Losing Control of Foreign Affairs

International law is collapsing in the Mideast-Central Asian region, and its replacement by conflict between states, client statelets, and private militias poisoned by the rising use of mercenaries threatens to cripple the ability of states to manage foreign affairs. As bad as the record of states has been, the behavior of private armies, free from any society’s control, promises to be far more dangerous.

International law, so painfully designed in recent centuries to offer human civilization some measure of protection by both giving states control over military force and regulating how those states use that monopoly, is collapsing before our eyes in the Mideast-Central Asian region because of the short-sighted misuse of power by all sides, but in particular by those very global powers most responsible for designing and benefiting from the current system of international law. In essence, international law offers states a monopoly of force plus total control over their own populations in return for constraints limiting their legal rights to start wars. People are thus sacrificed in cases where repressive regimes exist in hopes at least that this very imperfect system will inhibit war. The greater the education of the masses and the better the exchange of information among increasingly connected societies, the more repressed populations will protest and organize to combat repression. Since the weaknesses and injustice inherent in current international law are not being addressed as fast as people worldwide are becoming aware of their rising potential to take matters into their own hands, the system is cracking and–in the Mideast-Central Asian region–is collapsing.

This process of collapse begins with local dictatorships being protected by global powers, which leads to local protests that are repressed with violence, thus promoting radicalization leading to wars of national liberation, civil wars, a steady rise in the use of violence both by local dictatorships and the repressed populations. The violence radicalizes both sides while also offering all manner of opportunity for war profiteers, criminal gangs, extremist groups, and arrogant politicians willing to sacrifice their people for personal gain. This cycle of violence is now provoking the rise of secretly sponsored militias and private militias in a cycle of institutional decentralization that may well be even more dangerous than the cycle of violence provoking it.

The cycle of institutional decentralization is leading to a loss of control over military force, a nightmare scenario in which private armies are gaining sufficient power to challenge states. Both Syrian and Iraqi society have already reached the point where it is virtually impossible to distinguish “good” militias from “bad,” or even to tell what side a particular militia is on…or what its political goals are. At best, militias protect only a favored ethnic group, thus provoking beggar-thy-neighbor civil wars; at worst, they are no more than self-financed criminal gangs. Locally, people are desperate for any organized force that offers them a modicum of security; internationally, aggressive global powers are seeking ways to maintain the benefits of empire without paying the price of actually doing the fighting, a contradiction seemingly resolved first by remote-controlled drones and second by hiring mercenaries. The latter is a pact with the devil in which states relinquish power to private armies that have no purpose but to foment the endless violence that justifies their paychecks. The rich states doing the hiring either do not care about civil liberties and the rule of law in the first place or blindly make exceptions for their mercenaries, who end up with blank checks to act with impunity outside of the legal system of the hiring state. When their power reaches a sufficient level, they essentially transform themselves into independent pirate enterprises that have no societies over which to rule and simply run amok. While the Islamic State and Boko Haram may be the obvious examples, Shi’i militias in Iraq; the FARC in Colombia; a variety of militias in Syria patronized by the Gulf States, the U.S., and Turkey; the Taliban in Pakistan; Hezbollah in Lebanon; Hamas in Gaza; and militias in Nigeria and Somalia are equally pertinent examples. Another important but murky layer is the pseudo-official militia, of which many examples exist, including illegal settler military groups in Palestine protected by the Israeli regime, Colombian armed groups formed by cattle barons protected by the Colombian regime. As these three layers interact, even official state governmental structures may decline into something more properly considered to be what might be called “semi-official client militias:” no longer real states, controlling perhaps little more than the former state capital, supported only by a minority of the population, and manipulated by a foreign patron. Baghdad under U.S. occupation, Bahrain after the Saudi military intervention (supported by Pakistani mercenaries), the restored Yemeni regime re-installed by Saudi Arabia, Baghdad today as an Iranian client entity, and Damascus under Russian protection exemplify this layer.

The New World Order

Client Pseudo-States

Semi-Official Militias

Private Militias

Corporate Armies???

The result is a nearly complete continuum of official to private military regimes, all calculating the degree to which, on any given day, they should fight with or trade with any of their many active adversaries. It appears, for example, that one day historians will tell us that virtually every state opposing the Islamic State both attacked the IS and simultaneously purchased from IS the oil that keeps it afloat. Perhaps the only people to whom this insane situation makes sense is the war profiteers.

The one element missing from this continuum going from official states to private armies is the corporate army, though the story of Blackwater illustrates how rapidly we are approaching a world in which a private corporation will be able to launch a war against a state.

…Erik Prince, who is a top target on Al-Qaeda’s ‘hit list’, has moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, where the crown prince Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan is paying him $529 million to create an 800 person battalion[10]. Trained by Prince and US Navy SEALs, the small army will serve as sort of Praetorian Guard for the crown prince’s own purposes, a useful tool during times of turmoil in the Middle East. It would not be the first time that a foreign player has patiently watched the US experiment – and struggle – with a concept before adopting it and all best practices as their own. [http://yris.yira.org/essays/707.]

Already Blackwater is, independently of the U.S., organizing military forces for other countries, very possibly for uses that will harm U.S. national interests. A U.S. corporation enriched by the U.S. government as a security arm of the U.S. government has now morphed into an independent international player completely outside of the bounds of international law, as much a lone wolf as a terror gang and with potentially far more power. Whatever loyalties or moral self-constraint Blackwater may have, its evolution shows where current trends are pulling naïve and short-sighted governments: toward a world in which private interests increasingly control global politics, even to the extent of fielding private armies. Corporate armies already play key roles in wars among states, enabling tiny rich states to become overnight military powers; how far behind, if no action is taken, will be the decision of a private corporation to invade a state?

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  • Saudi Arabia and/or the UAE have hired hundreds of ex-Colombian army soldiers to help it subdue Yemen. With the half century-long Colombian civil war now winding down, Colombia has many veterans with broad experience repressing the poor, supporting rich cattle barons, and punishing democracy advocates: just what the petroshiekhs and their Salafi allies need to colonize Yemen. [Middle East Eye 11/2/15.]
  • According to mercenary analyst Tim Shyrock, “Without much notice or debate, the Obama administration has greatly expanded the outsourcing of key parts of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency wars in the Middle East and Africa…” [The Daily Beast, 12/10/15.]
  • Houthi forces have reportedly killed Blackwater mercenaries in Yemen. [El-Akhbar.com.]

City on the Hill?

With the U.S. running the world, unfortunately, everyone else behaves just like us.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Rice has just excoriated Moscow and Beijing in most undiplomatic terms over their refusal to sign up to Washington’s latest attempt to differentiate “good” from “evil” in the Muslim world. Truth be told, in this case, I happen to agree with Washington: Assad does, as Washington claims, deserve to be fired for his horrifying human rights violations. It is, as Ambassador Rice, said, “disgusting” for the world to tolerate such behavior…just as it was “disgusting” for “Washington to tolerate, if not encourage,”  Israel’s slaughter of Lebanese in 2006 …just as is also “disgusting” the complete evasion by Washington decision-makers of any moral judgments concerning their threats to launch (or “allow,” via Tel Aviv) an unprovoked and potentially genocidal military attack on Iran for having the temerity to consider the future possibility of developing weapons that might in the distant future balance the weapons Israel already possesses.

Thus, there is a far larger story here than today’s arbitrary policy by this or that global power toward tiny Syria.  The U.N. spat over Syria reflects lessons learned in Moscow and Beijing over the years watching how the self-appointed leader of the world behaves. Chickens come home to roost, and in this case U.S. chickens have dealt the U.S. a defeat. The U.S. is in fact the big elephant in the room (not overly to mix the metaphorical residents of the international political zoo), and what it does…and says…has vast influence over the world that mankind is creating and thus over the long-term security of both the American people and everyone else. If morality, human rights, and civil rights constitute constraints on U.S. behavior that Washington accepts for long-term moral reasons, that helps create one kind of world. If, instead, they are merely rhetorical swords to be lifted in anger when momentarily convenient, everyone else will get the message, and that will help create a very different kind of world.

The whole idea of human rights comes from the West and even there is only hanging on by its fingernails in the face of demands by rich right-wingers and more than a few fundamentalists to engage in what they, from their mansions or pulpits, are pleased to call “realism.” Bashar al-Assad’s attack on Homs cannot but remind every thinking citizen on this planet of the U.S. attack on Fallujah, the Russian attack on Grozniy, and the Israeli attacks on South Lebanon (2006)--in which Israel effectively practiced ethnic cleansing of the region–and Gaza (2009). In each case, overwhelming force was barbarically employed against a civilian population for arbitrary tactical purposes without regard for morality by whatever power happened to be involved. Washington of course judged some of these events to be “good,” others “evil,” as convenient. Given the resultant absence of any moral consistency in U.S. foreign policy, how can Russians or Chinese be expected to accept American ideals about human rights when those ideals are judged to conflict with the short-term interests of those ruling elites?

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Western Morality & Tactical Convenience: The Lebanon Example

The standard Western version is that the July 2006 invasion was justified by legitimate outrage over capture of two Israeli soldiers at the border. The posture is cynical fraud. The US and Israel, and the West generally, have little objection to capture of soldiers, or even to the far more severe crime of kidnapping civilians (or of course to killing civilians). That had been Israeli practice in Lebanon for many years, and no one ever suggested that Israel should therefore be invaded and largely destroyed. [Noam Chomsky, “On the U.S.-Israeli Invasion of Lebanon.”]

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The wealthy, conservative elite–comfortable with the privileges it has stolen through its “realistic” (i.e., calculating, self-serving) two-sided policy of impoverishing the middle class via “globalization” or invasion–does occasionally identify a genuine bad guy to go after. Saddam was obviously one, and Assad, despite certain indications to the contrary after he replaced his father, certainly does at the moment appear to be another. But the nasty behavior of these gentlemen fundamentally has little to do with Washington’s attitude toward them, as is made clear by Washington’s “inability” to see the Saudi-enforced pillage of Bahrain or its failure to make a clear moral judgment about Israel’s barbaric destruction of southern Lebanon during the summer of 2006.

Indeed, the record of U.S. violations of its own principles is now a horrifyingly long one. Financially, under the banner of what is now called “globalization,” which really means the globalization of a financial system designed by and for the benefit of U.S. corporations, the approach focuses on a combination of American manipulation of economics to steal the national wealth of other societies plus physical violence (massacre of protesters, kidnappings, torture) by local lackeys. The historical record extents from the CIA-sponsored overthrow of Iran’s emerging secular democratic movement in the early 1950s through the overthrow of Chile’s democracy in a  U.S.-facilitated coup by the murderous General Pinochet and the exploitation of Mexico in the 1980s and the carefully manipulated fire-sale theft of (ally!) South Korea’s major corporations during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis* up to the takeover of much of Iraq’s oil industry with the aid of U.S.-written laws carefully penned during the short but effect period of U.S. colonization. When the boys on Wall Street and their allies at the IMF fall short, outright invasion (e.g., Iraq) enforces the globalization campaign…which brings us to Iran and the current pressure against Iran’s ally Syria.

Yes, watching Damascus slaughter its citizens is sickening as was watching Israel slaughter the helpless residents of Gaza or South Lebanon, not to mention the crimes of Saddam against the Kurds back when Saddam was a valued lackey of the Reagan Administration. While his slaughter of his own people may be what appals those American citizens who want Washington to overthrow Assad, what gets the goat of Washington decision-makers is Assad’s insistence on supporting Iran’s quest for an independent (Read: anti-globalization) foreign policy. Almost all Americans with the patience to read this far will surely be confused (and angry), so, to get to the point, imagine the confusion of others contemplating Washington’s behavior! How can you possibly expect Moscow and Beijing to understand the moral foundations underpinning Washington’s identification of “good” and “evil?”

Having seen Washington support Israeli barbarism against Lebanon and Palestine and its own financial destruction of one country after another (leaving, for example, some 20,000,000 people unemployed in Asia after 1997 alone and essentially destroying the middle classes of Chile, Argentina, Indonesia, South Korea, and Iraq), if Moscow and Beijing now consider it convenient for strategic reasons to support a murderous Syrian dictator or, in the event, a vicious, fundamentalist Iranian regime looking for fame and fortune, well, our colleagues in Moscow and Beijing are just copying good, old American “realism.” Perhaps the interests of the American people (the 99%) would be better served if their elected representatives would teach the rest of the world a different lesson.


The public debate between the “national security through force” (realism/conservatism/imperialism) advocates and the advocates of a moral foreign policy (human rights/negotiation with adversaries/compromise/equality) is frequently posed in the U.S. as an argument between “realists” and “idealists.” This is a self-defeating misconception that endangers long-term U.S. national security in a world that is getting much too big for the U.S. to control and much too complex for any American to rule wisely. A truly realistic approach to security must begin to recognize that ignoring ideals imposes serious costs and following the rules derived from idealism (be they logical precepts such as “always talk to opponents because when you talk, you learn” or formal rules such as international law) even when adhering to ideals may require relinquishing tactical advantages offers valuable long-term advantages. It is, to be blunt, much cheaper to negotiate a deal with, say, a nuclear-armed Russia or a China that holds hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars that it could dump on the market or an Iran that could drive oil prices through the roof and fight an almost endless asymmetric battle than it is to fight a war (be it a military or a financial conflict).__________________
* On the Asian Financial Crisis, see Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (Picador, New York, 2007), 332-353; Ask A Korean; “How the IMF Helped Create and Worsen the Asian Financial Crisis.

Pakistan Contemplates Iranian Triumph Over U.S.

With the U.S. allegedly already in the midst of a covert war against Iran (most recently suggested by the violation of Iranian airspace by the now-famous captured drone), a Pakistani report illustrates a significant degree of sympathy for Iran. The potential for a Pakistani-Iranian entente rises with every passing day in the face of U.S. intransigence toward both.

In a very serious analytical piece about the implications of Iran’s shoot-down of a U.S. drone that violated Iranian airspace that appeared in Pakistan’s Nation [ Babak Dehghanpisheh, 12/11/11], you can almost hear the gloating. The title says it: “Iran Hits the Jackpot.” It must be easy for Pakistanis to feel some kinship with Iranians these days, with both countries’ airspace being violated by the U.S. military. The author reports that “Russian and Chinese officials have already asked to inspect the drone” and explains how the technology may flow into the hands of others, including Hezbollah. One can hardly help but wonder why the author did not mention the possibility of this technology now getting into Taliban hands as well; with a state of war between the Taliban and the Pakistani regime still in existence despite talk of talks, that may perhaps best be left clearly implied but unstated. The broader point about the leveling process of the U.S. high-tech weapons getting into enemy hands once those weapons are used is the real message, and the author reviews the many precedents illustrating the ability of Iranians and Hezbollah to manipulate such advanced technology to their benefit.

American readers should note the absence in this Pakistani review of any sense of “backwardness” on the part of the various Central Asian or Mideastern adversaries of the U.S. An American military secret, once revealed, can be made use of. The locals can fight back against the empire not just in their own ways but also using the empire’s supposedly unique techniques. Washington is changing how the whole world goes to war and is doing so much faster than it can itself figure out whether or not the ultimate benefit will be to the U.S. or to its adversaries.

Two years ago the U.S. rather shortsightedly took the opportunity to shoot down an Iranian drone over Iraq [Wired Danger Room 3/12/09], evidently without troubling itself to consider how U.S. occupiers might justify firing on an Iranian aircraft that was over Iraq rather than the U.S. Now Iran has paid the U.S. back, but the advantage goes very much to Iran’s benefit – in terms of the flow of valuable technology and the propaganda value. The domestic political position of Iranian hardliners has also surely been solidified; their argument that the world needs to be governed in a new way greatly strengthened.

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Ahmadinejad Calls for New Global Political Order

2011: Most nations of the world are unhappy with the current international circumstances. And despite the general longing and aspiration to promote peace, progress, and fraternity, wars, mass-murder, widespread poverty, and socioeconomic and political crises continue to infringe upon the rights and sovereignty of nations, leaving behind irreparable damage worldwide.
Approximately, three billion people of the world live on less than 2.5 dollars a day, and over a billion people live without having even one sufficient meal on a daily basis. Forty-percent of the poorest world populations only share five percent of the global income, while twenty percent of the richest people share seventy-five percent of the total global income.
More than twenty thousand innocent and destitute children die every day in the world because of poverty. In the United States, eighty percent of financial resources are controlled by ten percent of its population, while only twenty percent of these resources belong to the ninety percent of the population.
What are the causes and reasons behind these inequalities?…
The rulers of the global management circles divide the social life from ethics and spirituality while claiming the situation is the outcome of the pursuit of the path of divine prophets or the vulnerability of nations or the ill performance of a few groups or individuals. They claim that only their views and approaches can save the human society….
Who provoked and encouraged Saddam Hussein to invade and impose an eight-year war on Iran, and who assisted and equipped him to deploy chemical weapons against our cities and our people?
Who used the mysterious September 11 incident as a pretext to attack Afghanistan and Iraq , killing, injuring, and displacing millions in two countries with the ultimate goal of bringing into its domination the Middle East and its oil resources?…
Who dominates the policy-making establishments of the world economy?
Who are responsible for the world economic recession, and are imposing the consequences on America, Europe and the world in general?
Which governments are always ready to drop thousands of bombs on other countries, but ponder and hesitate to provide aid to famine-stricken people in Somalia or in other places?…
Efforts must be made with a firm resolve and through collective cooperation to map out a new plan, on the basis of principles and the very foundation of universal human values such as Monotheism, justice, freedom, love and the quest for happiness.
The idea of creation of the United Nations remains a great and historical achievement of mankind. Its importance must be appreciated and its capacities must be used to the extent possible for our noble goals.
We should not allow this organization which is the reflection of the collective will and shared aspiration of the community of nations, to deviate from its main course and play into the hands of the world powers.
Conducive ground must be prepared to ensure collective participation and involvement of nations in an effort to promote lasting peace and security.
Shared and collective management of the world must be achieved in its true sense, and based on the underlying principles enshrined in the international law. Justice must serve as the criterion and the basis for all international decisions and actions. [International Business Times 9/22/11.]

2008: He accused the United States of oppressing Iraqis with six years of occupation, saying Americans were “still seeking to solidify their position in the political geography of the region and to dominate oil resources.”[CNN 9/22/11.]

2007: Ahmadinejad invited “all independent, justice-seeking and peace-loving nations” to join Iran in a “coalition for peace.” [CNN 9/22/11.]

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The more blatant the discriminatory behavior of the U.S. (e.g., asserting the right to violate the borders of other states at will), the more attractive Ahmadinejad’s message becomes in the eyes of all global observers.

If Iran can make such a clarion call for global justice, why not Pakistan? If Iran can hit back at U.S. violations of international law with legitimate force, why not Pakistan? In the context of Pakistan already beefing up its air defense capabilities for the precise purpose of stopping U.S. aerial attacks inside Pakistan (unless permitted by Pakistan), if Iran can do this, might Pakistani generals be tempted to chat with the Iranians about how they did it? If Iran can say this, might Pakistani politicians be tempted to make similar calls for global justice?

Indeed, they already are:

Pakistan should develop relations with Iran and China on permanent basis, former information minister and MNA Syed Sumsam Bukhari urged the government and linked resolution of problems to preservation of national dignity.
“Developing warm relations with Iran and China is need of the hour,” he told party workers and media persons. [The Nation 12/11/11.]

Washington’s outdated two-party Cold War mentality is undermining U.S. national security step-by-step every day as it offers a policy of intransigence toward antagonists and friends alike. If Washington cannot learn how to be sympathetic toward the views and needs of others, then it must at least learn to compromise. Insistence on victory always and everywhere at the expense of others is too difficult and too expensive; it is a policy designed to fail.

Do We Want a Zero-Sum or a Positive-Sum World?

As tempting as it may be to conceive of an opponent as “evil” and oneself as “good,” the truth is seldom so clear-cut: something happened, someone felt boxed in, someone misunderstood someone else’s intentions, one thing led to another. But humans can’t know everything and will always search for a neat mental model. Rather than “good vs. evil,” try “zero-sum vs. positive sum.”

During the half century following WWII, this article would surely have focused on the example of communism vs. capitalism. Child labor and bailouts for the rich at the expense of the poor are bad even when practiced in capitalism systems. Free health care is good, even when practiced in communist systems. Each system should be judged on its merits rather than simply tossed in a box with a mindless label (“the good system,” “the bad system”). The U.S. caused itself enormous harm by the emotional, thoughtlessly rigid way it approached whatever group it judged to be “communist,” alienating potential allies by classifying them as enemies because they sought justice.
Today, the U.S. has the same self-defeating Manichean attitude toward radical Islam, as though no Muslim had the “right” to demand radical reform regardless of the injustice of his or her circumstances. Instead of trying to distinguish “good” from “evil” as a route to understanding Mideast politics, we should try distinguishing those who view regional political affairs as a zero-sum game from those who view the world as a positive-sum (win-win) game, and then we should act in an inclusive manner to promote the positive-sum perspective.

Positive Sum History
“Positive-sum history” is the optimistic view that history shows the development of human civilization in the direction of an ever-broader definition of the common good. The optimist sees history as progress, believing that as education spreads it also deepens, so we can learn from history. According to this view (which one may call a “religion,” since it must be taken mostly on faith), the barbarism of the 20th century will teach us the value of international law and democracy, with both institutions used for the good not of a class or ethnic group but of mankind.

Zero-Sum History
“Zero-sum history” pessimistically interprets history as always adding up to the same thing; it’s either them or us. The pessimist sees history as repeating old mistakes since human DNA preordains that hubris will trump humility. According to this view (which may be called “realism” because most historical evidence supports it), all issues are zero-sum and all goals are short-term. (Aside from a few fundamentalists–who seem to exist at the margins of most major religions–and the occasional terrorist with no apparent goal beyond dying along with his victims, essentially no one advocates negative-sum behavior, which would seek defeat for both sides. Therefore, even though negative-sum behavior is amazingly common, it can perhaps be ignored in this context.)

The Power of a Mental Model

Positive-sum history and negative-sum history are alternative mental models, gross simplifications designed to provide first steps toward organizing the clutter of information into meaningful categories. Neither, by definition, is “true,” any more than it is “true” that a rainbow is green. A rainbow may contain green, and history may contain positive-sum examples (international law),  zero-sum examples (Hitler), and even negative-sum examples (Israel’s suicidal Sampson Option). When a decision-maker mistakes either of these constructs for organizing one’s thinking as a description of reality in global affairs, disaster should be anticipated. These constructs or models are not “reality” but goals.
These models are of course not restricted to broad discussions of “history.” The point of grand models of history is that they serve as guides for negotiating the twists and turns along the sinuous trail toward practical policy goals. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R., hostility and suspicion notwithstanding, agreed that nuclear war should be avoided, that a direct Soviet-American military conflict should be avoided, that certain weapons systems could usefully be banned, that poisoning the common atmosphere with nuclear tests was bad, that bilateral trade was a good idea. They agreed, despite their bitter conflict for global supremacy, to talk and to listen…and to compromise. They understood the concept of positive-sum outcomes. The absence of a global nuclear war was a pretty clear example of a positive-sum outcome.
These two alternative models are also not trivial choices for policy-makers. The post-9/11 zero-sum attitude that “if you are not with us, you are against us” led to a decade of war against political Islam that has the U.S. bogged down in a losing battle to this day. If, by contrast, the positive-sum model offers a more beneficial foundation for foreign policy, that does not mean the choice is simple. Adopting a positive-sum model means, by definition, taking into account the preferences of others, from which it follows that one’s own appetites must be constrained by a willingness to share and to seek profit in ways that may be less convenient and more costly in order to enable adversaries also to find benefit. Designing policy for positive-sum outcomes requires far more imagination than fighting to the death for victory; it requires figuring out ways to redefine the contest:
  • Rather than a zero-sum war to control global hydrocarbon resources, a positive-sum policy might promote a treaty to manage global resources and spend the money saved on developing alternative sources of energy.
  • Rather than a zero-sum policy of offering nuclear arms to allies while threatening adversaries who demand equal access, a positive-sum policy might offer security guarantees and alternative energy technology to all who would sign up to a regional nuclear-free zone.
A positive-sum foreign policy constitutes a commitment to a fundamentally different worldview entailing a dramatic restructuring of budget priorities and long-term national security strategic calculations.

Using the Models to Guide Mideast Policy
Given the pertinence of the concept of a positive-sum outcome to reversing the disastrous U.S. foreign policy toward the Muslim world over the past decade, the rest of this discussion will focus on the application of the models to that case. According to the optimistic view of positive-sum history, Obama means what he says and will in the end support peace and justice in the Mideast, believing that while “peace” via totalitarian control may have worked rather well for extended periods in the past, mankind has today matured and the world has shrunk to the point of putting Orwell’s 1984 behind us. Obama will thus further understand that peace between Israel and Palestine is one side of a many-sided coin that certainly includes peace between Iran and the West and that the most reliable route to the one is to move simultaneously toward the other. Hence, the U.S. will grope its way toward a position of supporting Israeli security not because of some “chosen people” myth, “end of days” fundamentalism, guilt over Nazi atrocities unhindered, or the short-term convenience of an “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” but simply because Israelis are human and deserve security just as much as Palestinians do. Obama will also understand that Iran deserves an active part in Mideast affairs not because of its Israeli-style nuclear ambiguity but because of its intrinsic importance and originality of thought. Washington will therefore offer genuine compromise to Iran, and Tehran will find the maturity and vision to meet it halfway. Washington will curb Israeli militarists and support the maintenance of beleaguered Israeli democracy even while helping to construct Palestinian democracy. Washington will realize that the road to peace is the right road and that the question is not about which ethnic group to support but whether to support fascism or democracy. Then Washington will, as a superpower should, change the world.

According to the pessimistic zero-sum view, if oil is running out, then Washington will use a good bit of what is left in military adventures to seize the last drop. If a corrupt regime offers support, Washington will greedily accept. Obama, being black and having what has now become an extremely sensitive Islamic name, is nothing more than an extraordinarily fortunate cover behind which the conservative military/financial elite can hide their manipulation of the world in a way they never could under Bush/Cheney. The Palestinians will be bulldozed into oblivion under the cover of beautiful rhetoric delivered with winks and endless talks about talks. The eager Israeli militarists will get everything they want, but the price will be Israeli descent into fascism under the management of a garrison state that can survive only amidst perpetual war, moving smoothly from the West Bank to Iran, joining the region of Muslim unrest in the Mideast with the region of Muslim unrest in Central Asia. The superpower, focused on power instead of governing for the people, will turn into a new Weimar Republic and very likely catch the fascist disease as its uneducated population rightfully becomes angrier and angrier but sadly without understanding cause and effect. And thus, in a different way, the superpower will change the world anyway.

Zero-sum Dynamics
Of course, neither of the above scenarios is likely to occur; reality will be a confusion of the two and perhaps much else. The point of the scenarios is that each worldview–that world affairs is zero-sum and that world affairs is (or at least might be) positive-sum–in practice amounts to an exponential spiral with the dynamics of a whirlpool or an avalanche. A step in either direction just makes the next step all the easier.

As soon as it became fashionable to make war on terrorists, as though they could be defeated by charging through the gates of their fortress and demanding their surrender, it became much easier to start wars for other purposes. If a superpower could invade a country to catch a gang of terrorists, then it could invade a country to get its oil or prevent it from posing some theoretical future threat. One constraint on arbitrary behavior after another evaporated. Less than a decade after the U.S. invaded Iraq, American bombing of other countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia) hardly even makes the U.S. news, and the precedent has been copied by Israel vs. Lebanon, Turkey vs. Iraq, Russia vs. Georgia, Colombia vs. Ecuador. Only the naive will be surprised if it is copied one day by China vs. Taiwan or India vs. Pakistan. The beginnings of the exponential spiral away from international law toward zero-sum interstate behavior is already quite clearly visible.

Once invasion became acceptable to defeat a subnational actor, it was an easy step to collective punishment, as well. After all, if the subnational actors in fact represented social movements, then perhaps “society” was to blame and deserved to be punished. When down-on-its-heels Russia was allowed to get away with the collective punishment of Grozniy, al Qua’ida’s slaughter of civilians in New York and the U.S. attack on Fallujah became all the easier, and then who was pure enough to criticize Israel’s destruction of Gaza?

As soon as it became fashionable to toss around the idea that “all options” were on the table, it became easier to imply with a smirk that “all options” really meant the military option and that the military option really meant nuclear war. The ultimate threat became common parlance; civil discourse began sounding like the sneer of a bully in a dark alley. The ultimate threat became commonplace and began to be used thoughtlessly and in a way that had become demeaning and counterproductive.

A striking recent example was the unseemly rush of the Pentagon to contradict a now rare example of Washington reasonableness, when U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy stated that all options toward Iran were “off the table in the near term” [AP 4/21/10]. Although still falling far short of what would have seemed the only rational statement in past decades, i.e., that nuclear attack against a non-nuclear power is always off the table (in order thereby to encourage countries to forgo the development of nuclear weapons), Flournoy’s remark was still too much for the new, post-Cold War Washington to tolerate, so the Pentagon immediately reminded the world that nuclear attack by the world’s only superpower remained on the table [Reuters 4/21/10].

Then Washington went further down this slippery slope, making the incredible statement that “all options” would be on the table against Syria if it turned out that Syria had sent Scuds–an absurdly primitive weapon with which to balance Israeli military might–to helpless Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Are we to believe that Washington decision-makers have floated so far into the Twilight Zone that they would launch nuclear war against everyone who talks back? Or have “all options” suddenly metamorphasized into a code word, as I have advocated regarding Israel [OpEd News 3/16/10] and Iran [Foreign Policy comment 3/7/10], for…ah…”all” options, including sympathy and compromise? Perhaps they have, but somehow I doubt it.

The rising acceptance of invasion, the collective punishment of civilians, and the use of nuclear weapons illustrates the perilous dynamics of a zero-sum view of history. Two dynamics are visible here. First, once the moral barrier is broached, others copy the bad precedent. Second, one zero-sum precedent facilitates the use of other zero-sum precedents. The interaction of these two dynamics merely accelerates the exponential curve of collapsing standards of behavior.

Positive-Sum Dynamics
Positive-sum dynamics are harder to get started because they suffer from the reputation of being “dangerous,” as though the events of the last 15 years in Grozniy, New York, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, Yemen, and Lebanon were somehow “not dangerous.” The very actors who implement these zero-sum policies are the first to warn of the dangers, citing Hezbollah rockets or Pakistani rebels or Iranian nuclear infrastructure, yet they persist in employing the very tactics that push the world further toward realization of the extreme zero-sum mental model.
Yet the trend toward a zero-sum world took place one step at a time. Public rhetoric only slowly lost its sense of morality. War on cities only slowly became commonplace (or, more accurately, commonplace again). What might have happened if the West had seriously condemned Russia’s flattening of Grozniy? What would have happened if Washington, basking in the glow of global sympathy on 9/11, had called for an international police action to arrest and bring to trial international terrorists? What would have happened after Israel’s retreat from Lebanon in 2000 if Lebanon’s security had been guaranteed? What would have happened if Israel’s attack on Jenin had been used by the West as evidence that Palestinians must be given justice? What would have happened if the legally elected Hamas administration of Palestine in 2006 had been supported rather than overthrown?

  • What would happen if the West now recognized the right of all countries to obtain medical-grade uranium for whatever medical use that those countries would open to full international inspection?

Would that simply allow Tehran more room to cheat or might it undercut the pro-nuclear lobby in Tehran? Would that simply allow Tel Aviv more room to cheat or might it spark the revival of Israel’s formerly vigorous pro-peace party? Might the undercutting of Tehran’s nuclear advocates feed the revival of an Israeli peace party and vice-versa?

  • What would happen if Washington endorsed international calls for a nuclear-free Mideast and called on Israel and Iran jointly to adopt a policy of nuclear transparency?

If Washington pressured Tehran and Tel Aviv to talk about the tough issue of nuclear arms, might each side come to see some advantage in doing so? And if they did, might they discover other arenas in which cooperation would be mutually beneficial?

What would the impact on Hezbollah be if the Lebanese Army were able to defend the country against Israeli aggression? What would be the impact on Israel if it saw Hezbollah’s power decline at the same time that its own ability to conduct a foreign policy based on military superiority was also declining?

  • What would happen if Washington stated that it favored the security of all Mideast societies and that it was replacing its Israeli-centric strategy with a strategy of Mideast multipolarity, in which Washington would work closely with all regional powers that were willing to work with it, without requiring that they accept all of Washington’s policies?

Do Washington decision-makers have the wisdom to discover ways of putting teeth into such a pronouncement? If so, might Mideast states slowly come to see some value in cooperating? Even under the neo-cons, the U.S. and Iran cooperated to set up the current regime in Afghanistan. This was a rare positive-sum outcome swallowed by the Bush Administration. Can we believe it is the only conceivable example of a potential positive-sum joint U.S.-Iranian action?

None of these actions would instantly transform the balance of power. None of these actions would irretrievably imperil any country’s security. Each would be just a step that could be reversed, slowed, or redirected. But these are important questions. These questions deserve to asked, debated, answered, and acted on; evading the questions is merely voluntarily to blind oneself. Adopting the positive-sum approach does not provide any answers, but it does guide one to start asking questions that open doors to considering new possibilities. These questions point out the many opportunities for reversing the cycle of violence and suggest that the sparking of a benign dynamic founded on a perception of history as positive-sum might not only be possible but might increase the security of all.

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Positive-Sum Thinking 
The Case of Afghanistan
Can a positive-sum outcome to the endless mess in the Pakistani-Afghan theater be negotiated? The core U.S. goal in Afghanistan is, presumably, to avoid a terrorist attack on the U.S. The second most important U.S. goal should arguably be constraining heroin exports and the third escaping with the shirt on our backs. These goals constitute minimal U.S. interests. 
Putting these three modest and non-threatening goals on the table as U.S. requirements while offering to negotiate everything else, might Washington be able to entice cooperation out of Kabul, New Delhi, Islamabad, Tehran, and the Taliban? That group is probably the smallest set of negotiating partners that will have to be included to achieve a workable compromise, with success being premised above all on convincing them that the U.S. will truly be willing to walk away in return for some measure of local peace and justice–giving up control, military bases, and oil rights.
This minimal goal set should reassure all the many who fear U.S. imperialism, the irritation of U.S. troops on the ground, heavy-handed U.S. efforts to remake the world in its own image whether the recipients want such help or not, etc. This goal set would open the door to serious consideration of how the conflicting interests of the other parties might be redefined. How that can be accomplished is not clear, and the U.S. role should perhaps focus simply on encouraging them all to get together and define a smooth exit strategy for the U.S. (keeping in mind that al Qua’ida may well focus on preventing the U.S. from escaping).
Three points seem unavoidable: 1) the frame of mind that all the above-mentioned negotiating partners have legitimate interests that will require consideration, 2) that all will need to be included in the dialogue, and 3) that the U.S., as the outsider, should expect to gain the least (a degree of modesty not common in superpowers). The first step is to set the tone by adopting the perspective that attempts to achieve one-sided (zero-sum) victory must give way to a positive-sum outcome.
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In practice, U.S. foreign policy has traditionally mixed and hopelessly confused these two diametrically opposed perspectives. Yet almost always one of these policies is the best foundation for a consistent, effective long-term approach to creating a safer world. It is time to face up in public debate to the implications of these two alternative approaches to foreign policy and to decide which one will best serve the interests of U.S. society and the rest of mankind.

Turkish-Egyptian Possibilities

Does a little anti-Israeli PR from Cairo when the Egyptian government obviously needs to calm down its population really matter?

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry website reports:

On receiving the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr affirmed the importance of exerting all possible efforts to maintain stability in Lebanon and protecting it from all regional developments which might be negatively reflected on the country and the importance of excluding any political actor from the Lebanese equation

Spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Counselor Amr Roushdi stated that the Minister stressed that the main guarantee for Lebanese and regional stability is the immediate halting of the daily Israeli violations of the Lebanese airspace and respecting the Lebanese sovereignty over its space and soil.

In the context of a world nearly united in favor of the recognition of a Palestinian state, the popular Egyptian calls for an end to the Egyptian-Israeli alliance, the collapse of Israeli-Turkish ties, and the utter loss of U.S. credibility as a peace broker, yes, it matters.

While it is likely that no one would anticipate immediate Egyptian military moves to protect Lebanon, the mere launching of a diplomatic initiative focusing attention on Israel’s belligerence against Lebanon changes the Mideast political environment. It says that now, suddenly, Israel no longer has the essentially unchallenged (except by Iran) right to do what it wants. (It also says that Iran no longer “owns” the issue of supporting Palestinians, something Washington should applaud.) Already on the defensive over the U.N. campaign by Palestinians for recognition of a Palestinian state and over its attack on the international delegation trying to bring aid to Gazans, Israel will now be preoccupied by a third embarrassing diplomatic battle.

Will Israeli FM Lieberman advocate support for anti-Egyptian terrorism, as he did with Turkey? (One might well wonder why Israel would want to legitimate the use of terror as a tool of state policy…) Indeed, Lieberman’s threat suggests more clearly than anything else the disarray of the Israeli government. Israel’s free ride during the post-9/11 years may be drawing to a close.

Given the obsequious attitude of Washington toward anything desired by the Israeli right, the military side of the whole issue of the Israeli campaign of Lebanese border violations seems likely to be minor, although the imminent transfer of Turkish warships to the Eastern Mediterranean with the apparent intent of protecting future popular efforts to break Israel’s Gaza Ghetto blockade raises the possibility of a future military response on behalf of Lebanon.

For now, however, the real significance of Cairo’s statement is its perfect timing in support of Erdogan. Erdogan will get off the plane today in Cairo knowing that his trip is already a success: Cairo is now publicly committed to raising the heat on Israeli transgressions of international law. Moreover, Cairo has selected an issue, very possibly after careful secret discussions with Ankara, that can only make Israel look bad and in response to which Tel Aviv probably will not be able to do much. Beating up on helpless Lebanon only accomplishes one thing: it legitimizes Hezbollah. A real friend of Israel would so inform them, but Israel’s lackeys in Washington are not, in the end, such friends.

So Tel Aviv must watch helplessly while Cairo and Ankara bask in the strong, warm sunlight on the high moral ground. After all, who can object to the integrity of international borders?

One caveat is important: the whole idea of a military alliance between Turks and Egyptians is, well, shall we just say “sensitive” and leave it at that? I mean, all that U.S. military aid in limbo, and Turkey probably does not want to be expelled from NATO (North Atlantic Treaty for Protecting Israel Organization). Then, there’s all that historical baggage…I mean, let’s just say that Cairo and Ankara do create a military alliance and do emerge supreme in the Mideast. Down the road a bit, sure, but let’s just say they do. Then what? Will the land of Nasser, the Custodian of the Three Holy Pyramids play second fiddle to the new Ottoman Empire? Will the neo-Ottomans, who used to rule Egypt, play second fiddle to an impoverished country dependent on U.S. aid?

So, over the long run, many sensitivities will need to be managed. Nevertheless, for now, even a tiny step toward serious Turkish-Egyptian military cooperation in the context of worsening relations between each and Israel constitutes a tipping point. The weakening regional position of the U.S. only underscores this. Arguments over how many centimeters down the slippery slope this carries the Mideast are beside the point. The momentum has shifted. Instead of a dominant dynamic of U.S.-Israel-Saudi control of the Mideast, one now sees the potential rise of dominance of a new dynamic: political initiative shifting to a moderate (primarily peaceful and supportive of international law) coalition with real military power and popular support that will challenge Israel’s right to play by special rules. Washington of course remains free to continue supporting everything Tel Aviv does, but only at the cost of harming U.S. national security a little bit every single time it does so.

And Erdogan? All he has to do is shake hands with Egyptian leaders, congratulate them loudly on their foresight, proclaim Ankara’s strong support, visit the pyramids, and go home. That will suffice to change the dynamics of Mideast affairs. Anything beyond that will be icing on the moderate Islamist, moderate nationalist cake.

And that raises the question of what further steps Cairo and Ankara might indeed take in the context of an Egyptian call for Israel to respect Lebanese security, a Palestinian campaign for statehood, and Ankara’s announcement that its warships will start patrolling off the coast of Israel and Lebanon.

Syria and Palestine. A strongly worded joint call for peaceful resolution of domestic conflict that lays out a set of principles to be applied equally in Syria and in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would put Cairo and Ankara nicely on the moral high ground.

Lebanon. A joint statement supporting the territorial integrity of Lebanon would be a minimal step. Joint naval patrols off Lebanon’s coast would add substance. Holding discussions on possible joint military aid to Lebanon and leaking the story to the media would go a step further. If they want to be really creative, Cairo and Ankara could announce support for the principle of the integrity of “all regional state borders,” specifically including the borders of Bahrain, Lebanon, a future Palestinian state, and the 1967 borders of Israel.

Gaza. And then, there’s Gaza. Some initiative regarding the right of Gazans to participate in international trade, fish off their coastline, receive the income from any hydrocarbons in Gazan territorial waters, and travel into Egypt is the absolute minimum that must come out of the Turkish-Egyptian summit in order to avoid the charge of hypocrisy. Whatever else the two sides do, Cairo must figure out a way to start extricating itself from its complicity in the Gaza Ghetto.

The amazing thing about Erdogan’s visit is the abundance of possibilities on the Egyptian-Turkish table.

How a Superpower Earns Respect

Once again Israeli rightwingers manipulated Washington into doing something that harms U.S. national security. Eventually, this bill will come due.
How does a superpower earn friends and influence people? Its just like at home Mom and Dad really do not get much respect or love from the kids by owning the biggest house. They get it by earning it, through the little things, like attention and consideration and fairness. (If this sounds like preaching, all you dear readers on Main Street, well, it is, but dont be offended: Im not talking to you; Im talking to Washington, where the above homilies are unappreciated.)
Washington earned little respect with its fearsome display of arms over the last decade. It did get a little bit of momentary, grudging obedience, but mostly from folks who really did not wish to pick a fight in the first place, and even that is all short-term. We do not yet have any idea how many people around the world are just waiting to pay the U.S. back for its string of recent invasions and occupations and embargoes. When we find out, everyone in Washington will be astonished, outraged, and innocent.

Respect is something altogether different: harder to earn than obedience but much more lasting because it generates voluntary cooperation and, more, persuades people to think of one as a model to be followed.

Alright! Enough with the endless carping! Complaining is easy, so for superpower leaders who want to earn the worlds respect, who want to be a model the world will willingly follow (if you were good parents, youd know), it is all about the little things.
On August 27, a little thing was reported: Washington threatened to cut Palestinian aid if the Palestinians asked the U.N. for statehood. Note that Washington did not threaten to cut aid to the colonized, abused, and ethnically cleansed Palestinians for terrorism or fighting for national liberation or joining the Communist Bloc, or supporting al Quaida. No, the sole global superpower is threatening economic coercion of Palestinians, whose right to a homeland has been ignored by the world for 60 years, for adhering to international standards and going to the U.N. for help to resolve a conflict that the impoverished and semi-starved population of the Israeli colony cannot possibly obtain on their own (in the face of relentless U.S. hostility). The superpower is punishing a population that has been isolated and prevented from participating in the closest institution we have to world government for wanting to talk.
The lessons here are pretty clear (though perhaps not on the banks of the Potomac):
  • Do not follow international law;
  • Do not demand the right to talk;
  • Do not assume that the democratic process is a public right (it is, rather, by invitation only).
In short, if Palestinians want to be treated with respect, they are going to have to behave disrespectfully. They are going to have to throw stones.
Now, where do you think this leaves all the rest of the worlds one billion Muslims (not to mention, say, one billion Chinese)? Do they respect the U.S. more today as a result of this lesson in democracy?

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Situations Where the Superpower Could Use a Little Respect for Democracy



Nigeria – rising Muslim terrorist campaign 

if you thought Iraq was bad, imagine the U.S. intervening in Nigeria – on the equator, oil exporter, 155,000,000 people with a median age of 19; 389 ethnic groups; twice the size of Iraq


Ex-Mossad Chief Warns of “Poor Judgment” of Netanyahu

Step-by-step, recently retired Israeli national security officials are exposing the threat to Israeli national security posed by the Netanyahu faction.
Even as I was writing yesterday about the need for patriotic Israelis concerned about maintaining their democracy to support the emerging Arab center represented by Egypt and Turkey and work toward justice and freedom for Palestinians, a leader of the Israeli establishment—former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, now freed by retirement to speak honestly, was warning of the need for Israelis to find decent leadership to protect Israeli national security…from its current leaders!
Do not make the mistake of crediting the ex-Mossad chief of being concerned with justice for Palestinians, but at least he can see the momentum of history and the need for Israel to adjust to reality. Think of him as an unemotional thinker focused on national security rather than an emotional expansionist, religious fundamentalist, or politician waving the bloody shirt for personal gain. Dagan wants to see Israel survive and appears willing to respond to historical necessity and perhaps even obey international law (e.g., return to Israel’s legal 1967 borders) in order to achieve that survival. I risk here putting words in his mouth; he did not, to my knowledge, say any such thing. Yet that is the logic of his warning that the real danger to Israel comes from the blundering of Israel’s (right-wing, expansionist, violence-prone) leadership.
One senses the potential for a new winning coalition of rational, calculating Israeli defense intellectuals plus Israeli democracy advocates plus those Israelis who want a morally sound, moderate, non-racist, peace-loving foreign policy. As another ex-Mossad official, Gad Shimron, was quoted in the New York Times:
I want everyone to pay attention to the fact that the three tribal elders, Ashkenazi, Diskin and Dagan, within a very short time, are all telling the people of Israel: take note, something is going on that we couldn’t talk about until now, and now we are talking about it. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark and that is the decision-making process.
Obama would do well to promote the emergence of such a coalition in Israel, offering it public access to the White House, for that is a group that would both be popular with liberal American Jews and share common values with the American people more broadly. It is not just U.S. national security that is being threatened by the violence-addicted right-wing Israeli leadership but also Israeli national security.
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Correction: Evidently Dagan did in fact call for a return to Israel’s legal 1967 borders, as reported by AP:

“There needs to be an Israeli peace initiative,” he said. “If we don’t offer things and don’t take the initiative, we might be put in a corner. Given the choice between put in a corner or taking the initiative, initiative is better.”
He suggested that Israel accept a nine-year-old peace initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia, offering peace with the Arab world in return for a full withdrawal from all territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

Ankara Stumbles and Lebanon Slides Down the Slippery Slope

Rushing to be a player, Ankara trips over its own diplomatic feet.

Judging from a Turkish media report, Ankara seems to have stumbled embarrassingly in its Mideast diplomacy, a misstep that seems likely only to aggravate regional tensions. Reportedly, Ankara agreed to join a French initiative designed to exclude Iran from efforts to resolve the Lebanon political crisis, then–following Iranian protests–backtracked and decided to offer its own approach, of course open to all regional players. What could Ankara have possibly been thinking in imagining that participating in an effort shutting out Tehran could either achieve a solution to a problem that has Iran deeply embedded in its essence or enhance Ankara’s claims of offering a new style of inclusive diplomacy?

Now, instead of seizing the moral high ground as the leader of regional moderation and conciliation, Ankara appears to be the dupe of Tehran. Tehran will not be pleased because it had to push for the inclusion it should have been able to count on. The West will not be pleased because Ankara has gone back on its word. Such clumsy diplomatic miscalculation sets everyone’s teeth on edge; this is not the way to lead a group of violence-prone, zero-sum politicians toward the new win-win world that Davutoglu has been advocating. Ankara’s stumble just pushed Lebanon a little further down the slippery slope to chaos.

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Can a compromise solution to murder be discovered?
Lebanon’s future hangs on a case of murder – that of Hariri senior. At first glance it seems hard to imagine a compromise: someone murdered Hariri and that person should be punished. Disagreeing with Palin, those behind-the-scene manipulators should also be punished. But how…without harming the people of Lebanon? Hariri is not the only regional figure to have been murdered recently. Perhaps the politicians who risk so easily the lives of others could start with the voicing of a general principle: political murders are bad. They could cite the case of Hariri, the case of Iranian nuclear scientists, and the case of the Hamas leader in Dubai, and the case of the Mavi Mamara.
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Fortunately, much more is going on, with the Erdogan-Assad-al Thani and Davutoglu-al Thani-Nasrallah meetings being prime examples. But public missteps that violate fundamental principles are costly, and the principle of inclusion of all in an effort to find a compromise seems to be a key component of any real solution.

Those Who Provoke Are Guilty

Military exercises on an adversary’s border or demonstrations in a neighbor’s community are provocations, and when they succeed in provoking, those who held the “peaceful” demonstrations are guilty, as well as those who shoot first. If those conducting the “peaceful” provocations are more powerful, then their guilt is accordingly greater because the danger to the provoked side of not shooting first is correspondingly greater.

When reading the day’s news, one should first consider the appropriate principle and only then allow oneself to think about the actual actors. Preventive violence is always to be deplored, but consider a policeman surrounded by visibly menacing and well armed thugs or a woman threatened with rape on a dark street. Those scenarios are very different from a nuclear armed state conducting preventive war against a non-nuclear state, indeed almost opposite extremes. The day’s events need to be put in a broad comparative context and seated in concrete principle to be judged fairly.

Now consider three less clear-cut scenarios:

First, the leader of a colonial power marches through the holiest site of an oppressed and colonized minority. Does the minority have the right to attack the colonial power for this insult?

Second, a nuclear power with massive conventional force superiority and a reputation for barbaric violence to maintain its regional military superiority violates a neighbor’s territory with military aircraft. Does the weak neighbor whose territory has been violated have the right to shoot down the planes?


Third, a vicious dictatorship watches a superpower-supported antagonist conduct massive military maneuvers right on its border. Does the dictatorship have the right to shoot first to warn off its adversary?

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Readings:

For a very different approach to analyzing the context, i.e., a focus on the domestic context rather than the international context, see Victor Cha’s commentary on the current Korean situation in The New York Times. If the first step is to focus on context, the second step is to figure out what context is key in the mind of the actor. Even when Washington gets the first step correct, it often misunderstands the second step, frequently by erroneously assuming that the U.S. is the center of everyone’s universe.

German Jews Planning Gaza Flotilla

The international flotilla to Gaza led by a group of Turks was implementing international law, specifically U.N. Resolution 1860, though one might have a hard time proving that by reading the U.S. media. And the next flotilla may be led by German Jews!

Americans still deluded into thinking that the politicians in charge in Israel represent anything remotely connected to American values, a look at what a group of German Jews are planning is an eye-opener: in a word, they are sending a ship to run the Gaza blockade [Jewish Ship to Gaza]. Their description of conditions in Gaza:

Gaza is still lying in ruins. Children play on top of heaps of rubble, all that remains of their homes. They have no toys. Their schools have no writing or learning materials. There are long lists of the books they need. They have no warm clothes for the winter, often they have neither gas nor electricity for heating.

Water is in short supply and is contaminated. Damaged plumbing and drainage systems can’t be repaired. The hospitals are short of medicines, medical equipment, wheelchairs and prosthetics.


Houses can only be provisionally rebuilt in clay. Essentials for daily survival have to be brought into Gaza through tunnels, often carried by young people who are risking their lives. Soon even these tunnels will be blocked off.


Through the expropriation of their land and the prohibition on fishing, the people of Gaza are denied their basic means of earning a living.


They lack freedom, the right to human dignity and our active solidarity.


“The Palestinians don’t need resounding promises of financial support, they need real political solidarity against the occupation!” 

If these Jews find the resources to implement their brave plan, one wonders what will happen. They represent a far more formidable threat to Zionist rightwingers than the Turkish flotilla did. In our world, the fact is that Israelis can murder Muslims without retribution, but German Jews? Will Tel Aviv dare to drop commandos onto a boatload of German Jews under the cover of darkness? Perhaps an “accident” at sea with the support of a well-concealed Israeli submarine would be a more effective response. Or maybe the proper fate for a German Jew so contemptuous of authority as to protest the 21st century’s “Warsaw Ghetto” must obviously be crazy and must be shut away in a psychiatric hospital “for his own safety,” as with Soviet dissidents. Or perhaps Tel Aviv has sufficient muscle to force Germany simply to arrest them all.
No doubt the American defenders of Zionist racism and militarism, e.g., Lin Cheney and Elliot Abrams, will be calling these German Jews terrorists any time now. For Americans who are neither Likudniks nor empire-builders, for Americans who actually believe in American values, these Germans (as well as some very brave Israelis [Veterans Today 6/6/10]) are the Jews whose values we share.
In any event, this is a little story of potentially major significance, so keep watching. If these brave Jews make it to Gaza, a very loud statement of what “values” really are will be heard around the world.
If you care about the kind of world we live in, give them your support.
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Thanks to Juan Cole [Informed Comment 6/7/10] for alerting me to this German Jewish group and thanks to karlof1, a commenter on Cole’s site for pointing out the international law relevant to flotillas to Gaza. The key points of the pertinent UN document, Resolution 1860:
“1.   Stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza;

“2.   Calls for the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment;

“3.   Welcomes the initiatives aimed at creating and opening humanitarian corridors and other mechanisms for the sustained delivery of humanitarian aid;

“4.   Calls on Member States to support international efforts to alleviate the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza, including through urgently needed additional contributions to UNRWA and through the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee;