Monday, August 23, 2010


"After proximity talks and consultations with both sides, on behalf of the United States Government, I’ve invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on September 2nd in Washington, D.C. to re-launch direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year.

President Obama has invited President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan to attend in view of their critical role in this effort. Their continued leadership and commitment to peace will be essential to our success. The President will hold bilateral meetings with the four leaders followed by a dinner with them on September 1st. The Quartet Representative Tony Blair has also been invited to the dinner in view of his important work to help Palestinians build the institutions of their future state, an effort which must continue during the negotiations. I’ve invited Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to join me here at the State Department on the following day for a trilateral meeting to re-launch direct negotiations.

As we move forward, it is important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it. There have been difficulties in the past; there will be difficulties ahead. Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles. The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks. But I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times, and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region.

As we have said before, these negotiations should take place without preconditions and be characterized by good faith and a commitment to their success, which will bring a better future to all of the people of the region".

American Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, "Briefing on Middle East Peace Process," 20 August 2010, in

"But the United States wants a peace process, preferably a long one designed to put off the day when it fails. This will allow the United States to appear to be deeply committed to peace and to publicly pressure the Israelis, which will be of some minor use in U.S. efforts to manipulate the rest of the region. But it will not solve anything. Nor is it intended to.

The problem is that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are sufficiently unsettled to make peace. Both Egypt and Israel were shocked and afraid after the 1973war. Mutual fear is the foundation of peace among enemies. The uncertainty of the future sobers both sides. But the fact right now is that all of the players prefer the status quo to the risks of the future. Hamas doesn’t want to risk its support by negotiating and implicitly recognizing Israel. The PNA doesn’t want to risk a Hamas uprising in the West Bank by making significant concessions. The Israelis don’t want to gamble with unreliable negotiating partners on a settlement that wouldn’t enjoy broad public support in a domestic political environment where even simple programs can get snarled in a morass of ideology. Until reality or some as-yet-uncommitted force shifts the game, it is easier for them — all of them — to do nothing.

But the Americans want talks, and so the talks will begin".

George Friedman, "Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks Again," 23 August 2010, in

For once, the American online journal Stratfor has put the descriptive nail on the head. The talks, such as they are, have been willed by the Americans. It does not appear per se that either party is very enthusiastic about said talks. And, per se in many cases that does not matter: peoples and their leaders are rarely enthusiastic about compromises that making peace involves. On (sometimes) the end result. However, in the current case, it is not entirely clear that these pourparlers (to use an exact diplomatic description of what is allegedly going to occur) will result in anything other than a short phase of discussions and then inevitably deadlock over the various issues: Palestinian Statehood, settlements, Gaza, de-militarization, water rights, refugee re-settlement, which are the main topics of discussions between the two sides. It does not appear from any of the public information available that the Americans are prepared to pressure (that is in the end what it amounts to) the Israeli government into making the concessions necessary which would cause the Palestinian Authority leadership to in turn make the necessary compromises (principally over Refugee Re-settlement) in order to make plausible a peace settlement. Ergo, we will soon back at square one diplomatically speaking. With nothing to show for the experience, except that the PA Authority leadership will stand accuse of being American puppets and stooges. And, concomitantly the Hamas leadership will be of course greatly strengthened in having refused to negotiate with Tel Aviv. Not a state of affairs that these discussions are meant to result in and encourage. However, it seems extremely unlikely that any other result will occur from these negotiations. In the absence of American pressure: diplomatic pressure, economic pressure, moral pressure on the Israeli leadership. And, that is something of which there is absolutely no sign of at present.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


"MR. GREGORY: This is a very difficult time in this war, and, and we have talked about your assessment of winning vs. losing. The reality that you understand is that the American public is not behind this war. Our new poll with The Wall Street Journal indicates that 7 in 10 Americans lack confidence in a successful outcome to this war. And yet your position was that we're actually winning because we're making some progress. What is it that the American public is missing?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, I think it's incumbent on us to show greater progress, to show sustained progress. I would argue that the progress, if you will, really just began this spring. Late spring was when we started to see that the operations in central Helmand Province truly were starting to improve security for the people, an up and down process, to be sure. Taliban fighting back very hard as we took away very important sanctuaries from, from him. And now you can see it expanding over into Kandahar Province-again, another tough fight-and in other areas around the country, in southern Herat Province, out in the northwest, up in the north. Again, all of these, though, are small pockets of progress.

MR. GREGORY: But can't you understand, the American people for nine years have been hearing about incremental progress in Afghanistan and remain confused, frustrated and not invested?

GEN. PETRAEUS: I can understand it. In fact, that's why, though, I've sought to explain that, over the last 18 months or so, what we've sought to do in Afghanistan is get the inputs right for the first time. When a lot of us came out of Iraq in late 2008 and started looking intently at Afghanistan, we realized that we did not have the organizations that are required for the conduct of a comprehensive civil/military counterinsurgency campaign, that in some cases we needed individuals in charge of those organizations that we didn't have. We needed to refine the concepts to build, in some cases, concepts that didn't exist; for example, reintegration. If you don't want to have to kill or capture every bad guy in the country, you have to reintegrate those who are willing to be reconciled and become part of the solution instead of a continued part of the problem. And then, above all, the resources. And by the end of August, of course, we will have nearly tripled the number of U.S. forces on the ground, we'll have expanded the non-U.S. NATO forces, tripled the number of civilians, increased the funding to enable 100,000 more Afghan national security forces, and so on. And, indeed, that is enabling already-the inputs already are enabling some outputs. And, of course, what we've got to show is that the-these additional inputs can allow greater progress, and that that's progress that can be sustained over time by Afghan forces and Afghan officials....

MR. GREGORY: Let me talk about U.S. troops. I asked you before, when we talked about this July deadline of next year, how stifling is the, the concept of this deadline and this Washington debate to what you're trying to do here?

GEN. PETRAEUS: I don't find it that stifling. I'm not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden's been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a "responsible drawdown of our forces...."

MR. GREGORY: I just want to clarify this. Did-could you reach that point and say, "I know that the process is supposed to begin, but my assessment as the commander here is that it cannot begin now"?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Certainly, yeah. Again, the president and I sat down in the Oval Office, and he expressed very clearly that what he wants from me is my best professional military advice where I understand the mission that's been assigned, we have recommended the strategy and the resources that are required for that strategy, and as there are changes in any of that, that, obviously, I would communicate that to him, recognizing that he has some issues with which he has to deal that we don't have to worry about. But that, that's real life. And, again, that was the process that we worked through last fall, a process that I thought was very good, the outcome of which was something that we, we strongly supported.

Let me point out one other item about July 2011 if I could. Because what I have often noted was that in the speech that the president made at West Point, there were two messages. One was a message of substantial additional commitment, additional 30,000 troops, again more civilians, more funding for Afghan forces, authorization of 100,000 more of them and so forth; but also a message of increased urgency. And that's what July 2011 really connotes. It is to all the participants, those in Kabul, some of us in uniform, again our civilian counterparts, that we've got to get on with this, that this has been going on for some nine years or so, that there is understandable concern, in some cases frustration, and that, therefore, we've got to really put our shoulder to the wheel and show during the course of this year that progress can be achieved. And, and, again, one manifestation of that is out there that you have this date. But, again, we've had good dialogue on this, and I think the president's been quite clear in explaining that it's a process, not an event, and that it's conditions based.

MR. GREGORY: There's a feeling that General Petraeus, with the credibility you have, will be in a position to prevail in a debate about this and say to the president, "Look," you know, "you put me in this position to do a tough job, now you've got to listen to me. I need what I need at the time that I need it."

GEN. PETRAEUS: Look, my job is, again, to provide my best professional military advice, informed, certainly, by an awareness of the context within which I provide it, but not driven by it. And that's the same way that we approached the very difficult recommendations that we made during the effort in Iraq. Over time I think those worked out and, touch wood, that over time they can work out here as well.

MR. GREGORY: Let me talk to you about the Afghan government. Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, is he a friend, a foe, or something in between?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, I think he is the president of a sovereign country, and we have to understand that. In many cases, most cases, we have converging objectives, as is the case in any of these situations, but in some cases we see things a little bit differently. And that's natural. We went through this with Prime Minister Maliki on numerous occasions. We've gone through this in, in virtually every contingency operation which I've been engaged. There's a situation which the security forces from outside and the government officials of that particular country occasionally see things or come at things a little bit differently. And we've had those moments, and we'll continue to have them. When folks ask, you know, "How's the relationship?" I say it's a good relationship because, in fact, we can have those kinds of discussions....

GEN. PETRAEUS: At the end of the day, it's not about their embrace of us, it's not about us winning hearts and minds, it's about the Afghan government winning hearts and minds. This isn't to say that there is any kind of objective of turning Afghanistan into Switzerland in three to five years or less. Afghan good enough is good enough, and that means having traditional social organizing structures as part of the ultimate solution, if you will, where tribal shura councils and so forth-which are quite democratic, by the way-they then connect at the district or province level with what goes up to Kabul and, and, and comes out as well.

MR. GREGORY: Afghanistan good enough, then, does that entail redefining, defining down some of the goals for rebuilding the nation?

GEN. PETRAEUS: I think some of that was done last year, actually, during the course of the process that, that President Obama and the new administration led. I think there was a refinement of objectives, a recognition of the realities on the ground and that we need be-to be measured in what it is that we can actually achieve, and that's why we came-that's where this concept, again, of not trying to turn Afghanistan into a Western industrialized democracy....

MR. GREGORY: If the outcome is like Iraq, is that achieving the mission?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, the outcome in Iraq is still to be written, but if you could reduce the level of violence by some 90 to 95 percent, as was the case in Iraq, to below a threshold which allows commerce and business and outside investment to take place, where there is an election that's certainly at least elected representatives, and now you have to see if they can come together and form a government that is still representative of and responsive to the people, as was the previous one. If that can all be achieved there, that would be a reasonable solution here as well.

MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you about the enemy here. And, and, if you would, we have a pointer here, would you point out on the map where the sanctuaries in Pakistan are that are the biggest threat to U.S. forces, because the Taliban can operate out of those sanctuaries, cross the border and fight, and then run back into Pakistan?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, first let me just point out, of course, that what we face is not some kind of monolithic Taliban enemy. In fact, it's more like a syndicate is the term that we often use for the enemy that, that faces our troopers and our Afghan counterparts and the Afghan civilians. But what we face generally, of course, is, again, in the southern part of the country, this is the Taliban, the Afghan Taliban. And then as you work your way up into the eastern part, you start to get the Haqqani network linked to the Taliban, again has a symbiotic relationship with them, but is not subservient one to the other. And then you do, in fact, have some small elements of al-Qaeda, you have the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan, you have some Pakistani Taliban and, and other elements that come into the country. Now this, of course, is the federally administered tribal area, up here is Swat valley, these are the areas where Pakistan has fought so hard and taken such significant casualties over the last 18 months. But there are areas that they have not yet dealt with, and north Waziristan is certainly one of those. They have had operations in south Waziristan. And then there are some of the other agencies. There is a portion of western Khyber Agency that they, they know.

Let me point out one other, one other point, if I could. What is interesting is that the Taliban leads from the rear, as we would say. The Taliban leads from Pakistan. And by the way, the rank and file is just catching on to this. We actually see discussions among them chatter among them, conversation wondering where their senior leaders are and wondering why Mullah Omar hasn't set foot back in Afghanistan or even been heard from now in, in months and months and months. But the senior leaders don't come in and share hardship and risk with their troopers on the ground, they send messages. They do it by cell phone or what have you, and that is actually going to be a problem for them, as, as is what we have pointed out with our Afghan partners, much more in recent weeks, and that is what the Taliban have been doing despite their supposed counterinsurgency guidance of being nice to the people and so forth. And they are much more responsible for civilian casualties than are our forces and our Afghan forces. Most recently they were distinguished by flogging and then assassinating a pregnant woman. They have used children and teenagers to carry out attacks. They have dressed in burqas. Again, what they have done is really quite egregious, particularly in the context of the religion and in the context of, of the normal codes of conduct....

MR. GREGORY: The bottom line question that I've been thinking about asking you is, if we win in Afghanistan, what do we win; and if we lose, what do we lose?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, the, the latter is almost easier because, if you lose, it has, I think, some significant repercussions, not just for this country, although they would be enormous, and start with the cover of Time magazine for starters. Then think about our security interests, and then think about the region and what it could do to the region if, in fact, extremists were able to take over all or part of this country again after what presumably would be a very bloody civil war in which different countries in the region would take sides. And, again, the prospect is, I think, is pretty frightening.

If we succeed, on the other hand, obviously we, we are, again, succeeding in a region that has implications and links to security issues throughout the world. If Afghanistan can become the central Asian "roundabout," to use President Karzai's term, to where it can be the new Silk Road, think of the implications for that, recalling that, of course, Afghanistan is blessed with the presence of what are trillions, with an S on the end, trillions of dollars worth of minerals if, and only if, you can get the extractive technology, the human capital operated, the lines of communication to enable you to get it out of the country and all the rest of that. Very big "if." And of course, there's a foundation of security that would be necessary on, on which to build all of that. But, again, the prospects are very significant if you can achieve objectives.

And, and, by the way, I'm always leery of using terms, actually, like "winning" because it seems to imply that, you know, you just find the right hill out there somewhere, you take it, you plant the flag, and you go home to a victory parade. I don't think that's going to be the case here. I think this is going to-and I've said this repeatedly when I was a Central Command commander, even before that, that this was going to require a substantial, significant commitment and, and that it is going to have to be enduring to some degree, again, albeit its character and its size being scaled down over the years".

Meet the Press, "Interview with General David Petraeus," 15 August 2010, in

"Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war....Countless minor incidents---the kind you can never really forsee---combine
to lower the general level of performance, so that one always falls short of the intended goal. Iron will-power can overcome this friction; it pulverises every obstacle, but of course it wears down the machine as well....The good general must know friction in order to overcome it whenever possible, and in order not to expect a standard of achievement in his operations which this very friction makes impossible....As with a man of the world instinct
becomes almost habit so that he always acts, speaks, and moves appropriately, so that only the experienced officer will make the right decision in major and minor matters---at every
pulsebeat of war. Practice and experience dictate the answer: 'this is possible, that is not'.So he rarely makes a serious mistake, such as can, in war, shatter confidence and become extremely dangerous if it occurs often."

Carl von Clausewitz, On War. Edited & translated by Sir Michael Howard & Peter Paret, 1976, pp.119-121.

Reading this interview with the American & NATO supreme commander in Afghanistan, makes overall for a rather positive view of things for a number of reasons: i) the general, who is probably the mieux general field-officer in the entire American army, seems to have a rather realistic view of conditions in the Afghan theatre; ii) he also it appears has few illusions that anything of substance can be done, before the fabled deadline of the summer of 2011. A deadline which has become gradually more akin to an albatross around the necks of the entire American-NATO effort in Afghanistan. AKA, that notwithstanding the hopes of those in the American Administration, around Vice-President Biden, there is in fact little hope of a large-scale troop withdrawal within the two to three years. As the general correctly recognizes, it is going to be a 'hard slog', requiring several years (perhaps half a dozen in fact), to both crush the Taliban and to train sufficiently well the Afghan Army and police. Until both of these occur, there is no possibility of an American withdrawal from this wretched country. The only saving grace is that the top mind in the American military establishment is 'on the job', in Kabul. Following the most plausible strategy that there is to win this war. Let us just hope that the American pays legal is sufficiently intelligent enough to reaslize this essential fact?

Monday, August 16, 2010


The many tributes, even the few barbs, that have appeared since Tony Judt died a week ago in New York aged 62 are their own testament to one of the most brilliant and rational public intellectuals of the past 50 years.

He was an academic historian but his life was very much of the present. So was his death, from the motor neurone affliction, diagnosed two years ago, that Americans call Lou Gehrig’s disease. (“Progressive imprisonment without parole,” Judt called it.) Encased in a steel tube, unable to breathe unassisted or move his limbs, he dictated a most extraordinary and moving series of recollections and reflections that was published in The New York Review of Books, the most recent two weeks ago.

Four countries influenced his life and work: Britain, where he was born and educated; the US, his home for the last quarter-century; France, from some of whose intellectuals he drew such inspiration; and, most controversially, Israel, best summed up in his pithy line, “You don’t have to be Jewish to be critical of Israel – but it helps.” Unlike so many of his intellectual peers, he never followed fashion or the moods of the moment. He remained a social democrat to the core but could be as critical of cant and dogma on the left as on the right, in politics and academia. This stood in marked contrast to so many who flocked to neo-liberalism or neo-conservatism or who became cheerleaders for the US invasion of Iraq. He was always clear-eyed about the real world....

At school in Putney, a German teacher, Joe Craddock, got his mental juices flowing, propelling him to Cambridge and a degree in history. He then spent a year at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, earning his doctorate from Cambridge in 1972. His dissertation, published in 1976 as his first book, was on French socialism after the first world war, which drew him to his guiding stars, Leon Blum, Raymond Aron and Albert Camus, intellectuals of the left often critical of their own. Commensurately he became contemptuous of fellow travellers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, who represented “the uneasy conscience and moral cowardice of an intellectual generation”....

A prolific writer of books and articles and a stimulating lecturer and public speaker, Judt was clearly in his element in cut-and-thrust New York. In a recent newspaper interview, he said: “Today, I’m regarded outside NYU as a looney-tunes leftie, self-hating, Jewish communist. Inside the university, I’m regarded as a typical, old-fashioned, white, male, liberal elitist. I like that, living on the edge of both, it makes me feel comfortable.”

While relishing the combat, he may have been taken aback by the ferocity of the storm that followed his 2003 article in The New York Review of Books, “Israel: the Alternative”. It described the Jewish state as “an anachronism” and argued that Zionism’s ethno-religious exclusivity be replaced by an inclusive liberal democracy. In effect, it called for a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian impasse, as he did again in a New York Times column only last month.

The Jewish lobby, keenly aware of his standing, took great offence. He was fired as a contributing editor to The New Republic magazine, whose literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, charged that Judt had become “the kind of intellectual whom his intellectual heroes would have despised”. Three years later a speech at the Polish consulate in New York was cancelled after protests from Zionists. His defence of an article by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on the excessive influence of the Jewish lobby over US foreign policy fanned the flames.

His legacy and philosophy lie in his words, written and spoken: “I think intellectuals have a primary duty to dissent not from the conventional wisdom of the age (though that too) but, and above all, from the consensus of their own community.” In the same vein, he liked to quote Camus: “If there were a party of those who are not sure they are right, I’d belong to it.”

There was humour, too. Last October he addressedockquote 700 people in Greenwich Village on European social democracy (working to the end, he turned it into his final book, Ill Fares the Land). He arrived on stage sheathed in metal, literally, and said, “a talking head . . . wearing facial Tupperware”. It had been suggested that he say something uplifting about his condition, “but I’m English, we don’t do uplifting”. He then spoke for two hours, without notes, the audience spellbound.

After two earlier marriages, he wed Jennifer Homans, the dance critic, in 1993. She survives him, along with their two sons. Your obituarist feels beholden to Tony Judt. We never met, but he once sent me an e-mail complimentary of something I had written. I walked on air for weeks.

Jurek Martin, "Clear-eyed academic unafraid to defy the consensus," 14 August 2010,

"Francois Furet was a public intellectual whose qualities as an 'insider' did not prevent him being treated at various times and in various circles as an outsider and even a renegade. Like them, he went against the grain, in Furet's case twice over: first by undermining and recasting the history of the Revolution, France's "national foundation myth," and then publishing, late in life, an enormously influential essay on Communism, the myth (or illusion, in Furet's words) of the twentieth century. Like them, he was at times better appreciated abroad than at home. And like them, his influence and ideas have triumphed over his critics and will surely outlast them. It has been widely observed that there was not and is not a Furet school of French history. But then there is no Aron school of French social thought, no Camus school of French moralists, no Blum school of French social democracy. These men did not stand for some contending version of French intellectual or political engagement; they stood, in the end, only for themselves and what they believed".

Tony Judt, 'Preface' to The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron and the French Twentieth Century. 1998, p. viii.

Unlike Mr. Jurek Martin, I met and knew Tony Judt. Not by any means 'well', but still I did know him. Back in anno domini 1991, I took a doctoral seminar on the subject matter, which became what will in retrospect be regarded as the subject of his magnum opus: 'Post-war Europe'. He also informally supervised my doctoral seminar paper on British foreign policy in the post-1945 period. Prior to that I of course had heard of him, as he was regarded as one of the leading (not by the bye, 'the leading') lights in the History Department of New York University. A great polymath and teacher, his classes were quite popular with the more intelligent 'Europeanists' in the department. I had of course known of him a bit before even that: the first time being when I read an essay of his in a now obscure, gauchiste periodical, which dealt I thought, both intelligently & sensitively with the subject matter of cinema and post-war Europe (see: Tony Judt, "Moving Pictures," Radical History Review, Spring, 1988, pp. 129-144.). Within a few years, his first well known work ("Past Imperfect") was published to mostly positive reviews in the leading intelligentsia periodicals of the Anglophone world (New York Review / TLS / London Review, et cetera). From there on, he appeared to acquire ever greater and greater prominence and renown. Culminating with the tragic story of his dying so early of motor neurone disease. An event which was made all the more poignant by the fact that he was so courageous and public about the fact that he did not have much more to live. Something which was brought so directly by the lecture that he gave a little under a year ago, at NYU. Where he was wheeled in to the lecture hall, breathing & speaking via a special tube to a spellbound audience (I being among them). The superb series of personal essays that he wrote in the New York Review in the last six months of his life only adding to the sense of loss.

With all that being said, how does one 'place' Judt in the wider frame of the historical profession and his position in the post-war / post-cold war Anglo-American intelligentsia? Without of course being necessarily negative (since I have always had the utmost admiration for him), I cannot quite bring myself to agree with the type of unthinking acclaim that people like Jurek Martin laud him with. The reason? Well, first that from the vantage point of a historian, it would be more accurate to regard Judt as being someone who never quite fulfilled his potential. Not that his opus is not in its own way impressive. Merely that in retrospect, he never quite became one of the grande maitre `a penser of the historical profession (think Braudel, think Elton, think Stone, think Thompson, think Pocock, think indeed Furet). And, it is perhaps the case, that au fond, he had no real interest in becoming one. Which explains I think his switch, relatively early in his career from historical specialist in early 20th century French history, to a larger and broader subject matter of post-war Europe, with a particular interest in Central and Eastern Europe (actually really just the former and not much of the latter). Of course this partial change of interest was not something which Judt alone managed. Without necessarily belittling his own partial transformation, it would be accurate to say that Judt was following down a path which had already been followed by a good number of the people in the Anglo-American intelligentsia. As Judt himself pointed out subsequently, after being neglected for a good number of years after 1945, tout a coup,Central Europe became all of the sudden 'sexy' and interesting. These were the years of Timothy Garten Ash's essays in the New York Review of Books and elsewhere, of Neal Ascherson's pieces in the New Yorker, indeed of Milan Kundera's roman, 'The Unbearable lightness of Being,' being published in its entirety in that periodical (something unimaginable today of course). In his growing interest in Central Europe and his drawing away from specializing in purely French intellectual, nay indeed French history tout court, Judt was merely an example of much greater trend of his generation. Both of intellectuals and to a lesser degree historians. Again, this is not necessarily a 'bad thing', but, it does give the lie to a degree to the idea that he was necessarily a fearless, Camus-like / Aron-like intellectual loner. Similarly, his 'coming-out', as a critic of the State of Israel and Zionism, in the past ten years or so, while quite laudable, was hardly the stuff that heroes are made of. As an intellectual / historical critique, Judt's position was little different from the standard issue criticism that one could find (as indeed I remember finding thirty years ago) on the Left, from such individuals as Noam Chomsky and Edward Said (the latter being someone who Judt had a very high opinion of). And, while his criticisms of Israeli politics were more interesting by virtue of the fact that they were from someone who for awhile was a believer in the Zionist project, that per se did not make them any more cogent or for that matter unusual. Especially, once one looks at them from outside the purely American / New York perspective. Indeed, from a European perspective his criticisms were rather mainstream in fact.

To sum up, I would regard Tony Judt as following in the best traditions of the Oxbridge academic. One part maverick, one part mandarin (think A.J.P. Taylor, think Trevor-Roper, think Hobsbawm). Someone who was a great stylist and publicist, who garners great attention from both the lay educated public and the intelligentsia (both academic and non-academic). His passing to a certain extent marks a passing of a unique product of a time and a place which perhaps we may not ever see re-produced. Something which I believe he himself was a to a degree aware of at the end of his life. In short, Judt was very much akin in a specifically Anglo-American way, to those great French intellectuals of the mid-20th century (Aron, Camus, et. al) who he himself celebrated and admired.

Friday, August 13, 2010


"The US and the European Union may hold a summit in Lisbon in November, to make up for President Barack Obama’s decision not to attend such a meeting in Spain earlier this year. The summit could cover issues such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, counter-terrorism and broader foreign policy, the two sides say.

But the proposed Lisbon meeting – which would be tacked on to a Nato summit in the Portuguese capital – might not be enough to convince Brussels of Mr Obama’s enthusiasm for the EU. Despite multiple trips to Europe, Mr Obama has been attacked by some of his domestic critics for concentrating on countries such as Russia, China and Pakistan at the expense of traditional US allies – particularly at the start of his term in office.

“Not being a problem does not mean we should not be a priority,” said João Vale de Almeida, who this week became the EU’s ambassador to Washington. “There’s untapped potential in this relationship ... We can co-operate better on foreign policy, from Iran to Pakistan, to the Middle East and the Balkans.”

He adds that the two sides should also co-ordinate more over their positions in forums such as the G20 and on climate change. The EU is keen to deepen co-operation in the wake of its own institutional reforms, which are now taking effect after a decade of planning. They include the creation of a new president of the European Council of leaders, a high representative for foreign policy and a new European External Action Service.

Mr Vale de Almeida said the Europeans needed to be “faster in delivery” on agreements with the US, but also called for “more investment [in the relationship] on the American side considering how reliable the European partners are and how useful they can be”. One area where both sides say the Europeans have helped meet US goals is Iran, where last month the EU agreed sweeping sanctions long sought by Washington.

But in a sign that the relationship still has challenges, one of the first acts taken by the European parliament after its powers were expanded was to vote down a bank data sharing agreement with the US Washington says is essential in the fight against terrorism. The parliament only gave its backing to the deal after five months of high level US visits, including Vice-president Joe Biden, attorney-general Eric Holder and Department of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano.

Washington also signalled that European leaders should not have excessive expectations of personal contact with Mr Obama. “This president is not a schmoozer – he doesn’t hang out,” said a senior administration official. “We don’t feel the need to profess love because it’s a fact of life that Europe is our main partner, in everything that we do in the world … Do you need to say that all the time?”

David Dombey, "US AND EU in talks on foreign policy summit," 12 April 2010,

"Dean Acheson has a remarkable intellectual brilliance. His mind never dawdles. Despite a natural courtesy, his gifts can edge him to intolerance. He does not suffer fools gladly, which suffering is a large part of diplomacy. Yes Acheson is above all a loyal colleague.
I would never hesitate to go tiger-hunting with him."

Sir Anthony Eden, The Full Circle: The Memoirs of the Rt. Honorable Sir Anthony Eden (1960),
p. 200.

The peevish and irritated tone of the official comment to the Financial Times in yesterday's edition, are a reflection of a greater problem with the current American administration. Notwithstanding the alleged brilliance of some of its members including its head (although in fact as compared to Dean Acheson all seem to have the stature of a group of Pygmies), there seems to be an unusually severe lack of empathy for the USA's allies, especially those of Europe and Japan. Additionally, there seems to be an ignorance of the rules of the diplomatic game. The fact that the American President's chef de Cabinet, Mr. Emmanuel (presuming that the 'senior administration official', was in fact him), was deputized to make this statement, rather than say the National Security Advisor, speaks volumes as well. The overall effect of this particular little incident, and its precursor (the failure to attend the prior EU Foreign Policy Summit earlier this year). Now, I will be the very first to admit that negotiating with the EU as a whole is, is the diplomatic equivalent to negotiating with jello or swiss cheese. And, immediately recalls former Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger dictum that if he wished to pick-up the telephone and 'call Europe, who exactly should he telephone?' However, as the recent sanctions imposed recently on Persia show, our European partners, can and do produce, diplomatically, if they are engaged and persuaded of the sense of a particular diplomatic path. The overall effect of this particular little incident, and its precursor (the failure to attend the prior EU foreign policy summit earlier this year) is to raise more disturbing questions about the diplomatic skills and general foreign policy of the current Administration. As a commentator recently noted in the London Spectator on Prime Minister Cameron's recent trip to the White House:

"The other factor that must not be discounted in any analysis of Mr. Cameron's attempt to reposition Britain's international profile is the government's growing disenchantment with the transatlantic partnership with the US. For all the stage-managed bonhomie of Mr. Cameron's summit with Mr. Obama, there is unease with Mr. Obama's ability to demonstrate effective leadership on the world stage. 'There is a growing awareness that we are dealing with a weak American President who is failing to demonstrate effective leadership on a whole range of issues', one of Mr. Cameron's senior security advisors recently confided to me.
'On Iran [Persia], on Afghanistan, Israel and the Palestinians, the perception is growing that there is a dangerous lack of leadership coming from the White House'."

Con Coughlin, "Cameron has given up on Afghanistan," The Spectator, 31 July 2010, p. 13.

A growing and dangerous perception which the maladroit and ill-conceived statements quoted in the Financial Times will only add to. Should one add that one does not anticipate anytime soon that senior American officials will be receiving invitations to go Tiger Hunting by their European counter-parts?

Monday, August 09, 2010


"For all its slick modernity, there are plenty of 19th-century echoes about contemporary China with the new railroads that are opening up the hinterland and all those Dickensian factories. Amid the mountainous production of steel, a confident new national identity is being forged in a country that wants to stake its claim in the world.

The same echoes can be felt across other parts of Asia where not just China, but India, South Korea and Australia are all investing heavily in their navies, building new blue-water fleets to take to the oceans. And so it is with the region’s diplomacy, where the postwar era of US dominance is being replaced with a more uneasy balance of power.

This emerging geopolitical drama was underlined by a fascinating statement in Hanoi at the end of last month by Hillary Clinton. En route to her daughter’s wedding, the US secretary of state told a regional meeting that the US was willing to act as a mediator in talks over the islands in the South China Sea disputed by, among others, China.

Many of the islands in question might be little more than rocks, but given that they are close to the sea lanes for a significant chunk of world trade, they have huge strategic importance. As such, Mrs Clinton’s speech is one of the most striking symbols of the diplomatic battle that will define Asia for the next few decades – a tussle between the US and China to be the dominant voice.

The Clinton statement had two goals. One was to emphasise that in Asian diplomacy, the US is back. During the presidency of George W. Bush, some Asian governments felt that the US had lost interest in the region. Whether this impression was justified or not, she was telling Asia’s leaders that the US is not packing its bags any time soon.

Most of all, the speech was a message to the region about China and its seemingly inevitable rise. Since the sinking of South Korea’s Cheonan warship in March, Washington has taken advantage of Beijing’s reluctance to criticise North Korea to boost its ties with Seoul and drive a wedge between China and South Korea. As suspicions grow in south-east Asia about China’s intentions in the South China Sea, the US is presenting itself as the natural honest broker....

But the Obama administration also has to make up for lost time. Over the last decade or so, China has stolen  a  march  on  the  US  in Asia. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be a strategic gift for Beijing. While the US was chasing al-Qaeda and hunting for WMD, China settled border disputes with a string of once suspicious neighbours – from Russia in the north to Vietnam in the south (although not India). As a decade of double-digit growth in China helped shift the axis of the Asian economy, Beijing drove pipelines into central Asia, invested in natural resources projects in Burma, Indonesia and the Philippines, and financed new ports in the Indian Ocean....

Yet in the last year or so, China’s charm offensive in Asia has run into trouble – not least in the South China Sea, which for many Asian countries is a barometer of how a powerful China might treat them. The Paracel and Spratly islands are claimed in full or in part by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei. On China’s maps, however, the islands are inside a U-shaped line of its territorial waters, which stretches down to cover most of the South China Sea.

Amid rising tensions, China has reportedly told other Asian countries not to discuss the issue among themselves. According to US officials, Beijing also now says it considers the area a “core interest”, alongside Taiwan and Tibet. Some push-back was inevitable. Sure enough, Vietnam – the one country in the region with a Leninist political system comparable to China’s – lobbied its old nemesis in Washington to get involved. (The USS George Washington aircraft carrier visited Vietnam at the weekend.) Even Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, who has spent much of the past decade praising Beijing, called last year on the US to remain the Pacific’s “superior power”.

In Asia’s new diplomatic contest, the momentum is still very much with Beijing. While the US faces debts and deficits, China could easily grow by 8 per cent a year for one if not two more decades and its naval power will also inexorably expand.

Yet Mrs Clinton has laid a trap for Beijing in the South China Sea. If China stands up to US interference in its backyard and presents itself as the regional power, it risks pushing wary neighbours into the US camp. Indeed, this is the broader diplomatic test that China faces in Asia over the coming decades. The more dependent Asian countries become on China’s economy, the more uneasy they will be about its power. The ball is very much now in Beijing’s court".

Geoff Dwyer, "Power Play in the South China Sea," 9 August 2010, in

"The English geographer Sir Halford Mackinder ended his famous 1904 article, "The Geographical Pivot of History," with a disturbing reference to China. After explaining why Eurasia was the geostrategic fulcrum of world power, he posited that the Chinese, should they expand their power well beyond their borders, "might constitute the yellow peril to the world's freedom just because they would add an oceanic frontage to the resources of the great continent, an advantage as yet denied to the Russian tenant of the pivot region." Leaving aside the sentiment's racism, which was common for the era, as well as the hysterics sparked by the rise of a non-Western power at any time, Mackinder had a point: whereas Russia, that other Eurasian giant, basically was, and is still, a land power with an oceanic front blocked by ice, China, owing to a 9,000-mile temperate coastline with many good natural harbors, is both a land power and a sea power. (Mackinder actually feared that China might one day conquer Russia.) China's virtual reach extends from Central Asia, with all its mineral and hydrocarbon wealth, to the main shipping lanes of the Pacific Ocean. Later, in Democratic Ideals and Reality, Mackinder predicted that along with the United States and the United Kingdom, China would eventually guide the world by "building for a quarter of humanity a new civilization, neither quite Eastern nor quite Western."

Robert Kaplan, The Geography of Chinese Power: How far can Beijing Reach on Land and Sea? Foreign Affairs, May/June 2010.

"Hundreds of German merchants will rejoice at the realisation that the German Empire has at last won a firm footing in Asia. Hundreds of thousands of Chinamen will tremble when they feel the iron fist of the German Empire heavy on their necks."

The Emperor William II to Bernhard von Bulow [Foreign Minister], 7 November 1897, describing the seizure of the Chinese port of Kiao-Chau, in German Diplomatic Documents, 1871-1914, Vol. III, Edited, E.T.S. Dugdale, p. 16.

The balance of forces in International Politics are rarely as deterministic and reductionist as journalists and others of similarly limited points of view are inclined to view them as being. Hence, the idea that because say the PRC will soon have the world's second largest economy, it will soon enough endeavor to challenge the USA, in the same manner that Kaiserreich challenged Edwardian England in the years before the outbreak of the Great War. In point of fact, while there are certainly aspects of the current PRC which makes for this comparison to be apt, there are others which make it less so. First, and perhaps the most important, is that unlike say the England of Lords Castlereagh, Palmerston and Salisbury, the current-day USA is a far superior machtpolitik in strict military terms. As the eminent grise of the Wilhelmstrasse, Friedrich von Holstein, once pointed out, the UK at the peak of its power in the early to mid-19th century (1815-1870), was "the paramount Power in every part of the world outside of Europe" ("Memorandum by Baron von Holstein," 31 October 1901, in German Diplomatic Documents, op. cit., p.148). Whereas the United States has been militarily supreme for the past twenty years, on every continent. And, by the beginning of the twentieth century, that was no longer true in either the Far East (hence the Anglo-Japanese Alliance) or the Western Hemisphere (hence the 'great rapprochement' between the US and the UK from 1895 onwards). Hence, the road that the PRC has to climb vis-`a-vis the USA is infinitely higher and harder. Especially, when as the always learned if irascible Edward Luttwak points out in the current issue of the Times of London Literary Supplement (in reference to both the PRC and to India):

"For This essential reason - internal problems too overwhelming to be set aside, and which cannot these days be usefully vented with successful little wars - it is a category error to see China or India as classic risen powers, ready to joust with other powers, including each other, for more control of the world around them....Along with rather severe and pervasive operational shortcomings revealed only by the rare episodes that breach the facade of high competence (the atrociously bungled response to the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, the equally pathetic performance of the Chinese army in the Sichuan earthquake earlier this year), the character of their military-industrial endeavors tell us why China and India are much less capable of generating real military strength then the vastness of their forces would suggest. Their scant ability to project power beyond their borders is much better known."

Edward Luttwak, "Back to the Task," The Times of London Literary Supplement (TLS), 6 August 2010, pp. 9-10.

A state of affairs that is even more pronounced by the fact that unlike say the USA at the turn of the twentieth century, who within a few years if not already, had established itself as being a regional hegemon, the PRC, is still very far indeed from this position. One may well ask of course: will this state of affairs remain the same? Who knows? It is as likely to do so, as not. Again, unlike say the USA, at the turn of the twentieth century, which for all its social problems, was for the most part a cohesive and peaceable society, contemporary China (not to speak of India), suffers from pervasive social and ethnic unrest. Often of a very violent nature. That and the fact that both are still in per capita income terms, poor if not dirt poor societies, make the transition to becoming a military great-power less than automatic or very clear cut. As the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Earl of Selbourne pointed out at the turn of the twentieth century, it was not necessarily dollars and cents which governs such things, and, the example below shows that a rather long time-lag can come between what is economically feasible and what is politically possible:

'It has not dawned on our countrymen yet, but doubtless it has on you as it has on me, that, if the Americans chose to pay for what they can easily afford, they can gradually build up a Navy, firstly as large and then larger than ours and I am not
sure why they will not do it...' [punctuation as in the original].

Lord Selbourne to Lord Curzon [Viceroy of India], 19 April 1901, in George Boyce, edited, The Crisis of British Power: the Imperial and Naval Papers of the Second Earl of Selbourne, 1895-1910, (1990) p.115.

Friday, August 06, 2010


"Until the Mexican-American War, it was not clear whether the dominant power in North America would have its capital in Washington or Mexico City. Mexico was the older society with a substantially larger military. The United States, having been founded east of the Appalachian Mountains, had been a weak and vulnerable country. At its founding, it lacked strategic depth and adequate north-south transportation routes. The ability of one colony to support another in the event of war was limited. More important, the United States had the most vulnerable of economies: It was heavily dependent on maritime exports and lacked a navy able to protect its sea-lanes against more powerful European powers like England and Spain. The War of 1812 showed the deep weakness of the United States. By contrast, Mexico had greater strategic depth and less dependence on exports.

The American solution to this strategic weakness was to expand the United States west of the Appalachians, first into the Northwest Territory ceded to the United States by the United Kingdom and then into the Louisiana Purchase, which Thomas Jefferson ordered bought from France. These two territories gave the United States both strategic depth and a new economic foundation. The regions could support agriculture that produced more than the farmers could consume. Using the Ohio-Missouri-Mississippi river system, products could be shipped south to New Orleans. New Orleans was the farthest point south to which flat-bottomed barges from the north could go, and the farthest inland that oceangoing ships could travel. New Orleans became the single most strategic point in North America. Whoever controlled it controlled the agricultural system developing between the Appalachians and the Rockies. During the War of 1812, the British tried to seize New Orleans, but forces led by Andrew Jackson defeated them in a battle fought after the war itself was completed....

Mexico’s strategic problem was the geography south of the Rio Grande (known in Mexico as the Rio Bravo). This territory consisted of desert and mountains. Settling this area with large populations was impossible. Moving through it was difficult. As a result, Texas was very lightly settled with Mexicans, prompting Mexico initially to encourage Americans to settle there. Once a rising was fomented among the Americans, it took time and enormous effort to send a Mexican army into Texas. When it arrived, it was weary from the journey and short of supplies. The insurgents were defeated at the Alamo and Goliad, but as the Mexicans pushed their line east toward the Mississippi, they were defeated at San Jacinto, near present-day Houston....

The U.S. defeat of Mexico settled the issue of the relative power of Mexico and the United States but did not permanently resolve the region’s status; that remained a matter of national power and will. The United States had the same problem with much of the Southwest (aside from California) that Mexico had: It was a relatively unattractive place economically, given that so much of it was inhospitable. The region experienced chronic labor shortages, relatively minor at first but accelerating over time. The acquisition of relatively low-cost labor became one of the drivers of the region’s economy, and the nearest available labor pool was Mexico. An accelerating population movement out of Mexico and into the territory the United States seized from Mexico paralleled the region’s accelerating economic growth....

Three fault lines emerged in United States on the topic. One was between the business classes, which benefited directly from the flow of immigrants and could shift the cost of immigration to other social sectors, and those who did not enjoy those benefits. The second lay between the federal government, which saw the costs as trivial, and the states, which saw them as intensifying over time. And third, there were tensions between Mexican-American citizens and other American citizens over the question of illegal migrants. This inherently divisive, potentially explosive mix intensified as the process continued.

Underlying this political process was a geopolitical one. Immigration in any country is destabilizing. Immigrants have destabilized the United States ever since the Scots-Irish changed American culture, taking political power and frightening prior settlers. The same immigrants were indispensible to economic growth. Social and cultural instability proved a low price to pay for the acquisition of new labor....

This is no different from what takes place in borderlands the world over. The political border moves because of war. Members of an alien population suddenly become citizens of a new country. Sometimes, massive waves of immigrants from the group that originally controlled the territory politically move there, undertaking new citizenship or refusing to do so. The cultural status of the borderland shifts between waves of ethnic cleansing and population movement. Politics and economics mix, sometimes peacefully and sometimes explosively.

The Mexican-American War established the political boundary between the two countries. Economic forces on both sides of the border have encouraged both legal and illegal immigration north into the borderland — the area occupied by the United States. The cultural character of the borderland is shifting as the economic and demographic process accelerates. The political border stays where it is while the cultural border moves northward.

The underlying fear of those opposing this process is not economic (although it is frequently expressed that way), but much deeper: It is the fear that the massive population movement will ultimately reverse the military outcome of the 1830s and 1840s, returning the region to Mexico culturally or even politically. Such borderland conflicts rage throughout the world. The fear is that it will rage here....

Centuries ago, Scots moved to Northern Ireland after the English conquered it. The question of Northern Ireland, a borderland, was never quite settled. Similarly, Albanians moved to now-independent Kosovo, where tensions remain high. The world is filled with borderlands where political and cultural borders don’t coincide and where one group wants to change the political border that another group sees as sacred.

Migration to the United States is a normal process. Migration into the borderlands from Mexico is not. The land was seized from Mexico by force, territory now experiencing a massive national movement — legal and illegal — changing the cultural character of the region. It should come as no surprise that this is destabilizing the region, as instability naturally flows from such forces.

Jewish migration to modern-day Israel represents a worst-case scenario for borderlands. An absence of stable political agreements undergirding this movement characterized this process. One of the characteristics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is mutual demonization. In the case of Arizona, demonization between the two sides also runs deep. The portrayal of supporters of Arizona’s new law as racist and the characterization of critics of that law as un-American is neither new nor promising. It is the way things would sound in a situation likely to get out of hand.

Ultimately, this is not about the Arizona question. It is about the relationship between Mexico and the United States on a range of issues, immigration merely being one of them. The problem as I see it is that the immigration issue is being treated as an internal debate among Americans when it is really about reaching an understanding with Mexico. Immigration has been treated as a subnational issue involving individuals. It is in fact a geopolitical issue between two nation-states. Over the past decades, Washington has tried to avoid turning immigration into an international matter, portraying it rather as an American law enforcement issue. In my view, it cannot be contained in that box any longer".

George Friedman, "Arizona, Borderlands and U.S.-Mexican Relations," 3 August 2010 in

"As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see 'the River Tiber foaming with much blood.'"

Enoch Powell, Speech at the Annual Meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre, Birmingham, 21 April 1968.

It has been forty-two years and more since Enoch Powell's words (paraphrasing in part Virgil), famous or infamous words have been uttered. And, while the exact image conjured up by his mots have not quite been fulfilled (thankfully), much that has changed in the Western World as caused by immigration has of course been of the negative variety. World-over, of course immigration is a 'problem'. Either 'legal' or illegal immigration. In the case of the United States though, the immigration problem as especially as it relates to Mexican immigration in the West and South-West, has an entirely different aspect. With the exception of the case of China and Siberia, there is scarcely another instance where the problem of illegal immigration intersects with that of border security and indeed national security. Make no mistake: I do not believe that Mexican immigration to places such as Arizona and New Mexico, are harbingers of said places being annexed by say Mexico. The power relations between the USA and Mexico are too strongly differing for such a situation to occur. Something which makes this situation quite different from the Siberian example. And, indeed in the absence of a near-collapse of the American State and its coercive power, both internally and externally, there is absolutely no danger of a classical 'border dispute', `a la say Danzig, Alsace-Lorraine, the Curzon line, Trentino, Trieste, et cetera, et cetera occurring. Which is not to gainsay the fact that for those people living in the border regions of the USA, or areas much further inland, the influx of 'wetbacks' from south of the border, cannot fail to be seen as something entirely negative. As indeed for many native-stock Americans a completely alien race of people, seemingly a race of 'barbarians', has almost completely 'taken over', their village, town, city, county and indeed country. Ergo, the widespread belief that the American President, the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name, is not in fact entitled to be President, as he was born abroad and not in the USA. This is of course inaccurate. But, the fact that it is a widespread belief shows how people are reacting to what appears to be changes in their country, which no one seems to be willing to stop or control.

Of course we are often told, by bien pensant thinkers of the Liberal, Post-Enlightenment Cosmopolitan variety (AKA Philip Stephens of the Financial Times, et. al.), that: i) immigration is a very good thing; ii) immigration either legal or illegal cannot be stopped or contained. In point of fact is this true? Well, a quick look at the American historical record shows that: a) the Johnson Immigration Act of 1924, building upon other Congressional Acts dating back to the Great War, significantly slowed, nay indeed truncated immigration, both legal and illegal. Something which more or less remained the same until the early 1970's; b) that even so, when the Federal and State governments were of a mind to do so, they could indeed endeavor to enforce Federal Law as it relates to illegal immigration. So for example the Eisenhower Administration staged 'Operation Wetback', which in the years 1954, resulted in approximately one hundred thousand arrests of illegal immigrants within a few months time. With over a million illegal immigrants deported and or frightened into vacating the country. Is such a program still viable today? The question answers itself. If the country were to will itself to do such a thing, it seems self-evident that the mass of illegal immigrants, tutti quanti can no doubt be gotten rid of. Whether the country has both the nerve and the will to do so is an entirely another matter. Hence the danger that we will indeed within our lifetimes one day see our own "River Tiber foaming with much blood."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


"Israel Defense Forces exchanged fire with the Lebanese army on Tuesday, killing three Lebanese soldiers and a Lebanese journalist, in what appeared to be the most serious military confrontation since Israel's month-long war with Hezbollah in 2006.

The Lebanese army confirmed that two of its troops had been killed when Israeli forces fired on a vehicle in which they were traveling, setting it on fire and wounding another. A UNIFIL peacekeeper waves a UN flag as Israeli troops patrol the border fence in the southern Lebanese village of Adaisseh, Lebanon on Tuesday,
Aug. 3, 2010. In Lebanon, security sources said that Israeli shells fired at the southern Lebanese border village of Aadassi hit a house, wounding two - a soldier and a civilian.

Lebanese troops responded with artillery fire, Lebanese press reports said, while eyewitnesses said fire had broken out in two buildings in the village.

"It started when the Israelis wanted to cut a tree down inside Lebanon," one security source in Lebanon said. "The Lebanese army fired warning shots at them and they responded by shelling...."

"Israel sees this incident as a violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701, one of a long line of violations, first of which is the massive arming of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon," the statement read. "Israel views the government of Lebanon as responsible for this grave event and warns of possible consequences if these violations continue."

Also on Tuesday there were reports that a Katyusha rocket fired from Lebanon struck the northern Galilee - but police dispatched to the area could find no trace of an impact. Residents living close to border reported hearing several loud explosions....
Israeli military engineering units maintain a security fence along the border with southern Lebanon. The region has traditionally been a stronghold for Hezbollah but regular Lebanese troops returned to the area in 2006 following Israel's summer war with the Shi'a militant group.... Tuesday's clash follows rocket attacks on Monday on the southern city of Eilat and neighboring Aqaba in Jordan, in which a Jordanian citizen was killed and five others were injured".

Jack Khoury, "3 Lebanese soldiers, journalist killed in clash on Israeli-Lebanon border," 3 August 2010, in

"Syrian President Bashar Assad warned on Sunday “the prospects of war and confrontation are increasing”. The President was marking the 65th anniversary of the creation of the Syrian army.

“Syria reiterates its willingness in the just peace and consolidating bases of security and stability in this vital region of the world … and this will not be realized except by the restoration of the whole usurped rights according to the relevant international resolutions … the first factor of peace is preserving dignity, sovereignty and not abandoning any bit of soil or drop of water”

Relevant international resolutions, dignity and sovereignty were at stake today as Lebanese and Israeli troops exchanged fire after Israeli soldiers used a crane to remove a tree on the Lebanese side of the border between the two countries in an apparent violation of UN resolution 1701. Israel claimed that the tree was on the Israeli side of the border and that this is not he first time its soldiers uprooted trees along the border in order to improve visibility and accused Lebanon of provoking the fight. Lebanon said the Israelis crossed onto Lebanese soil despite calls from the U.N. and Lebanon to stop. When the Israelis persisted, Lebanese troops opened fire with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades....

Nasrallah later made it clear that next time there is an Israeli attack on the Lebanese army, where his fighters have a presence, he promises that “the resistance will not stay quiet” no matter how others will interpret their involvement.

If the next routine Israeli violation of Lebanese sovereignty does not flare into a full fledged war, the Hariri assassination’s UN backed tribunal can provide another clear path to war. For years Syria was portrayed as the prime suspect behind the Hariri assassination. The accusations were part of an intense, long term, campaign by the Bush administration, Israel, Saudi Arabia, France, and other countries to discredit, weaken and isolate Syria.

Recently, those accusations are shifting to Hezbollah. Syrian and Saudi leaders feared that Lebanon’s fragile national unity might not survive the rumored mention of Hezbollah by the UN tribunal and the anticipated escalation in international pressure to dismantle or punish Hezbollah, the kind of pressure that Syria knows so well. President Assad and King Abdullah, leaders of the two most influential countries in Lebanon, tried during a historical visit to Beirut to ask their Lebanese allies to stay calm no matter what they read in the upcoming UN report....

On the eve of the Saudi monarch’s visit to Syria a US State Department spokesman issued a strange and provocative statement, calling on the Syrian President to listen carefully to what King Abdullah has to say about the Syrian – Iranian relationship. In Damascus, a Saudi official [commenting on this] told me “can this be true…what does Washington want?”

Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned that pushing Israel to extend the freeze on its settlement activities in the west bank will lead to the collapse of his coalition government. If Mr. Netanyahu feels that an extension of a freeze, and not the dismantling, of those settlements is enough to destroy his government, then what exactly is he prepared to offer the Palestinians or Syrians in any upcoming peace negotiations that everyone is trying to start? Given this unprecedented degree of Israeli “generosity” and American paralysis, will the next Middle East conflict erupt when Israeli troops decide to cut down the next tree in southern Lebanon?

Camille Alexandre Otrakji, "Will rising tensions in the Middle East lead to another catastrophic war?" 3 August 2010 in

On the surface at any rate, one is tempted to believe that there might indeed be something to be concerned about as it relates to the current situation in the Near East. Especially as it relates to the outbreak of fighting that was seen earlier this week in the Lebanon. However, in point of fact, the mere fact that both Hezbollah and the regime in Damascus are making noises about an impending war is quite revealing. The same types of noises were made earlier this year and late last year. By pretty much the same parties. With of course no action occurring. Which lends itself to the idea that in point of fact, these 'noises-off', are nothing more than scare tactics aimed at re-starting an almost moribund American diplomatic effort in the Levant. Especially as it relates to the Golan Heights. As you may recall, approximately a year and half ago, there was much trumpeting of the idea that the new American Administration, would commence a new relationship with the Assad regime in Syria. With the end-result of that being a settlement between Israel and Syria involving the return of Golan to Damascus. Well, eighteen months later, absolutely nothing of the sort has happened. For reasons which we have outlined in this journal on a good number of occasions. Unfortunately, it would appear that the regime in Damascus and their clients in the Lebanon (Hezbollah) are possessed of the quaint, but erroneous idea that if they engage in the diplomatic version of a coup de tete,and thus thereby frightening the Americans into trying to stamped the Israelis into beginning negotiations over the Golan Heights. A secondary variable here, but, quite important for Hezbollah is that they would be quite happy to play a game of 'Hussar's Roulette', and frighten off the UN Special Investigator into naming them as the party who actually pulled the trigger and murdered former Lebanese Premier Hariri back in 2005. As rumors state might in fact now occur. Hence of course this completely manufactured 'incident' which occurred earlier this week. An additional reason not to take all this 'war talk' seriously, is the fact that the Israelis themselves do not appear to do so. If this were a matter of serious import, Tel Aviv would be the very first who would start (defensively of course) issuing warnings and demarches about the dangers of Syria, et. al. playing ajeu de va banque. Correctly of course, their attitude in the current situation is that of Graf Lev Tolstoi, who said apropos the early 20th century Russian writer, Leonid Andreyev: 'He wants to scare people, but, I am not scared'.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


"Go east, young man! When David Cameron uttered this stirring slogan in Bangalore on Wednesday, he was following his own advice. And yet his eastern journey has not met with wholly happy results. Visiting India, Britain’s prime minister seems to have been ignored by Sonia Gandhi, the dynastic head of the Congress party, who cancelled a meeting. At the same time, he enraged Pakistan, which he condemned for trying to “look both ways”, as Islamabad affects sympathy for the west while elements of the Pakistani elite covertly encourage terrorism. Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, will have things to say about this when he visits London next week, assuming he still comes....

Since May, the coalition government has tried to fashion a new approach to the world. William Hague, the foreign secretary, gave a speech in which he formulated a “distinctive British foreign policy”, moving beyond an obsession with the “blocs”, the US, Europe and Middle East, to forge links with the emerging powerhouses of India, China and Brazil. That is presumably what Mr Cameron thinks he has been doing this week. He will no doubt gain goodwill in two of the emerging powers in the new international order and perhaps lucrative preferential treatment for British business. But he has also gained a record of flattering his immediate audience while giving offence elsewhere, and he has given the impression of making things up as he goes along. This series of interventions raises questions over whether his government has a considered foreign policy at all.

In Washington the previous week Mr Cameron did what he could to defuse American anger over BP and the Lockerbie bomber, and to strike a note of humility. But he over-egged it when he said that the UK was the junior partner in the Anglo-American relationship, just as “we were the junior partner in 1940 when we were fighting the Nazis”. As conservative commentators have reminded him to his cost, while the Battle of Britain raged the US was conspicuously and profitably neutral.

That was arguably a slip of the tongue. But his intervention in Turkey when he described Gaza as a “prison camp” was more than that. The view was unexceptionable to most Europeans but it would never have been heard on the lips of Barack Obama, US president, or any member of the US Congress. Does this herald a change of stance? It is unclear. It would however, have been braver if he had said it in Jerusalem – or Washington – rather than Ankara.

When he expressed strong support for Turkish admission to the European Union he was more than ingratiating. This was empty rhetoric. He must know Turkey is not going to join the EU in any foreseeable future. Whether it should is not the question. It won’t happen. Why pretend otherwise? Again, it would have been braver to have said that in Berlin or Paris, to Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy given their hostility to Turkish admission....

Now to cap it all, while telling businessmen in Bangalore of a new special relationship with India he denounces Pakistan. He could not have chosen a venue better designed to provoke resentment in Islamabad. We did not need the recent leaked documents to tell us about the links between the Pakistani intelligence service and the Taliban. But saying this in public – and in India itself – seemed a calculated insult to Pakistan just when the west needs its help.

Forging a new foreign policy has been one of the more audacious of the coalition’s aims. But it surely cannot be done on the hoof or off the cuff. At the very least, when he next ventures abroad, he should remember the saying “look before you leap”. And think before you speak".

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, "Flattery and false steps as Cameron looks east," 29 July 2010 in

"An aspersion upon my parts of speech! If I reprend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!"

Richard Brinsely Sheridan, "The Rivals," (1775), Act III, Scene iii.

"Ignoranti, quen portum petat, nullus suus ventus est."

Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium.

In an ideal world, diplomacy would be fully in the hands of trained diplomats and elected politicians, no matter how intelligent and full of other positive qualities would be kept well away from foreign countries and foreign affairs. In the days of the 'old diplomacy', Prime Ministers rarely went abroad, and when they did, they were shadowed by Permanent Under-Secretaries, Foreign Ministers and the resident Ambassadors. Unfortunately, we live in a much more demotic, democratic, decadent and disruptive age. Hence, the diplomatic debacle we saw last week, from British Premier Cameron (for the consensus on this point see: David Blackburn, "Cameron lambasts Pakistan whilst on Indian trade mission. Bad move," 28 July 2010, in; Andrew Rawnsley, "An impressive start by David Cameron, but a start is all it is," 1 August, 2010, in; Max Hastings," Cameron is a leader to the manner born," 1 August 2010, in An obviously intelligent and energetic man, nay indeed at this point a ultra-pleasing contrast to his mauvais ton & gauchiste predecessor, Gordon Brown, but, based upon the evidence from last week, and the comments made, simply out of his depth in trying to ad lib British diplomacy on the hop. Which is not to necessarily disagree with some of his comments, especially as they relate to say Pakistan and to a lesser extent with Israeli policy towards Gaza. However, the truth of his comments does not obviate the fact that it was diplomatic dynamite to say it openly. And, as I do hope that everyone will agree: the less explosions we have to deal with in either area the better. Hopefully, in the future, his able and intelligent Foreign Secretary, William Hague will chaperon him when abroad and prevent any dangers of Premier Cameron becoming a sort of modern-day Mr. Malaprop of British diplomacy.