
"The greatest gift of any statesman rests not in knowing what concessions to make, but recognizing when to make them".
Clemens Lothar Wenzel, Furst von Metternich, Concessionen und Nichtconcessionen, 1852
"Instead of a policy of brinkmanship, the U.S. ought to position itself in the Gulf and engage in several forms of "goodwill gestures." A first step is to establish an American interest section in Teheran. In return, Iran is expected to scale back on its harsh anti-Israeli rhetoric, both domestically as well as within international bodies.
In recognition that no major change in the region can take place without Iran's cooperation, the United States can leverage, as a "carrot," to help bring the theocratic state out of its regional and international isolation by supporting Iranian membership of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In return, the Iranians can play a significant role in reducing its support of Hezbollah and force the Hamas government to moderate its stance vis-a-vie Israel. This will leave Hamas with little choice but to accept the terms and conditions of a Palestinian unity government in accordance with the Quartet's roadmap.
Of the many pressing issues within the troubled region, one of the priorities of the Obama administration will be to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to bridge the Arab-Persian geostrategic balance of power. Only through building measures of confidence by including Iran in a regional framework can the Iranian nuclear program be deterred".
Sigurd Neubauer, "Can we engage Iran", Diplomatic Courier, in www.diplomaticourier.org.
It is a commonplace of current diplomatic discourse that the new incoming American Administration, should 'engage' Teheran. Engagement for purpose of: a) stopping Persia's quest for nuclear status; b) seeking to 'bring' the ruling mullahs of Teheran, out of the cold, and, into some sort of security framework covering the region, and, thus helping to negate Persia's ties with Hamas and Hezbollah. The above referenced article by Sigurd Neubauer, is of a piece with this species of bien pensant type of thinking. The only problem with this sort of analysis is that it misunderstands completely the causation of why the current regime in Persia is so antagonistic to the Americans in general and to the West in particular. First, let us disentangle any nonsense, such as Neubauer indulges in, as for example bringing in Persia's ancient history as a means of helping to understand the policies of the current regime:
"In order to fully comprehend the Iranian nuclear ambition, it is important to carefully examine the historical origins of the Persian-Arab rivalry for control and influence over the Middle East and the Islamic world at large. Ever since the Islamic conquest of Persia (633–656) and the decline of the Sassanid Empire, the Persians historically consider the Sassanid period to be one of Iran's most important and influential historical periods.
In many ways the Sassanid period witnessed the highest achievement of Persian civilization, and constituted the last great Iranian Empire before the Muslim conquest and adoption of Islam. Behind the Islamic Republic's Shiite mantle, the Persian cultural identity and sense of cultural superiority over its Arab neighbors has been brought to the surface by the disintegration of Saddam Hussein's Iraq".
Leaving aside for the moment the fact that the current regime is openly hostile to any pre-Islamic influences on contemporary Persia, the sheer idiocy of the above statement is that it assumes an both a reductionist and essentialist "Persian" identity lasting for almost fifteen hundred years. Something which is completely ahistorical and worst sort of vulgar idealismus. Not to speak of the fact that almost fifty percent of Persia's modern day population is not in fact ethnically Persian, but is a member of another grouping: Azeris, Arabs, Kurds, Baluchis, et cetera. For whom adhering to and celebrating of some primordial "Persian" identity, is of course completely non-sensical. Enough said.
The real issue with the type of analysis that Neubauer and her ilk indulge in is the fact that is mis-understands the roots of Persian foreign policy: it is not something caused by or in reaction to, say American 'hostility', or better yet, that old standby: 'Western / American colonialism' and imperialism. The roots of Persian foreign policy lie in its internal nature, its domestic essence, id. est., its governing ideology. In short we must look for the causation of Teheran's foreign policy in terms of Privat der Innenpolitik : the primacy of internal policy. Meaning that the hostility displayed towards the West, towards the USA, towards Israel, et cetera. Are in fact, all of a piece considering that the legitimacy of the regime, and, its ideological makeup, are premised and based upon hostility towards these other actors. It is quite easily imaginable to believe that if the internal dynamics of the regime were to change, or alternatively if the domestic requirements of the Mullah's internal position were to mandate a pro-western / pro-American tilt, than we can very well expect to see the like. Pur et simple. The examples of such ideological 'flip-flops' are endless and do not need to be recounted here. The point is merely to underline the fact that the well-springs of Persian interaction with the new American Administration will be determined much more by say the price of oil, and, the economic situation of the country, or by which particular element of the ruling clique is gaining primacy over its rivals, than anything that the American government might or might not do or propose. Do not misperceive me: I am an adherent of endeavoring to 'engage' the Persians in the hopes that there might be a peaceful settlement to the nuclear quandary. I just do not anticipate that how Teheran will react to such a demarche is dependent upon remembering that in Anno Domini 620, the Persians occupied Egypt, the Levant and much of Asia Minor. Or that they defeated and killed the Triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus in the battle of Carrhae in BC 53.
ISRAEL'S GAZA WAR: AN UPDATE
"War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means."
Karl von Clausewitz, Vom Kreig (1832-1834).
"By sending ground troops into the Gaza Strip, Israel has crossed a line that brings it perilously close to strategic failure. Just as with the Lebanon war of 2006, an air bombardment has failed to stop rocket fire into Israel – and has been followed by a ground invasion. The Israeli government says it has learnt the lessons of its stalemated war with Hizbollah, the Lebanese militia. Gaza is more hospitable terrain than southern Lebanon; Hamas is militarily weaker than Hizbollah; Israel is better prepared and is using new tactics.
The Israeli government may feel that the loss of life, on both sides, is justified if it can stop the rockets and restore the deterrent power that was damaged in Lebanon. But this is a gamble that could easily backfire. As Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, put it a couple of days ago: “Let’s say we unilaterally stopped and four days from now a barrage fell on Ashkelon . . . Do you understand the consequences for Israeli deterrence?” But that means that a battered Hamas just has to find a way to keep firing rockets into Israel to claim some sort of victory. And even if Israel succeeds in stopping the rockets for now, any future regional enemy now knows how best to taunt Israel and delight its enemies: rockets....
International sympathy is predictably crumbling away as the death toll mounts. Arguments about what is a “proportional” response to Hamas’s rockets seem legalistic, next to the simple fact that more than 500 Palestinians have died so far, compared with five Israelis. The European Union is now demanding a ceasefire. Arab governments are responding to outrage at home.
Israel has so far been able to rely on the usual rock-solid support from the US government. But even that could eventually change. A recent opinion poll showed that Democratic party voters were opposed to the Israeli attack on Gaza by a margin of 22 per cent. It is not inevitable that Barack Obama, president-elect, will reflect the views of the rank and file of his party. But neither is it inevitable that he will ignore them....
The Israelis sometimes suggest that their ultimate goal is in fact to displace Hamas, which still refuses to recognise Israel, rather than simply to stop the rockets. But any new Palestinian government that rode to power on the back of Israeli tanks would be maimed from the start....
In fact, there was an alternative that was never tried: relax the blockade of Gaza in return for a renewal of the ceasefire that ran out in December. Israel appears to have done the opposite. In November the blockade became harsher, putting serious pressure on the supply of food and fuel into Gaza.
Ending the blockade of Gaza in return for a ceasefire remains the best option – for both humanitarian and strategic reasons".
Gideon Rachman, "Israel's self-defeating Gaza Offensive," 5 January 2009, in www.ft.com
To my surprise, Israel's 'Operation Cast Lead', has so far not been the debacle that I have feared. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (by far the best journalistic source of information in the Anglophone world), Tel Aviv appears to be reasonably satisfied with the both operations on the ground and in the air. And, are willing to even hazard the possibility of a temporary re-occupation of the entire Gaza Strip, in order to decapitate and destroy Hama's military and political structure (see: Aluf Benn,"Analysis: Israel on the way to reoccupying all of Gaza", in www.haaretz.com
). Whether the latter does either necessary or possible, is at this time, besides the point. The fact of the matter, unlike say this stage of the Lebanon War of 2006, the IDF, does not appear to be completely at sea, in terms of its overall operations. There are of course good sound reasons for this: Hamas in Gaza, was never able to build-up its forces to the level that Hezbollah was able to in the Lebanon. Hence, taking on the former, has proven to be, so far a relatively easy operation. Does that mean that I am in favor of Israel's Gaza operation? The answer is non. But, that is besides the point. My opposition to the operation was based upon the fact that I was not of the belief that re-occupying Gaza would be a useful step for Israel militarily or politically speaking. It now appears that there is the possibility that my surmise is mistaken. Hence, unlike bien pensant, Anglo-American commentators like Gideon Rachman, I reserve the possibility of changing my mind. The larger point that people like Rachman miss is a rather simple one: for Israel to draw the conclusion that it must come to some sort of modus vivendi, with Hamas (or for that matter with Hezbollah, Damascus, Teheran and Ramallah) requires that Israel collectively agree to such a step. I for one, would wish that they would do so. Both for regional security as well as the overall strategic position of the west in the Near East(sans an 'understanding' with the mad mullahs of Persia). However it is kinderspiele, to expect that Israel, which is still, notwithstanding the debacle of 2006, by far the greatest indigenous military power in the Near East, to come to this realization at this point. Perhaps in five, ten, fifteen years time. That might be possible. But, not at this point I would suggest. With the only possible variable being that there is a major change in the degree of American support for its Israeli ally. And, notwithstanding the hopes of people like Rachman, that the new Administration of the junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name, might change things, that seems hardly possible. A 'neutral' stand on the Israeli-Palestinian / Arab-Israeli conflict, is still something of an extreme Gauchiste position politically in the USA. Unfortunately. And, there is absolutely no sign that the new regime in Washington will change that dynamic anytime soon. Consequently do not expect or hope for any change in Israeli behavior in the near future. No matter how often, Monsieur le President Nicolas Sarkozy, and his European Union colleagues pay visits to the conflicting parties (for this see in particular: Le Monde, "Sarkozy `a Ramallah: Les violence doivent cesser," in www.lemonde.fr/proche-orient
). `A la Clausewitz, it is only when, not if, but, when Tel Aviv, decides to take the political decision to swallow the gnat of a truly independent and sovereign Palestinian State in both Gaza and the West Bank, that whether or not Hama rules in Gaza, will no longer matter. No more than who rules in Beirut really concerns Tel Aviv (unlike say the USA).