With the U.S. and NATO's thumb firmly on the scale, the balance of power in Libya seems to be shifting steadily toward the rebel forces. That's bad news for the Qaddafi family, though their lack of attractive alternatives to fighting on makes it unlikely that they will simply surrender. This outcome is also not that surprising, as the Libyan military was never a first-class fighting force and it was not going to have real trouble standing up to the rebel forces once they started getting lots of outside help. The danger, however, is that the rebel forces will not be able to consolidate control over the entire country without a lot more fighting, including the sort of nasty urban warfare that can get lots of civilians killed.
As with the invasion of Iraq, in short, the issue wasn't whether the West could eventually accomplish "regime change" if it tried. Rather, the key questions revolved around whether it was in our overall interest to do so and whether the benefits would be worth the costs. In the Iraqi case, it is obvious to anyone who isn't a diehard neocon or committed Bush loyalist that the (dubious) benefits of that invasion weren't worth the enormous price tag. There were no WMD and no links between Saddam and al Qaeda, and the war has cost over a trillion dollars (possibly a lot more). Tens of thousands of people died (including some 4500 Americans), and millions of refugees had to flee their homes. And for what? Mostly, a significant improvement in Iran's influence and strategic position.
In the Libyan case, same basic question. Hardly anyone thinks the Qaddafi family deserves to run Libya, and few if any will mourn their departure. But assuming the rebels win, will the benefits of regime change be worth the costs? Secretary of Defense Gates has reported that the war has cost the United States about $750 million thus far, which is not a huge sum by DoD standards but not exactly trivial in an era of budget stringency. More troubling is the cost to Libya itself: NATO and the US intervened to ward off an anticipated "humanitarian disaster" (which might or might not have occurred and whose magnitude is anyone's guess); what we got instead was a nasty little civil war in which thousands may already have died (and the fighting isn't over yet). So we can look forward to lively debate on the wisdom of this intervention, with advocates claiming that we prevented a larger bloodbath and skeptics arguing that there was never any risk of a genocide or even a deliberate mass killing and that our decision to intervene actually made things worse.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is about to hit the 60 day deadline imposed by the War Powers Act, and so it is marshaling a lot of clever lawyers to find some way to keep the war going. But here's a radical suggestion: why not just go to Congress and ask for authorization? Such a step would be consistent with the U.S. Constitution, and President Obama made this very point himself before he became President. As he told the Boston Globe in 2007: "the president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." And if the case for this war is so strong and it is so clearly in our vital interests to do it, surely the articulate advocates in the Obama Administration won't have any trouble convincing Congress to go along.
At the same time, the US and NATO had better be thinking long and hard about what they are going to do if and when Qaddafi falls. As we are now seeing in some other contexts (e.g., Egypt), revolutionary change is usually chaotic, unpredictable, and violent, and it creates opportunities for various forms of mischief. These dangers loom especially large in Libya, due in good part to the lack of effective political institutions and the likelihood that some of the people we are backing now will want to settle scores with loyalists. And that possibility means there's also a risk of the same sort of loyalist insurgency that sprang up in Iraq, possibly rooted in long-standing tribal divisions.
So if the liberal interventionists who got us into this war want to make their decisions look good in retrospect, they had better have a plan to ensure that political transition in Libya goes a lot more smoothly than it did in Iraq. And you know what that means, don't you? We'll be there for longer than you think, and at a higher cost than one might hope. But no worries; it's not as though we have any other problems to think about (or spend money on) these days.
When my clock radio went off this AM, the first story I heard was about a NATO air attack on Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's compound near Tripoli. Although NATO officials have denied that this was an attempt to kill Qaddafi, it is hard to believe that the officials responsible weren't hoping for a lucky shot. U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham told CNN that it was time to "to cut the head of the snake off, go to Tripoli, start bombing Qaddafi's inner circle, their compounds, their military headquarters." Similarly, Senator Joe Lieberman called for "going directly after Qaddafi," saying that "I can't think of anything that would protect the civilian population of Libya more than [his] removal."
In a situation like this, it is obviously tempting to think you can solve the problem by removing the bad guy at the top. Instead of a prolonged civil war that kills lots of combatants and civilians and inflicts vast property damage, why not just get rid of the individual you think is causing all the trouble, and maybe a few of his closest associates? To take the most obvious case: with the benefit of hindsight, wouldn't it have been far better to take out Adolf Hitler sometime in the 1930s? By a similar logic, wouldn't a surgical strike on Qaddafi and his inner circle be preferable to a protracted civil war?
But before you conclude that targeted assassination is the way to go, I suggest you read Ward Thomas' 2000 International Security article "Norms and Security: The Case of International Assassionation." Thomas traces the evolution of attitudes, norms, and practices regarding international assassination, and shows how they have changed significantly over time. He argues that assassination was a fairly common foreign policy tool a few centuries ago, but a combination of shifting material interests and evolving normative principles led to the emergence of a fairly strong norm against the killing of foreign leaders, even during wartime. This shift occurred in part because great powers preferred to confine conflict to the clash of armies on the battlefield (where they had the advantage over weaker states), and partly because it helped enshrine the idea that war was conducted by states and not by individuals. Thus, the norm helped reinforce the political legitimacy of the state itself, and it eventually grew so powerful that even deeply hostile states did not make serious efforts to kill each other's leaders.
Thomas also argues that the norm appears to be breaking down, for three separate reasons. First, as warfare became increasingly destructive, states began to look for cheaper alternatives. Second, terrorist groups routinely employ assassination against the states they oppose, and states have responded with targeted killings against suspected terrorist leaders. Third, and perhaps most interestingly, in the post-Nuremberg environment, national leaders are increasingly seen as individually responsible and morally accountable for acts undertaken at their behest. The creation of an International Criminal Court is another sign of a shifting moral and legal context in which raison d'etat no longer protects national leaders from accountability (if they lose, of course). And if individual leaders are seen as morally responsible, then it is easier to slip into viewing them as legitimate targets in war.
Of course, the United States (and some other countries) have been on this slippery slope for awhile, given our reliance on targeted killings in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. The practice is troubling on at least three grounds. First, due to the imperfect nature of intelligence and the inevitable "fog of war," targeted killings inevitably murder innocents along with the supposedly guilty. Second, and following from the first point, killing innocent bystanders may create more adversaries than it eliminate, thereby undermining the strategic purpose of the program itself.
Third, and perhaps most important of all, going after foreign leaders-no matter how despicable-helps legitimate a tactic that will eventually be visited back upon us. If the world's most powerful countries see fit to kill any foreign leader that they don't like, what's to stop those same (presumably evil) leaders from threatening to pay us back in kind? Targeted assassinations of foreign despots may seem like a cheap and efficient way of solving today's problem, but we won't enjoy living in a world where foreign adversaries think attacking U.S. leaders (including the president and his inner circle) is a perfectly legitimate way of doing business. And notice that making targeted killings more legitimate tends to level the international playing field: you don't have to be a powerful or wealthy state to organize a few hit squads and cause lots of trouble for your enemies.
So even if this attempt at "decapitation" were to succeed in the short-term, the longer-term consequences may not be quite so salutary.
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
In an obvious example of "mission creep," France, Britain, and now Italy have decided to send military advisors to support the rebel army in Libya. While resolutely declaring the no ground troops will be sent, these NATO powers (and the United States), continue to move beyond the original limited purpose of the intervention and are openly seeking to unseat the Qadhafi regime completely.
This situation is a textbook illustration of what one might call the Intervention Paradox. Because there are no vital strategic interests at stake in the Libyan situation, outside leaders are reluctant to do whatever it takes to resolve the situation quickly. You don't hear Obama, Sarkozy, or Cameron declaring that they are going to call up reserves, redeploy forces from other commitments, or launch a direct invasion of Libya itself. They know that that mission isn't worth it, and that their own populations would quickly question the wisdom of such a massive operation.
Instead, intervening powers try to use as little force as possible, and seek to minimize their own casualties above all. After all, when there are no vital interests at stake, it is much harder to justify the loss of one's own soldiers. So they rely on airpower, not boots on the ground. They'll send advisors and weapons, but not their own troops. But because the rebel army is a ramshackle operation, and because there are real limits to what NATO can achieve with airpower alone, this minimalist approach is more likely to produce a costly stalemate in which more Libyans die. Even if it eventually succeeds, going in small prolongs the fighting and does more damage to the people we are supposedly helping.
The other option, of course, is to use overwhelming force from the very beginning. Qaddafi's loyal forces might be effective against a poorly-trained rebel army, but they would be no match for a sizeable NATO force. But this isn't really the answer either, even if we had such forces readily available (and remember, the United States is already bogged down in other places). For one thing, doing it this way is a lot more expensive, and you're likely to lose some of your own people along the way. And once you've ousted the regime you own the country, and trying to put a society like Libya back together again would not be easy or cheap (see under: Iraq, Afghanistan). Given the divisions that are already apparent among the rebels themselves, and the absence of well-functioning social and political institutions, a post-Qaddafi Libya is likely to be a real headache. And there's always the risk that an insurgency will spring up, further inflating the costs.
Hence the paradox: if you go in light you get a protracted stalemate; if you go in big you end up with a costly quagmire. Under these circumstances you can understand why the intervening powers are tiptoeing their way in, but as noted above, that merely increases the danger that the civil war drags on.
There is a third option, however: great powers could be a lot more careful about where and when they used military power to try to determine who gets to run some foreign country. But that's an option that U.S. leaders seem to have forgotten.
GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images
Was the decision to intervene in Libya justified by the threat of imminent massacres, and possibly even a genocide? And did President Obama have the authority to intervene?
If you're still wondering about either of those questions, I have two suggestions for further reading. The first is an op-ed by Alan Kuperman, which casts further doubt on the likelihood that Qadhafi's forces were about to engage in the indiscriminate slaughter of thousands of innocent bystanders in Benghazi. Kuperman points out that Qadhafi loyalists did not conduct massacres in any of the cities that they have recaptured, and that the Libyan tyrant's threats to show "no mercy" applied only to rebels. He also notes that the reported casualties are overwhelmingly male, which suggests that it is primarily combatants (i.e., rebels) who are being killed.
Note that Kuperman is no apologist for Qadhafi. He does not deny that Qadhafi is a thuggish ruler, that his loyalists were killing civilians, or that some of their actions constitute war crimes. The question, however, is whether there was an imminent risk of a bloodbath that "would stain the conscience of the world," as Obama put it.
Notice also that although Obama did not use the word genocide himself, both current and previous members of his administration did raise the spectre of a genocide in order to make the case for U.S. action. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former head of Policy Planning in the State Department, tweeted ""The international community cannot stand by and watch the massacre of Libyan protesters. In Rwanda we watched. In Kosovo we acted." Similarly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said ""We learned a lot in the 1990s. We saw what happened in Rwanda." The clear implication was that failure to act in Libya would produce hundreds of thousands of deliberate murders (which is what occurred in Rwanda in 1994).
Given that Qadhafi is a heinous ruler of dubious legitimacy, why does this matter? It matters because the case for intervention depends heavily on the magnitude of the humanitarian calamity that we sought to forestall. If the danger really was that grave, then the case for intervention goes up. But if the likely consequences of a Qadhafi victory were regrettable but not that large, then the case for intervention diminishes. And the case for action is even weaker if there is a genuine risk that intervention might prolong the fighting, produce a stalemate or a failed state, or provoke the government into acts of brutality that it might not have conducted otherwise.
Second: did Obama exceed his powers when he ordered the use of force? The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel has issued an opinion on this issue (perhaps coincidentally, on April 1st), and--surprise, surprise--they've concluded that it was perfectly ok. The OLC makes three arguments: 1) it's not really a war, and the President has broad powers short of war; 2) we're enforcing a Security Council resolution, which gives the President even more authority, in part because he has to uphold the credibility of the Security Council; and 3) the War Powers Resolution permits the President to use force for sixty days without advance approval.
Michael Glennon of the Fletcher School examines the OLC's arguments in the Harvard National Security Journal and finds them wanting on legal and constitutional grounds. More tellingly, he also shows that these justifications are at odds with Obama's own statements before he became President. In 2007, for example, Obama told the Boston Globe that "the president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involves stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." (Obama used to teach constitutional law, so he's not exactly a tyro on these issues). And back when she was a mere Senator, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that "I do not believe that the President can take military action--including any kind of strategic bombing--against Iran without congressional authorization." More strikingly still, State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh has repeatedly argued--as a scholar--against precisely this sort of expansive interpretation of presidential power. But not this time.
At this point in the history of the republic, it should come as no surprise that people working in the Executive Branch tend to think the President has the power to use military force just about any time the he and his advisors deem it necessary or advisable. It is equally unsurprising that politicians and pundits tend to be hypocritical about this issuet: they think the President ought to have broad powers when they agree with the particular use to which it is being put, and they think those powers ought to be limited when they think the President is doing something foolish or unnecessary.
Reasonable people can disagree about just how much authority the Executive Branch ought to have, just as they can also disagree about the course of action the United States and others should have followed with regard to the situation in Libya. But let's be clear about the long-term effects of the de facto authority we are granting every President. It's a messy world out there, and there will always be some trouble somewhere that people will want Uncle Sam to fix. If you give a single individual the authority to decide when to order the world's mightiest military into battle, without having to consult anyone except his own appointed advisors, then you shouldn't be surprised when that mighty military gets used over and over and over.
Over in another corner of the FP media juggernaut, David Bosco has challenged my claim that the humanitarian case for imminent intervention in Libya was weak. According to President Obama, the United States and its allies had to intervene because Qaddafi's forces were about to conduct a massacre that "would stain the conscience of the world." He said there would be "violence on a horrific scale." Drawing on some recent commentary by political scientist Alan Kuperman and journalist Stephen Chapman, I questioned this assumption and said the risk of such a massacre was slight. Bosco challenges me in turn, and says that my assessment is an "epic overreach."
To be clear, I do think rebel lives would have been lost had Qaddafi's force taken Benghazi, and I have no doubt that the Libyan dictator would have dealt harshly with the rebel leaders and anyone who fought to the bitter end. In other words, I'm pretty sure his forces would have murdered some of the rebels and probably some innocent civilians too. But the president seems to have been convinced that Qaddafi was about to unleash genuine mass killings of perhaps as many as 100,000 people, in a city of roughly 650,000 (remember his pointed reference to Benghazi being nearly the size of Charlotte?). Thus, the president's rhetoric strongly implied that tens of thousands of innocent bystanders were about to be ruthlessly slaughtered. That same image was reinforced by media references to the "lessons of Rwanda" that supposedly had shaped the views of some of Obama's advisors.
Yet as I noted in my piece, there were no large-scale massacres in the other cities that the loyalists had recaptured. It is easy to believe that Qaddafi would have gone after the rebel leaders and diehard followers -- whom he undoubtedly regards as traitors -- but turning Benghazi into a ghost town filled with corpses was probably not in his own interest.
Based on the weekend's events, what do we now know about Libya?
1. As you can see from these Pentagon slides here, the United States did the the heavy lifting during the initial phases of the intervention against Libya (h/t Micah Zenko & Jeremy Pressman). Notice that these figures omit missile strikes, which were overwhelmingly conducted by the United States, so the data actually understate the extent to which the initial operations were dominated by Uncle Sam. We are now told that allied forces are going to take over (most of) the mission, but patrolling the no-fly-zone is pretty easy work now that Libya's air defenses (which were never very good to begin with) have been largely if not entirely decimated. In short, this intervention fits the pattern of prior "coalitions of the willing": the United States does most of the work, and the other members are there mostly to provide diplomatic cover. That distribution of burdens is supposed to change now, but sticking to that plan will probably depend on whether the rebels keep making progress. If their campaign bogs down, Qaddafi's forces are able to regroup, or the British and French start feeling the pinch, look for more pressure on Washington to get back in the game.
2. The operation in Libya has quickly moved beyond a purely humanitarian mission and the intervening forces are more-or-less openly seeking to topple Qaddafi's regime. The New York Times reports that coalition air strikes against Qaddafi's forces are continuing, and making it possible for the rebels to advance, even though the immediate humanitarian concern (i.e., the threat of some sort of massacre in Benghazi) has now been removed.
This latest version of "mission creep" isn't surprising. Several Western leaders (including President Obama) have already called for Qaddafi to step down, the International Criminal Court says it is investigating possible crimes against humanity, and in any case his pariah status in the international community is well-earned. What is still not clear is the human price of this expanded mission. Ousting Qaddafi may still require a lot of bloody ground fighting, NATO airpower will be less valuable once it is a matter of urban warfare, the collapse of his regime could usher in a prolonged power vacuum, with lots of regrettable human consequences. It's possible that tribal leaders can work out some sort of post-Qaddafi political formula, but a benign outcome of that sort is hardly guaranteed.
3. Whether this was the right decision or not won't be known for awhile (remember that "Mission Accomplished" moment in Iraq?) The two situations are hardly identical, but the Iraqi case does remind us that there is a big difference between defeating a regime's armed forces and driving its leaders from power, and being able to stand up a new government that can establish order. There's still a real risk of prolonged internal disarray if we succeed, and the Libyan case is likely to teach other autocrats that giving up their WMD programs is a good way to leave themselves vulnerable to U.S.-led attack. Bottom line: the costs vs. benefits calculation here won't be possible for some time.
As readers know, I've questioned the wisdom of this intervention, and I've thought that it should have been a European operation from the start. I'm still hoping that it resolves itself quickly, and that my concerns about the post-Qaddafi environment turn out to be unwarranted. I also hope that putting Libya back together afterwards turns out to be easier and less costly than I expect, and that success doesn't embolden the neoconservative/liberal interventionist alliance and lead them off in search of new wrongs to right in places we don't understand very well. In short, as is often the case, I hope I'm wrong about a lot of this. We'll see.
John Moore/Getty Images
When the revolt in Tunisia occurred back in January, I wrote:
Although most Arab governments are authoritarian, they are also all independent and depend on a slightly different mix of political institutions and measures to keep the rulers in power. The fact that Ben Ali ultimately mismanaged a challenge and was driven from power does not mean that other Arab leaders won't be able to deflect, deter, or suppress challenges to their rule."
Tunisia is an obvious warning sign to other Arab dictatorships, and they are bound to be especially vigilant in the months ahead, lest some sort of similar revolutionary wave begin to emerge."
While conceding that a revolutionary cascade was possible and that pressure for greater openness might succeed in the long term, I concluded that a rapid transformation was unlikely.
As I've noted previously, I underestimated the degree to which events in Tunisia would inspire like-minded movements in other countries, and it's clear that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak didn't respond as swiftly or effectively as I expected. But Arab governments are under no illusions now, and we seem to be witnessing precisely the sort of counterrevolutionary responses that often serve to contain a revolutionary outbreak.
In Libya, the Qaddafi regime has responded in brutal but increasingly effective fashion and now seems likely to retain power in at least part of the country for some time to come. With few genuine foreign friends, a big pile of cash, and no place to run or hide, Qaddafi and his family had little choice but to fight it out and hope for the best, even if their brutal suppression of the rebel forces lands them back on the list of international pariahs.
For its part, the Saudi government has sought to pre-empt significant protests by doling out $37 billion worth of new social benefits, while making it clear that protests will be dealt with harshly. In neighboring Bahrain, the Khalifa dynasty has responded to rising protests from its Shiite majority population with heightened repression. It has also invited the Saudis -- which share the Khalifa regime's fear of Iranian influence -- to send several thousand troops there to back up the government.
So if you believed that the events in Tunisia and Egypt -- which were both relatively bloodless and remarkably swift -- were likely to be duplicated elsewhere, you were wrong. The revolutionary impulse has been remarkably contagious, but revolutionary outcomes much less so, at least thus far. Nor do we yet know how far-reaching the reforms in Tunisia and Egypt will ultimately be (though I remain cautiously optimistic).
All that said, I still find it hard to believe that these events do not herald more far-reaching political change throughout much of the Arab world. Even if some governments are able to keep the lid on for now, the social, political, and economic conditions that have given rise to these upheavals won't vanish anytime soon. Whether they consent to real reform or not, ruling elites are likely to be more mindful of popular opinion going forward, for fear of facing new protests in the future or driving frustrated reformers in more radical and dangerous directions.
If this view is correct, then the days when the United States could base key elements of its Middle East grand strategy on alliances with a set of Arab regimes whose policies tended to ignore popular sentiment -- including widespread popular anger at the U.S. role in the region -- are coming to an end. A new grand strategy is going to be needed -- and soon.
To say that I am appalled by the brutal murder of an Israeli family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar (near Nablus) is an understatement. Israel's occupation of the West Bank is universally recognized as a violation of international law and depends on force, intimidation, and violence, but there is no justification for anyone to take the lives of an entire family in this way. No good can possibly come from such a senseless act -- not for Palestinians, not for Israelis, and not for anyone else -- and it should be universally condemned.
But while we are at it, we should not spare the other parties who have helped create and perpetuate the circumstances where such crimes are likely to occur.
Let us therefore condemn every Israeli government since 1967, for actively promoting the illegal effort to colonize these lands.
Let us condemn those Palestinian leaders who have glorified violence in the past or who continue to do so today.
Let us condemn the hypocrisy of governments throughout the Arab world, who mouth solidarity with the Palestinians yet do little to improve their lives or advance the goal of an independent Palestinian state.
Let us condemn the craven passivity of U.S. politicians, whose deference to the Israel lobby has enabled the occupation for more than four decades, squandered the opportunity afforded by the Oslo Accords, and undermined efforts to create a viable Palestinian state.
Let us condemn the misguided fervor of Christian Zionists, who turn a blind eye to injustice against the Palestinians in the belief that it will hasten the "end times" tomorrow.
Let us condemn the cynicism of the Netanyahu government, which used this latest tragedy to announce the construction of 500 more housing units in the Occupied Territories.
And those of us who still hope for a two-state solution deserve criticism as well, for we have clearly not done enough to make that hopeful vision a reality.
Whoever wielded the knife in Itamar deserves to be condemned, caught, and punished for this reprehensible act. But let us not forget that many people bear responsibility for creating and perpetuating this conflict, and all of them should feel shame at this latest episode.
Postscript: For a thoughtful reflection on the incident from an Israeli peace activist, see Dimi Reider here.
I've been writing this blog for a couple of years now, and for the most part I'm satisfied with what I've had to say. But no social science theory is 100 percent accurate, and no social scientist is right 100 percent of the time, especially when reacting to rapidly moving events. Anybody who writes a blog and sticks their neck out is going to get a few big things wrong, which is why I tell prospective bloggers to start with a thick skin.
Case in point: My post on why the revolution in Tunisia would not spread. To say my prediction was wrong is an understatement, and some of the usual critics have seized on this opportunity to take a shot or two. Fair enough, but when I look back at what I actually wrote, I don't feel particularly embarrassed. After all, I began by noting that revolutionary events are inherently hard to forecast (for reasons that other scholars had already identified), and the actual post (as opposed to the provocative headline) made it clear I didn't think contagion was impossible, just unlikely.
Moreover, I still think my reasons for being skeptical about the possibility of contagion were cogent, even if my forecast was clearly wrong in this instance. Large-scale protests are hardly a rare occurrence in many parts of the world, but the vast majority of them do not lead governments to fall. And when a government is toppled, most of the time this does not lead to similar upheavals elsewhere, and certainly not within a few days or weeks. My original prediction was off the mark, but it would have been correct in most cases.
But not this time, which raises the obvious question: Why was this case an exception? What did I miss? Because we still don't know exactly why and how the upheaval in Tunisia caught fire so quickly, what follows is inevitably speculative. But with that caveat in mind, here's where I think I blew it.
First, although everyone knew that authoritarian regimes like the Mubarak government in Egypt were unpopular, I underestimated the degree of internal resentment. Of course, as Timur Kuran and others have shown, that is precisely why it is impossible to predict the timing of a revolutionary upheaval: Citizens in an autocracy won't express their true preferences (and especially their propensity to rebel) openly because doing so is dangerous. This tendency for what Kuran calls "preference falsification" makes it impossible for anyone to know exactly how likely a revolution might be. But with hindsight, it's clear that resentment against some of these governments was deeper and wider than we recognized.
Second, it now seems likely many commentators -- including yours truly -- were unaware of the level of anti-government organization that had already taken place in places like Egypt, and it seems clear that the Mubarak government didn't know about it either. Massive yet disciplined street demonstrations don't occur entirely by accident, and we now know that young activists had been quietly mobilizing and organizing long before the Tunisian revolt lit the fuse. Given Egypt's central place in Arab politics, Mubarak's unexpected ouster fueled the perception that change was possible elsewhere, thereby fueling similar responses elsewhere.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images.
Egyptians have returned to the streets for what anti-government forces have dubbed a "day of departure." The early reports I've seen are heartening: the demonstrations are peaceful, more and more members of the elite appear to be embracing change, and key institutions like the army continue to behave with restraint and to enjoy respect from the crowds. If it holds up, this augurs well for a transition that avoids most of the worst-case scenarios.
Meanwhile, there seems to be a lot of behind-the-scenes diplomacy going on, trying to convince Hosni Mubarak to step down and to coordinate some sort of transitional process. I hope that is the case, because Egypt will need a credible caretaker government to orchestrate the revision of the constitution, conduct either new elections or the elections already scheduled for September, and to maintain order during this process.
I don't know what sort of transitional arrangements would work best, so I'm not going to prescribe any particular scenario or road-map. Instead, here are few items you might want to read, to get a sense of the different issues, possibilities, and pitfalls.
1. My colleage Tarek Masoud has an very interesting op-ed in today's New York Times, arguing that Mubarak needs to say long enough to orchestrate a transition that is consistent with the existing constitution. His point is that it makes sense to change the government via existing procedures, to emphasize the importance of rule of law. I'm not convinced this will work (i.e., the popular forces may not tolerate it), but his broader point about giving the transitional process as much legitimacy as possible seems right to me. But would the best be the enemy of the good?
2. For an alternative procedure, see the statement by a group of Egyptian activists that was translated and released by the Carnegie Endowment here. In their scenario, the Vice-President would oversee an independent process of revising the constitution and preparing for new elections, in consultation with independent jurists and constitutional experts. For additional commentary on the proposal, and the more general problem of constitutional reform, see Egypt expert Nathan Brown's posting here.
3. If you've been hearing those wild-eyed claims that the Muslim Brotherhood is a mortal threat to US interests and the nucleus of a future radical Islamic republic in Egypt, please read Helena Cobban's thoughtful discussion of the MB and its background. I should add that I think the lurid fears of some sort of radical jihadist takeover of Egypt are wildly off-the-mark, especially so long as the Egyptian army remains intact and respected (as it has so far). And as Masoud says in the op-ed discussed above, "democracy in Egypt, or any other part of the world, is not something we should fear."
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
The last day or two demonstrates that Mubarak has no intention of going down without a fight. At the same time, Egypt's Prime Minister has expressed regret for the loss of life and is pledging an orderly transition. Where does this leave us?
First of all, the events in the past day or two confirm a point I've made before: revolutionary upheavals are very hard to predict and the final outcome often isn't determined for weeks or months or even years. I was obviously wrong about the potential for contagion from the original Tunisian catalyst, but not about the fact that authoritarian governments are often able to ride out these storms. I'm not saying that Mubarak will (and as I said a couple of days ago, I think the regime is fatally compromised even if he does hang on), but the past day or two reminds us that the regime is not without resources. To repeat myself further, the danger is that the onset of a significant violence will create a situation where extremists on both sides feel empowered, resulting in far more extensive damage to Egypt's social order.
From a U.S. perspective, I'm with FP colleague Marc Lynch. If Obama goes wobbly at this point, he'll look even weaker than many people in the Middle East already assume he is. Given that Mubarak is beginning to do exactly what Obama asked him not to do, now's the time to distance ourselves even further. Obama should announce an immediate suspension of military aid to Egypt, while ordering the Pentagon to send a quiet message to Egyptian military commanders that aid will resume as soon as Mubarak steps down. We are playing the long game here, and need to take clear steps to ensure that we are not seen as complicit in dictatorial repression. Here I'm standing by my earlier remarks about the likely strategic consequences
From the perspective of the Egyptian leadership-and especially the new Vice President, Omar Suleiman, how do things look? Nobody is sharing any secrets with me, but I can still speculate. I caught part of an interview that Suleiman gave on Al Jazeera English (which has been indispensable throughout this crisis), and I thought he was doing his best to sound reasonable and to hold out the prospect of substantial reform but in an orderly manner. The problem, as I noted yesterday, is that neither Mubarak nor Suleiman (a long-time Mubarak associate who runs the intelligence services) has much (any?) credibility as a reformer. If Suleiman really wants to lead an orderly transition via constitutional reforms and September elections, therefore, the smartest thing he could do is to get Mubarak to leave power now, take credit for having done so, and then to govern openly and explicitly as a caretaker. That's just about the only way that Suleiman could gain a bit of credibility and legitimacy, and it might just make it possible to conduct a reform effort that could command broad acceptance.
One last point. In today's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne says that Obama's handling of this crisis will ultimately be judged by whether we get an anti-American/anti-Israel outcome or not. In his words, "Obama will be judged by results. If the Egyptian uprising eventually leads to an undemocratic regime hostile to the United States and Israel, the president will pay the price." I think he's right as a matter of practical politics, but this view also reflects the widespread assumption that the United States government has the capacity to determine the outcome of unruly political processes of the sort we are now witnessing in Egypt. This is silly: Nobody is in control of events there, nobody knows how it will turn out, and it's quite possible that we'll get either a good outcome or a bad outcome no matter what the United States government does. That doesn't mean the USG shouldn't try to shape events to the extent that we can, but we should not forget that our capacity to mold them is inherently limited.
I'm all for holding leaders accountable, especially when they do foolish things entirely on their own initiative (like invading Iraq). But we would do a better job of judging our leaders' performance if we acknowleged that presidents are neither omniscient nor omnipotent.
Like nearly everyone-including, I assume, Hosni Mubarak himself -- I've been surprised by the speed, scope and intensity of the upheaval in Egypt. As I write this, it's still not clear whether Mubarak will remain in power. Nor do we know how far-reaching the changes might be if he were to leave. We should all be somewhat humble about our ability to forecast where things are headed, or what the future implications might be.
That caveat notwithstanding, I want to offer a realist interpretation of what these events mean for the United States, along with the basic prescription that follows from that analysis. And though it may surprise some of you, I think realism dictates that the United States encourage Mubarak to leave, and openly endorse the creation of a democratic government in Egypt.
Realists are often caricatured as being uninterested in democracy or human rights, and concerned solely with the distribution of power and a narrowly defined national interest. It is true that realists tend to see calculations about power as the most important factor shaping international politics, and they often see sharp tradeoffs between strategic interests and moral preferences. Yet domestic considerations-including human rights-can be relevant for realists, particularly when thinking about one's allies.
To maximize their own security, states want allies that are strong, stable, and that do not cause major strategic problems for them (i.e., by getting into counterproductive quarrels with others). Other things being equal, states are better off if they don't have to worry about their allies' internal stability, and if an allied government enjoys considerable support among its population. An ally that is internally divided, whose government is corrupt or illegitimate, or that is disliked by lots of other countries is ipso facto less valuable than one whose population is unified, whose government is legitimate, and that enjoys lots of international support. For this reason, even a staunch realist would prefer allies that were neither internally fragile nor international pariahs, while recognizing that sometimes you have to work with what you have.
ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images
It's a New Year, and there's more news from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No surprise: It's not good. Over the weekend a 36-year-old Palestinian woman, Jawahar Abu Rahmah, died after inhaling tear gas fired at a demonstration at Bilin in the occupied territories. For eyewitness accounts and useful commentary, check out the Israeli website +972mag here.
Please note that Abu Rahmah wasn't a suicide bomber, wasn't firing rockets, and wasn't demanding an end to the Jewish state. She posed no direct threat to Israel's security at all. Instead, along with other courageous Israeli and Palestinian activists, she was merely protesting the illegal construction of Israel's "security fence" (aka "apartheid wall") near the village of Bilin. According to the New York Times, Israel's High Court declared in 2007 that "the barrier at Bilin should be rerouted to take in less of the village's agricultural land. That work has still not been completed." It is also worth noting that she was the second member of her family to die in this way; her brother Bassem was hit in the chest and killed by an Israeli tear-gas canister in 2009. (The tear gas, by the way, is manufactured right here in the United States).
Meanwhile, back in America, a number of prominent commentators are beginning to figure out that the Zionist dream is becoming a nightmare. First came Peter Beinart's important piece in the New York Review of Books a few months ago. Then, in the past couple of weeks, New Yorker editor David Remnick has given several interviews condemning the occupation in unusually blunt terms. Even die-hard defenders like Marty Peretz and Jeffrey Goldberg have expressed concerns about Israel's trajectory, wondering if it will remain a democracy.
These are hopeful signs because progress is only possible if we take an unsentimental look at the situation there. And the central point is that Israel's problems are not due to a handful of extremist rabbis, authoritarian tendencies among the recent Russian immigrants, or even the growing percentage of haredim. The core problem remains the occupation itself, which is a project that every Israeli government since 1967 has endorsed and supported. It is by now deeply embedded in the Israeli political establishment, which is why it will be so hard -- and maybe impossible -- to end. Among other things, that is why I have so much admiration for those courageous Israelis who understand where this course is leading and who are doing what they can to save their country from itself. (And yes, this unhappy situation affects America too, as even the Weekly Standard seemed to acknowledge indirectly last week).
Finally, in a bizarre bit of CYA diplomacy, the Israeli press is reporting that unnamed U.S. officials are now blaming the failure of the latest peace negotiations on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. According to the reports, Barak "charmed" U.S. officials into thinking that he could persuade Netanyahu to agree to a settlement freeze and other compromises, but then Barak failed to deliver as promised. "See: It's not really our fault; we just got hoodwinked by that wily fellow Barak."
In fact, if this report is even remotely accurate, it is yet another display of diplomatic incompetence on the part of Obama's Middle East team. Ehud Barak is hardly an unknown figure, and nobody who dealt with him during his earlier tenure as prime minister should have accepted his blandishments at face value now. When it comes to the peace process, in fact, Barak is a serial blunderer who repeatedly drove Bill Clinton and his Middle East team crazy with his high-handed and mercurial tactics. Even Dennis Ross, who is rarely critical of Israeli officials, expressed considerable exasperation with Barak in his memoir of those years. So what does it say when these same people get taken in by him yet again?
All of which leads me to the following suggestion for U.S. Middle East diplomacy. Given the sorry track record of the past two decades, we ought to establish a simple litmus test for future members of any presidential Middle East team. We just ask if they have any prior government service on this issue, and if the answer is yes, then they are automatically disqualified from serving again. I don't care if you're Protestant, Muslim, Coptic, Catholic, Quaker, Jewish, or Zoroastrian, or if you're a Republican, a Democrat, a realist, a neoconservative, or for that matter a La Follette Progressive. I don't care if you worked for AIPAC, for WINEP, for ATFP, or even for JVP. The rule is simple and clear: If you were directly associated with any of our past (failed) efforts, we thank you for your prior service, but we aren't going to use you again. None of us would go back to the same orthopedist after he or she bungled a knee operation, and we shouldn't keep reusing the same diplomats who have conspicuously failed to deliver in the past.
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There was a brief flap last week when the Nixon Library released a tape of a conversation between Henry Kissinger and the former president. At one point, Kissinger says "the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern."
A number of pundits have already explored what these disturbing remarks tell us about Kissinger himself and his relationship with Nixon, but Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush who is now a columnist for the Washington Post, has decided that the real culprit is the entire "realist" approach to foreign policy. Not only does he consider realism to be a "sadly limited view of power, discounting American ideological advantages in global ideological struggles," he claims that "repeated doses of foreign policy realism can deaden the conscience."
Such statements tell us two things: 1) Gerson hasn't read many (any?) realists, and 2) Gerson hasn't spent much time reflecting on the morality of his own government service. If he had, perhaps his own conscience would be a bit more troubled.
For starters, to use Henry Kissinger as a stand-in for all realists is bogus and intellectually lazy. Most academic realists thought the Vietnam War a foolish waste of U.S. resources, for example, yet Kissinger prosecuted that war with enthusiasm during his tenure as national security advisor and secretary of state. Similarly, most contemporary realists opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but Kissinger supported it (as did Gerson). Before indicting an entire school of thought on foreign policy, therefore, you'd think Gerson would have spent some time familiarizing himself with what realists actually wrote.
Furthermore, Gerson is wrong to claim that realists are indifferent to moral concerns. (See here for a thoughtful discussion of this issue). Realists emphasize the role of hard power and are generally skeptical of idealistic crusades, but not because they think morality has no place in human affairs. Indeed, most realists that I know are deeply moral individuals who wish that humans (and states) behaved in a more ethical fashion; unfortunately, history makes it abundantly clear that bad behavior is commonplace and that prudent leaders have to take that possibility into account.
Apart from a brief post praising New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's forthright stance on the Muslim community center controversy, I haven't said much about this issue. I had naively assumed that Bloomberg's eloquent remarks defending the project -- and reaffirming the indispensable principle of religious freedom -- would pretty much end the controversy, but I underestimated the willingness of various right-wing politicians to exploit our worst xenophobic instincts, and some key Democrats' congenital inability to fight for the principles in which they claim to believe. Silly me.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out what is going on here: All you really need to do is look at how the critics of the community center project keep describing it. In their rhetoric it is always the "Mosque at Ground Zero," a label that conjures up mental images of a soaring minaret on the site of the 9/11 attacks. Never mind that the building in question isn't primarily a mosque (it's a community center that will house an array of activities, including a gym, pool, auditorium, and oh yes, a prayer room). Never mind that it isn't at "Ground Zero": it's two blocks away and will not even be visible from the site. (And exactly why does it matter if it was?) You know that someone is engaged in demagoguery when they keep using demonstrably false but alarmist phrases over and over again.
What I don't understand is why critics of this project don't realize where this form of intolerance can lead. As a host of commentators have already noted, critics of the project are in effect holding American Muslims -- and in this particular case, a moderate Muslim cleric who has been a noted advocate of interfaith tolerance -- responsible for a heinous act that they did not commit and that they have repeatedly condemned. It is a view of surpassing ignorance, and precisely the same sort of prejudice that was once practiced against Catholics, against Jews, and against any number of other religious minorities. Virtually all religious traditions have committed violent and unseemly acts in recent memory, and we would not hold Protestants, Catholics, or Jews responsible for the heinous acts of a few of their adherents.
And don't these critics realize that religious intolerance is a monster that, once unleashed, may be impossible to control? If you can rally the mob against any religious minority now, then you may make it easier for someone else to rally a different mob against you should the balance of political power change at some point down the road.
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CNN has fired senior editor Octavia Nasr for tweeting that she was "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah ... One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot." Fadlallah was one of the spiritual leaders of Hezbollah, and regarded by the U.S. government as a terrorist. Nasr subsequently clarified that she was referring to Fadlallah's "pioneering" positions on womens' rights (among other things, he issued fatwas condemning honor killings and affirming the right of women to protect themselves from domestic abuse), and she expressed regret for trying to address a complex issue like this in a brief tweet. But in a gutless decision that brings it no credit, CNN has shown her the door.
Needless to say, the double-standard here is both remarkable and distressing. As Juan Cole noted this morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki openly praised Fadlallah after the latter's death, and in terms far more lavish than Ms. Nasr used. Al-Maliki is the democratically-elected leader of Iraq and supposedly a U.S. ally; does his praise for Fadlallah mean that we shouldn't say anything positive about him either?
More importantly, plenty of American journalists and politicians have shown "respect" (and in some cases, fawning admiration) for various world figures with hands far bloodier than Ayatollah Fadlallah -- including Mao Zedong, Ariel Sharon, the Shah of Iran, or even Kim il Sung -- but it didn't cost them their jobs. And let's not forget that plenty of American journalists treat our own leaders with plenty of deference and "respect," even after the latter have launched unnecessary wars in which tens of thousands have died or authorized the torture of detainees. And as Josh Marshall notes over at TPM, getting fired after a successful twenty-year career over a 140-character tweet "just doesn't seem right."
This incident is also distressing because CNN was essentially caving into a black/white, us vs. them, good vs. absolute evil view of the world. Because the United States had labeled Fadlallah a "terrorist," expressing any sort of positive comment about him was a firing offense. But the real world is more complicated than that: people who support some good things sometimes embrace bad things too, and we ought to be able to acknowledge and "respect" them for their positive actions while recognizing and condemning their errors or flaws. Nasr is correct to have expressed regret for having tweeted on a subject that requires more nuance, but her firing will only reinforce the simplistic stereotypes that already prevail in mainstream political commentary. (For a more nuanced appreciation of Fadlallah's positive and negative contributions, go here.)
Mind you, I'm not defending Fadlallah's views on terrorism or Nasr's ill-advised tweet. But CNN's spineless response to this incident strikes me as one more reason why mainstream journalism is increasingly seen as morally bankrupt and why the blogosphere is slowly taking over.
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Back in May 1967, the Egyptian government led by Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered a blockade of the Straits of Tiran, cutting off Israeli shipping in the Gulf of Aqaba. This action crossed a "red line" for Israel, and was a major escalatory step in the crisis that led to the Six Day War. President Lyndon Johnson considered sending U.S. warships or some sort of international flotilla to challenge the blockade and defuse the crisis. But even though the United States had previously given Israel certain assurances about protecting freedom of navigation in the straits, Johnson ultimately declined to take decisive action to defend Israel's navigation rights. The United States was already bogged down in Vietnam and Johnson feared getting trapped in another volatile conflict. So he dithered, and Israel ultimately chose to go to war instead.
Had Johnson used U.S. naval forces to challenge the blockade, the Six Day War might not have occurred. Egypt would not have dared to challenge U.S. warships, of course, and sending a U.S. fleet to break the blockade would have given Nasser a way to back down but save face (i.e., he would have been backing down to a superpower, and not to Israel). And had the Six Day War been averted, many of the problems we are wrestling with now -- including the disastrous occupation of the West Bank -- might never have arisen.
Remembering this previous failure got me thinking: why doesn't the United States use its considerable power to lift the blockade of Gaza unilaterally? It's clear that the blockade of Gaza is causing enormous human suffering and making both the United States and Israel look terrible in the eyes of the rest of the world. It has also failed to achieve any positive political purpose, like defeating Hamas. So why doesn't the United States take the bull by the horns and organize a relief flotilla of its own, and use the U.S. Navy to escort the ships into Gaza? I'll bet we could easily get a few NATO allies to help too, and if money's the issue, we can get some EU members or Scandinavians to help pay for the relief supplies. And somehow I don't think the IDF would try to stop us, or board any of the vessels.
The advantages of this course of action seem obvious. The United States has been looking both ineffective and hypocritical ever since the Cairo speech a year ago, and many people in the Arab and Islamic world are beginning to see Barack Obama as just a smooth-talking version of George W. Bush. By taking concrete steps to relieve Palestinian suffering, Obama would be showing the world that the United States was not in thrall to Israel or its hard-core lobbyists here in the United States. What better way to discredit the fulminations of anti-American terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who constantly accuse us of being indifferent to Muslim suffering? The photo ops of U.S. personnel unloading tons of relief supplies would go a long way to repairing our tarnished image in that part of the world. Remember the Berlin airlift, or our relief operations in Indonesia following the Asian tsunami? Doing good for others can win a lot of good will.
Second, having the U.S. and NATO take charge of a relief operation would alleviate Israel's security concerns. The Israeli government claims the blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from being smuggled into Gaza. That is surely a legitimate concern, but if the United States and its allies are bringing relief aid in, then we can determine what goes on the ships and we obviously won't bring in weaponry.
But wait a minute: wouldn't bringing relief aid to Gaza end up strengthening Hamas? Not if we arrange for the relief aid to be distributed through the United Nations or other independent relief agencies. Some of it might end up in Hamas's hands indirectly but most of it won't, and reducing the level of deprivation and suffering would undercut the influence Hamas gains as a provider of social services.
It's true that a relief operation of this sort will probably require some U.S. officials to have some minimal dealings with Hamas, but this would actually be a good thing. If the United States is really serious about a genuine two-state solution, it is going to have to bring Hamas into the political process sooner or later and this is a pretty low-key, non-committal way to start. And while we're at it, we can tell them to get busy fixing that Charter of theirs and take a humanitarian gesture or two of their own, such as releasing captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
In short, using American power to end the blockade of Gaza could be a win-win-win for everyone. The United States (and Obama himself) would demonstrate that we really did seek a "new beginning" in the Middle East, and correct the impression that the Cairo speech was just a lot of elegant hooey. Israel's security concerns would be addressed, it would look flexible and reasonable, and we would be providing Netanyahu with an easy way to extricate himself from a position that is increasingly untenable. (It's one thing for him to lift the blockade himself, but quite another to do it at Washington's behest). And of course the long-suffering population of Gaza would be much better off, which should make us all feel better.
The more that I think about it, the more attractive this approach looks. All it takes is an administration that is willing to take bold action to correct a situation that is both a humanitarian outrage and a simmering threat to regional peace. That probably means that it has zero chance of being adopted. And of course you all know why.
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By now you'll all have heard about the IDF's unwarranted attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a fleet of six civilian vessels that was attempting to bring humanitarian aid (i.e., medicines, food, and building materials) to Gaza. The population of Gaza has been under a crippling Israeli siege since 2006. Israel imposed the blockade after Gaza's voters had the temerity to prefer Hamas in a free election held at the insistence of the Bush administration, which then refused to recognize the new government because it didn't like the results.
Late Sunday night, IDF naval forces and commandos attacked one of the unarmed ships in international waters, killing at least ten of the peace activists and injuring many more. IDF spokesman claim that the use of force was justified because the passengers resisted Israel's efforts to board and commandeer the ship. Other Israeli officials have sought to portray the activists, whose ranks included citizens from fifty countries, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a former U.S. ambassador, and an elderly Holocaust survivor, as terrorist sympathizers with ties to Hamas and even al Qaeda.
My first question when I heard the news was: "What could Israel's leaders have been thinking?" How could they possibly believe that a deadly assault against a humanitarian mission in international waters would play to their advantage? Israel's government and its hard-line supporters frequently complain about alleged efforts to "delegitimize" the country, but actions like this are the real reason Israel's standing around the world has plummeted to such low levels. This latest escapade is as bone-headed as the 2006 war in Lebanon (which killed over a thousand Lebanese and caused billions of dollars worth of damage) or the 2008-2009 onslaught that killed some 1300 Gazans, many of them innocent children. None of these actions achieved its strategic objective; indeed, all of them are just more evidence of the steady deterioration in Israel's strategic thinking that we have witnessed since 1967.
My second question is: "Will the Obama administration show some backbone on this issue, and go beyond the usual mealy-mouthed statements that U.S. presidents usually make when Israel acts foolishly and dangerously?" President Obama likes to talk a lot about our wonderful American values, and his shiny new National Security Strategy says "we must always seek to uphold these values not just when it is easy, but when it is hard." The same document also talks about a "rule-based international order," and says "America's commitment to the rule of law is fundamental to our efforts to build an international order that is capable of confronting the emerging challenges of the 21st century."
Well if that is true, here is an excellent opportunity for Obama to prove that he means what he says. Attacking a humanitarian aid mission certainly isn't consistent with American values -- even when that aid mission is engaged in the provocative act of challenging a blockade -- and doing so in international waters is a direct violation of international law. Of course, it would be politically difficult for the administration to take a principled stand with midterm elections looming, but our values and commitment to the rule of law aren't worth much if a president will sacrifice them just to win votes.
More importantly, this latest act of misguided belligerence poses a broader threat to U.S. national interests. Because the United States provides Israel with so much material aid and diplomatic protection, and because American politicians from the president on down repeatedly refer to the "unbreakable bonds" between the United States and Israel, people all over the world naturally associate us with most, if not all, of Israel's actions. Thus, Israel doesn't just tarnish its own image when it does something outlandish like this; it makes the United States look bad, too. This incident will harm our relations with other Middle Eastern countries, lend additional credence to jihadi narratives about the "Zionist-Crusader alliance," and complicate efforts to deal with Iran. It will also cost us some moral standing with other friends around the world, especially if we downplay it. This is just more evidence, as if we needed any, that the special relationship with Israel has become a net liability.
In short, unless the Obama administration demonstrates just how angry and appalled it is by this foolish act, and unless the U.S. reaction has some real teeth in it, other states will rightly see Washington as irretrievably weak and hypocritical. And Obama's Cairo speech -- which was entitled "A New Beginning" -- will be guaranteed a prominent place in the Hall of Fame of Empty Rhetoric.
How might the United States respond? We could start by denouncing Israel's action in plain English, without prevarication. We could help draft and push through a Security Council resolution condemning Israel's action and calling for an international commission of inquiry to determine what happened. And if American intelligence was monitoring the flotilla -- and it should have been -- we should make any information we collected available to the commission. We could also cancel or suspend elements of our military aid package to Israel. And we could say loudly and clearly that the blockade of Gaza is illegal, inhumane and counterproductive, and openly press Israel and Egypt to lift it immediately.
But even strong measures like these won't solve the underlying problem, which is the conflict itself. I've learned not to expect much from this administration when it comes to pushing the two sides toward a settlement, as Obama talks a good game, but doesn't follow through by putting meaningful pressure on the two sides. This latest incident, however, might convince Obama that he was right to put the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the front burner when he took office, and wrong to cave into Netanyahu when the latter dug in his heels last summer (2009) and again this past spring. The result of those retreats was a waste of precious time, while the situation in the Occupied Territories deteriorated.
Because time is rapidly running out on a two-state solution, Obama should seize this opportunity to explain to the American people why a different approach is needed and why bringing this conflict to an end is a national security priority for the United States. He should also explain why using U.S. leverage on both sides is in Israel's interest as well as America's interest. And he will need to bring some new people on board to help him do this, because the team he's been using has spent more than a year without achieving anything. (If his economic team was this decisive, our economy would still be spiraling into the abyss.) Getting the so-called "proximity talks" restarted doesn't count, because those discussions are a step backwards from earlier face-to-face negotiations and because they are likely to fail.
A third thought has to do with Israel itself, and especially its present government. How are we supposed to think about a country that has nuclear weapons, a superb army, an increasingly prosperous economy, and great technological sophistication, yet keeps more than a million people under siege in Gaza, denies political rights to millions more on the West Bank, is committed to expanding settlements there, and whose leaders feel little compunction about using deadly force not merely against well-armed enemies, but also against innocent civilians and international peace activists, while at the same time portraying itself as a blameless victim? Something has gone terribly wrong with the Zionist dream.
Fourth, this incident is a litmus test for the "pro-Israel" community here in the United States. One of the reasons why Israel keeps doing foolish things like this is that it has been insulated from the consequences of these actions by its hard-line sympathizers in the United States. AIPAC spokesmen are already bombarding journalists and pundits with emails spinning the assault, and we can confidently expect other apologists to prepare op-eds and blog posts defending Israel's conduct as a principled act of "self-defense." And if the Obama administration tries to proceed in any of the ways I've just suggested, it can count on fierce opposition from the most influential organizations in the Israel lobby.
In this context Peter Beinart's recent article in the New York Review of Books is even more salient, especially his question:
The heads of AIPAC and the Presidents' Conference should ask themselves what Israel's leaders would have to do or say to make them scream "no." ... If the line has not yet been crossed, where is the line?"
Over the next few days, keep an eye on how politicians and pundits line up on this issue. Which of them thinks that Israel "crossed a line" and deserves criticism -- and maybe even sanction -- and which of them thinks that what it did was entirely appropriate? Ironically, it is the former who are Israel's friends, because they are trying to save that country before it is too late. It is the latter whose misguided zeal is leading Israel down the road to further international isolation -- and maybe even worse.
I can't figure out who is actually directing U.S. policy toward Iran, but what's striking (and depressing) about it is how utterly unimaginative it seems to be. Ever since last year's presidential election, the United States has been stuck with a policy that might be termed "Bush-lite." We continue to ramp up sanctions that most people know won't work, and we take steps that are likely to reinforce Iranian suspicions and strengthen the clerical regime's hold on power.
To succeed, a foreign-policy initiative needs to have a clear and achievable objective. The strategy also needs to be internally consistent, so that certain policy steps don't undermine others. The latter requirement is especially important when you are trying to unwind a "spiral" of exaggerated hostility, which is the problem we face with Iran. Given the deep-seated animosity on both sides, any sign of inconsistency on our part will be viewed in the worst possible light by Iran. Indeed, a combination of friendly and threatening gestures may be worse than the latter alone because tentative acts of accommodation will be seen as a trick and will reinforce the idea that the other side is irredeemably deceitful and can never be trusted.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration's approach to Iran is neither feasible nor consistent. To begin with, our objective -- to persuade Iran to end all nuclear enrichment -- simply isn't achievable. Both the current government and the leaders of the opposition Green Movement are strongly committed to controlling the full nuclear fuel cycle, and the United States will never get the other major powers to impose the sort of "crippling sanctions" it has been seeking for years now. It's not gonna happen folks, or at least not anytime soon.
We might be able to convince Iran not to develop actual nuclear weapons -- which its leaders claim they don't want to do and have said would be contrary to Islam. I don't know if they really believe this or if an agreement along these lines is possible. I do know that we haven't explored that possibility in any serious way. Instead, the Obama administration has been chasing an impossible dream.
Furthermore, the U.S. approach to Tehran is deeply inconsistent. Obama has made a big play of extending an "open hand" to Tehran, and he reacted in a fairly measured way to the crackdown on the Greens last summer. But at the same time, the administration has been ratcheting up sanctions and engaging in very public attempt to strengthen security ties in the Gulf region. And earlier this week, we learned that Centcom commander General David Petraeus has authorized more extensive special operations in a number of countries in the region, almost certainly including covert activities in Iran.
Just imagine how this looks to the Iranian government. They may be paranoid, but sometimes paranoids have real (and powerful) enemies, and we are doing our best to look like one. How would we feel if some other country announced that it was infiltrating special operations forces into the United States, in order to gather intelligence, collect targeting information, or maybe even build networks of disgruntled Americans who wanted to overthrow our government or maybe just sabotage a few government installations? We'd definitely view it as a threat or even an act of war, and we'd certainly react harshly against whomever we thought was responsible. So when you wonder why oil- and gas-rich Iran might be interested in some sort of nuclear deterrent (even if only a latent capability), think about what you'd do if you were in their shoes.
Third, when Turkey and Brazil launched an independent effort to resurrect the earlier deal for a swap for some of Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rushed to condemn it and hastily announced a watered-down set of new sanctions. As I said last week, the Turkey-Brazil deal had real limitations and was at best a small first step toward restarting more serious talks. But trashing it as we did merely conveys that we aren't interested in genuine negotiations, and probably ticked off Turkey and Brazil to no good purpose. The smarter play would have been to welcome the deal cautiously but highlight its limitations, and let the onus for any subsequent failure fall on Iran instead of us.
Why is U.S. policy stuck in this particular rut? In part because this is a hard problem; one doesn't unwind three decades of mutual suspicion by making a speech or two or sending a friendly holiday greeting, and sometimes success requires a lot of perseverance. But I think there are two other problems at work.
The first is the mindset that seems to have taken hold in the Obama administration. As near as I can tell, they believe Iran is dead set on acquiring nuclear weapons and that Iran will lie and cheat and prevaricate long enough to get across the nuclear threshold. Given that assumption, there isn't much point in trying to negotiate any sort of "grand bargain" between Iran and the West, and especially not one that left them with an enrichment capability (even one under strict IAEA safeguards). This view may be correct, but if it is, then our effort to ratchet up sanctions is futile and just makes it more likely that other Iranians will blame us for their sufferings. Here I am in rare (if only partial) agreement with Tom Friedman: Maybe our focus ought to shift from our current obsession with Iran's nuclear program and focus on human rights issues instead (though it is harder for Washington to do that without looking pretty darn hypocritical).
A second explanation is some combination of inside-the-Beltway groupthink and ordinary bureaucratic conservatism. For anyone currently working in Washington, a hard line on Iran and defending our longstanding policy of confrontation is a very safe position to support. No one will accuse you of being a naive appeaser; you'll have plenty of bureaucratic allies, and you'll retain your reputation as a tough and reliable defender of U.S. interests.
By contrast, any government official who proposed taking the threat of force off the table, who publicly admitted that sanctions wouldn't work, who acknowledged that we probably can't stop Iran from getting the bomb if it really wants to, or who recommended a much more far-reaching effort at finding common ground would be taking a significant career risk. And you'd be virtually certain to get smeared by unrepentent neocons and other hawks who favor the use of military force. So there's little incentive for insiders to contemplate -- let alone propose -- a different approach to this issue, even though our current policy is looking more and more like the failed policies of the previous administration.
Although I obviously can't be certain, I don't think there will be an open war with Iran. I think that enough influential people realize just how much trouble this would cause us and that they will continue to resist calls for "kinetic action." (Of course, I also thought that about Iraq back in 2001, and look what happened there.) But U.S.-Iranian relations aren't going to improve much either, and we'll end up devoting more time and effort to this problem than it deserves. But who cares? It's not as if the United States has any other problems on its foreign-policy agenda, right?
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It's been a long
time since I've offered a counter-factual for you to ponder, but one popped
into my head as I was reading the latest set of all-too-predictable smears being
directed at South African Judge Richard Goldstone, who directed the U.N. report
documenting Israeli war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the 2008-2009 Gaza offensive.
If you're coming in late, the basic story is that Israeli newspapers and government officials have been spreading the story that Goldstone (who is Jewish) condemned a number of black activists to death when he was a judge in apartheid-era South Africa. Never mind that 1) it was his job as a judge to uphold the (admittedly harsh) laws of his country, 2) he is widely acknowledged as having played a positive role in the transition to majority rule, 3) Israel was one of white South Africa's staunchest allies, which makes these pious denunciations of apartheid absurdly hypocritical, and 4) none of this tells you a darn thing about either the contents or the merits of the report on Gaza that bears his name. For able rebuttals of this smear campaign, see here and here.
So here's my counterfactual. Suppose Goldstone's U.N. report had exonerated Israel's conduct during the Gaza War, and placed most if not all of the blame on Hamas. Suppose further that a prominent Palestinian group had then delved into Goldstone's past and tried to discredit the report by disclosing the same information about him. Do you think Israeli officials and/or media pundits like Jonathan Chait, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Alan Dershowitz would have rushed to pile on Goldstone, as they have leapt to do over the past few days? Isn't it more likely that they would have rallied to his defense, and denounced those unscrupulous Palestinians for trying to confuse the issue? Do these guys really think they are fooling anyone?
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
If you're feeling cheerful these days and would like to be brought down to earth, go read about the Greek financial crisis. Or you could read Aaron David Miller's essay in the current FP. It is a disheartening read on several levels: Miller is in effect saying that the peace process is dead, yet his analysis also unintentionally illustrates the myopia that has doomed U.S. efforts for twenty years or more.
Miller is by all accounts a decent and fair-minded individual and a dedicated public servant. I've had a few interchanges with him over the past few years and have found him to be both thoughtful and genuinely on the side of peace. But while I share his pessimism about the future, his account of our current situation is rife with blind spots and contradictions. And it is strangely silent on the most telling question of all: What will we do when "two states for two peoples" is no longer possible and everybody is forced to admit it?
Miller's main message is that the United States simply lacks the capacity to advance the peace process at present. Give up the "peace process religion" he suggests, it just ain't gonna happen. He offers a familiar laundry list of obstacles (divisions among the Palestinians, the dysfunctional nature of Israeli politics, the absence of strong leaders, other regional issues looming larger, the United States is now chastened by its difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.). But none of these elements explain why the United States cannot exercise the enormous potential leverage that it has over the relevant parties.
Miller admits that "domestic politics" (i.e., the Israel lobby) constrains what the U.S. government can do on these issues, but he insists that the lobby "does not have a veto over U.S. foreign policy." Yet in the very next paragraph, he writes "we've lost the capacity to be independent of Israel, to be honest with it when it does things we don't like, to impose accountability, and to adopt positions in a negotiation that it might depart from Israel's." Gee, how come? Sounds a lot like a veto to me. And if you read the fawning speech that National Secuity Advisor James Jones gave at WINEP last week, it's clear that Obama & Co. believe that it is still politic to appease the lobby whenever they can.
Moreover, for all his pessimism about the future, Miller never asks if the United States should distance itself from an Israel that is in the process of becoming an apartheid state. Instead, he still believes "America is Israel's best friend and must continue to be. Shared values are at the heart of the relationship, and our intimacy with Israel gives use leverage and credibility in peacemaking when we use it properly."
There are three problems here. First, all that "intimacy" doesn't' seem to be giving us very much leverage these days, and Miller's whole essay is in fact devoted to explaining why continuing to push the peace process is a waste of time. OK, but who cares if we have "leverage" and "credibility" if we're not going to use it?
Second, being Israel's "best friend" shouldn't mean giving it unconditional support, especially when doing so reinforces Israeli policies (like settlement-building) that threaten U.S. interests and Israel's own long-term future. Being a true friend means telling the truth when a friend's actions are misguided, but as Miller recognizes, our capacity to "be honest" has mostly evaporated.
Third, Miller invokes the familiar mantra of "shared values," but without asking whether the values we share are now diminishing. American values don't include confiscating land from Palestinians, throwing thousands of Palestinians in jail without trial, and carving up the occupied territories with separate roads, a wall, and hundreds of check-points. America's values are "one person, one vote," but that's not the reality in Greater Israel today and that is certainly not what Bibi Netanyahu has in mind for the future. Miller doesn't think the peace process has any future -- and he may be right -- but he still believes the United States should give Israel several billion dollars each year in economic and military aid and provide it with consistent diplomatic protection, even in the face of events like the Gaza War or the pummeling of Lebanon in 2006.
Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of Miller's cri de coeur is its silence about the future. The situation is not static, and if there is no peace process, there will be no two-state solution. As both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert have warned, if there is no two-state solution, then Israel will be an apartheid state and it will face growing international censure and an internal struggle for Palestinian political rights. When that happens, Olmert noted in 2007, "the state of Israel is finished."
Reading Miller's essay, I could not help but think of Great Britain. The British did a masterful job of screwing things up in Palestine between 1919 and 1947, and then they decided the whole business was "too hard" and washed their hands of the matter. Miller is understandably unhappy with the track record of U.S. peacemaking efforts, and he is in effect throwing up his hands as well. I can understand his reaction and even sympathize with his feelings, but it's not going to make things any better. In fact, the situation is likely to get worse, and history will judge us harshly for our contribution to it. Telling President Obama to stand aside now is irresponsible advice, because we are a central player in this conflict so long as the "special relationship" continues. Standing aside now also guarantees a worse outcome for all concerned.
So here's the question I'd really like Miller to address: if it becomes clear that "two states for two peoples" is no longer an option, what does he think U.S. policy should be? Should we then favor the ethnic cleansing of several million Palestinian Arabs from their ancestral homes, so that Israel can remain a democratic and Jewish state? (By the way, that would be a crime against humanity by any standard.) Or should we then press Israel to grant the Palestinians full political rights, consistent with America's own "melting-pot" traditions? (That is the end of the Zionist vision, and may be unworkable for other reasons). Or should we back (and subsidize) their confinement in a few disconnected enclaves (in Gaza, around Ramallah, and one or two other areas in the West Bank), with Israel controlling the borders, airspace, and water resources? (This is the apartheid solution, and it's where we are headed now.) I fear that some future president will have to choose between these three options, and it would be interesting to know what an experienced Middle East negotiator like Miller would advise him or her to do then.
SAIF DAHLAH/AFP/Getty Images
There are many ways one could respond to the shocking plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczyinski over the weekend, but I was most struck by the reaction of a young Polish man -- Adam Tychoniewicz -- who chose to honor the dead president by riding his bicycle behind the motorcade carrying Kaczyinski's body from the airport to the presidential palace. Tychoniewicz offered a simple but eloquent statement about the value of legitimate constitutional orders and the rule of law. "I'm not afraid," he said. "This is what the laws and the Constitution are for."
Precisely. Poles can react to their shock and grief with calm and resilience because they live in a society where stability and safety do not depend on the leadership of a single individual or the unchecked authority of a single political party. Rather, it depends on the existence of a legitimate framework of laws and institutions than can provide continuity even in the aftermath of an enormous body blow -- the death of a president and dozens of top officials.
In Iraq, by contrast, the removal of Saddam Hussein and the dismantling of the Ba'ath party brought a rapid descent into the state of nature, leading quickly to brutal sectarian warfare. This is because Saddam's Iraq was an arbitrary order where his will was law. Government there did not exist to protect the people from each other or from arbitrary authority; it existed to keep Saddam and his henchmen in power. Once they were gone, there was no set of stable and legitimate institutions to take over, and as we have learned to our sorrow, trying to create them is a difficult, time-consuming, and uncertain task.
Realists are often criticized for ignoring domestic politics, but the accusation is at best half-true. Realists do tend to think that other factors are more important in explaining a state's foreign policy behavior -- at least most of the time -- but their relatively pessimistic view of human nature makes realists appreciate the importance of legitimate domestic institutions that will constrain our worst impulses.
After all, it was Thomas Hobbes -- a realist if ever there was one-who warned about the harshness of life in the state of nature (it is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short") and who emphasized the need for strong institutions to control our selfish tendencies. Similarly, the American Founding Fathers were well aware of the dark side of human nature and sought to devise a system whose laws could channel it in a beneficial directions. As James Madison famously wrote in Federalist No. 51:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."
That is why retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was so worried by the majority decision in Bush v. Gore, the case that decided the 2000 Presidential election. It wasn't the outcome of the election that mattered; it was a majority decision he believed would undermine our faith in the legal order itself. In the words of his dissent:
It is confidence in the men and women who administer the judicial system that is the true backbone of the rule of law. ... Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
And that is also why Americans should be worried by President Obama's decision to authorize the targeted assassination of an American citizen who is now suspected of supported terrorist activities in Yemen. When any U.S. president can issue death warrants against a U.S. citizen on the basis of suspicion alone (no matter how well documented) and shorn of any due process, we have taken one further step towards a dangerous concentration of executive authority.
We are far from either tyranny or the state of nature today, no matter what some Tea Partiers might think. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and when you're on a slippery slope, one or two steps can start you sliding towards the point of no return.
So let us grieve for Poland's loss, and take solace from its resilience. And let us also reflect on the value of living in a constitutional order where the rule of law exists, and imagine how frightening it would be to live in a land where whoever was in charge could do whatever they wanted. Laws and the Constitution exist for a reason. As Mr. Tychoniewicz reminded us, they are there so that we don't have to be afraid.
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The following is a guest post by Professor James Ron of Carleton University. I should say that I'm not fully persuaded by Ron's suggestion that foreign funders of NGOs in Israel and elsewhere should spend less money in order to encourage a more robust and indigenously-funded civil society, although I agree that helping such organizations develop more robust funding strategies makes eminently good sense. As long as the settlement enterprise continues, and especially as long as tax-exempt monies of various sorts keep flowing into the settlement enterprise-then foreign governments, foundations, and individuals have a legitimate interest in supporting various civil society groups in Israel (and elsewhere) -- including human rights groups and other law-abiding organizations that seek to document or oppose these policies. One could make similar arguments about other countries whose behavior is contrary to accepted human rights principles. That said, Ron's argument does raise some interesting issues and I thought FP readers might find it intriguing and useful.
Guest Post by James Ron
In the 1990s, American experts heralded the global spread of liberal civil society, arguing that political power had fundamentally shifted in favor of an organized citizenry. States were no longer in charge, and NGOs such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace, coupled with thousands of smaller NGOs worldwide, were spreading liberal ideas such as democracy, human rights, and environmentalism.
Boosted by scholarly evidence and policymaker enthusiasm, Western donors began pouring money into NGOs across Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
At first, the results seemed promising. Small NGOS popped up everywhere, and in many places, developed a powerful voice. Transparency, progressive advocacy, and human rights seemed destined to carry the day.
That tide has now turned, and the wave of Western-funded, liberal NGOs has produced a backlash from conservatives everywhere, from Canada to Russia. Increasingly, legislators, backlash activists and government officials are attacking NGOs where it hurts most: their foreign-funded wallets.
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There has been an interesting flap in Cambridge this past week regarding some appalling remarks made by one Martin Kramer. As some of you undoubtedly know, Kramer is a hard-line Israeli-American commentator who has made something of a name for himself attacking the Middle East studies profession, and just about anyone who is remotely critical of Israel’s actions or the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship.” (Full disclosure: he’s taken various ill-aimed swipes at me in the past few years). He was an early supporter of Campus Watch (the organization Daniel Pipes founded to blacklist scholars it disapproved of), and Kramer has also sought to convince Congress to curtail or at least closely monitor the Title VI funding it provides to support Middle East studies and other area studies programs at American universities. He is affiliated with a number of right-of-center organizations in the United States and Israel, and for the past few years, he’s also been a research fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs here at Harvard, under the auspices of its National Security Studies program.
In any case, the ruckus started when it was revealed that Kramer had given a speech at the recent Herzliya Conference in Israel, where he advocated eliminating outside aid to Gazans (which he termed “pro-natal subsidies”) because -- according to him -- it encouraged them to reproduce, which led to the creation of what he termed “superfluous young males,” which, in turn, contributed to terrorism. He also suggested that Israel’s siege of Gaza was intended to deal with this problem. You can watch his remarks here, but the money quote is the following:
“Aging populations reject radical agenda and the Middle East is no different. Now eventually, this will happen among the Palestinians, too. But it will happen faster if the West stops providing pro-natal subsidies for Palestinians with refugee status. Those subsidies are one reason why in the ten years, from 1997 to 2007, Gaza's population grew by an astonishing 40%. At that rate, Gaza's population will double by 2030 to three million. Israel's present sanctions on Gaza have a political aim, undermine the Hamas regime, but they also break Gaza's runaway population growth and there is some evidence that they have. That may begin to crack the culture of martyrdom, which demands a constant supply of superfluous young men."
In other words, if Israel and the West can just keep those pesky Palestinians on a subsistence diet and stop them from having all those babies, the population will get increasingly older and smaller and the terrorism problem will eventually go away.
One rarely hears anyone make such horrific remarks in polite company here in the United States, especially someone associated with a college or university. Not surprisingly, Kramer’s remarks have stirred up a major controversy. Several prominent bloggers -- notably Ali Abunimah (who broke the story) and M.J. Rosenberg -- accused Kramer of advocating genocide. Juan Cole at Informed Comment referred to Kramer’s ideas as a form of eugenics, Richard Silverstein called it anti-Muslim racism, and a number of people complained to the leadership of the Weatherhead Center. I know that because I am on the center’s executive committee and I received several irate emails demanding that Harvard dismiss Kramer or least distance itself from him. In response, the center’s directors issued a statement saying, “It would be inappropriate for the Weatherhead Center to pass judgment on the personal political views of any of its affiliates, or to make affiliation contingent upon some political criterion. Exception may be made for statements that go beyond the boundaries of protected speech, but there is no sense in which Kramer's remarks could be considered to fall into this category.” They also said the charge that he was advocating genocide was “baseless.” The Harvard Crimson took a similar line, which you can read here.
I have three points to make about this matter.
First, although a good case can be made that Kramer’s remarks were tantamount to advocating genocide, I would not use that word to characterize them. The 1948 U.N. definition of genocide does include “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group,” and Kramer’s call for an end to ‘pro-natal subsidies” is very close to that part of the definition. But despite my respect for Abunimah and Rosenberg, I think the word “genocide” has become a loaded term that gets tossed around too loosely, which makes it easy for Kramer and his defenders to portray legitimate criticism of his extreme views as over the top.
What word you use to describe his comments is actually not that important, because their substance is so offensive to any decent person that you don’t need to worry much about getting the right label for them. To illustrate this point, just imagine how Kramer would react if the Iranian government announced that it was worried its Jewish population (some 25,000 or so) was a potential “fifth column,” and that it was therefore imposing measures intended to discourage Iranian Jews from having more children? Or what if a prominent academic at Harvard declared that the United States had to make food scarcer for Hispanics so that they would have fewer children? Or what if someone at a prominent think tank noted that black Americans have higher crime rates than some other groups, and therefore it made good sense to put an end to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other welfare programs, because that would discourage African-Americans from reproducing and thus constitute an effective anti-crime program? Americans of all persuasions would appropriately denounce such views as barbaric and racist, and that’s precisely how Kramer’s chilling remarks should be viewed.
Second, I take the issue of academic freedom very seriously and believe that the principle applies to Kramer, even though I found his remarks appalling. Thus, I believe that the Weatherhead administrators were correct in deflecting calls to dismiss him. (Some of you may recall that I thought that the head of Ben Gurion University of the Negev was wrong when she tried to censure Professor Neve Gordon, who is on her faculty and who called for a boycott of Israel. By the same logic, it would be wrong for Harvard officials to cut off Kramer because they disagreed with what he said or even found it offensive.)
But notice that the Weatherhead directors did not quite “refrain from passing judgment” on what Kramer said. The appropriate stance to adopt whenever a faculty member or affiliated researcher takes a controversial or unpopular position is strict neutrality; the institution, or its official representatives, should take no position at all about the validity of the person’s views. Therefore, they should have defended Kramer’s right to say what he did but refrained from commenting on whether the accusations against him were “baseless” or not.
It is also more than a little ironic that Kramer and his defenders are using the principle of “academic freedom” as a means of defense, given Kramer’s past efforts to bring external pressure to bear on academics who made arguments about the Middle East that he found objectionable.
Third, the principle of academic freedom does not prevent scholars from challenging Kramer’s racist ideas, and pointing out just how offensive they are. Nor does it prevent any of us -- and that includes academic administrators -- from questioning Kramer’s judgment on matters relating to U.S. Middle East policy or from questioning the judgment of anyone who thought that having him affiliate with Harvard was a good idea.
One final point. It is important to emphasize that many Israelis and most American Jews would undoubtedly find Kramer’s views offensive. At the same, however, he is hardly an isolated extremist, or some messianic settler sitting in a trailer in an illegal outpost in the West Bank. On the contrary, he is an especially well-connected individual, with appointments at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and of course Harvard. Moreover, he is not the only Israeli who has expressed such hateful views about the Palestinians. Of course, one can find equally hateful sentiments about Israeli Jews coming from Palestinians and Arabs. But the key difference is that they don’t hold appointments at prestigious institutions like Harvard.
When I got out of the shower this morning, my wife was waking up to NPR. Her first comment to me was this: “I never thought I would hear an NPR reporter say those words.” What had she just heard? A report that the Obama administration was “under fire” for defending the rights of terrorist suspects.
She wasn’t complaining about NPR’s coverage, mind you, she was commenting on the bizarre situation where anyone -- let alone a president and his administration -- could be “under fire” for defending a core principle of the American justice system. The Founding Fathers would be spinning in their graves, about as fast as a nuclear centrifuge. They understood the dangers of giving executives arbitrary authority to arrest, detain, coerce, and try suspects (i.e., those whom authorities think might have committed a crime but whose guilt has not yet been determined). So suspects -- all suspects -- are accorded certain legal rights.
I’m not a lawyer and so I don’t normally weigh in on legal issues, including the continuing debate over torture, the use of civilian vs. military tribunals to try suspected terrorists, and the other aspects of post-9/11 policy. As a matter of policy, however, the case for abandoning our normal criminal justice procedures strikes me as laughably weak. As Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald, and others have noted repeatedly, the various Bush-era abuses (including torture, “preventive detention,” reliance on military tribunals) were a propaganda boon for our adversaries, and did not in fact lead to significant intelligence breakthroughs or other strategic benefits. And as numerous commentators have pointed out, the criminal justice system worked just fine in the case of Richard Reid (the Al Qaeda “shoe bomber”) and Ramzi Yousef (who planned the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and is now serving a life sentence without parole). And on the issue of torture, top military commanders like David Petraeus agree.
The latest evidence, of course, is the guilty plea entered by Najibullah Zazi at his trial in New York City (yes, the very same New York city that supposedly couldn’t hold a trial for Khalid Sheikh Muhammed). Zazi was was arrested and charged with conspiracy, for plotting to detonate a bomb in the New York subway system. He was Mirandized and interrogated in the normal fashion (i.e., he wasn’t waterboarded). The result? He pleads guilty, and appears to be singing like a bird. Good thing we didn’t send him to Guantanamo, where he might have been tortured, and his evidence rendered either suspect or legally inadmissible.
The lesson here is that Americans ought to have more faith in our existing institutions. It’s a great paradox: we constantly tell the world how great our country is, how our values ought to be emulated, and how other states would be much better off if they re-made their societies in our image. But then something bad happens, panic sets in, and people conclude that those same precious values are in fact a fatal weakness that our enemies will exploit to bring us down. And the result is usually an embarrassing and shameful tragedy (like the incarceration of Japanese-Americans in World War II), for which we later have to apologize and make restitution.
Defenders of these abuses sometimes point out that Lincoln, Roosevelt, and other American icons were also willing to suspend core U.S. values in times of national emergency, and that the pendulum swung back once the danger is over. I would make three comments in response.
First, to the extent that this is true, it merely underscores the need for opponents of these policies to keep making the case against them. The pendulum won’t swing back if critics don’t explain why these policies are misguided, or if their advocates prove to be louder or more persistent.
Second, even if the pendulum does swing back somewhat, it may not go all the way. We may have abandoned water-boarding, for example, but the Obama administration has retained a number of other Bush-era policies, including preventive detention and extraordinary rendition. And we all know that once in place, many policies prove remarkably resistant to change. Moreover, executive power in the realm of national security has been growing steadily for the past century -- and especially since the Cold War began -- and it is not obvious to me that this has been a net positive. Third, it is worth remembering that former Vice President Cheney and key aides like David Addington were not advocating a temporary response to a new threat, akin to Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War. Rather, they saw 9/11 as an opportunity to pursue a permanent increase in executive power, a goal that they had been seeking for many years. (Never mind that they don't seem very interested in a strong executive during this administration). And I suppose we should be grateful that Bush’s many failures helped slow this power grab somewhat.
You might think a realist like me would be in favor of a strong executive, on the grounds that states in the dog-eat-dog world of international politics need a strong hand on the tiller of the ship of state. But realists also have a healthy appreciation for human frailty, and the tendency for those who possess great power to abuse it. Concentrating too much power in the executive is a good way to blunder into foolish wars, and it can even discourage the sort of open debate and discussion that (sometimes) helps democracies to avoid the fatal errors that authoritarian governments often make.
So have a little faith in our existing institutions, and stop trying to become more like the countries we normally oppose.
CHRISTINE CORNELL/AFP/Getty Images
If you find the news from inside Iran somewhat bewildering, and if you don’t know whether to believe those who think the clerical regime is on its last legs or those who think it will easily contain the opposition, don’t feel bad. The reality is that nobody -- including the leaders of the Iranian government, the opposition, and all of us watching from outside -- knows where they are headed or what the timetable for change might be. We'll know who guessed (yes, guessed) right some weeks, months, years, or decades from now, but right now trying to handicap events there is a mug’s game. Here’s why:
First, we don’t have very reliable information coming from inside Iran itself, partly because the regime is doing its best to limit it. That’s not to say that we have no information -- in the form of emails, journalists' accounts, twitter feeds, viral videos, and even some surveys of public opinion -- the problem is that it is very hard to know how representative it is, what the larger context is, or what any of it actually means.
Second, the information we do have is tainted by what economist Timur Kuran termed "preference falsification." An individual’s true beliefs are a form of private information, and there’s no way of knowing whether someone who is expressing support for the regime is revealing their true beliefs or not. Even a large anti-government rally doesn’t reveal very much about what the people who stayed home are thinking, or how participants or bystanders would react in the event of either a crackdown or concessions by the ruling party. You might be willing to demonstrate if you think it's safe to do so, but your anti-regime feelings might not be so intense that you're willing to take big risks to express them. If enough Iranians feel this way, then the regime is probably safe; the key is that it is essentially impossible to figure this out ex ante.
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
Back in 2002, the Council on Foreign Relations sponsored a book by Kenneth Pollack (subsequently director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Studies at Brookings), entitled The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. The book argued that Saddam Hussein was irrational and undeterrable and that the United States had no choice but to remove him from power. Part of the book’s effectiveness derived from Pollack’s portrayal of himself as a belated convert to preventive war: he had opposed using force in the past, he said, but was now convinced—oh so reluctantly—that no other course was prudent. The book provided intellectual cover for all those liberal hawks who were looking for some way to justify supporting the war, and thus played an important role in a great national disaster.
Last week, CFR president Richard Haass appeared to be channeling his inner Pollack in a Newsweek column calling for regime change in Iran. Describing himself as a “card-carrying realist,” he sounded Pollackian notes of reluctance and resignation. He says that he normally thinks that “ousting regimes and replacing them with something better is easier said than done,” and adds that he previously backed the Obama administration’s decision to try diplomacy first.
But now, he says, he’s “changed his mind.” He’s convinced that Iran is trying to acquire the capacity to build a nuclear weapon (a carefully worded phrase, by the way, as having the capacity to build a nuke is not the same as actually building one and Iran may merely be seeking a latent capacity akin to Japan rather than an actual nuclear arsenal). He also thinks -- from his lofty perch in New York City -- that Iran “may be closer to profound political change than at any other time since the revolution that ousted the Shah thirty years ago.” Although he doesn’t call for a U.S. invasion (which we don’t have the forces for anyway), he wants the U.S. and its allies to be more vocal about Iranian human rights violations and advocates slapping targeted sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Meanwhile, neither senior U.S. officials nor congressmen should have any dealings with the Iranian regime, and we ought to push hard for sanctions on refined petroleum products at the U.N. (where they won’t be approved). Somewhat inconsistently, he thinks “working-level negotiations on the nuclear question should continue,” even though he must know that there’s hardly any chance that they will succeed while we are doing all the other things he advocates.
While there is no question that Haass’ piece will help fuel America’s sense of self-righteousness -- look, we’re defending freedom! -- the course of action he lays out is foolish. No one in the United States can be confident that Iran is close to “profound political change”; we simply don’t have enough information to know what is happening in Tehran, and authoritarian regimes often hold on to power for decades despite widespread domestic discontent.
Moreover, as I’ve noted before, key members of the current opposition are strongly supportive of Iran’s nuclear program, which means that there is little reason to think that Iran will abandon its nuclear program even if there is some sort of regime change. So if that's what's really bugging him -- and it appears to be -- then his prescribed course of action will just reinforce Iran's desire for a deterrent of its own. Acting as Haass prescribes could also weaken the opposition rather than strengthen it, by allowing the regime to discredit their adversaries as foreign puppets. He says the clerics and Revolutionary Guards are doing that already, but why give them more ammunition for the fight?
There are at least three other reasons why Haass’ new position is misguided.
First, after acknowledging that “ousting regimes and replacing them with something better is easier said than done,” he assumes that anything would be preferable to what we have now. Maybe so, but our track record in Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Central America, and elsewhere suggests that U.S. meddling often makes things worse. Like the liberal interventionists he has sometimes sparred with in the past, Haass simply cannot imagine leaving well enough alone, and letting Iran’s own people determine their own political future. A hands-off approach is not an endorsement of the clerics or the brutal behavior of the Revolutionary Guards; it is merely recognition that further meddling on our part might be counterproductive.
Second, as Richard Silverstein points out on his blog, Haass’ approach lacks patience. Repairing the troubled U.S.-Iran relationship cannot be accomplished in a month or even a year, and the kind of posturing and pressure that Haass is calling for is more likely to retard progress than advance it. Ordinary Iranians are already convinced that the United States has long interfered in their affairs for various nefarious purposes -- and with some reason -- and putting on the full-court press isn’t going to reduce those concerns. Indeed, it will surely exacerbate them.
Third, a policy of “regime change-lite” puts us one step closer to actual war. Haass is saying in effect that Iran’s government has no legitimacy or standing and that we ought to help bring it down. Attacking Iran is not a practical goal right now, but getting rid of the regime ought to be. So what happens when sanctions and speeches and ostracism don’t work, and Iran continues to develop its enrichment program? Wait another year or two, and Haass will find himself sounding even more like Kenneth Pollack, telling us that he has ever so reluctantly concluded that we have no choice but to bomb.
One would hope to see better analysis from the Council on Foreign Relations, especially in light of the fiasco in Iraq. And if it is a harbinger of things to come, look out.
WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 10: (AFP OUT) Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass speaks during a taping of a roundtable discussion of 'Meet the Press' at the NBC studios December 10, 2006 in Washington, DC. Haass discussed the findings of the Iraq Study Group report on the evaluation of the war in Iraq. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press)
If Mideast special envoy George Mitchell wants to end his career with his reputation intact, it is time for him to resign. He had a distinguished tenure in the U.S. Senate -- including a stint as majority leader -- and his post-Senate career has been equally accomplished. He was an effective mediator of the conflict in Northern Ireland, helped shepherd the Disney Corporation through a turbulent period, and led an effective investigation of the steroids scandal afflicting major league baseball. Nobody can expect to be universally admired in the United States, but Mitchell may have come as close as any politician in recent memory.
Why should Mitchell step down now? Because he is wasting his time. The administration's early commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace was either a naïve bit of bravado or a cynical charade, and if Mitchell continues to pile up frequent-flyer miles in a fruitless effort, he will be remembered as one of a long series of U.S. "mediators" who ended up complicit in Israel's self-destructive land grab on the West Bank. Mitchell will turn 77 in August, he has already undergone treatment for prostate cancer, and he's gotten exactly nowhere (or worse) since his mission began. However noble the goal of Israeli-Palestinian peace might be, surely he's got better things to do.
In an interview earlier this week with Time's Joe Klein, President Obama acknowledged that his early commitment to achieving "two states for two peoples" had failed. In his words, "this is as intractable a problem as you get ... Both sides-the Israelis and the Palestinians-have found that the political environments, the nature of their coalitions or the divisions within their societies, were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that" (my emphasis).
This admission raises an obvious question: who was responsible for this gross miscalculation? It's not as if the dysfunctional condition of Israeli and Palestinian internal politics was a dark mystery when Obama took office, or when Netanyahu formed the most hard-line government in Israeli history. Which advisors told Obama and Mitchell to proceed as they did, raising expectations sky-high in the Cairo speech, publicly insisting on a settlement freeze, and then engaging in a humiliating retreat? Did they ever ask themselves what they would do if Netanyahu dug in his heels, as anyone with a triple-digit IQ should have expected? And if Obama now realizes how badly they screwed up, why do the people who recommended this approach still have their jobs?
As for Mitchell himself, he should resign because it should be clear to him that he was hired under false pretenses. He undoubtedly believed Obama when the president said he was genuinely committed to achieving Israel-Palestinian peace in his first term. Obama probably promised to back him up, and his actions up to the Cairo speech made it look like he meant it. But his performance ever since has exposed him as another U.S. president who is unwilling to do what everyone knows it will take to achieve a just peace. Mitchell has been reduced to the same hapless role that Condoleezza Rice played in the latter stages of the Bush administration -- engaged in endless "talks" and inconclusive haggling over trivialities-and he ought to be furious at having been hung out to dry in this fashion.
The point is not that Obama's initial peace effort in the Middle East has failed; the real lesson is that he didn't really try. The objective was admirably clear from the start -- "two states for two peoples" -- what was missing was a clear strategy for getting there and the political will to push it through. And notwithstanding the various difficulties on the Palestinian side, the main obstacle has been the Netanyahu government's all-too obvious rejection of anything that might look like a viable Palestinian state, combined with its relentless effort to gobble up more land. Unless the U.S. president is willing and able to push Israel as hard as it is pushing the Palestinians (and probably harder), peace will simply not happen. Pressure on Israel is also the best way to defang Hamas, because genuine progress towards a Palestinian state in the one thing that could strengthen Abbas and other Palestinian moderates and force Hamas to move beyond its talk about a long-term hudna (truce) and accept the idea of permanent peace.
It's not as if Obama and Co. don't realize that this is important. National Security Advisor James Jones has made it clear that he sees the Israel-Palestinian issue as absolutely central; it's not our only problem in the Middle East, but it tends to affect most of the others and resolving it would be an enormous boon. And there's every sign that the president is aware of the need to do more than just talk.
Yet U.S. diplomacy in this area remains all talk and no action. When a great power identifies a key interest and is strongly committed to achieving it, it uses all the tools at its disposal to try to bring that outcome about. Needless to say, the use of U.S. leverage has been conspicuously absent over the past year, which means that Mitchell has been operating with both hands tied firmly behind his back. Thus far, the only instrument of influence that Obama has used has been presidential rhetoric, and even that weapon has been used rather sparingly.
And please don't blame this on Congress. Yes, Congress will pander to the lobby, oppose a tougher U.S. stance, and continue to supply Israel with generous economic and military handouts, but a determined president still has many ways of bringing pressure to bear on recalcitrant clients. The problem is that Obama refused to use any of them.
When Netanyahu dug in his heels and refused a complete settlement freeze -- itself a rather innocuous demand if Israel preferred peace to land -- did Obama describe the settlements as "illegal" and contrary to international law? Of course not. Did he fire a warning shot by instructing the Department of Justice to crack down on tax-deductible contributions to settler organizations? Nope. Did he tell Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to signal his irritation by curtailing U.S. purchases of Israeli arms, downgrading various forms of "strategic cooperation," or canceling a military exchange or two? Not a chance. When Israel continued to evict Palestinians from their homes and announced new settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in August, did Obama remind Netanyahu of his dependence on U.S. support by telling U.S. officials to say a few positive things about the Goldstone Report and to use its release as an opportunity to underscore the need for a genuine peace? Hardly; instead, the administration rewarded Netanyau's intransigence by condemning Goldstone and praising Netanyahu for "unprecedented" concessions. (The "concessions," by the way, was an announcement that Israel would freeze settlement expansion in the West Bank "temporarily" while continuing it in East Jerusalem. In other words, they'll just take the land a bit more slowly).
Like the Clinton and Bush administrations, in short, the idea that the United States ought to use its leverage and exert genuine pressure on Israel remains anathema to Obama, to Mitchell and his advisors, and to all those pundits who are trapped in the Washington consensus on this issue. The main organizations in the Israel lobby are of course dead-set against it -- and that goes for J Street as well -- even though there is no reason to expect Israel to change course in the absence of countervailing pressure.
Obama blinked -- leaving Mitchell with nothing to do-because he needed to keep sixty senators on board with his health care initiative (that worked out well, didn't it?), because he didn't want to jeopardize the campaign coffers of the Democratic Party, and because he knew he'd be excoriated by Israel's false friends in the U.S. media if he did the right thing. I suppose I ought to be grateful to have my thesis vindicated in such striking fashion, but there's too much human misery involved on both sides to take any consolation in that.
So what will happen now? Israel has made it clear that it is going to keep building settlements -- including the large blocs (like Ma'ale Adumim) that were consciously designed to carve up the West Bank and make creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, and other moderate forces will be increasingly discredited as collaborators or dupes. As Israel increasingly becomes an apartheid state, its international legitimacy will face a growing challenge. Iran's ability to exploit the Palestinian cause will be strengthened, and pro-American regimes in Egypt, Jordan, and elsewhere will be further weakened by their impotence and by their intimate association with the United States. It might even help give al Qaeda a new lease on life, at least in some places. Jews in other countries will continue to distance themselves from an Israel that they see as a poor embodiment of their own values, and one that can no longer portray itself convincingly as "a light unto the nations." And the real tragedy is that all this might have been avoided, had the leaders of the world's most powerful country been willing to use their influence on both sides more directly.
Looking ahead, one can see two radically different possibilities. The first option is that Israel retains control of the West Bank and Gaza and continues to deny the Palestinians full political rights or economic opportunities. (Netanyahu likes to talk about a long-term "economic peace," but his vision of Palestinian bantustans under complete Israeli control is both a denial of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations and a severe obstacle to their ability to fully develop their own society. Over time, there may be another intifada, which the IDF will crush as ruthlessly as it did the last one. Perhaps the millions of remaining Palestinians will gradually leave -- as hardline Israelis hope and as former House speaker Dick Armey once proposed. If so, then a country founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust -- one of history's greatest crimes-will have completed a dispossession begun in 1948 -- a great crime of its own.
Alternatively, the Palestinians may remain where they are, and begin to demand equal rights in the state under whose authority they have been forced to dwell. If Israel denies them these rights, its claim to being the "only democracy in the Middle East" will be exposed as hollow. If it grants them, it will eventually cease to be a Jewish-majority state (though its culture would undoubtedly retain a heavily Jewish/Israeli character). As a long-time supporter of Israel's existence, I would take no joy in that outcome. Moreover, transforming Israel into a post-Zionist and multinational society would be a wrenching and quite possibly violent experience for all concerned. For both reasons, I've continued to favor "two states for two peoples" instead.
But with the two-state solution looking less and less likely, these other possibilities begin to loom large. Through fear and fecklessness, the United States has been an active enabler of an emerging tragedy. Israelis have no one to blame but themselves for the occupation, but Americans -- who like to think of themselves as a country whose foreign policy reflects deep moral commitments-will be judged harshly for our own role in this endeavor.
The United States will suffer certain consequences as a result-decreased international influence, a somewhat greater risk of anti-American terrorism, tarnished moral reputation, etc.-but it will survive. But Israel may be in the process of drafting its own suicide pact, and its false friends here in the United States have been supplying the paper and ink. By offering his resignation-and insisting that Obama accept it-George Mitchell can escape the onus of complicity in this latest sad chapter of an all-too-familiar story. Small comfort, perhaps, but better than nothing.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
I'm no great fan of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but you gotta admit his candor is refreshing. From last week, in the Jerusalem Post:
Israel is willing to sit down for talks with the Palestinians, but with no preconditions or further gestures, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday evening, stressing that the most recent overture was a tactical and temporary move.
In practice, we have not been building for a year and a half, so why pretend," he said in an address at the Ariel University Center. "Like in soccer, you make tactical moves sometimes. It is clear to everyone that in ten months, we will be building again full force; anyone who understands anything knows this. . . ." The foreign minister proceeded to expound on the need to downplay the conflict with the Palestinians, which "must not be a central topic, neither [in Israel] nor [in the international arena]. Not everyone in the world is troubled by this problem, and our task is to diminish it, and not make it a central topic."
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
A couple of weeks ago I made a modest proposal for greater transparency in the "marketplace of ideas." The basic idea was that lots of think tanks and media pundits are reluctant to divulge their sources of support in detail, which makes it harder for those who consume their products to decide if it is genuine "analysis" or just something that's been bought and paid for by some well-heeled special interest group. So I suggested that we start rating think tanks and pundits according to their openness, and discount the policy advice offered by anyone who won't tell us who is coughing up the money to support their participation in the war of ideas. This isn't about censorship or abridging free speech; it's just about full disclosure.
Turns out a similar dispute has recently broken out over in Israel. A hawkish research group there, which operates under the seemingly neutral name of "NGO Monitor," has been trying to raise a stink about foreign sources of support for Israeli human rights organizations. In particular, NGO Monitor thinks it is inappropriate for foreign governments to support Israeli organizations that -- horrors! -- dare to criticize certain Israeli policies (mostly stemming from the occupation). The president of the organization, political scientist Gerald Steinberg, laid out the group's concerns in a Ha'aretz op-ed, and together with another hardline group (the Insitute of Zionist Strategies), NGO Monitor organized a Knesset conference on Dec. 1 attended by a number of right-wing MKs.
Writing in response, Israeli peace activist Didi Remez pointed out the hypocrisy in Steinberg's position. NGO Monitor objects to foreign support for domestic human rights organizations in Israel, but it is studiously silent about the millions of dollars of foreign funding -- much of it from the United States and some of it tax-deductible -- that is bankrolling the settler movement and helping sustain the occupation. For that matter, Steinberg's organization doesn't even reveal its own sources of support. Remez proposes a remedy similar to the one I proposed (albeit in a different context): NGOs in Israel should be required to be totally transparent. Let everyone 'fess up about where they are getting their money, and let the chips fall where they may. Sounds right to me; I'd love to know who is paying for all these activities. And for a different expose of Steinberg's hypocrisy, go here.
David Silverman/Getty Images
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.