Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ideology Or Strategic Interest?

Bernard Haykel, an associate professor of Islamic studies at NYU, has a bizarre op-ed in today's New York Times that is, to say the least, confusing. His argument is that al Qaeda is becoming concerned that Hezbollah is stealing its thunder in the fight against Israel.
But now Hezbollah has taken the lead on the most incendiary issue for jihadis of all stripes: the fight against Israel.

[...]For Al Qaeda, it is a time of panic. The group’s Web sites are abuzz with messages and questions about how to respond to Hezbollah’s success.

[...] The truth is that Al Qaeda has met a formidable challenge in Hezbollah and its charismatic leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who have made canny choices that appeal to Al Qaeda’s Sunni followers. Al Qaeda’s improbable conspiracy theory does little to counter these advantages.
Haykel peddles the "all Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims hate each other and will therefore never work with each other" schtick at the beginning of the column.
Al Qaeda’s Sunni ideology regards Shiites as heretics and profoundly distrusts Shiite groups like Hezbollah. It was Al Qaeda that is reported to have given Sunni extremists in Iraq the green light to attack Shiite civilians and holy sites. A Qaeda recruiter I met in Yemen described the Shiites as “dogs and a thorn in the throat of Islam from the beginning of time.”
I'm not sure how this myth, along with the one that says secular and fundamentalist Islam cannot work together, continues to stay alive despite all the evidence to the contrary. Secular and fundamentalists in Damascus and Tehran have found common cause. Radical shi'ites in Tehran and Hezbollah and Salfist Sunnis of al Qaeda have found common cause. In the final analysis, ideology does not determine the presence or lack of cooperation. What does, however, is shared strategic interest. Despite his initial claim of how unreconcilable the hatred is between Shiite and Sunni, Haykel admits the opposite throughout the rest of his column.
Many Sunnis are therefore rallying to Hezbollah’s side, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan. The Saudi cleric Salman al-Awda has defied his government’s anti-Hezbollah position, writing on his Web site that “this is not the time to express our differences with the Shiites because we are all confronted by our greater enemy, the criminal Jews and Zionists.”

[...] First, although Sheik Nasrallah wears the black turban and carries the title of “sayyid,” both of which identify him as a Shiite descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, he preaches a nonsectarian ideology and does not highlight his group’s Shiite identity. Hezbollah has even established an effective alliance with Hamas, a Sunni and Muslim Brotherhood organization.

Second, Hezbollah’s statements focus on the politics of resistance to occupation and invoke shared Islamic principles about the right to self-defense. Sheik Nasrallah is extremely careful to hew closely to the dictates of Islamic law in his military attacks. These include such principles as advance notice, discrimination in selecting targets and proportionality.

Finally, only Hezbollah has effectively defeated Israel (in Lebanon in 2000) and is now taking it on again, hitting Haifa and other places with large numbers of rockets — a feat that no Arab or Muslim power has accomplished since Israel’s founding in 1948.

These are already serious selling points. And Hezbollah will score a major propaganda victory in the Muslim world if it simply remains standing in Lebanon after the present bout of warfare is over and maintains the relationships it is forging with Hamas and other Sunni Islamist organizations.

Perhaps he means that al Qaeda's specific brand of Slafist Sunni ideology is making it incompatible with support for Hezbollah. But this doesn't pan out either. Much of al Qaeda's ideology has its roots in organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood (through thinkers such as Sayyid Qutb), so if the Muslim Brotherhood is now backing HEzbollah, it's hard to see how al Qaeda's prblem has anything to do with ideology. Ignoring the claim that Hezbollah has been at all discriminatory or propotionate (proportionate to what, exactly, is unknown), which I can only describe as misleading, the majority of this column questions Haykel's claim of how much Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims truly hate each other. Perhaps more importantly, it fails to differentiate between rhetoric and action.

More likely, al Qaeda is upset because another group has taken the headlines. But also curious is Haykel's claim that al Qaeda is upset because Hezbollah has stolen its thunder in targeting Israel. Perhaps someone can refresh my memory, but when was the last al Qaeda attack against Israel? Hamas (Sunni), Islamic Jihad (Shi'ite) and al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade ("secular") have been attacking Israel for years, and al Qaeda has taken little notice beyond the usual rhetoric. They have never tried to "upstage" Hamas by launching a more spectacular attack in Israel.

Al Qaeda's targets have consistently been American and European countries, American and European interests in foreigh countries, and local (generally Muslim) allies of Americans and Europeans. This goes back to the claim that al Qaeda (or Islamic fundamentalists in general) are attacking us because of our support for Israel. If anyone should attack Western interests because of support for Israel, it should have been Hamas or IJ. Likewise, if al Qaeda really cared about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, you would have seen al Qaeda attacks in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. But you haven't. Israel provides al Qaeda with great rhetorical material, and that is likely the case with this latest episode.

At the most, al Qaeda's concerns have more to do with organizational/bureaucratic rivalry than with ideology. Nevertheless, I even hesitate to accept that that is the case. Al Qaeda has been "upstaged" there before, by Sunni, Shi'ite and secularists alike. Why is it different now? Israel has supposedly been "attacking" Muslims in the West Bank and Gaza before, so what is different about this conflict? Hezbollah has even upstaged al Qaeda in the past with regards to Israel. By the mid-1990s, Israel and everyone else knew its presence in southern Lebanon was failed, and they would eventually have to withdraw. Hezbollah had become the champion of the anti-Israel cause in the Arab world, a major factor in motivating Hafiz al-Assad, and late Bashir al-Assad, in pledging Syrian support to Hezbollah. According to Haykel's claim, this imminent victory for Hezbollah should have driven al Qaeda mad with jealousy and led to a surge of al Qaeda attacks on Israel. This wasn't the case, as al Qaeda had little presence in Israel or the Palestinian territories. In fact, as I've mentioned before, according to the 9-11 Commission, al Qaeda even saw fit to cooperate with Hezbollah (via Iran) in the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996. If Haykel is correct, al Qaeda's actions in the latter half of the 1990s should not have played out anything like they did.

Given al Qaeda's limited involvement in attacks against Israel in the past, and given Haykel's mistake in not separating rhetoric from action in other parts of the op-ed, I suspect he's making the same mistake again. Hezbollah's campaign against Israel may be causing the al Qaeda public relations department some headaches, but I seriously doubt whether Hezbollah's actions are going to be the determining factor in when, where or how al Qaeda carries out its next attack.

I'm also unclear about Haykel's claim that Shi'ites and Sunnis everywhere will come together to attack Israel and the United States. This is sort of like the extreme of the claim that Iraqi Shi'ites are simply going to hand over control of Iraq to Tehran, because the regime there is also Shi'ite. In this case, however, some sort of pan-Islamic force will emerge, shedding all national identities, to attack the Zionist-Crusader conspiracy. Gone is any recognition of the power of nationalism. Ignored is the historical evidence from events like the Iran-Iraq War, where it was certain that Iraqi Shi'ites would defect and fight for Tehran and that Iranian Sunnis would pledge their allegiance to Baghdad. The evidence, however, proved these hopes and fears on the part of Baghdad and Tehran to be wrong almost in their entirety as Iranian Sunnis and Shi'ites fought with equal ferocity against Iraq Sunnis and Shi'ites. Why the power of nationalism would simply disappear now is unclear.

In the end, I'm not really sure what the point of Haykel's op-ed is, exactly, but whatever his final argument is is, in my view at least, probably wrong given how very few of his basic assumptions seem to hold any water anyways.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Impasse In Ukraine

RIA Novosti is reporting that Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Party on Nations leader and big loser of the 2004 Orange Revolution, has made overtures towards President Viktor Yuschenko's Our Ukraine bloc to form a sort of grand coaltion to end the 4 month political standoff that has resulted from the inability of anyone to form a government following the March parliamentary elections.
Viktor Yanukovych, leader of the pro-Russian Party of Regions, said Thursday he hoped that pro-presidential bloc Our Ukraine would join the "anti-crisis" coalition in parliament.

Our Ukraine was part of a short-lived coalition with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Socialists - the two other political forces that propelled Viktor Yushchenko the presidency in the 2004 "orange revolution" - that emerged three months after parliamentary elections but then collapsed when the Socialists left.

The Economist raised this possibility in this week's issue. (subscription required, or you can probably watch a short ad to receive a one day free pass)
"The other option may be a grand coalition that takes bits of the President's party as well as the Party of Regions, drops the Communists and leaves Ms. Tymoshenko's bloc in opposition - though that would probably mean finding a different prime minister to Mr Yanukovich...A grand coalition might ease the resentments of eastern Ukraine, which overwhelmingly backs Mr Yanukovich - though it is hard to see such a coalition lasting long."
Any grand coalition, however, would likely only involve parts of the Our Ukraine bloc. The leader of Our Ukraine in parliament was not terribly enthusiastic about the idea.
But Roman Bezsmertniy, head of Our Ukraine's parliamentary faction, said Thursday his party would never join "the so-called anti-crisis coalition."
A grand coalition would at least allow for a conclusion to this constitutional crisis in Ukraine. Other advantages include Our Ukraine's presence to mitigate the threat of a reversion to corruption under a Yanukovich government. Likewise, as The Economist points out, this would be somewhat palatable to those in the country's east. It would be a fragile coalition, to be sure, but may be the best solution, as dissolving the parliament for new elections would be a major blow to Ukraine's fragile democracy.

Of course, any grand coalition would likely mean further splintering of the Orange Coalition, but in the end, the Orange Revolution was about democracy and honest government, not a single party or faction of party maintaining a hold on power. If the bits of Our Ukraine that join a grand coalition can ensure that Yanukovych comes to accept the way the new, democratic Ukraine works, the Orange Revolution will have achieved its goals.

Is Israel's Strategy Working?

The Age tells of a report from an Italian paper that Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has made a dramatic change in policy, and is now demanding that Hezbollah, which he calls "a state within a state," must be disarmed.
HEZBOLLAH has created a "state within a state" in Lebanon and must be disarmed, the country's Prime Minister says.

Fouad Siniora said the Shiite militia had been doing the bidding of Syria and Iran, and could only be disarmed with the help of the international community once a ceasefire had been achieved.

While Siniora is still claiming that a ceasefire must come first, this is a noted move away from Hezbollah and towards the Israeli position.

When Israel first began its aerial attack on Lebanon, I was hesitant as to whether such an attack would be counterproductive to Israel's political aims. Many make the claim that a foreign power attacking a state in the hopes of separating the people from their government so as to inspire them to turn on the government. The counter to this argument, however, was that nationalism would lead a population to "rally round the flag," so to speak, thereby supporting the government, no matter how unpopular it may otherwise be, in response to a foreign aggressor.

In reality, I'm not sure either side is entirely right on this count. As we saw after the first Gulf War, a great number of Shia and Kurds did rise up against Saddam, only to be abandoned by the United States. The result, as told by Kenneth Pollack, was slaughter by the Iraq forces, with the unwitting help of General Schwarzkopf.
[...] at the cease-fire talks after Desert-Storm was halted, the Iraqis asked for permission to fly their helicopters to move personnel and supplies around, and General Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of the U.S. forces — acting without any instructions but trying to show magnanimity — permitted Iraq to use all of its helicopters, including armed gunships. As should have been expected, the Iraqis began using their gunships to attack the rebels, and the United States could have prohibited the Iraqis from doing so.
Nevertheless, the argument is not as clear cut as its arguments like to argue either, as the backfiring of countless aerial bombardments, blockades and ground invasions, with the only result being increased hostility towards the aggressor, have shown throughout history.

Even without taking Israel's side, world opinion has clearly come down against Hezbollah as the instigator of the crisis. Admittedly, this is a somewhat more complicated situation than those that simply involve two governments and the people of the target state. In some cases, therefore, nationalism could be causing the Lebanese to side with the Hezbollah-skeptic government over the arguably more powerful Hezbollah. At the same time, claims by the usual suspects (which, as I mentioned, I considered myself) that Israeli bombing would turn the Lebanese back to Hezbollah are apparently unfounded. In the end, I suppose whether or not this situation is playing out as the "nationalism as the strongest force" argument would suggest is irrelevant - as long as the result is the weakening of Hezbollah and the strengthening of the Siniora government in Beirut.

A Crisis Of Confidence

As mentioned in an earlier post, Belgravia Dispatch has become convinced that just about every single Weatern leader, especially everyone in the Bush administration, is an incompetent buffoon. Tonight he approvingly cites a story from the Financial Times (subscription required) which reaches the same conclusion. He cites significantly more of the article, but here are some key grafs.
President Bush has thus declined to restrain Israel’s military operations in spite of the feeling among US allies that they are disproportionate and, in significant measure counterproductive. Bombing the Lebanese army and weakening the government of Fouad Siniora will not drive Hizbollah from southern Lebanon.

European diplomats aver that the ferocity of the Israeli response owes as much to the weakness of Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, as to the traditional use of massive force as a deterrent against future aggression. Israel, though, has persuaded Mr Bush that Hamas and Hizbollah should be seen through the prism of his own war on terrorism. The terrorists, in this flawed but, for Mr OImert, useful analysis, are all the same.

As a simple description of the many fires smouldering in the region, there is something to be said for Mr. Blair’s “arc of extremism”. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, Iran remains defiant about its nuclear ambitions, Iraq has fallen to sectarian civil war, Hizbollah threatens to destroy Lebanon’s fragile stability, Hamas is fighting Israel in Gaza.

Much more dubious is the attempt to draw through these conflicts a single thread of extremism. That is to ignore their complexities and the myriad grievances and rivalries. These set Sunni against Shia, Arab against Iranian as well as political Islam against the west. Al-Qaeda and Hizbollah are not allies. (emphasis is Greg's)

Greg is right that some corners of the blogosphere and commentariat see far simpler solutions than actually exist. Nevertheless, he all too often fails to recognize that these "solutions" might have a modicum of truth to them - that is, that they might be just part of a complicated plan needed for the region. While he supported the war in Iraq, he was never by any means a neocon. In recent months and years, however, his commentary has taken on a noticeably realist tone. Perhaps this is the inevitable reaction for someone who feels his support for the war was betrayed by the entire administration in the years since.

Nevertheless, his continued criticism of those who remain on the administration's side is beginning to resemble more and more my description of realist "policymaking": nothing. Like realists, and like the FT article, Greg goes to great pains to remind everyone of how complicated everything is, how anyone who has come up with a solution is a naive and dangerous ideologue, and how, if we just delay long enough with platitudes to how darn difficult everything is, how nuanced the situation is, how ancient the hatreds are, then perhaps we'll be able to wait out the whole thing. This was the Clinton (surprisingly realist-minded) approach to the Bosnia crisis in the early days of his first term. Robert Kaplan's book Balkan Ghosts was said to have been extremely influential in Clinton's decision-making calculus to simply not do anything. If you can't think of anything, or are too hesitant to take action, simply wait for one side to simply run out of people to kill, citing the "ancient hatreds" meme to justify your (lack of) response.

Simply going with what I read of the FT article, the author goes to great pains as well to show just how hard everything is. Once again the idea comes forward that Sunnis and Shi'ites simply don't work together, therefore adding to the number of players in the crisis, making it that much more difficult to work with. We are told that Hezbollah should not be part of our War on Terror, yet Hezbollah was responsible for the deaths of 19 American servicemen in 1996 in the Khobar Towers bombing. We are told al Qaeda and Hezbollah are not allies. While it is true the groups are run by very different people with very different goals, the idea that the Sunni-Shia divide (one that should be especially wide given that both parties are on the extreme ends of the divide) would prevent groups from working together not supported by the evidence. Just on this one example, on the claim that Hezbollah and al Qaeda would ever be able to see eye to eye, or that Hezbollah is not part of the War on Terror, the 9-11 Commission would suggest otherwise.
While it found no operational ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has concluded that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network had long-running contacts with Iraq's neighbor and historic foe, Iran.

[...] In relation to Iran, commission investigators said intelligence "showed far greater potential for collaboration between Hezbollah and al Qaeda than many had previously thought." Iran is a primary sponsor of Hezbollah, or Party of God, the Lebanon-based anti-Israel group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States.

The commission's Republican chairman, former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean, also said in a television appearance last week that "there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, with Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq."

But perhaps most startling was the commission's finding that bin Laden may have played a role in the Khobar attack. Although previous court filings and testimony indicated that al Qaeda and Iranian elements had contacts during the 1990s, U.S. authorities have not publicly linked bin Laden or his operatives to that strike, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen. A June 2001 indictment of 14 defendants in the case makes no mention of al Qaeda or bin Laden and lays the organizational blame for the attacks solely on Hezbollah and Iran.

The ability with which states and terrorist groups are able to overcome ideological divides to achieve common strategic goals is quite interesting.

Greg is right that there are too many people offering conveniently simple solutions to the crisis. Nevertheless, he (and those he has cited approvingly) have gone to great lengths to make the crisis appear to be exceedingly complicated. Perhaps this can be forgiven as a case of crisis of confidence among those (including myself) who were mistaken in their assumptions of how Iraq would pan out. Nevertheless, both reactions are also dangerous. The former because it could lead us to act upon the same mistaken assumptions on which we based our plans for how Iraq would turn out. The latter is equally dangerous, however, because it will prevent us from ever taking any action at all. The answer, I suspect, lies somewhere in between these two extremes.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Terrorism Is Terrorism Is Terrorism

The Times reports that certain groups in Israel have commemorated the 60th anniversary of the bombing of the King David Hotel, at the time the headquarters of British rule, by the "resistance" group Irgun, led by Menachem Begin. 92 people were killed in the blast on July 22, 1946. Netanyahu joined the celebrations, defending the attack against charges that it was terrorism.
Yesterday Mr Netanyahu argued in a speech celebrating the attack that the Irgun were governed by morals, unlike fighters from groups such as Hamas.

“It’s very important to make the distinction between terror groups and freedom fighters, and between terror action and legitimate military action,” he said. “Imagine that Hamas or Hezbollah would call the military headquarters in Tel Aviv and say, ‘We have placed a bomb and we are asking you to evacuate the area’.”

I've got a good deal of respect for Netanyahu, but this claim is rather despicable, in poor taste and, most of all,m poorly timed as Israel is trying to convince the West of the moral rectitude of its fight against Hezbollah. Netanyahu's rhetoric here mirrors that of the Palestinians. Supporters of this attack would likely make two claims to try and distinguish the Irgun attack from "terrorism." The first being that they called ahead of the attack to give warning and allow evacuation of the hotel (the British deny having received advanced warning, but no matter). The second claim likely used to distinguish this attack from "terrorism" is that the attack targeted military, not civilians.

Both of these claims are nonsense. Groups like ETA and, to a lesser degree, the IRA often gave advanced warning of their attacks to allow for evacuation. Is ETA not a terrorist group? Is the IRA not a terrorist group? Second, if you claim it wasn't terrorism because it only targeted military (of course, it killed government officials - civilians - but perhaps they think that is alright too), then you also do not consider the attacks on US and French forces by Hezbollah in Lebanon in the 1980s to be terrorism. Nor do you consider the attacks on the Khobar Towers in 1996 or the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole to be terrorism. Notice Netanyahu didn't use this excuse, because he knows it's completely wrong.

The attack was 60 years ago. Long enough in the past that it could have been forgotten by both sides, but not long enough that it didn't bring back old memories that should have been left in the past. Britain and Israel have good relations now, and Israel needs the West in its fight against the terrorists that threaten us today. The King David Hotel bombing could have been left in the past. At the very least, given the current situation in Lebanon, these individuals and groups could have allowed this anniversary to pass by. That they decided to drag it back into the open, expecially given current events, was in extremely poor taste and exhibits an alarming lack of moral clarity from those who should have known better.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Multipolar Myth

In his Guardian article today, liberal internationalist Timothy Garton Ash takes a walk down a path well trodden by realists like Kenneth Waltz and Stephen Walt: claiming that multipolarity in the internatiol system is upon us. Garton Ash tries to out-Waltz Waltz, however, by claiming that multipolarity is already here. His evidence? In order, it appears to be as follows: the US is using its military to evacuate Americans from Lebanon, small groups with access to powerful technology can crash a plane into a building or aim a rocket at Haifa, US popularity in the world has declined and the US is using diplomacy with regards to Iran and North Korea.
The US possesses the mightiest military the world has ever seen, and how is it being used? To evacuate its citizens from Lebanon...

[...]Developments in technologies with violent potential mean that very small groups of people can challenge powerful established states, whether by piloting an aeroplane into the World Trade Centre in New York, targeting a missile at Haifa, taking on the US military in Iraq, bombing the London underground, or squirting sarin gas into the Tokyo subway.

[...]Developments in information technology and globalised media mean that the most powerful military in the history of the world can lose a war, not on the battlefield of dust and blood, but on the battlefield of world opinion. If you look at the precipitate decline in US popularity since 2002, charted by the Pew Global Attitudes polls even in countries traditionally sympathetic to Washington, you could argue that this is what has been happening to the US.

[...]North Korea test-fires missiles capable of carrying the nuclear warheads that it's already making? Washington says: come back to the six-party talks! Iran resumes uranium enrichment? Washington says: we're going to take you to the UN! Hizbullah launches missiles at Israel? Washington says: the hour of diplomacy has come!
Of course, none of this has any bearing on the actual balance of power in the international system. The military evacuating Americans from Lebanon a sign of multipolarity? How exactly? That people can take down a building or fire a rocket at another city has little bearing on the overall balance of power. The closest it comes to being relevant is to hint at the danger of WMD in the nads of terrorists. Nevertheless, this is a problem that most of the world, at least those that recognize it as a threat, still depdends on the US to solve. Even still, it's still questionable whether a chemical attack on an American city would really alter the international balance of power. It would certainly kill lots of people, and it would certainly create a great deal of panic, but alter the balance of power? Not really - the reason being that most of the other contenders for positions of power in a multipolar world (Europe, Russia, India) recognize that they are targets too. They'd have to spend more time preventing attacks on their homeland, leaving them little time to capitalize on America's chemical attack-induced weakness.

And of course, the Tokyo sarin-gas attack was more than a decade ago now, and 9/11 was 5 years ago. Garton Ash is obviously trying to prove that this new multipolarity is the result of Bush's reckless actions, so I don't know how Bush's policies as governor of Texas in 1995 in any way influenced an apocalyptic cult in Japan to release sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system. Finally, Garton Ash sees any hint of the use of diplomacy by the Bush administration as the result of its recognition that the world has moved from unipolarity to multipolarity on its watch. This is a rather silly notion.

First, and this admittedly may be something the administration took too long to figure out, a position of strength can often be shown through diplomacy as well as military action. Garton Ash points out that (because of our supposed weakness), we've called for North Korea to come back to six-party talks. What he doesn't mention is that North Korea didn't want six-party talks to resume, but we won out. What North Korea really wants is bilateral talks with just the United States. Why, you ask? Because it realizes that the US is the only country in the position (ie, with the power) to give North Korea what it wants. That the administration has refused to allow North Korea to have bilateral negotiations until it suspends its reprocessing/enrichment shows that the US still has the upper hand on that matter. Obviously this does not mean that the problem will be resolved anytime soon, but it does suggest that Garton Ash's claim that all diplomacy is indciative of multipolarity is a bit ridiculous. Even in diplomacy there are positions of strength to be had.

As much as Garton Ash, Jacques Chirac, Putin, Hu Jintao, Yevgeny Primakov or anyone else would like to see a multipolar world, simply saying it is so does not make it true. The United States continues to hold significant power in the economic, political and military realms. (To read more about this, the go-to person is William Wohlforth). There have been no serious attempts at balancing American power. The much ballyhooed "soft balancing," whereby other states that cannot meet America's "hard" military power attempt to frustrate American foreign policy on "soft power" issues, has been little more than a fantasy though up by realists unable to explain the lack of any serious attempt at balancing

The case against soft balancing is best laid out by Gerard Alexander and Keir Lieber). While the soft balancing advocates claim economic statecraft can exclude the US by focusing more on regional economic alliances, Alexander and Lieber show that the "US has been one of the primary drivers of trade regionalization, not the excluded party." Where soft balancing advocates claim complaints brought against the US in international economic and financial bodies indicate attempts to counter US economic power, Alexander and Lieber show that these complaints are brought by countries seeking to gain access to US markets, not adversely affect the US economy. Finally, the US still maintains significant influence over the international financial institutions on which most countries are economically dependent. Witness Russia's long period of lobbying the US for entry into the WTO.

Soft balancing advocates have also pointed to Turkey's refusal to grant the US-led coalition basing rights there prior to the invasion of Iraq as evidence of their claims. The very short conventional war, however, showed how little this affected US warfighting needs. Of course, we have plenty of troubles in Iraq now, but none of them can be attributed to a need for access to bases to station our troops. It can be safely said that Turkey's decision had very little adverse effect on the US. While it was an irritant in the short-term, it had no noticeable long-term effect. Moreover, when the US does pull its troops out of a country overseas, as much as soft-balancers may like to flash those opinion polls, the same countries end up protesting the decision. As Alexander and Lieber point out, they recognize the economic and strategic benefits of having US bases on their territory. country denies the US basing rights in its territory, five others step up and offer their territory.

Finally, by trying to "tie down" the US through international institutions, other countries essentially shoot themselves in the foot. It is extremely unlikely the UN will be able to stop the US from taking an action it deems to be vital to its national security, and by doing little more than irritating the US, the purported soft-balancers increase the chances that the US will be more likely to find little value in the UN on any issue, even on less vital interests on which it may have otherwise been willing to work with the UN. Soft balancing, therefore, is mostly non-existent, and where it does exist, it is mostly counter-productive.

The most common claim of the return of multipolarity essentially straddles the line of soft-balancing and hard-balancing -- if it even existed, that is. This is the much vaunted Moscow-Beijing alliance. The two countries tried to use this as proof of a returning multipolar world in the 1990s, giving birth to the Primakov doctrine that multipolarity would be best for the world, but it collapsed in a heap as Primakov was forced to make a quick exit from office by the end of the decade.

Ironically, the most used evidence of the power of this alliance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, began (as the Shanghai Five) largely to fight Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism in the Central Asian region. In general, it was relatively unsuccessful. After 9/11, however, its members realized that any fight against fundamentalism in the region would have to include the US - for the obvious reasons. Therefore, the one institution that has been offered up with the greatest frequency as evidence of the Russian-Chinese threat to American supremacy, had to eventually bring in the United States to help it achieve its own objectives. To claim such an organization is the answer to American unipolarity, no matter how much it can achieve through petro-politics, simply shows a lack of seriousness about the entire matter.

Interestingly, Gurmeet Kanwal of New Delhi's Centre for Air Power Studies had an op-ed in the India Tribune yesterday with more insight on the same subject.
Though Russia is the foremost supplier of military hardware to China, there has been no major military and strategic cooperation between the two countries. The relationship is basically a patron-client, buyer-seller relationship with limited transfer of technology to manufacture under license. It will be recalled that the Chinese had debunked former Russian Prime Minister Primakov’s proposal of a China-Russia-India triangle.
This is not to say the United States can save the world on its own. There are a lot of serious national and international security threats on the agenda today. A lot of these do not simply affect the United States, but a number of other countries as well. It is true that this administration could have been more diplomatic, especially in its first term. At the same time, however, it would be extremely helpful if these other countries, that have a great deal of influence to wield in various hotspots around the world, stop talking about how powerful they are and actually take some action.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Debating Democracy

The folks over at NRO's The Corner have been having a spirited debate about the efficacy of democratization as a counterterrorism method in light of recent events in Lebanon. Andy McCarthy started the debate by asking if fighting terrorism through democratization migh be - and might have always been - a mistake.
"So now the Lebanese democracy can't control Hezbollah (which has been freely elected and controls about a fifth of its legislature), while the Palestinian Authority IS Hamas (the Palestinian people having democratically put them in power)."
This is the same mistake I'm worried the administration has been willing to make - the assumption that elections equals democracy. In either the 2002 NSS or the 2003 National Counterterrorism Strategy (I forget which - maybe both), the administration broke states down into three categories: states that were willing and able to fight terrorists operating within its borders (most developed countries), states that, regardless of whether they were able, weren't willing to fight terrorists operating within their borders (syria, Iran, etc), and states that were willing, but not able to fight terrorists operating within their borders. States such as the Philippines and Indonesia fit into this last category. The Arroyo government in Philippines got US help in going after Abu Sayyaf and other Islamic militants operating in the south. Indonesia got US help in fighting Jemaah Islamiya. For whatever reason, however, we never gave post-Cedar Revolution Lebanon much help. True, perhaps they didn't want any, but I'm willing to bet that the West more or less dropped Lebanon after it held large demostrations and elected its own government. Lebanon may have been on the road to being a democracy, but there was not much it could do to strengthen itself enough to offer the services incumbent on any government - the same services Hezbollah had been offering in the south of Lebanon to win over support. This wasn't a failure of democracy to fight terrorism, it was a failure to ensure a fledgling democracy move beyond elections and be able to govern effectively.

This is a similar point Cliff May makes in a response to McCarthy on The Corner.
And finally, yes, Hamas was elected, but, no, that doesn’t mean Gaza and the West Bank are “democratic.” Democracy requires the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a free press, and many other attributes. If someone got up on a soapbox in Gaza City tomorrow and said: “Vote for me, I’m the peace candidate!” he’d be shot dead within an instant and there’d be no arrest or trial. That’s not what happens in a liberal democracy.
The discussion also touched on the way in which democracy does (or does not) fight terrorism. McCarthy says the in response to a comment by John Podhoretz:
John, with due respect, terrorists have managed to strike us, repeatedly, from within our own 230-year-old democracy (where they have managed to plot for years without detection before attacking). The beach heads for the 9/11 plot were in Hamburg and Madrid. The current hotspots are in London, Paris, Milan and Amsterdam. Check out yesterday's Wall Street Journal op-ed by Swapan Dasgupta about India's emerging terrorist nightmare — it's homegrown.
McCarthy came to my school earlier this year to talk, along with two professors from the law school, about the legal aspect of the war on terror. At the end of his talk, however, he brought out this same argument. I thought this then, and this new debate reminds me: McCarthy is arguing against something of a strawman here. The contention has never been that terrorists can not live, plan and operate within the borders of a democracy. I live in a democracy, but if I decided that I wanted to go kill some people, the fact that I voted last Novemeber in an election will not stop the thought from running through my head. McCarthy continues knocking down straw-men:
"On the other hand, selling democratization as a complete, self-contained response to terrorism is nothing beyond a more appealing manifestation of the regnant political correctness that induces us to call this enterprise the "war on terror" lest we offend anyone by mentioning who the enemy is"
This, has really never been the case. Even with its commitment to democratization, therefore, the administration has not ended counterterrorist operations. I don't even know if there is an official count of the number of countries in which US forces are either killing terrorists themselves or teaching the local forces how to kill terrorists (again, back to Philippines and Indonesia like I mentioned above). The focus of democratization is not, and never has been, on the terrorists themselves. Democracy is not going to change how they think or act. The trick is to find a way to decrease their support; to make it easier for us to get at the terrorists to root them out.

In his book The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky delineates between two segments of the population in what he calls a "Fear Society:" the true believers and those who have no alternative. The focus of democratization, therefore, should not be on the "true believers," the terrorists themselves, but rather on the general populace, and how to decrease its support for the terrorists so as to make it easier for the military to clean up. There's the administration's claim that democracies allow an alternative to terrorism as a forum for letting out ones grievances, political ambitions, etc. I think there is a great deal of truth to this, but I also think it has a lot to do with something a lot more simple: access to the necessities for everyday survival. So much of the support enjoyed by Islamic fundamentalist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah comes from their ability to provide basic services for those willing to support them. Where the dysfunctional Middle Eastern state fails so miserably in providing the basic services that, as a state s government, it should be obligated to provide for its people, the mosque steps in and fulfills that role. As a result, the people's allegiance is transferred from the state to to mosque or Islamist group.

There is no doubt, however, that democracies, even somewhat weak ones, govern better than authoritarian regimes. The following is an excerpt from my thesis that I wrote on the same subject.

"For the handful of examples of authoritarian states successfully promoting economic development and democratization, there have been significantly more authoritarian states that have sustained sub-par economic growth and little sign of political liberalization. In fact, the record indicates that low-income countries would be better served skipping the authoritarian stage and democratizing instead. Low-income democracies and democratizing states have “outperformed their authoritarian counterparts on a full range of development indicators…including life expectancy, literacy, access to clean drinking water, agricultural productivity, infant mortality."
Since a democratic regime is beholden to the entire population, and not just the political, ethnic or economic faction that put it in power, it is forced to provide services to the entire population. When the average citizen is forced to support a certain movement or group because it provides medical services or clothing for his children, his support will not transfer back to the central government until he is sure that government can provide the same services. Authoritarian governments do not have the track record of being able to provide there services - or, indeed, being willing to provide these services to those not in the specific political or ethnic groups it counts on for protection and loyalty.

If you were to put a democratic regime in government as opposed to an authoritarian one, a democratic regime that was at the point where it could provide these services to its people, you can bet support for the terrorist groups would decline sharply. A terrorist group that loses its support among the public is left open and exposed to the states military and police forces. No longer can terrorists hide among the local population and count on those people to keep silent about who among them is a terrorist and who isn't. With this, they lose one of their most effective weapons - being able to cause the world to question the government's position on the moral high ground because it is forced to bomb indiscriminately - civilian and terrorist alike - because they can't tell who is who.

No one argues it is a cure-all. Democracy does not eliminate the need for a military response to bomb the hell out of the bad guys. Democracy does, however, make it far more easy to implement this military response, b/c people are increasingly willing to point out who the bad guys are. Democracy does not affect the terrorist response so much as it affects the response of the rest of the population.

One last thing: McCarthy raises the (legitimate) question of whether we really want to see democracies in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia given the likely alternative. Unfortunately this is true - but only because so many of those arguing against democratization have made it true (I don't intend this as an attack on McCarthy - I have no idea what his position has been on this subject over the years). The reason this is the likely outcome in these states is because of decades of American support for dictators. While there is little we can do about that now, if the United States continues to support oppressive dictators rather than liberal democrats, it will make this drawback to democracy a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will not promote democracy because uncertainty about what the outcome will be necessitates supporting "friendly" dictators, while the supposrt for these dictators will create the conditions whereby the outcome will be too uncertain to allow for democracy promotion.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Tory For Saddam?

Twice a year, the British Prime Minister comes before the Liaison Committee, consisting of the heads of all of the parliamentary committees, to discuss his administration's policies. It's a much more candid and (relatively) unscripted exchange compared to Prime Minister's Questions, and it covers a number of issues at a much more sophisticated level than does Prime Minister's Questions, where members vie for the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister what he plans to do about the random fellow in that member's constituency who stubbed his toe walking down the sidewalk because a crack had formed in the pavement and it had become uneven.

Tony Blair went before the Liaison Committee on Tuesday, and I caught C-SPAN's coverage of it tonight. It was really very fascinating, covering a range of issues from Northern Ireland, to immigration issues, to Iraq and Afghanistan to the US-British relationship. If C-SPAN has coverage of it on its website, I would recommend watching it. Tony Blair looked incredibly composed, leaning back in his chair, he might as well have had his feet up on the table. The committee members, however, were breaking into sweats, shuffling papers and fidgeting.

In any case, one exchange caught me by surprise. Blair had responded to earlier questions by telling stories of his trips to Iraq and his conversations with British soldiers and Iraqi government officials. Edward Leigh, the conservative member from Gainesborough, and chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, asked a question that was intended to point out the security problems in Iraq. I don't have a transcript, but this BBC report sums up the exchange rather well.
Tory Edward Leigh challenged Mr Blair over the number of Iraqis who had died since the invasion and asked whether life really was better than pre-war.

[...]However, Mr Leigh, chairman of the influential Commons public accounts committee, said thousands of Iraqis had died since the conflict, and while he had been able to walk around Baghdad safely in Saddam's time, no-one could do the same now.
There was only one response to make to this astounding remark, and Blair nailed it - one of the very few emotional outbursts he let loose.
Mr Blair said that was because Mr Leigh was a Westerner and not an Iraqi who disagreed with the former dictator. If he had been an Iraqi who disagreed with Saddam Hussein he would have ended up in a mass grave, said Mr Blair.

On the Iraqi deaths, the prime minister snapped angrily: "They are not dead as a result of this invasion or the removal of Saddam.

"They are dead as a result of the actions of a criminal minority. Our job is to stand with the Iraqis against the terrorists."

Mr Blair said the politicians he talked to in Iraq had been elected by Iraqis, and said if people had wanted to they could have voted for the "Saddam party".

Leigh continued to protest for a while that Iraqis were better off under Saddam becausue HE had been able to walk around safely. With regards to Blair's stories about his visits to Iraq, Leigh asked him when he last spoke to an "ordinary Iraqi." Blair admitted that this wasn't possible for him on his visits, but Leigh had no place to take satisfaction in this answer. Blair rightly said that he had talked numerous times with the elected Iraqi government officials, picked by the "ordinary Iraqis." By his own admission, Leigh's only trip had been during Saddam's regime. I'd be interested in learning who invited him to visit Iraq, and what the purpose of his trip was. A number of the other Conservatives on the committee made a point of reminding Blair that they had supported his decision to go into Iraq, and still do, while still asking tough questions about government policy. That was a great relief to me, because I sure hope Leigh does not represent the current state of the Tory party.

Another Leak

Speaking of embarassing polemicists, not long after writing my last post, I caught the first 15 minutes or so of the Countdown with Keith Olbermann midnight repeat. Unfortunately, a transcript won't be up until monday, but the first story was about the news today of the threat to attack the PATH train tunnels between NY and NJ. The former sportscaster used his favorite tactic of arguing that the administration released the news of the threat, even though it hadn't advanced very far in the planning stages, in order to perpetuate a climate of fear in the American populace, presumably because it's an election year.

The only problem, of course, is that the administration did not disclose the news of this planned attack. Someone leaked it to the Daily News, who printed it up in a big story this morning. That also explains why we found out about it while it was still at such an early stage. The people at the press conference in New York City today included Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Samuel Plumeri and SAIC of the FBI's New York office, Mark Mershon. There was not a single administration official. Only after the Daily News published the story, and after the press conference, did the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issue a statement.

As an aside, ff you think back over the last 5 years, the administration has made public very few instances where they thought a terrorist attack was in the works or could be possible. I remember a Somali immigrant who was accused of plotting to bomb a Columbus, OH shopping mall in 2004, the possible plot against the Citigroup, Prudential, World Bank, NYSE and IMF buildings in New York, New Jersey and Washington, the plot to bomb the Bank of America Tower in Los Angeles, the Miami plot from a couple weeks ago, and now this one. (The color coded scale was also used a fair amount, particularly with regards to the NY subway system, but news of "color changes" has been very scarce in recent months and years, indicating that that was more an attempt to show that the newly-established DHS was "doing something," and certainly not to affect political races). So, in all, that was 5 plots that were made public in all their detail in the last 5 years. (I'm not saying that was all of them, but those were certainly the big ones - if I missed some, please let me know). Hardly the use of a political tool by the administration.

Going back to today's news, the FBI was, in fact, upset that the story was leaked. They realized it was in the early planning stages, and there was a great deal of information that they, and intelligence agencies of other countries involved, had yet to learn about the plot itself, the individuals planning it and the connections they had with other terrorists and terrorist plots.
Authorities said they hadn't intended to release details about the plot this early and that whoever leaked the information had compromised the FBI's relationship with some foreign intelligence services.

The person who leaked the details is"clearly someone who doesn't understand the fragility of international relations,'' Mershon said. `We've had a number of uncomfortable questions and some upsetment with these foreign intelligence services that had been working with us on a daily basis.''

In the wake of the New York Times, Washington Post and other newspapers printing stories about the NSA programs, the prisons in Europe and SWIFT, if those who have been unyielding in their defense of the public's right to know might be willing to admit that publishing this story did more harm than good in terms of the damage done to our relationships with foreign intelligence services as well as the additional intelligence we could have gotten by continued surveillance of these individuals and their accomplices. If the answer is no, then I ask, with regards to the public's right to know, what did we get out of this news? People like Olbermann were criticizing the administration for letting us know. So how can the administration possible win? Apparently, it can't.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Who's The Conservative?

There have been a number of divisions in the Republican party that have emerged in recent years. In foreign policy, some claim that the Bush administration has betrayed conservatism by running around the world trying to solve the world's problems. They argue that democratization is not conservative, that democracy can not take hold in every society on earth. These conservatives generally make up the realist foreign policy camp. These conservatives also generally include everyone at the CATO Institute and even some people at Heritage. Many of these conservatives probably voted for Bush in 2000, but then voted for Kerry in 2004. On the other side of the foreign policy divide are the neoconservatives, who have great faith in the power of democracy to solve the world's problems. These conservatives are the ones you find at AEI, Weekly Standard and on the Project for the New American Century list of signatories. These are also the ones who have been accused of not really being conservative. On social policy, you have the more libertarian-minded Republicans on one side and the social conservatives on the other. Then there are the Republicans who count themselves as fiscal conservatives above all else.

I've been reading Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, written by two British writers from The Economist. (It came out a couple years ago; I'm just getting to it now). The authors' powers of observation are simply astounding, and the Introduction alone has enough information and insight to spend hours considering. One point I want to mention, however, is their description of the roots of modern day conservatism, namely Edmund Burke.
"The creed of Edmund Burke, [conservatism's] most eloquent proponent, might be crudely reduced to six principles: a deep suspicion of the power of the state, a preference for liberty over equality, patriotism, a belief in established institutions and hierarchies, skepticism about the idea of progress and elitism."
The writers argue that modern day conservatives still adhere to the first three, but have taken opposite positions on the last three. Modern day conservatives in America, they argue, are generally suspicious of the establishment and elites, and have an endless supply of optimism about the future. They offer one exception to the idea of optimism, however, saying that the neoconservatives, which they call "Straussians," are, like Leo Strauss, inherently pessimistic about modernity.

This had me thinking back to a grad school class I took, in which the professor (a leading realist) tried to push the same point: that neoconservatives are inherently pessimistic about America's future. This was generally the realists' attempt to lay claim to the (optimistic) Reagan legacy that the modern and neoconservatives were also trying (more realistically, in my opinion) to claim. (The best example of realists trying to claim the Reagan legacy was the book America Alone) I always had trouble accepting this, because if you read stuff written by neoconservatives, they are full of optimism about what they think they can accomplish. They don't have a pessimistic view of America itself, but simply think it's been taken in the wrong direction (just like every other political/ideological group thinks). Instead, it is many realists who are the pessimists.

Realists are generally broken up into two camps, the human-nature realists and the structural realists. The human-nature realists, like Hans Morgenthau, argue that man is inherently evil, and as such, war and conflict will be an inevitable occurrence in international relations. Structural realists, which include many of the modern-day realists, argue that the structure of the international system, namely that it is anarchic, makes it a self-help system in which each state will be looking to maximize their power at the expense of the power of other countries. (There are of course, the defensive and offensive split within the structural realist camp, and even more subtle distinctions beyond that level, but for our purposes this generalization will suffice).

Read "Back to the Future: Instability in Europe after the Cold War. by John Mearsheimer for an apocalyptic vision of Europe in which every country has nuclear weapons pointed at each other from all directions (and this after the Cold War was over!). Read anything by Kenneth Waltz, who has argued for years that the end of American supremacy was just around the corner. Read the self-flagellating accounts of liberals and realists about everything America has supposedly done wrong, read the accounts of how the European Union is supposedly becoming the new superpower. Many realists are also all too often big on criticism and short on solutions. In fact, their solutions are often to just not do something. Many, such as Mearsheimer, see war between other states as inevitable regardless of whether American troops are there to prevent such an occurrence. As such, we should draw down troop levels at bases overseas so that when war does break out American troops aren't in the middle of the fight. Other solutions include to not expand NATO because it would risk antagonizing Russia. They have little faith in the changing power of democracy, and as such see little need for an organization like NATO now that the Cold War is over.

Many neoconservatives, however, see democracy less as an ends in and of itself, and more as a powerful tool to shape the world for good. Many liberal hawks take similar positions, but neoconservatives and those allied with them have a much more lasting faith in democracy than even liberals. Democracy has changed countries for the better, it has taken root in countries of all cultures, civilizations, levels of political and economic development and means of implementation. Democracy has taken root in some countries at gunpoint, as well as through means of general change. This reality, therefore, negates the realists' claims that democracy cannot take hold in certain countries. Their opposition to democratization, therefore, is the result of a greater pessimism towards the power of democracy to enact change. With the record of what democracy has done in the last couple decades, who is really being pessimistic here?

Neoconservatives, and their political allies, therefore follow the first three attributes of Burke's conservatism (you can, of course argue against the first one given the current administration's record on government spending, but that's been the one area where he's attracted the most criticism from his supporters. In any case, that's for another time), and have rejected the latter three attributes of Burke's conservatism, namely the rejection of the establishment and elites and a pessimistic view of man and progress. Therefore, modern conservatives, including neoconservatives, embody all the positive attributes of Burke's conservatismm (suspicion of the state, patriotism, liberty over equality) and reject the old and outdates attributes, namely pessimism about America and mankind, support for the establishment and elitism). That sounds pretty good to me.

I recommend The Right Nation if you have not read it. As I said, it gives you a lot to think about, and I'm sure I'll have more comments as I go through it.

That Pesky Lobby

Foreign Policy has a number of articles in its latest issue as part of a roundtable (subscription required for all but one article) on the question of the "Israel Lobby," which has recently received prominence with the article in the London Review of Books and the Kennedy School working paper written by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University. Foreign Policy asks the question, "Does the Israel Lobby have too much power" in American politics. Taking the affirmative are Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, along with Zbigniew Brzezinski. Taking the opposite side are Cheney's former Deputy National Security Advisor and professor Princeton, Aaron Friedberg, Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli cabinet official under Ehud Barak, and Dennis Ross, former Middle Eastern envoy under President Clinton.

I have yet to read all of the articles, but will do so in the near future. In the meantime, I'll focus on the original article by Professors Mearsheimer and Walt. Some people think it was anti-Semitic, but I am not one of them. I just think it was wrong, and incredibly sloppy social science. In my mind, this article is a black mark on the work done over the decades by these two academics. Not all of it I have agreed with, but it has all been written at a consistently high standard that this work simply does not even come close to meeting.

Methodological Flaws

With regards to methodological flaws, the historian in me cringes at a purportedly scholarly piece of writing taken almost entirely from newspaper articles. I've noticed a disheartening trend in international relations scholarship in recent years where sourcing seems to come entirely from newspapers. Read through an edition of International Security, for example, to find evidence of this trend. I wouldn't be willing to stake money on this, but a lot of articles with this type of sourcing have happened to be ones heavily critical of the current administration. Of course, if this is what they set out to do, there has been all sorts of cannon fodder in the newspapers over the last couple years, but that does not mean it has been right. All sorts of speculation, unnamed sourcing and inaccurate information makes its way into press accounts. Professors from institutions like the University of Chicago and Harvard should not be using this as their primary material for the scholarly work.

In his rebuttal of the Mearsheimer/Walt aritcle, Alan Dershowitz raises this same point. There is very little, if, indeed, anything in the way of primary research done for this article. Neither Mearsheimer nor Walt appear to actually have talked to anyone involved in the policy-making process with regards to Israel. As a result, there are serious historical errors and quotes taken out of context that are referenced in the article. Certainly, such research will not always unveil the truth, but it would probably require some sort of analysis on the part of the authors and would do wonders to raise the scholarly level of the article.

Additionally, while I understand documents on the decision making process that led to the Iraq War are probably hard to get ones hands on (not so much the case for documents dealing with our relationship with Israel in past decades though), there are, nevertheless, many VERY in depth accounts out ther of the decision making process that led to the war, based on original research, have been written. To take just two examples of such authors, Bob Woodward and George Packer. I don't know if Mearsheimer and Walt even bothered to try and get interviews or to try and see if there were any declassified documents to get their hands on, but I tend to doubt it. A paper like this simply should not be written from one's office in Chicago or Cambridge using little more than a Lexis-Nexis search. As Dershowitz pointed out - that can easily lead to silly factual/historical

Finally, Mearsheimer and Walt define the Israel Lobby as "a loose coalition of individuals and organizations who openly work to push U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction." To begin with, their use of the word "loose" is the overstatement of the year. Members of the Israel Lobby range from neo-conservatives to former Clintonites like Martin Indyk, who neo-conservative publications have treated with near-contempt, calling him "Arafat's 'Yes-man.'" To believe that these two groups of people, with vastly different ideological roots, could ever agree (even without knowing it) on a certain direction in which to drive US policy towards Israel is laughable. Thus, the major flaw of the thesis - there is no causality involve - a cardinal sin in the halls of the political science buildings at Chicago and Harvard. Mearsheimer and Walt name a lof names, but they never show a coherent link between these people and the policies that result from their actions, other than to show a few loose groupings, for example around AIPAC. .

Substantive Flaws

Now, getting on to the substantive aspects of the Mearsheimer and Walt paper. I'll focus first on the question of whether Israel is a strategic burden or not. Mearsheimer and Walt put forth a number of arguments as to why Israel is a strategic burden. (As Daniel Drezner pointed out at one point, however, the never consider the benefits of Israel as an ally, therefore making it impossible to determine if Israel is a NET strategic burden or not)

1) "The first Gulf War revealed the extent to which Israel was becoming a strategic burden. The US could not use Israeli bases without rupturing the anti-Iraq coalition, and had to divert resources (e.g. Patriot missile batteries) to prevent Tel Aviv doing anything that might harm the alliance against Saddam Hussein."

This is hardly indicative of how Israel was a strategic burden. More so, it's indicative of how our need to court Arab opinion was (and still is) a strategic burden. We obviously could have defeated the Iraqi army on our own and pushed them out of Kuwait. Instead, we decided to build a big coalition, and to have Arab troops "liberate" Kuwait City (after we had done all the hard work). That was why we needed to keep Israel out of the war. We had to play nice with a bunch of thug dictators, so we had to sideline Israel. What does that have to do with what Israel does or doesn't have to offer on its own? This doesn't explain why Israel shouldn't be an American ally due to a conflict in interests, but rather that our alliance with Israel causes us problems elsewhere. I don't find that reason enough to drop Israel - to do that I would need them to explain to me, independent of outside factors, why Israel is a strategic burden.

On a side note, if we're talking the contributions Arab governments made in terms of military support in Gulf I, I'd personally rather have the far more professional and effective IDF fighting with me than the Syrians, Egyptians or Saudis.

2) "More important, saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around. Support for Israel is not the only source of anti-American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult."

This has been used for the last 5 years by an array of people, primarily Europeans, who insist that if we just had an equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, al Qaeda would go away. In reality, this is a strawman. Terrorists aren't coming from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen or elsewhere because of the Palestinians' plight. The one thing the Palestinian issue does provide is great public relations. In fact, many would argue that's not much of a reason at all, including Osama bin Laden who has made clear that it is the presence of American troops on the Arabian peninsula that is driving America's terrorism problem. Professor Mearsheimer's colleague at Chicago, Robert Pape, has also argued that, if support for Israel was much of a driving motivation for suicide terrorism against America, you would expect to see the most attacks on US interests coming from Hamas and/or major attacks by al Qaeda on Israeli interests. You don't see either of those. Mearsheimer and Walt could still be right, but they spend so little time laying out their arguments for why Israel is a strategic burden and far too much time detailing which columnist and which assistant secretary of defense is a member of the "lobby." The latter doesn't tell us much, but elaboration on the former would.

3) "Iran’s nuclear ambitions do not pose a direct threat to the US. If Washington could live with a nuclear Soviet Union, a nuclear China or even a nuclear North Korea, it can live with a nuclear Iran. And that is why the Lobby must keep up constant pressure on politicians to confront Tehran."

Note that one sentence starting with "If" and ending with "Iran" is their entire argument on this point. Whether the US could tolerate a nuclear Iran is a contentious issue, on which you could write an entire book. To sum it up in this throw-away sentence makes a mockery of the whole issue. Like I said above, more time elucidating their arguments like these, less time naming names on who is a member of the "lobby" and who isn't.

On a side note, many have pointed out the the two leading "realists" in the field of IR suddenly managed to find the one issue in all of IR that is explained first and foremost by domestic politics rather than the structure of the international system. Rest assured, Mearsheimer and Walt aren't leaving realism. Note how they bunch the Soviet Union, China, North Korea and Iran together in a nuclear club, as if none of the members vary at all in implications for US security. No internal or external (other than the structure of the system) factors specific to any one of those countries allows for any variation at all in how the US should deal with these states.

4) "A final reason to question Israel’s strategic value is that it does not behave like a loyal ally. Israeli officials frequently ignore US requests and renege on promises (including pledges to stop building settlements and to refrain from ‘targeted assassinations’ of Palestinian leaders)."

Israel is an ally, not our lap dog. We weren't overly thrilled when Britain attacked Argentina over the Falklands or when France and Britain tried to start a war over the Suez, but we were bright enough to realize that things like this were going to happen, b/c even the interests of your closest allies don't always coincide with yours. There's plenty of things we wish our European partners would do and wouldn't do. Heck, by Mearsheimer and Walt's logic, France and Germany are also "strategic burdens" for not behaving like a "loyal ally."

Also, to argue that Israel is not allowed to pursue its counterterrorist policy of targeted assassinations (regardless of whether you think its effective or not) when the US is doing the exact same thing to al any Qaeda leaders we find is downright hypocritical. Israel has had a terrorism problem far longer than we have. We can't just barge in, insist everything is to be done "our way" and act shocked when Israel disagrees with that course of action.

5) "Israel is hardly the only country that spies on the US, but its willingness to spy on its principal patron casts further doubt on its strategic value."

This is entirely irrelevant. We spy on every one of our allies in some way, shape or form - and they do the same to us. Go back to Feb/March 2003 when we were trying to get the second resolution passed in the Security Council to authorize war in Iraq. The Observer "broke" a story about how the US was spying on the UN delegation of the Security Council members to find out ahead of time how they were going to vote. The reaction from those countries was overwhelmingly one of indifference because they knew they'd done the same thing to us many times before.

Like I said before, I think there's also a strong moral case to be made for support for Israel - not that Israel is perfect, but that it is far and away morally superior to its neighbors. Mearsheimer and Walt actually (unwittingly) recognize this. When they lament that there is no debate on the issue in the US, they cite the far more robust debate that takes place in Israel itself. By recognizing this Mearsheimer and Walt implicitly recognize the key feature that makes Israel morally superior to its neighbors: its ability to engage in domestic debate and have that debate affect government policy when they recognize that they have been wrong on an issue. This debate drove a number of governments back to the negotiating table in the 1990s, caused a great deal of change in the treatment of Arab Israelis over the years and played a major role in the eventual withdrawal from Gaza last year and the formation of Kadima. Therefore, despite insisting that Israel is, at best, the moral equal of its neighbors, Mearsheimer and Walt recognize otherwise elsewhere in their paper