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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In the end, you always have to deal with Hamas

Published on Taipei Times

In the end, you always have to deal with Hamas
It may be politically necessary for Israel to respond to Hamas' outrages with bombs, even an invasion ... but the end is the same

By Shlomo Ben-Ami

Tuesday, Dec 30, 2008, Page 9

With barrages of Kassam rockets being launched daily on Israeli towns from the Hamas-ruled Gaza strip and Israeli politicians competing over who would offer the harshest response, the question for Israel today has been reduced to whether or not to invade. But neither side is free of contradictions, and both are trapped in a seemingly insoluble conundrum.
As a government, Hamas is to be judged by its capacity to provide security and decent governance to Gaza's population, but as a movement it is incapable of betraying its unyielding commitment to fight the Israeli occupier to the death. After all, Hamas was not elected to make peace with Israel, nor to improve relations with the US. However encouraging some sporadic signs of a shift toward political realism might be, it is not on Hamas' immediate agenda to betray its raison d'être by endorsing the US-led Annapolis peace process.

Hamas' offensive is not an attempt to draw Israel into a costly invasion that might shake its regime. Rather, it is a move aimed at establishing a balance of threat based on sustaining a low-intensity conflict even if a new lull is agreed upon.

A now increasingly arrogant and extremely well armed Hamas expects such a lull to be agreed upon only in exchange for new concessions from both Israel and Egypt. These include the opening of Gaza's borders, including the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing, the release of Hamas detainees in Egypt, the suspension of Israeli operations against Hamas activists in the West Bank, and the right to respond to any perceived Israeli violation of the ceasefire.

But Hamas' brinkmanship is a dangerous exercise, for a low-intensity conflict can easily degenerate into an all-out flare-up if its rockets cause a politically unbearable number of casualties on the Israeli side. In fact, Israel's top leaders have already approved the army's plans for an invasion of Gaza, with the timing and the nature of the casus belli left open.

Hamas is playing with fire on the Egyptian front, too, having haughtily interrupted the Egyptian-led reconciliation process with Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Liberation Organization and pledging to derail the Egyptian and Saudi initiative to extend Abbas' presidential term until 2010. Hamas has made clear its intention to appoint as president the Palestinian parliament speaker — a Hamas member now in an Israeli prison — once Abbas' presidency ends on Jan. 9.

Hamas radicalism is not devoid of a political purpose — to bury whatever remains of the two-state solution. The meager results of the Oslo peace process are regarded by Hamas as vindication of its consistent view that the Oslo accords were doomed to failure, and that Israel and the US never intended to respect the minimal requirements of Palestinian nationalism.

But while Hamas has never been indifferent to daily political calculations, nor is it confined to them. A fundamentally religious movement for whom the future belongs to Islam, Hamas sees itself as being engaged in a long-term armed struggle for the liberation of all of Palestine.

Nor is the movement's brinkmanship entirely irrational, for the legacy of Israel's abortive attempt in 2006 to destroy Hezbollah is that, for the first time in the country's history, the military establishment is advocating restraint and actively curbing the more hawkish measures being proposed in Cabinet meetings. Israel's reluctance to invade Gaza stems from a sober analysis of the meaning of such a move. Indeed, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the Labor Party leader, might be ready to pay a high political price during an electoral season by accepting even a new lull that is intermittently violated by Hamas.

The invasion of such a small and densely populated strip of land where civilians have been systematically used by Hamas as human shields is bound to expose Israel's military to accusations of war crimes.

However justified Israel's action might be, and however critical of Hamas' repressive regime the international community might be, it will not take long before the wide media coverage of civilian casualties will put Israel, not Hamas, in the dock of world opinion. Moreover, reoccupation of Gaza would force Israel to reassume full and exclusive responsibility for the 1.5 million Palestinians now under Hamas control.

But even if Israel is ready to pay the price of harsh international condemnation, it is not clear what "success" in such a war really means. Is toppling the Hamas regime a realistic option? Ismail Haniyeh's government might collapse, but Hamas would remain a powerful indigenous Palestinian organization around which the population would certainly rally. And even under renewed occupation, with Israeli armored divisions deployed throughout the strip, Kassam missiles might still be launched — the ultimate humiliation for the occupier.

And, finally, after a mortal blow had been dealt to whatever remains of the peace process, and cemeteries in Israel and in devastated Gaza are again filled with new casualties, Israel would want to withdraw and negotiate yet another ceasefire with … the same Hamas.

Shlomo Ben-Ami is a former Israeli foreign minister and the vice president of the Toledo International Center for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.


Monday, December 29, 2008

China destined to be America's best friend by Tom Plate

China destined to be America's best friend


BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — When the holiday season ends and Barack Obama takes the U.S. presidential oath of office next month, will he notice that life has become less merry and more naughty and un-nice? This brilliant American politician will soon become aware that suddenly everyone wants to be his friend.

But as outgoing President George W. Bush can tell him with authority, the concept of true friendship and Washington political life is all but oxymoronic. In the nation's capital, most political players can count the number of genuine friends on the fingers of their hands and still have almost enough spots left over for the starting lineup of the Washington Redskins.

This is almost as true in international relations as in the domestic political sphere. Friendship inside the Washington beltway is more a shifting mosaic of ad hoc political alliances — not much more stable than desert sands in a windstorm. In international relationships, a measure of friendship can be obtained due to the relative immobility of national interests: They do change, but only slowly, and almost always with warning.

Obama will be beseeched with overtures for political intimacy. The most unabashed applicants will come from Europe and the Middle East. None is to be believed. European friendship has always been treacherous and little needs to be said about the Middle East — where even the government of Israel has spied on us, Saudi Arabia is fertile soil for terrorists, etc., etc.). And Latin America, as usual, is a political basket case.

Instead, Obama should be sensitively attuned to good-faith overtures for friendship from certain leaders in Asia, particularly from a most unlikely capital indeed, Beijing.

Here's why: China is undergoing a measure of unholy hell right now. The growth rate is dropping with implications of social disruption as ominous as the hulking likeness of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square. The scale and complexity of China is such that, when President Hu Jintao looks for someone to talk to, hardly anyone on the face of the Earth belongs in the same league of intense difficulty, except for Obama.

For the last 100 years or so, the U.S. has dominated the world stage as a national player in almost everything, including economy, culture and technology. It has also had the most global ambition. The consensus call now is that the U.S. has to start downsizing the scope of its ambitions. At the same time, China will be expanding in every sense, except possibly in territoriality.

This duo-dynamic is reshaping the world. Few countries can relate, emphasize, sympathize, understand and indeed shape what is going on. Probably this is understood, however quietly, by President Hu, sitting precariously atop a sprawling nation where more than one out of every five human beings lives.

This fateful Sino-U.S. commonality is dramatically underscored by the current global economic crisis. Never have China and the U.S. been in the same deep soup together — at least not since the Japanese expansionism of the 1940s. This is why Hu and Obama need to achieve a special relationship at this pivotal moment.

Forget reaching out to France's Nicolas Sarkozy or Canada's Stephen Harper or even Britain's Gordon Brown. These are small fish in a giant pond; it is the rare whales that need to get along. The Sarkozys of the world don't have enough spout or clout to help Obama ease through this crisis. But Hu does — and vice versa.

In this sense, the two leaders of the two leading giant nations are meant for each other. Hu needs Obama as much as Obama needs Jintao. Each wastes their own time to the extent that they are not grabbing for a quality meeting with each other. Huge differences in value systems and history divide the two great nations, to be sure, and make cooperation difficult. But the global sailing will be smoother when they share the rudder, especially in such perfect-storm financial weather as we have now.

This means, on the U.S. side, that President Obama listens with a great measure of skepticism to those advisers who claim that the Middle East needs to occupy space No. 1. He should understand that, while perhaps he walks on water, the desert sands of the Middle East suck every Westerner down who decides to dance on it.

The real opportunity for friendship and deeper alliance-building lies with China. This isn't because the People's Republic is either good-natured or benevolent. Like the U.S. or any other nation, it has its share of narrow-minded national interests and internal moral inconsistencies. It's because China and America are the only two powers right now with the commensurate capacity to relate to one another fully, frankly and meaningfully. Obama hasn't said much about China or perhaps even thought deeply about it. But he should start now, before it's too late.

Properly managed, Sino-U.S. relations offer the largest upside potential for improvement of any bilateral relationship in the world.

Veteran journalist and syndicated columnist Tom Plate is a member of the China task force of the Pacific Council on International Policy. © 2008 Pacific Perspectives Media Center

The Japan Times: Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008

(C) All rights reserved

Johann Hari: The true story behind this war is not the one Israel is telling

The Independent

December 29, 2008
Johann Hari: The true story behind this war is not the one Israel is telling

The world isn't just watching the Israeli government commit a crime in Gaza; we are watching it self-harm. This morning, and tomorrow morning, and every morning until this punishment beating ends, the young people of the Gaza Strip are going to be more filled with hate, and more determined to fight back, with stones or suicide vests or rockets. Israeli leaders have convinced themselves that the harder you beat the Palestinians, the softer they will become. But when this is over, the rage against Israelis will have hardened, and the same old compromises will still be waiting by the roadside of history, untended and unmade.

To understand how frightening it is to be a Gazan this morning, you need to have stood in that small slab of concrete by the Mediterranean and smelled the claustrophobia. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the Isle of Wight but it is crammed with 1.5 million people who can never leave. They live out their lives on top of each other, jobless and hungry, in vast, sagging tower blocks. From the top floor, you can often see the borders of their world: the Mediterranean, and Israeli barbed wire. When bombs begin to fall – as they are doing now with more deadly force than at any time since 1967 – there is nowhere to hide.

There will now be a war over the story of this war. The Israeli government says, "We withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and in return we got Hamas and Qassam rockets being rained on our cities. Sixteen civilians have been murdered. How many more are we supposed to sacrifice?" It is a plausible narrative, and there are shards of truth in it, but it is also filled with holes. If we want to understand the reality and really stop the rockets, we need to rewind a few years and view the run-up to this war dispassionately.

The Israeli government did indeed withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 – in order to be able to intensify control of the West Bank. Ariel Sharon's senior adviser, Dov Weisglass, was unequivocal about this, explaining: "The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians... this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."

Ordinary Palestinians were horrified by this, and by the fetid corruption of their own Fatah leaders, so they voted for Hamas. It certainly wouldn't have been my choice – an Islamist party is antithetical to all my convictions - but we have to be honest. It was a free and democratic election, and it was not a rejection of a two-state solution. The most detailed polling of Palestinians, by the University of Maryland, found that 72 per cent want a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, while fewer than 20 per cent want to reclaim the whole of historic Palestine. So, partly in response to this pressure, Hamas offered Israel a long, long ceasefire and a de facto acceptance of two states, if only Israel would return to its legal borders.

Rather than seize this opportunity and test Hamas's sincerity, the Israeli government reacted by punishing the entire civilian population. It announced that it was blockading the Gaza Strip in order to "pressure" its people to reverse the democratic process. The Israelis surrounded the Strip and refused to let anyone or anything out. They let in a small trickle of food, fuel and medicine – but not enough for survival. Weisglass quipped that the Gazans were being "put on a diet". According to Oxfam, only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza last month to feed 1.5 million people. The United Nations says poverty has reached an "unprecedented level." When I was last in besieged Gaza, I saw hospitals turning away the sick because their machinery and medicine was running out. I met hungry children stumbling around the streets, scavenging for food.

It was in this context – under a collective punishment designed to topple a democracy – that some forces within Gaza did something immoral: they fired Qassam rockets indiscriminately at Israeli cities. These rockets have killed 16 Israeli citizens. This is abhorrent: targeting civilians is always murder. But it is hypocritical for the Israeli government to claim now to speak out for the safety of civilians when it has been terrorising civilians as a matter of state policy.

The American and European governments are responding with a lop-sidedness that ignores these realities. They say that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate while under rocket fire, but they demand that the Palestinians do so under siege in Gaza and violent military occupation in the West Bank.

Before it falls down the memory hole, we should remember that last week, Hamas offered a ceasefire in return for basic and achievable compromises. Don't take my word for it. According to the Israeli press, Yuval Diskin, the current head of the Israeli security service Shin Bet, "told the Israeli cabinet [on 23 December] that Hamas is interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms." Diskin explained that Hamas was requesting two things: an end to the blockade, and an Israeli ceasefire on the West Bank. The cabinet – high with election fever and eager to appear tough – rejected these terms.

The core of the situation has been starkly laid out by Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad. He says that while Hamas militants – like much of the Israeli right-wing – dream of driving their opponents away, "they have recognised this ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future." Instead, "they are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967." They are aware that this means they "will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original goals" – and towards a long-term peace based on compromise.

The rejectionists on both sides – from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to Bibi Netanyahu of Israel – would then be marginalised. It is the only path that could yet end in peace but it is the Israeli government that refuses to choose it. Halevy explains: "Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas."

Why would Israel act this way? The Israeli government wants peace, but only one imposed on its own terms, based on the acceptance of defeat by the Palestinians. It means the Israelis can keep the slabs of the West Bank on "their" side of the wall. It means they keep the largest settlements and control the water supply. And it means a divided Palestine, with responsibility for Gaza hived off to Egypt, and the broken-up West Bank standing alone. Negotiations threaten this vision: they would require Israel to give up more than it wants to. But an imposed peace will be no peace at all: it will not stop the rockets or the rage. For real safety, Israel will have to talk to the people it is blockading and bombing today, and compromise with them.

The sound of Gaza burning should be drowned out by the words of the Israeli writer Larry Derfner. He says: "Israel's war with Gaza has to be the most one-sided on earth... If the point is to end it, or at least begin to end it, the ball is not in Hamas's court – it is in ours."

What Next on Israel/Gaza? Why Should Americans Care? by Daniel Levy



What Next on Israel/Gaza? Why Should Americans Care?

Daniel Levy

For many people, what has happened today between Gaza and Israel may have all too familiar a ring to it - Israel warns and then retaliates to an alleged or real Palestinian escalation of violence, there is Arab condemnation and international exasperation, eventually things de-escalate but according to Israel's timetable as the U.S. prevents effective early international mediation, and we're back to where we started - with the addition of more blood and death (many innocent, some less so), more wounded and more shattered families.

Most of those involved, often including Israel, tend to regret things not coming to a halt sooner. The Israel Defense Forces with their modern weaponry try to pinpoint targets but invariably, predictably, and painfully there are plenty of "misses"; the Palestinians - well their weaponry is by definition more crude, they use what is available and the results are correspondingly messy and indiscriminate. Bottom line - Arabs and Jews are killing each other - so what's new?

And why on earth would America want to be involved?

Here's the bad news folks - America is involved, up to its eyeballs actually. Today, after Israeli air-strikes that killed over 200 Palestinians in Gaza, the Middle East is again seething with rage.

Recruiters to the most radical of causes are again cashing in. If Osama Bin Laden is indeed a cave-dweller these days then U.S. intel should be listening out for a booming echo of laughter. Demonstrations across the Arab world and contributors to the ever-proliferating Arabic language news media and blogosphere hold the U.S., and not just Israel, responsible for what happened today (and that is a position taken, for good reasons, by sensible folk, not hard-liners).

America's allies in the region are again running for cover. America's standing, its interests and security are all deeply affected. The U.S.-Israel relationship per se is not to blame (that is something I support), the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict is - and thankfully we can do something about that.

Why did today's events occur?

The list of causes is a long one and of course depends who you are asking. Here are five of the most salient factors as I see them:

(1) Never forget the basics - the core issue is still an unresolved conflict about ending an occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state - everything has to start from here to be serious (this is true also for Hamas who continue to heavily hint that they will accept the 1967 borders).

(2) The immediate backdrop begins with the Israeli disengagement from Gaza of summer 2005, ostensibly a good move, except one that left more issues open than it resolved. It was a unilateral initiative, so there was no coordinating the 'what happens next' with the Palestinians. Gaza was closed off to the world, the West Bank remained under occupation and what had the potential to be a constructive move towards peace became a source of new tensions - something many of us pointed out at the time (supporting withdrawal from Gaza, opposing how it was done).

(3) U.S., Israeli and international policy towards Hamas has greatly exacerbated the situation. Hamas participated in and won democratic elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2006. Rather than test the Hamas capacity to govern responsibly and nurture Hamas further into the political arena and away from armed struggle, the U.S.-led international response was to hermetically seal-off Hamas, besiege Gaza, work to undemocratically overthrow the Hamas government and thereby allow Hamas to credibly claim that a hypocritical standard was being applied to the American democracy agenda.

American, Israeli and Quartet policy towards Hamas has been a litany of largely unforced errors and missed opportunities. Hamas poses a serious policy challenge and direct early U.S. or Israeli engagement let alone financial support was certainly not the way forward, but in testing Hamas, a division of labor within the Quartet would have made sense (European and U.N. engagement, for instance, should have been encouraged, not the opposite).

Every wrong turn was taken - Hamas were seen through the GWOT prism not as a liberation struggle, when the Saudi's delivered a Palestinian National Unity Government in March 2007 the U.S. worked to unravel it, Palestinian reconciliation is still vetoed which encourages the least credible trends within Fatah, and unbelievably Egypt is given an exclusive mediation role with Hamas (Egypt naturally sees the Hamas issue first through its own domestic prism of concern at the growth of the Muslim Brothers, progress is often held hostage to ongoing Hamas-Egypt squabbles).

(4) Failure to build on the ceasefire. Israel is of course duty bound to defend and protect its citizens, so as the intensity of rocket fire in 2007-8 increased, Israel stepped up its actions against Gaza. But there was never much Israeli military or government enthusiasm for a full-scale conflict or ground invasion and eventually a practical working solution was found when both sides agreed to a six-month ceasefire on June 19th 2008. Neither side loved it. Both drew just enough benefit to keep going. That equation though was always delicately balanced.

For the communities of southern Israel which bore the brunt of the rocket attacks, notably Sderot, the ceasefire led to a dramatic improvement in daily life, and there were no Israeli fatalities during the entire period (only today, following the IDF strikes did a rocket hit the town of Netivot and kill one Israeli). Israel was though concerned about a Hamas arms build up and the entrenching of Hamas rule (which its policies have actually encouraged). For Gaza the calm meant less of an ongoing military threat but supplies of basic necessities into Gaza were kept to a minimum - just above starvation and humanitarian crisis levels - an ongoing provocation to Hamas and collective punishment for Gazans. The ceasefire needed to be solidified, nurtured, taken to the next level. None of this was done - the Quartet was busy with the deeply flawed Annapolis effort.

(5) A disaster was waiting to happen, and no-one was doing much about it. There was of course a date for the end of the ceasefire - December 19th. As that date approached both sides sought to improve their relative positions, to test some new rules of the game. Israel conducted a military operation on November 4th (yes, you had other things on your mind that day), apparently to destroy a tunnel from which an attack on Israel could be launched, Hamas responded with rocket-fire on southern Israeli towns.

That initiated a period of intense Israeli-Hamas dialogue, albeit an untraditional one, largely conducted via mutual military jabs, occasional public messaging and back-channels. Again though the main reliance was on Egypt - by now in an intense struggle of its own with Hamas. When Hamas pushed the envelop with over 60 rockets on a single day (December 24th), albeit causing no serious injuries and mostly landing in open fields (probably by design), Israel decided that it was time for an escalation. That happened today - on a massive scale - with an unprecedented death toll.

Israel clearly felt it was time to make a point, there was pressure (often self-generated) to act, and don't forget that Israel is in an election campaign (the vote is on Feb 10th). Hamas too had scores to settle - not only with Israel, but it was also time to pressure Egypt, Fatah, and Arab actors who had done little to address the blockade of Gaza.
So here we are, in a dangerous escalatory cycle that is already sweeping the region, with scores of Palestinian dead, horrific images, a highly-charged blame-game and no obvious exit-strategy. Both Israel and Hamas are looking to emerge with a better deal than what previously prevailed - both are preparing their publics to take harsh hits over the coming days, weeks or even longer, and over 200 families in Gaza and one family in Israel already know what that means, first-hand.

So, what needs to happen next?

Sadly it is too late for preventive action but there is an urgent need for a de-escalation that can lead to a new ceasefire - and that will not be easy.

Useful lessons can be drawn from some very recent, and ugly, Middle East history - though it seems that to its dying day the Bush Administration is refusing to learn (today the White House called on Israel only to avoid civilian casualties as it attacks Hamas - not to cease the strikes, Secretary Rice was more measured).

In the summer of 2006 an escalation between Israel and Hezbollah led to a Lebanon war whose echoes still reverberate around the region. There were well over one thousand civilian casualties (1,035 Lebanese according to AP, 43 Israelis), thousands more injured, and other fatalities including the Israeli government which never recovered its poise, what little American credibility remained in the region (Secretary Rice was literally forced to return to Foggy Bottom as allied Arab capitals were too embarrassed to receive her) and much Lebanese infrastructure. That time it took 33 days for diplomacy to move and for a U.N. Security Council Resolution (1701) to deliver an end to fighting. The U.S. actively blocked diplomacy, Rice famously called this conflict "the birth pangs of a new Middle East" - it was no such thing, and the Middle East itself did not know whether to laugh or cry (the latter prevailed).

Just as in 2006, Israel needs the international community to be its exit strategy - and there is no time to waste. Even what appears as a short-term Israeli success is likely to prove self-defeating over a longer time horizon and that effect will intensify as the fighting continues. Over time, immense pressure will also grow on the PA in Ramallah, on Jordan, Egypt and others to act and their governments will be increasingly uneasy.

Demonstrations across the West Bank are calling for a halt to all Israeli-Palestinian talks and for Palestinian unity.

If the U.S. is indifferent or still under the neocon ideological spell then Europe, the rest of the Quartet, Arab States and other internationals must act - with a variety of players using leverage with Israel and Hamas to de-escalate. Escalation poses dangers at a humanitarian and regional-political level. International leaders should head to the region before the new year, even if the warring parties discourage it, and for some of them Gaza must be on the itinerary, the boycott (anyway unwise) is a secondary matter now. High-level visits in themselves can create a de-escalatory dynamic.

Both sides will want to land the final big punch and both will need a dignified narrative for home consumption - any ceasefire deal will have to take this into account (and this during an Israeli election campaign, with violence usually helping the right, and the centrist government desperate for an image make-over after that Lebanon 2006 debacle).

The obvious ingredients will have to be creatively re-configured for this to be possible, including ending rocket fire at Israel and removing the blockade on Gaza. New ingredients may also be necessary and while extending the ceasefire to the West Bank is (unfortunately) probably out of the question, it might be possible this time to establish a monitoring mechanism for the ceasefire. Such a mechanism could serve both sides' interests (Israel gets a more solid guarantee, Hamas gets more recognition).

There is a precedent for this - after the April 1996 Israel-Hezbollah conflict a formal Ceasefire Understanding was reached that included the establishment of a Monitoring Group consisting of the U.S., France, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel (with Syria basically acting as guarantor for Hezbollah). That mechanism proved useful and met with constructive IDF cooperation - something similar might be needed now.

In addition efforts need to be revived for achieving Palestinian national reconciliation (which itself could ease the management of the Gaza situation) and for allowing Gaza greater access to the outside world through Egypt via the Rafah border crossing.

But there is a bigger picture - and it is staring at the incoming Obama administration. Today's events should be 'exhibit A' in why the next U.S. Government cannot leave the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to fester or try to 'manage' it - as long as it remains unresolved, it has a nasty habit of forcing itself onto the agenda.

That can happen on terms dictated to the U.S. by the region (bad) or the U.S. can seek to set its own terms (far preferable). The new administration needs to embark upon a course of forceful regional diplomacy that breaks fundamentally from past efforts. A consensus of sorts is emerging in the U.S. foreign policy establishment that this conflict needs to be resolved - evidenced in the findings of a recent Brookings/Council of Foreign Relations Report or the powerful statements coming from elder statesmen like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, themselves building on the findings of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group.

It will require tenacity and bold ideas - in framing the solution, bringing in previously excluded actors, creating mechanisms to implement a deal (such as international forces) and utilizing the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative - but the alternative is far worse, its what we see today and it guarantees ongoing instability in a region of paramount importance to the United States.

This is a guest post by New America Foundation Middle East Task Force Co-Director Daniel Levy

Bush Legacy in Gaza by Scott MacLeod



Bush Legacy in Gaza

Scott MacLeod

The shoe throwing episode in Baghdad almost quaintly summed up the disaster the Bush administration leaves in its wake in Iraq--thousands dead in an ill-conceived and ill-planned invasion, thousands more dead in the explosion of sectarian and factional violence unleashed by the power vacuum, the strategic gains handed to Iran on a silver platter, the moral abomination of Abu Ghraib, and on and on. The "democracy" Bush created is one where Iraqi journalists exercise their rights of free expression by hurling potentially deadly objects at people they are quizzing at press conferences--in this case, the president of the United States, no less. It's hardly sufficient to say that that disgraceful gesture is a sign of Iraq's progress-- "things are better than they were under Saddam Hussein" is hardly the standard by which we should judge our performance in Iraq.

But the more tragic wreckage Bush leaves behind is in Israel-Palestine, as evidenced by the latest spasm of violence including the latest and ultimately futile Israeli blitz on Gaza against Hamas with the inevitable victims of "collateral damage." After too many Israeli invasions and incursions and bombing raids to count over the last six decades, somehow it's hard to be optimistic that the latest one will finally silence the Palestinian bombers and rocketers so Israelis can live in peace. The Bush administration's inexcusable neglect is partly responsible for the carnage we're seeing in Gaza today-- Katrina-like botch-ups are the legacy of this administration in the Middle East, too. Bringing peace to the Middle East is no easy task but it's a pathetic testimony if you don't even try.

The U.S. has the indispensable role to play in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But after spending most of its two terms walking away from negotiations and aimlessly supporting unilateral moves by Israeli hard-liners, the huge death tolls and continuing bloodshed are not the only results of the mismanagement of America's role. Israeli and Palestinian politics have become more severely fragmented, making it more difficult to find leaders who can make necessary and courageous decisions and make them stick for peace. The latest unspeakable round of killing is as much about the factional jockeying for power as it is about anything else--it's surely not about liberating Palestine or winning the war on terrorism, is it?

If there's anything good to come out of it, perhaps it's that the fighting on the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration as the next American president will further concentrate his mind on the need to get serious about U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. A year ago, Bush convened the Annapolis peace conference in a clumsy, last-ditch effort to correct the mistake he made by abandoning U.S. mediation for nearly seven years. He optimistically predicted the parties would reach some kind of an agreement before he left office in January 2009. What happened instead? His legacy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the scene of dead and wounded on the streets of Gaza.

Israel's End Game by John Barry


Israel's End Game

The attack on Gaza shows that the Olmert government feels it may be running out of options

John Barry

Does the Gaza offensive signal that the Israeli government has decided to embark on the end game? The scale of the effort—a massive aerial assault, with Israeli tanks massing along Gaza's border in evident preparation for a ground-assault—certainly suggests that. What does the "end game" mean? I quote a longtime senior Israeli defense adviser: A military effort to crush Palestinian resistance for a generation.

Wars end in one of two ways: by negotiation, or by the decisive defeat of one side. But, as that Israeli adviser argued to me in a session in Washington a couple of months ago neither party to the sixty-year conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has given its full support to either outcome. Each side has held back from commitment either to a negotiated settlement or to military victory.

Consider the Palestinian resistance. The carnage in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 demonstrates what a truly determined insurgency can achieve. By comparison the three Palestinian intifadashave been amateurish: disorganized, limited in intensity and territory—low-level unrest largely confined to the West Bank. Israel itself was barely touched; and the toll of Israeli military casualties, though steady, was slight compared to those inflicted by Hizbullah in one month's fighting in southern Lebanon in 2006. In cold military terms, suicide bombers striking in Israeli cities—the tactic Hamas, in particular, espoused from the mid-1990s—offered the Palestinians their first strategic weapon, as Israel's political leaders acknowledged at the time. But the suicide-bombing campaign waned, in part, no doubt, because the Israelis managed to kill its early organizers. But such evidence as we have suggests that Hamas itself decided to halt the suicide-bombings. Why? A theory credited by significant Israeli analysts is that Hamas feared the campaign's success would provoke an overwhelming Israeli military response. In short, the Palestinians have held back from waging an all-out military effort, aiming, on this analysis, to do enough to force Israel to meet their settlement terms, but not enough to provoke Israeli wrath.

Now consider the Israelis' response. The mountains of rubble in Nablus and Jenin after the Israeli air and tank assaults in the summer of 2002 invite derision at any talk of Israeli restraint. But the reality is that the Israelis have, for most of this long-running conflict, showed remarkable military restraint. The destruction in Jenin and Nablus—or across southern Lebanon in 2006—could have been repeated many times over. That it was not suggests that the Israelis, like the Palestinians, have held back from a military resolution to the conflict.

Yet neither side has really committed itself to the painful compromises that a negotiated outcome would entail. Accords, interim settlements, intermediate steps—of these there has been no shortage. What all have in common is that the difficult issues are postponed to some future Age of Aquarius. The status of Jerusalem; the right of Palestinian return; Israel's withdrawal from the lands won in 1967: on none of these has there ever been any evidence that either side is prepared to meet the other's core political needs. Nor is there any reasonable hope that, even if Israeli or Palestinian leaders could nerve themselves to make a deal, they could sell the compromises to their followers. The "two-state solution" pressed so fruitlessly by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is arguably merely the latest delusion. Any plausible blueprint for West Bank withdrawal would require Israel to forcibly evacuate tens of thousands of settlers who are armed, determined to stay, and have powerful allies in Israel and in the United States. The likely outcome would be something close to civil war in Israel. Some Israeli defense officials even wonder, privately, whether the Israeli Army might sunder. And to what end? Hamas would remain committed to the destruction of Israel; and any attempt by, say, the Fatah leadership to impose settlement terms would entail something close to civil war among the Palestinians too.

Against that bleak background, what might Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak see as Israel's options? Olmert, about to leave office, has publicly lamented years of lost opportunities for peace. But might-have-beens are for historians; political leaders have to play the hands they're dealt. And, as one senior British official concluded after a recent trip to the region, "Israel's leadership sees Israel as facing an existential crisis." Wherever they look, they see the balance of power tilting against Israel. Nothing seems likely to halt Iran's nuclear weapons program and, macho rhetoric aside, Israel's ability to destroy this militarily are limited, short of a nuclear strike of its own. Oil-rich and Shia-dominated Iraq and Iran will have ample resources to fund and supply any Palestinian group they choose to support. (The Bush neocons' belief that a democratic Iraq would make peace with Israel looks to be as flawed as their other judgments.) Washington's desperate efforts to bail out the U.S. banking system by soliciting cash from the sovereign wealth funds of the Gulf states will give the Arabs more clout on Wall Street, which in time will surely influence America's policies in the region. And Israeli leaders fear that President Obama will push them harder than any of his predecessors to agree settlement terms none wants to contemplate.

The great Athenian historian Thucydides, writing almost 2500 years ago, concluded that one reason a nation goes to war is a perception of waning power: act now because the future looks worse than the present. The scale of the assault on Gaza suggests that the Olmert government is validating Thucydides' analysis: embarking on the end game to crush Hamas before it gets stronger, and Israel's position gets weaker. As Thucydides also observed, though, nations taking this gamble tend to be poor judges of what the consequences will be.

We Finally Have a Strategy for Afghanistan



We Finally Have a Strategy for Afghanistan

Unfortunately, that may not be enough.

Fred Kaplan

It's time to start getting nervous about Afghanistan.

In recent days, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has talked about doubling the number of U.S. troops in the country from 30,000 to 60,000—way more than the three brigades (roughly 12,000 extra troops) that Barack Obama endorsed on the campaign trail.

A case could be made that reinforcements are needed. But it's not clear—to anyone, including many officers—whether this will mark the pivotal boost or the start of a quagmire.

The good news is that, seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks and nearly three years after the resumption of full-scale war with the Taliban, we are finally beginning to formulate a strategy—and we have officers in place who think strategically.

As history shows, however, smart generals and shrewd strategists don't necessarily yield victory—especially in Afghanistan.

The biggest problem is that the country's fate ultimately lies outside its borders. As long as Pakistan's northwest territories remain a lawless free-for-all, with Taliban and al-Qaida fighters crossing the border at will, Afghanistan will never be stable. And as long as Pakistan faces a threat from India to the east, its leaders will never deploy enough troops to quash the insurgents in the northwest territories.

In short, we could do everything perfectly in Afghanistan, but it wouldn't matter unless the region-wide conflicts could be brought under some control.

Again, the good news is that all the relevant players—President-elect Obama, Adm. Mullen, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Gen. David Petraeus, and their top aides—understand this. But knowing the dimensions of a problem is only the first step to solving it. And each one of this problem's aspects—countering the insurgency in Afghanistan, stabilizing Pakistan, and calming tensions between Pakistan and India—is very difficult.

The problem of Afghanistan is the easiest—or at least the easiest to calculate—in the sense that it's to some extent susceptible to military power. But, as Gates and Petraeus have said several times, it's not entirely a military problem; there can be no "victory" in the standard meaning of the word. A good ending, if there is one, will involve a negotiated settlement in which "reconcilable" Taliban—those who joined the insurgency for nonideological reasons—are lured over to the Afghan government's side.

This is why, according to today's Wall Street Journal, top U.S. officers are starting to aid local militias in the fight against the Taliban. This approach has the merit of realism: Afghanistan is a tribal society; power is focused on the militias; securing the population, at this point, can be done only through them.

However, we're not going to win over any chieftains unless we can demonstrate that we might win. This is the main reason for a boost—nobody's calling it a "surge"—in U.S. troop levels. We need some quick tactical victories against the Taliban. Air power can't do it: Bombing kills too many civilians; and that turns the Afghan people against us, against the Afghan government, and toward the insurgents. So more ground forces are the only way.

But three caveats are worth noting. First, as Dexter Filkins reports in his excellent book The Forever War, Afghan militias are notorious opportunists; they switch sides at the slightest shift—in who's winning or who's paying more—or sometimes just at whim. They might be won over, but maybe not for long.

Second, even 60,000 U.S. troops aren't enough to win over all the tribes and militias, much less to stabilize the whole country. It's only enough, at best, to secure a few more towns, to close off a few more border crossings, and to clobber a few more Taliban units. The hope is that some high-profile successes will set in motion a cascade of further successes, brought on by alliances with the Afghans themselves.

But if the cascade isn't triggered—because the successes don't happen, or because they're not big enough, or because they're nullified by more incursions from Pakistan, or for whatever reason—will President Obama be pressured to throw in more troops? (We can almost imagine the briefing: "Just three more brigades will do the trick, Mr. President.")

It is worth noting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reacted coolly to the idea of 30,000 more U.S. troops. Some dismiss his public disaffection as political posturing; they note that Karzai faces a presidential election this spring and so doesn't want to look like a stooge of foreign occupiers. But if that's the case, it means that a lot—maybe a majority—of the Afghan people view us as foreign occupiers, like the Russians and British before us, and that a higher-profile presence may turn them against both us and our sponsor, Karzai.

A counterinsurgency campaign has no chance of succeeding, if we—and, by extension, the government that we're supporting—are seen as the enemy.

And so there is a paradox: More U.S. troops are needed to provide security to the Afghan people; but these troops may, at the same time, fuel the insurgency—which will require more troops, and on the cycle goes.

One possible way to short-circuit this cycle is to demonstrate a few quick and easy successes. For instance, rush a flood of troops to a town that is not under grave threat from the Taliban at the moment and provide it with lots of services—roads, electricity, food, whatever aid is needed. At the same time, rush another flood of troops to an area of marginal Taliban control and crush them. And do all this without killing any civilians.

If this can be managed, the question will remain: What next? But in a contest for popular support, first impressions are important—and, with a new administration, there may still be a chance for first impressions.

Obama has said that we have "limited goals" in Afghanistan. He hasn't defined the term precisely, but it's clear that he suffers from no illusions that a Western-style democracy is imminent. (As a senior NATO officer said a few years ago, the country's barely post-medieval.) He has said that the main goal is to prevent it from once again becoming a sanctuary for terrorists who seek to attack the United States and its allies. But how do you prevent that? How secure, and how free of insurgents, does how much of Afghanistan have to be? How many troops and bases are required to ensure that? There are people in the Defense Department whose job is to make these "requirements" as immense or as minimal as possible.

Meanwhile, the basic principles of counterinsurgency should be kept in mind. The point of these sorts of wars is not so much to defeat the enemy as to protect and win over the population; the former can happen only if the latter happens first.

It's possible that, despite all the smart strategists and the more sincere effort, the campaign simply won't work; most counterinsurgency efforts don't. In that case, President Obama's challenge will be to resist the pressures to stay locked in and to escalate, for the sake of perceptions, credibility, or false hope.

How Not to Make Peace in the Middle East

The New York Review of Books

Volume 56, Number 1 · January 15, 2009
How Not to Make Peace in the Middle East
By Hussein Agha, Robert Malley
The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab–Israeli Peace
by Aaron David Miller

Bantam, 407 pp., $26.00
Negotiating Arab–Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East
by Daniel C. Kurtzer and Scott B. Lasensky

United States Institute of Peace Press, 191 pp., $16.50 (paper)
Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East
by Martin Indyk

Simon and Schuster, 494 pp., $30.00

Foreign affairs had no more than a small part in Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and the Middle East peace process only a fraction of that. Yet the sorry prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians make a break with past US policy on this matter imperative, regardless of the new administration's priorities.

The need for a move away from the lethal mix of arrogance and ignorance characteristic of George W. Bush's presidency is hard to dispute. That is not all that needs breaking away from. Some observers have welcomed the past year's surge of older-style US diplomacy, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's multiple visits to the region, efforts to build Palestinian institutions and security forces, and negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians over a final status agreement. Yet spin aside, these efforts hardly can be deemed successful. Realities on the ground—from settlement construction to deepening divisions within Palestinian and Israeli societies to growing disillusionment with a two-state solution—render the possibility of a peace accord increasingly remote.

The failings of Bush's efforts have also revived nostalgia for President Clinton's. But it is a nostalgia born as much of anger with the present as of longing for the past. The 1990s were a time of US activism on behalf of peace, yet there is a record to contend with. It is not as forgiving. On this issue, Clinton's term concluded in failure, and it is a failure that bears at least some relation to the policies so lamented today.

President Obama will need to make a change, of that there can be little doubt. But it will take more than turning the page on the worst of the Bush years. It will mean writing an entirely different script.


Recent books by veteran US policymakers attempt to shed light on the mistakes of the past and offer guidance for the future. The Much Too Promised Land is Aaron Miller's highly personal account of what he calls "America's elusive search for Arab–Israeli peace." The result of a study undertaken by the US Institute of Peace, Daniel Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky's Negotiating Arab–Israeli Peace focuses on the Clinton and the two Bush presidencies, presenting a manual on what future officeholders should and should not do. Martin Indyk's Innocent Abroad gives a broader picture. An ambitious comparison of the last two failed American attempts to transform the Middle East—Clinton through peace and Bush via war—it explores both the Arab–Israeli conflict and US policy toward Iran and Iraq. Somewhere at the heart of this quest, as Indyk's title suggests and all three books conclude, are the labors of an often well-intentioned, frequently bewildered, and almost perpetually outmaneuvered superpower.

The three books offer sharp, at times unyielding critiques of the last two presidents. Yet none of the authors was a passive spectator during their terms in office. Miller, Kurtzer, and Indyk all had prominent parts in shaping or executing US policy. Kurtzer, who served as ambassador in Cairo and Tel Aviv between 1997 and 2005, held positions from which it was difficult to shape critical policy decisions and, in fairness, he constantly raised questions from afar.

No such luck for Miller or Indyk. Miller was an adviser to every administration since Ronald Reagan's and, under Clinton, deputy to the Middle East peace envoy; as he repeatedly and self-critically acknowledges, he more often than not advocated the policies he now laments. Indyk is in a class all his own. Head of the Middle East office at the White House, assistant secretary for Near East affairs, and twice ambassador to Israel (1995–1997 and 2000–2001), he has held virtually every conceivable position of influence on the issue. The books also quote a myriad of former high-ranking officials who do not take a charitable view when it comes to their respective administration's performance.

One should be only mildly surprised. There is a long tradition of former US Middle East officials retroactively bemoaning the strategies they once helped shape. Retrospective hand-wringing, far from an anomaly, has become something of a job hazard. None of the books fully confronts this phenomenon, which is a pity. The ritual has become pervasive enough and of sufficient consequence to warrant some discussion.

The Much Too Promised Land, Negotiating Arab–Israeli Peace, and Innocent Abroad tell broadly similar tales of an America that, naive, overzealous, or both, lost itself in the Middle East maze, was repeatedly outfoxed by those it sought to influence, and time and again fell short of its objectives. All three books should be read by analysts and those in the Obama administration who will be charged with picking up where Bush leaves off.

Their principal differences are stylistic. Kurtzer and Lasensky have written a sober, rigorous, no-frills account relying heavily on dozens of interviews with an imposing cast of current and former policymakers. The result is an impressive and refreshingly concise book. Indyk's is part memoir, part political analysis, elegantly written, and hard to put down. Miller's book is of a different sort. Informal, personal, and conversational, it is deeply introspective, as is its writer, who reveals himself to be at once intensely self-confident and inherently self-doubting. For much of his professional life, Miller worked in the large shadow of an outsized boss, Dennis Ross. Most of that time, one gathers, Miller believes he could not, or at least did not, speak his mind. Now is his chance. The Much Too Promised Land is not so much a history book or even an autobiography. It is Miller's declaration of independence.

For all three authors, George W. Bush provides a straightforward and relatively uncontroversial target. We are left with the portrait of a man—and an administration—who were uninterested in the peace process, inattentive to the impact of their policies, uninformed about reality, incapable of follow-through, and utterly unembarrassed by it all. Ideologically, the new Bush team was inclined to downgrade the importance of the Arab–Israeli conflict; politically it was inclined to do the exact opposite of what Clinton had done. "There's no Nobel Peace Prize to be had here," Indyk quotes Bush as saying early in his tenure.

Of the accusations leveled against Bush's policy, the most commonly voiced is that it was "disengaged." Kurtzer and Lasensky condemn him for not being "actively engaged" in the peace process and regret that the "administration effectively disengaged for close to eight years." Indyk evokes the President's "default position of disengagement." And Miller writes disapprovingly that "George W. Bush came into office with a mindset already predisposed to disengag- ing America from the Arab–Israeli issue." Forget about the "Decider"; in Miller's account, Bush has become the "Disengager."

It is a curious charge, at once too mild and off-target. It suggests a passive, flaccid, laissez-faire attitude that could hardly be further from the historical truth and that would have been far preferable to it. Bush's policies did not reflect disengagement; they were the outcome of a uniquely ambitious, often brutal, and always intensely engaged effort to reshape the Middle East. At its core, Bush's Middle East strategy was as intrusive and interventionist as one could imagine.

Almost from the outset, the administration clumsily intervened in Palestinian politics, helped rewrite the Palestinian Basic Law, proclaimed Arafat a pariah, anointed its own favorite substitute leaders, insisted on Palestinian internal reform as a precondition for peace, took positions on a final agreement in a 2004 letter from Bush to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that tilted the playing field, encouraged confrontation between the nationalist Fatah and Islamist Hamas, imposed sanctions on Syria, and discouraged the resumption of Israeli–Syrian talks. Throughout, the Bush administration misread local dynamics, ignored the toxicity of its embrace, overestimated the influence of money and military assistance, and neglected the impact of conviction, loyalty, and faith.

On the dubious premise that talking to an enemy is a reward, the administration cut itself off from, and left itself with little leverage over, the region's more dynamic actors, whether Islamist organizations, Syria, or Iran. It propped up local Palestinian and Lebanese allies, who mimic the West's language, depend upon the US for resources and support, yet lack an effective domestic base. In short, it helped them in ways that hurt. How much more the US could have achieved by doing much less.

Bush's sin was not disengagement, assuming disengagement is a sin at all. Judiciously deployed, actual disengagement—that is, taking a step back, forcing local parties to deal with one another, and demonstrating that the United States is neither excessively eager nor overly available—can be an effective, and often is an underused, tactic. Certainly, it is superior to a surprisingly common form of US engagement: the impulse to take a trip, roll out an initiative, or call a summit regardless of timing or consequence.

The past twelve months provide ample proof of the limitations of such practices. Bush's empty promise of a final agreement by the end of 2008—like Condoleezza Rice's peripatetic schedule, hollow feel-good pronouncements, and repeated unproductive meetings with Palestinian and Israeli leaders at a time when, with politically frail leaderships on both sides, even the most admirable peace accord would have lacked all credibility—lent engagement a bad name. The flaw was not that Bush failed to engage. It was how he chose to do so.

If Bush is easy prey, Clinton makes for more complicated and intriguing quarry. Whereas Miller, Indyk, and Kurtzer left the current administration midway through and with barely concealed frustration, they stayed with Clinton till the bitter end. Their books are full of praise for his personal devotion to Arab–Israeli peace. They laud his team's unremitting efforts. They also elucidate how what they describe, in almost identical terms, as "an ideal strategic environment for peacemaking" gave way to the collapse of the Israeli–Palestinian and Israeli–Syrian negotiations as well as to the second Palestinian uprising.

Many explanations have been offered for this turn of events. All three books suggest deep deficiencies among Israelis and Arabs; none is sparing when it comes to evaluating Palestinian, Israeli, or Syrian leaders. But that is not their principal interest. Judging America is.

For all its positive qualities, the books argue, the Clinton approach was excessively undisciplined; it privileged process to the detriment of substance, and too often failed to hold parties accountable. Indyk argues that as Clinton's presidency came to a close, he projected his timetable on Israelis and Palestinians who lacked his sense of urgency. He assumed they were driven by the sort of American pragmatism for which they had little appetite. Kurtzer and Miller complain that the US kept potential Arab and European allies at arm's length and sought to resolve the conflict step by step rather than aim for a final resolution. They also regret the insularity of an American peace team whose insufficient balance and diversity led it to see things, according to Miller, "mainly from an Israeli perspective." Mostly, they fault the Clinton administration for lacking a coherent strategy that would have enabled it to promote its own ideas rather than be subject to the parties' will and whims.

One cannot read these books without thinking back to the controversy surrounding the 2000 Camp David summit. Following that meeting, instant analysis laid all blame on the Palestinians for rejecting Barak's "unprecedented offer." Whatever else might have affected the outcome was dismissed as inconsequential.

Outwardly, Miller, Kurtzer, and Indyk do not claim to take part in the debate over who lost Camp David, though, practically speaking, they close it. They castigate Arafat and the Palestinians for excessive passivity and an inability or unwillingness to seize the moment. But they do not stop there. Miller, who attended the summit, contradicts the accepted view with a detailed account demonstrating that each party bears heavy responsibility. Barak eroded the Palestinians' confidence during the months preceding the summit by renegotiating past agreements and reneging on promises. The Israeli proposals at Camp David, says Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel's foreign minister at the time, "fell far short of even modest Palestinian expectations." The Americans had "no sustained strategy," did not put a negotiating text on the table, and caved in when faced with the parties' objections. They did not consult with other Arab countries and, in deciding to blame Arafat at Barak's request, betrayed a prior commitment not to do so and also jeopardized hopes for a peaceful aftermath of the conference.

Likewise, Kurtzer and Lasensky describe the US as "unprepared," lacking its own positions on fundamental issues, and, eager to embrace "Barak's priorities...but also Barak's tactics," ultimately "ced[ing] effective control over US policy to the Israelis." Even Indyk, the harshest of the three toward Arafat, disputes the conventional wisdom. "Camp David," he writes, "was hardly a good laboratory" for Barak's proposition that the Palestinian leader was unwilling to reach a historic deal, because no Arab statesman could have accepted what had been presented.

All three books describe the abortive Israeli–Syrian talks in 1999–2000 in strikingly similar ways, again contesting the view held by many ascribing sole liability to Damascus. Indyk in particular argues that Barak missed an opportunity when, concerned about the need to show the Israeli public that he was a tough negotiator, he refused to show flexibility at a time when President Hafez Assad appeared ready for a deal. Others who participated in the peace process during that period have reached a remarkable consensus that responsibility for the debacle was shared by all the parties. To Miller, Kurtzer, and Indyk must be added the countless US, Israeli, and Palestinian officials they interviewed.

To readers of The New York Review, all this must leave a familiar sense of déjà-lu. In 2001, we published an article in these pages putting forward similar arguments. Barak responded angrily, challenging our "revisionist" narrative of the Camp David summit. [1] He has since denounced Indyk's account of the Syrian negotiations on the curious pretext that the senior-level American diplomat "was unaware of the full picture." Still, even he cannot help but observe that while seven years ago our interpretation prompted consternation and considerable outrage, today it barely elicits a raised eyebrow. Revisionism has become orthodoxy.

Historical polemics aside, the three books aim to answer a central question: What should the US do now? Each shapes itself in part as advice to the next administration, and their authors enjoy more than passing influence. Kurtzer is one of Obama's principal Middle East advisers and Indyk is close to Hillary Clinton.

All three share the view that the next president should make a priority of resolving the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, claiming that this will be critical to improving America's image in the Arab and Muslim worlds and to drying up the appeal of militant Islam. They argue that in doing so, the US cannot ignore harmful behavior, whether Israeli settlement construction or Palestinian violence. They call for monitoring of performance on all sides, clear accountability, and, should it come to that, real consequences for breaches of commitments. They suggest that the President publicly articulate detailed core principles for a workable Israeli–Palestinian deal that will mobilize peace constituencies and reinforce the outlines of a two-state solution. Greater involvement by Arab countries is seen as essential to reassure Israel and provide political cover to the Palestinian leadership.

All three books offer advice of a more general sort: talk to your enemies; avoid summits for the sake of summits; do not grant outside powers a veto over US policy; neither fret obsessively about Israeli domestic politics nor meddle intrusively in internal Palestinian affairs by selectively cultivating those "considered to be more accommodating." Echoing a shared sentiment, Indyk delivers something more valuable than a detailed plan when he exhorts the US to "lower [its] sights...avoid raising regional expectations... [tone] down the rhetoric and [allow] the results of American diplomacy to speak for themselves."

On some points, emphasis varies. For Miller, the chances for success virtually boil down to personnel and personality. In his pantheon of US leaders he holds in high esteem (James Baker, Jimmy Carter, and Henry Kissinger), the rough, the tough, and the devious stand out. He longs for what he calls real "sons-of-bitches" to navigate the treacherous shoals of Arab, Israeli, and American politics. Kurtzer stresses the importance of moving from a step- by-step approach to one that concentrates on the endgame. Indyk highlights the regional context; he wants to combine pursuit of Israeli–Palestinian peace with US engagement with Iran and Syria as well as US encouragement of Israeli–Syrian talks. He shows sensible pragmatism in suggesting a different approach toward Hamas, arguing that if it abides by its cease-fire with Israel, the US should support efforts at reconciliation among Palestinians.

On the whole, these appear to be worthy and well-considered recommendations, a far cry from Bush's policies and a respectable distance from Clinton's. Inspired by them and the inevitable clamoring from Arab and European leaders to move early and decisively to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, President Obama will be tempted to act immediately—deepen his involvement, name a special envoy, train Palestinian Authority security forces, bolster so-called moderate Palestinian allies, accelerate Israeli–Palestinian talks. Such a response would be predictable; it also is understandable. But would it be wise?

Before Obama plunges into the morass, several thoughts merit consideration. The inability to reach a two-state solution has persisted for fifteen years under countless different configurations of policy and power.

There have been strong, determined leaders (Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat) who, it was thought, possessed the ability to forge compromises and sell them to their people. There have been enlightened, forward-looking leaders (Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas) who, it was felt, appreciated the desperate need for a two-state solution.

At times the US was deeply involved; at others it took a step back. It mostly sought to run affairs on its own but also opened the door to others. It focused at some points on interim agreements and at others on a final deal. There also have been US plans aplenty. Reagan had his Peace Initiative, George H.W. Bush organized the Madrid conference, Clinton introduced his parameters, and, during the outgoing president's administration alone, Israelis and Palestinians were treated to Bush's vision, the Mitchell report, the Tenet work plan, the Zinni plan, and the road map.

Throughout the years, polls consistently showed respectable Israeli and Palestinian majorities in favor of a negotiated two-state settlement. The world held its breath awaiting a breakthrough, promising wholehearted support for a resolution. Even traditionally passive and cautious Saudi Arabia put forward the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, persuaded Arab and Islamic nations to sign onto it, and formally presented it to Israel via the Arab League. Yet throughout, regardless of set-up, content, or style, the outcome has been depressingly the same. The plans were greeted with violence, bewilderment, and, more recently, a yawn. Why would more of the same, even if more intense, more vigorous, and more sustained, produce a different outcome?

Equally striking, three of the most significant Arab–Israeli breakthroughs occurred with the US nowhere in sight: Anwar Sadat's trip to Jerusalem, the Oslo negotiations, and Israel's treaty with Jordan. Nor is this merely a historical reflection. When Israeli–Syrian negotiations restarted this year, they were under Turkish, not American, sponsorship and the US sought to prevent, not facilitate them. America was and will be needed to capitalize on opportunities or crown a deal. But it is worth contemplating why it has been so unfailingly inept at launching successful initiatives—the Camp David summit of 2000 and the Annapolis process of 2007 and 2008 being only the latest, saddest examples.

Obama ought to take note of another intriguing feature: arguably the most momentous shift in the Israeli–Palestinian landscape since the 1993 Oslo accords has occurred as a result not of US policy and bilateral negotiations but of a unilateral decision. Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 has left much to be desired. But had then Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas sought to negotiate its details with American help, Israeli tanks and settlements almost certainly would still be there, as they are in much of the West Bank, despite endless negotiations. US-sponsored bilateral negotiations have become a formula for sustaining an otherwise untenable status quo.

Finally, the region into which the new president is being pressed to plunge has changed dramatically over the past decade. During recent years, the transformations include the death of Arafat, father of Palestinian nationalism, and the incapacitation of Sharon, Israel's last heroic leader; the spread and further entrenchment of Israeli settlements; Hamas's electoral triumph; Israel's withdrawal from Gaza; the Palestinian internal conflict and Hamas's seizure of Gaza; the withering away of Fatah; Israel's failure in the 2006 Lebanon war; US setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan; Iran's increased influence; and the growing role of other regional actors like Turkey and Qatar. This is not a mere change in scenery. It is a new world.

A more assertive US policy, greater fortitude in the face of Israeli or Palestinian pressure, a focus on the endgame, and sustained Arab and European backing might have made a difference at Camp David. These factors might still have changed the course of events in the months following the summit or perhaps even during the first few years of the Bush administration. [2] But these ideas, ignored when they were ripe, may now be on the verge of being accepted just as they are becoming obsolete. That is because so much of what the peace process relied upon has been transfigured. It was premised on the existence of two reasonably cohesive entities, Israeli and Palestinian, capable of reaching and implementing historic decisions, a situation that, today, is in serious doubt; continued popular faith and interest in a two-state solution, which is waning; significant US credibility, which is hemorrhaging; and a relatively stable regional landscape, which is undergoing seismic shifts.

In Israel, endemic governmental weakness and instability and deepening social fragmentation, combined with the spoiling capacity of small yet increasingly powerful settler constituencies, call into question the state's ability to achieve, let alone carry out, an agreement that would entail the uprooting of tens of thousands of West Bank settlers. The generation of Israeli founding fathers, perhaps, might have succeeded in carrying off such a withdrawal, though it says something that even they didn't try. Their successors, more factional chiefs than national leaders, are not so well equipped.

The graver problem today is on the Palestinian side. If one strips away the institutional veneer—Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organization, various secular political groupings, the Palestinian Authority—what is left is largely empty shells with neither an agreed-upon program nor recognized leadership. The national movement, once embodied by Fatah and Arafat, is adrift. From its vestiges, the Islamist movement Hamas has flourished and, amid the flurry of negotiations between Abbas and Olmert over a putative albeit wholly theoretical deal, it cannot have escaped notice that the more practical and meaningful negotiations have been between Israel and Hamas—over a cease-fire, for example. Still, the Islamist movement cannot, any more than Fatah, claim to represent the Palestinian people or to be empowered to negotiate on their behalf. The rift between the two organizations, most visibly manifested in the increasingly deep split between the West Bank and Gaza, makes a two-state solution harder to achieve. Israel long complained it had no Palestinian partner and, at the outset, the complaint had the feel of a pretext. Increasingly, it has the ring of truth.

Among Palestinians, moreover, the prize of statehood is losing its luster. The two-state solution today matters most to those who matter least, the political and economic elite whose positions, attained thanks to the malpractices of the Palestinian Authority, would be enhanced by acquiring a state. To many others, the dividends of such a solution—a state in Gaza and much of the West Bank—risk being outweighed by the sacrifices: forsaking any self-defense capacity, tolerating Israeli security intrusion, renouncing the refugees' right of return, and compromising on Jerusalem.

Arafat embraced the two-state solution and sold it to his people. It took him fifteen years—from 1973 to 1988—to turn it from an act of betrayal and high treason to what most of his people saw as the culmination of the Palestinian national movement. He did so with a militancy his successors lack and which seemed to both defy and negate the concessions such a solution entailed. He exhibited perpetual defiance, which was one of the many reasons why the US and Israel distrusted him even in the best of times, and why Palestinians continued to be drawn to him even at the worst of them. With his passing, it is hard to see who among his heirs can acquiesce in the necessary compromises and still pull off a solution.

When word recently leaked of a deal purportedly proposed by Olmert to Abbas in their one-on-one negotiations, the world got a glimpse of how little Israelis and Palestinians have begun to care. The proposal—a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines with one-to-one territorial exchanges; a limited number of refugees coming into Israel; a Palestinian capital comprising the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem; a special regime for the holy sites—was not ideal for either side. It was probably better for Palestinians than what was suggested at Camp David; arguably better for Israelis than what has been mooted in a series of unofficial agreements over the ensuing eight years. In earlier days such a plan would have generated immense interest and large political waves. It provoked neither. Familiarity has bred indifference. The two-state solution, it turns out, is endangered, not rescued, by being endlessly discussed.

Such changes in Israeli and Palestinian realities have taken place against the backdrop of deep alterations in the regional balance of power. Where traditional US allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia once set both the agenda and tone of Middle East diplomacy, they appear worn out and bereft of a cause other than preventing their own decline. Their energy seems to have been sapped and their regional authority diminished. On issue after issue—Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Israel-Palestine—they have proved passive or, when active, feckless, unable to influence events or buttress their allies. Their close ties to Washington damage their credibility without being of much help to the US.

They are progressively upstaged by more dynamic players: those leading the charge against America's allies—Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas—and those—Qatar and Turkey—seeking to mediate between the two. All these developments challenge a US strategy that relies exclusively on so-called "moderate" Arab states and leaders, which are losing steam, in order to counter "radical" Islamist states and movements, which are gaining it.

The image of President Obama unveiling his vision of an Israeli–Palestinian settlement to overjoyed Arab leaders and universal endorsement may not, under the circumstances, be quite so alluring. A peace plan that has grown tedious by virtue of repetition is unlikely to generate popular enthusiasm; its backing by fading Arab leaders is unlikely to give it a boost.

The new president enjoys an enormous, perhaps unprecedented reservoir of regional goodwill. Yet it is goodwill based on hope that Obama can break from past American conduct and style, not reinforce them. The surest way to diminish Obama's appeal to the region would be for him to present a plan with no real future in the company of leaders burdened by their past.

Obama has other Middle Eastern worries. On January 9, President Abbas's term will end, raising challenges to his legitimacy should he remain in office. In February, Israel will elect a new prime minister. It is likely to be either Tzipi Livni, a relative newcomer who displayed boldness in pursuing a Palestinian agreement and clumsiness in dealing with Israel's political leaders, or Benjamin Netanyahu, a relative old-timer who has had problems with both. Lebanon's elections in May 2009 could bring to power a coalition that would be less sympathetic to the US, worrying Israel, heartening militants, and raising questions for all. During 2009 there will also be a referendum in Iraq on the US–Iraq security agreement, presidential elections in Iran, a possible succession crisis in Egypt, and a scramble to find an heir to the eighty-four-year-old Saudi monarch. Meanwhile, Iran's nuclear program marches on.

Amid all this, the question of what ought to be done on the Arab–Israeli front remains unanswered, and that may not be a bad thing. With so much that is novel, and with so much having gone so wrong for so long, basic issues should first be addressed. Among them are the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of US mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests and the benefits that would accrue to America from its resolution. One also might ponder reasons behind America's chronic ineffectiveness in persuading lesser powers (Arafat, Hamas, Syria, or Hezbollah) to acquiesce in its demands, a pattern that suggests incapacity to identify local political forces, understand their interests, or comprehend their appeal.

Raising such questions might lead to heretical answers, or impractical ones, or none at all. But it is preferable to a headfirst rush to follow costly familiar patterns and to seek the comforting embrace of ideas that have been tried but never worked or that were never tried but can no longer work. Among the flurry of recommendations the next administration will receive, Obama could do worse than consider some simple advice. Don't rush. Take time, take a deep breath, and take stock. Who knows, fresh and more effective policies might even ensue. Now that would be change we could believe in.

— December 17, 2008

[1]See Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors," The New York Review, August 9, 2001; Benny Morris "Camp David and After; An Exchange (1. An Interview with Ehud Barak)," with a reply by Agha and Malley, The New York Review, June 13, 2002; and Barak, Morris, Agha, and Malley, "Camp David and After—Continued," The New York Review, June 27, 2002.

[2]We advocated similar ideas over six years ago. See "The Last Negotiation: How to End the Middle East Peace Process," Foreign Affairs, May/June 2002.

Trying to 'teach Hamas a lesson' is fundamentally wrong


Trying to 'teach Hamas a lesson' is fundamentally wrong

By Tom Segev

Channel 1 television broadcast an interesting mix on Saturday morning:
Its correspondents reported from Sderot and Ashkelon, but the pictures
on the screen were from the Gaza Strip. Thus the broadcast, albeit
unintentionally, sent the right message: A child in Sderot is the same
as a child in Gaza, and anyone who harms either is evil.

But the assault on Gaza does not first and foremost demand moral
condemnation - it demands a few historical reminders. Both the
justification given for it and the chosen targets are a replay of the
same basic assumptions that have proven wrong time after time. Yet
Israel still pulls them out of its hat again and again, in one war
after another.

Israel is striking at the Palestinians to "teach them a lesson." That
is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise
since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and
enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs
are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be
educated and taught wisdom - via, of course, the carrot-and-stick
method, just as the drover does with his donkey.

The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to "liquidate the Hamas regime,"
in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist
movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a
"moderate" leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their
national aspirations.

As a corollary, Israel has also always believed that causing suffering
to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national
leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over.

All of Israel's wars have been based on yet another assumption that
has been with us from the start: that we are only defending ourselves.
"Half a million Israelis are under fire," screamed the banner headline
of Sunday's Yedioth Ahronoth - just as if the Gaza Strip had not been
subjected to a lengthy siege that destroyed an entire generation's
chances of living lives worth living.

It is admittedly impossible to live with daily missile fire, even if
virtually no place in the world today enjoys a situation of zero
terror. But Hamas is not a terrorist organization holding Gaza
residents hostage: It is a religious nationalist movement, and a
majority of Gaza residents believe in its path. One can certainly
attack it, and with Knesset elections in the offing, this attack might
even produce some kind of cease-fire. But there is another historical
truth worth recalling in this context: Since the dawn of the Zionist
presence in the Land of Israel, no military operation has ever
advanced dialogue with the Palestinians.

Most dangerous of all is the cliche that there is no one to talk to.
That has never been true. There are even ways to talk with Hamas, and
Israel has something to offer the organization. Ending the siege of
Gaza and allowing freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank
could rehabilitate life in the Strip.

At the same time, it is worth dusting off the old plans prepared after
the Six-Day War, under which thousands of families were to be
relocated from Gaza to the West Bank. Those plans were never
implemented because the West Bank was slated to be used for Jewish
settlement. And that was the most damaging working assumption of all.

The neighborhood bully strikes again

The neighborhood bully strikes again
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, 28 December 2008

Israel embarked yesterday on yet another unnecessary, ill-fated war. On July 16, 2006, four days after the start of the Second Lebanon War, I wrote: "Every neighborhood has one, a loud-mouthed bully who shouldn't be provoked into anger... Not that the bully's not right - someone did harm him. But the reaction, what a reaction!"

Two and a half years later, these words repeat themselves, to our horror, with chilling precision. Within the span of a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, the IDF sowed death and destruction on a scale that the Qassam rockets never approached in all their years, and Operation "Cast Lead" is only in its infancy.

Once again, Israel's violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom.

What began yesterday in Gaza is a war crime and the foolishness of a country. History's bitter irony: A government that went to a futile war two months after its establishment - today nearly everyone acknowledges as much - embarks on another doomed war two months before the end of its term.

In the interim, the loftiness of peace was on the tip of the tongue of Ehud Olmert, a man who uttered some of the most courageous words ever said by a prime minister. The loftiness of peace on the tip of his tongue, and two fruitless wars in his sheath. Joining him is his defense minister, Ehud Barak, the leader of the so-called left-wing party, who plays the role of senior accomplice to the crime.

Israel did not exhaust the diplomatic processes before embarking yesterday on another dreadful campaign of killing and ruin. The Qassams that rained down on the communities near Gaza turned intolerable, even though they did not sow death. But the response to them needs to be fundamentally different: diplomatic efforts to restore the cease-fire - the same one that was initially breached, one should remember, by Israel when it unnecessarily bombed a tunnel - and then, if those efforts fail, a measured, gradual military response.

But no. It's all or nothing. The IDF launched a war yesterday whose end, as usual, is hoping someone watches over us.

Blood will now flow like water. Besieged and impoverished Gaza, the city of refugees, will pay the main price. But blood will also be unnecessarily spilled on our side. In its foolishness, Hamas brought this on itself and on its people, but this does not excuse Israel's overreaction.

The history of the Middle East is repeating itself with despairing precision. Just the frequency is increasing. If we enjoyed nine years of quiet between the Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War, now we launch wars every two years. As such, Israel proves that there is no connection between its public relations talking points that speak of peace, and its belligerent conduct.

Israel also proves that it has not internalized the lessons of the previous war. Once again, this war was preceded by a frighteningly uniform public dialogue in which only one voice was heard - that which called for striking, destroying, starving and killing, that which incited and prodded for the commission of war crimes.

Once again the commentators sat in television studios yesterday and hailed the combat jets that bombed police stations, where officers responsible for maintaining order on the streets work. Once again, they urged against letting up and in favor of continuing the assault. Once again, the journalists described the pictures of the damaged house in Netivot as "a difficult scene." Once again, we had the nerve to complain about how the world was transmitting images from Gaza. And once again we need to wait a few more days until an alternative voice finally rises from the darkness, the voice of wisdom and morality.

In another week or two, those same pundits who called for blows and more blows will compete among themselves in leveling criticism at this war. And once again this will be gravely late.

The pictures that flooded television screens around the world yesterday showed a parade of corpses and wounded being loaded into and unloaded from the trunks of private cars that transported them to the only hospital in Gaza worthy of being called a hospital. Perhaps we once again need to remember that we are dealing with a wretched, battered strip of land, most of whose population consists of the children of refugees who have endured inhumane tribulations.

For two and a half years, they have been caged and ostracized by the whole world. The line of thinking that states that through war we will gain new allies in the Strip; that abusing the population and killing its sons will sear this into their consciousness; and that a military operation would suffice in toppling an entrenched regime and thus replace it with another one friendlier to us is no more than lunacy.

Hezbollah was not weakened as a result of the Second Lebanon War; to the contrary. Hamas will not be weakened due to the Gaza war; to the contrary. In a short time, after the parade of corpses and wounded ends, we will arrive at a fresh cease-fire, as occurred after Lebanon, exactly like the one that could have been forged without this superfluous war.

In the meantime, let us now let the IDF win, as they say. A hero against the weak, it bombed dozens of targets from the air yesterday, and the pictures of blood and fire are designed to show Israelis, Arabs and the entire world that the neighborhood bully's strength has yet to wane. When the bully is on a rampage, nobody can stop him.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Man in the Black Cape: Randolph Bourne

The Man in the Black Cape: Randolph Bourne

American Interest January/February 2009

Andrew J. Bacevich

In his 1932 novel Nineteen Nineteen, John Dos Passos paid tribute to a "little sparrowlike man",

tiny twisted bit of flesh in a black cape,
always in pain and ailing,
[who] put a pebble in his sling
and hit Goliath square in the forehead . . . .

The man in the black cape was Randolph Bourne, who in an unfinished essay shortly before his death in 1918 uttered one of the contemporary era's great truths: "War is the health of the State." Ninety years on, as Americans contemplate the implications of waging what the Pentagon is now calling "the Long War", Bourne's biting observation demands renewed attention.

Beset from birth by agonizing physical deformities, Bourne was an intellectual, a radical and a patriot who cherished freedom and loved America. His crucial contribution to political discourse was to draw a sharp distinction between Countryhe people and their aspirationsnd State, an apparatus that perverts those aspirations into a relentless quest for aggrandizement at the expense of others. "Country", Bourne wrote, "is a concept of peace, of tolerance, of living and letting live. But State is essentially a concept of power, of competition."

Bourne abhorred war, describing it as "a frenzied, mutual suicide", devoid of redeeming value. America's 1917 entry into the apocalyptic European conflict then known as "the Great War" appalled him, not least because, as he saw it, U.S. intervention signified the triumph of State over Country. A war fought to make the world safe for democracy, as President Woodrow Wilson promised, was more likely to undermine authentic democracy at home.

As Wilson whipped up popular fervor for his great crusade (and as his Administration relied on what Bourne described as "white terrorism" to punish anyone who opposed the war or questioned Wilson's policies), Bourne devoted himself to enumerating the perils of allowing State to eclipse Country. War, he warned, inevitably produces "a derangement of values", with the interests of the people taking a back seat to the purposes of the State. Prestige and authority shift: from the periphery to the center, from the legislature to the executive, from domestic concerns to foreign affairs. During times of war, the future is expected to take care of itself; only the present matters. The imperative of victory overrides all other considerations.

War imbues the State with an aura of sanctity. Those who purport to represent the Statehe insiders, those who are in the knowxpect deference and to a remarkable extent receive it. The more urgent the emergency, the more compliant the citizenry. A people at war, Bourne observed, become "obedient, respectful, trustful children again, full of that naive faith in the all-wisdom and all-power of the adult who takes care of them."

Above all, the sacralization of the State exalts the standing of the First Warrior, investing in the commander-in-chief something akin to blanket authority. "The President", wrote Bourne, "is an elected king, but the fact that he is elected has proved to be of far less significance . . . than the fact that he is pragmatically a king." As with the French monarchs in their heyday, so too with wartime American presidents: L't, c'est moi. In times of crisis, Bourne explained, the Legislative Branch effectively ceases to function "except as a wholly mechanical ratifier of the Executive's will."

The very concept of a democratic foreign policy, therefore, becomes "a contradiction in terms." Statecraft remains "the secret private possession of the executive branch." The deliberations that matter occur behind closed doors, with participants limited to those "able to get control of the machinery of the State" or the handful of outsiders with privileged access either conferred or purchased outright.

To those who most fully identify themselves with the State's interestshe king-president's inner circlear signifies liberation, triggering, in Bourne's words, "a vast sense of rejuvenescence" that accompanies the full-throated exercise of power. The "State-obsessed" are drawn to war like moths are drawn to flame. Only through war and the quasi-war of recurrent crisis and confrontation can they express themselves fully.

When war erupts, it typically does so as a result of "steps taken secretly and announced to the public only after they had been consummated." Although Congress may issue a formal declaration, in Bourne's eyes this amounts to no more than "the merest technicality." Not infrequently, those dealing in secrets cross the line into deception and dissembling. Yet even when this occurs, Congress shies away from demanding accountability. After all, any legislator asserting that "the country had been grossly deceived by its own Government", with war the product of "almost criminal carelessness", would risk the charge of disloyalty, complicity or sheer negligence. Better just to register a few complaints and quietly vote the money needed to fund the enterprise.

The architects and advocates of armed conflict broadcast "appealing harbingers of a cosmically efficacious and well-bred war." Such rosy predictions inevitably turn out to be illusory, but no matter: Once thrust into the conflagration, the Country succumbs to "a spiritual compulsion which pushes it on, perhaps against all its interests, all its desires, and all its real sense of values." It's not that the people will war's perpetuation, but when told that no alternative exists except to persist, they acquiesce. Thus, according to Bourne, does the State have its way.

As it was in 1918, so it is in 2008. Granted, in its attempts to silence or discredit its critics, the Bush Administration's actions, however egregious, fall considerably short of constituting "white terrorism." On every other point, however, Bourne's critique of the State during the Age of Wilson describes with considerable precision State behavior during the Age of Bush and Cheney.

Since September 11, war has certainly enhanced the health of the State, which has grown in size, claimed new prerogatives, and expended resources with reckless abandon while accruing a host of new acolytes and retainers, a.k.a. "contractors." Once again, we have witnessed the compromise of democratic practices, as the imperatives of "keeping America safe" take precedence over due process and the rule of law. Once again, the maneuvering of insiders has produced war, cheerfully marketed as promising a clean, neat solution to messy and intractable problems. When that war went sour in Iraq, opponents in the Congress solemnly promised to end it, but instead obligingly appropriated billions to ensure its continuation. Although the people profess unhappiness with all that the State has wrought, their confidence in the institutions of government all but exhausted, they remain reliably docile, if not apathetic. None of this, it seems fair to say, would have surprised Randolph Bourne.

By almost any measure, the Country has fared poorly of late, a point that presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama both explicitly endorsed. The State meanwhile has fattened itself on seven years of plenty. Unlike the biblical cycle, when abundance gave way to want, this pattern seems likely to continue. With the Long War projected to last for decades if not generations, the ascendancy of the State bids fair to become a permanent condition.

When McCain and Obama competed with each other in promising to "change the way Washington works", they held out the prospect of re-subordinating State to Country. Install me as king-president, each proclaimed, and I will employ the apparatus of the State to fulfill the people's fondest hopes and dreams. The State will do my bidding and therefore the Country's.

"Only in a world where irony was dead", as Bourne once mordantly observed, could such claims be taken seriously. Doing so requires us to ignore the extent to which the parties that the candidates represented, the advisers on whom they relied for counsel, and the moneyed interests to which they looked for support all share a vested interest in ensuring the State's continued primacy. This is as true of liberal Democrats as of conservative Republicans.

The reality is this: The election that so many saw as promising salvation was rigged. Its outcome was predetermined. Whichever candidate won in November and whichever party ended up governing, the State was guaranteed to come out on top. Barring the truly miraculous, our new President will continue to serve as primary agent of the State, privileging its well-being over that of the people. And the American penchant for war that Bourne decried and that has in our own day returned with a vengeance will persist. Piously wishing it were otherwise won't make it so.

Although ninety years ago the man in the black cape may have struck Goliath a sharp blow, the giant barely noticed and quickly recovered. Today Goliath is running the show.