Sunday, May 30. 2010
Peter Beinart: The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment: The intended subject here is the growing disconnect between younger, secular-leaning Jews in America (and most likely in the rest of the Diaspora) from Israel, as opposed to the reflexive identification and intensive support the older generation. A lot of things factor into this, but the big one is that it's become harder and harder to whitewash Israel's illiberalism. The most useful part of this is Beinart's survey of Israel's internal political dialogue, which has evolved from the chauvinistic variant of socialism of Mapam and Mapai to the militarism and virulent anti-Arab racism of Likud and other parties vying to see which can be the most demagogic.
The situation strikes me as far more chilling than Beinart concedes: he maintains that there is still an ideological divide within Israel, with a "liberal-democratic Zionism" struggling against the demagogues, but he carves the cake so carefully he includes Netanyahu's Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, among the more enlightened. Still, he writes:
Actually, the real disconnect isn't between young American Jews chosing their liberalism (or radicalism) over their parents' allegiance to Israel, but within their parents who still try to pretend that the Israel they love is a nation worthy of their support. One of the most annoying things about Israel's defenders in America is how they keep advancing claims about Israel's democracy, liberalism, desire for peace, hopes to end the occupation, advocacy of a Palestinian state, etc., when Israel's actual policy and behavior is utterly opposed. Beinart touches on this a bit, but Stephen Walt brings this out more clearly in this comment:
It's clear that the need to maintain U.S. support has often acted as a moderator on Israel's policies: withdrawing from the Sinai in 1956, accepting cease-fires in the 1967 and 1973 wars, backing down from their intervention in Lebanon in 1978, agreeing to return the Sinai to Egypt in the 1979 accords, refraining from attacking Iraq in 1991, completing Sharon's cynical withdrawal from Gaza, and (most likely) holding off from bombing Iran today. On the other hand, the assurance of U.S. support has encouraged Israel to adventurism, as in the 1982 and 2006 invasions of Lebanon. Given this, it's natural to wonder whether a serious U.S. effort at resolving this conflict wouldn't work. But it's never been tried, in large part because the major Jewish lobbies in the U.S., which could give a well-meaning president some room to maneuver, have never asserted any independent views -- rather, they've always insisted on giving Israel a blank check, which has had the effect of indulging Israel's far right. (Admittedly, the neocons had their own reason for favoring Israel's far right, so a president under their influence, like the second Bush, was pleased with the blank check approach.)
One more small point that Beinart brings up but doesn't do much with. He points out that while secular-leaning Jews in America have deserted Israel, orthodox Jews have increasingly embraced Israel, and often very militantly. This is actually a huge shift, given that orthodox Jews have traditionally been anti-Zionist. The trend here seems to be following that in Israel, where the most militant settlers have come out of Rabbi Kook's Gush Emunim to form a new and distinctly more reactionary religious nationalism, one that has increasingly since 1967 held Israel's polity hostage. Their numbers have always been so small that they were easy to discount, but their impact has been profound, not just in the political arena but through such violent acts as the assassination of Rabin and the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre -- the latter the act of an American-born settler, Baruch Goldstein, now widely revered on Israel's far right. Those two acts are widely acknowledged to be the turning points against the Oslo Accords, which is to say that they were more/less responsible for extending the conflict 15 (and counting) years. No doubt Beinart and most liberal Zionists consider them atrocities, but we still have to ask, where is the backlash against such atrocities? What AIPAC et al. have insisted is that Israel bear no consequences for these or any other acts undertaken directly or in its name. That such hypocrisy has lost the allegiance of many younger Jews is unsurprising. What is scandalous is that it still commands obeissance from virtually all American politicians, not least Barack Obama.
Reading a lot today about how we should remember those who died in defense of freedom. Thinking, in particular, of Rachel Corrie.
Sunday, May 9. 2010
Harold Bloom: The Jewish Question: British Anti-Semitism: Who knew that the greatest existential threat to Israel isn't the dead-ender Palestinians or the fanatical Iranian ayatollahs or even Barack Hussein Obama; it's the British intelligentsia, who carry on the anti-semitic wiles of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens. Bloom figured this out while reviewing an 811 pp. book by Anthony Julius, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, which he praises effusively:
[Emphasis added.] This may be the worst book review I've ever read: gushy in its praise while at the same time hijacking the book to push a personal agenda, which among other things makes a big deal on how little anti-Semitism (ergo anti-Zionism) Bloom finds by contrast in his own American intelligentsia -- let's not omit the intro paragraph:
I don't doubt that one can write 821 pp. on the long history of British anti-semitism going back (at least) to the explusion of 1290, but it seems silly that Bloom, let alone Julius, should spend so much print rehashing Merchant of Venice. The problem is sorting out the British philo-semites and anti-semites (and wacko millenarians like David Lloyd George) who teamed up to sponsor Israel and imbue it with the stink of British Imperialism. It wouldn't surprise me to find that most of today's British intellectuals have reservations about Israel, and indeed about imperialism in general, but I would be surprised to find them as unanimous as Bloom paints them to be: while many have turned against Britain's imperial legacy, if not for what it did to the world at least for what it did to Britain, there are more than a few imperial apologists still operating -- e.g., Niall Ferguson, or less reputably Tony Blair.
The one thing I get from Bloom's obsession is that efforts to boycott Israel are striking that old existential nerve. That sounds good to me, not because I want to destroy Israel but because the only way I can see to get them to change their ways is to shun and shame them. Bloom may be satisfied to think of Israel as no worse than a middling corrupt dictatorship, but he's looking at reality through blinders: to see Israel as a tolerable militarist security state it helps to think no one matters but the eternally oppressed Jews -- least of all the Palestinians.
Ira Chernus: What Price for Israel and Palestine?: It's slowly dawning on Americans of most political stripes that blank check American support for Israel is getting expensive not to mention eternally frustrating. Netanyahu, and most Israelis, see no downside in turning their noses up at Obama, or even Bush. They like their war, their sense of power over the Palestinians, their blind faith that as long as they never give in they can go on thinking they're winning. There's lots here you no doubt know already, but this quote is worth focusing on:
The only move Israel ever made toward peace was when they came up with Oslo as an alternative to the Bush-Baker pressure behind the Madrid conference. That was a rare, almost singular, instance of the US making it clear that its support wasn't unconditional. Clinton backed down repeatedly, in the end helping Barak scuttle Oslo, and Bush did no better (and often worse). Obama at least seems to recognize that there are American interests demanding compromise between Israel and the Palestinians but he has yet to put any muscle behind those interests. Had he done so, it seems likely that Netanyahu's fractious coalition would have cracked, but with no pressure Netanyahu has had a free ride.
Still, we should be clear on one point: even if the US were to withdraw all political, economic, and military support, that would in no way threaten or imperil Israel's existence. All it would do is to force recognition of Israel's status as a pariah state -- a state dedicated to a class/race system that subjects a significant minority of its people to human rights abuses few if any other nations accept or support. There's no reason to think that Israel cannot continue on its own indefinitely. No other nation is a threat to Israel. The only force that can change Israel is its own citizenry.
Sunday, March 28. 2010
Paul Woodward: Apartheid Inside Israel: Actually, just a link to Jonathan Cook, but Woodward supplied a better headline. One thing few Americans realize is how effective Israel has been at segregating the million-plus non-Jewish Palestinians living within the Green Line who are nominal citizens of Israel. I don't know precisely how to rate their cage against South African apartheid or Dixie Jim Crow, but it's roughly of that same order: a tolerance with a minimal set of rights within a framework of ad hoc violence and systemic disregard. Even if Israel were to withdraw from the Occupied Territories tomorrow, Israel would still possess a two tier social and political system. When people accuse Israel of implementing Apartheid, they generally think of the West Bank where Palestinians have no rights, where the settlers have all but free reign, where the military system of justice is stacked. The occupation is, if anything, far worse than Apartheid. There is no analogous descriptor because what Israel has done there is largely unprecedented.
Most of the world would consider the conflict ended with an agreement to split off a free and independent Palestinian state in most or all of the 22% of the Palestine Mandate extending beyond the pre-1967 Green Line. That would indeed be welcome, but it would still leave Palestinians in Israel as a despised minority within Israel proper. Without the larger conflict, that problem may heal itself in time, but it's deeply burned into the Israeli psyche: isn't the whole point of the Jewish State to lord it over the goyim? Otherwise, a solution that should prove fair and stable in short course would be to join the Occupied Territories to Israel, grant full citizenship to the Palestinians, and invite the Palestinian diaspora to come back to their ancestral homes by expanding the Jewish-only Law of Return, all done within a constitutional framework that protects the rights of all citizens. The result would likely be a small Palestinian demographic majority, which would flip state power while leaving a Jewish minority in current control of most of the economy. This would turn Israel/Palestine into a country like Malaysia, with is economically dominant Chinese minority and a Malay majority that uses state power to catch up without unduly hampering the Chinese. Such a state would quickly end the apartheid that currently pervades Israel.
While writing the above, I time-sliced doing some book notice research, and came across this review of Bernard Avishai's The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel to Peace at Last (2008, Houghton Mifflin):
This tribal split echoes Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions (2004, Simon & Schuster), still I think the single best book on how the conflict turned hopeless. I can't find much reason to expect that Israeli Arabs will come to rescue Israeli secularism. It seemed to me that the tide turned when Barak preferred a minority government over forming a majority coalition with Arab parties, and that was more than a decade ago, before all the hatred poured out first in response to the Al-Aqsa Intifada, then because Israeli force failed to resolve the conflict in any fundamental way, and finally as Israel has sunk further and further into the mire of being recognized as a pariah state.
One way Israel resembles the Jim Crow South -- a subject I know a lot more about than Apartheid South Africa -- is that while is is possible to identify scattered individuals who didn't accept the prevailing racial orthodoxy, it is impossible to find actual political parties, or even factions, that can advance the cause of civil rights. The US Civil Rights movement succeeded not by persuading local political forces to change but by convincing the broader nation that change was necessary and could only happen with strong federal support. Israel, as an independent nation, doesn't have a higher power internally to turn it around. About the closest thing Israel has is the United States, which has thus far proven to be a poor conscience. (In fact, the neocons, the dominant is US foreign policy for most of the Bush years, took a prurient delight in Israel's militant approach to all of its problems.)
On the other hand, there is at least one major reason to be even more pessimistic about Israel's chances to reform itself than the South Africa or the US South: in both of the latter, blacks were critical to an economy that was based heavily on their cheap labor; in Israel Palestinian labor has been almost completely excluded from the economy, which eliminates basic forms of leverage like strikes.
Update: One day later, Paul Woodward followed up with another post, titled The World Is Sick of Israel. Title comes from a quoted piece by Akiva Eldar, which catches the moment reasonably well:
A recent article had a quote from Gen. Mark Dayton, who has been training PA (meaning Fatah) security forces to act as dutiful agents, pointing out that his efforts were undertaken in the expectation of a Palestinian state within two years. He added something to the effect that the "shelf life" of this training is limited, dependent on actually going through with the promised state building.
Friday, March 26. 2010
Paul Woodward: Netanyahu -- Disgraced, Isolated, and Weaker: The title comes from an Aluf Benn article in Haaretz. In case you hadn't noticed, Israeli PM Netanyahu came to Washington this week to speak to what he clearly regards as the real power in the US: his lobby, AIPAC. A couple weeks back he timed the announcement of a new block of Jewish settlements in in Jerusalem to greet VP Joe Biden's arrival, figuring that would be a nice way to curtail Biden's aim to restart some kind of talks between Israeli and PA President Emeritus Mahmoud Abbas. (His term has expired, but since his party lost the last elections Israel and the US are in no hurry to expose him to another referendum.) That in itself was something between clueless bad taste and a direct insult. (At the time there was a lot of huff in Israel that it was Obama who insulted Israel by sending Biden instead of coming in person. On the other hand, you can understand that Obama had better things to do, especially if you've seen Max Blumenthal's video of drunken Israelis threatening Obama, and/or recall that Israel's security units hasn't actually had all that good of a record protecting Israeli Prime Ministers from gun-toting Israeli settlers.)
In his AIPAC speech, Netanyahu again defied Obama's wishes that Israel negotiate in good faith, defending the settlements and vowing that he will never give in on East Jerusalem, or much of anything else. Afterwards, he dropped by the White House, where Obama met with him but, well, read the report. I don't expect that Netanyahu will take hints this subtle. He has, after all, built his whole career on wrecking any chance for peaceful settlement. Which means that if Obama is determined, he is going to have to find tougher ways of impressing on Israel that failure to resolve the conflict only makes Israel more of a pariah state -- even, or perhaps especially, in American eyes. That's happening slowly, which gives Obama an in: a deal such as he wants would be a better way to serve Israel long term than to continue down Netanyahu's road. Seeing that through requires some real toughness, but so does facing Netanyahu down at the White House, and for that matter passing his big health care reform bill after all the times it's been written off.
Tony Karon: Truth and Consequences in the Middle East: A good rundown of what's happened over the last few weeks as Obama has finally started to toughen up his administration's stance toward Netanyahu, in the context of what Israel has always done:
Stephen M Walt: Who Are Israel's True Friends? (Hint: It's Not AIPAC): Israel's settlement policy was always conceived of as a poison pill: a way to make it impossible for any weak, jingoistic politician to back down an inch and settle the conflict. Rabin couldn't do it. Barak couldn't do it. Sharon didn't want to. Netanyahu, twice now, at best tried to fake it, but he's lashed himself to a government that's not only poisoned but addicted to it. The disgrace is almost total. Some people like Steven Zunes have been calling for a "tough love" approach to Israel for years, but most Americans professing love for Israel managed to look the other way. It's getting harder and harder to do that. When you start to see the likes of Hillary Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus turning on Israel, it's clear that some kind of tide is changing.
Wednesday, March 17. 2010
Juan Cole: The Map: More background on the map series that Andrew Sullivan cited, linked to yesterday. (Sullivan originally cited Cole.) There are two basic ways to approach the Israel/Palestine conflict. One is to work your way through the history. The other is to screw the history and just look at the current situation. The latter is much simpler and much more clear cut, which is probably why we spend so much time arguing about history. Actually, the history is pretty clear cut too. From early on the Zionists intended to take over as much Palestinian land as possible, eventually erecting a Jewish State -- that was, after all, the title of Theodor Herzl's clarion book -- and drive the Palestinians out or reduce them to "an utterly defeated people." That the Zionists have come so close is an achievement rooted in remarkable discipline and steadfastness, but also in a number of fortuitous turns of history: the Balfour Declaration and the early British administration gave them a strong imperialist sponsor; the Russian Revolution helped separate Jewish nationalists out from both religious and internationalist Jews; the closing of US emigration in 1923 severely reduced options for Jewish emigrés; the rise of Nazism triggered a substantial wave of German Jewish emigrants; WWII and the Holocaust destroyed the fabric of Jewish social life, especially in eastern Europe, and produced a backlash of sympathy the Zionists could (and did) exploit; the Palestinian independence movement was decimated by the British in suppressing the 1937-39 revolt, and neighboring Arab countries were likewise under more/less tight British/French control until well after Israel's 1948 "War of Independence"; Israel was able to parlay a series of foreign sponsors -- the Soviet Union, France, then the United States -- to build up massive military superiority, including nuclear weapons. Going into 1948 Jews were outnumbered 70-30 in Palestine, yet they managed to more than reverse those demographics through a combination of ethnic cleansing and deals to cede limited territories to Transjordan and Egypt. Nonetheless, they were unable to reconcile their quest for land with their loathing of non-Jews in their midst, nor were they finally able to break the Palestinians.
That history leaves us with the current stalemate: a vastly inequal situation where Jewish dominance exposes the utter moral bankruptcy at the root of the whole project. For how that has worked out, skip past the history and look at the current status: who is entitled to do basic things, like travel or build a house or run a business, and who isn't; who is likely to get thrown in jail or assassinated, and who isn't; who is free to vote, has access to the courts for redress of grievances, can demonstrate, and who cannot; who benefits from the social services provided by the state, and who is excluded. There is no justification these days for one group lording it over another group -- not even history excuses such inhumanity.
Juan Cole: Cpl. Jeffrey Goldberg, Guarding the Prison of the Nationalist Mind: OK, Cole gets a bit shrill here. And he's wrong that David Horowitz was as "insufferable" as a leftist way back when as he is as a rightwinger now -- maybe he wasn't the brightest bulb at Ramparts, and his celebration of burning down that Bank of America building was a bad omen (as well as a failed attempt at sarcasm). But he's mostly right here. Still, the thing I find unsettling about Goldberg is that he seems willing to settle the conflict on the two state terms that have been on the table since UNSC Resolution 235 and long since accepted by virtually every Palestinian and Arab party -- in fact, by virtually everyone except Israel -- yet he cannot bring himself to criticize Israel for being the last intransigent holdout. Worse, he uses his own diplomatic stand to shield Israelis who clearly disagree with him from any form of criticism. Moreover, Goldberg's tactic is not at all unusual for US supporters of Israel: most profess their personal desire for a "two-state solution" yet strive to deflect any responsibility for its failure from Israel -- the one country that could make it happen at the drop of a hat.
Tuesday, March 16. 2010
Trolling through Andrew Sullivan's blog today -- something I don't do all that often -- and found a few items of some interest:
More pieces here and there on Israel, including a link to a relatively sane one by Goldberg arguing that Obama's plan is to realign Israel's government to produce a more moderate Kadima-Likud coalition instead of the current ultraright Likud-Beiteinu-Shas alignment -- my guess is that the government would fail first, and that Netanyahu is unwilling to join any coalition that would give Obama the satisfaction of even a lame solution. Also lots of pieces on the Vatican's sex crime cover-ups.
Sunday, March 14. 2010
It's always tempting to read too little into the recent contretemps between VP Joe Biden and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel timed its announcement of additional settlement building in East Jerusalem to coincide with Biden's arrival to try to force engagement in some sort of back-channel talks with rump PA president Mahmoud Abbas. The least Abbas could insist on was a settlement freeze, so Netanyahu's government's action was a deliberate attempt to undermine whatever scant chance the talks might have had. The Obama administration had also insisted on freezing settlements over a year ago, but had yet to push back when Netanyahu failed to restrain the settler movement. Still, this timing was shock enough to force Biden to "condemn" the plans -- a position that was reiterated by usually compliant state secretary Hillary Clinton. In widely reported "private" talks, Biden lectured Netanyahu on how failure to make progress on Palestine was endangering US troops in "Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan." To my knowledge, that is the first time any official US source, at least since 2001, has identified Israel-Palestine as a liability, hence as a strategic interest, to US interests in the region. All of this suggests that Obama is finally trying to get back in charge of the diplomatic initiative he started over a year ago with appointment of George Mitchell. Obama has become widely viewed as an ineffective leader, mostly due to his inability to lead Congress, but he has more effective power to direct foreign affairs, so this would be one way to burnish his credentials as a world leader -- a long shot, given Israel's past performance, but also a huge win if he can only pull it off.
For his part, Netanyahu has more experience than any other Israeli leader at thwarting American wishes for a peace agreement with the Palestinians, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he is very good at it. It mostly means that the Americans have never been serious enough persistently enough to overcome Israeli resistance -- even though there have been clear instances where Israel has bent to US will: the Madrid talks forced by Bush I (which, by the way, resulted not in agreement but in Shamir's loss to Rabin, which in turn led to the Oslo agreement), and Bush II's embargo of military aid which held Sharon to go through with his Gaza disengagement plan. If he wanted to, there are lots of ways Obama can apply pressure on Israel -- both behind the scenes and out front. He could even give Israeli voters reason to change their government, which would not be hard to do given Netanyahu's rickety coalition.
As always, the question is American willpower. Before Biden left, he conceded that, "the United States has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel." As Paul Woodward pointed out, this is on its face ridiculous. Israel may have no better friend than the US, but the US has plenty of friends who cause us no trouble and don't require the constant stroking that Israel does:
Early on, you should recall, Netanyahu's game plan was to pump up the Iranian threat and insist that the US solve that before getting engaged with the Palestinian issue. Unfortunately, Obama obliged, instead of pointing out the obvious: that the two are separate and independent fronts, connected only in the sense that a Palestinian settlement would make Iran much less threatening even without Iranian agreement.
Woodward has another update here. Also see Stephen M. Walt: Welcome to Israel, Mr. Vice-President. The most interesting paragraph here came as an aside:
One way to look at this is to imagine Israel as being caught in quicksand: the more they struggle, the quicker they sink, but they have to struggle, because they're sinking anyway. The quicksand is the fundamental contradictions at the root of their power: the idea that they can fight the entire world forever to establish a Jewish State that can lord it over everyone else who happens to be in the way. In this they are struggling against history: against the main thrust of the last century toward equal and individual rights, and against the declining power and influence of their imperial sponsors, who are themselves ever more conscious of how Israel stands apart.
Israel exists to a large extent because of David Ben-Gurion: in particular because of his cunning in playing off the various angles of world opinion. Regardless of which angle he was playing, he was always consistent in his endgame: that Israel should emerge as a respected member of the world community. Israel has lost that aim, and with it any hope for living peacefully in a world which really, deep down, is ever more disenchanted by war. The turning point was the 1967 war, which the retired Ben-Gurion opposed, at least until he got a glimpse of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and blinked. (Of course, there were other turning points, as he built up Israel's military juggernaut, as he played up the trauma of the Holocaust in the Eichmann trial, as he compromised his secular-socialist ideals in deals with the religious right and any white colonial power that would work with him.) But in his quest for respect, it's hard to imagine him turning down the Arab League proposal of recognition in exchange for return to the pre-1967 borders: that very deal would have been the vindication of everything he stood for.
On the other hand, Netanyahu can't make that deal, because Israel has swallowed the poison pill of the settler movement. To do so would tear the right apart in Israel, and there is no left anymore (cf. the Gideon Levy quote in There has never been an Israeli peace camp). As such, there is no Israeli political force that can extract the country from the quicksand of its delusions. That leaves the US, which isn't much hope given that we're stuck in our own quicksand, but at least it's easier to recognize someone else's problems. And it's certainly positive that Obama, Biden, and Clinton even, have begun to see that this quicksand is something we share -- that may even justify all this talk about there being "no space" between Israel and the US.
PS: Some more info on why the above took place is in Paul Woodward: Isreal is putting American lives at risk and the article quoted/linked to: Mark Perry: The Petraeus briefing: Biden's embarrassment is not the whole story:
Israel's reaction to Biden's visit was to announce that it was building more settlements, explicitly contrary to US policy (not to mention a couple of UN Security Council resolutions). Then:
Also: Dmitry Reider: Israel Punks Itself: A little something on Israel's latest PR campaign. The author sums up:
Tuesday, February 16. 2010
Paul Woodward: British officials say Mossad murdered Hamas commander: Starts with passport photos of suspicious persons traveling on anything but Israeli passports. (In particular, there is a report that the real Melvyn Mildiner never left Jerusalem and is actively seeking to clear himself.) The juicy part is here:
This reminds one of the CIA abduction case in Italy, which as far as I know is still waiting for the agents to be captured, but wasn't pursued so quickly to the desk where the buck stops. But then that seems to be a shorter path in Israel, where prime ministers routinely sign off on Mossad operations (or order them up directly). This may seem like politics, but once one starts looking at such actions as criminal conspiracies -- and assassination is nothing if not criminal -- they take on a life of their own.
By the way, Woodward forgot about another class of indicted Israeli prime ministers: those who got nabbed for corruption. Ehud Olmert tops that list. Not sure who else, but Ariel Sharon seemed to be headed that way before he checked into the witless protection program.
PS: Added an update to "Bayh" below.
Friday, February 12. 2010
I got a letter from someone in the UK asking for my opinions on a couple of things. Don't know why he cares, but I have lots of opinions. He asks:
My first thought about missile defense is that it doesn't work. It's not only that it is a very difficult technical task given the speeds, sizes, and distances which leads to a very complex and finicky system, but also that it's virtually impossible to test to any real degree of confidence. Maybe if you had a lot of incoming rockets you could get some real world practice. Testing against MIRVed ICBMs, even with mock warheads, is prohibitively expensive, not to mention dangerous. Israel has some sort of system for combatting toy rockets from Gaza, but it's a long ways from being reliable.
That leads to my second thought, which is what good is a defensive shield system if it can't be trusted as reliable? It isn't exactly useless, but it is certainly dangerous. In particular, it's likely to confuse the chain of command, and it's likely to confuse whoever the enemy is supposed to be. We know, for instance, that both the US and the USSR regarded the other's ABM efforts as destabilizing advances meant to secure a first strike capability -- even if one was certain that the system would fail you couldn't trust the side that was building it to recognize its faults. (Ronald Reagan was the only guy on earth who regarded such systems as benign.)
There are other problems, like response time. In order to have a chance of working, response has to be pretty automatic, which runs the risk of taking the decision of starting a war away from the chain of command -- a problem that is all that much worse given that the likelihood of a glitch is greater than the odds of an actual attack.
Your economic points are valid enough. It's certainly cheaper to defeat an ABM system than it is to build one, which is yet another reason it's impossible to build a working system against a determined, resourceful foe. On the other hand, rocket science is rocket science, and few nations are actually any good at it (or for that matter B-2-like bombers). More likely a relatively poor nation would try to circumvent rather than overwhelm the system, in which case the economic differential is a moot point, and the system is even more unworkable.
It's also worth noting that in the US missile defense has evolved (i.e., has been molded by selection pressures) mostly as a form of graft. The companies who build it are rewarded for their political clout and are not punished for failures. The US has deep pockets, but nothing that can't be wasted by companies like Boeing. And how deep for how long is a serious question.
As for your rogue state scenario, I think you'll find that the critical issue isn't how perfectly defended we are -- no real way to do that, and certainly not with a hacked missile defense shield -- but how aggressive (or reckless) we choose to be. The US was not deterred from attacking Iraq by chemical and biological weapons -- real in 1991, mythical in 2003; on the contrary, Saddam Hussein was deterred from using them. The US has very daunting conventional military force, and if the other side wants to play nuclear, the US can bring that on too, faster and harder than any other nation. Such a strategy may be riskier once the opponent has nuclear weapons, but no recent US president (except maybe Reagan) seems to have been squeamish about sacrificing American lives.
On the other hand, there are no rogue states like you mention. No nation can conquer its neighbors and become "a great power." Every such occupation costs more than it's worth. (Iraq taking Kuwait might have been an exception, but Kuwait is contiguous with Iraq, really the same people and culture, and small enough to be manageable -- India taking Goa was a similar example but nobody cared about that.) Nobody has figured out how to practice nuclear blackmail. I suppose you could say that Israel is free to bomb Syria and Lebanon, but Israel's conventional forces have ample deterrence, and Israel doesn't flaunt its bomb. Similarly, the US has fought many wars without bringing nuclear weapons to the battlefield, and has caused incredible amounts of damage. Nuclear weapons are at best difficult and awkward to use. As for terrorism, there are plenty of options besides regime change, and often regime change is a bad strategy. North Korea, for instance, is an awful mess, but you'd have to be a really crackpot pseudo-humanitarian to think invasion is the answer.
To sum up, I think missile defense is an insane investment intended to produce a set of undesirable policy options that are unwise and fraught with danger. I see it as a very stupid and unnerving thing to pursue.
I think it's extremely unlikely, almost unthinkable. This has much to do with how Israel's security elites view themselves, and it's not that they're too "moral" to do such a deed so much as that they're too professional. The endstate they want is for the Palestinians to be ground down and invisible -- "an utterly defeated people" -- but more important they really don't want an endstate. The conflict is what holds Israel together, what gives Israelis their identity, and what gives the security elites their unique societal status. It's not surprising they don't want to give that up.
On the other hand, if the elites did decide to implement a final solution, I don't doubt that it would be substantially popular among Israelis -- probably only a big minority right now, but it wouldn't be hard to uncork enough terror to sway a majority. One thing to understand is that most Israelis have been systematically terrorized all of their lives -- not by Palestinians, although they've done their part, but by the Holocaust culture, military indoctrination, religious study, all-pervasive hasbara. A good picture of the gap between what the elites know and what the masses fear can be gleaned from Tom Segev's 1967, although since then both sides have gotten much nastier. There are no shortage of political demagogues and "willing executioners" in Israel, but it would take an extreme fluke to flip the elites.
For what it's worth, Israel is a pariah state already -- maybe not a North Korea, but the comparisons to South Africa are, if anything, too generous. The more the Palestinians try to court world opinion -- as opposed to trying to fight their way out of their cage -- the more bizarre Israel looks and the more isolated it becomes. That may matter little to the masses who can't see themselves, but the elites will eventually face a self-identity crisis as traditional allies like Europe and the US turn on them. If this really were an existential conflict, they might decide to go down an isolationist path, like Myanmar, but the conflict isn't like that. There's a straightforward deal on the table which would leave the elites secure in a slightly smaller Israel, and if the choice was that or Myanmar they'd be unprofessional not to take it. It will, of course, be Israel's choice: no one's going to impose regime change on them. But South Africa was in a similar situation, and chose to be part of the world rather than apart from the world.
I actually think most rogue states would lean that way if given a self-respecting chance. Building anti-missile shields to ensure a nation can't take any recourse against you while you pound them back to the stone age is a crude, expensive, and ultimately ineffective way to solve such problems.
Let me add a little more on missile defense. First, recall that in the days and weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, Bush's top priority (having passed his tax cuts) was getting Congress to approve funding for major expansion of anti-missile defense. One of the first conversations we overheard when we went out to lunch in Brooklyn that day was someone saying, "boy, too bad we don't have that anti-missile defense system." I don't recall anyone rejoining with, "oh, come on, the anti-missile defense system is only for real, serious attacks."
Fred Kaplan has a good chapter on anti-missile defense in Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power. In particular, he says (p. 79):
And (p. 85):
And he follows this with various examples from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, including the setback that shook Nixon into negotiating the ABM Treaty (pp. 89-90):
I considered working the latter story into my response. In particular, I thought about comparing Bell's scruples to the companies that have been working on Star Wars since Reagan came in. Another interesting sidelight is a story from James Carroll's House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power. In the early 1960s McNamara set up the in-house Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to sort through all the crap the CIA and the military brass were passing off as intelligence. The first head of the DIA was Carroll's father, Lt. Gen. Joseph Carroll, who remained in charge until Nixon's Defense Secretary, Melvin Laird, fired him in 1969. The reason? Carroll refused to remove a statement from an intelligence estimate that said that the Soviet Union wasn't pursuing a first strike capability. Why? Because the statement was needed to justify Laird's ABM system (i.e., the same one Bell decided wouldn't work).
Also worth reading is Chalmers Johnson's Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, which focuses especially on space-based weapons schemes (e.g., p. 216):
In fact, he gives an example of a doomsday weapon: a rocket that could launch "a dumptruck full of gravel" into orbit, where it would suffice to destroy every satellite, including the NSA's and the military's eyes and ears, as well as most of our global telecommunications bandwidth, plus handy things like GPS. Missile defense would also produce space debris, starting with the test phase.
Tuesday, February 2. 2010
Stephen Walt: Time for George Mitchell to Resign: I don't think the bottom line matters much one way or another, especially if Mitchell were to resign without turning the fact into a damning indictment of Obama, Clinton, Emmanuel, et al. -- which isn't Mitchell's style. One might also talk about Mitchell's own problems. Early on, Israel's flaks accused him of being too even-handed, and it turns out they were right: Mitchell has bent over backwards to let Netanyahu obstruct the process. Still, this post does a good job of explaining what's been going on this past year when nothing got accomplished.
One thing I want to add to the list of missteps -- and I'm already on the record as saying that it would be more useful to break Gaza free as an independent Palestinian state now than to try to do anything about freezing settlements. This is that Obama made a major mistake allowing Iran to be rolled into the equation. He may have thought that he could easily cut a deal with Iran and throw that as a bone to Netanyahu, but Iranian political turmoil made that impossible, leaving him nothing to offer but increasingly belligerent posturing, starting with a big arms buildup in the Persian Gulf. The net result is not only no Israel/Palestine progress but also a worsening of his Iran problem. One indication of how bad this is getting is that Richard Haass, not normally a neocon, is among those agitating for regime change.
Wednesday, January 13. 2010
Good letter from Laura Tillem in Wichita Eagle this morning, under title "Honor cease-fire":
We watched a movie a couple days ago: a documentary Jonathan Demme made about Jimmy Carter's publicity tour in support of his book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. There was a lot of "how dare you" interviews which gave Carter opportunity to respond and explain, and there were things there I'd quibble with. In particular, he defines Palestine as a real place separate from Israel -- presumably he's following the Green Line -- and he limits his apartheid charge to Palestine, exempting Israel, which he repeatedly praises as an open and democratic society. The actual situation is more complex, with many elements of segregation and discrimination applied to the so-called Israeli Citizens of Palestinian Descent that managed to survive the 1948 war without fleeing, lived through 20 years of military rule, and 40 more years as second-class citizens, both economically and politically. Their status is certainly more benign than that of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. In those cases South African-style apartheid would be an improvement. There is in fact no word that adequately describes life under the arbitrary and capricious boot of Israeli occupation. In particular, the signature of oppressed peoples everywhere is economic servitude, but countries like South Africa or classes like the white owners of the Jim Crow South are dependent on ultracheap labor, which gives that labor some small measure of power and respect. This is not the case in Occupied Palestine, where Israelis have become utterly indifferent to Palestinian labor.
This indifference has rendered Palestinians invisible to Israelis, at least beyond their utility as cartoon demons. Although it's only a tiny part of the movie, one thing you will notice is how pro-Israel, anti-Carter hecklers can't conceive of anyone other than Israel as having legitimate rights and desires. The most obvious case is the guy who screams, presumably at Palestinians, "You are nothing!" The same sentiment is often raised to a political argument, as when our local Israel sentry -- the source of the article Laura responded to -- tried to answer every legitimate complaint about Israel occupation, including the devastating siege of Gaza in 2006, by bringing up the homemade rockets fired from Gaza at nearby Israeli villages. He, like nearly every propagandist Israel employs, implies that only Israel's security matters, and that nothing that Israel ever does can ever be faulted because to do so would endanger Israel -- and Jews worldwide. In other words, he is saying that only We matter, that no one else matters; that only We have rights, that no one else does.
One question then is why do they worry about being tagged for apartheid (or racism)? The central problem with these terms isn't whether they are accurate. What Israel's flaks are responding to is the implicit recognition that apartheid and racism, therefore Israel, are things that decent people should oppose. They could care less about accuracy, because they've become so blinded to what they actually do in the Occupied Territories, but they can't abide by the notion that they should be criticized. The irony of all this is that throughout its entire history Israel has never shied away from embracing racist allies, starting with Imperial Britain and continuing to the colonial French in Algeria, good ol' Jim Crow America, and especially apartheid-era South Africa. Israel is the last of the White Settler Republics, hanging on for dear life. As the first, it's not surprising that America should be Israel's great ally, but more and more we're getting over that, which threatens to leave Israel as stranded as they expect to be.
Matthew Yglesias: Jimmy Carter. Seems like a reasonable summary of the Carter presidency, but this misses some context and significance. No doubt that Carter was more aware of major problems facing the nation, and more willing to face them even at personal sacrifice, than any other president in his era -- you have to go back to Truman to find anyone with remotely similar traits. (Hoover was similarly snakebit by events, but it's hard to see any of his principles that have been vindicated by history.) The Volcker Recession is the most obvious example, not least because it's the one that killed Carter's reelection campaign. By contrast, Nixon and both Bushes pulled all sorts of strings to keep interest rates arbitrarily low: in Nixon's case that led to galloping stagflation and Volcker's constriction; for Bush I the excess money was shunted into bubbles that soon collapsed in Mexico and later in East Asia; for Bush II the money went into the real estate bubble and its subsequent collapse. But in all three cases cheap money helped paper over lagging economic performance and -- excepting Bush I -- got disastrous presidents reelected. You can say that Carter gave himself up for the better management of the US economy, but it's harder to say that that was a good thing. The real problem with Carter's presidency is that he lost it to Ronald Reagan, and not only did he give way to Reagan, he paved the way.
A number of the things that Reagan became notorious for actually started under Carter. One was the turn to deregulation, which seems to have been a good idea for trucking, a mixed one with airlines and telecommunications, and a disastrous one with banking. Maybe a second Carter term would have managed the mistakes better, but Reagan made them worse. The Volcker Recession is another case in point. Inflation was a real problem, although it's never been all that clear to me how much of a problem it was. What was clear was that under Reagan the purpose of the recession became to bust the unions. Inflationary pricing caused by quasi-monopolies has never seemed to bother the Fed, as long as workers don't have the pull to index their wages to the cost of living. The persistent fall of real wages since Volcker may not have been part of the original plan, but it was by the time Reagan got through with it.
Carter also got a leading jump on the Reagan military buildup. He instigated a new aggressiveness with the Soviet Union, most publicly by boycotting Moscow's first-ever Olympics, but more notoriously by sponsoring the Afghan Mujahideen even before the Soviet Union moved troops into Afghanistan. Again, what Carter did was much more modest than Reagan's escallation, but once again it was easier for Reagan to move once Carter had pointed the way. It was also under Carter that the US formalized its self-appointed hegemony over the Persian Gulf: what was for a long time called the Carter Doctrine. He didn't really invent the idea -- the US had been picking up the pieces of the British Empire for several decades and had had ties to the Saudis back as far as WWII -- but in pushing the idea he did much to break up Iran and leave us permanently, precariously estranged. In that regard he didn't pave the way for Reagan so much as for the two Bushes.
Like all Democratic presidents since Roosevelt, Carter was elected by the left which he then shunned in favor of the rich and entrenched. His accomodation to Reaganism was one way he wound up hurting democracy in America. Still, thirty years later it's tempting to cut him some slack. No former president in US history has worked harder to redeem himself, and we see that in many ways, from his everyday piety to his willingness to interpose himself in conflicts all around the world. His constant efforts and example, more than anything else, tempt us to revise our estimation of his presidency. As Yglesias points out, there is some merit to that, but I'm inclined to look at it differently. The old saw is that "power corrupts" -- and Carter's presidency was his taste of power. His failures there no doubt involved some measure of bad luck, but they mostly derived from his compromises with entrenched power, and his sense of how to accommodate it. Once out of office, he's been much more free to pursue, and respect, his own conscience. Give him credit for that, but also take note of what the presidency and the political machinations that got him there did to him. Those pressures are, after all, even more institutionalized today, which is one big reason Obama is so hard pressed to live up to the hopes invested in him.
I'd be remiss at this point if I didn't point out my book pages on Carter's books on Israel:
Friday, November 20. 2009
War in Context: Israel: Apartheid and beyond: I haven't had much to say about Israel lately, mostly because nothing new has been happening. The Goldstone report, for instance, didn't do much more than sum up what was obvious from the start. It does add two notable things: one is that Goldstone himself is very articulate over what he has found; the other is that is may form the legal basis for world courts to start issuing indictments. While I don't think the latter will solve much, it would add to the number of people who have to be careful where they travel (e.g., Kissinger, Pinochet, Polanski). I also don't much buy the meme that Netanyahu is wrapping Obama around his finger. My own view is that Obama is waiting out Bibi's puerile temper tantrum, and when it runs its course Netanyahu will find that nothing has changed. Of course, I wouldn't bet on that, because it's never been clear just how committed Obama was to ending the conflict.
But I can't resist circulating this photograph of a Hebron settler throwing wine on a Palestinian woman. You can charge Israel with ethnic cleansing, with constructing a system of apartheid, with all manner of abuses of human rights and international law, but it's hard to grasp just how infantile some Israeli attitudes are. Try, for instance, to imagine how this act contributes to the security of the Jews. I can't. I can't even recognize this settler as Jewish. After all, Rabbi Hillel explained Judaism this way: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow; this is the whole Law; the rest is commentary." Try to reconcile this picture with the Law. I can't.
Of course, this is only a trivial example of the hateful things many Israelis do. I won't start enumerating them here, because in the end they're all commentary. The very triviality of this example is what makes it unanswerable.
Monday, October 26. 2009
Walt follows this with a 6-point list, starting with Israel/Palestine. Obama's election signalled a new will in America to try to solve some problems in the Middle East, as opposed to his predecessor's favored tactic of dousing them with gasoline. Even before Obama took office, Israel responded to installing their No Team, a governmnent dedicated to never giving up an inch of ground especially if it might in turn result in a moment of peace. For Netanyahu that's not just a promise; that's a proven track record, as he set up the vastly popular Oslo Peace Process for a final takedown by his tag team buddy, Ariel Sharon. It's easy now to say that Obama never stood a chance in Netanyahu's ring, but that's mostly because Obama felt the political need to cede points on Hamas and Iran. But it's also because the one plank that Obama did attempt to walk -- the insistence on reining in Israel's West Bank settlement expansion -- was something of a sideshow, and not the fight that he should have fought.
It's true that the purpose of the settlements is to make any sort if Israeli withdrawal politically impossible. I can think of several ways to deal with the settlements problem, but the best way to deal with it now is to ignore it. If you look realistically at all of the land that ultimately should be turned into a Palestinian state, the settlements (especially the big, close ones) will be seen as the last parcels to be returned. The real question right now is whether any land can be turned over to the Palestinians. The fact is that there is a lot of land that can be turned over immediately, starting with the whole of Gaza. The position Obama should take is that every Palestinian is entitled to full, first-class citizenship, at least in the country where he or she currently lives. If that abode is in Israel or under Israeli control, then that citizenship must be citizenship in Israel. If Israel doesn't like that, Israel should renounce the territory, and turn it back to the UN so that it can be incorporated into an independent Palestinian state. That's a simple point, and it's hard to see how any American or European can disagree with it when stated in those terms.
There are a bunch of objections Israel will raise, basically revolving around an endless circle of security demands and final borders that have to be negotiated with a Palestinian responsible party that as far as Israel can tell doesn't exist. This is all bullshit, but Obama is going to have to make a couple of points clear to get past it. The first is that because there is no free and independent Palestine, there is no responsible Palestinian party that Israel can negotiate with. The only way that Israel can negotiate with anyone -- and such negotiations will be needed over borders, water rights, travel, extradition, all sorts of things -- Palestine must first be free and sovereign. If that isn't the case, then Palestine isn't free to negotiate, because they won't have the power and leverage to ever say no. It should be easy to explain this point, even though no one seems to get it yet.
The way this would work is that Israel would give up a parcel of land to the UN. The UN would then organize government institutions and elections to direct those institutions. That parcel and those institutions would constitute an initial Palestinian nation, which would be recognized as having the same rights and responsibilities as every other nation (including Israel). As time goes on, Israel may decide to give up further parcels, which the UN would then integrate into Palestine according to procedures that ensure that each citizen of Palestine has equal rights and representation. The resulting government could negotiate with Israel, or not. It could, for instance, assert that Israel should turn over more territory, including its illegal settlements. It could take such a case to the World Court. The main thing it could not do is to threaten or attack Israel -- a violation of international law. On the other hand, once Israel gives up parcels of land, they can no longer threaten or attack the nation representing the people living on that land.
There are some more bells and whistles that can be added to this scheme to help ensure that it would work, but the key is that Obama and any allies he can round up -- Europe should be more proactive on this -- have to insist that Israel moves to ensuring that everyone in the region has full and equal rights, whether within Israel or in two states. Israel has managed to make the whole problem insurmountable. But parts of the problem can be picked off and resolved simply. And once you do that with, say, Gaza, then you will have broken the logjam. Israel's central preoccupation ever since Ben-Gurion sent Golda Meir to negotiate Transjordan's stake in the West Bank with King Abdullah has been to prevent the Palestinians from ever having the legal status of a state. But all through history they've hardly ever put it in those terms. They've avoided the subject because deep down they've taken a position that is indefensible. If Obama wants to solve this problem he has to hit Israel at its weak spot, and that isn't the settlements; it's the denial of the most basic civil and human rights to millions of Palestinians.
Thursday, August 27. 2009
Matt Yglesias: Right-Wing Cranks and Israel: Glad someone said this (although it could have been said in fewer words, with fewer mitigating asides):
One interesting thing about right-wing support for Israel -- and this is not just an evangelical phenomenon; it's equally true of neocons -- is that they seem to intuitively grasp that Israel is a racist, vicious, violent, expansionist, domineering force, and that's precisely what they like about Israel. Jewish supporters of Israel (neocons excepted) take great pains to deny all those attributes; they invariably cast Israel's actions as defensive. Part of this is that evangelicals are especially close to the religious settler movement, which is -- even by Israeli standards -- exceptionally belligerent.
This violent streak has a long history in American politics, but it especially came to the fore under George W. Bush, whose abiding faith in the "clarifying" power of force is downright fascist. Jim Geraghty memorably summed this up in a book title: Voting to Kill. But it goes back a long time. One example: after Begin installed the first far-right government in Israel, there was much worry about the reaction when Israeli right-wingers would appear before Congress. Turned out that Alabama Senator Richard Shelby's response to (I think it was) Yigal Allon was, "Now you're finally talking American."
I'm reading Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, and one thing that's especially striking, even beyond the racist violence so many settlers enjoy, is the messianic overtones of their beliefs -- which differ from the Christians mainly in their belief that is should be possible to secure heaven on earth. I've never been able to believe that Christians actually believe in premillennial dispensationalism (much less understand it), but like moths to the flame they seem to intuitively get off on the apocalypse over there.
Rick Perlstein: In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition: More American history, mostly dêjà vu.
Tuesday, August 11. 2009
M.J. Rosenberg: Great New Book. That would be Israel Is Real, by Rich Cohen. As rave reviews go, this actually comes out rather fuzzy: "I don't know if Cohen is a Zionist. . . . He seems to believe . . . But the book is not a political argument. It's a story with wonderful tales about Herzl, and Golda, and Sharon,and Rabin, written with love but also with pity." I wrote up a comment, tried to post it, only to get rejected. My comment:
Adam Kirsch: Disengagement. Another review of Rich Cohen's Israel Is Real, referred to above thanks to a tip in the post's comments.
Marked some quotes in the book, but don't have them typed up yet, but when I do they'll be here.