Saturday, June 28, 2014

Slipping The Terror Trap

On Thursday, Israeli secret-service officials finally released the names of the Hamas militants from Hebron, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha, whom they’ve alleged are responsible for kidnapping three hitchhiking yeshiva students—Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrah—on the night of June 12th. Their belief in Hamas’s involvement seems to have been reached by process of elimination—Qawasmeh and Aisha have gone missing—but, in a way, the Netanyahu government needn’t bother producing evidence that is more conclusive. Hamas’s leaders would be incompetent if they rejected responsibility, so well have events since the kidnapping played into their hands. (As if on cue, Hamas’s chief, Khaled Meshal, told Al Jazeera that he cannot confirm or deny the organization’s involvement, but, he added, “I congratulate the abductors, because our prisoners must be freed from the prisons of the occupation.”)

Continue reading at The New Yorker

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Republicans, Likud, And The Big Con

Just a coda to my post yesterday in The New Yorker regarding Abbas's unity deal--more specifically, about why the Netanyahu government is rallying opposition to it--claiming this is Abbas's capitulation to violent rejectionism--when it so clearly represents Abbas's provisional victory of over Hamas, and more generally for a non-violent, internationalized political process in Palestine.

The answer, I fear, is that the specter of Hamas's growing power always worked nicely for the Likud. And there is an analogy here to congressional Republicans:

If you are the party of laissez-faire and American plutocracy, you cannot say so. There is no majority for this. So you say, rather, that you are simply living with no illusions, being tough-minded, the party of government-is-the-problem. Then you resist or sabotage every government program or presidential initiative, people start saying “Washington is broken,” and you, of all people, seem vindicated—for American politicians, the Big Con, perfectly executed.

The same is true of the Likud, which benefits incrementally from the Occupation. Netanyahu’s government can’t just say it is committed to Greater Israel, theocracy-lite, and settlers—there is no majority for this. It merely claims to be tough-minded, not naive--as Avigdor Leiberman says, "bli ashlayot"--the government of we-have-no-partner. And this leaves in place a condition of spreading settlement, and army repression (to "keep the peace"), that is bound to produce periodic eruptions of violence and movements like Hamas (which. by the way, didn’t emerge before the first Intifada in 1987). The violence and the movement prove that we have no partner.

In either case, the strategy is not to spread ideology but sow cynicism. It works the same in every country.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Abbas: 'Winning On Points'

On Tuesday, the State Department announced that the Obama Administration intends to work with the new Palestinian unity government of President Mahmoud Abbas, which now includes Hamas, the militant organization that has ruled Gaza since 2007. To satisfy critics, the United States said that the new government would have to adhere to a set of international stipulations, agreed upon in 2006: it must recognize Israel, reject terror, and honor previously signed agreements. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Associated Press that he is “deeply troubled” by the Administration’s decision to maintain ties to the unity government, and added, “The United States must make it absolutely clear to the Palestinian President that his pact with Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s liquidation, is simply unacceptable.”

Hamas, for its part, has never recognized Israel’s existence or renounced violence. Intriguingly, two of Netanyahu’s coalition partners, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi, reject the principle of Palestinian statehood and have never accepted restrictions on settlement contained in such past signed agreements as the 2003 Roadmap, but they supported Netanyahu, skeptically, through the recent negotiations mediated by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Netanyahu’s own party, the Likud, has routinely taken a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose attitude toward Abbas. When Gaza and the West Bank were split—Hamas expelled Abbas’s Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority officials in 2007—Likud leaders charged that Abbas’s rule was illegitimate, weak, and incapable of representing a divided Palestinian populace. When Abbas sought to reunite the Palestinian territories, he was accused of cavorting with terrorists. He was not a “partner” in the peace process.

Of course, Hamas has engaged in despicable acts of terror, from training and dispatching suicide bombers to launching missiles into Israeli civilian population centers. It has advanced a totalitarian Islamist vision and a Manichaean view of Jews. So Tuesday’s reunification agreement suggests one of two things. The first is that Abbas—who is seventy-nine and concerned about his legacy after Kerry’s unsuccessful nine-month initiative to broker peace—has decided to get out in front of the mounting anger in the Palestinian street about the failure of the talks and adopt something like Hamas’s harder line. The second is that Abbas simply has beaten Hamas at its own game, forcing it to recognize his authority and to accept his nonviolent, internationalist strategy. Both conclusions may be true to some degree, though most Israelis impulsively jump to the first. Which is truer?

“Abbas has not knocked out Hamas, but he is winning on points—he has the opportunity to extend the umbrella of nonviolence to Gaza,” Mohammad Mustafa, the Deputy Prime Minister responsible for the economy, told me in Ramallah. A central player in both the old and new Palestinian governments, Mustafa, a former World Bank official, is also the head of the billion-dollar Palestine Investment Fund. “This is an agreement for real,” he went on. “Hamas’s situation has changed. The biggest factor is regional—especially Egypt. Hamas lost their alliance with Syria some time ago. But they had alternatives. Morsi”—Mohamed Morsi, the deposed Egyptian President—“made them feel comfortable. Tunisia, Turkey was a big ally, Iran was coming their way. Now there aren’t really many friends for Hamas.” He added that the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt had “convinced Hamas that they really lost.”

Continue reading at The New Yorker

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Words That Belonged In The West Point Speech

Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only -- or even primary -- component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail. .....

And let me be even clearer. Military force is now not nearly as hard a form of power as what my critics imply; and global economic power, reinforced by institutions of personal liberty, is not nearly as soft. Because of unprecedented changes in the ways we create wealth in our age of burgeoning global networks, the power of economic sanctions by advanced democracies, acting in common, is a far greater force than the power of any military--though sanctions are not as photogenic as bombs when feeding the 24/7 cycle.

Consider this: When President Putin moved troops into the Crimea, Russian forces also massed along the Eastern Ukraine. Under my leadership, the US and its European allies responded, strong and united, with preliminary sanctions. The fate of the Ukraine is still uncertain, and the America and its allies are vigilant. But a month later, Russian the troops have been withdrawn and President Putin is making clear that he wants to settle matters diplomatically, which we welcome. Secretary Kerry, for his part, said at the time of Russia's action that Mr. Putin was employing 19th. century methods of power in a 21st. century world. Secretary Kerry was mocked for this by some.  But the sanctions are clearly working. What did Secretary Kerry mean? Why, in the 21st. century, do such things as economic sanctions act as such a powerful deterrent?

Let me put things simply.  The United States and Western democracies together are a zone of free enterprise with a combined GDP of approximately $32 trillion. Add Japan, our close ally, and we are $38 trillion. Add China, whose interests do not always accord with ours, but whose financial institutions and domestic corporations are fully integrated with ours, and we are at $46 trillion. This zone is not without inequalities and crises, which we will have to mitigate. But we know how to create unprecedented wealth. In 1975, a television cost the average worker about 60 hours of work. Today, about 6 hours of work--and the TV today can stream YouTube, and virtually everything ever thought said and done, for the cost of a wireless connection.

But that is not all.  The companies that produce our wealth are vastly changed from what they were just two generations ago.  In 1975, the tangible assets--the cash, buildings, raw materials, and so forth--of the Standard & Poors 500 largest corporations constituted about 80% of their market value, while the intangible assets--the collective know-how--were about 20% of value. Today, those proportions are reversed.  Intangible assets, the knowledge, are 82% of what produces wealth and tangible assets, the stuff, is 18%.


This knowledge knows no borders. Nor can knowledge know boundaries. That's because, unlike money and other assets, the person who gives you knowledge still has it. Our companies create wealth and advance continually because they are largely integrated in shared networks, which are more and more valuable for all--the more that skilled, ambitious entrepreneurs and scientists join them. Cut yourself off from these global networks, or fail to access them, or just make yourself distrusted in them, and you condemn your people to poverty.  It is just this world the people in the streets of Kiev have been determined to join.

Now let's look at Russia's economy. Out of its $2 trillion GDP about $1.2 trillion is oil and gas--mostly companies that are 80% stuff. Mr. Putin can dare to use the Russian military to expand and defend oil and gas deposits, as it did in the Crimea. That's what armies have been good for since ancient times, to secure the geographic boundaries around a tribe's or a nation's control of its stuff: so that their laborers can farm, and mine, and drill, and assemble in peace. That's why in the 19th. century, and even up to the middle of the 20th., kings and tyrants thought they could enrich their nation by making imperial war--after all, a huge, organized form of theft.

But war in the 21st. century is a little like one power station in a grid making war against another power station in the same grid: you resort to violence and threaten to bring down the whole network upon which your welfare depends. Mr. Putin may have thought that moving onto the Crimea secured him a better reserve of oil and gas and a better way of exporting it. Perhaps it did in the short term; perhaps the people who profit from oil and gas are satisfied with his action.

But what about the people not directly enjoying profit from drilled stuff. What about the much larger number of Russians who, like the protesters in Ukraine, want to join global wealth-creating networks and will now see foreign companies pull back and foreign investment drop off. During the crisis, the Russian stock exchange immediately dropped over 10%, a loss of more wealth than the cost of the Sochi Olympics. Curious, is it not? that what seems an expansion of Russian power caused even domestic investors to short the Russian economy.

In short, we have to redefine what we mean by international power. Getting expelled from the global system is hard power; military power is, in addition to being tragic, comparatively soft. It gets you nowhere. It is destructive. It leads you to places you cannot foresee. Writers about foreign affairs who have not digested the new realities can scare us with absurd scenarios, like this particularly hysterical writer in a recent issue of The New Republic:

"Could the United States survive if Syria remains under the control of Assad or, more likely, disintegrates into a chaos of territories, some of which will be controlled by jihadi terrorists? Could it survive if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, and if in turn Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt acquire nuclear weapons? Or if North Korea launches a war on the South? Could it survive in a world where China dominates much of East Asia, or where China and Japan resume their old conflict? Could it survive in a world where Russia dominates Eastern Europe, including not only Ukraine but the Baltic states and perhaps even Poland?"

The implication is that, somehow, American military power could have neatly toppled Assad, or that Iran is not itself looking to join the world, or that North Korea could act with impunity. But notice also the silliness of speaking in this context of Chinese "domination" of the Far East and the reversion to conflict with Japan, as if the Chinese are some kind of huge island, and not dependent on the global system. And the idea that a second-rate power like Russia could dominate Eastern Europe and Poland, members of NATO, and racing ahead of Russia in terms of development--well, this kind of talk is beyond silly.

Which brings me to a final point about military force--why I prefer to organize international diplomatic responses to common acts of aggression. Some, like this writer, will interpret my strategy of patient sanctions as opting for appeasement rather than timely preemption. Demagogues always say this kind of thing. In his History of The Peloponnesian War, Thucydides noticed how certain people "altered words to suit their deeds." "A moderate attitude," he writes, "was deemed a mere shield for lack of virility, and a reasoned understanding with regard to all sides of an issue meant that one was indolent and of no use for anything."

My critics often mock my foreign policy in just this way. Given America's military superiority, they say, virtually any global problem is presumably the result of my failure to deter evil: the Syrian civil war, Iran's nuclear program, frictions in the South China Sea, Egypt's military coup, Russia's annexation of the Crimea.  If only, critics say, I were more credible in my willingness to use force. Which means actually using or threatening military force in virtually every case, if only to prove my willingness to use it.

Thucydides adds, "One who displayed violent anger was considered eternally faithful." Now as then, passion can be mistaken for courage and determination. Now as then, blaming leaders for not being intimidating enough is a nice career move.