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Posts For: October 1, 2007

The Peace Process World Tour

It is trite but necessary to note that if peace conferences led to peace, the Levant would be the most tranquil place on earth. There is a long list of cities and names associated with Arab-Israeli peace initiatives: the Rogers and Allon Plans after the Six Day war; the Geneva Conference in 1973; the Second Geneva Conference, which never ended up happening; the Madrid Conference in 1991; the Oslo Peace Process, inaugurated in 1993; the Hebron Agreement of 1997; the Wye River Memorandum in 1998; the Camp David Summit of 2000; the Taba Summit in 2001; the Beirut Summit in 2002; the formation of the Quartet and the issuance of the Road Map in 2003. Today, the next stop on the Peace process’s world tour has been announced: Annapolis, Maryland, sometime in November. The band is back together again.

The details on the Annapolis conference are sketchy, as there has been no confirmation of exactly when it is happening, who will be attending, what will be negotiated, or what is hoped to be accomplished. What has been announced is that Secretary Rice will emcee the event and President Bush will likely make an appearance; representatives from moderate Arab states will attend; and some kind of a joint statement of understanding between Israel and the Palestinians will be issued. Mahmoud Abbas told the Washington Post on Sunday that “I cannot really talk about the talks . . . because they are only a probing, not negotiations. We tackled all the sensitive issues like borders, refugees, settlements, Jerusalem and security . . . We have already established the teams that are drafting an agreement about these sensitive issues.” Abbas describes this agreement as “not a declaration of principles but a framework—a framework that deals with the principles of every element of the final-status issues.” (I have no idea what that means, either.)

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It is trite but necessary to note that if peace conferences led to peace, the Levant would be the most tranquil place on earth. There is a long list of cities and names associated with Arab-Israeli peace initiatives: the Rogers and Allon Plans after the Six Day war; the Geneva Conference in 1973; the Second Geneva Conference, which never ended up happening; the Madrid Conference in 1991; the Oslo Peace Process, inaugurated in 1993; the Hebron Agreement of 1997; the Wye River Memorandum in 1998; the Camp David Summit of 2000; the Taba Summit in 2001; the Beirut Summit in 2002; the formation of the Quartet and the issuance of the Road Map in 2003. Today, the next stop on the Peace process’s world tour has been announced: Annapolis, Maryland, sometime in November. The band is back together again.

The details on the Annapolis conference are sketchy, as there has been no confirmation of exactly when it is happening, who will be attending, what will be negotiated, or what is hoped to be accomplished. What has been announced is that Secretary Rice will emcee the event and President Bush will likely make an appearance; representatives from moderate Arab states will attend; and some kind of a joint statement of understanding between Israel and the Palestinians will be issued. Mahmoud Abbas told the Washington Post on Sunday that “I cannot really talk about the talks . . . because they are only a probing, not negotiations. We tackled all the sensitive issues like borders, refugees, settlements, Jerusalem and security . . . We have already established the teams that are drafting an agreement about these sensitive issues.” Abbas describes this agreement as “not a declaration of principles but a framework—a framework that deals with the principles of every element of the final-status issues.” (I have no idea what that means, either.)

The conference is so wracked with internal contradictions that it will be a surprise to see it rise above the level of farce. No formal agreement is expected to be negotiated, yet Abbas has repeatedly said that he will bring whatever is decided to the Palestinian people for a referendum vote. Abbas says that under no circumstances will he form a unity government with Hamas, but that one of the basic Palestinian requirements is contiguity—he calls it “safe passage”—between the West Bank and Gaza. Rice concurs, saying that a Palestinian state must be inclusive of Gaza, ruled by the PA, and that Hamas will at some point have to choose if it is “prepared to be outside that consensus or not.” How does Rice propose ridding Gaza of Hamas? By holding another conference? Hamas remains violently intransigent on the matter of Israel’s right to exist, Fatah’s political legitimacy, and indeed on the fundamental question of Palestinian identity itself: jihad or coexistence. Hamas has never demonstrated an interest in or tolerance for the latter.

Meanwhile the Fatah security forces that the United States has invested itself so heavily in training have yet to demonstrate even the slightest competence in policing the West Bank. When was the last time anyone heard of a terror plot against Israel being disrupted by Fatah security services? I sympathize with the Bush administration’s desire to demonstrate leadership in the Middle East, but I’m afraid the upcoming conference will diminish, not enhance, the United States’ standing in the region.

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Partition v. Decentralization

The U.S. Senate has passed a nonbinding resolution sponsored by Joe Biden calling on Iraq to be partitioned among Sunni, Shia, and Kurds. This idea has many problems, which I enumerated in my COMMENTARY article How Not to Get out of Iraq. Among the most salient of these is that most Iraqis still do not want such a division. As this New York Times article reports:

At a joint news conference on Sunday, six diverse political parties that are discussing the removal of the current government objected to a divided Iraq.

“We think this would complicate the security problem and Iraq would undertake a long-term war and a civil war more than we have witnessed already,” said Basim Shareef, a member of the Fadhila Party, told reporters.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Iraq should be a tightly centralized state with every facet controlled from Baghdad, as was the case under the Baathist regime. Pretty much everyone agrees on the need for a large degree of federalism. This isn’t just a pipe dream. It’s actually happening, as noted in another New York Times article, which finds that Baghdad is sending more money to the provinces and the provincial governments are getting better at using it. The whole article is well worth a read, insofar as it focuses on a positive, and often overlooked, development in Iraq: the slow emergence of a semi-functioning representative government.

The U.S. Senate has passed a nonbinding resolution sponsored by Joe Biden calling on Iraq to be partitioned among Sunni, Shia, and Kurds. This idea has many problems, which I enumerated in my COMMENTARY article How Not to Get out of Iraq. Among the most salient of these is that most Iraqis still do not want such a division. As this New York Times article reports:

At a joint news conference on Sunday, six diverse political parties that are discussing the removal of the current government objected to a divided Iraq.

“We think this would complicate the security problem and Iraq would undertake a long-term war and a civil war more than we have witnessed already,” said Basim Shareef, a member of the Fadhila Party, told reporters.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Iraq should be a tightly centralized state with every facet controlled from Baghdad, as was the case under the Baathist regime. Pretty much everyone agrees on the need for a large degree of federalism. This isn’t just a pipe dream. It’s actually happening, as noted in another New York Times article, which finds that Baghdad is sending more money to the provinces and the provincial governments are getting better at using it. The whole article is well worth a read, insofar as it focuses on a positive, and often overlooked, development in Iraq: the slow emergence of a semi-functioning representative government.

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Trouble at Three Gorges

The most important news from China in decades was conveyed by official statements on September 26th. These statements described the effects of the much-lauded and just-completed Three Gorges Dam as a possible environmental “catastrophe.” Such candor marks a dramatic reversal of the long-running campaign of celebrating this dam, which stands at the point where the Yangtze River spills from the highlands of Sichuan into the China plain, as a triumph of engineering and marvel of the world, as a new Great Wall.

The worst news is about pollution. Immense quantities of waste—ranging from simple sewage to high-nitrogen fertilizer runoff, paper and chemical plant waste, non-biodegradable organic phosphorus pesticides, toxic metals, and even radioactive isotopes discarded by hospitals—are poured into Chinese waterways every day. Much water in China is already so toxic that it cannot be used even for irrigation. The building of the dam and the consequent slowing of the Yangtze mean that its waste is no longer even flushed out to sea, as in the past. Furthermore, the weight of water in the four-hundred-mile-long reservoir created by the dam is causing landslides. Because the river’s previously rapid rate of flow above the dam has been stopped, huge amounts of silt are clogging the reservoir and navigation channels. Below the dam, water is less abundant, but its fast flow, now that it is free of silt, is causing erosion.

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The most important news from China in decades was conveyed by official statements on September 26th. These statements described the effects of the much-lauded and just-completed Three Gorges Dam as a possible environmental “catastrophe.” Such candor marks a dramatic reversal of the long-running campaign of celebrating this dam, which stands at the point where the Yangtze River spills from the highlands of Sichuan into the China plain, as a triumph of engineering and marvel of the world, as a new Great Wall.

The worst news is about pollution. Immense quantities of waste—ranging from simple sewage to high-nitrogen fertilizer runoff, paper and chemical plant waste, non-biodegradable organic phosphorus pesticides, toxic metals, and even radioactive isotopes discarded by hospitals—are poured into Chinese waterways every day. Much water in China is already so toxic that it cannot be used even for irrigation. The building of the dam and the consequent slowing of the Yangtze mean that its waste is no longer even flushed out to sea, as in the past. Furthermore, the weight of water in the four-hundred-mile-long reservoir created by the dam is causing landslides. Because the river’s previously rapid rate of flow above the dam has been stopped, huge amounts of silt are clogging the reservoir and navigation channels. Below the dam, water is less abundant, but its fast flow, now that it is free of silt, is causing erosion.

This is a political as well as an environmental disaster. The decision to build the dam was made despotically by the highest party officials, against strong opposition and without serious consultation. More than a million people were displaced by its construction. One of the most beautiful natural sites in China, the three gorges of the Yangtze, was submerged, along with countless towns, homes, and cultural treasures. That was the price, the leaders said, for scientifically regulating the country’s greatest river, and generating vast quantities of hydropower.

Now it turns out that China’s rulers have been not only despotic but also incompetent. The all-knowing Party has made an immense error with incalculable environmental and social consequences, and its leaders are clearly frightened. None of their coping mechanisms can deal with it. The dam disaster cannot be arrested like a dissident, or imprisoned or executed; it cannot be censored away; it cannot be fixed with foreign help and half-measures. No order from the Politburo can halt the unfolding disaster. One thinks of the nuclear plant disaster at Chernobyl.

In times of flood, Chinese today regularly allude to the legendary sage-king Yu who is venerated for having “tamed the waters” more than four thousand years ago. Since ancient times, water control has been one of the supreme tests of the legitimacy of Chinese leadership. It’s a test that that leadership is failing now, with disastrous consequences.

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Two (Good) New Lows

We have learned the following from two different news outlets this morning. The first, from the Associated Press, is that U.S. military deaths in September (63) were the lowest monthly toll since July 2006. The second is that civilian deaths from violence across Iraq fell by 50 percent in September from the previous month—to the lowest level recorded this year, according to information provided by the Health, Interior and Defense Ministries (884 civilians were killed in September, down from 1,773 in August).

This is more confirmation that the Petraeus strategy is working and that we might be witnessing one of the more remarkable comebacks in American military history. Iraq, a nation that a year ago was sliding toward civil war, is now considerably calmer and considerably safer. Al Qaeda is absorbing tremendous body blows. We and the Iraqis continue to reclaim territory that was once lost.

None of this means we’re home free, or that the tide can’t shift the other way, or that victory is now easily within our reach. Iraq remains a fragile, traumatized nation, and we face enemies (al Qaeda in Iraq, Iran and Syria, and insurgents) who are cunning and relentless.

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We have learned the following from two different news outlets this morning. The first, from the Associated Press, is that U.S. military deaths in September (63) were the lowest monthly toll since July 2006. The second is that civilian deaths from violence across Iraq fell by 50 percent in September from the previous month—to the lowest level recorded this year, according to information provided by the Health, Interior and Defense Ministries (884 civilians were killed in September, down from 1,773 in August).

This is more confirmation that the Petraeus strategy is working and that we might be witnessing one of the more remarkable comebacks in American military history. Iraq, a nation that a year ago was sliding toward civil war, is now considerably calmer and considerably safer. Al Qaeda is absorbing tremendous body blows. We and the Iraqis continue to reclaim territory that was once lost.

None of this means we’re home free, or that the tide can’t shift the other way, or that victory is now easily within our reach. Iraq remains a fragile, traumatized nation, and we face enemies (al Qaeda in Iraq, Iran and Syria, and insurgents) who are cunning and relentless.

At the same time, this news is encouraging. Serious mistakes of past years—too few troops with the wrong mission, Rumsfeld’s reluctance to engage in nation-building, slowness to pick up on and confront the insurgency, and a failure to provide order to Iraq in the aftermath of major combat operations—are being repaired. Adjustments have been made—and we can now reasonably hope for a decent outcome in Iraq.

General Petraeus asked for more time—and it’s now clear that he deserves it, and more. And the effort by MoveOn.org to smear General Petraeus, always contemptible, now looks politically insane.

It is also more clear than ever that President Bush, in the face of ferocious pressure earlier this year, including from his own party, to wind down the Iraq war, showed enormous political courage in moving ahead with the new strategy (more troops armed with a different mission). And it is just as clear that the effort by leading Democrats like Majority Leader Harry Reid and so many others to declare the surge a failure even before it was fully in place looks weirdly premature and massively irresponsible. Democrats and antiwar critics planted their flag earlier on, wagering that the war in Iraq was irredeemably lost—and they have maintained that stance ever since, even as the news has gotten undeniably better. Now Democrats, deeply invested in a narrative of defeat, need to adjust their stance to conform to reality. If they don’t make this adjustment soon there should be, and there will be, a heavy price to pay.

McGovernism and “Come Home, America,” which remained political liabilities for Democrats decades after they entered the political scene, will return once again, and with similar results. That may not be clear now (it wasn’t clear in 1972, either, when the Vietnam War was deeply unpopular), but it will become more clear with the passage of time. Being advocates of defeat in a war, especially when the war seems to be going our way, is not a wise place for a major American political party to be. Americans want to win this war—and for the first time in a long time, there are grounds for real hope. Surely members of both parties can agree on that. Can’t they?

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Who Won the Nuclear-Arms Race?

The historian Richard Rhodes is the author or editor of twenty-two books, among which my two favorites are The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun: the Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. Both of these works of scholarship, despite some serious flaws, were engaging and thoroughly researched accounts of literally earth-shaking developments in the field of armaments.

Rhodes’s latest book, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race, is a continuation of his previous interests. But it is also something else: an account of the cold war that is an almost perfect perversion of historical methods. It leads, unsurprisingly, to the traducing of history itself.

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The historian Richard Rhodes is the author or editor of twenty-two books, among which my two favorites are The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun: the Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. Both of these works of scholarship, despite some serious flaws, were engaging and thoroughly researched accounts of literally earth-shaking developments in the field of armaments.

Rhodes’s latest book, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race, is a continuation of his previous interests. But it is also something else: an account of the cold war that is an almost perfect perversion of historical methods. It leads, unsurprisingly, to the traducing of history itself.

For his past labors, Rhodes has won a Pulitzer prize and received numerous fellowships and grants from the likes of the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Given all these accomplishments, it will be interesting to see how his latest work fares with the critics. My guess is that he will be given a pass. My own inclination, which I explain in my review here in the October issue of COMMENTARY, would be to give it another Pulitzer as the most outlandish book of the year. 

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Kasparov and Putin

In this country we’re not used to thinking of our politicians as heroes. And they seldom are—with some notable exceptions, such as Reagan, who cracked jokes after getting shot, or FDR, who grinned and bore his paralysis, or Lincoln, who directed the war effort with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Our politicians don’t have to be heroes; the Founders created a system in which average men and women could govern themselves.

But in other countries, especially in emerging democracies or in countries still oppressed by a dictator’s whims, being a politician can be a very heroic act. One thinks of Ayman Nour in Egypt, imprisoned for daring to run against Hosni Mubarak. Or Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned in her homeland, separated from her husband as he was dying, because she dared challenge the junta that rules Burma.

The latest to join the ranks of heroic politicians is Garry Kasparov, who has announced that he will take on the thankless task of challenging Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor in Russia’s presidential elections. Kasparov—the subject of a long New Yorker profile by David Remnick last week—is widely considered to be the greatest chess player of all time. He is a rich man who could easily live a life of leisure in New York, London, or Tel Aviv. He has instead chosen to seek political office in Russia even though he knows the odds of victory are nonexistent. The odds of getting killed by the Kremlin’s thugs are considerably higher.

Yet he is running nevertheless simply because he believes in democracy and wants to preserve some sparks of freedom in a country increasingly falling under dictatorial control.That doesn’t mean that he is a political sage or that he is right about every decision he makes. I’ve had discussions with Kasparov (whom I know slightly) in the past where I disagreed with his arguments. And it is certainly possible to question the wisdom of his current alliance with Edward Limonov of the National Bolshevik Party, the closest thing Russia has to a fascist party. Kasparov wants to unite all the opposition groups under one banner, but there are some opposition elements which are too odious to be tolerated by civilized people.

But that’s a matter of tactics on Kasparov’s part. No one could possibly imagine that he is sympathetic to fascism himself or has any but the highest motives for his actions. It is easy to be cynical about the motives of most politicians. But it is hard, if not impossible, to think of any self-interest that Kasparov has in doing what he is doing. He is truly a hero. I only hope he does not become a martyr.

In this country we’re not used to thinking of our politicians as heroes. And they seldom are—with some notable exceptions, such as Reagan, who cracked jokes after getting shot, or FDR, who grinned and bore his paralysis, or Lincoln, who directed the war effort with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Our politicians don’t have to be heroes; the Founders created a system in which average men and women could govern themselves.

But in other countries, especially in emerging democracies or in countries still oppressed by a dictator’s whims, being a politician can be a very heroic act. One thinks of Ayman Nour in Egypt, imprisoned for daring to run against Hosni Mubarak. Or Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned in her homeland, separated from her husband as he was dying, because she dared challenge the junta that rules Burma.

The latest to join the ranks of heroic politicians is Garry Kasparov, who has announced that he will take on the thankless task of challenging Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor in Russia’s presidential elections. Kasparov—the subject of a long New Yorker profile by David Remnick last week—is widely considered to be the greatest chess player of all time. He is a rich man who could easily live a life of leisure in New York, London, or Tel Aviv. He has instead chosen to seek political office in Russia even though he knows the odds of victory are nonexistent. The odds of getting killed by the Kremlin’s thugs are considerably higher.

Yet he is running nevertheless simply because he believes in democracy and wants to preserve some sparks of freedom in a country increasingly falling under dictatorial control.That doesn’t mean that he is a political sage or that he is right about every decision he makes. I’ve had discussions with Kasparov (whom I know slightly) in the past where I disagreed with his arguments. And it is certainly possible to question the wisdom of his current alliance with Edward Limonov of the National Bolshevik Party, the closest thing Russia has to a fascist party. Kasparov wants to unite all the opposition groups under one banner, but there are some opposition elements which are too odious to be tolerated by civilized people.

But that’s a matter of tactics on Kasparov’s part. No one could possibly imagine that he is sympathetic to fascism himself or has any but the highest motives for his actions. It is easy to be cynical about the motives of most politicians. But it is hard, if not impossible, to think of any self-interest that Kasparov has in doing what he is doing. He is truly a hero. I only hope he does not become a martyr.

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No Way, Huawei

On Friday, 3Com announced that it had agreed to be acquired. Bain Capital, the Boston-based private-equity firm, will take about 80 percent of the struggling computer networking pioneer. China’s Huawei Technologies is slated to purchase the remaining portion.

The deal faces a national security review in Washington by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States. CIFUS should turn down the proposed transaction on general principles. Huawei, which Newsweek once described as “a little too obsessed with acquiring advanced technology,” should not be allowed to make any sizable acquisition of sensitive American assets.

3Com’s technology, if shared with Huawei, would help China eavesdrop on U.S. domestic conversations. Moreover, the American company’s encryption technology would make China’s networks less vulnerable to foreign surveillance. Just last year 3Com ended its joint venture with Huawei. Now the Chinese company wants the 3Com technology that it does not already possess.

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On Friday, 3Com announced that it had agreed to be acquired. Bain Capital, the Boston-based private-equity firm, will take about 80 percent of the struggling computer networking pioneer. China’s Huawei Technologies is slated to purchase the remaining portion.

The deal faces a national security review in Washington by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States. CIFUS should turn down the proposed transaction on general principles. Huawei, which Newsweek once described as “a little too obsessed with acquiring advanced technology,” should not be allowed to make any sizable acquisition of sensitive American assets.

3Com’s technology, if shared with Huawei, would help China eavesdrop on U.S. domestic conversations. Moreover, the American company’s encryption technology would make China’s networks less vulnerable to foreign surveillance. Just last year 3Com ended its joint venture with Huawei. Now the Chinese company wants the 3Com technology that it does not already possess.

What’s wrong with Huawei? The official story says that Ren Zhengfei formed the company in 1988. It’s more likely that Ren, a former Chinese military engineer, is acting as a front for the People’s Liberation Army. It’s impossible to ascertain the truth, but this we know: in less than two decades Huawei has grown from scratch to an enterprise with 62,000 employees in 41 countries and sales of over $8.7 billion. And how did it do that? Huawei has benefited from substantial help from the Chinese government, especially R&D funding, tax incentives, and export assistance. The company says it is not owned or controlled by the Chinese military, but its denials have failed to convince outsiders. Huawei is one of the least transparent businesses in China.

In 2005, Britain blocked Huawei from taking over Marconi. Until we know much more about this Chinese company, we should stop it from purchasing any portion of 3Com. We did not allow the Soviet Union to buy critical American assets. The same principle should apply now.

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