Best news this month

Al-Jazeera reports that the Syrian security forces are “cracking,” with some soldiers refusing to fire on protesters.

Al-Jazeera reports that the Syrian security forces are “cracking,” with some soldiers refusing to carry out Bashar’s butchery for him.

When the troops refuse to fire on the people, the revolution wins.

Six months ago, the notion of ridding the world of both the Assad clan and Gaddafi anytime soon would have been a pipe dream. Now it seems within reach.

Netanyahu’s catastrophic leadership

Every year I become more alarmed about Israel’s future, not least because of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s intransigent response to a changing world

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal includes the headline “Netanyahu delivers rare public rebuke to U.S. President.” The papers report that Netanyahu publicly rejected the concept of 1967 borders as non-negotiable. Israeli aides were quoted to say that “Obama apparently does not understand the reality in the Mideast.” Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress, where he is expected to rally support for a hard-line Israeli approach to the peace process which, predictably and intentionally, won’t go anywhere.

In the short-run, Netanyahu may have tactical leverage to resist American pressure over settlements and other matters. In the long-run, he is pursuing a catastrophic course, both for Israel and for the United States. Continue reading “Netanyahu’s catastrophic leadership”

Vissi d’arte…

The same edition of The Economist in which Keith found the fascinating article about judges’ lunches (reminds me of the classic Brecht line, in Blitzstein’s translation, “first feed the face, and then talk right and wrong“) has a truly heartbreaking story from the West Bank.  Just read it.

[Update 17/IV: Here’s the original. In this case Blitzstein is pretty close, as he is not always: Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.”]

A Libyan Insurgency Would Not Look Like Iraq

Even if Libya turns into a quagmire, here are three reasons why a Qaddafist insurgency would pale in comparison to Iraq.

Never doubt the intensity of a Sullivan scorned (at least politically, that is).  He is now excoriating the President for his Libya policy, and raising fears of a Libyan quagmire akin to Iraq.  Although one would have to be willfully blind not to feel a lot of trepidation over whatever we call Obama’s Libya policy (A war?  A police action?  A humanitarian intervention?), even a Qaddafian insurgency would not be nearly as deadly as Iraq’s.  There are a few reasons for this:

1)  Population and population density.  Iraq has more than 31 million people; Libya, roughly 6 million.  Yes, you heard that right: 6 million.  It’s a very large country, but it’s basically empty, mainly because it is mostly desert.  It would require far less troops, even under the assumption that the US would commit troops there (which would indeed be crazy, but I’m assuming worst-case scenario here).  Before oil was discovered, there was not much there: little wonder that it wasn’t colonized by the Europeans until 1911, and only then by the Italians, desperate for something after they suffered a humiliating defeat at Adowa to the Ethiopians a few years earlier.

2)  Safe harbors in neighboring countries.  Right now I’m reading Alastair Horne’s magnificent history of the Algerian War of Independence, A Savage War of Peace.  Very highly recommended.  Horne makes the point that the FLN could regroup and gain stregnth away from French forces by adopting safe harbors in neighboring Tunisia and Morocco.  In Iraq, insurgents could go to Iran and Syria, and Sunni insurgents got help from the Saudis.  This will be far harder in Libya.  Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco do not figure to help out.  Chad, Niger and Sudan might, but anyone pursuing Qaddafists will have little compunction pursuing them over the border, and Chad and Niger, highly dependent upon foreign aid, can be pressured into cutting off support.

3)  Past experience.  Insurgents can appeal to civilians by promising relief from hated regimes and by posing as apostles of national liberation: thus, Muqtada al-Sadr with Iraqi Shiites, or the FLN, or Ho Chi Minh or (fill in blank).  That will be much harder for Qaddafists to do.  They might get support from those ethnic groups from which Qaddafi’s family comes, but civilians will be under no illusions.  This hardly always works, see, e.g. the Taliban, but surely it will have a lot of effect, especially as a Libya-Iraq comparison.

None of this is to say that Libya won’t be a quagmire, or that Obama was right (or even constitutional) in taking his actions (although on balance I think he was — for later).  Rather, it is to say that if we are assessing Libya, we shouldn’t think that it is Iraq Act Two.

Egypt’s future

Mark’s cold shower is entirely correct.  But I think he may be insufficiently pessimistic.  The pieces haven’t been all thrown up in the air to fall back randomly; the system has a lot of structure and the dice are heavily loaded in favor of the army, which is the only institution to come out of the recent upheaval intact, even stronger having shed  its Mubarak and Suleiman front men and more important, having shown that it can do the same with the next set.

Before Mubarak was thrown under the bus, Robert Springborg published this very sobering reflection, and this afternoon Professor Sunshine was on NPR describing the pervasive dominance of the Egyptian economy by the military.   Before we get all grateful to this enterprise for sparing us a Levantine Tienanmen Square or Mexico City ’68, it’s worth reflecting that it is more like the Chinese PLA than a normal country’s military. Continue reading “Egypt’s future”

Mubarak’s departure, and the aftermath

Neither a flouring democracy nor a theocracy under the Muslim Brotherhood is as likely as continuing military domination under new forms.

I’m happy to join in singing “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead” as Mubarak leaves the stage, and reasonably proud of the U.S. role in showing him the door. President Obama’s statement laid proper stress on the success of nonviolent resistance in bringing down a tyranny; surely, the combination of determination. coordination, and restraint demonstrated by the insurgents ought to give everyone new hope about the prospects of forming a true republic in the most populous Arab nation.

Still, the future is murky. And the murkiness cannot be clarified without escaping the neocon Islamism-on-the-brain mindset that has so misled us since 9/11. Continue reading “Mubarak’s departure, and the aftermath”

Next moves in Egypt

The military calls the shots, and the U.S. funds the military. That means we have leverage.

I don’t have any more idea than anyone else does what Mubarak meant by his speech; perhaps it was just a bargaining ploy, where the stakes are where he lives in exile and how much of the swag he and his family get to keep.

But as far as I understand the situation, the two key facts are that:

1. Whatever the Egyptian constitution says on paper, as a practical matter the President of Egypt serves at the pleasure of the military.

2. Under the Egypt-Israel peace deal, the Egyptian military is heavily funded by the U.S. Treasury. The generals really need to keep that money flowing.

So the U.S. is not at all helpless. The Administration seems to have chosen to side with (apparently overwhelmingly popular) uprising. So I’m still short Mubarak futures.

With friends like these …

This New York Times story details some of the routine, casual, mindless brutality of the Egyptian secret police, the Mukhabarat. Until last week, the head of the Mukhabarat was Omar Suleiman, now the Vice President.

Think about that when you read that the U.S. is pressing the Egyptian opposition to come to terms with Suleiman.

Part of the problem is that any President in such a situation has to rely in part on the CIA for information. And the CIA works hard to maintain good relations with foreign intelligence services. It wouldn’t be surprising if documents from the CIA cast Suleiman in a good light. But the fact that his agency was one of those to which the CIA outsourced torture under the “rendition” program ought to make us all a little bit ashamed, if not sick to our stomachs. The guy our government wants to put in charge of the new Egypt was the manager of the local Fingernail Factory.

Mubarak’s rent-a-thugs

Will Mubarak’s American supporters be embarrassed? I doubt it.

Hosni Mubarak, desperately clinging to power and confronted not only by demonstrators but by the Army’s refusal to fire on them, unleashed a horde of hired thugs instead. Naturally, blood flowed.

Do you think Mike Huckabee and Mubarak’s other defenders will be embarrassed by this?

Me neither.

Footnote Yes, it’s an old dictatorial trick. Nixon had his “hard hats.”

Why “Greater Israel” is anti-Zionist

Mike Huckabee, Yisroel Beitenu, and the Muslim Brotherhood agree in opposing the maintenance of a democratic, Jewish state in the Land of Israel.

A commenter on my post about Mike Huckabee’s support for ethnic cleansing in Greater Israel correctly notes that the problem arises in the first place only because Israel – against the advice of ben-Gurion, among others – chose to occupy the West Bank after the 1967 war. Jews are a solid majority in pre-1967 Israel, but not in the combined territory. So the one-state solution is inconsistent with the existence of a state that is both democratic and Jewish.

There are three ways to resolve the problem:

– a two-state solution, leaving a democratic, Jewish-majority state within the 1948 borders. This would be my preferred outcome.

– a one-state solution without expulsion of the Arabs and with majority rule. That state might be democratic, at least for a while, but would not be Jewish, and probably would result in the subjugation and eventual expulsion of the Jews. This is the Muslim Brotherhood’s preferred outcome.

– a one-state solution that either denies voting rights to enough Arabs to maintain a Jewish voting majority or expels enough Arabs to maintain a Jewish voting majority. This is the preferred outcome of Yisroel Beitenu and Mike Huckabee.

Neither denial of voting rights nor expulsion is a consistent with democratic principles. If you think of Zionism as a movement to establish and maintain a Jewish, democratic state in Israel, the Yisroel Beitenu position that Huckabee endorsed is therefore profoundly anti-Zionist. The fact that the loudest-mouthed “Zionists” in Israel and the U.S. don’t find it offensive is the reason why lots of us no longer identify with what now passes for “Zionism.”

Even within the old borders, of course, the position of the Arab minority is not nearly as rosy as supporters of Israel imagine it to be. The Army is in many ways the central social institution in Israel; the army unit you served in is more central to your identity, and more important in career terms, than the university you graduated from. The exclusion of Israeli Arabs from the IDF thus means that they are not, in practical terms, granted equal citizenship with Israeli Jews. But that problem is potentially soluble in the context of a stable peace in a two-state setting. The demographic inconsistency between Greater Israel and democracy is not soluble.