Thursday, December 13, 2007

If Hamas Won, When and How Would We Know?

In South Africa, the ANC had won after the elections where Black people waited behind six hour lines and voted. Then those votes were counted and the ANC - which had been banned from politics the election before as a terrorist organization - took its position as the Parliamentary majority entitled to name the Prime Minister. At that point it was unarguable that at least the political element of the ANC's struggle had been won.

Everyone who could read knew by that point that the ANC had won. But astute observers who had been closely following events there may have seen earlier signs before election day that the dynamic had shifted structurally into the ANC's favor.

When the Apartheid authorities expressed an interest in releasing Mandela on the condition that he negotiate limited sovereignty homelands that could have been a sign for the astute observer. The most important attribute of the separate state homelands would have been that they would have isolated the White electoral majority from the Black demographical majority effectively under Apartheid control.

Mandela and the Black leadership rightly rejected the multi-state solution. But before the offer was made, changes had occured in the international environment that gave the ANC a long term position that was stronger than Apartheid's position. These changes were why the offer was made, and as soon as those changes were apparent, an observer would have had reason to expect an ANC victory. The struggle continued until election day, as did the need to remain vigilant, but there was a reasonable expectation of an eventual ANC victory earlier than that.

In the case of South Africa, domestic changes in the West and especially in the US made foreign support for Apartheid continually more scarce and less effective. Foreign support for the ANC was trending the opposite direction. When the direction of the trends became clear it also became clear that proponents of Apartheid would either have to negotiate a step-down or eventually lose a conflict of some sort that would force a step-down. This became clear before the ANC actually had more resources or effective support than Apartheid.

In the case of Palestine, we may have already crossed the point where support for the Palestinians, including Hamas, is trending up and effective support for Zionism is trending down. There has not been the domestic reframe of the conflict that occurred in the case of Apartheid in the US and Europe. It seems that opposition to Zionism may have become slightly more articulate but there is no wide perception, at least yet, that support for Zionism is morally despicable as support for Apartheid was before Mandela's election day.

But strategically, Iran is in a stronger and less vulnerable position today than any of the previous foreign supporters of the Palestinians.

On the nuclear issue, whether it was a mistake or deliberate, (I don't believe the United States is capable of making a mistake with consequences as clear, immediate and predictable as the release of the NIE when it did. For example, the US may have gotten a third sanctions resolution stronger than anything it will ever get from now on if it had released this NIE 90 days later.) the US has capped the pressure on Iran at a level Iran is clearly comfortable bearing indefinitely.

There is no longer a plausible scenario where Iran is not nuclear capable ten years from now. Before there was an idea that maybe the US will get really stringent sanctions, or maybe someone will bomb something. I've always considered both of these implausible scenarios but post NIE it seems every Western commentator and the Western foreign policy communities are willing to accept the conclusion that neither stringent sanctions or a military attack are available options.

More importantly but probably relatedly, the US position in Iraq and Afghanistan are effectively consuming all of US and Western available land forces. Iran if it wants, can maintain this situation forever. Iran can maintain this situation forever with nearly no effort, a tiny, deniable, undetectable amount of effort if it requires any effort at all. I'm sure China and Russia are privately counselling Iran to just keep them there.

From Western commentators today we are seeing increasingly frequent calls for negotiations with Iran. These calls for negotiation recommend the US make an offer of the form "we'll end unilateral sanctions if you stop supporting terrorists". This offer could be recast "adopt the Shah's foreign policy and we'll have the economic relations with you we had with the Shah". This is not a new offer. This offer was available at the lowest point of the Iran-Iraq war. Iran has and will always reject this offer.

Iran does not consider Hezbollah or Hamas terrorists. Even Saudi Arabia does not consider Hamas terrorists. If the US wants Iranian help removing the troops tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the price will be restoring normal economic relations without any reduction of support for Hamas. Which effectively means more support for Hamas as Iran becomes richer. But any negotiations will in any event wait until after George W. Bush, by far the most pro-Israel (to the point of irrationally pro-Israel) US president ever, is out of office.

So has Hamas won? US support for Israel has passed its high point. The US invaded Iraq when a strict consideration of only US material interests would have called for reaching an accomodation with Hussein. The US seriously worked to break Iraq apart (which though beneficial to Israel would be unbelievably detrimental to US material interests) and we'll learn in the next presidential term if it is still possible to salvage a united Iraq. The cost the US has paid ensuring Israel's long term security, with the very small long term benefits to Israel in return for the vast resources the US has expended, argues strongly against the US ever being willing to expend this level of resources again.

Meanwhile support for the Palestinians is increasing. Iran can expect at least the status quo. There will be no new costs for Iranian support for opponents of Zionism. Iran, in fact has leverage that will reduce the cost of its support for Hamas, Hezbollah and other opponents of Zionism. Saudi Arabia is signalling that it is at least considering welcoming Iran into its foreign policy graces which would mean more open support from the Saudis to opponents of Zionism. I think 2008 marks for Saudi Arabia a last-ditch effort to get an Israeli agreement the Palestinians will accept to prevent Saudi Arabia from taking a stance more like Iran's. Since there is no agreement that both the Palestinian and Israeli voters will accept, of course this last ditch effort has to fail.

Like the South African dispute when a large majority of the US Congress expressed opposition to Apartheid, today when nothing stands in the way of permanently increasing support for opponents of Zionism while foreign support for Zionism has reached a cap, an astute observer may see the signs of an eventual victory substantially earlier than the negotiations and election day that put an Arab majority and Prime Minister into Israel's parliament.

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