Now that the flap over Syria has been settled (not really...), I guess it's safe for me to get back on the road. Translated: I'm off to Brazil this evening to give a series of lectures at Fundação Getulio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. It is my first visit to Brazil, and I'm looking forward to seeing these two cities and hearing what the Brazilians think about Obama, U.S. foreign policy, the NSA (!), and the future of world politics (among other things). Blogging will be sporadic at best until I return next week.
As for Syria, one should not be churlish and cavil about the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough that gets Obama and Kerry out of the corner they painted themselves into. The path by which we got here wasn't pretty, but as Lefty Gomez said, "I'd rather be lucky than good." Or as Bismarck famously noted, there's a special providence that "looks after drunkards, fools, and the United States of America." We've some ways to go before the chemical weapons issue is resolved, of course, and this is at best a first step toward ending the grinding civil war in Syria, but realists take what we can get in this imperfect world. Right now, this deal looks better than bombing Syria to no good purpose or having Congress in visible revolt against Obama's handling of the whole matter.
Photo: NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
What would I like to ask Obama and Romney at tonight's debate? Before I get to that question, let's start with the rather revealing list of selected topics. They are:
1. America's role in the world
2. Our longest war -- Afghanistan and Pakistan?*
3. Red lines -- Israel and Iran?*
4. The changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism
5. The rise of China and tomorrow's world
Well, if I were European or Latin American I'd be feeling mighty dissed. No discussion of the Euro crisis? Europe was the focus of U.S. strategy for most of our history, and now it doesn't even rate a mention in the presidential debates? NATO or Greece might make a cameo appearance here and there, but what's striking is how the Greater Middle East and Asia dominate the list of issues.
Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa aren't going to get much attention either, unless someone brings up Sudan or the "new face of terrorism" includes the drug war. Maybe Brazil will come up as a "rising power," but I'll bet it doesn't rate more than a sentence or two. Instead, Obama and Romney will be trading sound-bites over some very well-trodden ground. There's no shortage of vexing problems to discuss, however, because the debate will center around the region that we've been busily screwing up ever since World War II. In a sense, it's not really fair to ask either candidate how they would fix problems that are the work of multiple administrations and both political parties. When Marx wrote "the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living," he might have been describing the situation Obama inherited in 2009, or the problems that one of these two men will face in 2013. But since candidates always promise to be miracle workers, the intractability of these problems is not reason not to spent 90 minutes explaining how each will (not) solve them.
In any case, my crystal ball tells me this last debate will be the most rancorous and the least edifying of the three. Obama has run a rather hawkish foreign policy: intensifying the drone war against Al Qaeda and its allies, getting the United States and other key nations to tighten sanctions on Iran, escalating the war in Afghanistan, and giving Israel even more military aid and diplomatic support than his predecessors did. He even let Benjamin Netanyahu humiliate him repeatedly on the settlement issue, and just about the only thing he didn't do was promise to attack Iran on Israel's behalf. So Romney doesn't have much he can really criticize, unless he just starts making things up again (which he will).
Indeed, when it comes to substance, what's Romney going to argue? That he would have fought longer in Iraq, bombed Iran already, or killed Bin Laden deader? Hardly. The left in America might be genuinely disappointed in Obama (and with good reason), but it's hard to attack Obama from the right without without sounding like you want to take the country into a few more wars. And that is not what most of the electorate wants to hear these days.
Given that he doesn't have many tangible things to complain about, Romney is left trying to portray Obama either as 1) someone who doesn't love America as much as he (Romney) does); or 2) as someone who has been too tough on U.S. allies and too soft on U.S. adversaries. But when asked to spell out specifics, Romney's actual policy positions turn out to be close to carbon-copies of Obama's. And the one genuine difference -- Romney's pledge to ramp up defense spending -- can't be squared with his pledge to cut taxes and balance the budget too. So instead of a wonkish discussion of real issues, we'll got a lot of rhetorical posturing at tonight's debate, complete with pious references to America's special role, its glorious past, its bright future, its noble spirit, etc., etc. But if we're lucky, neither of them will try to sing.
Second, it won't be an edifying debate because neither candidate is going to say what they might really think about the key issues shaping policy in the Greater Middle East. Like almost all American politicians, they will try to outdo each other in affirming their "unshakeable" support for Israel (yawn), but they aren't going to be any more candid about the other issues currently afflicting that troubled region. Will Romney argue that Obama should have tried to keep Ghaddafi and Mubarak in power, against the wishes of their people? Of course not. Can Obama explain that he supported the democracy movement in Egypt but not in Bahrain because he didn't want to tick off Saudi Arabia? Will either candidate openly discuss the bipartisan debacle in Afghanistan, and point out that our military leaders gave very bad advice when they recommended a "surge" in 2009? I don't think so.
Be prepared for some pretty silly conversations on China, too. According to the latest survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, U.S. citizens think the most important foreign policy issue facing the country is "protecting the jobs of American workers." Indeed, 84 percent of respondents in both parties identified this issue as important. So Romney will talk a lot about getting tough with China on trade, currency, and intellectual property, even though there's not a snowball's chance that he'd really launch a trade war once in office. Obama, for his part, will talk about his "pivot" to Asia, and try to convince listeners that he can somehow be China's best friend and China's main rival at the same time.
Bottom line: This is a debate that will tell you more about the warped nature of American politics than it will tell you about the true foreign policy challenges facing the nation.
So if I were moderator Bob Schieffer, what questions might I ask? Here's my top-ten list of questions that I don't expect to hear tomorrow night.
Mr. President, Governor Romney:
1. You have both pledged to end the war in Afghanistan by 2014. But the Taliban has not been defeated, there are no peace negotiations underway, the Afghan army remains unreliable, attacks on U.S. and NATO forces by Afghan soldiers have been increasing, and the Karzai government is still corrupt and ineffective. Given these realities, was the decision to send nearly 50,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in 2009 a mistake? What could we have done instead, to avoid the current situation?
2. Gentlemen: Neither of you ever served in the U.S. military. Governor Romney, you have five grown sons, and none of them has ever served either. President Obama, you have two daughters, one of whom will be eligible to enlist in four years. Have either of you ever encouraged your children to serve our nation by enlisting in the armed forces? If not, why not?
3. Both of you claim to support a "two-state" solution between Israel and the Palestinians. But since the last election, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has increased by more than 25,000 and now exceeds half-million people. If continued settlement growth makes a two-state solution impossible, what should United States do? Would you encourage Israel to allow "one-person, one-vote" without regard to religion or ethnicity -- as we do here in the United States -- or would you support denying Palestinians under Israeli control in Gaza and the West Bank full political rights?
4. Gentlemen: Is the United States doing enough, too little, or too much to address the threat of climate change? If you are the next president, what specific actions will you take to deal with this problem?
(Follow up: Both of you favor increased domestic energy production through new technologies such as hydraulic fracking. But won't lower energy prices just encourage greater reliance on fossil fuels and make the climate change problem worse?)
5. Governor Romney, President Obama: Do you agree with former president George W. Bush's claim that terrorists want to attack America because they "hate our values?" Do you think some terrorists hate us because they angered by what they see as illegitimate U.S. interference in their own countries?
6. Do you believe Japan has a valid claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands? If the current dispute between China and Japan leads to a military confrontation, what would you do?
7. Both of you are men of faith, and your religions both teach that all humans are fallible. If so, then U.S. leaders must have made mistakes in their handling of foreign policy, and maybe even committed acts that were unjustifiable and wrong. Are there any other societies who have valid reason to be angry about what we have done to them? If so, how should we try to make amends?
8. The United States has the world's strongest conventional forces and no powerful enemies near its shores. It has allies all over the world, and military bases on every continent. Yet the United States also keeps thousands of nuclear weapons at the ready to deter hostile attack.
Iran is much weaker than we are, and it has many rivals near its borders. Many U.S. politicians have called for the overthrow of its government. Three close neighbors have nuclear weapons: Pakistan, India, and Israel. If having nuclear weapons makes sense for the United States, doesn't it make sense for Iran too? And won't threatening Iran with an attack just make them want a deterrent even more?
(Follow up: You both believe all options should be "on the table" with Iran, including the use of military force. Would you order an attack on Iran without U.N. Security Council authorization? How would this decision to launch an unprovoked attack be different from Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941?
And finally, an individual question for each candidate:
9. Governor Romney, when you visited Great Britain last summer, you were criticized for saying that there were a number of "disconcerting things" about Britain's management of the Games. Yet the Games turned out to be a splendid success. How did you get this one so wrong?
10. President Obama: if you could go back to 2009 and begin your term over, what one foreign policy decision would you like to take back?
I think a few questions like that would liven things up considerably, don't you?
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Well, speaking of Turkey, what do I make of the surprise nuclear deal between Turkey, Brazil and Iran, which was announced as I was packing up to leave Istanbul? The deal was proclaimed with great fanfare in Tehran, and it basically resurrects an earlier arrangement by which Iran agreed to give up a large part of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) stockpile in exchange for a much smaller quantity of more highly enriched (~20 percent) uranium (for use in a research reactor that produces medical isotopes).
The first thing to note is that we've seen this movie before (or at least, we've seen something rather like it), and it remains to be seen whether any uranium will actually change hands. It's possible that the whole thing is just a subterfuge designed to ward off stricter economic sanctions, and that eventually one of the signatories (most likely Iran) will find a way to wiggle out of the deal.
But it is also possible that this is a first step towards a diplomatic resolution of the whole Iranian nuclear problem (albeit a rather small step). The crux of that issue isn't Iran's stockpile of LEU or its desire for fuel for its research reactor; the dispute is over whether Iran is ever going to be permitted to have its own indigenous enrichment capability at all. And this deal says nothing about that question; the best that can be said for it is that it might -- repeat might -- open the door to a more fruitful diplomatic process.
Here's why I think the United States should welcome the deal. The only feasible way out of the current box is via diplomacy, because military force won't solve the problem for very long, could provoke a major Middle East war, and is more likely to strengthen the clerical regime and make the United States look like a bully with an inexhaustible appetite for attacking Muslim countries. (And having Israel try to do the job wouldn't help, because we'd be blamed for it anyway). I think George Bush figured that out before he left office, and I think President Obama knows it too. So do sensible Israelis, though not the perennial hawks at the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, who appear to have learned nothing from their shameful role cheerleading the debacle in Iraq back in 2002.
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Whatever numbers you hear about the cost of Obama's escalation in Afghanistan are bound to be low. Once you add in veterans' benefits, the long-term costs of medical treatment for wounded soldiers, replacement costs for the equipment they will use up and wear out, etc., you end up with a lot more than the extra $30 billion that Obama mentioned in his speech on Tuesday. If you want to be prudent, assume that the true costs are at least twice what you've heard. Together with the money already allocated, it's going to be well in excess of $100 billion per year. Keep that in mind the next time you pass a rusting bridge, or when your local School Board has to cut its budget and lay off a few more teachers.
But there is another cost to digging in deeper in Afghanistan. Obama has now bet the future of his presidency on being able to achieve something he can describe as "success" there, and he has only 18 months to do it. He's shackled with a sluggish economy that is unlikely to turn around soon, so there are going to be plenty of disaffected voters by 2012. The Dems are going to lose a bunch of seats in the midterms, making it even tougher to pass domestic legislation that might win broad voter approval. And having alienated a lot of the people who worked their butts off for him in 2008 (because they thought he would be different), he's going to have a hard time generating the sort of grass roots enthusiasm that won him the White House in the first place. Progressive Dems won't switch sides, but some of them will stay home. He may even have trouble getting Shepard Fairey's endorsement if Afghanistan doesn't turn around fast.
All this means that Obama will have to devote a lot of time and attention and political capital to the war in Afghanistan, an impoverished land-locked country of modest strategic importance. Meanwhile, life will go on in the rest of the world, and U.S. relations with a number of far more important countries will not receive the attention they should. Here are three examples.
1. The new Japanese government is actively rethinking its security partnership with the United States, and while I don't think we should rush to accommodate all of their concerns, we certainly ought to be paying very close attention. But having just returned from a quick Asian trip, Obama is likely to put relations with Japan (and other key Asian allies) on the back burner. That would be a mistake, because a significant erosion in the U.S. position there would have far more significant effects than the outcome of the Afghan campaign. Mapping out a long-term security strategy for Asia will take time and attention, and that's precisely what Obama doesn't have right now.
2. The democratic government of Turkey has been carving out a more independent and influential position at the crossroad of Europe and Asia. Its recent decision to reject Israeli participation in a scheduled NATO military exercise (which led to the exercise being canceled) is one sign of this new independence, as is its more active engagement with Syria and Iran. This development is not necessarily a bad thing, if Turkey uses its growing influence constructively. But it is a new feature of the global scene that calls for sustained attention and a nuanced U.S. response, and I'll bet it doesn't get either.
3. Brazil is becoming a more independent and less deferential power here in the Western hemisphere. President Lula da Silva has opened more than 30 embassies around the world since 2003, remains on good terms with Venezualan strongman Hugo Chavez, has defended Iran's nuclear research program, and recently hosted Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Brasilia. Obama and Lula have exchanged letters on some of these issues, and Brasilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim has said there is "no crisis" between the two countries. But he has also said that the two countries "are in different latitudes" and "must get used to disagreeing." A stronger and more assertive Brazil will also create new diplomatic opportunities for other Latin American countries (who have long resented U.S. dominance in the Western hemisphere), as well as opportunities for other great powers. And might this herald a gradual erosion of the Monroe Doctrine?
None of the developments poses an immediate threat to vital U.S. interests, but all could use some adroit attention on Washington's part and a sophisticated strategy for dealing with them. But my guess is that they will get short shrift, because Obama's attention and a lot of the intellectual oxygen in Washington will be sucked up by the endless debate on AfPak.
You might reply that I'm being too pessimistic, because Obama has a talented administration that is deep in foreign policy expertise and nobody expects the President to do everything himself. He can turn these problems over to DoD, the NSC staff, and the State Department while he focuses laser-like on Central Asia (and the economy).
I wish I could believe that, but I haven't seen much evidence of a smoothly running foreign policy apparatus so far. What I read suggests that the White House holds tight control on the main lines of policy, and apart from the president himself (who does show occasional flashes of strategic vision), I still can't figure out who's in charge of the big picture. So in addition to the human and financial costs of the decision to escalate in Afghanistan, throw in the opportunity costs. There are only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week, and a lot of important issues are going to get less attention than they deserve.
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I'm clearing off my desk today and working on the opening lecture for my graduate IR theory course, so I'm not going to try to write a detailed commentary. Instead, let me take this opportunity to pass on a few pieces that caught my eye, on a wide array of subjects.
1. From the S Rajaratnam School in Singapore comes an optimistic assessment on the status of the Pakistani Taliban. According to Khuram Iqbal, the Pakistani Taliban have failed to gain popular support, and show no signs of becoming an effective mass movement (akin to Hezbollah in Lebanon). Instead, they are increasingly seen as a narrower terrorist group, reinforced their unpopularity. While they remain a problem to be dealt with, fears that the Pakistani state was on the verge of collapse or that the entire country might be "Talibanized" seem to have been greatly overblown. (Juan Cole: take a bow).
2. There is a fascinating article by Richard Oliver Collin in the latest issue of International Studies Perspectives, entitled "Words of War: Iraq's Tower of Babel." It is a careful analysis of the extraordinary degree of linguistic diversity and fragmentation in Iraq, and it underscores how ill-prepared the United States was to try to occupy and govern the place. Money quote from Collin's conclusion:
It cannot be argued that enhanced language proficiency in Arabic and Kurdish would assure military victory for the United States in its conflict with the various Iraqi insurgent groups. Language capability is a necessary but not sufficient condition for triumph in war and diplomacy. The evidence does strongly suggest, however, that American inability to create a basic communications capability has contributed importantly to the failure of the United States thus far to resolve its Middle Eastern problems at some minimally acceptable level ... Can this historical trend be changed? There is no reason to believe that the present spate of Middle Eastern difficulties is going to be the last chapter in America's involvement in the Middle East ....
The United States historically has attempted to pursue a policy of intense involvement in Middle Eastern affairs, sometimes diplomatic and sometimes military, but without a concomitant commitment to understanding the region's culture, religion, and particularly its languages. Since American foreign policy in the Middle East policy has never been more than sporadically successful, an argument can be made that Washington needs to match its military investment with a serious commitment to language and area studies. Language lessons are cheaper than tanks, and if America's linguists were good enough, the United States might not need quite so many tanks."
Note: he says linguistic competence is "necessary but not sufficient," so please don't assume that training some more linguists would suddenly give us a magical capability to reorder other countries at low cost.
3. If you're just now trying to catch up on the situation in Afghanistan (and why haven't you been reading the AfPak Channel here at FP?), a good short introduction is Thomas Billetteri, "Afghanistan Dilemma," CQ Researcher, available here. (Full disclosure: I'm quoted a couple of times, but so are lots of other people with varying views.) Billetteri takes no position on the policy choices facing us, but the piece is an excellent introduction to the issues.
4. I've also just finished a fascinating paper by two economists from the Universidad de los Andes, analyzing the effect of Plan Colombia on the production and distribution of drugs (e.g., cocaine). The analysis is fairly technical and some of the math is beyond me, but it's clearly a serious attempt to determine the impact of different policies and how the different actors involved (the U.S. and Colombian governments, the drug growers, the drug smugglers, etc.) interact in a strategic fashion. Among other things, the authors (Daniel Mejia and Pascual Restrepo) show that although Plan Colombia's drug eradication efforts have reduced the amount of acreage under cultivation by nearly 50 percent, actual cocaine production has decreased by only 11 percent and the prices of coca leaf, coca paste, and actual cocaine have remained fairly stable. Why? Because growers responded to eradication efforts by adopting more productive cultivation techniques, thereby producing nearly the same amount of cocaine from smaller amounts of land.
They also demonstrate that the Colombian and U.S. governments have conflicting interests in pursuing the "war on drugs." Specifically, the Colombian government benefits far more from every dollar spent on eradication efforts (i.e., against drug production) because that takes money away from the growers (and thus the insurgency). By contrast, the United States gets a larger "bang from the buck" from drug interdiction (i.e., against drug trafficking) because the main U.S. interest is in trying to keep cocaine out of the United States. Here's a summary of their main findings:
We find, among many other things, that a three-fold increase in the U.S. budget allocated to Plan Colombia would decrease the amount of cocaine reaching consumer countries by about 19.5% (about 60,000 kg). We also estimate that the elasticity of the cocaine reaching consumer countries with respect to changes in the amount of resources invested in the war against illegal drug production is about 0.007%, whereas the elasticity with respect to changes in the amount of resources invested in the war against illegal drug trafficking is about 0.296%. In other words, if the main objective is to reduce the amount of drugs reaching consumer countries, targeting illegal drug trafficking is much more cost effective than targeting illegal drug production activities. However, if the objective is to reduce the cost of conflict in Colombia, targeting drug production activities is more cost effective .... Furthermore, we find that the optimal allocation of resources from the point of view of the U.S., whose objective is to minimize the amount of cocaine reaching its borders, implies that all the U.S. assistance to Plan Colombia should be for the war against drug trafficking. From the point of view of Colombia, whose objective is to minimize the total cost of internal conflict, the optimal allocation would imply that all the U.S. assistance for Plan Colombia should go to finance the war against drug production."
I'm sure one can raise questions about their analysis, but this is the sort of work that really ought to be informing the debate over whether Plan Colombia is working and how U.S. assistance should be allocated.
Debates about many foreign policy issues persist because it is hard to know what the right course of action is and reasonable people can reach different conclusions about them. But there is a special category of foreign policy where almost everyone agrees the existing policy is wrong-headed yet almost everyone also believes the policy is impossible to change.
I'm sure FP readers have their own favorites in this category, but I thought I'd start the conversation with three nominees of my own.
1.) Farm Subsidies and Agricultural Trade Barriers.
Like other industrial countries, the United States subsidizes a host of agricultural products and erects various trade barriers against foreign imports. This happens because the farm lobby is defending the narrow interests of the farm sector and many democratic systems give small groups (in this case farmers or agribusiness) disproportionate influence. (It's the usual story: A small group reaps the benefits of this policy while the costs are dispersed across the whole population). This policy makes food more expensive, encourages farmers to grow the wrong crops, squanders energy, and hinders economic development in poorer countries, thereby contributing to political instability. These policies also make it much harder to negotiate multilateral trade deals that would raise prosperity world-wide. So although nearly every detached observer thinks the policy is wrong, they also know that the political power of farm interests (both here and abroad) makes it excruciatingly difficult to change course.
2.) The Cuba Embargo.
We all know the old line that insanity consists of doing something over and over again but expecting different results. By that standard the U.S. embargo on Cuba is demented. If an embargo was going to topple Castro's regime, it would be long gone. The current embargo has been in place for nearly five decades, persisting even after the Soviet Union had collapsed and when it is clear that an old and feeble Fidel poses no threat. Hardly anyone thinks it is the right policy anymore (if it ever was), but it remains in place because a small number of well-organized and politically active Cuban-Americans care about the issue and the rest of the country doesn't care enough to override their preferences. Because Florida is a swing state and its politicians remain sensitive to the Cuban-American lobby, a policy that has probably helped Castro stay in power remains in effect. Maybe this policy will finally change under Obama (or when Fidel dies), but don't bet on it.
3.) The "War on Drugs."
This one is a bit more controversial, in the sense that there is still a genuine debate on some of these issues. But there seems to be a growing consensus that the "war on drugs" (which we've been waging far longer than the "war on terrorism") is both ill-conceived and poorly executed. In the United States, as in many other countries, our anti-drug policies focus primarily on the supply-side: we go after growers, traffickers, dealers and users. And the United States is especially quick to incarcerate anyone who possesses narcotics, even for relatively minor offenses. The results are almost certainly worse than the problem itself: our policy helps enrich drug lords and make it possible for them to destabilize whole governments, as they are now doing in Mexico and Afghanistan. Criminalizing narcotics possession has created a burgeoning prison population that is expensive to maintain and whose long-term incarceration produces a host of other social ills. (For a depressing analysis of some of them, see sociologist Bruce Western's Punishment and Equality in America). As The Economist recently argued, "the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless." Reasonable people still disagree on what a better approach might be, but decriminalizing narcotics possession and focusing on education and treatment programs would cost less and probably leave us no worse off in terms of addiction and its consequences. But a politician who seriously proposed such a course of action would almost certainly face a firestorm of criticism, so the current failed policy is likely to continue more-or-less unchanged.
There are some other enduring policy initiatives I think are equally misguided (such as missile defense) but the consensus against them is not as clear-cut. On these three, however, I think most well-informed individuals know the policy is wrong yet unlikely to change.
So three questions for readers.
First, am I right to say that most experts agree that these three policies are both wrong and resistant to revision?
Second, are there any other prominent examples of similar follies: misguided foreign policies that almost everyone thinks should be changed but won’t be?
And third, if a lot of stupid policies persist even when it is obvious they make little sense, what does that say about the capacity of democratic systems to learn from their mistakes?
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In today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman offers a quasi-defense of Israel's assault on Gaza, expressing that hope that Israel is trying to "teach Hamas a lesson" similar to the lesson it supposedly taught Hezbollah during its 2006 war in Lebanon. If Hamas learns not to use violence and accepts Israel's existence, he writes, then maybe diplomacy can produce the two-state solution that Israel badly needs and supposedly wants.
A few comments: To begin with, Friedman's depiction of the Lebanon War is at odds with the more sober conclusions reached by the Winograd Commission, the official Israeli commission of inquiry convened to examine its conduct of that war. And if it was such a resounding victory, why do Israelis now claim that the war in Gaza is necessary to re-establish their deterrent? Moreover, Friedman concedes that Israel is likely to face a renewed challenge from Hezbollah in the future. With meaningless "victories" like that, who needs setbacks?
Second, Friedman portrays Israeli society as divided between those who believe that ending the occupation is essential for Israel's long-term security and those who believe that continuing the occupation is the key to Israel's long-term security. He omits the hard-core settlers who believe that Israel has a god-given right to all of Mandate Palestine (a group that comprises some 20 percent of Israeli society) and claims -- incorrectly -- that it is the opponents of the occupation who have been driving Israeli policy in recent years.
In fact, it is increasingly clear that it is the opponents of the two-state solution that have been in charge. Friedman refers to Israel's "withdrawals" from Lebanon and Gaza as evidence that Israelis support a negotiated settlement. This is dubious at best. Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 because the cost had become too great (i.e., they were in effect driven out by Hezbollah). Under Ariel Sharon, Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza as part of a larger plan to consolidate Israeli control over most of the West Bank, and put off the prospect of a Palestinian state indefinitely. As his chief advisor, Dov Weisglas, admitted in an interview, the withdrawal from Gaza "supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians...when you freeze the process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state...this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."
With respect to the West Bank, the number of Israeli settlers more than doubled during the Oslo period, and Israel consolidated its control via an elaborate array of checkpoints, roads, and the meandering "security fence." According to the Foundation for Middle East Peace, since 2001 the number of Israeli settlers on the West Bank has grown by roughly 70,000 people, some 18,000 of them outside Israel's "security fence." The vast majority of the settlers aren't independent extremists operating on their own: they are subsidized by the Israeli government, rely on government utilities for water and electricity, and depend on the IDF for protection.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has warned on several occasions that failure to get a two-state solution places Israel's future at risk, but he has done nothing to halt the settlement project or to empower those Palestinian leaders (such as President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad) who genuinely seek a two-state solution.
It is often said that Israel lacks a "partner for peace," but so do the Palestinians. So if the Obama administration is serious about settling this conflict, it will have to exert real pressure on both sides.
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Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.