Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pakistani Conflict: Missing the Point

Pakistani military commentary from the front lines in the NWFP is highly positive, even while calling for better military equipment and admitting that insurgent resistance has been fierce and evidently continues. The real message that comes through is even more troubling than admissions that the fight is proving difficult. It is the evident militarization of the dispute, both by the insurgents who chose to make a show of arms after winning at the negotiating table in February and by the government with its military response, that should be most troubling to those who care about the stability and progress of Pakistani society. The talk is all about firepower and battlefield results, with the underlying issues of how to organize a society being pushed to the background.

"Democracy vs. caliphate" misses the real issues. Which one wins is in a certain sense irrelevant. Should "democracy" as it currently exists in Pakistan prevail--with military omnipresence, elite corruption, and backsliding of the mass of the people into further hopelessness--no one who cares about the future of Pakistan would have any reason to rejoice. If violence-addicted, power-hungry radicals gorged on their own power and spouting a vicious and twisted version of Islam that hardly any Muslim in the world a decade ago would have recognized or respected prevails, once again no one who cares about the future of Pakistan would have any reason to rejoice.

Justice. One of the many specific issues that must be addressed to resolve this socio-political struggle is justice. To the extent that the insurgents focus on this, as they frequently have in criticizing traditional courts for their delays in settling cases, they have a point and should be listened to. Unfortunately, their rising radicalism (by which I mean death threats, insistence on being obeyed without question, quickness to use violence, and appalling viciousness toward girls) undercuts the legitimacy of their message and demand for power just as much as the government's helicopter gunships and lack of care for refugees undercuts the legitimacy of its position). "We demand justice and will shoot if you don't submit" transforms the debate over justice into a farce, which is a shame because the problem is real and deserves attention.

Civil services. Another issue that must be addressed is the provision of civil services to marginalized groups (whether tribal herders in NWFP or Pashtun migrants to Karachi's slums). Once again, the real issue is being submerged by the rising radicalism on both sides. Insurgents charges about the failure of governance are so much hot air when they use force against tribal jirgas looking for compromise. Such insurgent extremism only helps the corrupt portion of the elite that prefers pocketing government funds to spending it to improve society.

Extremism generates extremism, marginalizing the middle, and oversimplifying the debate. Eventually one bully or another will win, but for the people of Pakistan it won't matter much whether that bully happens to be a modern power-hungry military dictator or a fundamentalist power-hungry Islamic radical. Neither will provide the justice, respect, good government, or economic security that are the real issues.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stormclouds in Pakistan

Intense fighting, strong insurgent resistance, a new refugee wave, a pervasive insurgent presence still in Buner despite the weekend's show of withdrawal, and a loud TNSM display of righteous indignation are thunderheads on the horizon of Pakistan's political future.

On Tuesday, Rizwanullah Farooq, son of Sufi Muhammad--head of Tehreek-e-Nifaaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM)--said:

The peace accord has weakened and is shaky. If it breaks, there will be a storm in the whole country.
He is certainly correct that the peace accord, signed in February with the understanding that the government would allow sharia courts in return for an end to violence, is shaky. It is shaky because the Taliban is on the offensive. While the precise geographic extent of the agreement with the government to accept sharia seems unclear, the Taliban could argue that it authorizes sharia throughout much of the region, not just Swat, and that they are just implementing that agreement…except for the killings, threats against politicians and reporters, theft of public property, and general intimidation of the population.

Soldiers were reportedly moving toward Swat over the weekend, amid rumors of government plans for a Bajaur-style scorched earth attack that would destroy society and create another wave of internal refugees to join those still in tents from last year’s Bajaur battle.

Indeed, a battle over the last couple days in Islampura and Lal Qila occurred, ending with an apparent government victory. The soldiers were on an offensive in Lower Dir district of Malakand when attacked by insurgents. The fact that the government attacked Sufi Muhammad’s ancestral village would not seem to bode well for the future peace of the region.

By the 28th, the government was heralding a “major offensive” against “500” insurgents still supposedly in Buner, the locale that had theoretically just been vacated. The number is both much higher than in other reports and suspiciously rounded, raising the possibility that the military is inflating it to make their forthcoming victory more impressive. If true, this high number corroborates government claims, based on intercepted insurgent communications, that they their “pullout” from Buner was staged.

Over the weekend, the Taliban in Swat prevented the Pakistani army from sending supplies to its troops, and the provincial governor intervened on the side of the Taliban, persuading the army to pull back. Not only have the Taliban now made it clear that they effectively have an independent country in Swat but the regional arm of the Pakistani state has supported them! If a separate report to the effect that the ISI persuaded the Taliban to withdraw from neighboring Buner to avoid being attacked by the U.S. turns out to be true, this even further confuses the lines. Exactly what sort of insurgency is being run in Pakistan if the government can successfully “tell” the insurgents attacking it when they should withdraw? Has Islamabad become no more than the intermediary between the two warring sides? In any case, by April 28 it was apparent that the pullout was staged, raising the question of whether or not that too might have been part of ISI plans.

On Tuesday, the NWFP government again pushed for compromise, with Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain announcing the imminent establishment of sharia courts and inviting Sufi Muhammid for talks. The TNSM leader is currently refusing to talk because of the government attack on Dir. The insurgents are willing to talk after one of their offensives but refuse to talk when the government “breaks the agreement” by countering with an offensive of its own.

Contrasting with the obvious wishes of the provincial government for compromise, Islamabad let it be known that it was discussing the possibility of continuing the government offensive into Swat. So the insurgents have now warned the government and the government has warned the insurgents: coming storm indeed. (For an interesting map of the rapidly evolving political influence in the region, see the Long War Journal.)

Two things to watch are civilian impact (casualties, refugees) and non-violent follow-up. The weekend military operation in Lower Dir has reportedly already resulted in 60,000 refugees. Ominously, despite heavy air attacks, several dozen of the government forces were captured, raising the question of the reliability of the mostly Pashtun Frontier Constabulary and police.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Israeli Imperialism in Microcosm

Aggressive expansion of illegal settlements involving the forcing of Palestinians out of their homes and the theft of further Palestinian land make clear Israel's response to Washington's call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reflect a 60-year-long policy of ethnic cleansing.

Actions by the Israeli Interior Ministry are making crystal clear the attitude of the Israeli government toward the U.S. concept of a two-state solution:

The Palestinian caretaker cabinet condemned a proposed expansion of the illegal Israeli West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim on Monday as a step that could cause the region to “explode.”

The cabinet, led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, issued a declaration saying that the proposal would sever the West Bank into two sections, denying any possibility of the creation of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.

The statement was in reference to a decision by a special committee of the Israeli Interior Ministry, which approved a merger between Ma’ale Adumim and the much smaller settlement of Qedar. Under the plan, 12,000 dunums of land in between the two settlements would be seized and the entire area, a swath of the central West Bank, would be surrounded by the separation wall.

The rapidly expanding illegal Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim:

The neighboring Palestinian city of Ramallah:

[Both photos from Wikipedia Commons.]

As Jordan’s Petra News Agency explained:

The special committee of Israel's Housing Ministry concluded preparing a plan to expand Ma'ale Adumim settlement built on the lands of Al-Eizariya town, east of Jerusalem. Head of Al-Eizariya municipality Ahmad Farun told (Petra) reporter in Ramallah, that this move comes as a part of besieging the towns east of the holy city, and connecting east and west Jerusalem together. "Since 67 until today Israel had seized nearly two-thirds of the town's land", Farun added.

Peace Now reviews the legal situation before the courts in Israel and points out the key issue: that this comes as “part of a larger master plan to expand Ma'ale Adumim on a large scale” with “the intention to construct in this area 6,000 new housing units, to house 25,000 new settlers.”

Comments by Benjamin Kasriel the mayor of Ma'ale Adumim in 1998 make clear the longstanding expansionist plans of Israel, which we are now seeing the latest step, noting that Ma’ale Adumim:

functions as a corridor between the Palestinian communities, preventing them from creating continuity of Arab construction around Jerusalem. In addition, Ma’ale Adumim, together with the [settlement] communities around us--Kedar, Kfar Adumim, Mitzpe Jericho, Vered Jericho, Nofei Prat, Adam, and Kochav Ya'acov--is located exactly in the center of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. All of our development, in the direction of the Dead Sea, or Jerusalem in the west, will create a buffer that will prevent the creation of a Palestinian state, because every state requires [territorial] continuity.

The mayor continued:

When we were a smaller community we spoke of Ma'ale Adumim as a place located on conquered land. But as we developed….Slowly, slowly, we entered the national consciousness as a part of Greater Jerusalem.

The mayor spoke of “a master plan for 60,000 residents” and admitted that by 2020 the city would have a population of 80,000.

What this means for Palestinians was reported by an American Episcopal priest who visited in 2005:

The "facts on the ground" of Israeli settlements, settler bypass roads, checkpoints, land confiscations, and the separation barrier are destroying the possibility of an econom ically viable, contiguous Palestinian state. Already, Palestinian farmers cannot travel to care for their olive and fruit trees and harvest their crops. The weeds growing in Palestinian groves are absorbing precious water. Laborers cannot get to their jobs. Commercial traffic faces rising costs because of movement restrictions within the West Bank.

The development plans for Ma'ale Adumim are cutting off Ramallah from Bethlehem, and both of these Palestinian cities from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a holy city to three world religions, and it is also presently the economic hub of the Palestinian territories, accounting for one-third of the economic activity. Without free access to Jerusalem, and especially its tourism industry, a future Palestinian state will face continuing

unemployment rates approaching 80%, nutrition and health care crises, and political anger rooted in economic desolation.

The continuing efforts of Israel to seize Palestinian homes and land to make room for Jews is simply the contemporary form of the ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by the Zionist leadership under David Ben-Gurion between December 1947 and late 1948. (To be quite clear, I use the word “Zionist” to distinguish between the Zionist movement that led the drive for the establishment of a racist state cleansed of Palestinians and the broader Jewish community, which included numerous groups of Jews quite willing to live in integrated communities with their Palestinian neighbors.) The massacres of peaceful Palestinian villagers during that ethnic cleansing campaign were the precursors of such events as the Israeli attack on Jenin and, in December 2008, on Gaza. The mass expulsions of Palestinians from their homes were the precursors of today’s illegal settlement program in such places as Ma’ale Adumim.

After 60 years of a consistent policy, it does not seem that Israel has within it the moral fortitude to change this 60-year-long pattern of behavior of its own accord; it must be guided. It is time for Washington to state clearly that the U.S. does not support policies by any state based on discrimination against ethnic groups.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Idea of a Sovereign Lebanon

On a quick trip to Lebanon, Secretary of State Clinton said:

We want to see a strong, independent, free and sovereign Lebanon.

This fine sentiment hopefully means what it says. It might, by cynics, be read as expressing a threat that if the victor does not meet some highly prejudicial Washington definition of “free and sovereign” then Washington will reserve the right to exact whatever punishment it deems appropriate. A cynic would cite, in support of his interpretation, a threat from Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs David Hale, who reportedly said earlier in April that the U.S. would “not deal with Hezbollah” regardless of the outcome of the elections, an ominous throwback to the Bush Administration’s subversion of Hamas’ 2006 electoral victory which led directly to December’s barbaric attack on Gaza.

Hezbollah has clearly been evolving away from insurgency and toward democratic participation in recent years, but then, so has Hamas. It would be ironic if Washington were to force them both into full-scale opposition.

A strong, independent, free, and sovereign Lebanon means free and sovereign relative to everyone. If that is Washington’s goal, then Washington will have to do two sorts of things, neither easy:

1. Help Lebanon get the ability to defend its freedom and sovereignty;

2. Back off and allow Lebanon to exercise its freedom and sovereignty, even if that means demonstrating freedom from U.S. control.

In the context of a genuine desire to bring justice to Palestine, it would seem very much in Washington’s interest to persuade Hezbollah that it has a bright future as a normal political party. Were Washington to persuade Israel to live within its legal 1967 borders as a normal state, relinquishing the right to determine what technology and what weapons its neighbors are allowed to possess, that would help so persuade Hezbollah. Were Washington to provide Lebanon with the means to defend itself against Israeli aerial violations of its territorial integrity, that—again, in the context of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute--might help even more.

But change comes slowly along the hot, muddy Potomac…these days, more slowly than in the Mideast.

Moreover, a logical and unavoidable contradiction between the local issue and the big picture inhibits smooth, consistent policy formulation. The desire to fine-tune policy to maximize influence over a specific actor must be balanced against the message that the world will get. Yes, perhaps a highly intrusive U.S. policy in favor of one side in the Lebanese election might give that side some advantage (although it might also irritate Lebanese patriots). Nevertheless, it would also, in the current context of a new U.S. administration trying to lay out its own policy line toward the Muslim world, send a very clear message to everyone else.

For the Obama Administration to adopt the approach of openly undermining democratic elections or sabotaging an elected government would send a very clear message that Obama could be expected to reject change on much bigger regional issues, such as whether or not to push for a truly viable Palestinian state and whether or not to move toward accommodation of Iran. Resolution of all these issues depends on realization, along the Potomac, of a fundamental new perspective that Washington neither can nor should control the Muslim world.

“Control” need not mean the control of everything – only the control of that which the dominant power wants to control. If Washington asserts the right to say which countries can have nuclear technology, much less nuclear arms, it is asserting the right to control the Mideast. If Washington asserts the right to grant one country the right to attack others at will to destroy an arms convoy or technical installation, it is asserting the right to control the Mideast. If Washington asserts the right to overthrow democratically elected regimes, it is asserting the right to control the Mideast.

The alternative requires supporting the ability of the many small actors in the region to stand independently, which by definition means everyone else loses influence. Give Lebanon the power to defend itself and Washington will lose some influence over it, but so will Iran and Syria. The relative benefits of such a trade-off might well be worth calculating.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Politics Worsening the Recession

I warned in "Militarism and Financial Excess: Two Sides of the Same Coin" that:

Beyond all discussion of economics still lies the global political system, which can be distinguished from the global economic system but not separated from it.

Now comes a report on Eastern Europe by Jelena Vukotic via RGE Monitor that lays out a vicious cycle of "economic pain and political jitters," illustrating a different way in which economics and politics are linked:

As the economic crisis bites and unemployment rates soar, voters have been losing confidence in their governments’ ability to cope with the deepening economic downturn. What is more troubling is that this confluence of crises creates a vicious circle. Economic gloom fans social unrest and brings governments down. In turn, rising political risk unsettles already jittery investors and will certainly not help the recovery prospects in the region that is highly dependent on capital inflows.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pakistani Insurgents Put on a Show

Pakistani insurgents are demonstrating imressive tatics in an offensive that is humiliating an apparently comatose Pakistani state….Or is Islamabad in collusion?

In a move that apparently took Islamabad completely by surprise, the insurgents who have been ruling Swat District for months came up with the idea of visiting neighboring districts as well. State power was removed as though someone had pulled the plug in Buner, and then the government was evidently similarly surprised when the insurgent roadtrip continued on to Shangla. Or is someone in Islamabad cutting a deal?

Having smoothly taken over Buner District of the Pakistani NWFP [map] just south of Swat District during April, they have now moved into Shangla District, which borders Buner on the north and Swat on the east. At the same time, the insurgent visitors allowed themselves to be photographed promptly leaving Buner (having empowered their local insurgent allies).

Some 500 security personnel in Buner were inexplicably unable to pose any deterrent to the insurgents or evidently even able to call in military support. A local police officer’s excuse that “when you are confronted with better-equipped and better-trained people who have higher morale, the writ of the district police collapses” hardly explains the instantaneous and humiliating collapse of state power.

The Pakistani state appears unbelievably incompetent and out-of-touch. How could they not have known? If the insurgents can move by truck from one district to another, if the insurgents have radio communications, then how could Islamabad, less than 100 miles away, have no idea what was going on? The obvious conclusion is that Islamabad thinks it can cut a deal. Perhaps it can: recognize, after all these years, Pashtunistan, in return for an insurgent promise to stay in the mountains and point their guns toward Afghanistan.

Although Pakistan is sending Frontier Constabulary troops to Buner, it nevertheless has effectively recognized the legitimacy of the insurgents’ assertion of the right to participate in governing:

The march on Shangla came after the district administration recognised Taliban’s control over Buner district by holding a jirga with a local commander to lay down procedures to govern the district. The Taliban are presenting a relatively moderate face for an insurgency, though occasionally initiating skirmishes against government forces.

The initial insurgent group entering Shangla reportedly only consisted of a few dozen soldiers, who were evidently unopposed. This is by no means the first sign of insurgent interest in Shangla. In November 2007, a force of some 500 insurgent fighters temporarily took control of Shangla. On that occasion, local tribal leaders opposed both insurgent and government interference in their local affairs.

In the current case, the insurgents appear to be trying to minimize tensions, and the spokesman of Tehreek-e-Taliban Swat, Haji Muslim Khan, announced that “Taliban’s pull out from Buner has started.” Sufi Mohammed, the chief of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM), has been making a show of being peacemaker. The pullout is, however, less than it seems, since “local Taliban” will reportedly not only be staying but are continuing to occupy houses seized from local residents. Moreover, it is not clear whether Sufi Mohammed is actually persuading more radical insurgent groups to modify their behavior or whether the whole operation, in which the insurgents have so far played on the stage by themselves, is for the cameras.

By entering, asserting control, and voluntarily withdrawing, the insurgents made their point. Everyone has been shown who is boss; the insurgents can claim to be acting “moderately;” the locals know full well that insurgents forces who entered from neighboring districts without permission and retired voluntarily can perfectly well return, ensuring that local insurgents will remain much more influential than before unless the Pakistani state makes a fundamentally new commitment to the region.

The insurgents in NWFP are displaying remarkably sophisticated tactics – rapid movement, flexible politics, the use of pointed but restrained force, a moderate face. Their long-term objectives, at least according to this report, may be somewhat harsher:

Malakand Division, a region that encompasses more than one-third of the North-West Frontier Province is now under a Sharia system that will primarily be defined by two great "jurists-in-law" (father-in-law and son-in-law). One is Maulana Fazlullah, whose real skills lie in the fields of radio frequency (RF) engineering and mass murder. He did not just ask 80,000 girls to quit education, but also destroyed the 200 schools that were engaged in this process. He also waged a bloody war against the state of Pakistan, killing hundreds of soldiers and civilians, in some cases dragging their dead bodies on the roads. The other is Sufi Mohammad, who was in jail till a few months back for his excellence in raising private armies. He led some 5,000 young men into Afghanistan in 2001, most of whom never returned to fight another day.

We need to understand what Sufi Mohammad and company really want. ''We hate democracy," Sufi recently told the crowd of thousands of followers in Mingora.

"We want the occupation of Islam in the entire world. Islam does not permit democracy or election. From the very beginning, I have viewed democracy as a system imposed on us by the infidels. Islam does not allow democracy or elections," he told the German news agency DPA just days before the Swat Accord was signed. His role model of a government is the Insurgents government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. He said: "I believe the Taliban government formed a complete Islamic state, which was an ideal example for other Muslim countries." The Sufi has no ambiguity on the nature of punishments that he intends to generously distribute. "Penalties, including flogging, chopping off hands and stoning to death, must be available to Swat's Islamic courts. These punishments are prescribed in Islam. No one can stop that. It is God's law," said Sufi Mohammad, sitting on the floor in his makeshift headquarters in Mingora.

Meanwhile, in Orakzai Agency of FATA the government used helicopters and jet fighters in fierce fighting against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose Orakzai chapter commander said “until the government stops operations and ensures a halt to the drone attacks in the tribal areas, the TTP will continue attacking the government installations.”

The real story, as far as the integrity of the Pakistani state is concerned, may well turn out to be among the urban poor who have been left out as the military and civilian political elite benefitted from modernization. The comment of Director General ISPR Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas that the “Pakistan Army is capable and ready to defend the country” and that “the extremists were receiving foreign aid” suggests Islamabad remains deeply in denial, paralyzed by its traditional anti-Indian fixation.

To what degree the various insurgent groups use varying tactics according to the situation or because they remain distinct organizations with distinct intent is unclear because organizational structure, tactics, and goals are evolving…and evolving faster than the Pakistani regime seems able to keep up.

Manufacturing Extremism

When oppression and neglect by a corrupt elite (be it a financial elite in New York or a landed aristocracy in Pakistan) reaches the point of provoking sustained violent protest, the result is typically the rise of a new brand of self-serving elite. It is our ironic habit in the West to term this second type of self-serving elite "extremist." The example of Pakistan follows.

The following opinion piece in Pakistan’s Frontier Post should be required reading for Washington decisionmakers on several levels. The first lesson it teaches is that state collapse is a long complicated process that contains numerous opportunities for influencing the course of events. The second lesson is that there exists an historical pattern that by now should be (though it certainly is not) obvious to all American decisionmakers: a pattern of justifiable insurgency in protest against local injustice that becomes radicalized as a result of “self-serving policies” of the elite. The third lesson is that American boots on the ground have a tendency to exacerbate rather than resolve the situation. For those who still don’t get it, that is what statements such as “Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam” mean.

The remark by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen that the arrival of another 17,000 U.S. troops would hopefully stabilize the situation illustrates the astonishing blindness of U.S. decisionmakers – astonishing after the lessons of Vietnam and Algeria and Lebanon and Somalia and Gaza and Iraq.

The turmoil in Pakistan’s FATA and NWFP offer a set of “models” illustrating these lessons. It is not more U.S. troops, more drones, more straffing runs by U.S. helicopters piloted by local militaries, more Israeli slash and burn tactics created in Jenin and Gaza and Southern Lebanon and reapplied from Fallujah to Bajaur that are needed. Rather, these regions need state-provided civil services, police forces that will not just direct traffic but also guard schools, military forces that will not just show up in jet bombers but establish a permanent presence on the ground to back up the police and tribal militias. Either the rich elite of urban Pakistan will dig into its pockets to fund the provision of state services to the border populations or the border populations, with the support of the urban poor, will give their support to an insurgency that will make the rich elite very uncomfortable.

March of Taliban and waiting for Allah

Tanvir Orakzai

When a state collapses, it does not happen due to a single factor or a single event as commonly believed; instead it is the combination of economic, political and administrative blunders that accelerates the demise of a nation. The seed of erosion of Pakistan have been sown decades ago; where successive military and political governments miserably failed by pursing self serving policies with little care for its powerless population. US invasion may have triggered the rise of local Taliban but there was a general discontent in Pakistan over the mismanagement of political and economic policies that were pursued for decades. The Algerian insurgency in 1990s took place in similar circumstances where military and political leaders failed to redress the wide spread social discontent. The leadership of Islamic parties in Algeria was hijacked by bands of outrageous militants, who considered everybody infidel except themselves similar to Sufi Muhammad. The result was an indiscriminate killing spree of innocent civilians for years in the name of Islam. Insurgency needs an environment of inequality that allows militant leaders to capitalize on the dissatisfaction of the masses to pursue their own agendas. Militant leaders find followers in situations, where there is little political and economic development and where expectations are met with frustration. For militant leaders, such surroundings are ideal to construct an ideology that is rooted in religion, history or nationalism to glorify the terrorist acts. Pakistan has been suffering from all these symptoms and it was natural for militants to snatch the opportunity and declare war on Pakistan. Looking at the present chaos, our leaders (Army and politicians) seem completely lost without any sense of direction with a strange sense of numbness and inaction. Our leaders believe that by issuing empty statement to media; everything will go back to normal. Such state of mind is immature because every insurgency is aimed to bring down the existing system. The insurgent movement sprouts from country side encircling the cities and finally knocking down the government. This pattern has been consistent in various insurgent movements around the world including Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nepal and Pakistan; where Talibans have successfully established control all over FATA, Swat, Buner except Peshawar and Mardan. Pakistan is an excessively centralized state; where power and wealth is concentrated in one province- unwilling to share it with the smaller provinces; Punjab’s shortsightedness is bound to create resentment in the federation. We have lost half of the country in 1971 due to this approach. Today leaving Punjab aside, the rest of the three provinces lack not only self-esteem but have no hearsay in national affairs. The result is chaos and rebellion not only in NWFP and Balochistan but Sindh is also waiting to explode. Unfortunately the power of militants is augmenting with each passing day. This pattern can be clearly observed in recent Swat deal, where militants forced ANP Government to impose Sharia at their terms and conditions. Similar peace deal was done with Hitler in 1930s to avoid war but WWII started few years later. The unnatural peace deal in Swat may have provided sometime to ANP Government, but any deal done from the position of weakness is a dead deal and Taliban are on the winning spree. Our Army has no will to fight; and our police is trained in harassing innocent public and petty thieves. The politicians are flattering police graciously; nevertheless our police is no match for die-hard followers; whose eyes are fixed on heaven. The gallantry of police has been seen by the whole world during Lahore attack, where 10 militants killed more than 100 policemen and forced 1000 policemen to flee like sheep. The march of Taliban will continue overtaking cities and towns one by one--unless Pakistan’s leadership musters its will to counter them. Our leaders' state of mind is similar to Muhammad Shah Rangeela, who in the wake of (Nadir Shah) invasion used to mutter “Hanooz Dehli Door Ast”. The day is not far, when many of our leaders will be castrated and hung up to the poles in Islamabad like Najibullah.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Interview on Mideast with Martin van Creveld

Professor Martin van Creveld was kind enough to grant me an interview on U.S./Israeli/Palestinian/Iranian relations. Van Creveld is an Israeli military historian and theorist. The interview follows.

1. Security can be viewed as a continuum from “none” to a mythical “total.” What sort of security arrangements might suffice to convince Israeli leaders to accept an Israel living within its legal 1967 borders?

Van Creveld:
I cannot speak for Israel's leaders. Personally I think that, if Israel were to give up the West Bank and the Golan Heights, those areas should be demilitarized. Once this is done the outcome will be to enhance Israel's security, not to reduce it.

2. If Israel were to launch an attack on Iran, what would constitute “success” in the eyes of Israeli leaders?

Van Creveld:
I suspect that, in that case, any outcome would be declared a success, at least in public.

3. What are the chances of that “success” being achieved?

Van Creveld:
It depends on what you mean. Certainly there is no way Israel can cause Iran to give up its nuclear program forever. Whether we can delay it by a few years is a question I cannot answer on the basis of the information at my disposal.

4. How would you evaluate the nature of that “success” if it were achieved, e.g., considering "side-effects," long-term consequences?

Van Creveld:
Personally I agree with Defense Secretary Gates, who recently said that the long term consequences, both for Israel and for much of the rest of the world, would be disastrous. In case Israel uses mini-nukes, as some sources claim it is planning to do, they will be simply unimaginable.

5. How important is security relative to other factors (e.g., glory, ideology) in the eyes of Israeli or other relevant leadership groups?

Van Creveld:
Hard to say. I would think that, for most, security is paramount. However, there are always exceptions. Like every other country, Israel has its lunatic fringe.

6. US-Iranian relations cannot be separated from US-Israeli and US-Palestinian relations. They are all part of the broader issue of how to distribute power among various Mideast actors. How do you assess this argument?

Van Creveld:
I think that Israel has much less to fear from Iran than is usually thought. Of course it would be nice if we could solve all problems at once, but personally I would be in favor of getting out of the West Bank almost regardless of what Tehran and Washington do. After all, this is not about them; it is about safeguarding Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

7.What advice would you have for American leaders trying to deal simultaneously with Palestine, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan?

Van Creveld:
Palestine: knock the heads of Palestinians and Israelis together, forcing them to accept a settlement based on the "two states for two people" principle. Iran: try to improve relations, but keep a wary eye on the Mullas and make sure you have strong armed forces in the Gulf. Iraq: get the hell out. Afghanistan: ditto. In both cases, tell them that, in case they permit another 9-11 to be prepared on their territory, their principal cities will be wiped off the map.

Mugging Democracy

Here's a must-see cartoon about American democracy.

Taliban Spring Offensive...In Pakistan!

Following the decision of the Pakistani state to relinquish its writ in Swat to the Taliban (a highly biased interpretation open to debate, I confess, but so it appears to me at the moment), it can hardly be a surprise that the Taliban would say, "Well, that wasn't so bad. Let's drive over the mountains and visit our neighbors." [Thanks to Google Earth for this image of the magnificent Buner countryside.]

So they did, and guess what? There were no Pakistani military forces in the neighboring district of Buner either! [Thanks to Wikipedia for the map.] Note, by the way, how Buner kind of hovers just north of an imaginary line that would link Peshawar to Islamabad (just something to keep in mind). Be that as it may, this is not about a terrible scourge rising out of the unknown depths of Central Asia like Tamerlane and sweeping all before it. This is about nature filling a vacuum. The Taliban is not replacing the Pakistani government; there is no Pakistani government.

As the Frontier Post put it,

After sensing low morale and inaction of the provincial administration, and Peshawar’s lack of determination to maintain government writ in Swat, Fazlullah insurgents are acting as the new conquerors of the undefended districts in Pukhtunkhwa.

Should the Pakistani state desire to compete for political allegiance of the folks in Buner, it needs to offer them something. Straffing runs from U.S.-supplied jets won't do it. Rapid, effective justice; police backed by the military guarding public places; social services...At the moment, the Taliban have stepped up to the plate and offered these things to the people of Buner. What the people want is not the point. The point is that they are only being offered one option, the Taliban's option. Either make them another offer or start negotiating with the new government.

And that new government is gaining strength rapidly, as local representatives of the Pakistani state flee with the Taliban appropriating their vehicles, taking control of the streets. Some 2,000 Taliban fighters have already reportedly entered Buner from neighboring Swat. Vacuums fill easily.

Nevertheless, the mobility of the Taliban in a mountainous region with few roads is impressive. How much faster might they move through the network of modern roads in the lowlands? One wonders what steps the Pakistani state might possibly be taking to maintain security along its highways...

While the Taliban move into Buner may come as a surprise to Americans, there was nothing sudden about the process on the ground, where the evidence has been building for several weeks. At the moment, the evidence is building that Buner is just the latest step in a steady drive to assert control over security and courts throughout the mountains of the border area. Meanwhile, some Pakistani effort to insert paramilitary forces back into the lost territory is occurring, but the energy of the Pakistani state is visibly less than the energy of the Taliban.


This Pakistani analysis details how the bureaucracy has been facilitating the rise of Taliban power.

A very well written Pakistani approach to a solution proposes that Pakistan emerge from its slumber to find its own (i.e., not an American) way forward:

Why did we let others fight proxy wars on and from our territory in the first place? In addition, why did we let a vacuum develop because of the instability, the lack of administrative system and absence of justice that the Taliban have purportedly filled for Swat? We have been tactless, thoughtless and blind during the days of Soviet invasion and the chickens we so artfully hatched have now come home to roost. We saw it in Waziristan, Mohmand, Khyber, Dir, Bajaur and now in Swat and increasingly in Buner. We have been brainless during the Musharraf regime by being the tissue paper for US. The problem that was then very much at our doorstep is now well and truly inside our own backyard and it is destroying us, piece by piece.

Since we created this monster, the solution also lies with us. The solution is not bombing the areas left right and centre. It can only strengthen the monster. If the US cannot achieve it, with all its allies and sophisticated equipment, its satellite navigation and smart bombs, there is a fat chance that we can....

This momentary peace will not last if it is not followed by “and” action which is re- establishing the writ of government (and not what the US wants) through soft and hard means. The first is then to distance ourselves from US. Of course we cannot afford to go on an open confrontational path but there is something known as firm stance. We can do a couple of things that can show US we are serious in pursuing our own plans and not theirs. Refusing, for example, their supply line to pass through is one such step. If the parliament stands strong and firm and shows to US that it is against people’s will, only then can it happen (what the parliament is doing, however, is another sad story).

The second thing to do (and to do quickly) is to elevate the status of that part of the country, to give it a working administrative system and provide the people with ample opportunities of livelihood. Let them then make their own choice. The point over here is not opposition of an Islamic system. But can we infer this “nizam-e-adl” to be the answer to people demands? Most of the Swati people are just hoping for peace. The quick welcome that they gave to this regulation was more for personal reasons than because of ideological concurrence. Had there been peace in that area and people by popular demand had opted for a particular system then by all means there was merit in their demand. Now with a group of people calling the shots, who knows what the whole population wants?

The third most important thing is to look deep at and into our army. How did it reach such a sorry state that a bunch of ragamuffins (of our own creation) are now blackmailing us into accepting their demands, to which we have acquiesced to, for the peace of Swati people?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Recognizing Palestinians As Humans

America may still be in denial, but in Israel even the mainstream media is finding the hypocrisy of politicians a bit much. Concerning the debate over “two states” between Netanyahu and Washington, Gideon Levy in Harretz says:

Once again the diplomatic arena has become a playground of words. This will be said and that will be declared and the other will be proclaimed. This is a guarantee of another foregone failure.…

The only recognition that is needed now is Israel's recognition of the Palestinians as human beings.

Ahmadinejad, who is making a career out of making Western politicians look bad, said essentially the same thing in his review at Durban II of the course of world history over the last century. Racism, for those Western politicians who love to use the word as long as all remain carefully in denial about its meaning, means NOT recognizing others as human beings.

Levy and Ahmadinejad, each in his own way, are sending Obama a message about which he needs to think very carefully.


If you are one of those still in denial, take a look at how Israel treats Palestinian families.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Grading Obama on the Recession

For those who noticed my report grading Obama on the recession, here's Bob Reich's version:

An A on the budget, B on the stimulus, and F on the bailout.

My grades, a couple weeks ago, were:

Recession Scorecard

I. Housing: D

II. Banking: D

III. Living Standards: F

Our categories differed somewhat. I had nothing like Reich's "budget" category (10-year concept budget); Reich's "bailout" was essentially my "banking;" Reich did not have a "living standards."

Anyone else giving marks?

Two-State Solution or Dream?

The dream of a two-state solution to the increasingly menacing Palestinian-Israeli conflict may conjure up mirages from the 1930s of peaceful Jewish farmers living next to peaceful Palestinian farmers. Whether or not a militaristic Jewish industrial power with a disturbing tendency toward racism and fascism can coexist with an impoverished Palestinian state that will most likely be dominated by highly dissatisfied activists egged on by a young and alienated population is a somewhat more serious question. Glib words by jet-set politicians won't pull this rabbit out of the hat.

Of course, the talk of two states may just be hot air; perhaps there is an "understanding" that the plan is one Jewish state and one Palestinian bantustan designed never to have any independent substance. But just supposing that the talk is sincere, still, a few issues need to be addressed.

First, explain to me the mechanics of moving half a million illegal Israeli settlers back to Israel. To declare the existence of a Palestinian state while Israeli occupier forces remain would be meaningless, so do the settlers leave before the new state is created or does some non-Israeli military force control a population made up of heavily armed vigilante groups?
  • How will bitter settlers who are already extremist even in victory be controlled in defeat?
  • How will the houses they are vacating be protected from being trashed as Israeli settlers removed from Gaza trashed their homes?
  • How will a fair price be set for the Palestinians who will be moving into those houses (or will receiving a house free be considered "fair compensation" for giving up the right of return to their original homeland before the 1948 Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign)?
  • Even assuming goodwill on the part of all Israeli settlers, moving that many people will take time. What will be the process of opening Israel's West Bank apartheid road system to Palestinians?

Second, explain to me how the water infrastructure so meticulously designed to cheat Palestinian farmers in favor of Israeli farmers will be redesigned to share this scarce resource equitably.

Third, explain to me how Palestinians will travel between Gaza and the West Bank.

Fourth, explain to me who will provide security for Palestine while it goes about the long process of building up an army. And, by the way, you might want to shorten that process. The longer it takes the new Palestinian state to acquire modern weapons, the greater the likelihood that it will invite Iran, which has so kindly just announced to the world its readiness to provide regional security, to construct a military base and sign a mutual defense pact.
  • Will a mutual military inspections regime be implemented?
  • Will an international defense force be put on the Palestinian-Israeli border with the power and authority to prevent Israeli air force violations such as those Israel uses to intimidate Lebanon?

Fifth, explain to me where, in this recession world, the money will come from to create a peaceful Palestinian society.
  • Who will pay the salaries of all those unemployed young men?
  • What countries will offer to import Palestinian products, needed or not, to ensure that a stable socio-economic structure can be created?

I apologize to all glib jet-set politicians for the tedium of this essay. Go ahead, ignore the details. Just remember what happened after the U.N. Resolution 181's original definition of a two-state solution in November 1947. Just remember what happened after the British, as they fled South Asia following WWII, designated a two-state solution for their Indian colony.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Recession Progress? Not Really

If you still aren’t sure Washington is putting this recession behind us, watch Elizabeth Warren’s video interview…and you will really be worried.

RGE Monitor suggests that even if we are moving out of the recession, “recovery may well be very sluggish because synchronized global recessions and those accompanied by financial crisis tend to be severe and forestall quick recoveries.” That raises two questions:

  1. What are we doing to pull ourselves out of the global recession?
  2. What are we doing to resolve the financial crisis?

Globally, the poor are being left to fend for themselves, unless one thinks that the G20 decisions were truly substantive. That will create an even softer underbelly than existed before. With global disparity already rising and many countries decaying rather than developing even before the recession, this seems a dangerous route to recovery.

As for Wall Street, bailouts without reform would seem to leave us right where we were a year ago once the bailout funds have been used up. Or, will they continue endlessly, at the cost of turning middle America into a third world society?

But don't take my word for it....

Evidence about Global Problems

Krugman on China:

Two years ago, we lived in a world in which China could save much more than it invested and dispose of the excess savings in America. That world is gone.

Yet the day after his new-reserve-currency speech, Mr. Zhou gave another speech in which he seemed to assert that China’s extremely high savings rate is immutable, a result of Confucianism, which values “anti-extravagance.” Meanwhile, “it is not the right time” for the United States to save more. In other words, let’s go on as we were.

That’s also not going to happen.

The bottom line is that China hasn’t yet faced up to the wrenching changes that will be needed to deal with this global crisis. The same could, of course, be said of the Japanese, the Europeans — and us.

And that failure to face up to new realities is the main reason that, despite some glimmers of good news — the G-20 summit accomplished more than I thought it would — this crisis probably still has years to run.

Evidence about the Financial Crisis

Elizabeth Warren on reliability in government:

if we don’t keep the American people as part of the conversation, the decisions that will get made, will not be the decisions that are best for them.

Elizabeth Warren on transparency:

There has to be absolutely clarity….You’ve got to be able to believe the numbers…Once you’ve lied to a market, it needs it [clarity] ten times over….I want to look at the stress test.

Can you believe that the Treasury Department does not want the TARP Oversight Panel to see the stress test? What are they hiding?

Elizabeth Warren on fraud:

She points out that Japan lost a decade because government regulators and financial managers were “close,” while Sweden “fired the managers.”

I fear that right now we are much closer to the Japan end of the scale.

Krugman on Ireland:

If, as some of us fear, taxpayer funds end up providing windfalls to financial operators instead of fixing what needs to be fixed, we might not have the money to go back and do it right.

Stiglitz on the bank bailout:

The people who designed the plans are “either in the pocket of the banks or they’re incompetent.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Dangerous Plot

Special Envoy George Mitchell, April 16, 2009:

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we believe that the two-state solution, two states living side by side in peace, is the best and the only way to resolve this conflict

Another theoretical way of resolving the conflict of course exists – replacing the religious state + colony with a truly democratic state integrating Israelis and Palestinians. It might have been wise for Mitchell to mention that possibility, if just to indicate that Washington had thought through the choices should Israel refuse to accept the more moderate compromise of dividing the Palestinians’ homeland between itself and the Palestinians. Whatever the goal, one hopes that this time, the Palestinians will be at the table, ending the sorry historical pattern described below by Ilan Pappe.


Historical Pattern of One-Sided Pursuit of "Peace" in Palestine

up to the present day, 'bringing peace to Palestine' has alway meant following a concept exclusively worked out between the US and Israel, without any serious consultation with, let alone regard for, the Palestinians--Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine


Be that as it may, Mitchell’s remarks set a standard for justice that will require enormous effort on the part of practical policy to live up to. With the Netanyahu Administration resisting with all its might, thinking up all manner of precondition and erecting all manner of obstacle, people will soon start doubting Washington’s sincerity if it does not specifying what it means by “two states.” Geographic contiguity? Complete removal of Israeli citizens from land seized in 1967? Partition of Jerusalem? Right of return?...or WHAT? Obama already gave away the store by promising to maintain Bush’s $30 billion gift of weaponry.


Washington in Denial About Palestinian Future

To a greater degree than perhaps ever before, Washington today is engulfed in denial about Israel and its stupefying behavior, about its murderous policies toward the Palestinians, about the efforts of Israel and its U.S. defenders to force us to ignore its atrocities. Blinders have always been part of the attire of U.S. policymakers and politicians with regard to Israel and Israeli actions, but in the wake of the three-week Israeli assault that laid waste to the tiny territory of Gaza -- an assault ended very conveniently just before Barack Obama was inaugurated, so that he has been able to act as though it never occurred -- the perspective from which Washington operates is strikingly more blinkered than ever in the past.--Kathleen & Bill Christison


More power to Mitchell! And yet, he does sound very much like a sacrificial lamb being set up by his own government. I am not saying he is…just that he sounds like one. Some specifics from Washington about the meaning of “two states” and about possible negative incentives for Israel, should it continue obstructing progress, would enormously strengthen Mitchell’s position.

In this context, an editorial in the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat by its editor-in-chief, Tariq Alhomayed, exposes an extremely dangerous concept—that Israel would “sell” Palestinians some measure of freedom in return for a U.S. war of aggression against Iran (or perhaps an “Israeli” war of aggression with U.S. collusion):

The US Defense Secretary warned against striking Iran saying that this would be fruitless. This was followed by the Israeli President who said that the idea of [Israel] carrying out a military strike against Iran is “nonsense” and US Vice President Biden also stated to the Israelis that striking Iran would be “ill-advised”.

Why have such warnings against the danger of the military option been issued now knowing that the Israeli press has begun to talk about tough negotiations taking place between Washington and Tel Aviv regarding the peace process and Iran?

The Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper published the following headline: ‘Buscher for Yitzhar’. It refers to the idea that in order for Washington to respond to Israel’s demand that Washington prevents Iran from achieving nuclear armament then Israel must remove its settlements, particularly the Yitzhar settlement where most extremist Jews live.

The headline was based on comments made by the White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to a prominent leader of a Jewish organization. Are we facing a new equation; there will be a stop to the settlements in exchange for stopping Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon?

It is difficult to imagine what the moral impacts on U.S. and Israeli society or the practical impacts on global affairs would be of the U.S. accepting such a bribe. At a minimum, for the U.S. to agree to pay such an enormous price for such a tiny gain would definitively settle the debate over whether the Israeli tail wags the U.S. dog or the other way around. Even the establishment of a viable Palestinian state fully the equal of Israel and the complete resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute to the complete satisfaction of both parties would not remotely constitute reasonable compensation for a nuclear war of aggression justified by no more than the mirage of a possible future threat.

Moreover, the slightest suspicion in Tehran that this Arabic interpretation might represent a plot actually being considered in Washington would be the death knell of any U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, for were such a plot being entertained by Washington, it would prove true the worst accusations of American perfidy tossed about in Tehran. For those who wish to sabotage U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, be they Sunni Arab dictators or “Greater Israel” expansionists, rumors such as this are the perfect weapon.

Yes, U.S.-Iran policy is the other side of the U.S.-Israeli policy coin, but this is hardly the way to coordinate those two issues. Obama should find a way to make very clear that he has no interest in such self-destructive bribes.

Palestine: We All Need a Compromise

To understand today’s events, you must know yesterday’s history.

on a cold Wednesday afternoon, 10 March 1948, a group of eleven men, veteran Zionist leaders together with young military Jewish officers, put the final touches on a plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. That same evening, military orders were dispatched to the units on the ground to prepare for the systematic expulsion of the Palestinians from vast areas of the country.--Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (One World: Oxford, 2006), p. xii

“When it created its nation-state, the Zionist movement did not wage a war that ‘tragically but inevitably’ led to the expulsion of ‘parts of’ the indigenous population, but the other way round: the main goal was the ethnic cleansing of all of Palestine, which the movement coveted for its new state.” (Pappe, p. xvi)

That is the critical history that must be understood in order to explain Israel’s December onslaught on Gaza, its promotion of Jewish settlement of the Palestinian West Bank, and its refusal to countenance the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state.

Pappe’s description of the mechanics of ethnic cleansing could have been written this winter by a woman or child of Gaza:

the political leadership ceases to take an active part as the machinery of expulsion comes into action and rolls on, like a huge bulldozer propelled by its own inertia, only to come to a halt when it has completed its task. The people it crushes underneath and kills are of no concern to the politicians who set it in motion.--(Pappe, p. 3)

Since ethnic cleansing has in recent years become somewhat politically incorrect, Israeli leaders have substituted the tripartite goal of destroying the integrity of Palestinian society, subjugating Palestinians to Israeli will, and dismembering their land into disjointed slums that can never constitute a viable state. But the basic thrust of early 20th century Zionist policy still forms the foundation of Israeli state policy today.

Analyzing the Lieberman phenomenon, Uri Avnery— historian of the Nazi regime in Germany under which he was born and Israeli socio-political commentator--recalls Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s term “Judeo-Nazis” and writes:

Israeli-born youngsters, many of whom had recently taken part in the Gaza War. They voted for him because they believed that he would kick the Arab citizens out of Israel, and the Palestinians out of the entire historical country.

These are not marginal people, fanatical or underprivileged, but normal youngsters who finished high-school and served in the army, who dance in the discotheques and intend to found families. If such people are voting en masse for a declared racist with a pungent fascist odor, the phenomenon cannot be ignored.

If Zionism means simply finding a homeland for Jews, that is one thing. But consider Avnery’s description of fascism in light of Israeli attitudes and behavior (both state behavior and the behavior of illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank):

fascism is a special phenomenon, unlike any other. It is not an “extreme Right”, an extension of “nationalist” or “conservative” attitudes. Fascism is the opposite of conservatism in many ways, even though it may appear in a conservative disguise. Also, it is not a radicalization of ordinary, normal nationalism, which exists in every nation.

Fascism is a unique phenomenon and has unique traits: the notion of being a “superior nation”, the denial of the humanity of other nations and national minorities, a cult of the leader, a cult of violence, disdain for democracy, an adoration of war, contempt for accepted morality.

The sense of superiority, denial of the humanity of others, cult of violence, and contempt for accepted morality sum up with near perfection Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Indeed, Avnery’s description seems more clearly reflected in Israeli behavior with every passing year.

However, the major difference today is that this behavior does not just victimize Palestinians, it acts as a magnet drawing in whatever outside forces that may either feel sympathy or be looking for a cause. Thus, at the moment the Mideast is being split into two hostile camps, Israel and a handful of Arab dictators on one side facing indignant self-appointed champion of Palestinian justice Iran and its allies on the other. Sprinkle over the surface neo-con concepts like putting nuclear options on the table against non-nuclear powers and preventive war, and you have an incendiary mix the world can no longer afford to tolerate. It is, in other words, not just about Palestinian justice any more. If, by some Talmudic magic, Zionists were to eliminate Iran, that would just open the door to al Qua’ida or some other self-promoting or sincere champion.

Whether your goal is justice for Palestinians, survival for Israelis, or security for the whole world, the Israeli drive to destroy Palestine has become a menace too dangerous to continue tolerating. We all need a compromise.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Iranian-Israeli See-Saw

The illusion that American relations with Iran constitute a separate issue from American relations with Israel must be dispelled if the American ship of state is not to founder on the shoals of Mideast affairs. To achieve a measure of Mideast peace and justice that will be conducive to moderating radicalism, preventing Israel from starting a war, preventing Iran from fomenting insurgency, stabilizing the international hydrocarbon market, and making the world safe for international trade will require that Washington come to grips with the reality that its relations to Israel and to Iran are two sides of the same coin. Perhaps a better analogy is the see-saw, with the U.S. balancing in the middle trying to balance Israel and Iran, who are jumping up and down on the two ends screaming both at each other and at the U.S.

I am hardly suggesting that this analogy represents reality. Today, the U.S. is seated firmly at the Israeli end, smirking like the Cheshire Cat, with the predictable result that the whole region is polarized and destabilized—because no other actor has the courage or foresight to occupy the middle all alone, with the possible exception of Turkey.

But I am suggesting that this analogy should be the goal for Washington decisionmakers because it represents the route to Mideast progress. Whatever the cold truth about European Jewish colonization of Palestine three generations ago (see Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine), Israel exists. Whatever the paranoia about Shi’ite radicalism, Iran exists. Israel wants security; Iran wants respect and influence. Complicating affairs, both countries also want a good deal more, indeed more than either deserves or can possibly have without provoking backlash. Only in the context of the other side’s legitimate concerns and illegitimate desires can the legitimate concerns of the first side be addressed and the illegitimate desires of the first side be contained.

Washington needs to—and indeed appears to be starting to--develop the maturity to ignore the hypocritical propaganda of which each side is so fond so it can devise a balanced approach. One case in point: for leaders of Israel, which has colonized Palestine and spent the better part of the last three decades trying to colonize Lebanon, to accuse Iran of having colonial aspirations in the Arab world, would, in less serious circumstances, be laughable.

In order to balance on the Iran-Israel see-saw, Washington needs to stand in the center. In the process of groping its way toward that position, a number of questions heretofore perhaps overlooked will beg to be answered:

1) Perfect state security being impossible, how much security will it take to convince Israel to live in peace with its neighbors?

2) How can Israel be granted that amount of security in circumstances that place the Israeli population within its legal 1967 borders and allow the Palestinian people to have a homeland sufficient in scope and contiguity to constitute the basis for a viable standard of living that will leave the population resistant to external radicals?

3) How much security will it take to make Iran feel comfortable?

4) How much participation in regional affairs and influence over regional affairs will it take to satisfy the appetite of Iran as a very self-conscious emerging regional power?

Asking these questions about Iran and Israel leads to very different policy than is generated by the questions currently in vogue. Question 1 implies that no state can demand perfect security, because that simply means perfect insecurity for all the rest. Question 4 is very different than asking how severely Iran will have to be punished to force it to follow Western dictates.

Once such questions based on the assumption that the goal is to balance the aspirations of the two sides are brought center-stage, the foreign policy community can begin to devise specific policies. The critical insight is the need for balance.