Future errata on the news

The Thinker by Rodin

No special topic for today’s post, just some quick thoughts about the news of the day and what I believe the story behind the story will be. With luck my precognition will be proven by subsequent events, and these will be errata indeed:

  • On the invitation by Speaker John Boehner to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress: This isn’t about the supposed threat that Iraq’s nuclear weapon program poses to Israel’s existence. Congress doesn’t need additional convincing on that. This is about Republicans, and House Republicans in particular, having a snit with President Obama because basically they loathe him and can’t figure out any other way to kick him in the balls. They don’t respect him or his administration, even before he came to office. In short, this is institutional passive aggressive behavior. It is also very unwise as it sets a new and dangerous precedence that our country will speak on foreign policy with multiple voices. (Executing foreign policy is constitutionally the responsibility of the Executive branch.) This is also about Speaker Boehner trying to gain some leverage with his mostly out of control Tea Party wing. It helps shows that he is manly and serious in ways that they can appreciate. If I were a Democrat in Congress, I’d boycott attending. However, I don’t expect a critical mass of Democrats will do this, as they proved in the 2014 election that they are quite spineless.
  • On the allegation in David Alexrod’s new book that President Obama hid his support for gay marriage in the 2008 campaign: no duh! It was clear to us Democrats that he was for gay marriage, but he felt it was too dangerous to say so publicly at the time as it would have adversely affected his campaign. What was evolving was not his opinions, but the American people’s opinions. He was waiting for us to catch up. So, yes, he was being disingenuous, but no more than most politicians. In fact, most of the Republicans who claim to be upset about gay marriage really don’t care too much about it either; they just don’t want to upset their base, or really what the think is their base, i.e. the noisy (i.e. politically active) ones.
  • On funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out at the end of February: in the end Republicans will cave, probably sooner rather than later. Even if the House bill gets out of the Senate, which won’t happen, the President will veto it. The egg won’t be on Obama’s face as it plays out, because Americans overwhelmingly support his interim steps for immigration reform. So this is a losing issue for Republicans. Republicans will probably go for a series of 30 day funding mechanisms, until enough of them realize it just makes them look stupid, and then they’ll capitulate.
  • On the Obama Administration’s hope that a reinvigorated Iraqi army — with plenty of American advisors safely out of firing range to act as coaches –will retake Mosul from ISIS: it ain’t going to happen. The Iraqi army is a joke because there is no country called Iraq and because more desertions happen monthly than recruits coming in. What there is is a marginally governable country that should be called Shi’ite Iraq. To the extent that they will retake land it will be in traditionally Shi’ite dominated areas of that former country. What’s really happening is what I predicted in 2006: Iraq is being fractured into a number of religiously orthodox and ethnically pure countries: Shi’ite Iraq, Kurdistan and the Islamic State. It won’t be external forces that kill the Islamic State. It will be resistance from within when residents get sick of the overwhelming terror and (worse) the paucity of first world services like satellite TV. Neighboring countries will try to nudge this to happen sooner rather than later by making living in the IS more undesirable. The IS will either have to adopt into something marginally politically acceptable in the Middle East or it will eventually die a natural death. A state that does not operate like a state, i.e. with some uniformity and ability to provide basic services, is not a real state. I doubt it will be around five years from now regardless of what is done or not done.
  • On the reemergence of diseases like measles because certain parents can’t or won’t get their children immunized: never underestimate the power of shame and conformity. Americans are all for freedom until someone else’s freedom hurts their kids. If just one kid dies in America because someone kid’s parent refused to get their kid immunized, the remaining states will quickly fall in line and require all children to be inoculated against preventable diseases. The only question is where the set point is these days, as most Americans have no living memory of mass diseases like the measles. Smart Republican politicians are already walking back their talking points because disease knows no political boundaries. The parents of a Republican kid who comes down with the measles will be just as pissed-off Democratic parents in this situation, once they get over their own shame. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, particularly when we are certain that immunizations are safe and effective.
  • On the inevitability of Hillary Clinton as our next president: I am not convinced. The more I study her, the more things I find to dislike about her. The more Americans focus on her and the more they study her, the more that have second thoughts as well. If Republicans were smart, they would nominate a mainstream woman to run against her, perhaps Carly Fiorina to help negate the frustration by women that we never had a female president. Fortunately for Democrats, Republicans usually go stupid when picking a nominee. Still, a convincing mainstream Republican like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush or Indiana Governor Mike Pence could win in 2016. That’s what the sensible establishment Republicans are figuring, which is why they are throwing money into PACs for Jeb and trying to make him the likely nominee. If Clinton stumbles, right now the Democrats best bet is former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, because he is known for crossing the aisles and for taking unpopular positions, assuming Webb does not try a third party route. That’s credibility, and it’s what Americans are desperately looking for. I don’t expect though that Democrats will be in the mood to go with a mainstream candidate.

Obama’s lack of a strategy so far is a pretty good strategy

The Thinker by Rodin

Yikes! It’s almost the end of August and I haven’t written anything about politics this month! I thought retirement would give me all this extra time to blog, but so far it has not been the case. About half of the month has been spent on vacation, which I blogged about, and the other half of this first month of “retirement” has been acting as Mr. Handyman and general property manager as we stumble through the process of getting our house ready for sale.

Not that there isn’t a lot to talk about. President Obama tried to take a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard while events were (literally) exploding in Syria and Iraq, the Ukraine, Libya, the Gaza Strip and Ferguson, Missouri. Obama got bad press for going golfing right after making statements and for not being in Washington during all of this, as if a President is not trailing three hundred plus people with him on vacation to allow him to work remotely, or he couldn’t be back in the White House in an hour if needed. (Curious that these same people don’t criticize him for taking foreign trips, unless there is some domestic crisis underway.) Most lately, he is criticized for wearing a tan suit at a press conference.

All this is piffle of course. It’s probably not a good photo op to show the president swinging golf clubs after making serious statements about the Islamic State. Perhaps the most serious charge laid recently against the president is his self confessed lack of a strategy dealing with the Islamic State, which lately has been imitating our waterboarding during the occupation of Iraq, not to mention grisly beheading an American journalist.

While Obama supposedly dithers, most of the Republicans already have a strategy. Typical of the proposed strategies is one opined by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who wants us to bomb the Islamic State “back into the Stone Age”. This strategy is not surprising from a party that exercises power principally through bullying. If your weapon of choice is the club, it becomes your solution to everything.

Let’s rewind here. When we invaded Iraq, we exercised a “shock and awe” strategy that proved our mighty ability to scare people, destroyed their government, and resulted in a real al Qaeda in Iraq, which had no presence in the country prior to our invasion. Why did they rush in? Because we were there and because there was a power vacuum. Their presence helped energize groups like ISIS/ISIL. We could try to bomb the Islamic State into the Stone Age, but it’s kind of hard when they are using a lot of our leftover munitions and armored personnel carriers. Unless the quality of our munitions and equipment is more inferior than believed, this is probably not a great strategy. So naturally, according to Republicans anyhow, the way to get rid of the Islamic State is to do more of what failed us before!

The United States is not the only country in the region suffering from this cognitive dissonance. There is also Israel, which of course we provide with plenty of lethal munitions, mostly at our expense, which has been used to kill over two thousand Gazans in their latest war with Hamas, many of them innocent children. There now appears to be a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which left the political situation pretty much the same as after their previous war in 2009. One thing though has not changed: all that murder from the skies and from Israeli soldiers has simply fueled more hatred that will ensure more wars like this in the years ahead. Hamas is hardly wiped out and predictably both Hamas and Israel are claiming victories that did not in fact occur. Hamas was not wiped out because it is driven by an ideology that is compelling to many in that region. Being around to fight another day against a vastly superior military force is victory enough for Hamas.

There is no lasting peace possible through strength in our modern world, not that Republicans will ever understand this. Sane people of course are intimidated by the application of overwhelming force, but if there are enough people that put ideology over sanity, the conflict will continue. Probably ninety percent of Gazans would be happy if Hamas were overthrown, but it doesn’t matter if ten percent don’t and are willing to put their lives at risk to continue the conflict.

Bombing the Islamic State into the Stone Age may degrade its ability to wage war, but it will only fuel the mindset that will ensure future wars like this. Obama’s lack of a strategy is simply a timeout to figure out a strategy that might actually help solve the larger problem. The problem in a nutshell: how to cool the ideological fever that is causing the conflict in this region.

I suspect that Obama’s emerging strategy is a lot like mine. The main thing to understand is that most of the chaos in the Middle East is a result of our tinkering with the power structures that were already in place. Doing more of the same is unlikely to make things better but based on experience is almost guaranteed to make things worse, which it has. It fueled the breakup of Iraq and brought the Islamic State into existence.

It’s a bad chessboard for trying to make a move. In my humble opinion, the best strategy may be not quite benign neglect, but minimal involvement and using proxies where they exist, such as moderate forces battling in Syria. Which is kind of what we are already doing, albeit not to great effect so far. We can certainly work hard to cut off the source of funding for the Islamic State. We can try to keep their oil off the market, and we can try to influence states like Qatar that are helping to keep the state in business not to do so. It makes all the sense in the world to keep Americans far away from the Islamic State and to warn Americans who do go there that their lives are in jeopardy and their lives will not be ransomed.

Another exercise in feel good muscular diplomacy will have the same predictable consequences it had in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other places. It was a strategy that worked in World War One and World War Two, because we were working with well-defined nation-states. Because this was effective, wars are now mainly waged through paramilitary proxies that are ideologically driven. They are much harder to win because the enemy is so diffuse. You can’t kill an idea, but you can sap its energy.

Winning is a generational game, and it begins by not emulating tactics that have proven disastrous in the past. We will win these wars probably 80% through diplomacy, 20% through force of arms, and through proxies of our own that we nurture and support. That sounds like a strategy that might actually work, but it will be hard to sell. There are no instant results but if anything is likely to actually eventually work, it will.

I hope our very intelligent president and I are on the same page, which I think we are. In a way, Obama is blessed with a term limit because he can do what is right without worrying about the political consequence. I hope he does.

Same story in Gaza, just different year

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s not hard to be an accurate prognosticator when it comes to wars between Israel and Hamas. Does this post from 2009 sound eerily familiar?

At what is likely to be at least a thousand dead, many more thousands injured and virtually every resident of the Gaza Strip traumatized for life, Israel may succeed in halting rocket fire for a while from Gaza. However, this action, like all the other military actions on Palestinian land will not win them peace. Others will soon be lobbing rockets inside of Israel again, or will blow themselves up at bus stations or will be finding other gruesome ways to seek retribution for the disproportionate violence inflicted on them, their families, their neighbors and friends. In reality, this incursion into Gaza simply sows the seed of future violence. Why should anyone whose home is destroyed or whose family members are killed or injured by the Israel military want to make peace? In truth, every bomb lobbed on either side simply creates a multiplier effect that ensures future military actions will be deadlier and that genuine peace will never arrive.

It’s hard to keep track of the body count in this latest battle in the extended war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Today’s press report says that at least 1060 Gazans have been killed as a result of this twenty-day (so far) battle between Israel and Hamas. It’s hard to estimate the number of wounded, but conservatively it should be at least six times as many people as those who were killed. Let’s round the number of dead and wounded to 10,000. With approximately 1.8 million people living within this 139 square mile area bordering the Mediterranean Sea, that’s roughly 1 in 200 people killed or injured within the Gaza Strip as a result of just this latest battle. To put that in perspective, if the same thing happened proportionally here in the United States, that would be 189,000 Americans dead and 1,589,000 wounded from 22 days of fighting. Over the course of this endless conflict of course, these numbers would be much higher. It would be on par, at least, with the casualties in our own Civil War, which at least ended definitively after four years.

Syrians embroiled in their own civil war can at least become refugees. Life may suck in a refugee camp in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey, but at least you are alive and in relative safety. There is no such escape for Gazans. Of course Israel won’t take them in. Egypt won’t let them in either. You would think they could become boat people, but the Israelis have banned even fishing and their navy would sink anything that dared to leave the Gaza Strip by sea. Residents there are trapped, with nowhere to escape to. They are doomed, it seems, to spend lives traumatized by war and made more miserable by poverty and a continuously degrading infrastructure.

Living in Gaza is sort of like living in a huge concentration camp, only it lasts much longer than the Second World War. Rather than dying in gas chambers or in work camps, the dying occurs principally during these battles, all occurring at close range, or afterward from wounds or as a result of the generally pervasive poverty. You would think Israelis would know a thing or two about concentration camps, but they seem thrilled that their army is inflicting punishment on these defenseless people, cheering from the highlands as their air force drops bombs on Gazans.

Not that the Israelis are getting off scot-free. As these battles go, it’s been painful for their army. 43 soldiers have died so far, and three citizens have died from rockets lobbed from the Gaza Strip by Hamas. Most missiles are mistargeted but those that aren’t are generally picked off by their Iron Dome defense system supplied by the United States. From Hamas’s perspective, they are doing well in this disproportionate battle. For a change the Israelis are hurting, at least a bit. None of this though is doing much to establish a cease-fire, at least one that seems likely to endure.

During the January 2009 battle I noted:

Israel says it will not agree to a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip until Hamas stops shooting rockets into Israel. It also demands international guarantees that armaments will not be smuggled into the Gaza Strip via tunnels from Egypt. Hamas says will not agree to a cease-fire unless Israel ends its blockade, which for months earlier has reduced living standards to subsistence levels and ratcheted up unemployment. It also demands that all Israeli troops leave the Gaza Strip.

Curiously, these are the same demands both sides are making to “end” this latest battle. It should be noted that this battle was wholly avoidable. Supposedly it was the natural reaction to the murder of three Israeli youth by Hamas, as claimed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But that claim appears to be false. As a reaction some extremists Israelis killed a Palestinian youth. That was all of a spark necessary for this latest battle to get underway.

Not only is this war unspeakably cruel, it won’t affect any meaningful change and will actually make things worse. It is the definition of insanity, which is to try the same thing again expecting it will render a different result. Israel lives in the fantasy that if it were somehow destroy Hamas, the remaining supplicant sheep in the Gaza Strip will somehow forever accept Israeli control and domination. You can see how great this is working out on the West Bank. The truth is that every time Israeli has yet another battle with Hamas, they only exacerbate their long-term problem. Hamas looks like a crazy government, but whatever replaced it is likely to be much worse. Hamas is at least reasonably secular and coherent. Israel does not have to look too far to see what would be worse than Hamas as it is emerging now in Western Iraq, and now goes by the name of the Islamic State. Hamas is not al Qaeda, but if they actually destroy Hamas, something like the Islamic State will likely replace Hamas, and it will be on Israel’s doorstep.

Conflicts like this generally succeed in hardening the positions of both sides. Israel of course is swinging more toward the right, having the effect of reducing the possibility of a solution that might actually achieve peace: a two state solution. Instead, Israel is busy tearing down more homes in the West Bank, a cruel policy of retribution against the relatives of those who hurt Israel. It’s doing this while expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and more recently by picking fights on the West Bank. All of this simply inflames passions more, making future conflict and war more likely, not less.

The “clear-eyed realists” in Israel are simply shortsighted thinkers, not looking at the larger dynamics and demographics. Peace is in their long-term interest. Indeed, it is the only way the nation of Israel will survive. But peace simply cannot be achieved wholly on Israel’s terms. Momentum is already underway internationally for nations to boycott Israel, since it is practicing apartheid, not against blacks, but against non-Jews. So Israel can expect more sanctions and economic boycotts as its positions harden. As I noted in 2009, their survival is dependent on us giving them the means to do so. The United States will not support Israel the way it does not indefinitely. As some point the international outrage will be too large for our country to stomach, just as happened with South Africa.

Israel has the chance, looking increasingly far away, to change the dynamic now through a two-state solution. It’s their only hope to still be a state a hundred years from now. Stupidly, Israelis are letting their emotions rather than logic dictate where they should be going. They are sowing the seeds for their own second Diaspora. However, during the next Diaspora there may not be an escape. The Islamic states that surround them will probably not let one of them out alive.

Iran’s metamorphosis

The Thinker by Rodin

Some of you may have been wondering when I was going to talk about the civil unrest underway in Iran. Like many of you, I have been too caught up in events there to give it much analysis. Moreover, I do not know that much about Iran other than what I know about it from watching the media. Unquestionably, the recent election was rigged. The massive street protests and the predictable crackdown underway are compelling and heart-wrenching to watch, even if the snippets we see are posted days or hours later and taken from hand held cell phone cameras.

I do not know if a new Iranian revolution is imminent or whether a harsh repression by Iran’s clerics will stifle dissent for a generation, such as what happened in Tiananmen Square in China some twenty years ago. I do know that theocracy is not a natural fit for a country that is so well educated and technologically advanced. This means that Iranian clerics, if they were wise, would be working toward measured political accommodation of the people rather than repression.

Unfortunately, when you live in a theocracy you tend to get stilted thinking rather than pragmatism. Just as Pope Benedict cannot see reason when it comes to contraception, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will not adjust his notion of pure Islam to accommodate the reality that is modern Iran.

Much of the unrest is a consequence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s attempts to turn Iran into a modern state. You cannot build a great state when it rests on the foundation of uneducated minds. It takes engineers, scientists, academics and many learned people to get there. In short, you need a society where education is valued and where modern technology is embraced. Iranians have done a remarkable job of embracing technology. The third most used language on the social networking site Twitter is Persian. Pictures of the rallies in Tehran show a crowd where cell phones were as numerous as the hundreds of thousands of protestors.

It is likely that Shi’ite Islam (as Ayatollah Khamenei interprets it) is not compatible with 21st century technology. Yet, this technology is here to say. Satellite receivers are technically illegal in Iran, but are pervasive nonetheless. Attempts to disrupt unwanted communications only lead to clever ways to circumvent these limitations and, to the extent they succeed, breed anger, hatred and resentment.

There are some societies where the culture accepts a high level of government censorship and control. China appears to be one of them. I am betting that Iran is not one of these countries. Iran is also an overwhelmingly youthful country. For many Iranians, the Iranian revolution is at best a distant memory or happened long before they were born. However, they do understand the present and the power of what they have in front of them, and they like their Internet connections and cell phones. Moreover, Iranians are a very chatty nation, with reputedly the highest number of bloggers per capita in the world. If Khamenei were reading tealeaves, he would be wary, if not very afraid.

It may take a generation or two, but widespread higher education (which has been underway in Iran for a generation) opens minds, broadens perspectives and retards insularity. In the United States, if you look at where the most highly educated people live, you will also find fewer churchgoers and greater tolerance for different ideas, cultures and beliefs. I certainly see it here in the Washington Metropolitan region. We have long been a melting pot of various ethnicities and cultures. Our attitudes are correspondingly relatively progressive.

With this in mind, perhaps our foreign policy toward Iran needs to be rethought. During the last presidential campaign, Senator John McCain was caught on camera (obviously in an unscripted moment) singing “Bomb, bomb Iran”. The implication was that the country was so intrinsically evil that there was no reasoning with Iranians, so we might as well bomb them into submission. It should now be clear that such actions would prove counterproductive, alienating the educated and increasingly liberal components of Iran who are becoming a majority. I am willing to bet that should a new Iranian revolution succeed then the next government will be far less hostile toward Israel. Educated Iranians already understand that the purpose of Ahmadinejad’s fixation on Israel is to cover his own deficiencies as a leader.

Repression may work in Iran for a month, or a year or possibly even a decade. However, the forces that have been unleashed in Iran because of this clearly fraudulent election cannot be kept bottled forever. A newer, more pragmatic and more progressive government will emerge from Iran in time. The United States should practice patience. The Iranian people have come around. In time, so will its government.

Eyeless in Gaza (and Israel)

The Thinker by Rodin

784 Gazans are dead. It is likely that the actual count is much higher. After all, it is hard to find bodies when they are buried beneath all that rubble. Traumatized children watch their parents die. Injured or unable to escape these children stay next to the corpses of their parents, crying, thirsty, starving, wounded and traumatized for life. There is no food, no heat, no water, no toilets and no escape from this war. Instead, there are massive, disproportionate and random acts of madness, terror and death. Bombs fall from the air and level buildings. For four days, the Israel army refused entry by the Red Cross to certain areas where innocent people were known to be dying. Even U.N. aide workers in the Gaza Strip are not safe. While driving a clearly marked UN vehicle during a three-hour suspension of violence, a UN relief driver is killed by Israeli soldiers.

Hamas retreats but continues to lob rockets into Southern Israel. The United States unhelpfully abstains from voting for a cease-fire resolution in the United Nations Security Council. Israel says it will not agree to a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip until Hamas stops shooting rockets into Israel. It also demands international guarantees that armaments will not be smuggled into the Gaza Strip via tunnels from Egypt. Hamas says will not agree to a cease-fire unless Israel ends its blockade, which for months earlier has reduced living standards to subsistence levels and ratcheted up unemployment. It also demands that all Israeli troops leave the Gaza Strip.

At what is likely to be at least a thousand dead, many more thousands injured and virtually every resident of the Gaza Strip traumatized for life, Israel may succeed in halting rocket fire for a while from Gaza. However, this action, like all the other military actions on Palestinian land will not win them peace. Others will soon be lobbing rockets inside of Israel again, or will blow themselves up at bus stations or will be finding other gruesome ways to seek retribution for the disproportionate violence inflicted on them, their families, their neighbors and friends. In reality, this incursion into Gaza simply sows the seed of future violence. Why should anyone whose home is destroyed or whose family members are killed or injured by the Israel military want to make peace? In truth, every bomb lobbed on either side simply creates a multiplier effect that ensures future military actions will be deadlier and that genuine peace will never arrive.

How is this war in the Gaza Strip being funded? Much of this death and destruction comes courtesy of you, the U.S. taxpayer. Since 2001, the United States has provided more than $15 billion in direct military aid to Israel, as well as over three billion dollars to an Economic Support Fund, which Israel is free to also use for military procurement. In addition, special supplemental appropriations for Israel for over a billion dollars have been signed into law since 2001. When many of those bombs have “Made in U.S.A.” written on them, is it any wonder why Palestinians do not trust the United States as an honest peace broker?

Here is the truth: Israel cannot have both genuine peace and remain a Jewish state. Moreover, Israel really does not want genuine peace because it will not make the concessions needed to actually achieve peace. The Israeli terms include rights to a monopoly on the water resources in the region, the right to indefinitely expand Jewish settlements in occupied territories and requiring that East Jerusalem never be the capital of a Palestinian state. They want all this along with the assurance that not one of the millions of Palestinians will ever engage in violence against them. And I want a pony!

Despite the carnage, probably a majority of Palestinians would love to have peace, maybe even on Israel’s usury terms. Unfortunately, among them is a virulent minority of militants who will never agree to peace under any circumstances. They are making it their mission to make sure their children carry on the cause after they are gone. It is not that hard to keep the cycle going. Every few years you just irritate Israel to the point where they feel they must take some sort of Orwellian action to keep the state “safe” again. Every time this happens, the cycle is guaranteed to continue into another generation. Israel seems to suffer from some cognitive dissonance. It seems to believe that by continually making war more miserable for the Palestinians, they will see the light. It has never worked with any other ethnic group, but they are sure it will eventually work with the Palestinians. In reality, fear spawned by vengeance ensures future violent retribution.

Can you pick the ultimate winner in this game? Perhaps it is obscene to suggest anyone can come out ahead when this ends. It will probably not end in our lifetimes, but it will end. It will end someday, probably after millions have died. Israel will dissolve because this is a war of attrition. Whoever remains standing “wins”. Since due to the toxic dynamics in play genuine peace is impossible, it will end when one side folds. Israel’s opponents will never fold because they also outnumber Israelis ten to one. So in the end it will be Israel that folds, probably some years after the United States decides to stop funding the carnage. And that will happen when the cost of supporting Israel eventually grows too burdensome for U.S. taxpayers to bear any longer. Then yet another Jewish Diaspora will begin.

Sadly, to hasten Israel’s end, smart Middle Eastern terrorists will emulate Osama bin Laden. Israel cannot be beaten militarily, but in a part of the world where it is vastly outnumbered, it cannot afford its military indefinitely without a benefactor. The United States is the only significant benefactor of note. We provide the means for Israel to exist when it could not survive long by itself. If it could survive without us, there would be no reason for us to give it aid. The terrorism will migrate to the United States because we are Israel’s Achilles Heal. They will find ways to explode dirty bombs on the National Mall. They will blow up airport terminals and metro stations. At some point, we will realize that the only way to stop them at home is to stop supporting Israel. While we support Israel, we will not support it indefinitely if it is at the cost of our standard of living and way of life.

A Jewish homeland is a wonderful dream, but it exists only through denying and oppressing the legitimate grievances of the residents that Israel evicted. Until these grievances are rectified, there can be no peace. They cannot be rectified if Israel is to remain a Jewish state. Meanwhile, as is demonstrated from this latest incursion into Gaza, Israel can only survive at the price of its soul. Such a state, like the quasi-state run by the thugs who run Hamas, is unworthy of any nation’s support. We would do all sides, including ourselves a favor by gradually reducing our aid to Israel now.

No Easy Answers on Islamic Terrorism

The Thinker by Rodin

Perhaps it got your attention on Wednesday when Senator and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama said this about the Pakistani government:

There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. . . . If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.

From the back of the Republican pack, on Tuesday representative and presidential nominee Tom Tancredo had this suggestion for what we should do if there is another 9/11 type event:

If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina.

Obama at least tempered his remarks by saying that he would double foreign aid to $50 billion a year, and allocate $2 billion to combat the influence of Islamic madrassas schools and to improve our public relations. These are actions that I support. However, statements like those quoted suggest to me that neither Tancredo nor Obama are ready to be our next president. Perhaps this is why I find myself drawn toward candidates who truly grasp the dimensions and nuances of the terrorist threat. Maybe it is time for me to give money to Senator Joe Biden’s campaign. At least Senator Biden gets it.

There is no question that our erstwhile ally in the war on terrorism, Pakistan’s president and possible dictator for life General Pervez Musharraf, could do a lot more to root out elements of al Qaeda. It, along with the Taliban, controls a rather lawless area of northwestern Pakistan. Osama bin Laden, if he is still alive, is likely living in that remote area. Even if he is not, it is clear that what leadership al Qaeda has is likely concentrated in that area.

The real goal of the United States is to reduce and eventually eliminate Islamic sponsored terrorism. Would capturing Osama bin Laden solve this problem? It probably could not hurt. Certainly, the man deserves to be brought to justice. However, al Qaeda has no centralized leadership. Those who think al Qaeda would go away with his capture or death are likely deluding themselves. Indeed, it could be argued that we are better off with bin Laden alive but on the run than we would be if he were dead. There is no way to know for sure, of course. That is part of the problem. The chessboard we are playing is bafflingly complex. One thing we have learned is that our actions, which often seem entirely reasonable and logical, are often counterproductive. Our invasion of Iraq is a case in point.

If our military were to strike in northwestern Pakistan with a limited but sustained military campaign to root out al Qaeda, what would be the results? It is hard to say for sure but I doubt we would end up safer than we are now. I hope that we would not try to emulate our tactics in Iraq by essentially occupying that part of Pakistan and hoping for its eventual pacification. I hope that if we did go into that lawless area that our mission would be targeted, surgical and we would withdraw after a matter of days or weeks. However, even if we succeeded in finding bin Laden and destroying the nexus of al Qaeda in that area, I doubt we would end up more secure from Islamic terrorism. I think it is much more likely that it would inflame anti-American feelings, already very high in that area of the world. I think it would lead to the recruitment of fresh terrorists to take up their cause. Islamic inspired violence directed against our country would increase rather than decrease.

Osama bin Laden understands all this of course. The reason he chose to attack us on September 11, 2001 was that he knew we would respond with 20th century tactics to a 21st century problem. By doing so, it aided his ends, as the spread of terrorism inspired by al Qaeda since that event demonstrated.

Just as we cannot solve Iraq’s problems through military force, neither can we win the war on terrorism through military force. Iraq’s problems, in the unlikely event they can be solved at all, are political in nature. The same is true with our war on terrorism. This is a political war that is won through succeeding at political tactics.

Obama was half-right by realizing that in order to end terrorism we have to address the issues that feed it. It is much as firefighters create fire lines to stop forest fires. We need to focus most of our resources in the war on terrorism, not by sending occupying troops or selling high tech military hardware to Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, but by working toward political reconciliation and improving the living standards of people in the region. We must replace religious fanaticism, oppression and despair with its most potent antidote: hope.

Principally this means bringing a just and lasting political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It will require personal diplomacy, it will require the United Nations, it will require the organizations like the League of Arab States, and it will require any resource that can be brought to bear. While we are doing this, we must invest massively in sound non-partisan non-governmental organizations. We need to use these organizations as proxies to address the poverty, oppression and lack of opportunity that feeds the cycle of violence in that area. It means building schools by the hundreds in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It means creating affordable housing instead of refugee camps. It means building and improving roads, bridges and water treatment plants.

It also means making our military aid to Israel conditional on their solemn commitment to remove government support for Jewish settlements outside the state of Israel. It means making our aid to Israel conditional on their agreeing in principle that it will eventually withdraw to their 1967 borders. The conflict in that part of the Middle East is has its roots, not so much in the creation of the state of Israel, as it does in aftermath the 1967 Gulf War. Obviously, these are not easy things to do, which is why new workable political and economic tactics are vital.

Our real national security interests are in fact intimately tied to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. We must not do this unilaterally but together with the United Nations and other multinational organizations. We need to reduce the number of sticks and increase the number of carrots. The one resource Americans have in abundance is money. We have huge gobs of money, which are a direct result of our peace, freedom and stable democratic government. By the time our debacle in Iraq is over, we will have squandered at least a trillion dollars. Yet even this vast sum will hardly be noticed in our massive economy. We can afford to sponsor a Marshall-type plan for the Middle East, through neutral parties, that should replace hopelessness with hope. We also need to provide huge amounts of basic humanitarian assistance for a region that is still very much war torn and overflowing with refugees. Any new Marshall plan should cost a tiny fraction of what we have already recklessly squandered away in Iraq.

Our primary goal should always be to do what we can to reduce the factors fueling Islamic terrorism. If a particular action is likely to add fuel to the fire, we need to assess whether it is really in our national interest. Certainly destroying cities like Mecca and Medina as Rep. Tancredo suggested would guarantee eternal war and enmity against our country. It would be the most counterproductive, not to mention the stupidest thing we could possibly do in reaction to Islamic terrorism.

Our next president, unlike our current one, needs to be fully mindful of these tradeoffs. He or she must be progressive enough to push for the real political changes that might actually solve our long-term problem with Islamic terrorism. Senator Obama’s unwise remarks suggest he has not grasped the totality of the problem facing us. Let us hope that Democrats choose a nominee, based not on how inspiring they find his or her speeches at political rallies, but on whether they have the maturity, wisdom and judgment to apply our country’s resources wisely in these areas of the world during these very turbulent times.

No Longer the Top Banana

The Thinker by Rodin

We Americans are in denial. We assume that our country is a military superpower. The sad fact is that we no longer are one. We were demoted. The rest of the world largely understands this. The polite ones, like most of the European countries, feel it is kinder not to draw it to our attention. Like a once popular diva, they are content to let the realization slowly dawn on us. Eventually, after performing at enough half-empty concert halls, they know we will figure it out.

Other countries have been observing us warily. They have mostly coped by staying at the far edges of the gorilla cage hoping we would not notice them. Of all the gorillas in the cage though, we were the most fearsome. We looked like we weighed 800 pounds. We thumped our chests, howled and hissed a lot. We liked to kick those lesser gorillas who pouted or spat at us. However, often we would settle down. We could smile nicely and even share our bananas with our friends. Sometimes other gorillas tried to acquire favor by giving us some of their bananas. Occasionally they helped us beat up other obnoxious gorillas in the cage. Who though could predict when we would go through another manic phase? Therefore, most gorillas stayed out of our way. More than once, they looked at us with scorn. They wondered what was it about us that even though we had so many bananas, we could still be such a loose cannon. Now, after watching us get kicked hard in the ribs a few times, falling over and squealing in pain, we no longer look quite so fearsome. In fact, now that we are on the floor of the cage, some are working with the other gorillas to figure out a way to keep us there.

How can this be? The United States has the best-equipped, best-trained and most expensive military in the world. We can move our power anywhere in the world. Our aircraft can slip through radars. Our spy satellites can see basketballs on the ground from hundreds of miles away. Our intelligence services reputedly have computers than can sift through millions of calls per second.

The irony is we lost our superpower status in part by being too good at winning conventional wars. We have outthought and outspent our rivals. There is no nation left in the world, except perhaps foolhardy ones like North Korea that would directly attack the United States. In that sense, we have succeeded. Fear and intimidation may be crude methods of ensuring compliance, but they tend to be effective. Unfortunately, what we largely missed is that we failed to prepare sufficiently for unconventional wars. While we have the ability to defend our own borders from attack, we no longer have both the will and the means to require other regimes to bend to our will.

The recent war between Israel and Hezbollah is a textbook case for our changing times. Israel is the 600-pound gorilla in the Middle East part of the gorilla cage, thanks largely to the many bananas we have given it. If it chooses to do so, it is bye bye Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or any country in that region that threatens its existence. It might come at the cost of using its nuclear weapons and give the country permanent ostracism from the world community. However, as long as it has its nuclear card and other Arab states do not then Israel can win any conventional war against any state in the Middle East.

Of course, these countries are no longer stupid enough to directly wage war against Israel. Instead, they use proxies. Why should Syria put its soldiers at harm when there are passionate paramilitary forces ready to do its dirty work? These forces have no expectation of realizing their ultimate goals in the short term, but they do have tenacity and unbelievable passion. Their method of success is to use the equivalent of Chinese water torture. They are realizing that modern wars are won through attrition. They are realistic and expect that this war will last generations. Yet they are also confident of ultimate success.

Unlike Israel, the United States does not have enemies on its doorsteps. If we had to defend our two thousand mile border with Canada against the threat of rockets, we would be as inept, if not more inept than the Israelis were against Hezbollah. We might even imitate some of their tactics, perhaps by leveling large parts of Montreal and Toronto. It is unlikely though that it would solve our problem. Even if Canada had the will to remove paramilitary groups from its border with us, it is unlikely they would have the means and the people to finish the job. This was the essence of Lebanon’s problem. Its military was too poorly equipped to ensure that Hezbollah could not attack Israel. Not all the Israeli air strikes in the world could coerce them to do something they were incapable of achieving. In fact, the air strikes made Lebanon less capable of restraining Hezbollah.

Fortunately, although Canadians will bitch about us Americans from time to time (and we about them) they do not hate us. We have cordial and even friendly relations. We have a mutually beneficial relationship based largely on trade.

Israel is now uncomfortably awake to its new reality. It is floundering to try to find a solution. It hopes that the presence of tens of thousands of international troops on its border with Lebanon will at least delay the problem. If there is a solution to Israel’s security problem, it cannot be won by arms. It can only happen through political discourse. Given the new dynamics, any viable solution would require significant and probably currently unacceptable conditions from Israel. There is no viable way to neutralize paramilitary forces like Hezbollah until the animus that causes it to work for Israel’s destruction goes away.

The United States was bitchslapped in Iraq. As I warned before the war, we could not succeed with less than half of the forces needed to do the job. While we could have brought sufficient forces to control Iraq, it would have been at the cost of something else. We would have had to leave volatile places like South Korea with a skeleton American presence. Otherwise, we would have had to reinstate the draft. The Bush administration though realized that the draft was not politically viable, since the war with Iraq was a war of choice, not of necessity. Even had we the 250,000 or more troops needed for the invasion of Iraq, it is still unclear whether the strife we are seeing there today could still have been restrained. Regardless, we would still be viewed as an occupying Christian army in a Muslim region of the world.

Apparently though our current administration refuses to acknowledge our karmic lesson in Iraq. It prefers delusion, which has had the consequence of immense folly. Worse, we are making noises that show we have learned nothing from our experience. Because now we are working hard to take punitive actions against Iran. We still suffer from the delusion that through coercion we can really keep Iran from having the nuclear program it wants. Naturally, our administration is straining at the leash to find punitive tools to use against Iran. Its bellicose words, which began with our president’s unwise decision to publicly label Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil”, have been consistently harsh. Now, since Iran has refused U.N. nuclear inspectors access to its facilities, we are pushing for economic sanctions and boycotts.

What a stupid and pointless thing for us to do. Not only will it not work, it would simply give Iran a reason to play its oil card. The oil card trumps any sanctions the world community can put in place. Even the most modest reductions in its oil exports are likely to cause enormous spikes in the price of oil. It is like those old Roadrunner cartoons. Iran is playing the roadrunner. We are the coyote. The anvil that we dropped to kill the roadrunner will instead hit us on the head.

You would think by this point we might have a clue. Yet a reduction in oil exports by Iran in response to sanctions is one of the better scenarios. Iran’s navy has convenient access to the Persian Gulf. It could easily put a stop to much of that region’s oil exports. We could of course use our military to try to stop it, but that would simply cause more tremors in the oil markets. It would also likely cause an all out war between the United States and Iran. Like it or not, the international community will accommodate Iran, not the other way around. Our short-term need for steady oil prices trumps any long term concerns about their potential nuclear capabilities. The United States may not like the idea of unconditional talks with Iran on its nuclear program, which Iran is proposing. However, if we were operating with our prefrontal cortex we would be accepting such talks. We simply delude ourselves if we think that tough talk will have any deterrent effect on Iran. Iran has the trump card and we have nothing to trump it.

This shows why we are no longer a superpower. If we were a real superpower, we would have figured out effective ways to counter these threats. We have not. The game has changed. We are just beginning to assess what it might take to deal with these new threats. The effect though is that America has lost its claim of being a military superpower. Arguably, we retain other superpower statuses, such as the world’s economic superpower. Unless, like the Cold War, we can develop effective tactics against these new military tactics, we will never be a military superpower again.

We are all brothers

The Thinker by Rodin

There are people out there
unafraid of revealing
that they might have a feeling,
or they might have been wrong.
There are people out there
unafraid to feel sorrow,
unafraid of tomorrow,
unafraid to be weak,
unafraid to be strong…

Mother, “Back to Before”, from the musical Ragtime *

You can learn a lot from diversity training.

That is how I spent this Wednesday afternoon: in four hours of diversity training. You can say it is bunk or you can say it is smart, but it is the requirement of my employer that as a supervisor I see workplace diversity as an asset.

Intuitively, embracing a diverse workforce makes a lot of sense. If everyone who worked for me thought and acted like me, would this be good for the organization? Not likely. I like to consider myself a talented guy, but my skills and knowledge are limited. I need the best from my team. I need to take advantage of the strengths that they have that I do not. Consequently, on those few times when I am in a hiring position, I should be looking for people with different skills and perspectives.

Whether people are black or white, whether they are pretty or ugly, whether they are gay or straight, whether they are skinny or obese, each person has potential. According to my training, that potential can only realized when I am able to be accepting of their differences. I need to see beyond the surface and the stereotypes and connect with the person within. By accepting who they are in all their complexity and quirks, it becomes possible for them to feel valued for who they are, and thus give me their best. If everyone who works for me can feel the same way, we become a more harmonious unit. Everyone is happier and more productive because their essential humanity is acknowledged and appreciated.

These observations should not be startling to you. They are almost intuitive.

However, with my mind fresh from diversity training, the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict took on a new perspective. A light bulb went off above my head. This was the essential problem between Israelis and Palestinians. It was not that mixing Arabs and Jews is like mixing oil and water. It was both sides failing to see and respect the essential humanity of each other.

Because “Arab” and “Jew”, like “fat” and “ugly”, are just labels. Here is the thing: being Jewish does not really matter. Being Arab does not really matter either. They mean as much as if your eyes are brown and mine are blue. This means that it means nothing at all. It is an artificial and superficial distinction that was elevated to the level of importance that is undeserved. Self-segregation may be an unpleasant fact in much of this world, but it is wrong. Ironically, it was one of the greatest Jews of all times who taught us this lesson: Jesus. He told us that all men are brothers. And that includes those Samaritans and Palestinians too.

This does not mean that we should all try to be brothers; it means all men are brothers. How do we know? Count our chromosomes. Yep, we all have 46. We all belong to the same species: homo sapiens. We each have two eyes, two ears, one nose, two legs and two arms. If there is a real difference between us, it is by gender. I do not have ovaries. Women do not have penises. Perhaps that is why some biologists consider males and females to be different species.

Therefore, if we all are brothers, anyone who says otherwise is spreading lies. Why did apartheid finally fail in South Africa? Because the world recognized this fundamental truth: everyone who lived there deserved equal rights, respect and opportunities because they were all human beings.

Why was the Holocaust so evil? It was evil because some of us chose to act on their erroneous belief that we were not brothers. It was a fallacy that killed millions of our brothers.

The current state of Israel is a direct result of the Holocaust. A homeland for the Jews seemed like a natural way to permanently address the Holocaust. At the time, it seemed both compassionate and logical. Let us give the Jews their own place where they can be free to be Jewish. The Jews can go there to be with their own kind. (Perhaps the subtext was, “We do not want the Jews in our country anyhow, because they are not really one of us, so let them go to Israel.”) It seemed like a neat resolution at the time. A permanent Jewish homeland meant that Jews could be free to be Jews without worry of discrimination.

There was, unfortunately, one flaw: there were people already living in Palestine. In order to create a Jewish state, others necessarily had to suffer. More specifically, most of the non-Jews in the state that would become Israel were pushed across the Green Line to start a new life of permanent refugees. Many others were simply murdered.

Yet this consequence was tacitly okay with the United Nations. Yes, there were dissents when the U.N. authorized the creation of Israel. Nevertheless, it was, in retrospect, perhaps the most boneheaded decision made by this august governing body. It was very clearly deliberate discrimination: Jews are wanted in Israel, and non-Jews are not, and the world says that is fine.

Antisemitism is defined by dictionary.com as “Hostility toward or prejudice against Jews or Judaism.” Semitism, on the other hand is not quite the opposite of anti-Semitism. It is “a policy or predisposition in favor of Jews.” Thankfully, I am not anti-Semitic. I have no prejudice toward those who are Jews. Therefore, I need to invent a new word: “non-semitism”. I will define it as “the belief that Jews should not be especially favored nor discriminated against”. I believe in non-semitism. I believe it because I believe all men are brothers. To me this is self-evident. I believe it is wrong to favor the Jews or any group over any other group. This does not mean that I am unmindful of the horrors inflicted on the Jews over the millenniums. They were horrible and they were wrong. However, they were not horrible because they were inflicted on Jews; they were horrible because these were crimes against humanity. Some of our brothers chose to kill because they chose to believe we are not all brothers. In my mind the Holocaust was a monstrous crime of large-scale fratricide.

While in general the law in Israel does not discriminate against non-Jewish citizens, in practice there is a lot of discrimination. The situation is not too much different from the status of Negroes in much of the 20th century here in the United States. While they had equal rights in theory, in practice discrimination was widespread. Our own State Department noted this in its most recent report to Congress. It also catalogued the obvious discrimination that occurs on Middle East territories occupied by Israel, which includes East Jerusalem and The West Bank. You have no doubt seen pictures of the unilateral demolition of Arab homes in these areas so that Jews can occupy these lands. (Incidentally, it is forbidden under international law for any occupying force to colonize an occupied territory.)

It is ironic that in Israel of all places, we see a modern version of apartheid. It is like George Orwell’s Animal Farm where some animals are more equal than others are. In doing so, of course, in some small way Israeli Jews are emulating the injustices done upon them. It is much like child abuse. “My Dad used to beat me with a belt, so it is okay for me to beat you with a belt.” One can understand why someone would feel this way having gone through such a traumatic experience, but it is still wrong to act on those feelings.

Yes, it is wrong. Just as no child deserves to be beaten, no person should lose life, home or liberty for not being in the right ethnic class, in this case for not being a Jew. It violates our inherent human worth and dignity. It supports the insidious lie that we are not all brothers in fact.

In trying to conjure a way out of this horrifying Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah conflict that threatens to turn into a Third World War, I cannot help but believe that the real crime is that both sides will not acknowledge that they are brothers. They are all human beings. We should aspire to treat everyone with dignity and respect, even when we do not agree with them, because we are brothers.

Israel is now engaged in a battle for its survival. That is why this war is so dangerous. As I said a few entries ago, these rockets launched by Hezbollah have changed whole balance of power. At some point, perhaps sooner rather than later, Iran will be able to lob its own missiles at Israel from inside its own territory. By then, it will not need proxy militias like Hezbollah to do it for them. There is no military answer to this emerging reality other than devastating nuclear war. Even that would not solve the problem, but it would leave millions of our brothers dead.

How do we get out of this box?

There is an answer, but it takes much more courage that sending tens of thousands of Israeli troops into Northern Lebanon to ferret out Hezbollah militias. It can come from either side, but in my opinion, it should come from the Israelis. It should be something like this:

To our Arab brothers,

For many decades, we have engaged in overt and covert wars to hurt and kill each other. We must stop this because it is wrong and it will kill more people. We must stop thinking of each other as Arab or Jew. We must start thinking of each other as brothers. We must all make the deliberate and sustained decision to heal, not hurt.

For our part, we acknowledge our terrible transgressions against our Arab brothers over many decades. We look forward to finding ways where we can redress past wrongs and live together in peace and mutual respect.

Please, together, let us find a way to stop the bloodshed immediately. Then let us work earnestly together to build a new Palestine built on mutual respect for each other and peace.

Continue reading “We are all brothers”

Ozymandias

The Thinker by Rodin

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows: –
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.” – The City’s gone, –
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder, – and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

–Horace Smith.

I am certainly no Middle East scholar. I suspect even if you grew up in the Middle East and earned a degree in Middle East studies that you would still be challenged understanding the current situation there. I believe that there are too many permutations between the nations, races, ethnic groups, religious groups, paramilitary groups and shifting alliances to understand the totality of the issues and conflicts. As if things were not confusing enough just in Iraq and Afghanistan, now we have this war between Israel and Hezbollah, the Shi’ite paramilitary group, which has blossomed into a larger war. Lebanon is now unjustly receiving the bulk of Israel’s fury.

Make no mistake. This is not a “police action”. This is not a “limited incursion”. This is a war. Israel has always seemed proactive when it comes to their national security, yet they were blindsided by this one. From their actions to date, it is clear they do not understand that the conflict has changed in a fundamentally new way and that the existence of Israel itself is now in serious jeopardy.

The capabilities of their enemies have morphed. In the last couple of decades, short-range rockets have become cheaper to make and easier to move around. In addition, those funding Hezbollah (which doubtless includes Iran) have dug deeper into their pockets. Hezbollah now has longer-range rockets that are reaching deep inside of Israel. Some of these rockets can reach twenty or more kilometers into Israel. They can be moved with relative ease and are often hard to detect. In a way, the Israelis are fortunate that most of these rockets are low tech. Hezbollah soldiers point, shoot and hope they are effective. So far, their effect has been more psychological than lethal. However, these rockets have killed Israeli citizens far from the front lines. Even if the Israelis could shoot them down, given the large quantities of them and the short flight time, it would be impossible to intercept them all.

Therefore, they are left to try to secure southern Lebanon by clearing it of all of Hezbollah’s fighters and missiles. This is already proving to be very daunting. It is a large territory. To secure it and hold it now requires a large and continuing military presence. Moreover, this territory is not desert. Much of it is wooded. Hezbollah is imitating the Vietcong by digging tunnels. This makes destroying all the missiles and removing all the Hezbollah fighters a very iffy proposition for Israel. Moreover, once they capture all this land realistically they cannot secure it indefinitely. They hope that some other armed force will keep it secure for them. If they return the land to Lebanon, there are no guarantees that Lebanon can keep the land secure.

It is unlikely though that Israel will succeed in controlling Southern Lebanon. On some level, I think they know this already. Therefore, they are blowing up much of Lebanon instead. The plan seems to be that if they bomb Lebanon enough, its government will start securing its Southern border. Yet it makes no more sense to expect Lebanon to secure its southern border for Israel than it makes sense for us to expect the Mexican government to keep illegal immigrants from entering our country through Mexico. The Hezbollah militia is far bigger than the Lebanese army is. Even if it had the means, Hezbollah and affiliated Shi’ite parties democratically control 35 of the 128 seats in Lebanon’s parliament. Hezbollah itself has 14 of these seats. Many Lebanese welcome Hezbollah. If Israel is serious about having the Lebanese government control its own territory, it is hard to see how destroying much of its infrastructure aids their cause.

In addition, they are working against their own long-range interests. The Israelis seem to suffer from cognitive dissonance. It amounts to if you hurt me, I will hurt you back ten times worse, and then you will learn never to bother me again. What actually happens, of course, is they leave people deeply traumatized, upset and eager for retribution. In short, they inadvertently sow the seeds for their own destruction.

Most likely Israeli partisans that read this will insist I am anti-Semitic and want to see the destruction of Israel. Aside from the obvious problem that pro-Israeli advocates just love to paint broadly with their anti-Semite brush, I am not stupid. It was not Israel that lobbed the first missile, but Hezbollah. All this is beside the point: the game has changed.

To really secure Israeli citizens, a DMZ is needed. Since indefinitely occupying Southern Lebanon is not practical, the next step is to withdraw civilians from northern Israel and relocate them further south. Hezbollah has demonstrated that Galilee is no longer defensible. Unfortunately, even if Israel were to embrace this strategy, it would only be a stopgap measure. For rockets and missiles will get cheaper and more accurate. It is possible that within years all of Israel will be vulnerable to rocket attacks.

Israel goes after governments like Lebanon because they do not know what else to do. Perhaps it gives the illusion of doing something that will bring results. They have all the firepower they need to render most governments in the Middle East ineffective. Unfortunately, even if they can destroy the governments in Lebanon and Syria, that does not mean they have won this war. For they are no longer battling other nations. They are fighting paramilitaries. Anarchy is what paramilitary groups like Hezbollah prefer. If the state does not exist, their mobility improves. No central government is left that can constrain their behavior.

Although wars between nations are not yet obsolete, their days may be numbered. The future will see more of what we are seeing now: wars between states and paramilitary groups, or, in the case of Iraq, simply wars between paramilitary groups. Cheaper and more accessible armaments, some of it coming from our defense contractors, have lowered the cost of waging insurgencies and paramilitary efforts. Few nations can totally control what happens inside their own borders. Real control requires the overwhelming consent of those governed. The people who live in the country have to have an emotional commitment to their country to keep paramilitary organizations from having any traction. This loyalty to country must come before loyalty to ethnicity, religion or political cause.

One result of this trend will be the slow dissolution of the nation-state. My thoughts on this will likely be the subject of another entry. In brief, I believe the future will move either toward global anarchy or toward one world government. The nation states of today will eventually become as obsolete as kingdoms.

Whether Hezbollah and similar paramilitary groups understand this or not is beside the point. This is the new reality. What it amounts to is a country cannot effectively fight paramilitary groups using armies trained to attack other nation-states. Ready or not, the paradigm and tactics of modern war have changed. We are already learning this lesson painfully in Iraq. I am left to conclude that Israel simply has no future. I believe that in fifty years, maybe less, it will be a memory. Insurgencies and paramilitary groups will have nibbled it out of existence.

How do you counter a trend like this? I know I would hate to try to find a formula that would bring peace to Israel and its neighbors. Frankly, I do not think that one exists. What would help is a pragmatic vision of hope that all parties can latch onto. Perhaps what is really needed is not a Jewish state, but a Semitic state. Semites in this context does not mean Jews. It means the Semite race, and that includes the Palestinians, who are also Semites. There has to be consensus that all that live there must dwell together in peace and brotherhood, or no one can. It is hard to see how this can be achieved when the hatred continues to grow on all sides due largely to Israel’s latest actions in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, more than a few wacked out religious nut jobs are taking this conflict as a sign that Armageddon is near. They are nearly in rapture because they are convinced the Lord is ready to return. Soon they figure they will be occupying their reserved spots inside the pearly gates, for they are the true believers. Arguably, there are more than a few of these nutcases in the West Wing. From my perspective, it looks like Armageddon is already here. Only it is not quite what evangelical Christians had hoped. Armageddon appears to consist of eternal skirmishes, bloodshed, death, destruction and the sad defilement of the area that gave birth to our greatest religions. With each crime against their neighbors, sides dig in their heels further and refuse to learn any karmic lessons. Somewhere up there Allah, Yahweh and Jesus are watching, and they are crying.

After Iraq, then what?

The Thinker by Rodin

I have been meaning to write this entry for a while, but vacation got in the way. In addition, I was not quite sure what to write. This is a particularly hard topic for me to think through. After we lose in Iraq, how do we go on and actually win the larger war on terror?

My assumption is that our exit from Iraq will not be particularly pleasant. I do not know how much longer it will be before we formally throw in the towel, but I am convinced that we will throw in the towel. If I had to guess, I would bet we would be mostly out by the end of 2007. The 2006 midterm elections should sober Washington up, assuming it takes that long. As I suggested some months ago we are likely to see a replay of Vietnamization in Iraq. The first three acts have been the same. It remains to be seen if the final act will be a repeat too. At some point, even the polite fiction that we can maintain some sort of rough control in Iraq will be blown either literally or figuratively away. While we can, we might maintain some bases in Iraq to leverage force in particularly lethal battles. However, Iraq is more likely to devolve into a civil war. In this case, since we could not choose sides our forces would be useless. It is very unlikely that brigades of terrorists will launch frontal assaults on Iraqi cities. That is not their modus operandi.

Therefore, although the end is easy to see, exactly how things will play out in the final act remains a guessing game. However only fools or high stake gamblers will bet that we will leave Iraq with a peaceful and democratic government that can maintain control for the long term. There will be a natural tendency to want to bring the all our troops in Iraq home and to make noises, but take little in the way of effective action, against al Qaeda and its agents. This would be a mistake.

I have outlined some pragmatic steps that we should take elsewhere. Many of these I lump for my convenience into a set of “birth control” strategies. It is premised on my belief that like the Cold War, the problem of Islamic extremism is not going to fade away. Consequently, we need effective long-term strategies that lesson the likelihood that new generations of terrorists will arise eager to destroy America. Even the Bush Administration is starting to understand that a genuine and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the best long-term use of our time and money. By some estimates, we will have squandered more than a trillion dollars before we leave Iraq. Yet we support Israel’s national security at a cost of about ten billion dollars a year. Surely a few billion dollars a year invested in Palestine to build quality housing and schools would be money well spent. This money needs to be tied to meaningful metrics, like the end of terrorism and a gradual withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank.

We also need better understand how the Islamic world thinks and behaves. You can get a sense of how clueless we are from our actions in Iraq. After more than two years, we still do not even really know exactly who the insurgents are that are fighting us and who is funding them. We guess they are mostly ex Ba’athists and al Qaeda sympathizers, but much of the time we are clueless. No wonder we are so ineffective dealing with them. A good place to start understanding Islam is by engaging Muslim America. We treat Islam as something of a curiosity, rather than the full-fledged religion with over a billion adherents that it is. We tend to fear that which we do not understand. As a result, we get radio talk show bozos like Michael Graham who paint the religion of Islam as “a terrorist organization”.

Sorry Michael. Al Qaeda is no more like modern Islam than Eric Rudolph typifies mainstream Christianity. (Although after Pat Robertson’s bizarre remarks today, you have to wonder at least a little if mainstream elements of Christianity are having a case of al Qaeda envy.) Just as Islamic nations needs to understand us better, so we need to be coaxed into learning more about Islam. In America, we seem almost proud of our ignorance of the rest of the world. In any event, it is clear that we cannot effectively deal with a problem that we do not understand both intellectually and with some degree of empathy. We are using 20th century tactics against terrorism and it clearly is not working. Our military force can and should be leveraged, but they should be used selectively. This war is more likely solved more through winning hearts and minds, and through good intelligence, than through conventional weapons and armies. Therefore, rather than recoil at the plan to put Al Jazeera International on our cable system, maybe we should welcome it.

A more Machiavellian strategy might suggest a policy of containment. While I am not advocating it, I will put it out there for what it’s worth. This strategy suggests that unstable Islamic countries should be isolated politically, culturally and economically from the West. It is based on the assumption that Muslims have to work through their own problems and our assistance is counterproductive. If they are going to kill people, the thinking goes, far better for them to kill each other instead of us. If Islam must go through its own dark ages and reformation like Christianity, why not start now? Just stay to the sidelines and let the Muslim nations implode.

On the other hand, I do not advocate its opposite either. While I think engagement is useful, I think part of the reason 9/11 happened is that we either deliberately or inadvertently introduced too much change too fast into the Islamic world. Yes, PCs and satellite dishes are undeniably convenient. However, we did not have to market to these countries. Moreover, we do not have to go around proselytizing democracy. This strategy does not have much success with Jehovah’s Witness adherents, so it probably will not work for us either. If democracy is inherently good, wayward countries will eventually knock on our doors asking for assistance. Jimmy Carter’s low key approach has been very successful.

As for short and medium term strategies, securing nuclear stockpiles is a fairly easy and inexpensive problem to solve. It is also a lot more doable than trying to impose democracy on unstable countries. I do not feel terribly hopeful that we can restrain the development of atomic weapons, although I certainly think we should continue to try. The price of joining the nuclear club is a lot lower than it used to be. Nevertheless, certainly we can stop doing asinine things like providing nuclear equipment to India, as President Bush did recently. (India has never signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.)

Clearly, Iraq caused us to lose focus against our real enemy: al Qaeda and those who support it. We can certainly refocus on finding and killing Osama bin Laden. That will not solve the problem of terrorism, but it will send an important signal. I am somewhat puzzled why we found it perfectly okay to invade Afghanistan, but we somehow feel as if we cannot send a single troop across the Pakistani border without permission. We need to be clear that any nation that gives sanctuary to our enemy, either deliberately or inadvertently is subject to attack. I am certainly not recommending that we overthrow the Pakistani government, but we should feel free to attack suspected al Qaeda hideouts in that country without advance notice and with impunity.

There are branches of al Qaeda in Indonesia and elsewhere. We should continue to feel free to help governments there find, capture and kill these people, or to do it ourselves if necessary. Nevertheless, we should be judicious in our use of force. Where possible our strikes should be short and surgical. Our footprints should be minimal. Ideally when these counterstrikes happen we should profess ignorance and disclaim responsibility.

There is also nothing wrong with changing policies even if they may appear to be appeasing terrorists. I have pointed out many times that our support for Israel is counterproductive. It buys us far more enemies than friends. I think Israel can and should be weaned off American aid. I do not see why we need so obnoxiously promote American values either. What is the point of rattling the saber when it just riles up those already inclined to hate us? Why do we have to have the equivalent of giant neon billboards associated with our country? Would more mainstream values like greater support for the United Nations and an agreement to join the International Criminal Court really be that bad for the United States? Some of us remember a time when the United States was the U.N.’s biggest supporter. Of course, we are not going to agree with many member countries. However, the point of the U.N. is to have a forum for countries to air their grievances peacefully, instead of through armed conflict. After more than fifty years, it is still an organization that helps keep the world peaceful. We are better off as friends and supporters of the United Nations than openly hostile to it.

Therefore, I think our war against Islamic extremists needs to be fundamentally rethought. If we bring home the troops from Iraq, we could use the time for a devising new and effective strategies to combat Islamic terrorism. It is very clear that our current course is counterproductive. We need new and pragmatic leadership, not leadership that cannot see beyond their prejudices or will not try new strategies when the old ones fail. President Bush is right in one thing: this is not a war that will end anytime soon. However, in time it can end by embracing effective short, medium and long-term strategies. We should be inviting Islamic scholars like Juan Cole to help draft these policies. To win this war we must avoid knee jerk reactions. Instead, we must think with our forebrains.