Israeli deputy minister threatens Gaza with ‘Shoah’

Israel’s deputy defense Minister, Matan Vilnai, yesterday threatened a new ‘Shoah’ (Holocaust) in Gaza, if Hamas and the other militant Palestinian forces there continue to send rockets against southern Israel.
This, in the midst of yet another round of escalation and counter-escalation that has occurred over recent days, causing the death of one Israeli civilian and of some twenty Palestinians in Gaza, including civilians and four (or perhaps more) children.
Haaretz’s Amos Harel describes the “dizzying” pace of events between Israel and Gaza in the past week:

    On Sunday, the media were busy with the IDF’s intensive preparations for the possibility that Hamas would march thousands of Gazan Palestinians into Israel. Furloughs were canceled, units were sent forward from training bases and senior commanders stayed in the field to supervise the preparations. By Monday, it became clear that Hamas had chosen to avoid a confrontation. Only a few thousand people attended the rally in Gaza and only a few dozen bothered showing up at the Erez crossing.
    Hamas made up for its disappointment with the poor turnout by firing rockets at Sderot, injuring Yossi Haimov, 10, in an incident that was chillingly televised. On Wednesday, the IDF and the Shin Bet security service killed five Hamas activists who had returned to the Gaza Strip from training in Iran and Syria. Hamas retaliated with almost 50 rockets, one of which killed Roni Yihye at Sapir College, adjacent to Sderot. Ashkelon was also hit.

It was this use of rockets against Ashkelon, population 120,000, that pushed the Israeli political elite into deciding whether to do something more “decisive” in response.
But as Harel notes, the options of what this “decisive” thing might be run from the radically de-escalatory (move into negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas) to the radically escalatory (a big ground operation into Gaza accompanied by, as Vilnai wants, some elements of “Shoah.”)
We should note that just a couple of days ago, a new poll in Israel found an unprecedentedly high number of Israelis (64%) had started to favor the option of negotiating with Hamas– even if only in the context of a prisoner exchange.
But in the present circumstances it is hard to see how a prisoner exchange could be negotiated without the other very immediate issues of (a) a ceasefire and (b) lifting Israel’s economic stranglehold over Gaza also being on the agenda.
Condi Rice is to be in Israel next week. Will she be promoting the cause of escalation or de-escalation? Up until now, she and the Bush administration have favored or perhaps even pushed for just about every escalatory move the Israeli government has ever made against its neighbors. But it would be great if this time around she could take a calm look round and see the dangers for all involved in the region– who now certainly include the US– if she gives the nod to an escalation against Gaza.
Inside Israel, there is considerable wariness about the wisdom of launching a big ground operation into Gaza. Two big questions immediately arise:

    1. What is the state of readiness of the Israeli ground forces to even undertake such an operation– since their operational readiness and capabilities were revealed to be so poor in the summer of 2006; and
    2. (The much bigger question.) If supposing the ground forces succeed in seizing and holding a big chunk of terrain inside Gaza– which is not really in doubt, though it could be a very bloody tactical “win”– then what?

We could note that it was the then what? question that the Bush administration had completely failed to address with regard to Iraq– just as, back in 1982, the Israelis themselves failed to address it with regard to Lebanon.
Finally, I can’t stop this post before commenting on the horror and the complete inappropriateness of deputy minister Vilnai using the term “Shoah” to refer to what he was threatening in Gaza. He later backtracked some and said all he meant was “a disaster” (which is bad enough, especially if threatened against a highly populated territory in which non-combatants far outnumber combatants.
But in Israel, is the term “Shoah” commonly used to refer to relatively banal events? I thought it was used, like the term capital-H Holocaust in English, to refer to a single, extremely horrific episode of evil.
Anyway, as I said, for Vilnai to openly threaten a “disaster” for Gaza is bad enough. Politicians around the world should be called on to express repugnance for his gross bellicosity.

The ICC issue delays peace in N. Uganda (Again!)

In recent days the 1.5 million people of northern Uganda have come so close to getting their extremely harmful 22-year civil war resolved… But now, the perennially disruptive issue of what to do about the indictments and arrest warrants that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has outstanding against the leaders of the oppositionist (“insurgent”) is yet again stalling– and may yet completely prevent– conclusion of the final deal.
This report from New Vision’s Milton Olupot in Juba, South Sudan, where the peace talks have been going on, tells us that:

    The peace talks in Juba hit a snag yesterday when the Government delegation rejected the LRA demand to include a guarantee in the final peace agreement that the ICC indictments against rebel leader Joseph Kony and his top commanders will be lifted.

The ICC’s indictments against Kony and four of his associates categorize in dry manner the accusations against him. The LRA has been reliably reported to have committed a large number of very shocking war crimes and crimes against humanity. On the other hand, the Ugandan government’s security forces have also, in this confrontation, committed numerous excesses and violations of the laws of war that, while perhaps not as immediately “shocking” to western sensibilities as those of the LRA, have nevertheless probably inflicted a greater total amount of harm on the families of northern Uganda.
Yet the ICC’s indictments– which came at the end of an investigation into “the situation in Northern Uganda” that was initiated by the Government of Uganda– were only against the one side: the LRA. Of course, since the Ugandan government is the sovereign government of the whole relevant terrain and exercises strong control over access to the terrain and to the witnesses and documentation located thereon, that does kind of skew things for the ICC investigators, don’t you think?
(Unlike in Darfur, where the Sudanese government has not been able totally to control access to the contested area or to the witnesses and documentation.)
… Be that as it may, I think it is still of the utmost importance for the people of northern Uganda and indeed the whole of that country that the very damaging conflict with the LRA be resolved– soon, through negotiation, and in a way that is both politically sustainable and lays out a good path for the future.
“Amnesty after Atrocity??” you may ask in horror. If so, then go buy my 2006 book with that title, and read in particular the chapter on how the 1977-92 civil war in Mozambique was very successfully brought to an end precisely with the conclusion of a comprehensive peace agreement that– along with many other forward-looking elements– included a blanket amnesty. (The president of Mozambique is now the UN’s lead representative at the Juba talks.)
On Monday, I had the pleasure of going to talk about these issues at Washington & Lee University Law School, in Lexington, Virginia. Now, I knew that the “Lee” in the name had been Robert E. Lee, the commander of the secessionist “confederate” forces in the US civil war of 1861-65. Just as the “Washington” was George Washington, commander of the perhaps equally secessionist “American” forces during the US colonists’ more successful attempt at a UDI, back in 1776. What I hadn’t realized was that, after he surrendered his forces to Lincoln’s leading general Ulysses Grant in 1865, Lee actually became the president of this college in Lexington. My hosts there drove me past the small brick chapel where he is buried.
What does Robert E. Lee have to do with all this? Well, the Confederate (southern) forces in the US civil war also committed their share of atrocities. Both those directly related to the war (war crimes) and those perhaps not directly related to it (their attempt to uphold the institution of slavery, in general; which we can certainly classify as a large-scale crime against humanity.)
Concerning war crimes, the most egregious was probably the large-scale series of atrocities connected with the maladministration of the large POW camp the Confederates maintained at Andersonville, in Georgia. Of the almost 45,000 prisoners recorded as having been received at the camp, 12,913 died. I believe– though I don’t have the source for this to hand– that no Black soldiers from the northern forces were ever even formally “received” or registered at the camp; they were simply shot or killed in more grisly fashion, on sight. Therefore, the 12,913 deaths recorded at Andersonville considerably undercounts the number of deaths/killings of captured or surrendered northern soldiers undertaken at the hands of the CSA forces.
And yet, at the end of the civil war, Robert E. Lee was allowed to go on and live out his life as a free man, and indeed as a college president; and all the forces under his command were similarly given a “parole”, that is an amnesty, by the victorious northern government. And more or less, that approach worked, though of course the institutional disadvantagement of the the formerly enslaved African-American population of the south (and north) of the country continued for many decades further. And there were some (by comparison, fairly minor) excesses committed in the southern states by the officials sent down to the south by the north in the name of “Reconstruction.”
But yes, more or less, the blanket amnesty embedded in a political settlement of outstanding differences (in particular, the one over the ending of slavery) worked at the end of the US civil war– as it has at the end of civil wars and even international wars, throughout many centuries…
But now, the officers of the ICC, sitting in their elegant offices in the very peaceful environs of The Hague, thinking perhaps about which lovely restaurant to feast at tonight or how their generous, European-style pension plans are steadily accruing as they work, have been given the power to interrupt the process of peace negotiating in the desperate and desperately poor environs of Northern Uganda… And by and large, the “rights” activists of the western world continue to applaud the ICC.
It is a funny old world we live in. But let’s continue to back all efforts for the speedy conclusion of a peace agreement ion Northern Uganda. It is time for the many hundreds of thousands of Acholi civilians who have been confined to “IDP camps” (concentration camps) by the government, in the name of war-fighting, to be able to return to their homes.

Oops, sorry about the service disruptions here

I’ve been doing some work on designing a website for my upcoming book, and considering different options for hosting it. One that I was briefly playing with this afternoon was to host it here, sort of alongside JWN at the hosting service I’m using here and for the new site to be in some senses a subdivision of JWN.
Big mistake. Setting up the templates for that apparently put down the JWN front page for a few hours. Then when the tech advisor (and son) tried to rebuild JWN, it briefly came up decked out in the colors of the still-in-development “Re-engage!” site, and with the “Re-engage!” banner there. Did any of you see it that way? It didn’t last but a few minutes before it reverted to normal service. Strange.
Too much excitement for one night. I hope this does NOT happen again soon. (I am now strongly trending toward a completely different hosting solution for the new site.)

Israel terrified of Gazans’ nonviolent mass actions

Hamas-linked Palestinian legislator Jamal al-Khudari has been working with colleagues in the Popular Committee Against the Siege to organize various mass nonviolent actions in the Strip. The latest, today, was a human chain along the length of the Strip.
Members of the PCAS had previously expressed the hope that some 40,000 Gazans would take part. In the event, only a reported 5,000 did. The rainy weather did not help.
This action is the latest in a string of intriguing nonviolent mass actions supported by Hamas over the past 15 months. (Read reports of two of the actions from November 2006 here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Read reports of the recent Hamas-organized mass breakout from Gaza, in last month’s JWN archive.)
The latest action turned out to be, from some points of view, a bit of a damp squib. But the Palestinian organizers certainly got some useful information about the kinds of preparations Israel will be making for any future such actions. To put it mildly, the Israeli security bosses were running around crazy with their preparations for the big confrontation that they’d expected today. You can read a little about what they were doing in this piece by HaAretz’s Amos Harel.
For many decades it has been a deep fear of many Israelis that one day a large proportion of the millions of Palestinians whom Israel has painstakingly pushed out of their homes and their homeland will simply walk home. More than 80% of Gaza’s residents are refugees from within 1948 Israel. (Read Amira Hass’s book Drinking the Sea at Gaza to learn more about the Gazans’ deep yearnings for their family’s homes in nearby portions of Israel.)
The fears that many Jewish Israelis have about exiled Palestinians simply one day all walking home erupted with new force right after last month’s bustout of Gazans into Egypt. “Oh my, imagine if they had bust out into Israel!” was the tenor of much Israeli commentary at the time.
So in response to the many widely disseminated news reports about today’s “human chain” action, here are some of the things that, according to Amos Harel, the Israeli security forces did:
They “were “enforcing sterile buffer zones near the fence, especially in areas near Israeli settlements. Which is to say the IDF shoots anyone who attempts to approach the fence in those areas.” Such shootings have certainly occurred numerous times in recent months, often fatally. Remember, we’re talking about people on the Palestinian side of the fence here. Thus, even though the Gaza Strip is extremely densely populated, the Israelis have concentrated the population even more densely by enforcing “free-fire zones” of some depth along the Palestinian side of the border.
Harel added these further details about the IDF’s preparations:

    the IDF has also carved up the area inside the Gaza Strip, at least on the army’s maps. The army intends to prevent the marchers from advancing on the fence when they are still inside the Strip, using various means for crows dispersal according to a ring system: The closer the marchers get to the fence, the harsher the response.
    The army plans to fire at open areas near the demonstrators with artillery that the Artillery Corps has been moving to the area over the past couple of days. If the marchers continue and cross into the next ring, they will face tear gas. If they persist, snipers could be ordered to aim for the marchers’ legs as they approach the fence.
    In fact, the IDF has already had to contend with mass marches on strategic points by civilian population. It happened in 2000 in the Security Zone in Lebanon, and it ended badly for Israel. It happened outside Taybeh, around an outpost manned by soldiers from the South Lebanon Army. It was the eve of the Israeli pullout when preparations for the move were well underway.
    The SLA troops, in the absence of support and clear orders from the IDF and faced with hundreds of Shi’ite civilians whom Hezbollah had marched to the base, abandoned the site. In so doing, they triggered the hurried retreat by the IDF, which took place over three days, some three weeks before deadline.
    For Colonel (res.) Noam Ben Tzvi, the affair is still an open wound, he says. Ben Tzvi was the only brigade commander in the Security Zone’s western sector. His headquarters was in Bint Jbail. “Had the IDF insisted on blocking that march, it could have been prevented. But no order was given,” he says. “We were unprepared for that situation. I hope the orders are clearer now.”
    He adds: “I wouldn’t rule out selective use of live ammunition, as a last resort. The alternative is having them attempt a massacre of civilians in one of our towns near the border.”

It is, of course, extremely significant that the IDF planners have been looking at their previous experience of encountering nonviolent mass action, from South Lebanon in May 2000. And you can bet that the Hamas planners have also been looking at them.

Iraq vs. Afghanistan in the US election

Helene Cooper had a good analytical article in today’s NYT, looking at the differing views on the “winnability” of Iraq held by, on the one hand, presumptive Republican candidate John McCain and on the other, both the Democratic front-runners, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Cooper writes,

    All three say they believe that Afghanistan is an important security threat that needs to be addressed. But the Republican, John McCain, suggests that Iraq remains America’s bugaboo of security threats, while the two Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, appear to have moved on to Afghanistan. Both of them argue that focusing on Iraq gets in the way of a more serious threat in Afghanistan.

Attentive JWN readers will know that I am for a US troop withdrawal from Iraq that is speedy, orderly, and total. I hold this position on grounds of principle, given the patently illegitimate nature of the US invasion of Iraq and the inescapably repressive and harmful nature of rule by foreign military occupation whenever it occurs. But in addition, I believe that the continued US occupation of Iraq harms the interests of the US citizenry in a number of significant ways, not least by swallowing up huge amounts of (borrowed) financial resources that have already impoverished our country and will continue to impoverish it for some generations to come.
It is also true that the continued US troop presence in Iraq diverts attention and resources from the situation in Afghanistan, a place where for various historic reasons the US has a strong continuing obligation to help (at the very least) to help to rebuild the country. Afghanistan was a key battlefield in the US confrontation against the Soviets in the 1980s; and since 2001 it has been a key battlefield in the US confrontation against Al-Qaeda.
However, the exact nature of this obligation needs to be unpacked further. Most importantly, I believe the US needs to work with the United Nations, with Muslim countries, and with Afghanistan’s close big-power neighbors China and Russia to maximize the investment that is made in rebuilding Afghanistan’s society on a sound basis. Part of that effort might involve a continuing non-Afghan security presence in the country. But surely that presence should be provided by a specifically UN force, under the direct leadership of the UN, rather than coming from that old– and distinctly “Atlanticist”– Cold War relic, NATO.
But I can certainly agree with Clinton and Obama that the attempt to continue to maintain a large US troop presence in Iraq diverts attention and resources from the obligation the US has in Afghanistan– and indeed, in many other places, too, including here at home within the good ol’ USA.
Helene Cooper writes this about McCain:

    Senator McCain, the likely Republican nominee, makes a de facto argument that Iraq and Afghanistan are two sides of the same coin. “Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will withdraw our forces from Iraq based on an arbitrary timetable designed for the sake of political expediency and which recklessly ignores the profound human calamity and dire threats to our security that would ensue,” Mr. McCain said in a Feb. 7 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference.
    Distilled to its simplest form, Mr. McCain’s argument is that withdrawing from Iraq would make Americans less safe in the long run, because a withdrawal would embolden Al Qaeda, put American interests at risk in the Middle East, and make an already volatile region less safe.

Backing up McCain’s argument that the US should not consider withdrawing from either Iraq or Afghanistan– but using a slightly different form of argumentation– is Anthony Cordesman, the long-time Middle East strategic guru at the Center for International Studies. Cordesman had an op-ed titled “Two winnable wars” in today’s WaPo.
Cordesman doesn’t actually sketch out, in the way McCain did, any specific scenario of dire consequences if the US should decide to withdraw from either Iraq or Afghanistan. He seems to simply assume that we all know that withdrawal would connote defeat. His main argument, instead, is that with the right kinds of US policies both these wars are winnable. Having recently returned from visits to both countries, he starts his piece with this bold assertion:

    No one can return from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I recently did, without believing that these are wars that can still be won.

He does, however, immediately qualify that statement (and cover his own rear end) by adding, “They are also clearly wars that can still be lost.”
He then provides the useful service of spelling out what it is that in his view constitutes victory:

    Meaningful victory can come only if tactical military victories end in ideological and political victories and in successful governance and development. Dollars are as important as bullets, and so are political accommodation, effective government services and clear demonstrations that there is a future that does not need to be built on Islamist extremism.

This is actually a pretty good definition, though Cordesman and I might– or might not– differ on what constitutes “Islamist extremism.” Where I differ from him, however, is in his view that it should be the US that “leads” (i.e. controls) the effort to bring good governance to the two countries.
After six years of US dominance of the government and security system in Afghanistan and nearly five years of US occupation of Iraq, have we seen anything about either of these situations that encourages us to think that US is able to bring good governance to either country?
If you go to the CSIS website, you can see a PDF of a 48-piece slide presentation that Cordesman presented on Feb. 13, as a way of reporting on his most recent trip to Iraq. The slides look to have been prepared mainly by the US military themselves. I found slides #3, 35, and 41-46 to be the most informative. In slide 41, he states baldly that the US military needs a further “half decade” to be able to sort out all the many current challenges in Iraq, many of which are, as the following slides clearly demonstrate, very political challenges, within Iraq’s political system. (And therefore, imho, no legitimate concern of any foreigners, anyway.)
The various points of “positive achievement” listed in Cordesman’s slides make a stark contrast with what we read yesterday in Nir Rosen’s much more grounded reporting of what’s been happening in Iraq during the surge. (Do you think Cordesman ever got out of the Green Zone? He gives no indication whatsoever that he did.) And on the news pages of today’s WaPo, there’s a fascinating article by Joshua Partlow, reporting on the big problems the US military and its local, “Iraqi Security Force” allies have been facing in the large northern city of Mosul.
Don’t be misled by the inappropriately optimistic headline the piece bears.
Partlow writes this:

    With just 2,000 American soldiers to patrol a city of 1.8 million people — the Iraqi Sunni insurgency’s most formidable urban stronghold — the U.S. military strategy in Mosul relies to an unprecedented degree on the Iraqi security forces. U.S. military officials here say there will be nothing like the “surge” of thousands of American troops that helped ease the fighting in Baghdad and no major effort to search for insurgents block by block. Instead, they are betting that 18,200 Iraqi soldiers and police can shoulder the load against the kaleidoscope of insurgent groups fighting in the city.
    “We see the Iraqi security forces, more and more, take the lead and take the fight to the enemy,” said Maj. Adam Boyd, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s intelligence officer. “You do see a capability that we have not seen before.”
    In recent months, three Iraqi army battalions have returned to Mosul from deployments in Baghdad. The Interior Ministry has approved 2,000 additional police recruits for the city, and a new Iraqi operations command is coordinating the efforts of the Iraqi security forces.
    But some Iraqi soldiers say they have neither the manpower nor the equipment to defeat the insurgency in Mosul, where violence has increased over the past six months. As of mid-February, there were 80 attacks a week, a quarter of which killed or wounded people.
    Mosul’s ethnic composition poses unique challenges for the Iraqi security forces. Sunni Arabs constitute four-fifths of the population, and there is little of the sectarian violence that has caused so much bloodshed elsewhere in the country. But many residents are openly hostile to the Iraqi army forces, whose leadership in Mosul is predominantly Kurdish, viewing them as a force for Kurdish encroachment.
    … The distrust among local residents limits the Iraqi soldiers’ ability to collect intelligence about the insurgents they are fighting. The thousands of armed Sunnis who aligned with American soldiers and provided so much information about the group al-Qaeda in Iraq in other parts of the country have failed to materialize in Mosul. Dosky said taking control of the city would require at least two new Iraqi army divisions.
    “The people, especially inside of Mosul, they don’t like the new government,” he said. “Very few of them have joined the army or police. They don’t help us with information.”
    Many of the Kurdish soldiers don’t speak Arabic, and some denigrate the Sunni Arab population in the city for supporting insurgents. “Kurd good. Arab no good,” Sgt. Tayeeb Abdul Rahaman, an Iraqi soldier, said repeatedly in his limited English. “Anybody who doesn’t like the army are terrorists,” added Sgt. Major Mohammed Sharif.

(Which reminds me: I would love to know how many of the Kurdish fighters who were supposedly integrated into the Iraqi Army have gone AWOL in order to go and defend the Kurdish region against the current Turkish invasion?)
Finally, the most ambitious and probably the most important piece of war reporting in today’s papers comes from the NYT’s Elizabeth Rubin, writing a long piece in the Sunday Magazine section about a lengthy embed she did in Afghanistan in October/November, with the US Army Airborne Brigade Combat Team in a remote valley in the northeastern province of Kunar.
Rubin’s piece is a must-read. It certainly shows the huge amount of stress the US soldiers there are operating under. She focuses most closely on the efforts being made by 26-year-old Capt. Dan Kearney, the officer in charge of a small, fairly isolated outpost called the Korengal Outpost.
Rubin writes this:

    LAST AUTUMN, after five months of grueling foot patrols up and down the mountains, after fruitless encounters with elders who smiled in the morning and were host to insurgents in the evening and after losing friends to enemy fire, Captain Kearney’s men could relate to the sullen, jittery rage of their predecessors in the 10th Mountain Division. Many wondered what they were doing out there at all.
    Kearney refused to entertain that thought. He would tell his visitors, whether generals or reconstruction teams, that his campaign plan was clear, if modest: “It’s World War II Pacific-island hopping, turning one village at a time.” Over five months, he had gained about 400 yards of terrain. When some generals and colonels had flown in for a quick tour, and Kearney was showing them the lay of the land, one officer said to another, as Kearney later recalled it, “I don’t know why we’re even out here.” Another officer jumped in to talk up the logic of the operation. Kearney told me he thought: Sort your stuff out before you come out here. My boys are sucking it up and dying. . . . For besides being lord of the valley, he had another role to play — motivator, disciplinarian and confidant to his soldiers. “It’s like being in charge of a soap opera,” he told me. “I feel like Dr. Phil with guns.”
    One full-moon night I was sitting outside a sandbag-reinforced hut with Kearney when a young sergeant stepped out hauling the garbage. He looked around at the illuminated mountains, the dust, the rocks, the garbage bin. The monkeys were screeching. “I hate this country!” he shouted. Then he smiled and walked back into the hut. “He’s on medication,” Kearney said quietly to me.
    Then another soldier walked by and shouted, “Hey, I’m with you, sir!” and Kearney said to me, “Prozac. Serious P.T.S.D. from last tour.” Another one popped out of the HQ cursing and muttering. “Medicated,” Kearney said. “Last tour, if you didn’t give him information, he’d burn down your house. He killed so many people. He’s checked out.”
    As I went to get some hot chocolate in the dining tent, the peaceful night was shattered by mortars, rockets and machine-gun fire banging and bursting around us. It was a coordinated attack on all the fire bases. It didn’t take long to understand why so many soldiers were taking antidepressants. The soldiers were on a 15-month tour that included just 18 days off. Many of them were “stop-lossed,” meaning their contracts were extended because the army is stretched so thin. You are not allowed to refuse these extensions. And they felt eclipsed by Iraq. As Sgt. Erick Gallardo put it: “We don’t get supplies, assets. We scrounge for everything and live a lot more rugged. But we know the war is here. We got unfinished business.”

Her article has a number of other riveting passages in it, including close-up accounts of a number of battles. In one of them a couple of Kearney’s men command are killed. You also get a fairly vivid picture of the huge destructive capabilities of the airpower that these soldiers are able to call in– and of the high casualties among Afghan civilians that result from this.
Bottom line: I think it is highly irresponsible– not to mention just plain wrong– for Tony Cordesman to write, “No one can return from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I recently did, without believing that these are wars that can still be won.” I very much doubt that Nir Rosen, Joshua Partlow, Elizabeth Rubin, or numerous other extremely courageous reporters who have been out on the front-lines would agree with that judgment. (Actually, I know that Nir doesn’t.)
The US military is already stretched very thinly indeed between these two wars: almost to breaking point. And the costs of the two wars– in blood, treasure, and opportunities for human betterment willfully foregone– continue to mount at a truly alarming rate. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have given support to increasing the total size of the US military (which will further increase costs). They have also promised to draw down the US troop presence in Iraq considerably, as a way of freeing up additional troops to send to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the US cannot undertake a large-scale drawdown of troops from Iraq without considerable help from the international community. Specifically, it cannot do this without being able to reach an agreement on this matter– and probably a number of other matters– with Iran. And to win such an agreement it needs to draw in all the other major players in the region (as Baker and Hamilton understood); and it needs the help of the rest of the UN Security Council, too.
And if there is to be a successful socioeconomic and political stabilization in Afghanistan– which is the definition that both John McCain and I give of “winning” there– then the whole of the international community, and not just its “Atlantic” component, will similarly need to be engaged.
I’d love to hear the Democratic candidates talk a lot more about the important choices and tradeoffs involved in these two battlefields. Our country desperately needs a new– and far more intentionally “inclusive”– approach to resolving thorny security problems in distant places. Maintaining the old myths of “America’s role of global leadership” or the US as the “indispensable nation” just doesn’t fit the reality of the world’s situation any more.

Uganda very close to peace with the LRA?

AFP is reporting from Kampala that the Ugandan government has signed a permanent ceasefire agreement with the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). This is apparently not the total final peace agreement, though that now looks very close indeed. (“In the coming days,” according to AFP.)
The conflict between the government and the LRA, who are nearly all ethnic Acholi from the north of the country, has raged for 20 years– or much longer than that, depending how and what you count. It has been very intense for the past 12 years. Many, many years ago the government side cleared nearly all the Acholis off their lands and farms and herded them into “strategic hamlets / concentration camps” marked by extremely poor living conditions and many abuses by government soldiers. The LRA, for their part, for many years undertook repeated hit-and-run raids against both government forces and civilian populations, including the kidnapping of numerous children whom they impressed as child soldiers, sex slaves, or porters.
The challenge of resettling the war-scarred populations (Acholi and others) will be huge. The whole process of making and then building the required peace process is an enormous challenge; and it has been considerably complicated by the insistence of the International Criminal Court on prosecuting the leaders of the LRA.
You can read some of my comments about this complication– and those of other analysts far better informed than me– over at the Transitional Justice Forum blog, here.
The negotiators have been doing their work in Juba, South Sudan, where the regional South Sudan Government and its vice-president, Dr. Riek Machar, have done a lot to facilitate the peace talks. Also playing a great role has been the past president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, who has been serving as the UN Secretary-General’s Special representative in the talks.
Both these leaders come from countries burdened by extreme poverty and very lengthy recent civil wars. Both have played important roles in helping to end those civil wars. So it is certainly fair to say that they know considerably more about how to make such a peace process work than either ICC bureaucrats sitting in their comfortable offices in long-peaceful European capitals or the (often very comfortably paid) westerners who work for US-based “rights” organizations.
On Tuesday, the negotiators in Juba reportedly reached an agreement on how the issue of dealing with the atrocities committed during the war will be dealt with. New Vision of Kampala reports this:

    “We have agreed that severe crimes committed by the LRA during the war will be tried under a special division of the High Court in Uganda,” said government spokesman Capt. Chris Magezi.
    The agreement said the special court division would also facilitate the protection and participation of witnesses, victims, women and children.
    “Less severe crimes can be dealt with using Mato Oput (traditional Acholi reconciliation mechanism) or even junior courts,” Magezi said.
    The LRA said it was happy with the document. “This is a very good development,” said LRA team leader David Nyekorach Matsanga.

There still seemed to be some disagreement between the two sides as to whether the ICC indictments against LRA leader Joseph Kony would actually be dropped– though the ICC’s stance that its work is “complementary” to that of the national courts as opposed to having “primacy” of jurisdiction over them indicates that they would be.
Here is another account of how the war-crimes issues will be dealt with, from the UN’s IRIN system.
The next few days look as though they will be key to getting this entire peace accord completed. Let’s hope it works out. I am still haunted by the conversation I had with a group of residents of the Unyama IDP near Gulu, back in July 2006. In the course of that, one of the participants, a peasant farmer called Angelo, said:

    Why doesn’t the ICC speed up its process and be done by August so we can can all get back to our lands for the new planting season?

That was more than 18 months (= three planting seasons) ago.
Btw, big hat-tip to Jonathan Edelstein for pointing me to some of these articles.

Nir Rosen’s “The Myth of the Surge”

Nir Rosen has produced yet another brilliant piece of reporting, this time about Iraq. His piece, out in Rolling Stone today, is called The Myth of the Surge.
He starts by setting the grim scene:

    This is what “victory” looks like in a once upscale neighborhood of Iraq: Lakes of mud and sewage fill the streets. Mountains of trash stagnate in the pungent liquid. Most of the windows in the sand-colored homes are broken, and the wind blows through them, whistling eerily. House after house is deserted, bullet holes pockmarking their walls, their doors open and unguarded, many emptied of furniture. What few furnishings remain are covered by a thick layer of the fine dust that invades every space in Iraq. Looming over the homes are twelve-foot-high security walls built by the Americans to separate warring factions and confine people to their own neighborhood. Emptied and destroyed by civil war, walled off by President Bush’s much-heralded “surge,” Dora feels more like a desolate, post-apocalyptic maze of concrete tunnels than a living, inhabited neighborhood. Apart from our footsteps, there is complete silence.

Most of the piece is an up-close report on the operations in a couple of Baghdad neighborhoods of (a) one of the new “Iraqi Security Volunteer” (ISV) groups, and (b) an officer in the Irasqi National; Police (INP) who treads an extremely difficult path between the mainly-Sunni ISV’s and the Mahdi Army people from his own Shiite sect.
He has a really apt quote from Charles Freeman, an extremely savvy veteran US diplomat who, among other ambassadorships, was ambassador to Saudi Arabia for quite a while:

    “We are essentially supporting a quasi-feudal devolution of authority to armed enclaves, which exist at the expense of central government authority,” says Chas Freeman… “Those we are arming and training are arming and training themselves not to facilitate our objectives but to pursue their own objectives vis-a-vis other Iraqis. It means that the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that are now suppressed are likely to burst out with even greater ferocity in the future.

Nir gives a very depressing account of US troops blundering around through the bizarre physical, operational and (im-)moral landscape of Baghdad, including going with them on a couple of house raids that net a bunch of misidentified detainees and one against whom the evidence is fabricated by the local ISVs. He also shows the intense rivalries and pettiness within/among the ISVs; the rampant distrust and toadyism; and most importantly of all the fact that there is almost no functioning economy or society at all left in large areas of Baghdad.
At one point he writes, quite correctly:

    A foreign military occupation is, by its very nature, a terrifying and brutal thing, and even the most innocuous American patrols inevitably involve terrorizing innocent Iraqi civilians. Every man in a market is rounded up and searched at gunpoint. Soldiers, their faces barely visible behind helmets and goggles, burst into a home late at night, rip the place apart looking for weapons, blindfold and handcuff the men as the children look on, whimpering and traumatized. U.S. soldiers are the only law in Iraq, and you are at their whim. Raids like this one are scenes in a long-running drama, and by now everyone knows their part by heart. “I bet there’s an Iraqi rap song about being arrested by us,” an American soldier jokes to me at one point.

Go read the whole article. It is right up there alongside the great piece of reporting that Jon Lee Anderson had in The New Yorker last November, in terms of (a) depicting the “Apocalypse Now” landscape of US-occupied Iraq; (b) underscoring how distant the reality on the ground in Baghdad is from the anodyne views of “the success of the surge” that too many US politicians and analysts have bought into into; and (c) underscoring, too, how great the challenge will be that our next president will face in Iraq, on January 20, 2009.
Great job, Nir.

Italian FM describes Mughniyeh killing as “terror”

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema has expressed himself foursquare against all use of extra-judicial executions (EJE’s). He did this in an interview with Gigi Riva of L’Espresso that was published yesterday.
(See what I wrote about EJE’s earlier in the week, here.)
Here, with lots of help from Google Translate, is what D’Alema said in the relevant part of the interview:

    Q: Lebanon. Nasrallah announces war after the murder of Mughniyeh in Damascus.
    A: A car-bomb in the centre of a city I call terrorism.
    Q: Some people said it was the Mossad.
    A: Whoever has done it, it is terrorism. I find it also serious that the man was in Syria, which feeds suspicions on the regime.
    Q: The car bomb killed the person responsible for some of the most (?) atrocious (nefande) actions that the Middle East has seen over the past 30 years.
    A: I am against the death penalty imposed legally, so imagine how one should think about a death decided and undertaken in an extrajudicial way.
    Q: [Is that statement] Valid even for the targeted killings of Hamas leaders by the Israelis in Gaza?
    A: It is valid for all murders. It is an unacceptable practice. In combatting terrorism we must respect the rule of law. Extraordinary rendition, like targeted killings, has not enhanced the image of the West and has given an alibi for the terrorists.
    Q: Returning to Lebanon, there are winds of war.
    A:There are worrying signals, but our presence there makes things less bad. UNIFIL is acting also as a deterrent against possible outbreak of a civil war between Lebanese [HC: Really? Interesting that he thinks that… ]and is a key factor for the security of Israel.
    Q: About Israel: One scenario would see an invasion of Gaza followed by an international mission to bring security to the area.
    A: I shall not comment on scenarios. At some point it might be useful to establish an international force, but as a result of an agreement between the parties, not after an attack.

Okay, it’s still a highly imperfect translation, so if anyone can suggest an improvement for all or part of the above, please do contribute it.
I am just delighted to see an EU Foreign Minister being so clear about both the moral quality and the pragmatic disutility of a policy that condones– or of course, even worse, actually undertakes– extra-judicial executions.

Article– and audio– on Lebanon in CSM

My piece on Why Lebanon hasn’t slipped into civil war is in Friday’s Christian Science Monitor. (Here, and archived here.)
If you go to the first of those links, you can also hear my dulcet (?) tones in an audio interview (14 minutes; MP3 format) that Josh Burek, my editor there, conducted with me this morning on the same topic.
(Small technical note: I wish his sound editor had ramped my volume down a bit, as my voice sounds a little loud and breathy there. I was speaking on a regular phone, pacing around my sitting room here a little bit as I talked. Larger content note/ memo to self: I really must find something other than “Oh gosh” to say when someone asks me a question and I want to collect my thoughts before giving an answer. Maybe next time I’ll try: “Well, that is a great question… “)
Anyway, if you want to learn my explanation as to why dear, infuriating old Lebanon hasn’t slipped into civil war, you’ll have to go read the piece. But astute JWN readers would already have read an earlier take on this subject, here.
Also, check out this well-reported piece on the same topic by Michael Bluhm, that appeared in the Beirut Daily Star yesterday.

‘Economist’ rips me off

Interesting that the Economist recently used a quote from the portion of my January 16 interview with Khaled Meshaal that had been published on the Foreign Policy website, by agreement.
Hat-tip to eagle-eyed spouse for noticing that. (Okay, both of us tend to read our copy of the Economist fairly long after it lands in the mailbox.)
I’m still thinking about the intellectual property issues involved. Prima facie I would say the intellectual property rights to the quote reside with me. Perhaps with Meshaal himself? No. Because in granting me the interview, he was granting me the right to use his words– with, of course, due attribution.
Well, I gave (sold for a very small mess of potage, actually) some limited web-publication rights to FP. I would feel better about the Economist ripping me off if they had given even FP as the source, since then people would have at least known where to look for that portion of the longer interview. (The whole text of which, you can read here, btw.)
Well, it is true that the whole of the Economist is written and edited by a large gang of castrati who subsume their personas completely with that of their beneficent employer and never use bylines. So maybe they view questions of attribution and of ripping off other people’s work without attribution differently than the rest of humanity.
But still….
Anyway, FWIW I think they got their analysis significantly wrong in that article. They were trying to draw a clear distinction between Mahmoud Zahhar (= hardliner) and Khaled Meshaal (= not hardliner), and to stir up the idea that there’s a significant gap between their respective positions. I think they misunderstand the different roles the two men play.
But then, what do I know? All I am to them is an anonymous, quite rip-off-able nobody. And they are the new janissaries of the global era.