Sunday, January 21, 2007

Paragraphs I Feel Like Writing

Not every thought on the Middle East merits an entire post.


As'ad AbuKhalil of Angry Arab once said that the summer 2006 war in Lebanon is better thought of as a continuation of Israel's continuous state of war with the Arab world since its inception in 1948 than as an isolated conflict. Fighting became more continuous in 1948, but the war was actually declared in 1895 when Herzl, and the European Jews Herzl represented, declared that a territory that they knew at the time to be over 95% Arab would be a Jewish homeland regardless of the wishes of the inhabitants. The Zionist War was declared in 1895 and low level fighting had begun by at latest 1935. AbuKhalil is right that the 2006 conflict is part of the Zionist War, but the starting date of that war was not really 1948. [Note: If I ever expand this to an entire post, I'll make sure Herzl's declaration was really 1895 and not 1894 or 1896.]


I am really annoyed that Abbas of Palestine is rejecting Hamas proposals himself. Why should he not present these proposals to Europe and have them reject them officially, then go back to Hamas? Why should he not force the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to publicly say, for example, that a Hudna is not acceptable, instead of Abbas saying it for them. I am happy that Abbas does not seem inclined to militarily confront Hamas at least for now. I am disappointed that he would rather be a spokesperson for Israel confronting Hamas than be a spokesperson for Hamas confronting Israel.

I mean Hamas, you know, won the election. I should say Abbas is a spokesperson for Israel confronting the Palestinian people rather than a spokeperson for the Palestinian people confronting Israel. Abbas could be worse, and throughout history traitors worse than Abbas are far from unusual, but I still find him very disapointing in this issue.


Guerillas, insurgents and militias in Iraq could have a lot more shoulder fired ground to air missiles than they do. Iran produces these missiles domestically. I can think of three helicopter downings since 2003. If the US really wants a confrontation with Iran, we will certainly be seeing three downings a month by summer 2008. US voters would not tolerate that and the US would be out Saigon style by March 2009. From the US point of view, it would be much better to talk it out.


In 2003, I thought it was immoral for the US to invade Iraq, and cause the damage to civilians that is inevitable in such an invasion when the aim of the invasion was indirectly to make the Middle East more safe for Zionism. Today, I still think it was immoral. I still think the purpose of the war was to directly eliminate a threat to Israel and indirectly to ensure that Iraq does not threaten the pro-US authoritarian governments that are relatively non-hostile to Israel.

Specifically in the case of Saudi Arabia, a nationalist government could still sell oil to the US, and could well still have closer ties with the US than anyone else. But it could not refrain from funding Hamas and other Palestinian groups and could not even tacitly ally with Israel.

But now I see that the best reason not to invade was that it can't work. I didn't realize that then. A hostile population is very difficult to put under a friendly government by force. It becomes impossible if the country has neighbors like Iran and Syria that are willing to help the population fight back. If I had known in 2003 that defeat for the US in Iraq was inevitable, I still would have opposed the invasion.


A major reason democracy is an advance is that a group that becomes more powerful than its rivals has a non-violent way of attaining control of government - and does not have to wage a war that it probably could win.

When pro-Iran elements won the elections - even though Iraq was under direct US occupation and the US was flooding Iraq's electoral system with money, free television and other resources - the whole point of democracy is that now the pro-Iran elements don't have wage the war they probably could win.

America is now saying it wants to fight the pro-Iran elements even after the pro-Iran elements won the elections. That defeats the entire purpose of elections, and the pro-Iran elements are probably (definitely) going to win anyway, just like they won the elections.

Somebody should teach the United States about democracy. It sounds ironic but it is not a joke. US ideals about democracy are consistently put to the test in the Middle East and the US consistently, not just Bush but consistently for over 50 years, demonstrates that it does not understand or accept the theoretical underpinnings or consequences of democracy.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Middle East Goings On, and the Honesty of Robert Gates

There is not much new happening in the Middle East right now.

Lebanon is at a stalemate until the next elections, whenever those are. There will be no governmental moves until then against either Syria through the Hariri tribunal or against Hezbollah through a disarmament policy. Hezbollah apparently feels comfortable waiting for elections if it has to. If Israel is smart it will not launch a new war this summer that would certainly immediately topple Saniora. There also will not be sonic booms over Lebanese territories. The cluster bombs were a mistake that are going to give Hezbollah a constant stream of martyrs from now until the elections, whenever they are.

Palestine is at a stalemate. I am very pleased that Abbas has not escalated a civil war. Dahlan talks as if he would have done so by now. I never thought much of Abbas but as obsequious as he is, there are limits. The presidential elections are scheduled for before the next parliamentary elections. Israel needs for the elections to be at least at the same time. We'll see how he handles that later, but for now things are essentially quiet.

Syria is also at a stalemate. All the pressure the US can bring to bear on the country has already been brought. The recent release of terms for peace with Israel was designed to embarrass both sides and did so.

Pro-US Arabs are trying desperately for at least the appearance of movement on the Palestinian issue. They are not getting it. Abbas isn't playing along as well as they wanted him to.

Internally Iran has moved against Ahmadinejad - and may actually be preparing to sacrifice him to tone down tensions with Europe. Iran has so far acted very cleverly, and while it will not give up enrichment or Iraq (more later) if Ahmadinejad the personality is important to Europe, Iran will sack him in exchange for concessions on trade relations.

Iraq - right now is quiet, but the US looks like its planning fireworks there. Here is where Robert Gates comes closer to brutal honesty than any American leader speaking on Iraq has done publicly so far.

In meetings late Wednesday with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Mr. Gates said the United States viewed Iraq, despite the close ties between some in its Shiite-dominated government and Shiite Iran, as a bulwark against Tehran, said a senior Defense Department official.

“Our Arab friends tend to see Iraq in the context of the new challenge from Iran,” the official said. “That’s clearly the Saudi perspective. So the secretary was able to reassure them that we want an Iraq that is a barrier against Iranian expansionism.”

Another quote.

So the opportunity is there for engagement, but I would say that the initiative needs to rest with the Iranians and we are simply trying to communicate to the region that we're going to be there for a long time.

Of course the problem is that Iraq's citizens voted directly, all of its leaders speak. It is crystal clear that Iraq does not want to be either a barrier against Iran or for US to have a strong military position there for a long time.

The Saudis do want the US there for a long time. The reason is that the Saudis nearly completely deny political power to the millions of Shiites who live in Saudi Arabia in its oil producing region. A direct link of Saudi Shiites to Iraq's pro-Iranian Shiites is the biggest possible risk that country can face. It is a risk comparable to the risk of an independent Kurdistan to Turkey.

Jordan is in a similar situation that its powerless and oppressed citizens would be aided by Iraq if the US was not there and would constitute a grave, eventually fatal threat to the authoritarian monarchy.

So the people of Iraq, who are far less anti-Iranian than anti-US have to be overruled, permanently - which means that any pretense of democracy is now of the past.

Of course the US never invaded Iraq to bring democracy but when speaking publicly, the story has always been that the sovereign Iraq would hopefully choose good relations with the US and may need a US military presence at its own discretion for some indefinite period.

The official story has now changed to the US will maintain a military presence for its own reasons for the foreseeable future, regardless of the wishes of any Iraqis.

Can the US pull this off? I doubt it. We can be sure that by summer 2008, Iran will ensure that US deaths in Iraq increase to an intolerable level for US voters even if otherwise that level would have stablized. Then the majority of Americans who want the US out will both increase in size and punish the Republicans in the election. It may reach the point that even Barack Obama could win.

What happens when the US leaves?

President Bush gravely warned House Democrats yesterday that America's credibility would be shattered if the United States pulled its troops from Iraq, forcing close ally Saudi Arabia to look elsewhere for protection and potentially destabilizing Egypt, the region's most populous country, according to participants in the meeting.
Bush did not say during the half-hour meeting with Democrats where else he thought Saudi Arabia would seek "protection," but he made it clear that he was simply informing Democrats of his decisions on Iraq, not consulting with them.

Where would the Saudis find protection? Iran. Iran's proposal to the Saudis is that if the Saudis go along with getting rid of the Americans we'll negotiate directly with you about your Shiites and come up with a compromise that leaves you in power, at least for a substantial amount of time. A long-term hudna similar to what Hamas offers Israel with the understanding that it can be done peacefully but eventually the situation has to change. Iran will also ensure that the Saudis become nuclear capable. There is no question that Saudi Arabia can sell its oil without the Americans.

The Saudis will not accept Iran's offer until there is no chance that America will remain in Iraq to help the Saudis stay in power with no concessions to the Shiites. Why is America on the Saudi side against the Shiites? Because a legitimate Saudi government would be much more hostile to Israel. It would sell the same oil for the same price, but it would fund Hamas and take other actions of that nature.

So now we are set for the fireworks. The Americans have to make sure Iran is not capable of pushing up US casualties by summer 2008. That has to fail because there are many, many parties in Iraq that would like nothing more than a spike in casualties that gets the US to leave. But in the process, the US has to declare all-out war with Iran over Iraq or the Saudis will leave the US camp immediately.