Monday, October 29, 2007

Iraq Pull Out Scenarios

Four scenarios are presented by Mother Jones Magazine about what would happen if and when the US pulls out of Iraq. A full scale civil war, a civil war of that declines and fizzles out, a partition with ethnic cleansing/displacement or a negotiated settlement. The article is written by Robert Dreyfuss and explains the situation as well as anything I've read so far.

The step in the full scale civil war where the neighbors jump in seems to me to be missing motivation. Iran has plenty of troops on the ground already in the militias trained by the Iranian Republican Guard. Some trainers, some people to coordinate weapons transfers, maybe but that's already happening. Iran has no reason to put Iranian ground troops into a situation where Iran's team already has a decisive numerical advantage.

The Saudis don't have ground troops. That's how pathetic they are. Syria has, but it isn't jumping in to fight Iran. Turkey, if it was to go in to fight the Kurds wouldn't have any problem with either Iran or Saudi Arabia. But Turkey isn't capturing and trying to hold land in the mountains. It would at most do what Iran is doing, send weapons and advisors to make sure Kurdistan is as weak and isolated as possible, ultimately to force the Kurds to accept non-independence in an Iraq that would be willing and able to act against the PKK.

Dreyfuss assigns a 10 percent possibility to regional war. That is his least probable outcome, I agree that it is the least likely but I can't see how it would get even two percent as a possibility. But there isn't much practical difference in assigning 1 percent and assigning 10 percent on an event in the future. The message is that it is unlikely.

I have two favorite quotes from the article:

[Partition Scenario]

Who's Pushing It: Much of Washington conventional wisdom outside the Bush administration has coalesced around partition; proponents include Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.), Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations, Kurdish adviser Peter Galbraith, and Pauline Baker of the Fund for Peace.

How to Make It Happen: Keep arming Sunni tribes, Shiite-dominated security forces, and Kurdish militias, ensuring that each is just strong enough to hold at least a chunk of the country.

... ... ...

[Negotiation Scenario]

... The resulting government coalition is both anti-American and anti-Iranian. It ruthlessly crushes Al Qaeda in Iraq and persuades the Kurds to accept limited autonomy rather than independence.

Who's Pushing It: Minus the anti-Americanism, a version of this scenario is the administration's stated goal—though actual policy undermines it at every turn.

Dreyfuss' construction "both anti-American and anti-Iranian" has a smidgen of truth, but is misleading. In practical terms, the resulting government coalition will participate in regional foreign policy matters consistently on Iran's side. Israel goes to war with Lebanon? Egypt and Saudi Arabia are muted? Sadr and the Baathists are loudly and opening condemning Israel, competing with each other to hold the biggest rallies supporting Lebanon, applying what diplomatic pressure they can muster and allowing weapons transit from Iran to Syria. Sanctions against Iran? After what Iraq went through with sanctions? You have to be kidding. Iraq would adopt a sanctions policy, at best, of don't ask don't tell.

So the resulting Iraq from negotiations would be anti-Iranian in that it would not allow Iranian agents to track down and kill Iraqi officers from the Iran-Iraq war. Other than that it would be with Syria, the most pro-Iranian country in the region.

The same scenario but that actually is pro-US, anti-Iran? Nobody in Iraq wants that. It just is not conceivable. It is not listed as one of Dreyfuss' four plausible scenarios for good reason.

Which leaves partition.

The US is officially opposed to it, but in order to get it, the US has to continue its current policies. Hmmm. Outside the Bush Administration, Washington openly advocates it. It is safe to say that the Bush Administration is lying in its claims to favor a negotiated unified Iraqi state.

I'll leave by noting that Baghdad is 6000 miles from Washington. A negotiated anti-US settlement could be achieved with far less loss of US lives, would not jeopardize the US relationship with Turkey which is kind of important and for the Saudis is preferable to partition.

This outcome would be bad for Israel, but other than hampering the US role as protector of Israel, it is impossible to see how this outcome in any way directly harms US interests. It clearly, just considering US interests, is not worth the cost the US will spend to prevent it.

This outcome, from the US strategic point of view, is essentially the same situation as prevailed before the invasion. That situation, like this one, was bad for Israel, not directly bad for the United States. Then as now, there were attempts to claim it was really done for the Saudis, not for Israel, but the Saudis openly and publicly said they preferred to leave the situation as it was. Israel's leaders and population openly and publicly favored an invasion.

Instead the US wants and is working towards a partition of Iraq on Israel's behalf. The US is going to get what it wants, but it is going to pay a very high price for it.

Political Machines: The Issue Wasn't the Sigh

A story has become popular that the US media had become so childish and corrupt that in the debate between Bush and Gore, the media focused on Gore sighing or rolling his eyes instead of Bush programs that arithmetically did not add up. Then focused on which candidate would be better as a beer drinking partner.

That story really does not capture that there was a Bush machine and a Gore machine. The Gore machine would and did emphasize Bush's failings. Bush's machine did the opposite. It was a mark of a good performance by Gore that Bush's machine emphasized sighs, but it was going to emphasize something.

At that point, it wasn't a contest of debate performances, but a contest of machines. And the Bush machine won because it had more resources better deployed. It is bad for the US that it the machine was inherited instead of built by its leader, but the sigh itself was not important.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Iran Thinks Attack Talk is a Bluff

An opinion piece in the Washington Post by David Ignatius, apparently informed by his trips to the Middle East.

Slow down, everybody. The Bush administration should stop issuing warnings and ultimatums that could force military action. Iran should get the message that the West -- including Russia -- is serious about stopping Iran from producing nuclear weapons.

We can start here. I always ask when Western commentators speak of nuclear weapons, is it that they don't understand that this dispute is over a theoretical capacity to make weapons, not nuclear weapons, or is it that they believe it serves some moral purpose to mislead their readers.

I think in this case it is very unlikely that Ignatius has not come across this distinction. Ignatius would rather his readers who do not already understand the core issue find out the difference between a nuclear weapon and a theoretical nuclear weapon capability somewhere else. I can only guess he thinks he is being a good supporter of Zionism this way. Maybe he is avoiding some pressure he would feel if he is not adequately alarmist about Iran.

"Somewhere else" where the distinction is explained may be Time magazine, as I've posted earlier.

But once we get past that we get to the crux of his opinion piece

Here's how one Gulf official sums up the problems with use of force against Iran: "When you look at it seriously, what's the objective and what are the consequences? People talk about a bombing campaign, but in six weeks of bombing in the Gulf War in 1991, you didn't take out the [Iraqi] Scud missiles. If the Iranians fire a missile across the Gulf, what happens to the price of oil? Or suppose they sink a tanker in the Gulf. And then they have Hezbollah, they have sleeper cells. What is your target?"

Many Arabs argue that the Iranians actually want America to attack. Politically, that would help the hard-liners rally support. And militarily, it would lure the United States onto a battlefield where its immense firepower wouldn't do much good. The Iranians could withdraw into the maze of their homeland and keep firing off their missiles -- exacting damage on the West's economy and, most important, its will to fight.

That's the lesson for Muslim warriors of the Iraq and Lebanon wars: Draw your adversaries deep into terrain that you control; taunt them into starting a war they can't finish. I'm told that the Syrian military, for example, is now changing its doctrine to fight an asymmetric guerrilla war against Israel that it can win, Hezbollah-style, rather than a conventional war it would certainly lose.

When Iran says that it expects to hurt the US more than the US hurts it if there is a military confrontation, it is being honest.

It is funny watching everyone in the world panic about a US attack on Iran, except Iran. At least some parties in Iran think that its country, its revolution, the Islamic world and even the Arab world would benefit from a long struggle in which Iran plays Afghanistan and the US loses its capacity to maintain an empire playing USSR.

Another 8 year war will, thirty years from now, produce more Ahmadinejad's. More engineering students-turned-extremists. The US thinks it is making a threat. There are some parties in Iran that hope it is a promise.

The only thing is that Putin knows this, which is why he could say something crazy like Russia would treat a US attack on Iran like an attack on Russia (even though I doubt he said that). US planners know this, even though they think pretending they don't will scare investment away from Iran (which is true, but it raises the price of oil more than enough to offset that). And Iran's planners know the US knows this.

So Iran's military is preparing, because that is what militaries do. But they aren't even thinking about suspending.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

There is Nothing Left to be Said about Turkey

LA times roundup of the situation in Turkey. We're done. There is nothing to add.

So we have the people of Turkey:

Each day since the ambush, thousands of Turks have taken to the streets across the nation to demand tough military action. The clamor became so intense that the government attempted to restrict television coverage of the soldiers' funerals and crying mothers.

... ... ...

Ahmed Keskin, 60, said war was necessary to put an end to the "humiliation" that Turks were suffering at the hands of the Kurdish rebels.

"And I'd go straight to northern Iraq, kill the Americans there and then kill Kurds wherever I find them," said Keskin, who makes a living taking photographs of tourists.

We have the Kurds:

In a TV interview Friday, Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq's Kurdistan regional government, accused Turkey of seeking a pretext to mount a major assault in the area. "The PKK is a justification," Barzani told Al Arabiya satellite channel. "The goal is to stop or hamper the growth of Kurdistan region."

And we have the United States, 2007 edition, consistently finding the exact worst thing to say. Nobody could make this up:

On Friday, Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, said he planned to do "absolutely nothing" to counter PKK activity, and that he was neither tracking the rebels' movements nor reinforcing the military presence in the region. Mixon, speaking to Pentagon reporters by videoconference, also said he had not seen Iraqi Kurdish authorities acting against the guerrillas.

The damage is done. I found this article through Swopa at Needlenose. He supposes tourist photographers wanting to kill the Americans in northern Iraq does not have much policy related significance. There is no more important global policy event in 2007 than that tourist photographers in Turkey decided they want to kill Americans.

For the Turkish military and secular forces to get power out of the hands of the Islamists they have to become more anti-American than Erdogan. But when the Islamists and the secularists are in a contest to be the most anti-American, America loses.

At this point there is no military option. The Kurds want a country and the Kurds are going to get a country. The Kurds want land in what is now Turkey. They won't get it in 2007 or 2008 but its coming. Turkey is now dissolving. Turkey now blames the US for its dissolution. In retaliation, Turkey has now begun its shift toward Russia.

If I was Putin, I'd put the brightest minds in the KGB on coming up with a way, any way, regardless of the cost, to keep George Bush in office as President of the USA for the rest of his life. Khameini would do anything he can to help.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Zionists Against the Train of Liberalism

Over at Angry Arab I came across an interview by a relatively right-wing Zionist.

Every morning, when I read the papers and see that Jordanian King Abdullah II is healthy and Mubarak is still alive, I know we've earned another day. I live with the sense that one day we will wake up to the news of a coup in Jordan and Egypt. And woe is the day when insane Islam takes over those two countries. In other words, in spite of everything he does, Mubarak is still among our friends. He's also got problems.

... ... ...

That statement caused a huge stir at the time, and it's amazing to see how many dozens of angry, ignorant responses I continue to receive from leftists in Israel and anti-Semites abroad, who took my words out of context. I didn't recommend that we kill Palestinians. I said we'll have to kill them.

... ... ...

[Q. What about Fatah? Is it any less bent on destroying Israel than Hamas?]

No. But neither are Israeli Arabs any different in that respect. No Palestinian wants us here. No Muslim wants us here. No Arab wants us here.

It seems obvious that a large number of supporters of Israel know what that support entails. They understand that the over 100 million Arabs in neighboring countries have to live under corrupt and brutal dictatorships to reduce the threat they pose to Israel. They support that knowing what it is for the same types of reasons reasonable people in 1840 supported the continuation of slavery.

But history, at least since the beginning of the 1800s. seems to be a continuous trail of liberal victories over conservatives. Universal male suffrage, then universal suffrage. The end of slavery, the end of most vestiges of European colonialism. Child labor laws.

The role of the conservative seems to have been to say, OK, everything the liberals have said up to now was right, but now they're wrong. Two generations later, different conservatives say exactly the same thing about different issues.

I'm working on my answer, in my own mind, to the question of what is going wrong with Zionism. One reason Zionism is still here when there are no other remaining state-ideological vestiges of the European age of expansion is the embarrassing ineffectiveness of Arab monarchs and dictators.

But even that may be a symptom of a deeper problem being that religious adherents have not mixed well with the liberal side of the West. Opponents of Apartheid had a freedom, in their independence from religion, to form bonds with western liberals that opponents of Zionism aren't able to make.

Islam swept West to and including Spain, but there were no industrial societies in its way. Ending Zionism may be task that religion, even Islam, is not equipped to undertake.

Another possible explanation is that Western liberalism is far more closely tied to Jews as a population that it was to Afrikaaners or people who personally identified with Afrikaaners in South Africa. Many western Jewish liberals just abandon liberalism on the subjects of Israel and Zionism. The remainder of the western liberal coalition is less capable in their absence. If not for this factor, it is imaginable that the uselessness and ineffectiveness of the surrounding Arab countries could have been overcome by now.

Of the two explanations I've presented, poor leadership of the Arab world - possibly tied to the religious nature of the leaderships and their societies - and the less effective liberal coalition in the West that effectively opposes Zionism, I think its most likely that both factors together are necessary to explain how Zionism has persisted as an ideological movement for as long as it has.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said time is neutral. It isn't on anyone's side inherently. It is so tempting though, nearly 50 years later to add segregation to slavery on a list of issues that some cosmic force that favors liberals was destined to solve. Then to add Apartheid to that list and to add Zionism to that list.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Putin's Messages to Khameini

I've read that Putin told Khameini that an attack on Iran would be treated as an attack on Russia.

A high-level diplomatic source in Tehran tells Asia Times Online that essentially Putin and the Supreme Leader have agreed on a plan to nullify the George W Bush administration's relentless drive towards launching a preemptive attack, perhaps a tactical nuclear strike, against Iran. An American attack on Iran will be viewed by Moscow as an attack on Russia.

There is zero chance that this is true, but it doesn't have to be.

I've also read that Putin informed Khameini that he would not fuel Bushehr, (unless Iran suspends enrichment of uranium, which Khameini surely told Putin he wouldn't.

According to Olmert, Russia won’t supply nuclear fuel to Iran despite all rumors. The Kremlin realizes significance of this decision and is well aware that the international community opposes such supplies.

This is true.

Putin knows the United States is not going to bomb Iran, so there is no cost in saying something like Russia will treat an attack on Iran as an attack on Russia.

But Putin likely did tell Khameini that Russia would not fuel Bushehr without a suspension. The thing is that if Russia has been influenced by the US to withhold the fuel, Iran does not trust Russia as a fuel supplier in the future. Which increases the urgency that Iran have a backup capability to enrich fuel domestically.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Comparing Israel to Apartheid South Africa

Pretty much every country in Africa at the turn of the 20th century had a European political majority. Rhodesia, Algeria, Congo, and outside of Africa, India, Vietnam, Syria, etc. All of these countries saw their nations "destroyed" "dismantled" or "eradicated" in exchange for peace. In some cases the Europeans declared themselves independent of the European home country. That made no difference. The native populations still insisted on "destroying", "eradicating" and "dismantling" these independent nations without setting aside any territory for separate homelands.

South Africa is different from Israel, but what if it had not been? What if the Afrikaaners, instead of implementing Apartheid had partitioned South Africa - in a way that Afrikaaners got a disproportionate amount and value of land. What if the outgunned natives "forced" the Afrikaaners to fight a "defensive" war which left most black people outside of the border? Then denied the refugees reentry and citizenship because that would threaten White South Africa's Afrikaaner character. Then what if the relatively few black people who remained were given full voting rights.

Under those conditions, which I consider very similar to Israel, I would advocate a one-state solution. What is the argument that black people must accept an Afrikaaner state, still vastly disproportionate in its land allocation? Still militarily and economically dominant over the black states by design? I doubt blacks in Africa would accept that even if someone can produce a good argument.

US Vision of the Middle East: Naive or Cynical?

Condoleeza Rice speaks from time to time of the US "vision" for the Middle East. Recently she has described Iranian opposition to that vision.

"Iran is a major obstacle to the U.S. vision of a Middle East in which nations will trade more, invest more, talk more and work more constructively to solve problems"

There is another element to that vision. That vision requires preventing democracy, or at least democratic control of foreign policy, in every nation in Israel's region. I sometimes wonder if Rice really hasn't done the math about why this is necessary for the US vision, which values first Israel's security as a Jewish ethnic state or if she understands and hopes nobody else realizes it.

I'm reminded of a statement by MJ Rosenberg. Rosenberg is a somewhat notable relatively liberal supporter of Israel. But Rosenberg, at least, is completely open about his opposition to democratic governance for the 100 million people of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Personally, I never much cared whether Israel's neighbors were democratic so long as they were willing to live in peace with Israel.

Jordan, for instance, is not a democracy in the western sense but it is precisely the kind of neighbor Israel needs. Egypt is not a democracy but is at peace with Israel. A democratic Egypt probably would not be. So let's lay the democratic crusade aside (which, of course, we do anyway if we don't like the choices made by the voters in these various countries).

This hostility towards democracy is inherent in the position that Israel's security as a Jewish state is of primary or even high importance. In Rosenberg's case he accepts the incompatibility between democracy and security of Israel.

In Rice's case, she leaves open the possibility that she doesn't realize the incompatibility exists. Maybe she is being naive. But more likely she is being deceptive when describing her vision but leaving out of it the 100 million people living under dictatorships acceptable to the US to ensure an ethnic majority for 6 million Jews in Israel.

Maybe the United States should join Iran in opposition to a vision of widespread dictatorships openly supported against their people by the US.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Iraq: No Permanent Bases. US: OK, Just Long Term Bases

Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak Al-Rubaie does not want bases. Rubaie has for the last year or so been my best guess for who the US would install in a coup, if there was to be a coup. The US first installed him as National Security Advisor shortly after the invasion and has insisted he remain in that position through the different governments including through today.

When I see him say no to permanent bases, that surprises me because the US clearly intends a long term presence and he hasn't struck me as the type to go against US wishes. I assumed the reason he has held his post is exactly because he won't go against US wishes, in other words he is the best puppet the US can find in Iraq.

Rubaie still may be a puppet, but he is not a perfect puppet. Sometimes I see glimmers of independence from Abbas, Mubarak even the Saudis. Jordan though, I can't figure out what a perfect puppet would do that Jordan has not done. I still hold the position that the US will never be in a position to install Rubaie in power deposing Maliki and the elected Shiites. I still hold the position that the US would do so in a second if it could.

Here is Rubaie saying no to permanent bases.

The people of Iraq, the parliament, the council of representatives and the government of Iraq, they all say no, big fat no, N-O for the bases in Iraq. No military bases for Iraq because we believe that is in direct encroachment to our sovereignty, and we don’t need it.

Here is the US response to that statement (about two thirds of the way through the video)

"There is no particular U.S. desire to have a permanent presence in Iraq, but we expect to have a long term strategic partnership and the terms of that will be discussed."

Tom Casey State Department Deputy Spokesman

I associate these types of childish word games with Saudi foreign policy. But the United States today has its version of the Saudi leadership. So we are to understand that the bases are not permanent, in 10 billion years when the sun burns out, there won't be bases. The bases are just part of a long term strategic partnership like the bases in South Korea that have been there for the last 50 years and that will remain for the foreseeable future.

Of course the issue is not the word "permanent" or "long term" the issue is that the Iraqis are saying they expect the US military presence in Iraq to end. (And not sometime before the sun burns out.)

I think there have been semi-serious mumblings about coup rumors two different times that I've become aware of. I've heard of them mainly through Informed Comment. Both times my take has been that we know Maliki doesn't take the coup threat seriously or he would begin talking about expelling the Americans. He would be coordinating with Sistani and popular leaders to reduce the legitimacy of US forces. Reducing their legitimacy and that of any Iraqi units that are loyal to them would make it more difficult for those forces to prop up a pro-US strongman, I assumed Rubaie or maybe Allawi. (The US calls puppets "strongmen" I chuckle at that sometimes.)

I don't think that's what this is. I think Rubaie is saying what the vast consensus of Iraqi society believes which is that they do not agree to be South Korea.

This relates back to Turkey and Kurdish independence. The US is not going to get long term bases anyway. The Iraqi people don't want them and one way or another the Iraqi people are going to get what they want. Putin said you can remove a tyrant but it is pointless to try to fight a people. That is common sense but the US has an administration without common sense.

Instead of facing reality, the US says it does not want permanent bases, only a long-term strategic partnership. That's the exact wrong thing to say, even given that it is what the US wants. That is a direct affront to Iraqi sovereignty and weakens any US allies in Iraq for no gain. Nobody serious in Iraq is stupid enough to be misdirected by the US position. Yet someone in the White House thinks it is clever.

A leadership selection process that can place familial relationships over talent can be seriously disastrous for a nation, even for the United States. US foreign policy for the last seven years can be summed up as "not permanent, just long-term." A more talented administration, such as any Democratic or Republican administration since WWII would not have made small mistake after small mistake as consistently as this one.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Down with the PKK and USA!

This kind of had to happen.

In Ankara, hundreds convened at a main square shouting "Down with the PKK and USA!'' Ambulances decorated with Turkish flags drove around main streets, their sirens wailing.

This is now a structural problem that can only get worse. Turkey cannot invade Iraq and hold territory in the mountains there against armed resistance. So the PKK will be there indefinitely. Turkey is asking the USA to pressure the Kurdish government to weaken the movement by doing things like slowing the movement of materials to the region.

The problem is that there is no amount of pressure the US can apply at this point that would get the Kurds to effectively hamper their brothers. Baghdad could do it if it had the authority, but the US made a decision at latest by 2004 that the US would support the Kurds in gaining independence from Baghdad.

There is now no way to root out the PKK, and worse than Israel's cluster bombs in Lebanon, the US has given anti-US forces in Turkey a gift that keeps on giving. We'll be reading about a dozen Turkish soldiers killed here, half dozen captured there for the foreseeable future. Every time it happens the future leaders of Turkey will be hearing from their parents that it is the treacherous Americans' fault.

There is no more goodwill between Turkey and the United States. Permanently. Turkey will fulfill obligations that are both required by treaty and that have tangible consequences for failure. Turkey's relationship with Israel went deeply against the grain of consensus sensibilities in Turkey's population. It existed out of the goodwill Turkey's foreign policy establishment felt towards the US. Like the Turkish relationship with the US, Turkey's relationship with Israel is now being carried by inertia but gliding to a stop.

The PKK is the biggest strategic disaster for the US of the Iraq invasion. Far worse long term than pinning down 150,000 soldiers where they are hostages to Iran.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What Does It Mean That Larijani Resigned?

I've never seen the difference that Western commentators insist exists between Ahmadinejad and the supposed moderates in Iranian politics. I've never seen an issue that they disagree on. I read that there are political figures who claim Ahmadinejad has been ineffective, but never that Ahmadinejad should accept any particular offer or change any specific policy.

The New York Times, while retaining its position that there is a difference, at least spells out what the difference is not:

During his early days as nuclear negotiator, Mr. Larijani criticized Mr. Rowhani’s policies, which were aimed at building confidence over Iran’s nuclear program. It appeared that Mr. Larijani gradually moved closer to those policies and favored negotiations with the Europeans.

However, neither Mr. Ahmadinejad nor Mr. Larijani has suggested that Iran compromise over its enrichment activities.

Is there supposed to be a difference in tone, where Ahmadinejad sneers and says "we will not suspend enrichment" while Larijani or Rafsanjani smiles and says "we will not suspend enrichment"?

It seems that the West really does not want to wrap its collective brain around the how much of a consensus exists in Iran over the nuclear issue.

My take is that Larijani's resignation will have no impact Iran's policy regarding the nuclear issue. The precondition that Iran suspend enrichment before talks will prevent talks for as long as the US holds that position.

It is a pretty stupid policy. If that policy had not been in place, the US could have begun negotiations in June 2006 when Rice said she was willing given the condition and by now if there is a deal to be made, that deal would have been presented. The US easily could have gotten the same sanctions resolutions it has gotten and probably very slightly more.

How powerful is Ahmadinejad?

It is often said that Ahmadinejad's statements, especially about Israel and the Holocaust are not the important focus of attention regarding Iran because Ahmadinejad actually does not have much power. Ahmadinejad really does not have a lot of power. For example, he could not have accepted Larijani's resignation without Khameini's approval.

But the Iran experts who say he is a figurehead, while making a true statement are conceding a point they probably shouldn't concede and to some degree ignoring that while Ahmadinejad is not nearly the most powerful figure in Iranian politics the positions he expouses have the support of a broad consensus of Iranian society in Iran and the societies of all of the Muslim countries in the region.

You've come across the controversy about "wiped off the map". Ahmadinejad's actual view, that justice for the Palestinians, including the refugees is more important than there being a Jewish state is agreed with by almost everybody in the Middle East.

Palestinians being allowed to return and then voting for a state that does not have any Jewish advantage it considered the optimal outcome of the conflict by essentially everybody in the Middle East. If that happens, the Zionist regime of Israel will be removed from history the way the Soviet Union and the Shah were.

That's what Ahmadinejad called for. Ahmadinejad does not make Iranian policy, but everyone in Iran, including the Supreme Leader agree with that.

To the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad says that the Palestinians are paying the price and the West won't answer why. He says the Western policy of at least shaming and even imprisoning people who argue against a particular conclusion is unscientific and hypocritical. But he does not say the Holocaust did not happen or that only a small number of people were killed or anything of that sort. Once again, the Supreme Leader and essentially everyone in the Middle East agrees with what Ahmadinejad really believes.

You may believe Ahmadinejad claims or has claimed the Holocaust did not happen. He never did. So while Ahmadinejad does not have the power to impose his view on the Holocaust on Iranian society, Iranian society, like the rest of the Middle East, already agrees with him and has agreed with his position since before he was born.

On to enrichment. Iran believes it has a right to enrich uranium domestically. It has strong legal arguments and there are precedents of a lot of other countries that are allowed to enrich domestically. The clincher is that the US supported the Shah in enriching uranium. Ahmadinejad does not support a moratorium on enrichment imposed by the West. Ahmadinejad does not have the power to make his position the position of the State of Iran, but essentially everyone in Iran already agrees with his position.

It is a true fact the Ahmadinejad is not a critical power in Iran. That without support from his superiors he can accomplish essentially nothing. But people who make that argument miss two points - one that Ahmadinejad's views can be presented as reasonable if the presenter does not have an anti-Iranian or pro-Zionist agenda and two that Ahmadinejad's actual views are somewhere between very popularly and unanimously held in Iran and throughout the Middle East. Including in Iran's true power structure.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What's going on with Putin?

A mechanic from Siberia asks Russia's president Putin about Madeleine Albright's complaint that Siberia has too many resources to belong only to Russia.

A 'Sort of Political Erotica'

The most internationally resonating remarks might have come when a mechanic from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk asked Mr. Putin about comments he said were made some years ago by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who suggested that Siberia had too many natural resources to belong to one country.

"I know that some politicians play with such ideas in their heads. This, in my view, is the sort of political erotica that might satisfy a person but hardly leads to a positive result," Mr. Putin responded. "The best example of that are the events in Iraq -- a small country that can hardly defend itself and which possesses huge oil reserves. And we see what's going on there. They've learned to shoot there, but they are not managing to bring order."

"One can wipe off a political map some tyrannical regime … but it's absolutely pointless to fight with a people," he said. "Russia, thank God, isn't Iraq. It has enough strength and power to defend itself and its interests, both on its territory and in other parts of the world."

Mr. Putin went on to say he believes one of the U.S. "goals is to establish control of the country's oil reserves," and that a concrete date must be set for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Unless such a date is set, he added in an echo of some U.S. war critics, "the Iraqi leadership, feeling [safe] under the reliable American umbrella, will not hurry to develop its own armed and law enforcement forces."

Since we're here, the claim that the US wants to control Iraq's oil is not a claim that the US wants to confiscate the oil with proceeds from the sales going to the US treasury. It is also not primarily that the US want to ensure US oil companies have privileged access. The US wants to ensure that Iraq's oil is not under the control of people who would use the money from oil sales to oppose US priorities in the Middle East. Generally, every population group in the Middle East outside of Israel's Jews opposes US priorities in the Middle East.

I understand Putin to be making the correct assertion that the US works to deny control of oil to any government that is popularly accountable and capable of an independent foreign policy. The US can tolerate a somewhat democratic Iraq controlling its own oil as long as this Iraq has no independent way to project military power beyond its borders or defend its airspace or land independently of the US. In other words, unlike under Hussein, Iraq can have popular anti-Zionist leaders because the US occupation ensures that Iraq is no threat to Israel. If that was not the case, the US would not tolerate independent Iraqi control of Iraqi oil. OK, that's out of the way.

This is a very striking exchange with Putin. The first thing that strikes me is this statement attributed to Albright is one I've never read until today. But it is spoken of as if it is common knowledge in Russia. The question was asked by a mechanic, and the premise, as far as I can tell, was not corrected by Putin. I assume Putin would have made note of the fact that he was not familiar with the claim if that had been the case.

I've found a link from 2005 to the claim in an English translation of a Russian source.

Meanwhile, ex-secretary of state, Madeline Albright, recently called Siberia too vast and wealthy a region to belong to Russia alone. Albright said it was not fair. It stands to reason to assume that Albright was of the same mind when she had held a senior position in civil service and had merely been too diplomatic to speak her mind. It certainly seems that all US leaders are of the same frame of mind. No wonder the White House is out to secure its positions in the Persian Gulf, in the Caspian region, and other strategic oil and gas bearing areas. That is why the Western democrats are so worried by ethnic strife in the oil bearing Darfur in Sudan and do not give a damn about genocide in Rwanda or Burundi.

The weakness of Russia immediately following the fall of the USSR seems to be a painful memory for many Russians, including Putin. Putin's response seems angry. In this atmosphere, it looks like a statement by Albright that was not noted at all in the US has spread though Russia's informed popular culture.

In this spirit of anger Putin mocks the US effort in Iraq, which had nothing to do with the original question. Putin steered his answer there to, in his own mind, compensate for the reminder of Russia's weakness relative to the US in the early 1990s.

Then the "wipe a political regime off the map" statement. Putin has come across the Ahmadinejad statement and the controversy around that. I can't imagine this statement had any direct meaning, that Putin was sending a message by using those words. But the statement does relate Bush to the charges made against Ahmadinejad. My take is it is just what came to mind when Putin experienced a little anger.

The anger at the US for making Russians feel weak when the USSR felt seems from here to be substantial and pervasive in the segments of Russian society that care about foreign policy. I don't have a transcript, even translated, of the entire session but from the clues available, it seems that this anger will influence Russian decision making at least to some degree.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ray Close on the Saudis - Then Me on the Saudis

An interesting post at Juan Cole's Informed Comment.

I recall in the period right after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when I was in liaison with the Saudis, that the Israeli Air Force used to make frequent very low level runs over the Saudi airbase at Tobuk, in the northern part of the country. As they skimmed the "deck", they would drop empty fuel tanks on the runways, near where the Saudi fighter planes were lined up, just to remind those on the ground that the empty tanks could very easily have been 500-pound bombs. It was nothing more than an arrogant demonstration of contempt for Saudi impotence. It worked. The RSAF never fired a shot, and never scrambled a single interceptor. They would complain to me, and I would duly forward their protests to CIA HQS. We never got even a polite acknowledgement back from the Israelis, who, in their arrogance, were no doubt cynically amused. So I can easily imagine Bashar al-Asad's decision to play this current incident in a very low key! It is not a mark of cowardice, but of realism and prudence.

Similarly, I recall when Prince Fahd bin Abdal Aziz called me to a meeting very late one evening in the early days of the 1973 war and asked me to send an urgent personal message from him to Richard Nixon informing the president that he had felt obliged to contribute a brigade of Saudi troops to the Golan front to support the Syrian offensive there, but that he had personally instructed the commander of the unit not to fire a single shot. That, Fahd told me with considerable emotion and obvious sincerity, was his solemn promise to his American friend. Again, prudence, wisdom, and desire to maintain a traditional and mutually valuable relationship --- motives that were not, I regret to say, received in Washington with the respect and appreciation that they deserved.

Instructed the commander not to fire a shot? These things could never be written about a democratic Saudi Arabia, or a Saudi Arabia whose leadership was selected in a competitive process. It is uncomfortable to say that Saudi Arabia is a terrible reflection of Islam.

Apartheid South Africa had the technological and industrial advantages Israel has over its neighbors, including a regional nuclear monopoly. It also had gold and diamonds. Tanzania, one of South Africa's most active rivals had a main export crop of sisal, which is a fiberous plant that can be used to make rope. But Tanzania, along with almost every other African state, supported the Black South Africans. The ANC and PAC, even as they were labeled terrorists by the West and the US, were trained, funded and supported significantly by the poor countries of Africa. Now there is no European settler state in Africa. A one state solution, no bantustans. Anyone who wants an Afrikaaner state will have to go somewhere that an Afrikaaner majority can be produced without expelling or disenfranchising Black people.

Saudi Arabia has the greatest concentration of natural resource wealth in the world. Tanzania exports sisal, a crop few people have ever heard of. Apartheid is over. Zionism is still here twenty years after Apartheid. There is something defective about the Saudis. They have an ineffective political system, and they are encouraged to maintain that system by the Americans, who do so to protect Israel's interests. But the fact that they have tolerated this situation as long as they have points to a defective belief system. It is not objectively possible that they have the same belief system that traveled west to Spain and East to Indonesia.

Nuclear Weapons vs Nuclear Capability: Time Magazine Explains

It is rare and noteworthy when a Western news source explains the dispute regarding Iran's nuclear program relatively clearly. Here is Time Magazine in an article published on the web on October 15.

At the same time, Putin insisted after talks last week with French President Nikolas Sarkozy — the most energetic European supporter of the U.S. position — that there is no evidence to suggest Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon. That assessment may put him at odds with Washington, but it is, in fact, consistent with the findings of the IAEA. The difference hinges over what defines a nuclear weapons program. Last week, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner wrote to his European colleagues urging support for tougher sanctions. "Time is against us," Kouchner warned, "because each day Iran gets closer to mastering enrichment technology, in other words to having a de facto military nuclear capacity."

What Kouchner makes clear is that the U.S. and its allies have defined mastering the technology of uranium-enrichment as a red line that Iran cannot be allowed to cross. But Kouchner exaggerates when he claims that this technology would give Tehran "de facto military nuclear capacity"; it simply gives Iran an important piece of nuclear infrastructure that is allowed under the NPT but could, if Iran pulled out of the NPT, be used to create weapons-grade materiel. While the demand that Iran suspend enrichment until it has answered the IAEA's questions enjoys broad support, the demand that Iran be denied the right to enrichment because it is a regime not trusted by the West is a much tougher sell. And Russia isn't necessarily buying.

This had never been a particularly difficult concept to grasp or explain. Most media reports fail to make the distinction either out of naivety or possibly out of a belief that presenting Iran's nuclear program in exaggerated terms is somehow a moral thing to do given Iran's opposition to Zionism.

Now we just have to buy a subscription to Time Magazine for every other news outlet.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Poor Leadership, Poor Leadership Selection and Consistent National Humiliation

From the title, this can only be an essay about the state of the Arab world.

Some countries in the world have leadership selection processes that elevate the most effective political leaders in their society to the highest leadership positions. Putin, for example, before he became Russia's president, had independently demonstrated that he is one of the most effective leaders in Russia. China's leadership is chosen by a competitive process that elevates the winner of a national contest in political effectiveness.

Democracy, or direct elections, is one way to create a competitive process for leadership. The important element is not the direct elections though, the important element is the competitive process.

The United States currently has a president more or less chosen by direct elections, but he was not one of the Americans before becoming president who had demonstrated the most political effectiveness in the country. The political machinery assembled by his father, largely at least at first on the strength of continued loyalty to the father, coalesced around the son and gave the son a tremendous advantage in the US competition for political leadership.

There were still direct elections, more or less, but factors other than demonstrated individual political effectiveness became decisive. The competitive process in this case was compromised and the United States, for 8 years of its history, had leadership comparable to that of the Arab world. Fortunately for the rest of the world, unfortunately for the United States, rivals of the US have been able to consistently outplay the US during this period.

One example is that the attacks of September 11, 2001 likely would have been detected and prevented by any of the previous US presidents at least since Franklin Roosevelt. More generally, a cascade of bad decisions, including but not nearly limited to the invasion of Iraq has seen nearly every significant rival of the US improve its position relative to the US during this presidency.

Fortunately for the United States, unfortunately for the rest of the world, the United States has a limited term for its presidency and will return to a competitive process based more on demonstrated individual political effectiveness. Unless Hillary Clinton is elected as the next US president.

Hillary Clinton is certainly more intelligent than George W. Bush and somewhat more notable for her abilities outside of her connection with a previous presidency. But she also certainly has a pre-assembled political machine based largely at first on the strength of continued loyalty to her husband without which she would not be mentionable in any contest for the US presidency.

But this essay now returns to the Arab world, which can be thought of as a collection of local George W. Bush's without the term limits.

There are two problems with leadership selection mechanisms in the Arab world, the first is hereditary leadership. Assuming somewhere in the past that a person reached the top leadership position in his country by winning a contest of political effectiveness, the children of the winner of that contest are nearly guaranteed not to be the people who would win fair contests among their contemporaries throughout their societies.

It is very unlikely that Bashar Assad is his country's Putin. He is likely, in terms of political talent, closer to some guy chosen at random from Russia's educated class. Maybe closer to some of Stalin or Kruschev's relatives who are now unknown somewhere in Russia.

If Russia chose as its leader a random guy from its educated class as leader, it would consistently make bad decisions, and would consistently be outcompeted by the talented political leaders elevated by its rivals, say China and Germany.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Emirates, Jordan and Syria suffer from hereditary leadership. It is an objective if uncomfortable fact that these countries would consistently make better political decisions, and consistently perform better at at advancing their national interests if they had leadership selection processes that were competitive.

The second problem is the influence of rivals in the leadership selection process. Mubarak is not the son of a previous leader. Abbas of Palestine and Seniora of Lebanon are also not hereditary leaders, but they were aided into power by the political machinery of the United States, whose primary loyalty in the Middle East is to Israel.

These two problems, for as long as they last, will ensure that the Arab world will permanently suffer from poor leadership. The national interests these leaders are tasked to advance will be at a permanent disadvantage to those of the competitively selected leaderships of Israel and eventually the United States.

Turkey's effective leadership, before Gul, was more pro-Western than its population, but it was Turkish and its was competitively selected from within the ranks of the military. The population has begun the process in Turkey of regaining its influence over policy. Turkey, by its people's identification with Muslims, will eventually, unless there are reforms in the Arab world, be a more effective advocate of Arab interests than the leaders of Arab countries.

Iran's clerical leadership and its directly elected president are the winners of competitive leadership selection processes. Iran's supreme leader was elected by his peers after winning an individual contest of political effectiveness that had little or no non-Iranian influence. In Iran's competition with Israel, the less politically talented leaders of the Arab would are, even if they are well intentioned, a hindrance compared to what competitively selected leaders would be.

Libya still has its first-generation post colonial leader. Libya may be more effective if there was more of an active contest for leadership, for example if either there was time limit to his term or there otherwise were regular opportunities for leadership change decided by a contest without outside influence.

The reform of Arab leadership, which can expect vehement opposition from Israel and the United States which are strategic rivals of the Arab world, is the only alternative to continued poor international performance of the Arab world as a group.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Turkey: Armenian Resolutions and PKK attacks

What's going on?

Is now really the time for a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide?

There are times when I'm really just flabbergasted by how poorly the US is equipped to play the role of colonialist power. A resolution condemning the Armenian genocide is passed the same week 15 Turkish soldiers are killed by Kurdish factions based in US-occupied Iraq. There are no words for how self-defeating this is to US interests.

Bush might as well go ahead and sign it into law. Turkey isn't going to immediately ban US use of Turkish airspace or leave NATO. There is little short-term damage that can be done that hasn't been done. Turkey isn't going to launch a full-scale invasion Kurdistan.

The damage is that the parties in Turkey's military establishment, political establishment and society that favor cooperation with the United States (and those are the parties that favor cooperation with the West generally) have been permanently weakened.

In the future, decisions that can go either way are going to consistently go against the US. Wink or strenuously enforce sanctions against Iran? Turkey will wink. Cooperate with the US to help isolate anti-US (also anti-Kurdish) factions in Iraq. Maybe in words, not in action. Maybe not in words.

Turkey's relations with Israel are not over today, but close calls are going to consistently go against Israel from now on. The election of the quasi-Islamists was the true turning point, but this slap in the face by the US slightly accelerated the process.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Nuclear Weapons vs Nuclear Capability: How Middle East Nuclear Deterrence Works

Yesterday, there were several articles quoting France's president Sarkozy as saying Russia has come closer to France's view on Iran, among other issues. But no specifics were offered. My rule on the Western reporting on the Middle East is becoming if there are no specifics, it didn't happen. Especially if what is being reported is another party's views or position on any issue.

So of course today we read Putin actually discussing the issue of Iran's nuclear program:

"We do not have data that says Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons. We do not have such objective data Therefore we proceed from a position that Iran has no such plans but we share the concern of our partners that all programmes should be as transparent as possible."

Sarkozy has not said that Iran having domestic enrichment of uranium is the same thing as Iran having a nuclear weapon. It is a very basic question to ask, but the press that covers this issue is astoundingly clueless and Sarkozy likely has never stood in front of a well informed reporter who would ask even basic questions such as that.

So we can only assume from Sarkozy's formulation that the alternative to Iran having a weapon is war that Sarkozy does consider domestic enrichment on Iran's part "a weapon". Bush and Condoleeza Rice have said explicitly that technology that could be used to make a weapon is in itself intolerable for Iran. Sarkozy has not been asked to confirm that he agrees with Bush on that issue. He hasn't volunteered that he holds the Bush position because the Bush position is very difficult to defend legally.

Here is Flynt Leverett on the legal difficulties of the Bush position.

I think the administration tried earlier basically to redefine the non-proliferation treaty on this issue and say that somehow Iran no longer had a right to develop fuel cycle technologies. This was a kind of interesting legal argument which I don’t think got very far. I noticed in November of last year, when the president was in Moscow, Stephen Hadley, the White House national security adviser, expressed the administration’s public support for the Russian compromise initiative for getting Iran to process uranium in Russia instead of in Iran. He actually said that Iran did have the right to develop enrichment capabilities, but in the interest of international security, stability, and so forth, we would ask the Iranians to agree not to exercise that right. So I think even the administration is acknowledging now that there isn’t a purely legal basis on which to say Iran can’t have enrichment capabilities.

Several Israeli strategists have publicly given clues as to why the US and Israel hold the view that domestic enrichment is a weapon. The US foreign policy community, using Gary Samore as a representative of that community, essentially consider Iran having domestic enrichment as the same thing as it having a weapon making a pretty weak argument that one necessarily will lead to the other.

Essentially, today's situation in which Israel is the only country in the region with a nuclear arsenal puts Israel in a position where it can get the last word in any escalation. If Egypt were to support Hamas, first Israel would get the US to cut Egyptian aid. But Egypt might then increase its aid to Hamas. Then Israel might strike targets in Egypt where arms for Hamas are being staged, with some collateral civilian deaths. Then Egypt might strike targets in Israel, also with civilian deaths. Then Israel can intentionally target Egyptian civilians - but tell Egypt that intentionally targeting Israeli civilians would lead to the nuclear destruction of Cairo and more of Egypt.

Israel does not have to actually use its nuclear weapon on Cairo, but the threat impacts Egypt's calculations all the way back to whether or not to support Hamas. Substitute "support Hamas" for any number of potential Egyptian policies that Israel might consider detrimental if you don't like the example I just made up. And substitute Egypt for Lebanon, Syria or any other nation in Israel's region.

Iran having a nuclear option begins to change that, and Iran's vision of a Middle East where nuclear technology is widespread drastically changes that.

If Egypt believes Iran would leave the NPT after seeing Cairo bombed and two years later be able to destroy the population centers of Israel, Israel no longer has the last word. Again that impacts the strategic calculations back down to actually plausible policy decisions Egypt could make.

Would Iran actually retaliate for Cairo? Here is a situation where probably not is drastically different from definitely not. Probably not, means that if it happens, Israel is over. If Iran has domestic uranium enrichment, the best Israeli strategists can give Israel's leaders to the question of Iranian retaliation if a situation spirals to nuking Cairo is probably or maybe not.

Here is the thing. If the question "will Iran retaliate, ending Israel, if a situation escalates to the point of the nuclear destruction of Egypt", the answer is the same if Iran has an actual weapon or if Iran has the potential to create a weapon. Either "probably not" or "maybe not" but not "certainly not".

Iran also goes further, saying that it has the right to nuclear technology and will break the prohibition of the acquisition of that technology by other Muslim nations. This presents the prospect of not only Iran being nuclear capable, but also every nation on the region, either directly through Iran or because the US will be forced to offer the technology to allies who can threaten to get it from Iran otherwise.

That would change the earlier question from "would Iran retaliate" to "would any of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan or the remnants of Egypt retaliate". Probably not turns to maybe not and the option of nuking an Arab target becomes too dangerous for Israel for Israel's strategists to contemplate. At that point, Israel's nuclear arsenal, which was expensive to acquire, has absolutely no strategic value. That is the opposite of the situation today.

The United States, across the Atlantic, does not seriously consider a situation that could escalate to an Egyptian strike on the US. The US, for internal political reasons sees the protection of Israel as part of its strategic mission. Actual US interests are not directly threatened by an Iranian nuclear capability. Even an Iranian weapon, while threatening to Israel would not pose a similar threat to direct US interests.

Russia, like everyone other than Israel, is also not threatened by an Iranian nuclear capability - which is why Putin draws his red line at an actual weapon, though Iran's program should be "as transparent as possible".

It is commonly said that the Saudis have a rivalry with Iran that exceeds the intensity of Iran's rivalry with Israel. The Saudis have never claimed an Iranian nuclear capability is intolerable, or that Iranian domestic enrichment is the same thing as a weapon. Like Russia and nearly everyone else, the Saudis are fine with Iran having domestic enrichment that is under IAEA inspection.

So as of today Iran is coasting. It is answering the IAEA questions, assured that they are not a fishing or stalling expedition. There is no support for oil-for-food-level sanctions which are the only thing that even imaginably could force Iran to end its program. Sanctions outside of the UN will hurt the countries that impose them nearly as much as they hurt Iran.

It is difficult to see how Iran's vision of first Iran, and then other Muslim countries having the capability to produce weapons, even if they never make them, coming to pass. In practical terms, this vision means the end of Israel's strategic nuclear advantage and some Israelis, maybe rightly, see that strategic nuclear advantage as crucial for Israel's survival as a Jewish state.

Monday, October 08, 2007

US Support for Israel before 1967

I've seen it argued that before the 1973 war, or before the 1967 war the United States was neutral on the issue of Zionism and did not begin really supporting Israel until after whichever event is being claimed.

The point of this argument when it is made is that Egypt mysteriously but spontaneously joined with the communist USSR, and US support for Israel was a response to that - meaning US support for Israel had nothing to do with Egypt, leaning towards the Soviets but after Egypt leaned in that direction, Israel was a valuable ally in holding Egypt in check.

Kind of like coming across someone arguing that two plus two is five, my response is do you really believe that? Is it even worth it to argue? You believe it because you want to believe it. You're still going to want to believe it regardless of anything I say. Just in case though.

The Jewish Virtual Library has a speech by Nasser written before the 1967 war. Notable, in this speech to Egyptian trade unionists, his justification for partnering with the USSR mentions nothing about workers or proletariat. Speaking before Egyptian trade unionists before the 1967 war, Nasser has one and only one good thing to say about the Soviet Union, it supported the Arabs against aggression from Israel, France and Britain.

The United States, according to Nasser, was already synonymous with Israel as was the West.

We must know and learn a big lesson today. We must actually see that, in its hypocrisy and in its talks with the Arabs, the United States sides with Israel 100 per cent and is partial in favour of Israel. Why is Britain biased towards Israel? The West is on Israel's side. General de Gaulle's personality caused him to remain impartial on this question and not to toe the US or the British line; France therefore did not take sides with Israel.

The Soviet Union's attitude was great and splendid. It supported the Arabs and the Arab nation. It went to the extent of stating that, together with the Arabs and the Arab nation, it would resist any interference or aggression.

Today every Arab knows foes and friends. If we do not learn who our enemies and our friends are, Israel will always be able to benefit from this behaviour. It is clear that the United States is an enemy of the Arabs because it is completely biased in favour of Israel. It is also clear that Britain is an enemy of the Arabs because she, too, is completely biased in favour of Israel. On this basis we must treat our enemies and those who side with our enemies as actual enemies. We can accord them such treatment. In fact we are not States without status. We are States of status occupying an important place in the world. Our States have thousands of years of civilization behind them -7,000 years of civilization. Indeed, we can do much; we can expose the hypocrisy - the hypocrisy of our enemies if they try to persuade us that they wish to serve our interest. The United States seeks to serve only Israel's interests. Britain also seeks to serve only Israel's interests.

I've seen a poll that in 1947 or 48, 28 or so percent of US respondents favored the Jewish side of the conflict over Zionism and about half that supported the Arabs.

US support for Israel has been consistent since Israel's foundation, and it that support has made non-Jews in the region more prone to oppose the US since then. US support has increased but there is no date before which it is honest to say the US was neutral or that the US did not pay a cost for its support of Israel in the form of either antagonism or weaker alliances with everyone else in the region.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Right of Return and the Conference

The US is planning a conference to be held in November in Annapolis to advance a settlement of issues between Palestinians and Israel.

One issue that I find interesting is how the right of return will be handled before, during and after this conference. Condoleeza Rice a few months ago said that the US was considering making public the US position of what a fair settlement would look like. Peres' office in Israel said a little before that it his office was considering a counter-proposal to the Arab proposal.

Neither has happened because a detailed US or Israeli position would either say no refugees can return or some amount of refugees can return. To say no refugees can return would be a tremendous propaganda victory for Hamas and Iran. To say some can return, an amount determined by what Rice or Peres perceives as the need for there to be a cap on the amount of non-Jews in Israel, would also hurt the pro-Zionist Arabs and help the anti-Zionist Arabs.

(Pro-Zionist is not, in some sense, a fair way to describe the Saudi or even the Egyptian or Jordanian leadership, but it is probably more accurate than "moderate" since their position is only shared with an extreme fringe in their own societies. Even though Abbas for example is not pro-Zionist in an absolute sense, not like Olmert, he can fairly be called relatively pro-Zionist compared to Hamas. The Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian leaderships can also be fairly called relatively pro-Zionist.)

The other issues: water, Jerusalem and borders are similar to the refugee issue, the same dynamic is present but they are not as emotionally potent as the refugee issue.

So the US and Israel have not, can not and will not commit themselves to a publicly known policy on refugees, while the Saudi position is that a conference that does not include a commitment to a policy is worthless and should not be attended or supported.

Why did Rice and Peres make public that they were considering making their positions public? I chalk that up to the same lack of strategic judgment that led to the Hamas elections in Palestine and the UIA elections in Iraq. They really believe their own propaganda and sometimes it hurts them.

The Saudis and other relatively pro-Zionist elements of the Muslim world are really saying, and this is easy to miss, that they expect to see the US and Israel begin to publicly stand down from positions they have historically held. The pro-Zionist Muslims believe they have more leverage than before and that a peaceful stand-down is better for Israel and the US than the alternative.

Enter Iran, otherwise known as leverage.

The idea that time is on the anti-Zionist side is closely associated with the perception now that it will not be possible to get serious (oil-for-food-level) sanctions, Iraq-level bombing or much less an Iraq-style invasion of Iran. Given this, the anti-Zionist Palestinians now have more strategic depth than they have had since at least Nasser, but in some ways more than they had then because Egypt is within Israel's reach and Iran is not.

If Iran cannot be dealt with the way Iraq was, and either remains as powerful as it is now or more likely becomes more powerful, the help it will be able to give anti-Zionist Muslims throughout the region will increase as will the strategic threat Iran's support for anti-Zionists poses to Israel. The pro-Zionist Muslims are saying that the US and Israel must accept an accommodation now, (and truth be told, this accommodation will not have the guarantees of a permanent Jewish majority in Israel that the US and Israel want) or they'll accept a worse accommodation later.

There is a new dynamic in the post-Iraq Middle East. For the US and Israel to begin to stand down, the pro-Zionist Muslims need the US and Israel to have a public position to stand down from. The current US and Israeli position of wanting a "just" "negotiated" settlement of especially the refugee issue but not detailing what such a settlement would be, is the best position for the US and Israel. But in the post-Iraq world, it is unacceptable for the pro-Zionist Muslims.