A Fools Errand

The20fool I would love to be sanguine about the president’s mission to the Middle East, but I am not.  Physicians take an oath to "cause no harm," perhaps politicians should do the same.  Someone said to me yesterday that the conversion of the chief executive of the US into an "action officer" for the revival of the "peace process" in the Levant was a worrisome thing.  I agree.

In my opinion, the issues that divide the Palestinians and the Israelis are actually deeper and more intractable that any of the other major dividing
"bright lines" throughout the area. 

The Bush Administration, seemingly at the urging of Israel’s supposed friends, seems to continue to believe that this truly existential struggle beween these two peoples is a difficulty in communication and that a thoroughgoing discussion under "adult supervision" can clear up the misunderstanding.

In fact, it remains the case that the majority of people in both sides want "peace," but the ways in which they define peace are quite different and reflective of a desire to dominate the other side.  All else is tactics designed to herd the American dummies along in the direction of advantaging one’s own side.  As I have said many times (sorry), if there was real good will on both sides the issues could be easily resolved and the subsequent treaty written on a couple of sheets of paper, but there is not such good will.

I continue to believe that the problem should be approached by seeking regional bilateral and in some cases multi-lateral agreements that address the interests of all concerned and which reduce the "temperature" in the region.

Whoever it was that sent Quixote off on this venture against the windmills of obduracy was quite wrong.  There might be a piece of paper agreed on by the time Bush leaves office but it will mean little.  People in this region are good at agreeing to things they have no intention of doing.

What Bush should have sought on this trip was to advance regional negotiation on the one hand and to find a more reasonable way to deal with the problem of Palestinian division on the other.  Truce, maybe?  pl


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60 Responses to A Fools Errand

  1. bstr says:

    There remain only a few things available to George W. Bush to validate his extreme policies of the last seven years. He is frantically trying to find personal and historical justification. He is like a fish on the dock, flipping about and quickly running out of time. This final year could be very bad for us all, given who he is and his job.

  2. Michael says:

    So now Bush is suggesting the US could “easily” be in Iraq for ten years?
    Yikes – I’m no MENA specialist.. but I’m not entirely sure that’s the kind of message that should be telecast throughout that region.

  3. frank durkee says:

    The most recent Harpers Magazine has an excellent brief piece on the Bush administrations rationale for the “unitary presidency”. it’s worth reading both for its content and the context it provides.

  4. Bill W, NH says:

    Good News, The NH vote will be recounted.

  5. ked says:

    I am fairly convinced that it is such a bummer to have him around the office that his staff has conspired to keep him out of town as much as possible in the final year of his reign.

  6. Will says:

    the fool’s errand has to be exhausted before we arrive at the end game.
    fool’s errand=palestinian state=bantustans
    endgame=apartheid=which will equally resolve in a binational state like South Africa did or ethnic cleansing like the Third Reich

  7. Cujo359 says:

    By “the problem of Palestinian division” are you refering to their political differences, or the geographical ones?

  8. Two quick points. Isn’t it “First, do no harm!” Second, Bush foreign policy I think is very hard to understand. He has reversed course on many issues and never really had any consistent foreign policy on any significant issue. Am I wrong?

  9. Jimmy Carter comments on many of the same topics recently posted here at SST.
    But be warned, and I really mean it, even back in the day I didn’t hear this many f-bombs from any branch of the military. Squids included.
    Mock Jimmy Carter Op-Ed…The Onion, of course!
    Had me rolling!

  10. Marcus says:

    “I continue to believe that the problem should be approached by seeking regional bilateral and in some cases multi-lateral agreements that address the interests of all concerned and which reduce the “temperature” in the region.”
    Too little too late is about the best you can expect from this maladministration.
    Seems a bit prejudiced to insist on multilateral talks concerning NK but a go-it-alone approach with these two. Settlements and the 40 year occupation is a disgrace to all parties, the US included.
    The US, through favoratism, has lost any chance to act as a fair broker. Regional and multilateral is the probably the only way.

  11. David W says:

    There you go again, Col., with your pragmatism and can-do attitude–casting pearls to swine, because this trip had nothing to do with the situation on the ground, and everything to do with creating material for the future GW Bush Presidential Liebrary. (that’s not a typo)
    Bush’s seriousness is best captured in this bon mot, reported by Al Jazeera:
    Ayman Moyheldin reports for Al Jazeera: “He came with a message of hope, but to many Palestinians, it may be for his side comments and his jokes that George Bush will be remembered for. . . .
    “Palestinian officials say the fact that you had a U.S. president on Palestinian Authority territory, talking about a Palestinian state, well they say that in itself is an achievement. But you could just feel the moment melt when George Bush was asked about the hardships that Israeli checkpoints cause Palestinians and he responded by joking about how he didn’t have to stop at any.”
    Here’s what Bush said at his joint press conference in Ramallah yesterday: “You’ll be happy to hear that my motorcade of a mere 45 cars was able to make it through without being stopped, but I’m not so exactly sure that’s what happens to the average person.”

  12. PeterE says:

    Your belief that the Israeli-Palestinean problem should be resolved by agreements based on interests sounds extremely reasonable to me. But isn’t the problem that hardly anyone in the Middle East with any influence (Israelis included) thinks about interests? They are all People of the Book– or Books–in pursuit of serving God’s interest, not their interests. They scorn life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

  13. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    <"I continue to believe that the problem should be approached by seeking regional bilateral and in some cases multi-lateral agreements that address the interests of all concerned and which reduce the "temperature" in the region.">
    Absolutely, but this requires competent US REGIONAL diplomacy which the record indicates is beyond W and Tinkerbelle (and certain FSOs one might name.)
    1. “these accumulated US failures – both military and moral – have led the region’s capitals to reexamine their priorities.
    “Until now, the Arab regimes have blindly followed the US, thinking they needed it to keep them in power,” he said. “But recent development are prompting them to reassesses this assumption.
    “The era of US hegemony is ending,” Kandil added. “And a new era of cooperation between regional actors – looking for new means to achieve their ends – has begun.”
    So Iran and Egypt develop relations and Egypt turns to China….while Russia strengthens Iran’s air defense etc. systems.
    2. US-Iran situation reflects the US inability to devise a strategy in the US national interest.
    Why has the White House apparently blocked an incidents at sea agreement? US naval authorities have said they have no direct channel to countparts to appropriately deal with incidents at sea.
    ” America’s top military commanders in the Gulf (that would include Cosgriff) were lobbying for a new “incidents-at-sea” agreement. “The United States and Iran,” Ignatius went on, “are playing a game of ‘chicken’ in the Middle East. A collision would be ruinous for both. Each side needs to be careful to avoid miscalculation.”
    The lack of such an agreement facilitates Israeli and Neocon warmongering…
    3. Per the audio track with the out of place “threat” breaking into the transmission (overdub?) the Navy Times reports:
    “The threatening radio transmission heard at the end of a video showing harassing maneuvers by Iranian patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz may have come from a locally famous heckler known among ship drivers as the “Filipino Monkey.”
    This would be the open UHF channel 16 but the Iranian tape shows the fast boat officer requesting a shift to Channel 11 which appears to take place. So?
    4. W as Ahab (with a fake Texas accent):
    “Washington’s Captain Ahab, in the garb of President George W Bush, setting foot in the Middle East, holds the olive branch of Middle East peace in one hand and the Damocles sword of Iran-bashing in the other, a twin agenda in complete disharmony. It’s no way to catch Moby Dick. [1]”
    from Kaveh Afrasiabi,

  14. Curious says:

    nah, there is no peace. The logic of violence still exist. (ie. it’s cheaper and sustainable to carry on with the conflict.)
    Look. Palestinian and Israel problem is fairly straight forward. Contrary to myth that it’s some sort of grand mayhem.
    1. It’s a land dispute.
    2. One side wants the land because God says so. The other side want to keep the land because “excuse me, I was here and getting kicked out” (It’s ethnoreligious drive vs. ethno nationalism drive)
    3. Both side can afford to carry on the war and neither side has decisive blow or able to win the war permanently.
    4. The palestinian side, It has man power and sympathy of the entire region.
    The Israel side, weapon and financial support of Jewish community and DC politics.
    Everybody knows what Bush administration is about. Nobody in the ME is foolish enough to trust him. Who is gong to believe Bush “peace” talk? Therefore the war continues.
    The middle east problem is largely out of Bush hand by now. The world is making medium range bet based on Hillary Clinton winning the presidency. (ie. It’s more of the same. It will be continuation of Clinton/Bush policy in the middle east. Largely pro Israel-pro status quo.)
    My prediction: Saudi regime will turn shaky. Egypt will either turn neutral or flip. Russia and China will invest heavily on ME game as well. Iraq will explode, as well with Israel vs Jordan/Iran.

  15. Jim Schmidt says:

    “I could not be governor if I did not believe in a divine plan that supersedes all human plans. Politics is a fickle business. Polls change.”
    Governor George Bush, recounting trip to Israel, Personal Testimony, 2000
    George is visiting the Sea of Galilee again.
    One of the pictures in the story (Pablo’s) is reminiscent of this image:
    Seperated at birth?
    Last time at the sea, circa 2000, in his own words:
    “It was an incredible experience. I remember waking up at the Jerusalem Hilton and opening the curtains and seeing the Old City before us, the Jerusalem stone glowing gold. We visited the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And we went to the Sea of Galilee and stood atop the hill where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. It was an overwhelming feeling to stand in the spot where the most famous speech in the history of the world was delivered, the spot where Jesus outlined the character and conduct of a believer and gave his disciples and the world the beatitudes, the golden rule, and the Lord’s Prayer.
    Our delegation included four gentile governors-one Methodist, two Catholics, and a Mormon, and several Jewish-American friends. Someone suggested we read Scripture. I chose to read “Amazing Grace,” my favorite hymn. Later that night we all gathered at a restaurant in Tel Aviv for dinner before we boarded our middle-of-night flight back to America. We talked about the wonderful experiences and thanked the guides and government officials who had introduced us to their country.
    And toward the end of the meal, one of our friends rose to share a story, to tell us how he, a gentile, and his friend, a Jew, had (unbeknownst to the rest of us) walked down to the Sea of Galilee, joined hands underwater, and prayed together, on bended knee. Then out of his mouth came a hymn he had known as a child, a hymn he hadn’t thought about in years. He got every word right: Now is the time approaching, by prophets long foretold, when all shall dwell together, One Shepherd and one fold. Now Jew and gentile, meeting, from many a distant shore, around an altar kneeling, one common Lord. Faith changes lives. I know, because faith has changed mine.”
    Governor George Bush, Personal Testimony, 2000
    Does this man believe that his mission is now to calm the waters?
    A year is a long time. Destiny beckons. Buckle up.

  16. Jose says:

    Why does everyone think a deal is so difficult, in reality it’s a simple real estate transaction at its core.

  17. Matthew says:

    Col–your quote: “In fact, it remains the case that the majority of people in both sides want “peace,” but the ways in which they define peace are quite different and reflective of a desire to dominate the other side.”
    To which I add: America seeks to solve a problem without having to admit its friend Israel is actually causing any part of it.

  18. “They are all People of the Book– or Books–in pursuit of serving God’s interest, not their interests.”
    I would say that their desire, or need, or requirement – call it what you will – to serve God and His interests would simply be their primary interest from which all other’s flow. It is itself an interest as far as we’re concerned.
    (Can I mangle that thought any further?)

  19. pbrownlee says:

    Does anyone anywhere take any of this seriously?
    Apart from some of the wannabe presidents: “One of the most animated exchanges came when the candidates were asked whether they backed the Navy’s cautious response recently when Iranian boats reportedly harassed U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf.
    “Huckabee said anyone who challenges the Navy again should be prepared to go to the ‘gates of hell’.
    “Thompson said anyone testing the Navy might soon meet the ‘virgins’ that Islamic terrorists expect to meet in heaven.
    “Texas Rep. Ron Paul called the bellicose language frightening and reminiscent of the reaction to an alleged naval exchange that led to the Vietnam War. ‘I would certainly urge a lot more caution than I’m hearing here tonight,’ Paul said.
    “Romney cracked that Paul should stop reading Iranian propaganda, drawing what sounded like boos from the audience and a glare from Paul.”
    (http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/24603.html quoted by Juan Cole at http://www.juancole.com/ )
    These pathetic individuals (bar Ron Paul, of course) are unfit for any office of trust or responsibility anywhere.
    God rot the lot of ’em.

  20. GSD says:

    Bush has become so unhinged he wants to travel backwards in time to bomb the German deathcamps.
    He is one warmongering, warped mofo.

  21. zanzibar says:

    The problem with our current President and all his neocon buddies is that they are really not interested in solving the cause of all the discord in the ME. They still believe in domination and lip-service.
    I remain convinced that the only way for the parties in the region work out an acceptable framework is on the basis of a truce in the first place. Of all the proposals I have read only PL’s “Concert” makes sense. I have yet to hear any of the current Presidential candidates latch on to the idea of the “Concert”. Are they serious about dampening the violence and bringing a degree of stability? Or do we have another election with only Likudnik candidates?

  22. DanaJone says:

    Pat, bstr, the thing that really has me nervous right now is the flap over the Iranian patrol boat “incident”. From what I know, this happens on a regular basis every time US warships enter OR leave the Persian Gulf, its nothing new. Now its being hyped. If you check out the US vs Iranian videos on other sites, you can tell the US one has been edited, the voice that says “We are coming to you..” sounds computer generated. On the BBC site the audio is even more at variance, the “We will explode you…” sounds more like “We will EXPLORE you for a few minutes”.
    I feel concerned that Bush may be in the ME right now to drum up support for a US attack on Iran this spring, the rhetoric about “all options on the table” has not lightened a bit, and some I know fear that GW’s last major act in office will be to finish the business with Iran. I know that you and others have stated repeatedly that such an action would be the height of stupidity, but with GW right now thinking of his legacy, he might hope that removing the Iranian nuclear “threat” might rehabilitate what ever legacy he leaves history, hopefully better than the “Worst President Ever” that he fears. Just my humble opinion, Dana J.

  23. Charles I says:

    Talks cheap. There’ll be no peace before Israel abandons the Eretz Israel fanatasy.
    Only force of arms or Israeli lack of money and material will force the disgorgment of the Occupied Territories. After that would the minor details of building a state from the rubble, without which, there will be no peace. Of course, none of this will occur without complete and utter submission to every Israeli condition precedent by the fractured Palestinian polities.
    I saw Olmert crawling up 43’s backside on the news. he (Olmert) was almost agog himself as he announced the unprecedented level of support 43 had delivered toIsrael: “30 billion dollars”. And APC’s for Fatah, facilitating a ramping up of the civil war between the elected and unelected scorpions in a bottle that is “The Peace Process”.
    $100 billion, 500 F-22’s, Patriots, robust deliverable WMD, training & operational support both covert and overt, say 50,000 contractors fighting for the Palestinans, with massive sanctions and embargoes of food, energy and money against Israel, escalating daily, peace’d break out forthwith.
    Bit of gum-flapping by the boy acolyte falls a bit short.

  24. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    I think the real aim of Mr. Bush has been to personally reassure – in his capacity as the President of the United States – the Persian Gulf Arab states in regards to the up-coming withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and the contours of the US-Iran deal over Iraq.
    By stopping in Israel he has given some political cover to the US vassal Arab states to the effect that their concerns are being heard – if not acted upon.

  25. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Jim Schmidt:
    The hymn that you have quoted is a Christian universalist one which envisions a world in which all human beings have the same religion. In that sentiment it is similar to Islam.
    But I cannot understand why a Jew would find comfort in that hymn, which is akin to that old Catholic prayer for the conversion of all Jews, – it would be the death of Judaism.
    In fact, do these people understand that the universalism of the Western Civilization is the antithetical to all forms of ethno-religious particularity?

  26. From what I know, this happens on a regular basis every time US warships enter OR leave the Persian Gulf, its nothing new. Now its being hyped.
    My head is going to explode.
    Does anyone remember our “encounters” with The Rooskies during the Cold War?
    Weren’t we losing soldiers in the Korean DMZ off and on for 40 years?
    But the Big Bad Evil Iranian Speedboats are coming after us!
    I’m scairt!!

  27. W. Patrick Lang says:

    “and the contours of the US-Iran deal over Iraq.”
    Where did you get the idea that this is happening? pl

  28. Jim Schmidt says:

    “In fact, do these people understand that the universalism of the Western Civilization is the antithetical to all forms of ethno-religious particularity?”
    In my view they should. They must. However, phophecy, like voodoo, holds no threat if you don’t believe it. Revelations, stripped of revelance, is a Godsend to Olmert and his fellow nationalists.
    Therefore, a simple explanation of recent events is a cynical manipulation of the dispensationalist mindset for temporal advantage by clever people. After all, Armeggedon is New Testament, the beast Rome, 666 the code for Nero (I may be on shakey ground here so feel free to correct me) so playing along for several billion and some nice new toys is an incredible bargain.
    For the believers, Jewish Restoration is predicted in Zechariah 12:8-10 (KJV) , another New Testament book, so my guess is that George and his fellow space travelers believe all things will come out in the wash so why worry if somebody isn’t buying the joke now.
    The difficult thing for me to understand is why the end of history and the certainty of unprecented suffering and genocide is so damn attractive. I have friends I debate this with and they get positively giddy over the prospect of the rapture, brimstone, gnashing and other delightful events. I guess they envision it as a spectator sport.
    My concern is how deep George’s convictions run and whether he considers himself an emmissary for the new millenium.
    “Bush’s Armageddon Obsession
    The Looking Glass War”
    As I tell my fundy friends, at the moment of death, one of us is in for a hell of a surprise. My hope is that that moment arrives as natural inevitabiity, not zealot forced prophesy.

  29. Will says:

    Arnaud deBorchgrave intimates that perhaps only an American Jewish President can bring Peace to the Israeli- Palestinians, to wit: a certain mega billionaire Mayor of NYC, no not that war mongering imbecile Guiliani but le Bloomberg.
    see his latest column

  30. David Habakkuk says:

    Jim Schmidt wrote, in response to Babak Makkinejad’s question about whether Jews understand that the ‘universalism of the Western Civilization’ is a threat to them:
    ‘In my view they should. They must. However, prophecy, like voodoo, holds no threat if you don’t believe it. Revelations, stripped of revelance, is a Godsend to Olmert and his fellow nationalists.
    ‘Therefore, a simple explanation of recent events is a cynical manipulation of the dispensationalist mindset for temporal advantage by clever people.’
    But if they should believe that the universalism is a threat, the strategy of ‘Olmert and his fellow nationalists’ — together with their American fellow-travellers — may not be clever at all. The potential dangers for American Jews were addressed not long ago by Norman Birnbaum, in his Nation article ‘Is Israel Good for the Jews’:
    ‘Domestically, the chief allies of American Jewry were once the liberal Protestants; the modern Catholics, whose great achievement was the Second Vatican Council; and progressive secularists. Now organized Jewry has an alliance with those who were not so long ago embittered anti-Semites. The Protestant fundamentalists think the founding of the Jewish state means that the conversion of the Jews is imminent. Suppose the fundamentalists demand that US Jewry anticipate the end of time by beginning their conversion now? Some have welcomed the Lebanon crisis as the initiation of Armageddon. In the meantime, they combat the pluralism of the public sphere, which is indispensable to enduring rights for Jews in the United States. America is in serious danger of becoming a nation defined not by citizenship but by bargains among struggling ethnic and religious communities, united in an impossible project of global domination. Will Nobel prizes and business acumen, and seventeenth-century biblical imagery of America as a New Israel, protect the Jewish minority as our imperial project disintegrates? Its end could generate the domestic deprivation and tension conducive to renewed anti-Semitism.’
    (See http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060814/is_israel_good_for_the_jews.)
    For Jews in Israel, pursuing maximalist aims with the aid of unreliable Christian Zionist allies, while alienating traditional philo-semitic groups, is a gamble. It may pay off, but I would not count on it.

  31. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    The NIE comes out of the Blue, Putin flies to Tehran, Ahmadinejad is in Saudi Arabia, Larijani is in Egypt, Chinese ink a deal with Iran, violence in Iraq goes down, US troop withdrawal is openly discussed.
    This is my impression, ultimately.

  32. Babak Makkinejad says:

    David Habakkuk:
    What always struck me about the End-of-Time Christians was the implicit sentiment behind their project – “I cannot carry the burden of this life; living, working, suffering and dying. So please, God, destroy the world so I do not have to go through all this unpleasantness.” It reminded me of the verses of the Quran: “Surely We offered Our trust to the heavens and the earth, and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man undertook it. But he has proved a tyrant and a fool.” (33:72)
    You are quite right in the impossibility of creating an enduring unitary state on basis of “the bargains among struggling ethnic and religious communities”; one needs only to consider Lebanon, Nigeria, South Africa, Yugoslavia, and USSR.

  33. Cieran says:

    A quick follow-up on David Habakkuk’s comments about the transition from an ecumenical coalition supporting Israel, to the present-day Darbyite fundamentalist protestants who not-so recently had been anti-semites…
    I had an occasion last week to spend some quality time in conversation with a former minister in the Southern Baptist Conference, a brilliant scholar who had been on the front lines of the schism in that faith back during the Carter-Reagan years, when the SBC was taken over by its current crop of dispensationalists.
    He kept referring to those who took over the SBC as “neocons”, and when I asked him why he was using that particular term, he said that’s what they had called themselves, and he seemed blissfully unaware of any more current incarnation of that word.
    And the way he described their motivations and actions, it sounded more like he was talking about followers of Trotsky than about followers of the Lamb of God and the Prince of Peace, i.e., they were trying to purify the world at the point of an imperial sword.
    I’m not entirely sure what it means, but I sure did find it interesting…

  34. The difficult thing for me to understand is why the end of history and the certainty of unprecented suffering and genocide is so damn attractive. I have friends I debate this with and they get positively giddy over the prospect of the rapture, brimstone, gnashing and other delightful events. I guess they envision it as a spectator sport.
    I graduated high school from a Calvinist Evangelical boarding school. Quite frankly, some of these folks scared me. Many of these people were having serious trouble functioning in the temporal world before finding Jesus and walking down the aisle, including the faculty. The scary ones were pretty screwed up mentally. So their conversions were based entirely on emotion. Not a Thomas Aquinas among them.
    Their emotional love affair with Jesus coupled with a Winner Take All American spirit did make it a sport. They were *winners* above all else. I cannot say for certain what was in their hearts, but many times I felt that they were quite happy knowing that they were chosen to spend eternity in Heaven and the rest of the world was getting what it so rightly deserved – punishment!
    It was a strange mixture of revenge, sport, anger, bliss, and infant dependancy.
    Many of my fellow students fell apart within a few years after leaving the sanctuary of a boarding school atmosphere.
    All those old demons returned.

  35. W. Patrick Lang says:

    the NIIE did not come out of theblue. It was the product of a long struggle by intelligence officials to express the truth. pl

  36. Mike says:

    Two things the current president should have kept in his mind (such as it is…):
    – The USS Liberty
    – Jonathan Pollard

  37. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Chris Hedges take:
    “The Gilbert and Sullivan charade of statesmanship played out by George W. Bush and his enabler, Condoleezza Rice, as they wander the Middle East is a fitting end to seven years of misrule. Despots stripped of power are transformed from monsters into buffoons. And this is the metamorphosis that is eating away at the Bush presidency. ….
    It is the end of the road for George Bush. The world takes less and less notice of him. He strutted and swaggered across the stage. He bellowed and raged. He plundered and murdered. And now he wants to be anointed as a peacemaker. His presidency, like his life, has been a tragic waste. But he at least he has a life. There are tens of thousands of mute graves in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan that stand as stark testaments to his true legacy. If he wants to redeem his time in office he should kneel before one and ask for forgiveness.”
    Patrick Seale’s take:
    ” George W. Bush’s recent Middle East tour was a unique opportunity — very probably his last — to restore his country’s prestige and his own reputation by making a decisive contribution to regional peace and security.
    But Bush threw it away with the stubborn wrong-headedness which has been the hallmark of his two terms in office…..”
    In the UAE/Dubai, Tinkerbelle’s handlers no doubt made sure W did not see the dhows in the Iran trade stretching as far as one can see in the port area.

  38. Sgt.York says:

    Maybe the Europeans and Russians who kicked the Palestinians off their land don’t have a “divine right’ to the land based on an old book of superstitious myths. Just a thought.

  39. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    1.”Senior Pentagon officials, evidently reflecting a broader administration policy decision, used an off-the-record Pentagon briefing to turn the Jan. 6 U.S.-Iranian incident in the Strait of Hormuz into a sensational story demonstrating Iran’s military aggressiveness, a reconstruction of the events following the incident shows.
    The initial press stories on the incident, all of which can be traced to a briefing by deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs in charge of media operations Bryan Whitman, contained similar information that has since been repudiated by the Navy itself. ”
    Anyone have some biographic data on this Whitman? Another Neocon???
    2. Appears the incompetence of US stenographers-journalists is reflected in this story. Logically, reporting about the LEGAL regime governing transit of the Strait of Hormuz should be significant as “context.”
    For example, this news analyst did some homework:
    “The recent, and escalating, tension between Iran and the US in the narrow corridor of the Strait of Hormuz has once again drawn attention to the strait’s international maritime status, and to the ramifications of this tension as a flashpoint in the Middle East…..
    Yet there is no “international water” in the Strait of Hormuz, straddled between the territorial waters of Iran and Oman. The US government claimed, through a Pentagon spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the three US ships “transiting through the Strait of Hormuz” were provocatively harassed by the speedboats. This was followed by the Pentagon’s release of a videotape of the encounter, where in response to Iran’s request for ship identification, we hear a dispatch from one of the US ships stating the ship’s number and adding that “we are in international waters and we intend no harm”.
    Thus there is the issue of the exact whereabouts of the US ships at the time of the standoff with the Iranian boats manned by the IRGC patrolling the area. According to Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgiff, the US ships were “five kilometers outside Iranian territorial waters.” Yet, this is disputed by another dispatch from the US ships that states, “I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law.”
    Given that the approximately three-kilometer-wide inbound traffic lane in the Strait of Hormuz is within Iran’s territorial water, the US Navy’s invocation of “transit passage” harking back to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, (UNCLOS) is hardly surprising. [1]
    Although the US has yet to ratify the UNCLOS, it has been a strong advocate of its provisions regarding navigational rights, thus explaining the US officers’ availing themselves of “international law.” [2]
    It is noteworthy that in May 2006, Bush urged the US Congress to “act favorably on US accession to the convention.” But, in light of the legal ramifications of the US-Iran standoff in the Persian Gulf, discussed below, opponents of the UNCLOS may have become emboldened. According to them, the convention “prohibits two functions vital to American security: collecting intelligence and submerged transit of territorial waters.”….

  40. Harper says:

    I received a report on Jan. 15, from an Israeli source with close ties to Olmert inner circles. I pass it along, with interest in any thoughts or feedback.
    Following the Bush visit to Israel, the Israeli security cabinet met and approved, in principle, major military strikes into Gaza to uproot Hamas. A number of factors will determine whether or not this actually happens. First, the Winograd Commission, investigating the July 2006 Lebanon war, issues its final report and recommendations on Jan. 30. The Commission has already said it will not call for Olmert’s resignation, but a harsh finding, pointing to his failures, above all others, could precipitate a government crisis. If Avigdor Lieberman pulls out of the government, and one other party, like Shas, also leaves, then this will force early elections.
    Barak would prefer that the Olmert government remains in power through November. He is pushing the Gaza incursions, and more. The plan would be for Israeli forces to move in to Gaza in force, but also be alert for action from Hezbollah. In that case, the IDF has prepared for a new Lebanon war, this time extending into Syria. Barak needs a big military success, to take back the PM post. Bibi, for his own reasons, would prefer to see the Olmert government fall in the immediate wake of the Winograd findings, because right now, he is polling well ahead of every other candidate to be the next PM. Then he could have the war option on his watch.
    The Gaza plan also considers the possibility of Iran taking some kind of action in support of Hamas, which would serve as a possible Plan C trigger for combined Israeli-American military actions against Iran, actions that have been otherwise stalled due to strong Pentagon and CIA opposition. This was reflected in the NIE, and more recent efforts by Mullen and Fallon to get some kind of rules of engagement agreement with Iran, to assure that no new incidents in the Straits of Hormuz lead to a direct confrontation “by accident.”
    While Bush was promoting “final two state solution” in his talks in Israel and Palestine, it may be the case that the one-year timetable involves these planned Israeli strikes against Gaza. So in Bush’s jaded logic, shared by some in Israel, the path to peace is along the road of war. At least it is more consistent than pushing peace between Israel and Palestine and a war alliance of Israel and the Sunni Arabs against Iran. It’s all war.
    I must add, in fairness, that apart from this Israeli source, some of my Washington intelligence contacts are putting a much more positive light on the Bush trip, including his talks with Olmert and Abbas. I remain skeptical.

  41. Andy says:

    The article you link to in your last comment contains many errors and shows a complete anti-American bias.
    First of all, Iranian and Omani TTW only extend 12nm from land, so much of the strait is, in fact, technically international waters. Additionally, the author leaves out the fact that many of Iran’s TTW claims are illegal and include the use of straight baselines and claiming waters between islands as internal. The US Navy actively challenged these illegal claims when I was in the Navy back in the 1990’s.
    Secondly, for safety of navigation reasons, there exists a traffic separation scheme (TSS) to manage the high flow of inbound and outbound traffic. Part of this passes wholly through Omani waters and part passes wholly through Iranian waters and part passes through international waters. The US Navy is very cognizant of these boundaries which is reflected in their responses to queries from Iran, Oman and others. That two different responses were given indicates the ships were, in fact, transiting across the various boundaries according the the TSS. The responses haven’t changed since I was in the Gulf in the early 1990’s, nor has the method of passage. In fact, it was more aggressive back then since we were actively challenging illegal TTW claims.
    Additionally, US ships have the inherent right to self-defense. Exercising the right of innocent passage inside Iranian TTW in accordance with the TSS does not give Iran carte blanche to do as it wishes and the US Navy retains the right to defend itself if it responds to hostile intent or a hostile act. I’m not sure what the author is complaining about since the US Navy did not ultimately do anything beyond blowing whistles and communicating on the radio. The ships appear to have maintained their transit and did not tactically maneuver.
    The article further complains about use of a helicopter but no evidence is given that the helicopter operated in Iranian TTW. Additionally, there’s no evidence active sonar was used, nor is Iran’s previous attempts at illegally regulating passage during the tanker wars cited.
    In short, there’s nothing to indicate the passage of these three ships was at all illegal nor fundamentally different from hundreds of similar passages conducted over the last decadea-and-a-half. This article nitpicks every possible legal argument against the US, germane or not, yet says nothing about Iran’s very real illegal claims and violations.

  42. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You stated: “…Iran’s very real illegal claims and violations…”
    Under what jurisdiction and accroding to which legal framework?

  43. Jim Schmidt says:

    “While Bush was promoting “final two state solution” in his talks in Israel and Palestine, it may be the case that the one-year timetable involves these planned Israeli strikes against Gaza. So in Bush’s jaded logic, shared by some in Israel, the path to peace is along the road of war. At least it is more consistent than pushing peace between Israel and Palestine and a war alliance of Israel and the Sunni Arabs against Iran. It’s all war.” … Harper
    Other recent items in the news to consider
    “Bush: Iran threatens world security”
    “Iran receives Russian nuclear fuel”
    Iran receives a third shipment of nuclear fuel from Russia
    Country received first two shipments on December 17 and December 28
    Five more shipments will be made to the Bushehr reactor in coming months
    Iran says the nuclear reactor will begin operating in the summer of 2008 ….
    “Israeli PM: ‘All options’ legitimate to prevent nuclear Iran”
    “Missile test ‘will improve deterrence”
    By Haaretz Correspondent and Agencies , By Yuval Azoulay
    “Israel tested a dual-stage missile yesterday that defense officials say will improve the country’s power of deterrence. Channel 10 television said Israel was working on a missile with a range of 4,000 kilometers.
    The country’s main ballistic missile threat is from Iran, which has advanced missiles as well as a nuclear program that many in the West believe could produce weapons in the future.
    “Everybody can do the math and understand that the significance is that we can reach with a rocket engine to every point in the world,” weapons expert Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired army general and Tel Aviv University professor who is now a member of the Knesset, told Channel 2 TV. ……
    Jericho III
    Jericho III is thought to have been in service since mid-2005. With a payload of 1,000 – 1,300 kg it has a range of 6,500-7000km[1][2], and probably significantly greater with a payload of 350kg (one Israeli nuclear warhead). This gives Israel, at least, nuclear strike capability against Africa, Europe, and most of Asia.
    Linking all of these items above to Bush’s comment that he disagrees with the N.I.E. report, Andy’s reports regarding the Straits and the stepped up activity in Gaza, makes one wonder whether the next boneheaded move in the ME is now unfolding.

  44. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Andy, I am not concerned about so-called “anti American bias.” The analysis of the situation is my interest; data is my interest; open source collection is my interest; the present maritime legal regime out there is my interest.
    In my post I raised the issue of the maritime legal regime in the area. Dr. Afrasiabi’s article is the only one I have seen so far that got into this point.
    A standard older work on the Persian Gulf that deals with maritime issues is of course, Rouhollah K. Ramazani, “The Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz” (1979).
    SST readers can toggle on the abovementioned website to pages 78 and thereabouts for an analysis (circa 1979) of the legal regime and maritime issues. Perhaps qualified (maritime) lawyers reading SST could provide us more up to date perspectives and analysis of the current situation and claims.
    As it happens, as a grad student at UVA, I was Professor Ramazani’s research assistant for a year and a half in the mid 1970s and worked on issues relating to Iran and the Gulf.
    The Bush Administration’s reckless policy in the region has complicated legal issues and their resolution. It is certainly time for Washington to engage in serious regional diplomacy including dialogue with Iran. Maritime legal issues, as this incident reminds, are important. We need to conclude an incidents at sea agreement with Iran as the US naval command, among others, has indicated in recent years.

  45. Andy says:

    Iran’s baseline, TTW, and internal waters claims are contrary to UNCLOS which Iran has signed, but not ratified, but also to the 1958 convention. They also have a domestic law requiring prior notification for warships to engage in transit passage which has no basis in any international law. FWIW the US has never provided such notification and Iran has not attempted to enforce the provision against the US (I’m not sure if the same is true with other navies) Their use of naval mines during the tanker wars and discriminatory policy against commercial shipping at that time is contrary to a host of laws and agreements including the 1958 convention and the 1907 Hague VIII.
    Analysis and data is my interest as well – unfortunately the article by Mr. Afrasiabi obscures more than it enlightens. You prefaced the article as “a news analyst who did some homework” in which case I’d have to give him an “f” for a completely one-sided and error-filled “analysis.” In addition to the arguments I gave above, it also ignores immunity status warships receive while conducting innocent passage, so the supposed legal claims the author believes Iran possesses are unfounded.
    Furthermore, I would agree the Bush administration’s policies in the gulf have been reckless, but I don’t see what that has to do with this incident beyond the administration’s hyping and spin of it (which reminds me, incidentally, of the China – EP-3 incident where Bush’s rhetoric made the situation unnecessarily tense and problematic). With the exception of a more serious than average confrontation between the IRGCN and the US, the transit of these three US warships was unremarkable.

  46. Andy says:

    I would add that as a non-lawyer familiar with with maritime law, I don’t see anything that either side did as inherently illegal and, in fact, neither side is claiming such. Were there any real basis for illegal activities on either side in this incident, ISTM one side or the other would at least have mentioned it amidst all the escalating rhetoric.

  47. Andy says:

    Sorry for the third reply – I seem to hit the “post” button before my thoughts are complete.
    I agree we need diplomacy with Iran and I would like to unilaterally reestablish an embassy there. I also concur that an incidents at sea agreement would be useful as well as some kind of direct communication line setup between 5th fleet and both the IRIN and IRGCN.

  48. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for your comments.
    I will respond here to those comments that relate to the maritime subject matter. I will not respond to your statements regarding presumed cases of supposed illegal Iranian activities in the past since this is truly a case of the Pot calling the Kettle “black”.
    You wrote: “Iran’s baseline, TTW, and internal waters claims are contrary to UNCLOS which Iran has signed, but not ratified, but also to the 1958 convention.”
    Since Iran has not ratified the TTW, she is not legally bound by its terms. [US has signed but not ratified CTBT.] Thus her actions cannot be characterized as illegal.
    In regards to the 1958 Convention On The High Seas, High Seas is defined as “all parts of the sea that are not included in he territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State.” It could be argued that the Straits of Hormuz are not “high seas” and thus not subject to that convention.
    So, I think that the most you could have stated was something to the effect that the Iranian claims could be construed as illegal under this or that convention. To establish that, US, EU, or some other state needed to have opened a case at the Hague and argued it in front of the International Court of Justice. No state to my knowledge has done so.
    The closest applicable analogue that I could find was the “Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Turkish Straits” . But no such convention exists between Iran, Oman, and other states. Such a maritime convention might be possible but not under the present circumstances.

  49. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Two citations I can locate at the moment without walking over to the law library across town:
    Amin, S. H., “The Regime of International Straits: Legal Implications for the Strait of Hormuz,” 12 Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce 387-405 (1980-1981) and,
    Ramazani, Rouhollah K., The Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, (Sijtoff and Noordhoff, 1979). International Straits of the World Vol. 3.
    These are dated and I recall one of the Iranian naval officials (or RevGd?) interviewed referred after the incident to a 1982 legal LOS consideration.
    Tony Cordesman’s “Iran, Oil, and the strait of Hormuz” CSIS March 2007 provides some context. http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/070326_iranoil_hormuz.pdf
    I do hope we can move forward on the diplomatic front to achieve such agreements of mutual benefit as can be had under difficult circumstances.

  50. Andy says:

    You’re right to call me out on the use of “illegal” and I admit I used the term too freely, particularly since legality in international relations is often subjective. Still, Iran’s TTW claims are still not in keeping with the 1958 convention nor UNCLOS, but that is really a minor and ancillary point to the matter at hand with this incident and Dr. Afrasiabi’s article.
    To clarify some points, howerver, I’d like to note that although Iran has not ratified UNCLOS, it has formally codified it into it’s own domestic law after signing, but carved out exceptions, some of which I’ve noted above (for a 1994 DoS legal analysis of the law and its divergence from UNCLOS, see this pdf file). I would further note that precedent is important in these matters, which is why the US Navy under Clinton took such pains to challenge Iranian claims. Additionally, Iran actually has maritime boundary agreements with other Gulf states, but over the continental shelf boundary and not TTW. These agreed boundaries are sometimes mistaken for TTW boundaries, which may form the basis of some errors in Dr. Afrasiabi’s article.
    In any event, it was the article and its many gross errors that I really intended to focus on. It’s also vexing to note the article is being reprinted all over the web as some kind of authoritative analysis of the legalities of the incident, particularly on left-leaning sites – presumably as more evidence to bash Bush. Googling “Iran unclos” lists the article as the first search result and several reprints are included in the top ten. My view is that the Bush administration should be condemned for hyping and blowing this incident out of proportion. One can do that, ISTM, without grossly mischaracterizing the actions (or lack thereof) of the US Navy in this incident, as the article implies.

  51. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    “Harper’s” analysis mentioned above in this thread certainly appears apropos, especially if you plug it into a template based upon the following assumptions, or if your prefer, rebuttable presumptions.
    One, all evidence continues to indicate that the GOI intends to launch a strike against Iran — a “low yield” strike perhaps reminiscent of the Wurmser option. Two, all evidence suggests that such a strike will expose the USM personnel deployed in Iraq to a much greater risk of suffering higher casualty rates. Three, an Israeli strike against Iran will greatly hamper US military objectives in Iraq, as the odds increase exponentially that Shia militia in southern Iraq will disrupt, if not sever, the Baghdad to Basra supply line. Four, no evidence suggests that the GOI places a priority on the safety of the USM personnel in Iraq, or anywhere for that matter.
    Harper’s analysis confirms and strengthens these assumptions, thus making them more difficult to “rebut”. Additionally, Harper’s profile of Ehud Barak is consistent with that given to us by the Israeli Ran HaCohen in this report.
    So it is reasonable to ask: what is the first loyalty of the “fool” on this errand? Is it with the USM in Iraq or is it with those who desire a military strike against Iran, thus exposing the USM to greater risks ? These are basic questions, if I may so say. And the fool’s errand proffers evidence that certainly suggests that he is rejecting the conclusions of the NIE for those of another nation. And these intentions, if manifested, will increase the number of American body bags.
    Logic would seem to suggest that the USG’s number one priority would be to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran until the objectives of the USM in Iraq are satisfied and the USM personnel are completely safeguarded. I am yet to see any evidence coming from Bush or the Cheney wing that this is one of their concerns and objectives. To be blunt: one would hope that the commander in chief would do some serious finger pointing and say, “if you take one step that endangers our boys and girls in the USM and, most particularly, in Iraq, then you will have hell to pay.” But no…nothing.
    It is unfortunate but due to the neoconservative agenda, one could certainly argue that at this point in history the interest of the GOI and the USM are mutually exclusive. Maybe that will change once the power of the neoconservatives wanes and their ideology — also known as infantile “creative destruction” — hopefully ends up in the “dustpin” of history. (And, it does make one wonder if Rabbi Teitelbaum and his Hasidic followers were not right all along, not to mention the famous 2003 interview of the Martin Van Creveld.)
    So the fool’s errand surely makes one point clear: the historical significance of the NIE will only increase with time. Why? The answer is manifold but I want to suggest one for consideration that does not receive much attention. If Israel attacks Iran, the blowback is going to fragment the US even more. Odds increase that we will see chaos and the furies. Increasingly people will question the legitimacy of the USG due to the lies of Bush and the Cheney wing.
    The NIE represents what Sun Tzu calls “a sovereign imbued with the moral law.” Nothing could be more important. It is the summit of Sun Tzu’s worldview. So the NIE, if a domestic crisis does incur, will give the USG legitimacy where none can be found elsewhere.
    Due to Harper’s analysis, one conclusion is drawn. The intelligence community may need to continue to leave a historical record that it opposes the fool and his errands. Such an historical record, such as the NIE, will not only allow future historians to excommunicate Bush and Cheney from the American experience, it may help the USG survive their stupidity.
    A mere analogy for consideration: it sure would help if the President’s Daily Brief made it clear that that an Israeli attack on Iran would undermine US national security interests, both home and abroad. It would create the necessary historical record, as it places the president under notice. And, if he ignores the PDG and then supports an attack on Iran at this time in history , it will establish that he is a fool, as he refuses to act on behalf of the USM in Iraq as well as, more generally, the interests of the people of the US and the world.

  52. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for your email.
    I understand your point regarding details of Dr. Afrasiabi’s article. Consider it as part of the usual propaganda of each side – sort of like Fox News vs. Aljazeera.

  53. David Habakkuk says:

    Sidney Smith,
    I presume that the Martin van Creveld interview you are referring to is that in the Dutch magazine Elsevier in January 2003 (available at http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article1154.htm.)
    What van Creveld was arguing was that the attempt to maintain control of the territories conquered in 1967 was leading to the self-destruction of Israel — because of the essentially futile and morally corrosive nature of the kind of war it had to fight as a result. He himself clearly thought that the least worst option was to abandon the territories and build a wall ‘so high, that not even a bird can fly over it’, essentially along the line of the old border.
    He went on to suggest that support for such a solution was crumbling among Israelis — and that this meant that the strategic logic led naturally to the expulsion of the Palestinian population. The interviewer then asked whether the world would ‘allow that kind of ethnic cleansing?’ The exchange provoked by the interviewer’s question went as follows:
    Creveld: That depends on who does it and how quickly it happens. We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets for our air force.
    Interviewer: Wouldn’t Israel then become a rogue state?
    Creveld: Let me quote General Moshe Dayan: “Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” I consider it all hopeless at this point. We shall have to try to prevent things from coming to that, if at all possible. Our armed forces, however, are not the thirtieth strongest in the world, but rather the second or third. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen, before Israel goes under.
    Interviewer: This isn’t your own position, is it?
    Creveld: Of course not. You asked me what might happen and I’ve laid it out. The only question is whether it is already too late for the other solution, which I support, and whether Israeli public opinion can still be convinced. I think it’s too late. With each passing day the expulsion of the Palestinians grows more probable. The alternative would be the total annihilation and disintegration of Israel. What do you expect from us?
    I didn’t know how seriously to take this when I first read it, and still don’t. Among the Fourth Generation War theorists, van Creveld is treated as a kind of demigod, but it is not clear to me whether he is entitled to the such reverence. His analysis of the situation may have been wrong, at the time it was made. And, of course, circumstances now are markedly different to those in 2003.
    If however he is judged to be right, it would seem that there are three possibilities. One is the kind of ethnic cleansing, under the shadow of nuclear threats, he mentions. This would obviously make Israel even more of a strategic liability to the United States than it is now. It would also be a catastrophe for European Jews — who would have either to repudiate Israel or find themselves tarred with the brush of association with a country threatening nuclear strikes on European cities.
    The second possibility is a continuation of what van Creveld takes to be an unsustainable status quo — the eschewing of attempts to redress increasingly unfavourable demographic balance within Palestine as a whole by population expulsion, while maintaining what he sees as an essentially self-destructive attempt to cow the Arab population into submission. According to his analysis, the nemesis of this would be a disintegrating Israel threatening a nuclear ‘Samson option’. Again, Israel becomes more of a strategic liability for the U.S. — and a massive danger to Jews outside Israel.
    Accordingly, the logic of van Creveld’s argument suggests that the only alternative to disaster is withdrawal to the 1967 borders. Certainly, the risks involved in any such withdrawal for Israel are very great — but if he is right they pale into insignificance compared with the risks of the alternatives both to Israel and to Jews worldwide. If one accepts his logic, or course, it follows that a realistic American strategy animated by genuine concern both for Jews in Israel and for Jews outside it would make aid and political support for Israel conditional on withdrawal to the old borders.

  54. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Interesting take on our Fool’s errand, the Filipino Monkey, and shifting Gulf politics:
    “….There is no need to second-guess what could be the impact of the interview on Arab opinion, specially the elite in the Middle East which respects ElBaradei as a world statesman commanding immense prestige. Tehran correctly estimated that it didn’t need to add a comma to what ElBaradei said in his outspoken interview. During the talks with ElBaradei, none of the top leaders in Tehran bothered to match Bush’s rhetoric. They seem to have decided that the best thing is simply to ignore the US president.
    A sole exception is the main speaker at a Friday prayer meeting on January 11 in Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami. The senior cleric said the Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf region knew “it would be in their best interests to be friends with powerful Iran”. He expressed the hope they would be “wise enough not to let a bankrupt and helpless president decide their fate in the last year of his government, as just one more year remains of Bush’s presidency and he is at the end of the line.”
    But short of rhetoric, Tehran has effectively undercut Bush’s diplomatic moves in the region. The Iranian Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday the first session of an Iran-Kuwait joint commission will be held in Tehran this week at the level of the foreign ministers. The deep irony cannot be lost on the region. Bush will still be in the region when the foreign minister of one of Washington’s key allies in the region will be visiting Tehran, breaking fresh ground for cooperation with Iran. ….”

  55. Babak Makkinejad says:

    David Habakkuk:
    Israel is already a target of nuclear retaliation by a number of other nuclear weapons states; and they are aware of it.
    The launching of a nuclear weapon by Israel will be her last act.
    In regards to the Palestinian Arabs in Israel itself – even relatively liberal Israelis want them out of Israel “…there are 22 Arab states and we only have one…”
    I do not believe that the Israelis have the capability to take the world-down. America, the Far East, the sub-Continent, and the Sub-Saharan Africa will not be affected. And of course we all know that “England is eternal”! However, I think that their nuclear arsenal in a threat to Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, Levant, and the Persian Gulf.
    I think van Creveld’s statements were mostly hyperbole. However, I also think it quite stupid to have mentioned Rome as a possible target of Israeli nuclear weapons – for a Jew to explicitly threaten the seat of the spiritual authority of Western Christianity with annihilation is an act of utmost folly. May be the Dutch do not care about the Bishop of Rome but hundreds of millions of other human beings do.
    If I were a Western statesman I would make the nuclear disarmament of Israel the top priority rather than playing space weapons games with Russia and China.

  56. Cieran says:

    If I were a Western statesman I would make the nuclear disarmament of Israel the top priority rather than playing space weapons games with Russia and China.
    And that step alone might lead to the promised land. Hope springs eternal…

  57. David Habakkuk says:

    Babak Makkinejad,
    I agree with you that there is an element of hyperbole in van Creveld’s statements. But I think this comes from a kind of existential despair, rooted in a well-founded conviction that a continuation of current trends threatens a very poor future for Israel and its inhabitants.
    A perhaps more temperate elaboration of my view that a U.S. government genuinely concerned for the interest of Israel (and Jews worldwide) would use ‘compellence’ to ensure withdrawal from the West Bank is made in a recent article in The American Prospect by Gershom Gorenberg (see http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=what_does_it_mean_to_be_the_proisrael_candidate). He also bluntly confronts the question of what supporting Israel means:
    ‘Most critically, support for Israel does not mean support for West Bank settlement, for the Whole Land of Israel, for endless occupation. The sane, mainstream Zionist vision was and is of a democratic state with a Jewish majority, with full rights for all citizens, a country living at peace with its neighbors. (That’s what the country’s declaration of independence says.) Rule over the disenfranchised Palestinians of the West Bank undermines democracy. Every additional settler makes withdrawal more difficult.
    ‘Many moderate Palestinians who only recently supported a two-state solution are despairing of the possibility of partition and are talking about demanding political rights in a single state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. One reason for the Palestinian despair is that the Bush administration talks about two states, but has done close to nothing to push that program. A one-state “solution” means the end of Israel. The conflict between the two national groups within one state is likely to look more like Bosnia in the 1990s than Belgium today.
    ‘Israel’s most basic strategic interest is a peace agreement and a withdrawal.’
    It seems to me that he is right in thinking that advocates of a one-state solution — like Tony Judt — are naïve. Heaven knows, the two-state solution has problems enough. But the alternatives all look, in the long-term, worse. My fear is that the time for it may already have passed — and that those of us in the West who looked on the expansion of the settlements with complacency will turn out to have been false friends of Israel who made inevitable its eventual destruction.
    On the Israeli nuclear arsenal, Babak’s suggestion may indeed seem utopian.
    Again, however, there are real questions about where we are going to end up, if we go on along the routes on which we have been going.
    A manifesto by senior NATO military officers and strategists recommends readiness to resort to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to try to halt what is described as the ‘imminent’ spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
    (See http://www.guardian.co.uk/nato/story/0,,2244782,00.html)
    Among the many objections to the suggestion, I fear that these NATO luminaries are tying hopes of preventing nuclear threats to a strategy which will simply be unimplementable.
    For one thing, what do they think would happen to communal relations in countries like Britain, if we were involved in a nuclear attack on a Muslim country?

  58. Cieran says:

    On the Israeli nuclear arsenal, Babak’s suggestion may indeed seem utopian.
    I think it’s utopian and utterly practical at the same time. The Israeli nuclear weapons stockpile contributes to much of what is wrong in the Middle East, and getting rid of it would help force a badly-needed clarity on that region (if not on the entire world).
    It’s not like the U.S. doesn’t have plenty of nuclear capability to protect Israel, including missiles that can be parked just offshore. And whether we might rain destruction on the Middle East or they might rain destruction on the Middle East will not matter to those unfortunate souls who have to clean up the mess of a nuclear attack.
    Then again, I suffer from utopian tendencies, too… but one can dream, at least.

  59. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    David Habakkuk
    Thank you for your analysis of the 03 Martin Van Creveld interview and, yes, this is the interview to which I also refer. Before I tell you my conclusion from studying this interview, I first must tell you that, although I have jettisoned the vernacular of fourth generation warfare, I have the deepest respect for the brilliance of Martin Van Creveld, if for no other reason than his prescient statement made to Forward in 05:
    “For misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them, Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial along with the rest of the president’s men. If convicted, they’ll have plenty of time to mull over their sins.”
    Strong words indeed. And every time I read those words I am reminded of the following unpleasant thought that, at least to me, has symbolic repercussions. In 1986 the US Congress granted Natan Sharansky a Congressional Gold Medal and then in 2006 Pres. Bush awarded Sharansky a Presidential Medal of Freedom. I dare say that if instead of Sharansky, the Congress and the US President had recognized Martin Van Creveld, then the US, Israel, and the world would face better odds of peace in 08 and beyond.
    I mention Sharansky because Israel increasingly has embraced his views while at the same time has rejected those of Martin Van Creveld. From what I can glean, almost all Israelis now ignore or revile Van Creveld and simply scoff at all his warnings, preferring to point instead to the past military glories of 67 as if it bestows some kind of eternal invincibility. As a result, one of the great military minds of this world has been shuffled to the sidelines as if he is some doddering old man. It’s a pity.
    The lonely pessimism — what you refered to as “existential despair” — that permeated his 03 interview is the salient feature that jumps out to any reader of the 03 interview and it makes his comments not only remarkable but also worthy of further study. For that reason alone I think the “existential despair” reflected in this 03 interview is of monumental importance to future historians of Zionism, although I admit this idea is based upon the following assumption: Martin Van Creveld has sacrificed his life for Zionism and in many ways embodies the Zionist ideal. Surely at an earlier, and undoubtedly happier, time in his life he was full of hope for the potential of Zionism. But by 03 his outlook had transitioned to one of the deepest pessimism. It must be an agonizing experience, and one must ask what vision gives him such “existential despair”, as it may help in further strategic analysis of the Middle East.
    One can only speculate but my belief is that Martin Van Creveld, unlike Sharansky and most leaders of Israel, has looked over the horizon as few have and has seen Zionism lose its center and further fragment in a cataclysm of violence. From what I can tell, he believes that the State of Israel cannot maintain the occupation and win a “fourth generation” or (to use the phraseology of Bernard Fall) a “revolutionary” war against, first, the Palestinians and, second, the Arab and Muslim world in general. Ultimately the State will collapse out of exhaustion and moral bankruptcy.
    So the only option left for a two state solution is a return to the 1967 borders. And not coincidentally, he published his book, “Defending Israel”, detailing the reasons for a return to the 67 borders. But few listened and most of those that did held his views in derision. Such a lack of respect, of course, suggests hubris at work in the collective psyche of the leaders of Israel. (and, apparently, the US). They do so at great peril
    The pessimism of the 03 interview makes clear that Martin Van Creveld by then had realized that any chance of a return to the 67 borders was nonexistent and therefore the chance for a viable two State solution had vanished. No doubt, the description you gave us by Gorenberg about a two State solution sounds ideal — and one with which I agree — but such is no longer attainable and, if anything, it now simply acts as a pretext for continuing the same policies of ethnic cleansing to which the GOI had devoted itself. The nation has turned to the zeitgeist of Sharansky who says that Jerusalem must remain undivided for all eternity. An undivided Jerusalem — with all eyes on rebuilding the Third Temple — is part of the shift of Zionism from a secular beginning to a more religious and orthodox kind of Zionism — a type of Zionism the Satmar rabbis fear the most and that even Gorenberg details in his work on the settlers of the West Bank.
    So the two State solution is no longer a possibility. And the one State solution is really post Zionism and, of coursed, attacked viscerally by all Zionists. The one State solution has its adherents (I believe Prof. K at sst is one of them) but a one State solution spells the end of Zionism. Zionists know this and odds are high that at least some would invoke Masada before going down that route.
    So with Zionism operating within those parameters, what is the ultimate end game? If I understand the message from Martin Van Creveld’s 03 interview, ultimately it is pressing the launch buttons at Dimona.
    With all due respect to Babak, such a conclusion is not hyperbole, in my view. With no chance of winning a “fourth generation” war — as the second Lebanon war made clear — and with a State embracing a covenant towards ethnic cleansing, the GOI to survive must shift the battle to the opposite end of the spectrum from such warfare and catapult it to a different plane. That means towards a highly conventional and technologically oriented clash of civilizations where the GOI fights like a mad dog. And, of course, at the opposite end of the spectrum from what Martin Van Creveld refers to as fourth generation warfare one finds the State temple at Dimona.
    If this nightmare vision is correct, then no matter the circumstances, we see Israel in a vicious cycle spiraling downward and out of control. (Yes, I am reminded of the famous Yeats poem). If I understand the subtext of Van Creveld’s 03 interview, Zionism is unfolding into a type of ethnic nationalism that results in moral bankruptcy, regardless of what the State does. And as the ethnic cleansing continues, the State continually loses moral legitimacy. The world becomes outraged with military tactics of ethnic cleansing; the GOI recoils from the criticism and IDF strikes back harder. Round and round it goes, and with each completion of the cycle, the chance of cataclysmic violence increases. If Dimona is unleashed under these circumstances, all moral legitimacy is vanishes.
    From what I can tell, this crisis of existential despair was the nightmare that Rabbi Teitelbaum warned the world. And increasingly, I see an intersection of thought among secular Jews — such as Van Creveld and, in the US, Philip Weiss –with the warnings of Rabbi Teitelbaum. Sure, Rabbi Teitelbaum’s conclusions come from the perspective of religious devotion and intense spiritual sacrifice, but, Rabbi Teitelbaum, in all his brilliance, also looked over the horizon and perhaps saw a similar nightmare that Martin Van Creveld now sees and Philip Weiss intuitively senses due to his moral courage.
    It didn’t have to be this way, at least in my view. I am painting with a broad brush, but if Zionism had followed the way of Buber instead of Jabotinsky, then the State may have gone down a different path over the past 60 years, and, as result, the IDF would have developed a different tradition of military tactics. One can only speculate of course but if Buber’s view of Zionism — the “I” and “Thou” approach — had prevailed, then the IDF, at some point, may have tried to develop tactics where the goal is not to burn the village in the name of Jabotinsky’s “iron wall” but, instead, attempted to win the hearts and minds. If over the past 60 years, or at least since the 70’s, the GOI and the IDF had surrounded Israel with concentric circles of hospitals and schools for the Palestinians (to out Hamas, Hamas to borrow from and adapt the phrase of “out g, the guerilla” from USM tactics in VN), then the military and the people may have emerged on the same side of the struggle. Respect the local culture and you will win. This is the way to victory according to the US military tradition and experience. But the GOI and the IDF have specifically rejected USM tactics, and odds are high the Rubicon has been crossed as the spirit of the Obed Yinon plan continues to rule the land.
    So what is the message of Martin Van Creveld? If you believe that Martin Van Creveld embodies Zionism then the 03 interview suggests that Zionism is hurtling towards an experience of “existential despair”. And it is this “existential despair” that gives us an assumption upon which future strategic analysis of the Middle East should proceed. Without a return to the 67 borders, the only avenue left are the nuclear warheads of Dimona.

  60. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Sidney O. Smith III:
    There is a saying in Persian: “When the builder the foundation stone has set skew, the wall will reach heaven skewed.”
    There was never a way to have Zionism with human face towards the Arabs and Muslims; the project in itself had the seeds of its current dilemma.
    Anyway, Arabs would not have accepted any powerful Jewish presence in Palestine – Arab and Muslim had to be on top; so to speak.

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