Archive for the Obama foreign policy Category

If Israel Attacks Iran, Options Get Worse!

Posted in 2012 Presidential Election, Iran, Israel and the United States, Middle East and US Election, Middle East Peace, Obama foreign policy with tags , , , on February 10, 2012 by whatafteriraq

Scenarios about the growing possibility that Israel will attack Iran in was would very likely be a feckless attempt to destroy the Iranian nuclear weapons program and more or less permanently to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons capability were discussed in this space earlier this week (“Israel, Iran, and the United States”) and generally concluded both that such anattack was becoming increasingly likely and that it does not serve U.S. interests. This column takes the analysis a step forward, with the purpose of trying to answer the hypothetical (at least for the moment) question of what happens after such an Israeli strike occurs. As the title suggests, the attractiveness of post-attack options for the United States are unpromising.

The heart of the speculation that follows is what does Iran do in response to an attack? In a literal sense, of course, we do not and cannot know in advance, and neither do the Iranians or the Israelis, which is why it is an exercise in speculation. The reader can disagree with the premises here, and I cannot refute them with facts not in hand; the same is true for my arguments against counter scenarios.

Two things seem safe to presume, however. First, if Israel attacks Iran, the Iranians will respond, almost certainly violently. They will have no choice for both domestic and international political reasons, and whatever they do will receive less criticism than their policy actions before such an attack occurs. Second, the nature, severity, and reactions to an Iranian counterattack will depend on the nature, extent, and effects of an Israeli raid. The more extensive and, presumably, effective an Israeli attack is, the larger the probable responses by the Iranians will likely be.

If it cannot restrain the Israelis in the first place (the fairly clear intent of the Obama administration), the United States will not have many options in dealing with Iranian responses. There will be international sympathy for the Iranians that does not exist now, because they will have been the victim of aggression under the provisions of the UN Charter, and the more dead Iranians (especially civilians) the raid produces, the more widespread sympathy will be, even among Arabs who the Israelis maintain actually approve of the general idea of punishing the Iranians and defanging their nuclear potential. The American post-attack position is thus conmpromised in that support for Israel in effect sanctions an illegal act of aggression that results in the deaths of innocent Iranians. The degree to which the United States will further be compromised depends on how complicit this country was in the attack in the first place: the more we were involved, the more we will fall within the blanket of condemnation. Possibly the most we can do is to warn eveyone–especially Iran–quietly that their retaliation cannot threaten Israeli existence. Doing so will not, of course, please either the Israelis or their more dogmatic supporters in the United States.

If an attack occurs, the Iranians will have several response options, depending on how extensive the attack was. The sronger the response, of course, the less it serves U.S. interests.

1. If the attack is small and the effects minor (in other words, if it fails from an Israeli viewpoint), they can simply complain about the act of aggression and use it as leverage to lift international sanctions against it. In the process, they will almost certainly blame the United States for helping to plan and execute the raid, with reminders of U.S. perfidy toward Iran in cases like Operation Ajax (the 1953 CIA operation that overthrew Iran’s only popularly elected government) and the shoot down of an unarmed Iranian commercial airliner in the late 1980s.

2. Since the Israeli attack is likely to be more successful than that (or the Israelis wouldn’t do it), then the responses begin to escalate. At a minimum, they would include additional resources to Hezballah in the form of additional rockets that will coming raining down on Israel. The Israelis will complain that these are unprovoked, and hardly anyone will believe them internationally (escept the political right in the U.S.). An Israeli raid equals more “terrorist” attacks against Israel.

3. Depending on the level of success the Israeli attack achieves, there are two additional actions the Iranians can contemplate. The first would be retaliatory air strikes against the Israelis. Such a response would possess symmetry to the Israeli raid, and given that they were responses to the original Israeli action, regimes that normally do not support Iran (such as Jordan) would likely not object to Iranian overflight to reach Israeli targets. The Israelis would, of course, object loudly both to the provisions of those rights and the attacks, raising the prospects of escalation to a broader conflict that could involve the region.

4. Ultimately, Iran could begin a retaliatory campaign intended or with the side effect of causing an escalation to general war in the Middle East against Israel. Hardly anyone wants to see this or argues it is very probable, but once the dogs of war are unleashed, they are sometimes hard to control.

None of these options, and counter responses to them, serve any visible U.S. interests. The cessation of the Iranian nuclear program would serve such an interest, but it is one of the most unlikely outcomes, and only becomes less implausible as the scale of the Israeli attack and thus the likely virulence of the Iranian response expands. The larger that response becomes, the more difficult the problem of U.S. responses becomes. Success on one objective makes other objectives (e.g. regional stability) more problematical.

Israel and many of its supporters seek to deny what Iran will (or may) do in reaction to an Israeli attack, and they may be right. No one can know for sure, but it is counterintuitive to believe that a chauvinistic, paranoid, authoritarian Iran will take an attack lying down. They will respond somehow, and one or more of the options suggested here seems reasonable. Each option puts the United States in an increasingly untenable position of defending Israel from a retaliation many around the world (including many who dislike Iran and oppose their nuclear weapons effort) will feel is either justified or understandable. In these circumstances, the U.S. can shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel, or it can side with the rest of the world. It is not a happy set of options.

The only way to avoid something like these dynamics is to avoid and, to the extent possible, prevent an Israeli attack in the first place. That is what the Obama administration is doing, and the radical right is condemning this as limp-wristed and inadequately supportive of our ally Israel. They are wrong!


U.S. Humanitarian Activism: Libya and Syria

Posted in Middle East and US Election, Middle East Conflict, Obama foreign policy, US Domestic Politics, US Values and Freign Policy with tags , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2011 by whatafteriraq

The remaining hot spots from the Arab Spring are in Libya and Syria. In both cases, popular uprisings erupted against tyrannical governments inspired at least patrially by the Arab Spring events that began in Tunisia and moved quickly to Egypt and elsewhere. Distinguishing characteristics of these two cases, however, have been the continuing brutality of the regime against its dissidents and the dogged organized resistance to the regime’s actions by those seeking change. This level of resistance and the need for continued bloody suppression distinguishes Libya and Syria from places like Bahrain and Yemen, where dissidence was fairly quickly suppressed and things returned to fairly quickly to whatever passes for normalcy.

Libya and Syria are different from one another and from the others. Their duration sets them aside from other Arab Spring events. Libya has produced a full-scale revolutionary movement that, with the considerable assistance of NATO air forces, may be closing in on the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime; the effort in Syria has been less organized and militarized, but worldwide publicity has resulted in a steady drum beat of international demands for the resignation of Syrian president Bashir al-Assad that are increasingly difficult for him to resist.

The level of violence, even savagery, of government oppression of resisters in both countries has raised both to the level of international humanitarian disasters or crises–situations where there is widespread atrocity against or abuse of a country’s citizens by its government. One response to such a situation is humanitarian activism, which I define as intervention (including military force as its most dramatic manifestation) in humanitarian crises by other countries to end the conditions defining the disaster. The United States has a long, if uneven, record of action or inaction in such situations; in both Libya and Syria, however, the United States has adopted a fairly passive form of opposition to the disasters, preferring to defer leadership to others. Why?

It seems to me that to understand when the United States does and does not become personally invested in these kinds of situations requires looking at three variables. The first is American mood at the time. Is the United States feeling especially optimistic about its internal situation and place in the world, in which case it is likely to become internally activist, seeking to spread its own message and gospel to others? Or is the United States feeling insecure and recessive, turning inward and evincing a sense of isolation from world events that is part of the U.S. historical DNA?

Second is the nature of the international environment in which any proposed action might occur. Partly, this assessment reflects Americans’ self-assessment and confidence in themselves, their ability to shape the world, and their confidence in their world role. At the same time, this assessment includes the competing demands on American national security resources elsewhere in the world: can the United States afford to divert scarce resources (especially military) to humanitarian missions that can or might be needed elsewhere?

The third variable is geopolitics, and it also has at least two facets. One is the American relationship with the country in which the disaster is occurring. There were, for instance, no shortage of what now are called humanitarian crises in countries with which the United States was allied dring the Cold War (Central Africa and Central America offer fine examples) where the Unied States did not condemn the harsh treatment of populations by “friendly” rulers; given the dangers of Cold War escalation, however, all we did with similar events in the communist world (e.g. Cambodia) was condemn them. Context may be everything. At the same time, the attitude and willingness of friends and allies is also a geopolitical factor: the United States almost certainly would not have dispatched and kept force in the Balkans in the 1990s and beyond were it not for the insistence of NATO allies.

Different periods of recent history can be gauged in these terms. During the Cold War, there was basically no such thing as humanitarian activism, because geopolitical, Cold War considerations precluded it. The term entered the lexicon after the Cold War ended, and there was a spate of such activism by the United States in the 1990s, when all the variables aligned favorably: the American mood was confident and expansive, the rest of the environment was fairly placid and undemanding, and there were few geopolitical inhibitions to preclude identifying and stomping on the bad guys who abused and denied the rights of their citizens.

And then there is now. The United States has not acted decisively in either the Libyan and Syrian cases. In Libya, we play a very limited supporting role (that has had opposition anyway), and beyond leading the verbal condemnation of Assad, have done very little in Syria. Admittedly, these are two countries where the U.S. has few interests and even fewer levers of influence it can apply, but it has clearly not been an instance of any kind of humanitarian activism by any measure.

The three variable help explain this. Two of them are negative. In the current economic climate, the United States is not feeling good and positive about itself, and were the Obama administration to propose any more than what it is doing, it would be accused of taking its “eye off the ball” of our real priorities, of trying to divert attention away from its internal problems, or both (most likely both). At the same time, the United States is still heavily invested in military adventures elsewhere in the region that strain resources; the American people would hardly embrace a new Middle Eastern military adventure. The only positive variable is international support for activism. Europe, after all, is devoting resources to Libya (which it arguably cannot afford), and even other Middle Eastern countries have condemned the Syrians. In a sense, this willingness of others to take the lead relieves the United States of any pressure it might otherwise feel to get out front on either crisis.

Libya and Syria may or may not represent the long-term future of American humanitarian activism, but they are likely to be models for the next few years, until American prosperity and self-confidence reappears and we are looking at the world differently than we are today. If one is against such interventions anyway, then “let the bad times roll,” since they are keeping us from doing what we have no business doing anyway, as Ron Paul would argue. If the United States is the shining city on the hill (Reagan’s typification) and should be ready and willing to help transform the world, wait for a better day.

Tempering Afghan Optimism

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Obama foreign policy, US Domestic Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2009 by whatafteriraq

The recent announcements and statements of support for President Obama’s “surge” in Afghanistan have left me a bit confused, and I wonder if readers can help me out here. Something just does not compute.

The rationale of the surge is, like Iraq, to improve conditions in Afghanistan enough to turn thcountry back over to the Afghans, notably the Afghan National Army (ANA) and police (ANP), sometimes collectively referred to as the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The idea is that while additional American forces conduct clear and hold operations to secure and maintain control of parts of the country still under Taliban rule, accelerated training of ANSF will yield anative force capable of fending for itself as the United States begins disengagement in 2011.

This whole plan sounds a great deal like Richard Nixon’s Vietnamization program (as Fareed Zakaria points out in this past week’s Newsweek) or possibly David Petraeus Iraqification program of 2007. It will be remembered, of course, that Vietnamization succeeded in providing cover for American withdrawal from Southeast Asia but did not, for a variety of reasons still being debated, result in the desired outcome of a non-communist South Vietnam. The outcome in Iraq, being heralded as a great triumph by some, remains up in the air. Iraqification has provided the cover behind which American withdrawal is occurring; what Iraq will look like after we are gone is a matter of pure conjecture. I am not sanguine we are going to like the final outcome, but that is simply one person’s opinion.

Is that all the additional 30,000 troops are about in Afghanistan? Admitting that President Obama inherited a virtually impossible domestic and international situation in Afghanistan (see my recent post “Obama: Damned If He Does…), this seems a very modest and questionable outcome. Precedent seems unpromising, so why do we think it will work?

The answer, which gets us to my original concern, is that things are different here than in Vietnam, where the parallel policy failed (other than getting us out). We are told that the major difference is that the Taliban, unlike the National Liberation Front (NLF)/Viet Cong (VC), who had widespread political support, the Taliban are almost universally hated in Afghanistan. One poll that is repeatedly cited suggests a mere 6 percent of Afghans support them. Moreover, the South Vietnamese government never had any real popular support, whereas the government of Hamid Karzai has at least the potential for such support. Hold on here!

If the Taliban are as hated as we now maintain, how have they not only kept going but expanded their power and control? Just a couple months ago, American officials were decrying the “almost inexhaustible” supply of potential Taliban recruits that made suppressing them impossible. What has changed? As best one can tell, very little has changed in terms of the basic structure of political loyalties in the country. The Taliban either does have support in the Afghan population (at least among Pashtuns), or it does not. If it lacks support, it may be possible to isolate and “degrade” it. If not, the likelihood of success of the surge is highly questionable, to put it kindly. Which is it?

The other element is the transformation of the ANSF. Developing a native force capable of defending itself from a threat that has been degraded was central to Vietnamization and Iraqification as well: make the task more manageable. It failed in Vietnam, and the outcome in Iraq is still a work in progress. Why should it work in Afghanistan? The official view is that the ANSFcan indeed be developed and that since Karzai himself is not known to be corrupt, maybe his government can gain legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans. The other side os this argument is that it is exactly the lack of popular support for the regime that has fueled the insurgency all along (as is normally the case in insurgencies). What has changed to make people move to support of the regime? That is not clear.

The current optimism over Afghanistanstarts from, it seems to me, some very shaky assessments about what is happening on the ground there. Three months ago, the Taliban appeared to be a virtually unstoppable juggernaut, and now they are a weak and hated canker sore to be excised. During the recent presidential election, the Afghan regime was a hopelessly corrupt bunch of thieves who could only succeed by stealing the election, and now they are a hopeful beacon for the future of Afghanistan. Is this all public relations? Or has something really changed? Help me out here.

Obama’s Wing and a Prayer

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Obama foreign policy, Pakistan with tags , , , on December 3, 2009 by whatafteriraq

On Tuesday night, President Obama announced his new “strategy” for Afghanistan. It held few surprises, just disappointments. The President’s rhetoric soared, as usual. The content did not. Instead, he sent the country down the road with a series of assumptions and plans that can be called, at best, a wing and a prayer.

For the President’s plan to have any chance whatsoever of succeeding, two things must happen in Afghanistan, and one in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the 30,000 additional American troops must prove capable of blunting the Taliban’s success in numerous parts of the country (mostly the Pashtun east and south) and change the war’s momentum away from the insurgents and toward the government. In addition, The Karzai government must, with U.S. assistance, rapidly expand an Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) capable of picking up the fight and succeeding. In Pakistan, the government must act to crush the Pakistani Taliban and assure that the Afghan Aaliban have no safe haven to which they can return. There is every reason to believe none of this will work, particularly in the 18-month time frame the President laid out as the exit point for the beginning of the removal of American forces.

The additional 30,000 U.S. troops will increase the physical American commitment to about 100,000, more or less the equivalent of Soviet strength in the 1980s. The idea is that additional troops will allow American to clear and hold areas, thereby increasing security and beginning the conversion of Afghans away from the Taliban. In current conditions, we have been able to clear but not hold, meaning efforts at conversion have been handicapped, since Afghans knew the Americans would leave and Taliban would return to punish collaborators. Secured areas can then be turned over to the ANSF.

What’s the problem here? It is, as pointed out repeatedly in this space, that foreign troops cannot perform the function of changing political loyalties away from the Taliban to the government. No matter how hard we try and how good we are at our mission, we are, and always be OUTSIDERS, and that means the ENEMY, to many we seek to “save.” That fact is fundamental and means the chances of success are very nearly zero on this count.

The second part is the rapid expansion of the ANSF with the infusion of additional American trainers. The development of the ANSF has been painfully slow and arguably ineffective for reasons that only partly have to do with the number of Americans doing the training. The real problems have included lack of support for the government, the belief the ANSF is basically an anti-Pashtun force, and the incredible corruption in the country, to say nothing of Taliban intimidation of recruits. More U.S. forces cannot improve that situation and suddenly turn a ramshackle process into a marvel of inefficiency. If anything, the rapid expansion of the ANSF will probably mean a lot of Taliban will join and act as spies against the ANSF’s operation, as happened in Vietnam with the ARVNs. If the ANSF cannot be enlargened and invigorated, there will be no one to hand the secured areas to.

Forcing the Pakistanis to alter their basic military efforts toward the Taliban (who, it must be remembered, they created in the first place) is similarly fraught with uncertainty and will, if early reactions are any indication, meet with resistance. Messing up or antagonizing the Pakistanis is not exactly what we have in mind in the region.

If clear and hold does not  change the political landscape in Afghanistan and the ANSF cannot be magically transformed into a force that can take care of the country themselves, then the whole strategy falls apart. The President acknowledged this possibility when he said that the military situation on the ground, and military commanders’ assessments of those conditions, would guide decisions regarding the July 2011 target to begin withdrawing American forces.

Let’s hope the President and his aides are right in their assessments and that the strategy is in fact more substantial and more likely to succeed than I have suggested here. From where I sit, however, it really does look like little more than a wing and a prayer.

Barack Obama and the Ghost of LBJ

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Obama foreign policy, US Values and Freign Policy with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2009 by whatafteriraq

President Obama has apparently reached his decision on Afghanistan, which he will explain to the public on Tuesday night. If early leaks intended to get us more used to–and presumably comfortable with–the content are correct, he is going to give General McChrystal most of what he wants, although with some time constraints (the “off ramps”) and implicit implications that the commitment is constrained, not open ended. Details to follow.

I personally believe he has reached the wrong decision, that Afghanistan is an impossible quest best left to those supposed hard, realistic Don Quixotes who cannot see a lost cause when they see one. TheWashington Post offered what is probably the consensual rationale for going ahead: doing less won’t work, and although we aren’t sure doing more will, it is the best we can do. Let’s double down on that inside straight and ignore what Einstein said about insanity. Anyone who believes this all will end well has a far more intimate relationship with the tooth fairy than I do. In my view, the only way to quite losing in Afghanistan is to leave. Period!

What about the ghost of LBJ? As older readers will recall, LBJ was faced with three contradictory imperatives in 1965. First, he wanted to push the package of reform measures collectively known as the Great Society and including landmark civil rights and entitlement programs. Second, he decided that he was not going to be the president who lost Vietnam and thus ordered a series of escalations that predictably did not work but mired the country in that conflict for eight more years before the public became so sick of it that we finally left. Third, he had to figure out how to pay for all this. His options were deferring the Great Society and financing Vietnam with actual money, raising taxes so he could pursue both simultaneously and fiscally responsibly, or by fiancing both with red ink (deficit spending). Then, as now, there was no political stomach for the fiscally responsible course of tax increases, and LBJ feared if he did so, his domestic priorities would be in jeopardy. In these circumstances, he chose to pursue both the Great Society and the war and pay for it without raising taxes. The result, of course, was substantial deficits that helped lead to an economic crisis in the years after the war was over.

President Obama faces a similar scenario today. The economic stimulus, reforms in education and health reform form his version of the Great Society, and the war in Afghanistan–whether it is otherwise reminiscent in other ways or not–is his version of Vietnam. With these competing priorities, he also faces the question of how to pay for all this, and his options are similar.

Recent estimates suggest a certain symmetry to his options: the price tags of health reform and the war in Afghanistan are estimated to be about the same–about $900 billion over the next decade. In terms of programs, he has three choices. He can pursue health reform and pay for it with Afghanistan savings; he can finance Afghanistan and defer health reform to pay for Afghanistan (which is what the Republicans basically want him to do); or he can pursue both programs. Guess which one he will choose?

To give away the answer, assume he chooses door number three (pursuing both). How does he pay for it? Choosing the option means that cutting other spending is probably not even close to meaningful, so he has two choices: raise taxes or bleed red ink. The GOP, certainly not known for its responsibility or helpfulness in these matters, opposes both: no new taxes and no more deficits. Their answer is to junk the current health reform package and let the “market” solve the problem. Chalk up one more for the health insurance lobby! In their most pious possible way, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, et. al. will intone they want both to protect national security and to make the population well–just not the way Obama suggests. Beyond cutting taxes and genuflecting before the Market Gods, the Grumpy Old Party, of course, has no clue.

This leaves Obama in an impossible position that is somewhat of his own doing. He has painted himself into a corner by labeling Afghanistan a righteous war vital to the United States (a “war of necessity”) and thus can hardly sneak away from it. At the same time, he will not back away from health reform, which is to him what the Great Society was to LBJ. I do not know how he feels personally about the only truly responsible, “big boy” option (raising taxes, probably substantially), but he is not dumb enough to press for this in an election year. If he mumbles a lot on Tuesday night, this is why.

There is one more unsettling BHO-LBJ comparison. LBJ desperately wanted to be remembered for the Great Society, a legacy that includes many familiar programs like Medicare, but what he is mostly remembered for is Vietnam. Obama, I suspect, wants mostly to be remembered for health care and other domestic reforms. But will he be remembered principally for the failure in Afghanistan that is as certain as the commitment he makes on Tuesday? It is not a happy prospect.

Obama and Afghanistan: Damned If He Does…

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Obama foreign policy with tags , , , , on November 20, 2009 by whatafteriraq

Within the next several days, President Obama will likely announce his decision regarding American strategy in Afghanistan. He has kept his counsel close to the vest on this, and I have no idea good enough to bet on what he will decide. One thing I do know for certain: regardless of what his decision is, it will be condemned loudly by part of the public. On Afghanistan (as well, apparently, as almost anything else he does), Obama is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t, quite apart from what “does” and doesn’t” may mean and the merits of whatever decision he makes.

The political debate could hardly be less helpful. Most of it has surrounded the request that General Stanley McChrystal has made for additional forces to fight and “win” in Afghanistan. One side says Obama should do what McChrystal wants, because he has superior understanding of the military situation. The other side says that sending more troops into that country is essentially pouring bad rersources (including American lives) after good. Both positions suggest their basis for pillorying the President if their position is rejected: fail to send more men and he is an unpatriotic fool endangering people’s lives; sending the men needlessly puts more personnel at risk for no good reason. Figure out the popular position among those options.

Part of the problem is that the debate starts from the wrong question. As Obama keeps trying to point out, the question of troop levels depends on what we seek to accomplish: what is our political goal? That goal can be either to assist in the establishment of a stable, anti-Al Qaeda Afghanistan or, more modestly, simply to try to create conditions that inhibit Al Qaeda use of Afghanistan territory, quite apart from who rules the country how. Once that determination is made (and as best I can tell, it has not been), then the question of strategy arises: what do we need to do to accomplish whatever goal we have chosen? At this point, the troop numbers become relevant, but not before.

Questions of strategy necessarily take us beyond the realm of the known to the unknown and,with any precise ability to gauge, the unpredictable. Is, for instance, the creation of a stable Afghan state possible under any conditions (history suggest caution) or, more particularly, under Hamid Karzai? Karzai says he will root out corruption (a major source of instability) and even convene a loya jirga to work out the details. Is he sincere? Will this work? Who knows? I don’t know, and if you say you do, you are lying (or at least stretching the evidence). If the goal is unattainable (or is so judged) , does it make sense to pursue it?

The same is true of the more modest goal of simply suppressing Al Qaeda. If that is the goal, it probably entails abandoning Karzai,and although other things about the equation are conjectural, it is almost certainly that his government cannot survive with the Americans to prop it up (his brave words of moving toward independence notwithstanding). It may be that the United States could strike a deal with a non-Karzai, probably Taliban-participating government to control, even destroy, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan (what effect this would have on neighboring Pakistan is a separate matter). Is such an agreement possible? I don’t know. Might the Taliban lie and say they will cooperate on controlling Al Qaeda and then welsh on the deal? Could be.

Once one has decided what goal to pursue, then, and only then, do questions of troop levels and uses become relevant. If our job is to keep Karzai in power, then 40,000 more troops (possibly even many more than  that) may be needed and appropriate. McChrystal’s idea, apparently, is to use extra forces to shore up security in the cities while the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) ramp up. Will that work? Maybe. Maybe not. But for sure, it is much more complicated than simply suggesting that war should be turned over to the generals. (Or,or that matter, for tritely saying war is too important to be left to the generals.)

President Obama faces a very tough decision, and what he should decide is nowhere nearly as clear as those screaming from one side or the other suggest. One thing, however, is clear about the decision: there will be vocal, shrill, even hysterical reaction–especially opposition–regardless of what it is. The bad news is that, indeed, the president will be damned regardless of what he does. The good news is that knowing that means he can make the decision regardless of its popularity and base his decision on what he considers the strategic rather than political merits. That may be the best possible atmosphere in which to reachsuha momentous decision. So let the bitching and moaning begin!

An Israeli Immodest Proposal

Posted in Israel-Palestine Peace Process, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Obama foreign policy, US Values and Freign Policy on May 26, 2009 by whatafteriraq

Through Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, the Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahou has announced what it thinks of President Obama’s two-state solution to the Palestine question: No thanks! In Yaalon’s own words, “Western way of thinking (read the two-state solution) has proven irrelevant and dangerous to this region.” By this, of course, he means that Likud reaffirms its opposition to an independtn Palsetinian state, a position on which Mr. Netanyahou hinted at the possibility of some softening while he was in Washington. Yeah, right.

Likud has an alternative solution, of course. According to Mr. Yaalon, what Likud proposes is a settlement whereby part of the West Bank would be annexed permanently to Israel (presumably the parts already parts of Israeli settlements), and the rest would be given back to Jordan, from whom the West Bank was seized in 1967. Palestinians would have the choice of becoming citizens of Israel or Jordan. Problem solved?

Never mind the international legal niceties of all this, such as the fact that annexation of occupied territories violates several legal agreements to which Israel is a party. Never mind what the Palestinians may feel about all this, since it ends their dream of an independent state. Never mind that Jordan has shown absolutely no interest in such an arrangement. All those things are irrelevant.

What is relevant is that such a solution serves two Israeli (ay least Likud) purposes. First, it means the settlers (who are, of course, the electoral backbone of the current regime in Israel) do not have to move. Second, it avoids the appearance of a fully sovereign Palestinian state on Israel’s borders that might, like virtually all other states, develop its own military and security forces.

What is the Obama administration to say about this? Presumably, as long as it goes no farther than being a trial balloon, we will do nothing beyond expressing our reservations through diplomatic channels. If, however, this goes beyond its present status to something more formal, then there is a real problem that includes the possibility of an open breach in U.S.-Israeli relations. Are the Israelis really willing to let matters go to that? We’ll see.

Note: I am going on vacation for a week, so there will be no posting until next week.