Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Sunday, December 29, 2013

India and Japan: Natural Allies

Vivek Sengupta has an article detailing the increasing economic and political ties between Japan and India.  The two are natural allies as they have a common enemy (China) and increasingly a common ally and superpower patron (the United States). They are also both rising naval powers with New Delhi and Tokyo both expanding their navies in order to better safeguard the sea lanes of communication and counter Beijing's expansionist claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea. India has a common land border with China, but as it is along the high-altitude Tibet plateau, it is not something that India can really use as a pressure point against China. But otherwise the Indian-Japanese partnership has much in common with the Entente Cordiale between France and Russia before World War I. And today Washington plays the same role that London played a century ago.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nuclear Arms Control for South Asia?

In 2012 veteran nuclear strategist and arms control theorist Paul Bracken wrote a book entitled The Second Nuclear Age dealing with the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the original five nuclear states grandfathered into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968. He discusses in some detail the problems created by nuclear proliferation efforts by Israel, Iran, Iraq, India, Pakistan, and North Korea and the problems and complications that these introduce into international relations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Northeast Asia. He claims that whereas the first nuclear age was bipolar and involved the superpowers the second nuclear age is multipolar and involves several regional powers. Furthermore, instead of following chronologically after the first nuclear age, the second nuclear age overlapped with it and could be said to have several different starting points ranging from 1964 when China acquired nuclear capacity to 1974 when India did so. 

Bracken suggested that a return to nuclear arms control for the Third World might be in order. Nuclear arms control began with a number of multilateral treaties in the early 1960s that prohibited above ground nuclear testing, prohibited nuclear weapons in Antarctica, on the ocean floor and in outer space--basically in all the places where the superpowers had no interest in stationing nuclear weapons. Then after the NPT in 1968 that prohibited the spread of nuclear weapons beyond those states that already were declared nuclear powers, nuclear arms control became a bilateral process between the two superpowers in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START).

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Was Mandela A Terrorist?

Watching the Sunday talk shows I heard a conservative (possibly Mary Matlin) refer to Mandela's "terrorist past" as one of the reasons why conservatives were so wary about him in the 1980s. Nelson Mandela was the founder and leader of the African National Congress's (ANC) armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation) or MK for short. MK began its sabotage campaign in December 1961 and it lasted for about 18 months before the South African Police managed to discover the headquarters of the organization at a farm in the Rivonia suburb of Johannesburg. During the sabotage campaign the MK attacked mainly symbolic targets such as electrical pylons, postboxes, and other infrastructure. Pro-German Afrikaner organizations carried out a similar campaign during World War II. At the Rivonia treason trial in 1964 Mandela and his comrades were sentenced to life in prison (except for a couple one of whom was white who received ten-year sentences). Mandela had actually been in prison since the second half of 1962 when, having been betrayed by the CIA, he was arrested for going abroad without a passport--which the government would not have issued him--and sentenced to five years.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mandela: A Cross Between Lenin and Tutu

I was not sad to hear of the passing of Nelson Mandela. Not that I had anything against him, but he was 95 and I never thought that he was immortal. I was sad when Chris Hani was assassinated in 1993--I thought that it might lead to serious consequences and it would have had Mandela not exercised his restraint and control over black public opinion in South Africa. I was very sad when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, but relieved to learn that his murderer was a Jew and not an Arab.

President Obama said that we will never see another person like him. I disagree. After Galileo, the great physicist and astronomer, came Newton, the great mathematician, physicist and astronomer. And then Einstein the great physicist. After Lincoln came Disraeli in Britain, Franklin Roosevelt in the United States, David Ben Gurion in Israel, and Mandela in South Africa. Mandela's greatness was that in a single person he combined the personal integrity and courage of a figure like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the political acumen of a great revolutionary leader like Lenin or Michael Collins of Ireland. It is rare to find these traits in a single individual. To be a great revolutionary requires an understanding of politics and history--and this requires detachment. Usually this detachment leads to moral remoteness and the tendency to see others as means and not ends, thus denying the principle of the great philosopher Immanuel Kant. Conversely getting too close to the subject usually compromises analytical ability. I respected and admired Tutu's personal courage in saving suspected informers from mob deaths, but I thought him a fool as a tactician.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Richard Haass, John Larkin, and Northern Ireland's Past

Richard Haass is back in Northern Ireland speaking with various political players from the five parties represented in the Executive as well as community groups in an attempt to reach a comprehensive deal on parade, flags and emblems, and the past before the end of the year. His task has possibly been made more difficult (and possibly simpler) by a trial balloon floated by Attorney General John Larkin calling for an end to all investigations into the past. Larkin, who does not belong to any political party but who was briefly connected to the non-sectarian Alliance Party some three decades ago, said that in his opinion it was simply too difficult to secure convictions with the passage of time. His personal legal opinion has provoked fury from all the established parties. Only the brand new and tiny NI21 has supported his proposal.

Afghanistan's Future

It was announced on Thursday November 21, 2013 that Washington and Kabul had reached an agreement to allow limited American training forces and anti-terrorism personnel to remain on after the scheduled departure of American combat personnel from Afghanistan in 2014. The deal has yet to be approved by the Grand Council or Loya Jirga, which has the power to approve or reject a deal. Afghani President Hamid Karzai is using his weakness as a strength to attempt to manipulate Washington into granting more concessions to him by making the deal subject to the Loya Jirga.

North Korea's New Nuclear Potential

Starting in 2006 North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests. All three weapons tested were fueled by plutonium, a by-product of nuclear reactor operations. In the decade before he was finally stopped in February 2004 Pakistani metallurgist and nuclear scientist A.Q, Khan managed to sell uranium-enrichment technology, which he had earlier stolen from the European consortium URENCO in the 1970s, to three countries: Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Iran got thousands of centrifuges used to separate the lighter U235 isotope from the heavier and more common U238 isotope in order to enrich uranium, ostensibly for peaceful uses. Iran is presently subject to severe Western economic sanctions and is presently negotiating with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (P5 + 1) over the lifting of sanctions in exchange for Tehran limiting its enrichment activities. Libya gave up its military nuclear ambitions in 2003 following the American-British invasion of Iraq. That leaves just one country: North Korea.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

South Asian Politics: Dynastic Feuds

I have just finished reading Fatima Bhutto's reconstructed memoir of her father Mir Murtaza Bhutto, Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter's Memoir, published in 2010 by Nation Books. I read the book because I wanted to read what she had written about her grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was prime minister of Pakistan from late December 1971 until July 1977 when he was overthrown in a coup d'etat by General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. I also wanted to see what she wrote about her aunt, Benazir Bhutto, who was prime minister from December 1988 until  November 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996 and who was assassinated while campaigning for a third term in December 2007. I had earlier read Benazir's own memoir, Daughter of Destiny aka Daughter of the East. I was disappointed because this contained little about her father's term in office or his personality. I am still disappointed.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Strategic Triangle of the Middle East: America, American Jewry and Israel

Adam Garfinkle has a very good piece in Tablet Magazine about the the changing dynamics among Washington, Jerusalem, and American Jewry. He attributes it to changing demographics among both American Jewry and Israeli Jews as well as to the increased power of Israel. From 1948 until 1977 the Israeli leadership and the leadership of American Jews both sprang from Eastern Europe: from the Jewish ghettoes in the major cities and the shetls of the former Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. American Jews could interpret Israel to Washington and Washington to Israel. 
But this became less important over time as goyim, like myself, formed direct impressions of Israel through study abroad programs and more Israelis began to arrive in the United States as either diplomats, yordim (emigres), or military officers. In 1967 Israel demonstrated its value as a strategic asset by not just beating the Arabs as in 1948, or trouncing a single Arab state as in 1956, but in demolishing three Arab armies simultaneously. Then a decade later Oriental Jews began to move into power through the victory of the Likud. The Likud had different values from many American Jews: it was not social democratic, it was annexationist, and even more than Labor it was dependent on the support of religious Zionists and ultra-Orthodox who rejected the Jewish bona fides of much of the American Jewish community i.e. all non-Orthodox denominations.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Comparing Dynasties: India and Pakistan

It was said in defense of the existence of the Nehru-Gandhi ruling dynasty of the Congress Party in India that political dynasties were common throughout South Asia. This is certainly true in India where politics in the Indian states are usually a family affair with the party founder usually passing on control either to a son or daughter or, if a suitable heir is not available in his immediate family, to a nephew or niece. 

While there are many political dynasties in America with most states possessing at least one, the most successful at the national level has been the Bush family of Connecticut, which has had three generations of politicians in Washington at the senior level starting with Senator Prescott Bush and ending with President George W. Bush, whose younger brother Jeb was also governor of Florida. The Kennedys of Boston, Massachusetts have had three generations but there was a major upgrade from the first to second generation and then a major downgrade to the third generation. Joseph Kennedy was ambassador to London in the late 1930s but ended his political career early when he fell afoul of President Roosevelt and was judged to be a Nazi sympathizer. But three of Joe's sons did quite well: John F. was president from 1961 to 1963, when he was assassinated in Dallas; Robert F. was attorney general under his brother, senator from New York and then the leading contender for the Democratic nomination before he was in turn murdered in June 1968; and Edward M. was one of the longest serving senators in the Senate from 1962 until his death. But the next generation has produced a representative, Patrick, and nothing higher. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

A New Wave of Right-Wing Legislation in Israel?

The 972 website carried this story about a new Knesset bill that has made it through the first step to becoming law by winning a majority vote in the respective committee. The bill would require a supermajority of 80 MKs in favor to give up any part of Jerusalem. Some opponents of the bill have pointed out two absurdities of this in legal terms. First, it negates the Government Basic Law, which with other basic laws passed by the Knesset forms a rudimentary constitution for Israel, which assigns to the government all power over foreign policy. Second, it allows a simple majority to require a supermajority to undo it. For this reason it is doubtful that the bill will pass constitutional muster when it comes before the Israeli Supreme Court (Bagetz) as it undoubtedly will if passed.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Is Gerry Adams in Trouble?

For those few of us foreigners outside of the British Isles and the American Northeast who pay attention to Northern Ireland, this has been an interesting two weeks. The president of Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the IRA, Gerry Adam's, brother was recently convicted of rape of his daughter when she was a small child. Gerry Adams is being faulted by the media not for being the brother of a convicted child molester but for failing to report his brother Liam to the police or at least keep him away from working with young children and for then lying about this to the public, the media, and the authorities.

When Liam Adam's faults first became public knowledge back in 2009 when his daughter Aisne lodged a complaint with the Police Service of Northern Ireland against him, Sunday Tribune Ireland editor Suzanne Breen exposed Gerry Adam's version of events as a pack of lies. She found photos of the two brothers together at public events after Gerry claimed that he had shunned his brother. At Liam Adam's first trial Gerry testified and he was not called to testify again at the second trial because his testimony was considered to be so unreliable.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Indian Democracy: A Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

Back in the 1980s I did not believe that India was a real democracy. I remember explaining to a family friend who is Indian that no country that has been ruled by a single family for 90 percent of the time since independence can be democratic. It was really an elected monarchy. She mentioned the Kennedy family (and later she could have mentioned the Bushes as well). I simply pointed out that the Kennedys had held the presidency for a total of less than three years. When one adds the widespread corruption in Indian politics and the widespread sectarian pogroms that broke out in 1947, in 1984, and in 2002 one can make a very good case that India is not really a democracy by Western standards. But is this fair to India? After all, India is not located either culturally or geographically in the West but in South Asia. So let's examine what the standards for governance are in the region.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Haass Talks in Northern Ireland Begin

This week former George W. Bush administration special envoy to Northern Ireland Richard Haass began what is slated to be twelve weeks of intermittent consultations with the five parties in Northern Ireland's Executive. The talks will be conducted in rounds with Haass flying in to Belfast from New York several times a month to conduct them. The talks will focus on three key stumbling blocks to progress in the peace process: parades, flags and emblems, and dealing with the past. 

As part of the Northern Ireland peace process in the late 1990s a quango (quasi non-governmental organization--a body financed by the government but with independence like an NGO) known as the Parades Commission was created to deal with the problem of parades regulation during the marching season. Every year it receives requests for parade permits stating the date, time, route, and details of a proposed parade. Local residents along the parade route are free to submit objections and the Parades Commission then makes a ruling. Only a few parades in Northern Ireland--those involving Protestants marching through Catholic areas--are controversial. At present these are mainly in North Belfast, which is an area of alternating nationalist and unionist neighborhoods criss-crossed with peace walls in order to protect the residents from missiles from the other side. The Orange Order has refused to hold dialogues with residents' groups contending that its members have an absolute right to march on the "Queen's highway." Since the mid-1990s when the controversies were at their height over the Drumcree Church march outside of Portadown in north Co. Armagh, in the Lower Ormeau area of South Belfast, and in Derry in Co. Londonderry, the number of controversial parades has been gradually reduced.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Syrian Deal?

Neo-Conservative, Conservative, and liberal interventionist commentators have been greeting the negotiations with Russia with Cold War attitudes. They act as if Obama traded in a sure chance to topple the Assad regime or to effectively deter any use of chemical weapons for a questionable joint effort with a former-KGB officer. Yes, Putin is a very shady character. But Putin does have some incentive to actually deliver. If he managed to disarm Assad of most of his chemical weapons he would gain status for himself internationally. He would gain Obama's gratitude as well as that of Assad and Iran. This is not the first time the United States has cooperated in the Mideast with the Russians. In the Soviet era the two superpowers co-hosted two peace conferences on the Arab-Israeli conflict, one in December 1973 and one in October 1991. The first was used by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to set up his shuttle diplomacy in the region the following year that moved Egypt from the Soviet camp to the American camp. But the Soviets were so eager for recognition of their status as a superpower from Washington that they did not notice what was happening. The second was taking place as the Soviet Union was unraveling and the Soviet diplomats looked like they had other things on their mind.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Which weapons are illegal?

As I have noted in previous posts, I think that intervening in the Syrian civil war is a bad idea. This is for several reasons but chiefly because no American interest is at stake. No vital economic resource is at stake; no ally is being threatened; there is not even genocide being committed in Syria. As a result of this the Obama administration is reduced to arguing for retaliation to defend the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1925, which Syria is not even a party to. This would be like attacking India or Pakistan or, God forbid!, Israel for violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 that they are not signatories to.

Let's look at chemical weapons and why they were banned. They were first used in World War I by the Germans in April 1915 on a large scale, although the French might have used chemical grenades before then in the war. The Allies quickly developed their own chemical weapons--blister agents designed to burn the skin and tissues upon contact. Both sides experimented with various blister agents (mustard gas, chlorine, phosgene) and improved the effectiveness of the weapons. But simple gases masks rendered the blister agents much less deadly than conventional artillery. By 1918 chemical shells were almost half of the shells fired at the start of both the German spring offensive in March-April and the Allied offensive in July-August. But despite this chemical weapons accounted for only two percent of total casualties in the war and one percent of total deaths. Conventional artillery accounted for over three-quarters of all battlefield deaths with machine-guns accounted for the majority of the remainder. Britain suffered less than 6,000 combat deaths due to chemical weapons.  This was compared to over 180,000 total British casualties due to chemical weapons. Chemical weapons were mainly a psychological weapon meant to induce fear and a means of denying space to the enemy because of their persistence. It was like sowing a minefield by artillery and particularly useful in taking out the enemy's artillery at the start of an offensive. But because of shifting winds the use of chemical weapons could easily backfire on the army employing them.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Why Obama Went to Congress

Republicans and other critics of the president have alleged that Obama went to Congress with the decision on whether or not to punish Syria for the use of chemical weapons because his hand was weak and he sensed eminent defeat. I contend that it is not as simple as that. When it comes to foreign policy Obama is a multilateralist--he does not hold with unilateralism, particularly in the use of military force, and he is not a believer in American exceptionalism. As both Russia and China were likely to veto an authorization for the use of force in the UN Security Council, Obama was left with two possible venues for multilateral action: NATO and the Arab League. NATO provided the authorization and the force for the campaign against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999. But Kosovo is in Europe not the Middle East. NATO's Atlantic Treaty covers Europe and the North Atlantic region between North America and Europe--it does not cover the Middle East. 

This left the Arab League, the organization that provided the authorization for Western force against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. Then it was individual NATO countries, primarily France, Britain and the United States, that provided the outside force in the form of air cover for the opposition rebels. But the Arabs are divided about Syria and wary of providing a precedent for Western intervention in Arab internal affairs. Libya was an exception, because Gaddafi had made so many enemies in the Arab world over the decades. And even if the Arab League were to vote to authorize force against the Assad regime, the vote in the British parliament not to authorize such force would have left the United States alone with France to provide it. While physically the United States Navy is capable of firing enough cruise missiles on its own that it does not need assistance from France or even the U.S. Air Force, more political backing from Western allies would be useful.

So Obama has decided to hold a debate on the issue in Congress. This will give him a chance to make his case not just to the Congress but also to his allies. He can wait until the UN inspectors have issued their report and present his evidence to Congress. If, and this is a big if at present, he wins authorization from Congress, he will be in a better position to request it from his European allies and possibly David Cameron could even request a second vote in the House of Commons. If not, Obama can then deflect the blame to Congress.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Red Lines and Credibility

Why would Bashar al-Assad use chemical weapons in defiance of clear threats by President Obama to intervene if he did so?

Dictators are often prone to taking risks: this is because they are generally invulnerable at home because of their security measures and repression. They are also surrounded by yes men who give them bad advice by anticipating what they think the dictator wants to hear and then saying it. Because of the dictator's paranoid tendencies in some cases, this is a natural survival strategy on the part of his advisers. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

India's Navy: New Ships and Challenges

India has long aspired to be a competitor with China. Both countries are the proud bearers of ancient civilizations that have influenced the countries around them and both competed during the Cold War to present different models of development to the non-aligned countries. India was originally supportive of China's new revolutionary government. So it felt betrayed when Chinese forced suddenly attacked Indian military posts without warning in the icy wastelands of the Himilayas in the area between India and Tibet in October 1962. After delivering a sharp blow to India's prestige, the Chinese withdrew and even returned some of the Indian artillery tubes that they had captured. But since then India has felt that China, as much as Pakistan, is her regional enemy. 

The Indian-Chinese rivalry has shaped not only the development of India's nuclear deterrent force, but the development of India's navy as well. Under the British Raj, the Indian navy was just basically a coast guard meant to protect India's coasts and not project power. But since her independence that has changed dramatically. The Indian navy came of age during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 when Indian missile boats fired Styx missiles at Pakistani oil tanks at Kerachi on Pakistan's Indian Ocean coast. A  Pakistani submarine also sank an Indian frigate--the first ship sunk by a submarine since the Second World War and only one of two sunk since 1945. Before and since the Pakistan Navy has concentrated on its submarine arm and on aerial reconnaissance missions.  Indian naval aircraft flying off of India's sole carrier provided air cover for operations in East Pakistan, which became independent Bangladesh as a result of the war. 

Today India's navy is growing to maturity as a force meant to safeguard the sea lanes of communication across the Indian Ocean from East Africa to South East Asia. This is at the same time that China is developing a blue-water navy to project power and enforce China's territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea. It is in the latter sea that the two navies would be most likely to clash in any likely confrontation, possibly driven by a future Indo-Pakistani war in which China intervenes on behalf of its regional ally or in a clash between China and a South East Asian ally of India. 

In August the Indian navy demonstrated both its strengths and weaknesses by launching its first indigenous aircraft carrier--its second carrier over all--and by suffering an explosion on board one of its Russian Kilo-class diesel submarines that sank it. It was not clear yet what caused the explosion. At the same time the nuclear reactor on India's first indigenous nuclear submarine went critical.

India, although capable of designing and building very advanced naval ships, is still forced to send its submarine fleet overseas to Russia for servicing and periodic upgrades to weaponry. The submarine that suffered the explosion also suffered problems while returning to India after refitting and had to be towed into port by the Egyptian navy for repairs there.  As a result of all this, the Chinese media has been ridiculing the Indian Naval Service in an obvious propaganda exercise in its state-controlled media. Once upon a time the term "paper tiger" was reserved exclusively for the United States. Next the Chinese will be referring to the Indians as the "running dogs of imperialism." But if the Indian navy is so weak why bother to ridicule it? It may be that China actually fears India's navy and its potential in confrontation. What is clear is that the INS now dwarfs the Royal Navy of India's former colonial master.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

South Asian Nuclear Triangle

Toby Dalton at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace's Nuclear Policy Program recently wrote a piece that was reprinted in the Proliferation News email newsletter put out by the Endowment's Global Think Tank.  The gist of the article was that whereas most analysts and policy makers dealing with South Asia though in terms of an Indian-Pakistani dyad and an Indian-Chinese dyad it make much more sense to think in terms of an Indian-Pakistani-Chinese triad in which each country had a relationship with the other two that affected both of them. He wrote that China had a much closer connection to Pakistan's nuclear development than many people realized.

By chance I just finished reading a 2000 report from the RAND Corp. on India's nuclear options. This 700 plus page report by analyst Ashley Tellis, India's Emerging Nuclear Posture, in very clear readable English spelled out the likely doctrine, size, and policy options for India in the decades ahead regarding her nuclear options.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Foreign Geopolitical Interests in the Korean Peninsula

The key to finding a solution to the Korean standoff, or to knowing if there even is one, is knowing the interests of the various players. Suffice it to say that both Koreas would like to absorb the other one and emerge with a unified Korea under its regime. But there are many outside powers in northeast Asia that have interests as well. Traditionally the three most powerful countries in East Asia in modern times have been Japan, China, and Russia. China and Russia are fated to live bordering one another, but Korea separates the two from Japan. This is why when Japan became an imperialist power in the early twentieth century Korea was the second country it colonized, after Taiwan. This gave it an invasion route into Manchuria and also prevented Russia or any other country from invading Japan via Korea. 

Once Japan lost World War II and renounced aggressive war, it still had an interest in having friendly or weak powers in the peninsula. Thus the American occupation of South Korea was ideal from a Japanese perspective. Japan would probably, however, just as soon see Korea divided and preoccupied rather than allowing it to become the vigorous economic competitor that the South has become. So, from the Japanese perspective a divided Korea would be ideal. The particular peculiar nature of the North Korean regime, however, provides a danger to Japan. It has aggressively and provocatively fired missiles towards Japan, made threats against Japan, and kidnapped Japanese citizens for the purpose of forcing them to become Japanese language teachers in North Korea for spies and defense personnel. If North Korea could refrain from this type of provocative action, it would cease to be a threat. But this type of action seems to be endemic to the regime.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

India: Making the Most of a Tough Geopolitical Position

So, now that I've discussed China and Japan, let me deal with the third major power in the Asian balance-of-power system--India. India has features of three of the great powers of the classical European 19th-20th century system. India today is a country divided between a backward, rural agrarian economy and a modern urban economy based on industry, services, and high-tech. In this it resembles China, but it is not as far along as China began her economic liberalization a full decade before India did. India thus resembles in this aspect Russia in the late 19th and early 20th century say from 1890 to 1917. But unlike Tsarist Russia, India is a democracy and a mature one at that--thus resembling the French Third Republic in this aspect. But in her difficult geopolitical position between Pakistan and China, both on her northern borders, India resembles Germany from 1870 to 1945 and Poland from 1919 to 1939.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Japan as the New (Pre-1914) France

In a previous post, I argued that India could be compared to France when comparing the present Asian balance-of-power system with the classical 19th century European system. Former Economist Asian editor Bill Emmott argued in his book Rivals that the present and near-future Asian system consists of three Asian great powers: China, Japan and India. One could then add two Pacific powers to the mix: Australia and the United States. It has now become normal to compare China to Wilhemine Germany and the U.S. to the late 19th century and early 20th century Great Britain. Australia could best be compared to the United States during the early 20th century--a possible future replacement for Britain down the road and an ally in the meantime. This leaves us with Japan and India to compare.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Do EU Clarifications on Israeli border threaten negotiations?

It was announced earlier this week that the European Union would officially not fund any projects in Israel involving input from over the green line (1949 armistice lines). The Israeli government, predictably, denounced this as evidence of European anti-semitism reminiscent of the Holocaust era. In reality instead of discriminating against Israel, it treats Israel like any other country by making clear that the EU recognized UN Security Council Resolution 242 and international law as well as decades of American government policy towards the border. Labor MK Yitzhak Hertzog said that it was a de facto boycott. In reality it is like the limited boycott that American Orthodox Jew and liberal Zionist Peter Beinart has promised as a means of pressure towards implementing a two-state solution. Here for an argument that the new guidelines are anti-semitic.

Some Israeli commentators have said that this will imperil the present American attempt to restart negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. But aren't these negotiations already endangered by the composition of the Israeli composition? Or by the failure of Prime Minister Netanyahu to expel Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon for stating that the two-state solution was not government policy and that the coalition would vote against it if it came to a vote?  Or by statements by Housing Minister Naftali Bennett that the Palestinians are like a piece of shrapnel in the ass? Here diplomatic correspondent Chemi Shalev of Ha'Aretz makes the case that it will actually strengthen Kerry's mission. And here is a Jerusalem Post editorial arguing that it is out of touch with reality. While here is 972's take on it. And here is the Lebanese Daily Star's take on it. And a rather revisionist take it is, by stating that we are back where we were 46 years ago this overlooks the Khartoum summit resolutions--the three no's--and the subsequent Arab rejectionism that continued until after the time of Sadat.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

China: Germany or Italy?

In recent years as China has begun to emerge as a rising naval power in both the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, there have been many comparisons between Germany between 1898 and 1914 and China. Henry Kissinger made this comparison in his latest book, On China, but noted that unlike in Europe in the early 20th century it did not have to end in disaster. In this comparison the United States is naturally cast in the role of Great Britain--the satiated status quo power and major naval power. Presumably India can be cast as France, the lesser naval power and continental power that has been a past rival to Great Britain but is now available as an ally.

In the 19th century/early 20th century European balance-of-power system half of the powers, all located in Eastern or Central Europe, were weak states on their way down: Russia, Austro-Hungary, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and Italy. The Ottoman Empire had been "the sick man of Europe" for three-quarters of a century as it lost its European colonies in the Balkans (much like Spain in North America in the 19th century) and would furnish the battleground and casus belli for the start of the First World War. It lost Greece and Serbia in the 1820s, Bulgaria in the 1870s, Bosnia in 1908, and Albania in 1912. Russia was full of national minorities and had suffered from a failed revolution in 1905 as a result of its humiliating defeat to Japan in the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. Austo-Hungary suffered from the fact that both the Austrians and the Hungarians were minorities in their respective portions of the Empire and the conservative Magyar landed interests were opposed to turning the dual monarchy into a triple monarchy by sharing power with the Slavs who made up a majority of the Empire's subjects.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sinn Fein and the Border Poll

Under the Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland must conduct a border poll of the population about entering a united Ireland whenever there is sufficient demand for one, but with a maximum of one every seven years. Sinn Fein is now agitating for a border poll. This would, on the face of it, seem a rather strange time to do so as the economy in the Republic is still reeling from the 2010 collapse (caused by a property bubble similar to the one that caused the 2008 recession in the U.S.) and few Catholics in the North are interested in joining a failed economic system at the moment. Indications are that only about half of nationalists, or about a quarter of the population over all would vote for unification. But as Basil McCrea lets on here in a speech to the SF Summer School in Belfast, this might be smart politics for the party. By setting the bar low, any future gains can be looked upon and sold as major achievements and hopefully have a snowball effect.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Egypt's Military: The Kingmaker

On Sunday the Egyptian military made an ultimatum that President Morsi and his opponents--mostly liberal pro-democracy and old regime types--had 48 hours to agree on a way forward or the army would intervene. Here is a link to a video from PBS Newshour on that development. This follows on a massive rally held in Tahrir Square in Cairo held by anti-Islamist protesters who want to claw back some of the power that President Morsi has taken for himself.

Developments in Egypt parallel developments in Iran in 1979 in some respects. Then there was a broad revolutionary spectrum composed of Marxists, nationalists, liberals, and Islamists that all banded together to overthrow the monarchist regime. Once the Shah left the country and power was given to the revolution the coalition began to collapse. For the first year moderate nationalists ruled and the force behind the Islamists, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers in the clergy, moved to radicalize the revolution and provoke a confrontation with the West by seizing control of the American Embassy in Tehran. The Islamists drew their support from the rural poor who had been migrating to Tehran and living in poor neighborhoods during the Shah's reign. Khomeini promised them sharia, dignity, and economic improvement. The Islamists benefited from a clandestine network that they had used and built over 15 years of opposition to the Shah. Moderates were purged from the revolutionary committees (komitehs) and the government found itself controlling less and less, as in the days of the Russian Revolution. The komitehs were the equivalent of the Russian soviets or soldiers' and workers' councils.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Iran's New President

Iran held a presidential election last weekend to replace outgoing incumbent Mahmoud Ahmedinajad. Here Ian Bremmer explains why this is not all that dramatic a change. Basically, as I explained to people several years when all the excitement began over Iran's nuclear potential and Ahmedinajad, the presidency is largely a ceremonial position in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The real power is invested in the Supreme Leader. There have only been two so far in the Republic's history: founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his handpicked successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

In the presidential elections the Supreme Leader and his cronies on the leadership council first vet the candidates and eliminate all who are considered not reliable enough. Imagine in the United States if first Ronald Reagan and then Dick Cheney determined who could run as presidential candidates in the Republican primaries and there were no Democratic Party. That is what Iran is like! 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon Reveals the Truth

This week Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon told the Times of Israel that the ruling coalition was opposed to the two-state solution and would vote against it if it ever came up as a government proposal. This is important because in June 2009 in a speech at Bar Ilan University, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Likud leader to officially embrace the two-state solution. He made it conditional, however, upon the Palestinians officially recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which Danon said Netanyahu knew they would never do. If they did accept this he would come up with a new condition.  Here is a Jerusalem Post editorial on the confusion.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

NI21: Northern Ireland's Newest Party

Last Thursday June 6, John McCallister and Basil McCrea finally officially launched their new political party with the name of NI21, meaning Northern Ireland for the 21st century. The crowd at the launching Thursday night was mostly young and seemed to indicate that the party was going to grow by going after new voters and those who had never voted in the past or had stopped voting. The party has already declared itself to be pro-Union i.e. favoring Northern Ireland's continued status as a province of the United Kingdom. This means that it is not appealing to nationalists--those supporting a united Ireland--but like Alliance is seeking the vote of Catholics who want a non-sectarian Northern Ireland. The biggest challenge will be to motivate those known as "garden center Unionists" or "garden center Prods" because they spend their leisure time gardening rather than worrying about the security of the Union, to vote. The last time many of this crowd voted was in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement in May 1998. NI21 hopes to do this by playing up the need for an official opposition at Stormont to serve as a watchdog on the Executive.

I'm still going with my earlier prediction that McCrea will be reelected in the next election and McCallister will not be, freeing him up to become the political manager of the new party.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Secretary Kerry and the Middle East

The Middle East has been the one region outside of Western Europe that American foreign policy and secretaries of state have been involved with since the Eisenhower administration. Sure, other regions have occupied the attention of Washington for an administration or even a decade or two: South East Asia from 1954 to 1975; Latin America and the Caribbean in the Kennedy administration, early Johnson administration and then again Central America during the Carter and Reagan administrations; Southern Africa from 1976 to 1989; and the Balkans in the 1990s. Now the Korean peninsula is a region of concern. But continuously throughout this period the Middle East has been of importance: as an arena for containment of the Soviet Union through regional alliances in the Eisenhower administration; mediating the Arab-Israeli conflict to reconcile contradictory national interests in the region from the Nixon administration through end of the second Bush administration; spreading democracy in the Bush administration and Obama administration. 

The situation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is such that peace is not available in the near term. The Palestinians are divided between Hamas and Fatah, and so Fatah functions under the restraining influence of Hamas and cannot drastically modify its positions until Hamas is neutralized. This can be done either through defeat or merger. But merger or a national unity government is likely to be at the expense of any moderate tendencies in Fatah. In Israel the Center-Left is too weak to form a government without input from parties that are ideologically opposed to the two-state solution. Thus, we are left with the two parties to the conflict being dominated by political parties that are ideologically opposed to the two-state solution--or at least on terms that the other side can accept. This leaves Secretary of State John Kerry with solving the civil war in Syria as his main chance to make a mark in the region.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Special Advisors and Political Advice: Problems of the SDLP

The last week has seen a number of problems with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Northern Ireland's moderate nationalist party that was opposed to the use of violence during The Troubles, largely of its own making. The Traditional Unionist Voice's sole Assembly member and leader Jim Allister proposed a bill to make it illegal for a party to appoint a special advisor who has a criminal record for an offense for which the penalty is five years or more in prison. This was in order to eliminate Mary McArdle, who was the sole person convicted in the murder of Mary Travers, the daughter of Northern Ireland judge, who was murdered during an attempt to murder the judge and his family after they left mass.

Sinn Fein wanted to file a motion of special concern against the bill, for which it needs 30 out of 108 MLAs. Sinn Fein has 29 MLAs, just one short of the total needed. But with all of the unionist parties supporting the bill, and with Alliance and the Green Party unwilling to side with Sinn Fein despite reservations about the bill, it looks like Sinn Fein will lose. But will it really lose? Since the start of The Troubles the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein--first as the publicity bureau of the IRA and then as its political wing--have been engaged in a process of ethnic outbidding as Duke University Law School Professor Donald Horowitz has labeled the process. The two each use the threat of the other to lure voters away from more moderate parties within their respective communities. For the nationalists the threat is seen as the return to the bad days of Stormont when the nationalists were second-class citizens discriminated against in employment, housing, and the franchise. For the unionists the threat is seen as both republican terrorism and a united Ireland in which they will be the minority. On the Northern Ireland/British isles blog Slugger O'Toole Sinn Fein supporters are already spinning this as discrimination against the nationalist community because it only applies to Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein is already spinning it as such.  No one enquires as to why the unionist parties do not appoint former terrorists as candidates or special advisors.

Ann Travers, the surviving sister of Mary Travers, has been an advocate of victims' rights and a natural candidate for Jim Allister because she is Catholic. When former Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, who was also deputy leader of the SDLP under John Hume, came out of retirement to criticize his party for doing something that would be so offensive to unionists his party did an about turn. Sinn Fein will not get its bill and, if this bill is applied retroactively, Ms. McArdle will simply be appointed to another position within the party and a new special advisor will share his or her salary with the party. But Sinn Fein will have another issue with which to attack their nationalist rivals whom they regard as collaborators with the British.

It is about time that the SDLP's leadership got together and decided on a strategy for the party based on its natural electoral base: traditional Catholics who follow the lead of the Church hierarchy, middle class professionals, and nationalist democrats who oppose a party with a fascist ideology serving as the ruling party in the province. It must decide how to bridge the contradictions among these groups and how to attract new supporters. If it does not the middle class nationalists will either drift away to Alliance, Sinn Fein, or their Protestant equivalents in the "garden center party" of non-voters.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fate of Northern Ireland's New Pro-Union Party

Back in March I had a post about a new party being formed by two defectors from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Basil McCrea and John MacCallister, who had left the UUP over its decision to support an agreed unionist candidate in the mid-Ulster by-election. In May the party had its formal launch, but it still has yet to come up with a name for itself. Its main niche marketing distinction is that it advertises itself to be "pro-Union" rather than unionist, thus hoping to position itself somewhere between Alliance, which is agnostic or neutral on the border question, and the UUP. 

The Northern Ireland/British Isles blog Slugger O'Toole did a post on the launch of the party. The consensus on the thread was that in the next election McCrea would be reelected but MacCallister would lose to a UUP or DUP candidate. This in because McCrea seems to have a strong personal following in his constituency, whereas MacCallister was elected on the strength of the UUP as a party and will now lose to the party's replacement nominee. This will make the new party a one-man affair like Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). The TUV represents the old DUP under Paisley before he did a 180 and entered into the Executive with Sinn Fein. The PUP represents a socialist unionism aimed at the loyalist working class. It is also vaguely connected with the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) paramilitary organization out of which many of its representatives and leadership emerged, such as the late David Ervine and present leader Billy Hutchinson. Can the new party under McCrea find enough of a niche to survive?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Moscow Wants in Syria

There is a general consensus among Russian watchers that in many ways the Putin regime is a watered-down version of the Soviet regime. Here is Nikita Khrushchev's gread-granddaughter making just such a comparison about the show trials in Putin's Russia and those in the Soviet era of her ancestor. It allows for elections, but the electronic media that ordinary people use to evaluate the candidates and parties remain firmly in the hands of the ruling party. The regime is basically staffed by the siluviki --those from an intelligence services or Soviet Communist Party background during the Soviet era. But what about Russian foreign policy?

During the Soviet period the Soviet Union was one large ideological empire with three different levels. First, was the core--the old Russian Empire minus Finland and Poland and the Baltic States rechristened the Soviet Union in 1922. In 1939-40 with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939 the Soviet Union reabsorbed the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) and part of eastern Finland and eastern Poland. Second, in 1944-45 as a result of the victory over Nazi Germany the Soviet Union reabsorbed the Baltic States (lost in 1941) and took over what eventually became the Warsaw Pact: Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. The third level consisted of all of those overseas ideological allies that were deemed to be Communist or merely socialist or even just anti-Western.

Monday, May 20, 2013

No Water Brought the Spring to Syria

New York Times columnist and former Middle East reporter Tom Friedman had a fascinating article in this Sunday's paper. He basically argued that it was the incompetence of the crony/Mafia Ba'athist regime in Syria that led to the Arab Spring uprising there in the spring of 2011. But it had some help from Mother Nature. By letting rich supporters of the ruling party overuse the water table to irrigate their farms, the water level was lowered enough to make farming impossible for the class of ordinary peasant fellahin (farmers). These had in any case greatly increased in number due to improved health care that reduced infant mortality. So this caused a major migration from the countryside to the cities and the regime did not supply any basic services to deal with the migration. Suddenly these farmers were turned into day laborers being paid a pittance just to keep from starving and with no education and no real housing. This made Syria a tinderbox ripe for revolution. And rather than trying to dampen the kindling, Bashar Assad fanned the sparks by firing on the protesters in the city of Dera'a in southern Syria. With climate change expect many more of these types of connections in the upcoming decades.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Beginning of the End in Syria?

There are signs that the Assad regime is caring out ethnic cleansing in the coastal area between Tartus and Latakia, Syria.  According to Syria specialist Joshua Landis this is strategic ethnic cleansing similar in purpose to that carried out by Israelis against Palestinians in 1948. But I contend that Israeli ethnic cleansing was carrying over a European norm from World War II, where only two years before massive ethnic cleansing was carried out by Central Europeans against Germans as revenge and protection against future depredations by German aggressors. The Jews thought that they were protecting themselves against future Palestinian attempts to snuff out the newborn state. Thus, ethnic cleansing in 1948 was not only defensive in nature but conformed with contemporary European, if not quite Western, norms. 

But others suggest that the Assad regime is now winning the war. There has been a shift in power in recent weeks away from the rebels in favor of the regime. Since the start of the war, massacres of rebel-leaning populations or suspected rebel-supporting populations have been the norm. Bashar al-Assad, like Saddam Hussein, is like a Mafia don who uses violence to intimidate. Even as the tide of war seems to turn in his favor, he is making contingency plans for the event that power shifts again. He is preparing alternative scenarios: remain in power in Damascus or create a statelet on the Alawite coast of the Mediterranean.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Intervention in Syria?

The op-ed columns of the quality newspapers have been full of columns arguing for and against American intervention in Syria over the last several months. I have yet to see an argument that explains credibly how it would be in the American national interest to intervene in Syria. This lack of logic is pointed out in a piece from The Nation, which I normally do not find myself in agreement with. Most that attempt this sort of argument explain that we need to intervene in order to buy influence at the bargaining table. They claim that the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs who are now backing the opposition in Syria are not interested in democracy and human rights. This is true. But anyone who knows Islamists or even ordinary Muslims knows that they are like those pious Christians who ignore all the direct causes of anything that happens and attribute it all to God. If Washington gave arms to the Free Syrian Army or another outfit, the group would be happy to claim credit for Allah. Washington would be only a conduit. Is it really necessary to be grateful to a mere conduit?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Yakhimovich admits that her stand cost Labor Party seats

972 blogger Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf had a short item about Israeli Labor Party leader Shelli Yakhimovich telling party activists that her refusal to campaign on the Palestinian issue (or the diplomatic issue as she puts it) cost the party four seats in the January 22, 2013 election. She assigned these four as two to Meretz and two to Tzipi Livni's haTnua (the Movement) party. Why did she make this admission and is it true?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Loyalist paramilitaries demonstrate their strength

East Belfast witnessed on Saturday a parade by some 10,000 commemorators of the centenary of the founding of the original Ulster Volunteer Force in 1913. Over thirty flute, fife and drum bands marched in the parade along with those in period costumes dressed as soldiers and nurses of the UVF. This is part of the centenary decade of commemorations dealing with the creation of Northern Ireland as a province within the United Kingdom separate from the rest of Ireland. At the ceremony the granddaughter of James Craig aka Lord Craigavon, the first prime minister of Northern Ireland, spoke as did Billy Hutchinson, a former double-murderer, loyalist prisoner and present leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, which has a single member in the Assembly. Click here and here for stories on the parade. The parade seems to have been also intended as a show of force by the modern-day Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a terrorist group founded in 1966 and the main loyalist paramilitary organization during The Troubles.

Friday, April 19, 2013

European Union Taking a Stand in the Middle East?

In my most recently published book, When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East, which was published in 2010 by McFarland Publishing of Jefferson, NC, I stated that the dual mediation used in Northern Ireland by London and Dublin would be a good model for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other ethnic conflicts. I wrote that the two partners in the Middle East should be Washington and Brussels (EU), as each had good connections and bias towards one of the parties in the conflict and yet very good relations with each other. This is the Northern Ireland model. It was reported in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv (in Hebrew) that EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton received a letter from 19 distinguished European statesmen and politicians including one former president (female), four former prime ministers and seven former foreign ministers calling on her to assert a more active role for the EU in mediation of the conflict challenging the traditional solo role of Washington and also criticizing the way Israeli settlement has been allowed to perpetuate the occupation.  Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf discusses the letter on his joint blog, 972. He reproduces the text of the letter and the names of the signators. The most prominent are probably: Miguel Moratinos, the former EU representative to the Oslo talks and former foreign minister of Spain; Giullio Amatto, the former prime minister of Italy; and John Bruton, the former prime minister (taoiseach) of Ireland during the Northern Ireland peace process of the 1990s.  Bruton was in office (1994-97) when the peace process was frozen because the IRA had broken its ceasefire over the decommissioning issue.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

For Obama's Second Term Israel Policy Read Peter Beinart

Those wondering what Obama's policy towards Israel will probably be in his second term should read Peter Beinart's 2012 Jewish bestseller The Crisis of Zionism. Although the subject of the book is the crisis within American Judaism (emptiness of communal life) and in Israel (loss of democracy and the occupation) he does devote a full three chapters out of ten total to Obama. The first of these is entitled "The Jewish President," and in it Beinart attempts to do for our first actual black president what black novelist Toni Morrison famously did for Clinton when she declared him "America's first black president." Beinart argues that Obama as an adult was most influenced by his association with Jews in Chicago, most of whom were either liberal or radical and critical of Israel. But as a candidate Obama was a cautious politician who picked Jewish advisors more for their reputation with the Jewish community than for their academic or policy credentials. This is why he replaced Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer with Ambassador Dennis Ross as his main advisor on Israel and the peace process during the 2008 campaign and for his first term. Beinart ends the chapter with a quote from one of Obama's key Jewish influences, Rabbi Arnold Wolf, "He's going to go very cautiously and not do anything that shakes up the Jewish community." That turned out to not be quite accurate.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Cost of Compromising in Democracies: Israel and the United States

Today I went to see the new Israeli documentary film, The Gatekeepers, about the reminisces of six former heads of the Israeli General Security Service, better known by its acronym as Shabak or Shin Bet (Sherut haBitakhon haKlali). The interviewer asked the six individuals a series of questions--some the same and some different for each individual--and then received the answers. The talking heads were interspersed with news footage, some of cars being tracked and destroyed by Israeli aircraft or buildings being hit by Israeli bombs and footage of the aftermath of bomb explosions. The film is in Hebrew with English subtitles and for those with a good grasp of Hebrew easy to follow without the subtitles

Monday, April 1, 2013

Dealing With the Axis of Evil

After Pakistan and India both acquired nuclear weapons in the 1990s, nuclear non-proliferation efforts focused on a trio of autarkic rogue states: Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. George W. Bush identified them famously as the "axis of evil" in his first State of the Union speech in January 2002. Bush was faced with the dilemma of choosing which of the three should he make an example of in order to encourage the others to back away. Bush naturally enough chose the weakest of the three, Iraq, which had already been defeated a decade before in a war presided over by his father. In 1994 Clinton faced the task of deciding what to do about a North Korean regime that was bent on developing a nuclear weapons capability. Pentagon forecasters estimated that a war on  the Korean peninsula would cost up to one million lives including 100,000 Americans. Instead, Clinton decided upon a regime of arms control talks between the two Koreas, China, Japan, the U.S. and Russia. A scheme was developed to bribe Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for a South Korean civilian nuclear reactor, food aid and financial aid.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Obama's Jerusalem Speech: Just Another Pretty Speech?

It appears that Obama's trip to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan was very carefully prepared and scripted. In Israel Obama went to all the right places to both show his support for peace and to flatter the Israelis. In his Jerusalem speech to students he said many things to both flatter and reassure Israelis as well as to challenge them. In the beginning of the speech he sounded like a typical American politician trolling for Jewish votes (something that he has had much practice in during his many years in Chicago and twice running for the presidency). Later during the end part of the speech in which he spoke about Israel's technological achievements and the economic miracle that Israel could provide to the Middle East he sounded much like President Shimon Peres. If you had an actor read the text of the final part of the speech with a Polish accent you would swear it was Peres.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What Next for Obama with Israel?

As I write this, I imagine that due to the time difference the official activities of the second day of Obama's first official visit to Israel are over. The first day certainly seemed to go well. Obama got across the idea that he accepts that Israel has long roots in the area and that Israeli Jews are returned natives and not simply European settlers and their co-religionists from the region as most Arabs, Muslims, and those on the European and International Left seem to believe. For the record I believe that they are both--natives who through the circumstance of history were forced to return as settlers. Netanyahu has made nice and Israelis seem to be impressed.

So what happens now? The speeches and visit could be used for two different purposes. First, to smooth over relations with Jerusalem so as to better coordinate a response to Iranian nuclear activities and to the spillover from the Syrian civil war and other contingencies that may arise. Second, it could be used to down the road support a push for a renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process as J Street, most non-Orthodox American Jews, and the Israeli Left (Meretz, Hadash, part of Labor) wants. But then Obama will face the same obstacles that he faced in his first term--even worse. The Palestinians are still divided between Fatah and Hamas. The Likud still has a veto over the other parties in the coalition, but this time a powerful Jewish Home party is in the coalition along with a Yesh Atid that is largely agnostic on the peace issue and the Likud is farther to the Right than it was in Netanyahu's second government.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What Will Bibi and Barack Talk About?

When President Barack Obama flies to Israel next week for his first visit as president to the Jewish state, what will be on the agenda for discussions between him and Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu? The answer to that may well stem from the purpose of the trip. I contend that the trip is largely for domestic political reasons. After Obama made his famous Cairo speech in May 2009 many in Israel who supported a two-state solution urged him to come to Israel and speak directly to the Israelis. Many American Jews also urged the same. But during Obama's first term the timing never seemed right. First, he got into a spat with Netanyahu over the housing freeze and Bibi's refusal to renew it. Then the Arab Spring broke out in the winter of 2010. And by this time Obama had probably decided that he wasn't seriously going to press for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his first term and so he simply promised that he would do it if reelected. This was in the way of throwing a bone to liberal Jews in the Democratic Party who supported J Street and wanted Obama to press for a two-state solution. Meanwhile Obama tackled his real priorities of passing health care reform and financial regulation reform, ending the war in Iraq, and dealing with the escalating war in Afghanistan.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

New Israeli coalition appears Reformist

Today the news in Israel is that after 49 days of bargaining, the white smoke has gone up and a new coalition government has emerged. It consists of four parties: Likud Beitenu (31 seats), Yesh Atid (19), Jewish Home (14), and HaTnua (The Movement) (6). This gives it a ten seat majority so that it should be able to stand normal attrition levels for its lifetime if it can keep the three main parties in. Prime Minister Netanyahu managed to keep both the defense ministry and the foreign ministry for the Likud Beitenu. 

Here is a link to a list of the ministers in the new government.

Besides the day-to-day running of the country, the new coalition seems to have two main goals: integration of the ultra-Orthodox haredim into Israeli society and electoral reform. The first is to be accomplished by removing the exemptions from national or military service for all but 1800 ultra-Orthodox males and by requiring all schools, including the ultra-Orthodox schools, to have a core curriculum of English, science, and math so as to make the ultra-Orthodox employable in the secular world and hence not dependent on the religious parties for financial support.  Here is a view of the new coalition by veteran English-speaking Israeli journalist David Horovitz.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Alex Kane on the New Party

Veteran unionist political commentator Alex Kane, who is affiliated with the Ulster Unionists and writes a regular column for The Newsletter, seems to be tentatively predisposed towards the new Basil McCrea/John McCallister pro-Union party. In his latest column he raises some of the same issues that I raised in a previous post a week ago, but in a friendly manner. This was very different from the way he attacked Alliance in a previous column mocking its new motto of Alliance for Everyone. So he seems to be trying to run interference for the new party by making it plain that its main competitor, Alliance, is a party of the past that has failed. From the way he starts out the attack it is clear that he is attacking Alliance for not being clearly a unionist party. Maybe he thinks it should call itself the Alliance Unionist Party?  

The main question is for whom Kane was serving as an attack dog--for the new party or for his Ulster Unionists? That will only become clear over time as the party makes a formal launch and either operates in accordance with what Kane demands or goes on to disappoint him. But if he is going to mock Alliance's new campaign, maybe he should take another look at the name of his own party. The Ulster Unionists don't even have branches in three counties of Ulster--Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan--and are steadily losing members and support in the six counties that they do have branches in. Alliance for the first time in thirty-two years now has a member of parliament at Westminster while the UUP lacks one. And Alliance's leader is not the object of ridicule by the province's press.

Netanyahu Gets Two More Weeks to Form Coalition

On Saturday evening President Shimon Peres gave Prime Minister Netanyahu a two-week extension, after his initial month-long period for coalition formation had elapsed, in which to form a government. If Netanyahu, leader of the Likud Beitenu joint list of Likud and Israel Beitenu, is unable to form a government in this time Peres will either offer a chance to someone else or schedule new elections. The problem is that the number two and number three parties in size, Yesh Atid ("There is a future") and HaBeit HaYehudi (Jewish Home), have banded together and refused to enter any coalition that contains ultra-Orthodox or Haredi parties. This is because Yesh Atid ran on the platform of eliminating the religious exemption from national military service for Yeshiva (Jewish religious seminar) students, who also rely on financial aid extracted from the religious parties in coalition negotiations for their livelihood. Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett is also fine with eliminating this exemption as religious Zionists do serve in the Israeli army. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has emphasized the "equal burden" issue over other election issues.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What to call Basil's New Party?

Now that it has been officially announced that Basil McCrea and John McCallister, the two rebel former Ulster Unionists and former unsuccessful UUP leadership candidates, will be forming their own party, I offer this blogpost as an open strategy memo to the two.

The two of you have three main tasks between now and the official launch of your party. First, you must decide on a name. This will presumably reflect the party's identity as both non-sectarian and pro-union. The BBC headline announcing your decision illustrates the dilemma that you face. It said that you weren't just forming a new party, but a new "unionist party." To any nationalist voter this means automatically that you are not non-sectarian, but sectarian--the mirror image of the SDLP. (If you don't believe me think of a splinter party from the SDLP that described itself as a "non-sectarian nationalist" party.) You can declare yourself to be pro-union all you want as long as you don't have unionist in the name. That means that you should concentrate on your ideological message: something with either liberal or progressive in the name. But the PUP may have spoiled the label progressive as much as the existing unionist parties have spoiled the label unionist. I suggest you take a hint from the English-speaking "white" colonies in Southern Africa. In 1910 when a group of moderate Afrikaner parties came together to form a moderate Afrikaner nationalist party they called it the South Africa Party. This became the ruling party and then as the United Party the official opposition to the National Party, which invented apartheid. In Rhodesia in 1974 when a new moderate party was formed in opposition to the pro-apartheid Rhodesian Front party of Ian Smith, it called itself simply the Rhodesia Party. I suggest you call yourselves simply the Northern Ireland Party. This name will suggest that you are pro-union without all the negative connotations for nationalists of either the words unionist or Ulster. An alternate name is the Liberal Party or the Liberal Party of Northern Ireland. One of the predecessor parties to the Alliance Party was the Ulster Liberal Party, which relied on the corporate vote at Queen's University.

Second, I suggest you come to a de facto strategic agreement with the PUP and TUV to stay out of their areas if they will stay out of your core area. This is in order not to waste votes. Each of these other parties is competitive in only one or two constituencies. The Assembly with six seats in each constituency can support a maximum of six parties in any single constituency. The more realistic figure is five or even four. There are already five well-established parties and you will be competing for that last slot. Ideologically your logical competitors are the UUP, Alliance, and PUP. If you agree to stay out of East Belfast and North Belfast you should be able to neutralize the PUP so that you can concentrate on the UUP and Alliance. You must then decide on which districts to spend your limited resources in contesting. This should be based on your existing presence, the seats that the UUP is weakest in and Alliance has done well in. But you are in a better position to judge this for yourselves than I am.

Your third task is to come up with a party platform stressing your ideological positioning and innovative ideas. You might want to imitate Sinn Fein and steal boldly from Alliance or the PUP as the Shinners have stolen from the SDLP. But your positions should reflect your identity: pro-union and non-sectarian. I imagine it will be a mixture of the ideology of the PUP--without the paramilitary connection--and Alliance, something that will appeal to both working-class and middle-class unionists and pro-Union Catholics.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Syria's Future

Two articles that were on Real Clear World yesterday suggest that Syria's war will be long. The first in Time by Rania Abouzeid is the story of a group of rebels. In it one speaks of an upcoming civil war among the rebel factions once the Assad regime is disposed of. This suggests a future like that of Afghanistan following the jihad against the Soviet occupation, or Somalia after the fall of the Siad Barre regime in the late 1980s. Both countries essentially became failed states leading to the situation where the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, inviting in Al Qaeda leading to the present war between the United States and its allies and the Taliban.

The second is an article by former Time Middle East correspondent Tony Karon in the UAE The National. In it Karon makes the argument that Washington should intervene in the unfolding civil war, but not necessarily militarily as so many are urging in Washington and the Arab world. Instead Karon argues that Washington should help mediate a solution to the present civil war as he sees neither side having the power to prevail. This creates a situation of inertia, which in turn leads to an ever higher death toll, more physical destruction, and the destruction of the country politically as different sectarian groups are pitted against one another either in support of or in opposition to the ruling regime.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Iranian and North Korean nuclear cooperation?

Conservative journalist (specializing in the Middle East) Lee Smith last week raised the possibility that Iran and North Korea have a technological partnership or alliance in developing nuclear weapons and  missile technology as well.  He compared it to the Anglo-American nuclear cooperation agreement that called for American testing of joint designs. Smith thinks that North Korea in its recent nuclear test may have actually been testing an Iranian or joint design. This means that Tehran would never actually have to conduct its own nuclear tests to ensure that it has a reliable design. Mark Fitzpatrick in an article in the UAE's The National seemed to back Smith's basic thesis.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A new unionist party in Northern Ireland?

There have been very interesting developments in Northern Ireland in the last week. The Ulster Unionists decided to go ahead with a joint candidate for the mid-Ulster parliamentary seat that Martin McGuinness is resigning from. They have chosen a candidate,  Nigel Lutton, who is the son of a man whom the Sinn Fein candidate allegedly helped to murder years ago. Judging from the results in the 2010 election when the Sinn Fein polled twice as many votes as all the unionist candidates combined, the seat is unwinnable by a unionist candidate.  This decision by Mike Nesbitt led both former Deputy Leader John McCallister and MLA Basil McCrea to resign from the party. There is now speculation that the two intend to form a new liberal unionist party.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Coalition formation problems in Israel

Sheldon Adelson's free newspaper, Israel Hayom, is reporting that Benjamin Netanyahu told Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid that the foreign ministry is being reserved for Israel Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman to return to once his legal problems have gone away. Israel Beitenu ran in a joint list, Likud Beitenu, with Likud in the recent election. Netanyahu is leaving Yesh Atid the choice of the finance ministry or another major economic ministry.  He is also offering the party the defense ministry. Netanyahu has also indicated that he wants the ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) parties in his coalition government. This will make it much harder for Yesh Atid to join as it ran in opposition to the ultra-Orthodox immunity from military service and religious coercion on personal identity issues such as marriage, divorce, and conversion.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Union is Secure, so why are unionists insecure?

A recent public opinion poll in Northern Ireland established that only 17 percent of the voting-age public is in favor of a united Ireland (UI), compared to 65 percent in favor of continuing the union with Great Britain--the United Kingdom. That total goes up to 79 percent of committed voters and a majority of Catholics in favor of NI remaining part of Northern Ireland.

So why have working-class unionists been protesting and rioting for the last ten weeks across the province? Ostensibly they are protesting the decision taken on December 3, 2012 to limit the flying of the Union Flag (commonly known here as the Union Jack) to 17 or 18 designated days (public holidays) instead of everyday.  It makes little difference to the protesters that this is in fact the policy in Britain and until recently was the declared policy of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). This involved the two nationalist parties, the SDLP and Sinn Fein, voting for British official guidelines as a compromise. So what is really going on here? 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Syria's Possible Futures: An Israeli View

Former head of Israeli military intelligence, Aman, Amos Yadlin, laid out five possible outcomes to the ongoing and escalating civil war in Syria in a briefing to the public at the Institute of National Security Studies in Israel yesterday. He is presently the director of the institute. Here are the five scenarios:  First, the regime could survive by working out its problems with Turkey and winning more support from Russia. Second, the civil war continues forever as a low-level conflict of the type that is common in the Third World. Third, Syria disintegrates into three sectarian states: Alawite, Sunni, and Kurdish. Fourth, a Sunni-dominated state emerges. And lastly, a failed state emerges reminiscent of Somalia after the fall of Siad Barre or of Congo after the collapse of the Mobutu regime. Yadlin did not indicate which of these scenarios was most likely to occur or even rank order them. He simply pointed out that all of them was less threatening than the status quo ante in which a powerful centralized Alawite regime legitimized its rule through maintaining a verbal conflict and tension with Israel. A senior Israeli security official, possibly Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking anonymously took the exact opposite viewpoint arguing that the border had become more dangerous since the start of the civil war in Syria.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Which ministry for Yair Lapid?

Before the latest election, Israel Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman said that after the election he would break Likud Beitenu back into its two component parts: Likud (20 seats) and Israel Beitenu (17 seats). This would make his party the third largest party in the ruling coalition that Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to form and leave Likud with only one more seat than Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party. This would strengthen the bargaining position of both Lapid's party and Israel Beitenu vis a vis the Likud. Since Lieberman has made no secret of his wanting to replace Netanyahu as the leader of the Israeli Right, and the media during the election campaign was so full of portraits of Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home, expect him to carry out his pledge.  

Normally a party in the position of Yesh Atid would be offered a choice of either the finance or foreign affairs ministries. Lapid has no expertise or background in either area. From a vanity and publicity point of view, the latter ministry would be more advantageous as it would allow him to be constantly in the Israeli and international media in a positive light meeting with world leaders. Whereas as finance minister he would have to be cast as the villain by cutting Israel's blotted national budget. He might be better off either taking a lesser ministry that would be closer to one of the reform agendas he campaigned upon, or deferring to one of the experts who was elected on his party's list.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Two Likely Coalitions for Netanyahu

With the final results of the Israeli election to the 19th Knesset in  two possible coalition choices for Netanyahu appear likely.  The first would be a Center-Right coalition with Yesh Atid:

Likud Beitenu      31
Yesh Atid             19
Jewish Home       11
Total                    61

Kadima with two seats could be added to provide a little safety margin. In this scenario, Netanyahu would agree to a draft of the ultra-Orthodox Haredim and Yesh Atid would go along with continued settlement. As Yesh Atid appears to put more emphasis on ending religious privilege and coercion and the ultra-Orthodox draft exemption than on achieving peace, this is possible. Certainly, if Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is anything like his father, Tommy Lapid, leader of the Shinui party of the 1990s-2006, he is closer to the Likud when it comes to borders than he is to Labor. Here is an article from Foreign Affairs that indicates that on territorial issues Lapid is very compatible with Netanyahu.

The second coalition, would be more Centrist:

Likud Beitenu    31
Yesh Atid          19
Labor                15
Total                65

Under this scenario, there would be a religious draft, an end to subsidies to the ultra-Orthodox, and settlement construction would probably be defined by some formula or committee that would allow for "natural expansion" within settlements but not much in the way of new settlements outside of Jerusalem.  There would also probably not be any renewed peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Labor leader Shelli Yakhimovich campaigned on socio-economic issues, so as long as there was a change in budget priorities towards helping out the secular poor it would probably be happy.

This Jerusalem Post article discusses various coalition possibilities and graphically illustrates four of them. And here Ben Birnbaum of The New Republic discusses the winners and losers of the latest Israeli election in terms both of parties and individuals.

The Center-Left lacks the sufficient Knesset votes to construct a stable coalition of its own without the Likud, even if it was inclined to include the Arabs--which they have not been willing to do in the past.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Israeli Election and the Coalition After

The last polls legally allowed before Israel's January 22 election have the Israeli Right bloc composed of the secular Right parties and the religious parties winning a slim majority of about 64 seats. This includes two seats to the far-right Otzma L'Israel (Strengh to Israel) party, which Netanyahu is determined to keep out of his coalition. This will give him 62 seats or a majority of two. This projection has Likud Beitenu receiving only 32 seats, over ten less than was expected only a month ago. Another older poll by the newspaper Ma'ariv has Likud Beitenu receiving 37 seats (Hebrew link). But usually the differences between polls occur between parties within the same bloc so that the overall bloc margins remain about the same. The Ma'ariv poll has Labor coming in a distant second at 15 seats, Jewish Home a close third with 14, and Shas a close fourth with 12 seats. But the Ma'ariv poll is older and doesn't take into account an apparent shift to the Center-Left and the far Right. Much depends on turnout--typically the highest levels of turnout are found among settlers in the West Bank and among the ultra-Orthodox who are both ideologically motivated to vote. The mainstream Israeli peace movement Shalom Akshav/Peace Now has been attempting to counter this by publicizing voting levels in different locations in the previous election in an app for smart phones and other electronic devices.