Commentary Magazine


Topic: Northern Ireland

Mitchell’s Back: The Fool Returns to His Errand

After two years of failure, George Mitchell is back in the Middle East to resume his fruitless negotiating between Israel and the Palestinians. In theory, Mitchell might have a better chance of achieving at least the semblance of progress now that the administration has dropped its obsession with forcing Israel to adopt a building freeze in the West Bank. Such a freeze was meaningless, since the question of where the borders would be in the event of a peace accord would not be affected by whether or not another Jewish home went up in the West Bank. As Israel showed in 2005 with its withdrawal from Gaza, the presence of settlements will not stop it from abandoning territory if a domestic consensus exists for such a policy.

But even without the burden of pushing Israel to freeze building before talks even begin, it’s not clear that there is any purpose to Mitchell’s visit other than a symbolic gesture of America’s continued interest in peace. Despite attempts by left-wing critics of Israel to demonize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners, the blame for this impasse remains with the Palestinians, who have more than once refused Israel’s offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. But it is useful to review the past two years of failed American diplomacy during which Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have done a great deal to make a bad situation worse.

In 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was negotiating with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He refused to take yes for an answer, but the talks that were going on were direct and didn’t fail for lack of Israeli concessions. But when the Obama administration took up Middle East peace as its first foreign-policy priority in early 2009, it changed the dynamic of the situation, and not for the better. By asserting publicly that Israel had to freeze settlements first, and then insisting that such a freeze should include not only Jerusalem but also long-established Jewish neighborhoods in the Jewish state’s capital, the administration forced Abbas to harden his stand to avoid being seen as less hostile to Israel than the Americans were. Over the course of the last year and a half, as Mitchell and Clinton focused more on gaining new unilateral Israeli concessions as preconditions to talks, it was hardly surprising that the result was no serious negotiations as the Palestinians simply sat back and waited for the Americans to deliver for them.

While Mitchell loves to talk about his diplomatic success in Northern Ireland, where he helped bring the warring parties together for the first time, what has happened in the Middle East is just the opposite. When he arrived, direct talks were ongoing; now they are dead and there is little likelihood of a restart, since the administration has already tried and failed with its sole idea for promoting peace: pressure on Israel. While Israel’s critics and foes are urging Obama to double down on such pressure, it appears that even the president and the secretary of state are finally beginning to understand that there is little point to investing any energy in such a process when they know that even if they gain more concessions from the Israelis, the Palestinians will always say no in the end anyway.

The spectacle of Mitchell returning to a dumb show of diplomacy is a sorry indication of both the bankruptcy of the administration’s foreign policy as well as the ineptness of its principal player. Rather than the successful sequel to his Irish triumph that Mitchell keeps predicting, his latest mission resembles nothing so much as a fool’s errand.

After two years of failure, George Mitchell is back in the Middle East to resume his fruitless negotiating between Israel and the Palestinians. In theory, Mitchell might have a better chance of achieving at least the semblance of progress now that the administration has dropped its obsession with forcing Israel to adopt a building freeze in the West Bank. Such a freeze was meaningless, since the question of where the borders would be in the event of a peace accord would not be affected by whether or not another Jewish home went up in the West Bank. As Israel showed in 2005 with its withdrawal from Gaza, the presence of settlements will not stop it from abandoning territory if a domestic consensus exists for such a policy.

But even without the burden of pushing Israel to freeze building before talks even begin, it’s not clear that there is any purpose to Mitchell’s visit other than a symbolic gesture of America’s continued interest in peace. Despite attempts by left-wing critics of Israel to demonize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners, the blame for this impasse remains with the Palestinians, who have more than once refused Israel’s offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. But it is useful to review the past two years of failed American diplomacy during which Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have done a great deal to make a bad situation worse.

In 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was negotiating with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He refused to take yes for an answer, but the talks that were going on were direct and didn’t fail for lack of Israeli concessions. But when the Obama administration took up Middle East peace as its first foreign-policy priority in early 2009, it changed the dynamic of the situation, and not for the better. By asserting publicly that Israel had to freeze settlements first, and then insisting that such a freeze should include not only Jerusalem but also long-established Jewish neighborhoods in the Jewish state’s capital, the administration forced Abbas to harden his stand to avoid being seen as less hostile to Israel than the Americans were. Over the course of the last year and a half, as Mitchell and Clinton focused more on gaining new unilateral Israeli concessions as preconditions to talks, it was hardly surprising that the result was no serious negotiations as the Palestinians simply sat back and waited for the Americans to deliver for them.

While Mitchell loves to talk about his diplomatic success in Northern Ireland, where he helped bring the warring parties together for the first time, what has happened in the Middle East is just the opposite. When he arrived, direct talks were ongoing; now they are dead and there is little likelihood of a restart, since the administration has already tried and failed with its sole idea for promoting peace: pressure on Israel. While Israel’s critics and foes are urging Obama to double down on such pressure, it appears that even the president and the secretary of state are finally beginning to understand that there is little point to investing any energy in such a process when they know that even if they gain more concessions from the Israelis, the Palestinians will always say no in the end anyway.

The spectacle of Mitchell returning to a dumb show of diplomacy is a sorry indication of both the bankruptcy of the administration’s foreign policy as well as the ineptness of its principal player. Rather than the successful sequel to his Irish triumph that Mitchell keeps predicting, his latest mission resembles nothing so much as a fool’s errand.

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Low-Level Urban Terrorism: The Next Big Thing for Al-Qaeda?

Terrorism analysts Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson had an intriguing op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday suggesting that al-Qaeda is moving away from trying to stage 9/11-style spectacular attacks and toward low-level urban terrorism. That, they argue, is the import of the warning from Washington and our allies that terror attacks may be imminent in Western Europe. There is little doubt that such operations have the capability to terrorize and paralyze. Witness the Mumbai attack in 2008, which they cite — or, for that matter, the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, which they don’t mention.

Still. it’s quite a stretch to invoke comparisons with “Belfast or Beirut in the 1970s and 1980s.” Beirut was the scene of all-out warfare that included the use of artillery and other heavy weapons, pitting against each other primarily Muslim vs. Christian militias, who between them claimed to speak for most of the Lebanese population. Belfast was the scene of persistent terrorism carried out by the Provisional IRA, which claimed to represent the Catholic population of Northern Ireland (44 percent of the total). Whether or not the Lebanese militias or the IRA really spoke for most of their co-religionists, there is little doubt that they had a high level of support within their communities. Can the same be said about al-Qaeda and associated jihadist movements?

They probably enjoyed the greatest support in Muslim countries. Most of those countries are, however, dictatorships with effective security forces. They are unpromising terrain for urban warfare, as jihadists have learned in Syria, Egypt, and Algeria, among others. Western Europe and North America are more lightly policed and have Muslim communities where al-Qaeda can expect to draw some support — more in Europe than in the United States, but still a lot less than the support enjoyed by the IRA, Hezbollah, or other groups that have waged effective urban warfare. Al-Qaeda certainly has the capability to pull off isolated acts of terror along the lines of the London Underground bombing or the Mumbai attacks. But I very much doubt they have the capacity to stage such attacks in the West day after day as al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish-al-Mahdi did in Iraq after 2003.

We should certainly take prudent precautions against such assaults, but we should also keep some perspective. It is still “spectacular” attacks that we need fear the most — and especially the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons, which, as President Obama accurately observed, would be a “game-changer.”

Terrorism analysts Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson had an intriguing op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday suggesting that al-Qaeda is moving away from trying to stage 9/11-style spectacular attacks and toward low-level urban terrorism. That, they argue, is the import of the warning from Washington and our allies that terror attacks may be imminent in Western Europe. There is little doubt that such operations have the capability to terrorize and paralyze. Witness the Mumbai attack in 2008, which they cite — or, for that matter, the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, which they don’t mention.

Still. it’s quite a stretch to invoke comparisons with “Belfast or Beirut in the 1970s and 1980s.” Beirut was the scene of all-out warfare that included the use of artillery and other heavy weapons, pitting against each other primarily Muslim vs. Christian militias, who between them claimed to speak for most of the Lebanese population. Belfast was the scene of persistent terrorism carried out by the Provisional IRA, which claimed to represent the Catholic population of Northern Ireland (44 percent of the total). Whether or not the Lebanese militias or the IRA really spoke for most of their co-religionists, there is little doubt that they had a high level of support within their communities. Can the same be said about al-Qaeda and associated jihadist movements?

They probably enjoyed the greatest support in Muslim countries. Most of those countries are, however, dictatorships with effective security forces. They are unpromising terrain for urban warfare, as jihadists have learned in Syria, Egypt, and Algeria, among others. Western Europe and North America are more lightly policed and have Muslim communities where al-Qaeda can expect to draw some support — more in Europe than in the United States, but still a lot less than the support enjoyed by the IRA, Hezbollah, or other groups that have waged effective urban warfare. Al-Qaeda certainly has the capability to pull off isolated acts of terror along the lines of the London Underground bombing or the Mumbai attacks. But I very much doubt they have the capacity to stage such attacks in the West day after day as al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish-al-Mahdi did in Iraq after 2003.

We should certainly take prudent precautions against such assaults, but we should also keep some perspective. It is still “spectacular” attacks that we need fear the most — and especially the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons, which, as President Obama accurately observed, would be a “game-changer.”

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Maybe the Peace Processors Just Don’t Have a Clue

Leslie Gelb fervently hopes that “the Obama administration did not shove Palestinians and Israelis into direct talks, for the first time in over two years, just to get them talking to each other.” Umm … but there really isn’t any evidence to the contrary, is there? No, sighs Gelb, there isn’t:

Many officials tell me that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel nor President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority came close to giving Mr. Obama any specific indications of compromise in their White House meetings two weeks ago. In other words, neither offered any concrete basis for accommodation. They spoke only of being serious and bargaining in good faith, the usual stuff. Nor did either leader push Mr. Obama into these talks; Mr. Obama pushed them. Netanyahu wasn’t eager for talks at all, and Abbas favored them only with good and prior indications of success.

In fact, a PA official told the Jerusalem Post that “he had ‘no explanation’ for why some US government officials were sounding optimistic about the direct talks.” That may be the most honest statement ever uttered by a Palestinian spokesman in the past 60 years. Read More

Leslie Gelb fervently hopes that “the Obama administration did not shove Palestinians and Israelis into direct talks, for the first time in over two years, just to get them talking to each other.” Umm … but there really isn’t any evidence to the contrary, is there? No, sighs Gelb, there isn’t:

Many officials tell me that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel nor President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority came close to giving Mr. Obama any specific indications of compromise in their White House meetings two weeks ago. In other words, neither offered any concrete basis for accommodation. They spoke only of being serious and bargaining in good faith, the usual stuff. Nor did either leader push Mr. Obama into these talks; Mr. Obama pushed them. Netanyahu wasn’t eager for talks at all, and Abbas favored them only with good and prior indications of success.

In fact, a PA official told the Jerusalem Post that “he had ‘no explanation’ for why some US government officials were sounding optimistic about the direct talks.” That may be the most honest statement ever uttered by a Palestinian spokesman in the past 60 years.

As many of us predicted, Obama, a peace-process worshiper of the first order, and his envoy, who is convinced that if he solved the Northern Ireland crisis he can bring peace to the Middle East, are now facing the collapse of their 18-month venture into Middle East policymaking. (By the way, given Mitchell’s performance in the Middle East, do you get the feeling that the settlement of the Northern Ireland conflict was coincidental to, not a result of, his presence?) Gelb, as many of us on the right have argued, explains why peace talks can be quite dangerous if you really don’t know what you’re doing:

The real danger between these two star-crossed inhabitants of the same Holy Land is not failure to negotiate; it’s the failure of the negotiations. Flashpoints in the Holy Land tend to burst after they sit down at the negotiating table, give their speeches, fail to agree, and watch the process collapse. That is when the explosions begin. That is when Palestinian terrorism reignites in Israel. People tend to resort to violence when their hopes and expectations are dashed formally and frontally, not when they are merely hoping.

Actually, in this case, “people” don’t — the Palestinians do. (There’s no Jewish intifada.) And the Palestinians also resorted to violence in anticipation of the talks. Really, any excuse will do.

The collapse of the talks would not merely raise the specter of another intifada; it would threaten to decimate what is left of the president’s prestige and credibility. Hence, Gelb sees reason for Bibi to spare Obama that humiliation:

The Israeli hawk understands full well, though he doesn’t like it, that he must burnish and safekeep ties with America. For the time being, that requires good ties with Mr. Obama, whom Netanyahu and his fellow hawks don’t like very much. To them, Mr. Obama sounded too pro-Arab in his first years in office, and they don’t have much trust in him. So, they have to get along with him well enough for at least another year – or until the American presidential election season erupts. At that point, these particular Israelis will pray for rain and a Republican president.

But, of course, both sides must stay in the room, and so far it seems that Abbas is itching to get out.

This brings us back to Gelb’s concern: maybe the Obami had not a clue what they were doing and now have a mess they are not equipped to clean up. And gosh, maybe the same is true of Iran. Perhaps they were silly to assume that engagement and Swiss-cheese sanctions were going to work to disarm the mullahs and now have no idea what to do. To be blunt, the president’s supporters and even some critics have both assumed that there is at work here a level of foreign policy competence and clearheadedness that may not, in fact, exist. Gelb hints that what we are dealing with are rank and arrogant amateurs. Yes, it’s scary.

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What Happens When the Talks Fail?

It is a measure of how badly the Obami’s approach to the Middle East has failed and how little the Israelis trust Obama when, as Josh Rogin reports, the Israelis make it crystal clear how little they regard the president’s positions:

“We are coming to the table with no preconditions on any issue,” embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled said on a conference call Tuesday. “We are certain that the issue of settlements, of this moratorium, will be on the table and discussed between the two leaders … with the hope that a solution, an exit, a formula can be found that will satisfy both sides, but only after it is brought to the table between them.”

So much for the settlement-freeze gambit. And there’s more:

“The latest moratorium that this government took about 10 months ago was a one-time gesture with the aim of jumpstarting the process,” Peled said.

He also said that he was not aware of any ideas that the United States was bringing to the table to bridge gaps between the two sides and added that it was not the Obama administration’s place to interject its own ideas into the process.

Well, that’s some helpful candor. The Bush administration to my knowledge avoided bridging proposals. These merely encourage intransigence and gamesmanship. “Well, if the U.S. is going to split the difference, let’s ask for the moon and the stars.” It is antithetical to the notion that the parties must control their own destiny and that Israel, in particular, must be allowed to define for itself its own security needs. And one might also interpret the Israelis’ forcefulness as a preemptive strike against an imposed peace deal, which many are concerned is not entirely off the table.

And George Mitchell also appears to have his tail between his legs:

Although Mitchell has often compared Middle East negotiations to the struggle for peace in Northern Ireland, he said Tuesday that the comparison is not strictly accurate, even though military groups in Northern Ireland eventually did join talks.

“So, first, let me say they’re very different. It’s not useful to try to make direct comparisons because the participants, the circumstances, the situation, the timing are all very different,” he said.

The negotiations hang by a thread, which could easily break at any moment. (“If there’s one word to describe the feelings about the talks throughout Washington, that word is skepticism. Experts across the political spectrum see the idea of a breakthrough as a long shot at best.”) It would seem prudent then to have a backup plan in mind should talks fail. What if a third intifada breaks out? I certainly hope someone is thinking about that. Of all the possible outcomes, that, sadly, seems the most likely.

It is a measure of how badly the Obami’s approach to the Middle East has failed and how little the Israelis trust Obama when, as Josh Rogin reports, the Israelis make it crystal clear how little they regard the president’s positions:

“We are coming to the table with no preconditions on any issue,” embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled said on a conference call Tuesday. “We are certain that the issue of settlements, of this moratorium, will be on the table and discussed between the two leaders … with the hope that a solution, an exit, a formula can be found that will satisfy both sides, but only after it is brought to the table between them.”

So much for the settlement-freeze gambit. And there’s more:

“The latest moratorium that this government took about 10 months ago was a one-time gesture with the aim of jumpstarting the process,” Peled said.

He also said that he was not aware of any ideas that the United States was bringing to the table to bridge gaps between the two sides and added that it was not the Obama administration’s place to interject its own ideas into the process.

Well, that’s some helpful candor. The Bush administration to my knowledge avoided bridging proposals. These merely encourage intransigence and gamesmanship. “Well, if the U.S. is going to split the difference, let’s ask for the moon and the stars.” It is antithetical to the notion that the parties must control their own destiny and that Israel, in particular, must be allowed to define for itself its own security needs. And one might also interpret the Israelis’ forcefulness as a preemptive strike against an imposed peace deal, which many are concerned is not entirely off the table.

And George Mitchell also appears to have his tail between his legs:

Although Mitchell has often compared Middle East negotiations to the struggle for peace in Northern Ireland, he said Tuesday that the comparison is not strictly accurate, even though military groups in Northern Ireland eventually did join talks.

“So, first, let me say they’re very different. It’s not useful to try to make direct comparisons because the participants, the circumstances, the situation, the timing are all very different,” he said.

The negotiations hang by a thread, which could easily break at any moment. (“If there’s one word to describe the feelings about the talks throughout Washington, that word is skepticism. Experts across the political spectrum see the idea of a breakthrough as a long shot at best.”) It would seem prudent then to have a backup plan in mind should talks fail. What if a third intifada breaks out? I certainly hope someone is thinking about that. Of all the possible outcomes, that, sadly, seems the most likely.

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The Farce Ends

The worst-kept secret in the Middle East “peace process” has been that Mahmoud Abbas was never serious about a peace deal. This was apparent to anyone who has observed him over the years, who has followed his duplicitous rhetoric (incitement in Arabic, peace lingo in English), and who understands that he is incapable of making an enforceable peace agreement that would recognize the Jewish state, ensure that Israel retains defensible borders, renounce the dream of a one-state solutions with Jerusalem as its Muslim capital, and commit to disarmament and the renunciation of terror. Even to list what is required reveals how misplaced were the expectations of Obama and his “smart” diplomats.

After 18 months of badgering and bullying Israel and sucking up to the Muslim World, that world is on the verge of dealing a stinging blow to their patron: “Despite pressure from the US and EU, Abbas has signaled in recent days that he does not intend to enter direct talks until Israel stops all settlement construction, as well as construction in east Jerusalem, and commits itself to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967, lines.” And he’s gone scurrying to the Arab League to bless this.

Hmm, maybe it isn’t Israel’s fault that we don’t have peace in our time. Maybe Obama’s mere presence and his suck-uppery to Palestinians in Cairo (and ever since) did not transform the Middle East. Maybe the Middle East is not just like Northern Ireland. Maybe putting political hacks in charge of foreign policy wasn’t a swell idea. Maybe the Obami were the least-”smart” diplomats ever to take on the Middle East conflict. And maybe — finally — we can all agree that the peace process is a counterproductive farce that provides cover only for Palestinian rejectionism.

The worst-kept secret in the Middle East “peace process” has been that Mahmoud Abbas was never serious about a peace deal. This was apparent to anyone who has observed him over the years, who has followed his duplicitous rhetoric (incitement in Arabic, peace lingo in English), and who understands that he is incapable of making an enforceable peace agreement that would recognize the Jewish state, ensure that Israel retains defensible borders, renounce the dream of a one-state solutions with Jerusalem as its Muslim capital, and commit to disarmament and the renunciation of terror. Even to list what is required reveals how misplaced were the expectations of Obama and his “smart” diplomats.

After 18 months of badgering and bullying Israel and sucking up to the Muslim World, that world is on the verge of dealing a stinging blow to their patron: “Despite pressure from the US and EU, Abbas has signaled in recent days that he does not intend to enter direct talks until Israel stops all settlement construction, as well as construction in east Jerusalem, and commits itself to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967, lines.” And he’s gone scurrying to the Arab League to bless this.

Hmm, maybe it isn’t Israel’s fault that we don’t have peace in our time. Maybe Obama’s mere presence and his suck-uppery to Palestinians in Cairo (and ever since) did not transform the Middle East. Maybe the Middle East is not just like Northern Ireland. Maybe putting political hacks in charge of foreign policy wasn’t a swell idea. Maybe the Obami were the least-”smart” diplomats ever to take on the Middle East conflict. And maybe — finally — we can all agree that the peace process is a counterproductive farce that provides cover only for Palestinian rejectionism.

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Yes We Can … Win in Afghanistan

Andrew Exum has posted a short reply to my critique of his hand-wringing article on Afghanistan. He begins on a nice note: “I respect the heck out of Max Boot and consider him among the smartest of the thinkers often lumped under the label ‘neoconservative’.” (I especially like the way he distances himself from the cliched neocon label.) He then goes on to concede, “Boot is right, to a degree, about political will.” (I had written that, although political will is now lacking in the United States, it could easily be manufactured, if only President Obama were to be slightly more resolute.) But Andrew writes:

I think Boot, like many other neoconservatives, overestimates the importance of U.S. actions and downplays the agency of others. So Afghanistan will definitely be a success if we will it? Sorry, but that’s not how third-party counterinsurgency campaigns work. The actions of others matter as much or more than our own.

For my part, I respect the heck out of Andrew Exum and believe his arguments are worthy of a more detailed examination.

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed. Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

There are difficulties, to be sure, principally having to do with weak and corrupt government; but those problems were well known a year ago, when the McChrystal strategy was formulated with Andrew’s input and support. What has changed in the past year to make McChrystal’s approach invalid? Nothing that I can see.

Indeed, the biggest cause for optimism remains intact — namely the unpopularity of the Taliban. Public opinion polls show that only 6% of the Afghan people would like to see them return to power. The percentage is slightly higher in the South but still well short of a majority. The Taliban suffer from a major disadvantage that did not afflict successful insurgencies in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba: they have actually been in power before and people remember how awful they were. Some 90% of Afghans favor the current government for all of its myriad imperfections.

The Taliban are able to make gains only because of the security and governance vacuum that has existed in much of the countryside. Filling that vacuum is certainly difficult and will take a long time. But is it impossible? I think not, because our objectives are fundamentally in alignment with the views of most Afghans. The key, as I stress once again, is whether the U.S. will have the patience and the will to see this war through to an acceptable conclusion — something that Andrew concedes is “probably” a vital interest of ours.

I don’t mean to suggest that the U.S. is capable of doing anything; I don’t think we could transform the moon into Swiss cheese simply by willing it. Can we, working in cooperation with international and local partners, defeat a ragtag guerrilla army of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters who are widely despised by the population they seek to rule? Yes, we can.

Andrew Exum has posted a short reply to my critique of his hand-wringing article on Afghanistan. He begins on a nice note: “I respect the heck out of Max Boot and consider him among the smartest of the thinkers often lumped under the label ‘neoconservative’.” (I especially like the way he distances himself from the cliched neocon label.) He then goes on to concede, “Boot is right, to a degree, about political will.” (I had written that, although political will is now lacking in the United States, it could easily be manufactured, if only President Obama were to be slightly more resolute.) But Andrew writes:

I think Boot, like many other neoconservatives, overestimates the importance of U.S. actions and downplays the agency of others. So Afghanistan will definitely be a success if we will it? Sorry, but that’s not how third-party counterinsurgency campaigns work. The actions of others matter as much or more than our own.

For my part, I respect the heck out of Andrew Exum and believe his arguments are worthy of a more detailed examination.

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed. Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

There are difficulties, to be sure, principally having to do with weak and corrupt government; but those problems were well known a year ago, when the McChrystal strategy was formulated with Andrew’s input and support. What has changed in the past year to make McChrystal’s approach invalid? Nothing that I can see.

Indeed, the biggest cause for optimism remains intact — namely the unpopularity of the Taliban. Public opinion polls show that only 6% of the Afghan people would like to see them return to power. The percentage is slightly higher in the South but still well short of a majority. The Taliban suffer from a major disadvantage that did not afflict successful insurgencies in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba: they have actually been in power before and people remember how awful they were. Some 90% of Afghans favor the current government for all of its myriad imperfections.

The Taliban are able to make gains only because of the security and governance vacuum that has existed in much of the countryside. Filling that vacuum is certainly difficult and will take a long time. But is it impossible? I think not, because our objectives are fundamentally in alignment with the views of most Afghans. The key, as I stress once again, is whether the U.S. will have the patience and the will to see this war through to an acceptable conclusion — something that Andrew concedes is “probably” a vital interest of ours.

I don’t mean to suggest that the U.S. is capable of doing anything; I don’t think we could transform the moon into Swiss cheese simply by willing it. Can we, working in cooperation with international and local partners, defeat a ragtag guerrilla army of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters who are widely despised by the population they seek to rule? Yes, we can.

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Reporting on Flotilla Confirmed

Josh Rogin confirms much of the reporting and analysis on the flotilla investigation that has been percolating in the right-wing blogosphere for several days. As Bill Kristol reported on Friday, Rogin notes that the administration and, in particular, James Jones (who always seems to be front and center with the bully-boy scenarios — it was his leaking and meeting on an imposed peace plan that sent shivers up the spines of Israel supporters) were hard at work trying to internationalize the investigation:

The message Obama officials delivered was twofold. First, they wanted to make sure Israel appointed international members to the commission who were credible. William David Trimble from Northern Ireland and Ken Watkin, a former judge advocate general of the Canadian Armed Forces, will be on it. The other Obama message to the Israelis? Speed it up. They wanted Israel to get the commission members settled on and announced as much as a week before the Israelis were ready. The Israeli official said that the detailed and extensive consultations with the Obama people are why it took so long.

This, of course, merely reinforces the Obama line that Israel is incapable of investigating itself. The argument then boils down to which international overseers to impose on the Jewish state. (Turkey, of course, gets a free pass.)

Rogin also confirms the information I have received that Jewish groups were heavily involved and complicit in a result about which they were privately dismayed – specifically, the refusal to rule out a UN investigation:

That type of hedging is exactly what many Israel supporters, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), are concerned about. “AIPAC calls on the Obama administration to act decisively at the United Nations and other international forums to block any action — including alternative investigations supported by the Secretary General — which would isolate Israel,” the group said in a statement. They also point to the White House’s statement Sunday on the commission, which they see as tepid because it included a terse warning to Israel along with word of support.

“While Israel should be afforded the time to complete its process, we expect Israel’s commission and military investigation will be carried out promptly. We also expect that, upon completion, its findings will be presented publicly and will be presented to the international community,” the statement said.

Yet AIPAC’s statement, to those not reading between the lines and with the benefit of brackets, sounded like no urgent note of alarm.

To sum it up, we have a White House unwilling to stand four-square with Israel, refusing to rebuff the efforts to delegitimize Israel’s right to manage and review its own defensive measures, and uninterested in exploring the terrorist elements and their ties to Turkey, which were responsible for the violence. And there is no effective strategy in Congress or among Jewish groups to challenge these inclinations. Can you imagine what there is in store when Israel feels compelled to use military force against Iran?

Josh Rogin confirms much of the reporting and analysis on the flotilla investigation that has been percolating in the right-wing blogosphere for several days. As Bill Kristol reported on Friday, Rogin notes that the administration and, in particular, James Jones (who always seems to be front and center with the bully-boy scenarios — it was his leaking and meeting on an imposed peace plan that sent shivers up the spines of Israel supporters) were hard at work trying to internationalize the investigation:

The message Obama officials delivered was twofold. First, they wanted to make sure Israel appointed international members to the commission who were credible. William David Trimble from Northern Ireland and Ken Watkin, a former judge advocate general of the Canadian Armed Forces, will be on it. The other Obama message to the Israelis? Speed it up. They wanted Israel to get the commission members settled on and announced as much as a week before the Israelis were ready. The Israeli official said that the detailed and extensive consultations with the Obama people are why it took so long.

This, of course, merely reinforces the Obama line that Israel is incapable of investigating itself. The argument then boils down to which international overseers to impose on the Jewish state. (Turkey, of course, gets a free pass.)

Rogin also confirms the information I have received that Jewish groups were heavily involved and complicit in a result about which they were privately dismayed – specifically, the refusal to rule out a UN investigation:

That type of hedging is exactly what many Israel supporters, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), are concerned about. “AIPAC calls on the Obama administration to act decisively at the United Nations and other international forums to block any action — including alternative investigations supported by the Secretary General — which would isolate Israel,” the group said in a statement. They also point to the White House’s statement Sunday on the commission, which they see as tepid because it included a terse warning to Israel along with word of support.

“While Israel should be afforded the time to complete its process, we expect Israel’s commission and military investigation will be carried out promptly. We also expect that, upon completion, its findings will be presented publicly and will be presented to the international community,” the statement said.

Yet AIPAC’s statement, to those not reading between the lines and with the benefit of brackets, sounded like no urgent note of alarm.

To sum it up, we have a White House unwilling to stand four-square with Israel, refusing to rebuff the efforts to delegitimize Israel’s right to manage and review its own defensive measures, and uninterested in exploring the terrorist elements and their ties to Turkey, which were responsible for the violence. And there is no effective strategy in Congress or among Jewish groups to challenge these inclinations. Can you imagine what there is in store when Israel feels compelled to use military force against Iran?

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The Israeli Investigation

It’s remarkable that the Obama administration’s reaction to the Israeli investigation of the flotilla was so critical. As this report makes clear, it’s an all-star lineup:

The Prime Minister’s Office published, on Sunday evening, the names of those who will serve on the panel headed by retired Supreme Court justice Ya’akov Tuerkel, which will investigate Israel’s interception of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on May 31st. International-law Professor Shabtai Rosen is an Israel Prize winner and winner of the Hague Prize for International Law.  Former Technion president Amos Chorev serves as a general in the reserves.

There will be two international observers: Lord William David Trimble [of Northern Ireland], winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and international lawyer Ken Watkin, Canada’s Judge Advocate General of Canada’s forces.

The two international observers are respected authorities and men of integrity that will add creditability to the findings of the investigation. Unfortunately, their presence and involvement are necessary because the conclusions of the respected Israelis on this panel would be dismissed out of hand by much of the international community.

The Obama administration responded to this Israeli panel with tempered support and a dictate to work quickly. It still remains to be seen if the Administration will support a United Nations based panel that will convict Israel before gathering any evidence.

Considering the panel’s composition, why didn’t Obama declare this fully sufficient and rule out an inquest by the UN or another outside entity? Those working behind the scenes to head off an international inquest were certainly hoping he would do so. Instead, Obama maintained his “above-the-fray” tone of condescension and let Israel know he stands with the “international community,” not with Israel. And where is Turkey’s board of inquest? Obama has made clear: that won’t be necessary.

It’s remarkable that the Obama administration’s reaction to the Israeli investigation of the flotilla was so critical. As this report makes clear, it’s an all-star lineup:

The Prime Minister’s Office published, on Sunday evening, the names of those who will serve on the panel headed by retired Supreme Court justice Ya’akov Tuerkel, which will investigate Israel’s interception of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on May 31st. International-law Professor Shabtai Rosen is an Israel Prize winner and winner of the Hague Prize for International Law.  Former Technion president Amos Chorev serves as a general in the reserves.

There will be two international observers: Lord William David Trimble [of Northern Ireland], winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and international lawyer Ken Watkin, Canada’s Judge Advocate General of Canada’s forces.

The two international observers are respected authorities and men of integrity that will add creditability to the findings of the investigation. Unfortunately, their presence and involvement are necessary because the conclusions of the respected Israelis on this panel would be dismissed out of hand by much of the international community.

The Obama administration responded to this Israeli panel with tempered support and a dictate to work quickly. It still remains to be seen if the Administration will support a United Nations based panel that will convict Israel before gathering any evidence.

Considering the panel’s composition, why didn’t Obama declare this fully sufficient and rule out an inquest by the UN or another outside entity? Those working behind the scenes to head off an international inquest were certainly hoping he would do so. Instead, Obama maintained his “above-the-fray” tone of condescension and let Israel know he stands with the “international community,” not with Israel. And where is Turkey’s board of inquest? Obama has made clear: that won’t be necessary.

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Really Hard?!

In an interview this week Obama admits that he really didn’t have a clue on how the Middle East works:

I’ll be honest with you. A: This is just really hard. Even for a guy like George Mitchell who helped bring about the peace in Northern Ireland. This is as intractable a problem as you get. B: Both sides—I think the Israelis and Palestinians—have found that the political environment, the nature of their coalitions, or the divisions within their societies were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think that we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that. From Abbas’ perspective, he’s got Hamas looking over his shoulder and I think an environment generally within the Arab world that feels impatient with any process.

Really hard?? The hubris is remarkable, isn’t it? One supposes that he imagined all the dolts who preceded him in the Oval Office to just not have been smart enough or him enough to get the job done. It seems as though he “overestimated” the impact of his mere presence on the parties. Really, who knew there were underlying political realities that would render the parties immune to his charms? But there is no sign he’s going to do much, if anything, differently (“we are going to continue to work with both parties to recognize what I think is ultimately their deep-seated interest in a two-state solution”). But now he knows it’s hard.

That’s not the worst of it, however. On Iran he declares:

Both in our engagement strategy, but also now as we move into the other track of a dual-track approach. Which is if they don’t accept the open hand, we’ve got to make sure they understand there are consequences for breaking international rules. It’s going to be tough, but I think the relationship we’ve developed with Russia will be very helpful. The outreach we’ve done to our traditional NATO allies will be very helpful. The work that we’ve done with China—including the work we’ve done with China to enforce sanctions against North Korea—will help us in dealing more effectively with Iran.

No hint of the fact that engagement has been an abject failure, no mention of the opportunity for regime change, and certainly no indication that he has learned that the Iranians don’t want to be engaged. Indeed quite the opposite — we aren’t giving up! Maybe, maybe we can sweet talk the mullahs out of their nukes. And as for any help from China and Russia, does he not read the papers? (Maybe he thinks we don’t.) China and Russia aren’t being helpful.

We all keep waiting for the foreign-policy learning curve to deliver results and for experience to inform Obama’s policies. This sort of interview reveals that such an outcome likely isn’t in the cards. He is, it seems, so fixed in his preconceptions of the word that basic geopolitical realities come as a surprise or disappointment. If only the world worked the way his university-professor pals and George Mitchell told him it would. George W. Bush is gone and he is there — and what has it gotten us? Well, the reputation for irresolution, unreliability, and naiveté. And interviews like this don’t help.

In an interview this week Obama admits that he really didn’t have a clue on how the Middle East works:

I’ll be honest with you. A: This is just really hard. Even for a guy like George Mitchell who helped bring about the peace in Northern Ireland. This is as intractable a problem as you get. B: Both sides—I think the Israelis and Palestinians—have found that the political environment, the nature of their coalitions, or the divisions within their societies were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think that we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that. From Abbas’ perspective, he’s got Hamas looking over his shoulder and I think an environment generally within the Arab world that feels impatient with any process.

Really hard?? The hubris is remarkable, isn’t it? One supposes that he imagined all the dolts who preceded him in the Oval Office to just not have been smart enough or him enough to get the job done. It seems as though he “overestimated” the impact of his mere presence on the parties. Really, who knew there were underlying political realities that would render the parties immune to his charms? But there is no sign he’s going to do much, if anything, differently (“we are going to continue to work with both parties to recognize what I think is ultimately their deep-seated interest in a two-state solution”). But now he knows it’s hard.

That’s not the worst of it, however. On Iran he declares:

Both in our engagement strategy, but also now as we move into the other track of a dual-track approach. Which is if they don’t accept the open hand, we’ve got to make sure they understand there are consequences for breaking international rules. It’s going to be tough, but I think the relationship we’ve developed with Russia will be very helpful. The outreach we’ve done to our traditional NATO allies will be very helpful. The work that we’ve done with China—including the work we’ve done with China to enforce sanctions against North Korea—will help us in dealing more effectively with Iran.

No hint of the fact that engagement has been an abject failure, no mention of the opportunity for regime change, and certainly no indication that he has learned that the Iranians don’t want to be engaged. Indeed quite the opposite — we aren’t giving up! Maybe, maybe we can sweet talk the mullahs out of their nukes. And as for any help from China and Russia, does he not read the papers? (Maybe he thinks we don’t.) China and Russia aren’t being helpful.

We all keep waiting for the foreign-policy learning curve to deliver results and for experience to inform Obama’s policies. This sort of interview reveals that such an outcome likely isn’t in the cards. He is, it seems, so fixed in his preconceptions of the word that basic geopolitical realities come as a surprise or disappointment. If only the world worked the way his university-professor pals and George Mitchell told him it would. George W. Bush is gone and he is there — and what has it gotten us? Well, the reputation for irresolution, unreliability, and naiveté. And interviews like this don’t help.

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Secret Agent Hillary

So does a first lady play a critical foreign policy role or not?

These days, Hillary Clinton certainly wants us to think so. She claims she “helped to bring peace” to Northern Ireland, stood up to the Chinese, negotiated with Macedonians, and braved a hail of bullets in war-torn Bosnia.

So then why, when questioned in 1997 about having held an important foreign policy meeting in 1996, did her spokesman deflect inquiries to the National Security Council (whose spokesman said that foreign policy is set by the President and not by the First Lady)? Perhaps because this rare instance of Hillary’s actual foreign policy experience was problematic then and disastrous now.

Recent reports indicate that in 1996 Hillary had an agreeable conference with Muthanna Hanooti, the alleged Iraqi intelligence operative who was just indicted for bringing U.S. lawmakers to Iraq on Saddam’s dime. During this meeting they discussed easing American sanctions on Iraq.

Hanooti told the New York Sun’s Ira Stoll that Hillary was “very receptive” to weakening sanctions and she “passed a message to the State Department” urging the implementation of the oil-for-food deal. Oil-for-food was nominally intended to help Saddam feed Iraqis through oil sales. In reality it allowed Saddam and a global crime syndicate to profit under cover of UN legitimacy, while Iraqis continued to suffer.

Now, to be fair, the current indictment against Hanooti charges that his formal involvement with Saddam’s intelligence began “in or about 1999.” But clearly his sentiments were in line with Iraq’s dictator at the time he met with Hillary Clinton. Saddam’s goal was to end sanctions altogether and re-establish a formidable WMD program. At the time, the sanctions kept him too financially strapped to see his WMD dreams to completion, but allowed for him to proceed building countrywide palaces. Needy Iraqis never entered the equation.

But Hillary did. There she was, meeting with man who would later be identified as an Iraqi intelligence operative, and allegedly “receptive” to his ploy. Judging from Hillary’s Bosnia claim, her next move is obvious: She wasn’t really receptive to this pro-Saddam stance. She was onto Hanooti before anyone else; she was functioning as a top-level spy, in fact. There was a mini-camera in her brooch and a lie-detector in her purse. Just another day, I guess, in the life of Super First Lady.

So does a first lady play a critical foreign policy role or not?

These days, Hillary Clinton certainly wants us to think so. She claims she “helped to bring peace” to Northern Ireland, stood up to the Chinese, negotiated with Macedonians, and braved a hail of bullets in war-torn Bosnia.

So then why, when questioned in 1997 about having held an important foreign policy meeting in 1996, did her spokesman deflect inquiries to the National Security Council (whose spokesman said that foreign policy is set by the President and not by the First Lady)? Perhaps because this rare instance of Hillary’s actual foreign policy experience was problematic then and disastrous now.

Recent reports indicate that in 1996 Hillary had an agreeable conference with Muthanna Hanooti, the alleged Iraqi intelligence operative who was just indicted for bringing U.S. lawmakers to Iraq on Saddam’s dime. During this meeting they discussed easing American sanctions on Iraq.

Hanooti told the New York Sun’s Ira Stoll that Hillary was “very receptive” to weakening sanctions and she “passed a message to the State Department” urging the implementation of the oil-for-food deal. Oil-for-food was nominally intended to help Saddam feed Iraqis through oil sales. In reality it allowed Saddam and a global crime syndicate to profit under cover of UN legitimacy, while Iraqis continued to suffer.

Now, to be fair, the current indictment against Hanooti charges that his formal involvement with Saddam’s intelligence began “in or about 1999.” But clearly his sentiments were in line with Iraq’s dictator at the time he met with Hillary Clinton. Saddam’s goal was to end sanctions altogether and re-establish a formidable WMD program. At the time, the sanctions kept him too financially strapped to see his WMD dreams to completion, but allowed for him to proceed building countrywide palaces. Needy Iraqis never entered the equation.

But Hillary did. There she was, meeting with man who would later be identified as an Iraqi intelligence operative, and allegedly “receptive” to his ploy. Judging from Hillary’s Bosnia claim, her next move is obvious: She wasn’t really receptive to this pro-Saddam stance. She was onto Hanooti before anyone else; she was functioning as a top-level spy, in fact. There was a mini-camera in her brooch and a lie-detector in her purse. Just another day, I guess, in the life of Super First Lady.

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More on Hillary’s Fabrication

I wanted to add my thoughts on Hillary Clinton’s fabricated story about landing under sniper fire in Bosnia in 1996. It is a damaging, and probably deeply damaging, blow to an increasingly weak and desperate candidate. It will now become fodder for late night talk show hosts. It also builds on other false claims she has made, from her role in the Northern Ireland peace talks to S-CHIP legislation. And the sniper fire tale reinforces an existing impression about the Clintons: they cannot be counted on to tell the truth in matters small or large, about them or about others, about policy or about their personal conduct. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that Senator Clinton acknowledged the story was false only after indisputable video evidence (in this case from CBS News) emerged. Like her husband and the blue dress, the Clintons only concede their untruthfulness when they’ve been caught – on camera or via DNA – in their untruths.

I have thought for a long while now that Clinton Fatigue Syndrome was real, even among Democrats, and it would emerge as the campaign unfolded. It has, in many different ways – triggered by angry and false comments by Bill Clinton to this story to much else. It brings rushing back many of the bad memories from the 1990s and reminds people how the Clintons operate, both in campaigns and while in office. There is, at core, a corruption of character.

Monday night Joe Klein was on CNN downplaying the significance of Mrs. Clinton’s tall tale:

It’s a war story, and — and she exaggerated it. And it doesn’t speak well of her. And it’s very un-Hillary like. But could I just, for the sake of the fact that we’re in silly season now, and everybody — all these candidates are totally exhausted, just plead for charity, not only for her, but for the Obama supporters… I mean, these are not the important issues in the election. The important issues are two wars, an economic crisis, and — and the need for energy independence…. The question is whether you blow up these little exaggerations that everybody makes, including candidates, to the point where it obscures the real issues in the campaign. I’m willing to give her a break on this one, even though, as I said, it’s very much unlike her, and it’s clearly her telling a war story.

It’s not clear that this “exaggeration” is un-Hillary like. In fact, as I alluded to above, there are other examples. And of course she was a key figure in the Clinton White House which, as Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post wrote at the time, followed a “pattern of knowing and reckless disregard for the truth.” It strikes me that Klein was more on target when he wrote a 1994 cover story for Newsweek, “The Politics of Promiscuity,” in which he said this:

With the Clintons, the story always is subject to further revision. The misstatements are always incremental. The “misunderstandings” are always innocent – casual, irregular: promiscuous. Trust is squandered in dribs and drabs. Does this sort of behavior also infect the president’s public life, his formulation of policy? Clearly, it does.

Hillary Clinton will almost surely lose the Democratic nomination for president; the question is how much damage she will do to herself, and to Obama and her party, in the process. I suspect the answer is a fair amount.

I wanted to add my thoughts on Hillary Clinton’s fabricated story about landing under sniper fire in Bosnia in 1996. It is a damaging, and probably deeply damaging, blow to an increasingly weak and desperate candidate. It will now become fodder for late night talk show hosts. It also builds on other false claims she has made, from her role in the Northern Ireland peace talks to S-CHIP legislation. And the sniper fire tale reinforces an existing impression about the Clintons: they cannot be counted on to tell the truth in matters small or large, about them or about others, about policy or about their personal conduct. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that Senator Clinton acknowledged the story was false only after indisputable video evidence (in this case from CBS News) emerged. Like her husband and the blue dress, the Clintons only concede their untruthfulness when they’ve been caught – on camera or via DNA – in their untruths.

I have thought for a long while now that Clinton Fatigue Syndrome was real, even among Democrats, and it would emerge as the campaign unfolded. It has, in many different ways – triggered by angry and false comments by Bill Clinton to this story to much else. It brings rushing back many of the bad memories from the 1990s and reminds people how the Clintons operate, both in campaigns and while in office. There is, at core, a corruption of character.

Monday night Joe Klein was on CNN downplaying the significance of Mrs. Clinton’s tall tale:

It’s a war story, and — and she exaggerated it. And it doesn’t speak well of her. And it’s very un-Hillary like. But could I just, for the sake of the fact that we’re in silly season now, and everybody — all these candidates are totally exhausted, just plead for charity, not only for her, but for the Obama supporters… I mean, these are not the important issues in the election. The important issues are two wars, an economic crisis, and — and the need for energy independence…. The question is whether you blow up these little exaggerations that everybody makes, including candidates, to the point where it obscures the real issues in the campaign. I’m willing to give her a break on this one, even though, as I said, it’s very much unlike her, and it’s clearly her telling a war story.

It’s not clear that this “exaggeration” is un-Hillary like. In fact, as I alluded to above, there are other examples. And of course she was a key figure in the Clinton White House which, as Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post wrote at the time, followed a “pattern of knowing and reckless disregard for the truth.” It strikes me that Klein was more on target when he wrote a 1994 cover story for Newsweek, “The Politics of Promiscuity,” in which he said this:

With the Clintons, the story always is subject to further revision. The misstatements are always incremental. The “misunderstandings” are always innocent – casual, irregular: promiscuous. Trust is squandered in dribs and drabs. Does this sort of behavior also infect the president’s public life, his formulation of policy? Clearly, it does.

Hillary Clinton will almost surely lose the Democratic nomination for president; the question is how much damage she will do to herself, and to Obama and her party, in the process. I suspect the answer is a fair amount.

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John McCain Is Smiling Again

Former Bill Clinton aide (and current Barack Obama supporter) Greg Craig has released a memo essentially accusing Hillary of résumé fraud. She did not, according to Craig, bring peace to Northern Ireland or open borders to fleeing refugees from Kosovo when her husband was President. And her Beijing speech in favor of women’s rights was just a speech. In other words, she is just as unqualified as Obama on foreign policy. Craig also beats the “Obama was right on Iraq” drum, which is a popular (but increasingly stale) line for the Democratic base.

Meanwhile, Clinton hits Obama on the “double talk” front, this time on energy policy. On NAFTA, Iraq, and now energy, Clinton claims that Obama rhetoric does not match even his meager voting record.

It is hard to see how this “No, he’s unqualifed and unreliable”/”No, she’s unqualified and unreliable” argument does not wind up bolstering McCain, big time. This is free ad time for him, in essence, as the Democrats whack each other over the head with charges of puffery and inexperience. It all will come back in ads in the fall. But for now it is giving liberal pundits the shakes.

Former Bill Clinton aide (and current Barack Obama supporter) Greg Craig has released a memo essentially accusing Hillary of résumé fraud. She did not, according to Craig, bring peace to Northern Ireland or open borders to fleeing refugees from Kosovo when her husband was President. And her Beijing speech in favor of women’s rights was just a speech. In other words, she is just as unqualified as Obama on foreign policy. Craig also beats the “Obama was right on Iraq” drum, which is a popular (but increasingly stale) line for the Democratic base.

Meanwhile, Clinton hits Obama on the “double talk” front, this time on energy policy. On NAFTA, Iraq, and now energy, Clinton claims that Obama rhetoric does not match even his meager voting record.

It is hard to see how this “No, he’s unqualifed and unreliable”/”No, she’s unqualified and unreliable” argument does not wind up bolstering McCain, big time. This is free ad time for him, in essence, as the Democrats whack each other over the head with charges of puffery and inexperience. It all will come back in ads in the fall. But for now it is giving liberal pundits the shakes.

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“Hamas Is Not the IRA”

Last month, Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Zion Evrony, had an instructive piece in the International Herald Tribune. In it, he makes an argument that Israeli ambassadors to the Emerald Isle have likely long had to make to well-intentioned Irish observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict: “Hamas is not the IRA.” Evrony writes:

One of the main differences between Hamas and the IRA is the role played by religion in their ideologies. While most IRA members were Catholic and religion was a factor, its political platform and vision was the unification of the island of Ireland, not defined in religious terms. The religious beliefs of its members did not block the way to a political compromise.

By contrast, the ideology of Hamas is defined in absolutist religious terms, that of a radical version of Islam, which is not open to influence or change. The political vision and religious belief of Hamas are one and the same; therefore, change is unlikely.

Democratic engagement and disarmament—while taking decades to achieve—nonetheless eventually succeeded in Northern Ireland because neither the IRA nor the loyalist elements adhered to the type of fascist dogma which is an inherent feature of Islamism. While the IRA set as its ultimate goal an autonomous, united Ireland, and Hamas a “Palestine” without Israel, the former has made a good-faith effort to see that goal achieved through democratic processes, while Article 13 of the Hamas Charter states that such processes “are no more than a means to appoint the unbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam.” Moreover, a united Ireland would not expel its Protestants. The same cannot be said for the “bi-national” Palestinian state, where Jews would be left to the tender mercies of Hamas.

The burgeoning field of “conflict resolution studies,” taught at prestigious educational institutions around the world, seeks to apply the lessons of political and ethno-religious strife in one region—sometimes wholly devoid of cultural context or time period—to disputes in other parts of the world. Attempts to compare the Northern Ireland peace process (as well as the negotiated end to apartheid in South Africa) to the Arab-Israeli conflict are ultimately wrongheaded: they consciously downplay the existence of religious fanaticism. And such fanaticism, though it played next to no role in The Troubles or in South Africa, is the the central feature of the Muslim world’s long rejection of Jews in its midst.

Last month, Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Zion Evrony, had an instructive piece in the International Herald Tribune. In it, he makes an argument that Israeli ambassadors to the Emerald Isle have likely long had to make to well-intentioned Irish observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict: “Hamas is not the IRA.” Evrony writes:

One of the main differences between Hamas and the IRA is the role played by religion in their ideologies. While most IRA members were Catholic and religion was a factor, its political platform and vision was the unification of the island of Ireland, not defined in religious terms. The religious beliefs of its members did not block the way to a political compromise.

By contrast, the ideology of Hamas is defined in absolutist religious terms, that of a radical version of Islam, which is not open to influence or change. The political vision and religious belief of Hamas are one and the same; therefore, change is unlikely.

Democratic engagement and disarmament—while taking decades to achieve—nonetheless eventually succeeded in Northern Ireland because neither the IRA nor the loyalist elements adhered to the type of fascist dogma which is an inherent feature of Islamism. While the IRA set as its ultimate goal an autonomous, united Ireland, and Hamas a “Palestine” without Israel, the former has made a good-faith effort to see that goal achieved through democratic processes, while Article 13 of the Hamas Charter states that such processes “are no more than a means to appoint the unbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam.” Moreover, a united Ireland would not expel its Protestants. The same cannot be said for the “bi-national” Palestinian state, where Jews would be left to the tender mercies of Hamas.

The burgeoning field of “conflict resolution studies,” taught at prestigious educational institutions around the world, seeks to apply the lessons of political and ethno-religious strife in one region—sometimes wholly devoid of cultural context or time period—to disputes in other parts of the world. Attempts to compare the Northern Ireland peace process (as well as the negotiated end to apartheid in South Africa) to the Arab-Israeli conflict are ultimately wrongheaded: they consciously downplay the existence of religious fanaticism. And such fanaticism, though it played next to no role in The Troubles or in South Africa, is the the central feature of the Muslim world’s long rejection of Jews in its midst.

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Three Interrogators

The Washington Post has a fascinating article by Laura Blumenfeld featuring interviews with three interrogators—one American, one British, one Israeli. Much of the focus is on the American, Tony Lagouranis, a 37-year-old military intelligence specialist who served in Iraq in 2004 and who has a new memoir out. He says he is anguished by his service, wracked by guilt over having to “torture” suspects.

Well, everyone is against torture in principle—at least everyone who is not a sadist. But what constitutes torture? That’s the nub of the problem. Blumenfeld’s article sheds interesting light on this vexatious issue by juxtaposing Lagouranis’s comments with those of his far more experienced Israeli and British counterparts.

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The Washington Post has a fascinating article by Laura Blumenfeld featuring interviews with three interrogators—one American, one British, one Israeli. Much of the focus is on the American, Tony Lagouranis, a 37-year-old military intelligence specialist who served in Iraq in 2004 and who has a new memoir out. He says he is anguished by his service, wracked by guilt over having to “torture” suspects.

Well, everyone is against torture in principle—at least everyone who is not a sadist. But what constitutes torture? That’s the nub of the problem. Blumenfeld’s article sheds interesting light on this vexatious issue by juxtaposing Lagouranis’s comments with those of his far more experienced Israeli and British counterparts.

First up is a man identified only by his first name, now living on an unidentified Mediterranean island because of death threats from the IRA. James, 65, was one of Britain’s most experienced interrogators in Northern Ireland. Starting in 1971, James said, he worked for the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), interrogating Irish nationalists Gerry Adams, Bobby Sands, and others whom the British government suspected of being terrorists. Blumenfeld’s article offers these vignettes of how James operated:

Once, IRA leader Brendan Hughes claimed that James had cocked a gun to his head. James does not deny it. “You fight fire with fire,” he said, the memory igniting his blue eyes. Another anecdote: “My friend once saw a guy planting a bomb,” he said. He laughed. “My friend tied a rope around the guy’s ankle, and made him defuse it. Now that’s how to deal with a ticking bomb.” Yet James denies being guilty of torture: “Yes, a bloke would get a cuff in the ear or he might brace against the wall. Yes, they had sleep deprivation,” he said. “But we did not torture.”

Then there is “Sheriff,” the code name of the recently retired chief of interrogations for the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. The article describes his technique as follows:

For Sheriff, interrogation was more psychological than physical. He used flattery on Palestinians who put bombs under playground benches: “You say, ‘Hey! Wow! How did you connect these wires? Did you manufacture this explosive? This is good!” He played good cop, and bad: “One day I was good. Next day I was bad. The prisoner said, ‘Yesterday you were good. What happened today?’ I told him we were short on manpower.”

Presumably those kinds of psychological ploys are exactly what opponents of “torture,” broadly defined, think we should use to extract information. Yet even for someone as skilled as Sheriff, they weren’t always enough:

But when the pressure mounted for intelligence, Sheriff said, the best method was “a very little violence.” Enough to scare people but not so much that they’d collapse. Agents tried it on themselves. “Not torture.”

James’s and Sheriff’s justifications won’t convince those who consider everything from the good cop/bad cop routine to “a little violence” as torture. That’s a comforting, consistent position to take. In fact, it is basically the policy laid out in the new Army Field Manual on Interrogations, a policy that prohibits many of the more coercive techniques employed in the days after 9/11.

But is this new policy sufficient to keep us safe? Sheriff doesn’t think so:

“You have to play by different rules,” the Israeli interrogator told an American visitor. “The terrorists want to use your own system to destroy you. What your President is doing is right.”

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A Most Superior Person

Long before Lord Curzon became foreign secretary and viceroy of India, a fellow undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, summed up the future statesman in two immortal, ironic lines: “My name is George Nathaniel Curzon/ and I am a most superior person.”

I was reminded of Curzon while listening to the present chancellor of Oxford University address a fund-raising dinner in the City of London for the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Chris Patten—or Baron Patten of Barnes, Companion of Honor and Privy Counsellor, to give him his full title—is what passes for a most superior person in England these days.

Once a speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher—a fact that is now a source of mutual embarrassment—Patten rose to be a cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative party before the electors of Bath ejected him unceremoniously from Parliament in 1992. This meant that Patten was unable to take up the post he had coveted and been promised, namely foreign secretary. However, then-Prime Minister John Major gave him the consolation prize of making him the last governor of Hong Kong. Read More

Long before Lord Curzon became foreign secretary and viceroy of India, a fellow undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, summed up the future statesman in two immortal, ironic lines: “My name is George Nathaniel Curzon/ and I am a most superior person.”

I was reminded of Curzon while listening to the present chancellor of Oxford University address a fund-raising dinner in the City of London for the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Chris Patten—or Baron Patten of Barnes, Companion of Honor and Privy Counsellor, to give him his full title—is what passes for a most superior person in England these days.

Once a speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher—a fact that is now a source of mutual embarrassment—Patten rose to be a cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative party before the electors of Bath ejected him unceremoniously from Parliament in 1992. This meant that Patten was unable to take up the post he had coveted and been promised, namely foreign secretary. However, then-Prime Minister John Major gave him the consolation prize of making him the last governor of Hong Kong. In 1999, two years after handing over the colony, Patten was parachuted into Brussels to take up the post of European commissioner for external relations. Despite bearing considerable responsibility for the European Union’s animus against the Bush administration during the period before and after the invasion of Iraq, Patten was not considered sufficiently anti-American by the French and the Germans, and so he failed in his bid for the presidency of the European Commission. On his return to England in 2004, he was rewarded with a seat in the House of Lords.

Thwarted in politics, Patten has carved out a new career for himself as the figurehead of one of the most famous universities in the world. In liberal donnish circles, he is fêted as a most superior spokesperson. And it was in this capacity that he spoke last Thursday.

In the course of his speech, which dealt with the alleged threat that what he called “identity politics” poses to Britain’s domestic peace, Patten compared the situation of British Muslims today with that of British Catholics during the IRA terrorist campaign between 1969 and 1998. But Patten, who authored the Patten Report on the policing of Northern Ireland, should know better than anyone how suspect this analogy is.

A few weeks before Patten’s speech, in fact, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, anticipated and deconstructed precisely this analogy, contrasting al Qaeda’s nature and methods with those of the IRA. He called the latter “a domestic campaign using conventional weaponry, carried out by terrorists in tightly knit networks who were desperate to avoid capture and certainly had no wish to die.” The threat from al Qaeda, on the other hand, “is global in origin, reach, and ambition. The networks are large, fluid, mobile, and incredibly resilient.” Suicide is normal. “There is no evidence of looking to restrict casualties. There are no warnings given. . . . [T]he intention is to kill as many people as possible. We have seen both conventional and unconventional weaponry, and to date . . . there has not been an obvious political agenda around which meaningful negotiations can be built.”

Patten’s analogy ignores another highly significant fact cited by Clarke. IRA terrorists were eventually forced to abandon “the armed struggle” because they enjoyed virtually no support from Catholics in mainland Britain. British Muslims, by contrast, appear reluctant to help the police to detect, arrest, and convict al-Qaeda terrorists. As Clarke put it bluntly: “Almost all of our prosecutions have their origins in intelligence that came from overseas, the intelligence agencies, or from technical means. Few have yet originated from what is sometimes called ‘community intelligence.’” For whatever reasons, British Muslims are not yet prepared to inform on other Muslims.

And as Patten’s wrongheaded comparison might suggest, he sees himself engaged in quite a different battle—not against European Islamists at all, but against American neoconservatives. In his latest book, Not Quite the Diplomat, he writes: “There is still, in America—in newspaper columns, think tanks, academia, Congress, and the administration—an intellectual battle to be won. Even the Iraq debacle has not permanently silenced all the sovereigntists and neoconservatives.” Lord Patten may fancy himself intellectually superior to these poor benighted neocons, but he deceives himself if he thinks the so-called realists have won. The only thing that would silence the neoconservatives—those who want to defeat the jihad rather than appease it or pretend it doesn’t exist—would be a final victory for the Islamists. And should that happen, I suspect Patten might find himself silenced as well.

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