The passing of Petraeus

November 13, 2012

12 November 2012

(Photo courtesy of CIA)

General (ret.) David Petraeus is a peerless asset to the United States. His contributions to the war and to the nation have been incalculable. No one can estimate the number of lives among Americans, the Coalition and Iraqi civilians that his wise leadership saved during that horrible war. His short leadership in Afghanistan rekindled my confidence that that war also might be brought to heel. Unfortunately, he was sent back to lead the CIA, which was a great loss for the military.
Director Petraeus’s accomplishments can never be erased. He will undoubtedly be demonized for his affair. It is not easy to ameliorate the stain that it leaves, as the potential final word summing up an impeccable career.

All Alphas have enemies. Petraeus is no exception. The finest leaders usually have more enemies than the company men whose mantra is, “Don’t bail the sinking boat. The boss said the boat is not sinking.” Unfortunately we have a surfeit of company men and only one Dave Petraeus.

Petraeus’s paramour is Paula Broadwell. I know Paula, but not as well as I know Dave Petraeus. I spent much time talking with Paula in Afghanistan. Her beauty and her confidence are apparent in seconds. It takes another five minutes to realize that she is very bright, and five minutes more to realize that Paula, too, is an Alpha. She believes that women should be Rangers, and infantry officers, and are capable of standing beside men in combat. Ironically, her role in this spectacle serves as a counter to her own argument.

David Petraeus spent years downrange in the wars. Some of his own staff members bailed from the stress, yet General Petraeus kept going. In the middle of all this, he battled cancer and survived. During a 2010 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, he passed out at the table. Yet he kept going and he never publicly complained. And then Paula came along. You might as well starve the man and then cook barbeque outside his cave.

During 2007, at the peak of the Iraq war, an infantry lieutenant colonel told me about the time that Colonel Petraeus was shot during training. A Soldier accidentally put a bullet straight through Petraeus’s chest. Blood and lungs were coming from his mouth. Petraeus nearly died.

Normally a mistake like this might end the career of the Soldier who fired the shot, and it might adversely affect the career of his commanding officer. Instead, Colonel Petraeus survived and he sent the young Soldier to Ranger school. It was the young commander, now older, who told me the story in Iraq. His man fired the shot that almost killed Petraeus. If Petraeus had kicked the young officer out of the Army, it would have been our loss. Instead, Petraeus took a bullet to the chest and he turned it into a teachable moment. That is David Petraeus.

Today journalists and others whinge that they were duped into the cult of Petraeus. Untrue. He really is that man, but he is also just a man.

Petraeus has a long reputation as a mentor. Any insinuation that he used mentorship to prey on Paula Broadwell falls flat. You can hardly talk to the man without him leaving you with a reading assignment. “Michael, make sure to read Foreign Affairs.” With this one remarkable exception, the man leads by example.

Paula’s intentions are the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation. It is unwise to hypothesize without facts, and Paula deserves the benefit of proper investigation. She is somebody’s daughter, a wife and a mother, and an American citizen.

David Petraeus has enemies. Many wish to see him fall. For example, years ago, a CIA officer confided an abiding hatred for General Petraeus to me. After the CIA officer explained the circumstances, I respected Petraeus more. The officer had a sack of hurt feelings after a combat disaster in Iraq, to which Petraeus, instead of offering a shoulder to cry on, said buck up, there is work to do.

In Afghanistan, I would see Paula at the morning briefings where Petraeus presided. She is connected within powerful circles, including within the special operations community. Access begets access, and once you reach a certain level, you no longer care about doors slamming in your face: every time a door slams, the concussion opens five more. Access is a two-way street. Washington has a million doors down thousands of hallways, and nobody, no matter how powerful, controls more than a single hallway. After you reach a certain level of access, nobody can shut you out. Paula reached that level, and Paula enjoyed playing with high-tension wires where a single misstep can pop a career like a bug zapper, slamming thousands of doors at once. Where this leaves Paula remains to be seen.

Conspiracy theories are crackling the airwaves. The timing of the DCI’s resignation obviously raises questions, but the atomic structure of the event at least is clear. Dave and Paula had an affair. Dave preferred to resign rather than be fired. What was okay for President Clinton is not okay for other government servants, and we all need to keep a handle on that.

No man is without fault. This fiasco does not diminish David Petraeus’s contributions to the United States, nor his positive impact on the many people that he inspired and mentored. Dave stumbled. He is fallible. Nonetheless, he remains a remarkable man with rare insights and much earned wisdom. After a decade of persistent sacrifice, he deserves a rest. When General (ret.) Petraeus is ready to resume, no doubt there will be a long line of people requesting his able services.

Sanctions and Iran

November 2, 2012

There are two scenarios which may develop. The first is a similar pattern to that which developed in Iraq in which the regime intensified its security operations, while rewarding its supporters with economic subsidies and preference.
The second is the pattern belonging to the Arab Spring countries in which long-term underemployment (as seen in Iran today) was brought into conjunction with an economic crisis met by a regime without a sufficiently strong narrative to deflect or absorb popular discontent. This discontent found focus in liberal, nationalist and Islamist parties and factions.
Whilst there is an opposition movement in Iran, the strength of this movement remains unclear given the 2009 suppression of the Green Movement. It is possible that a further economic crisis provoked by lack of oil revenues and consequent relaxation of domestic subsidies could bring out mass protests once more. However, it must be borne in mind that this is not an axiomatic process – economic crisis – large protests = government fall. Instead, we must beware of the danger of a Syrian episode with the regime successfully resorting to mass murder and an intense counter-protest operation.
Additionally, there are other elements to be considered. The Iranian nuclear weapons programme may well render the question of sanctions null and void if the effect of a successful programme changes the attitudes of the Arab states. Such a change could result in the formation of an Iranian political hegemony within the Gulf region. Under such a scenario, access to Arab oil under favourable terms is not impossible – indeed, consider that Saudi Arabia offered to fund (and supply with oil) President Mubarak of Egypt in order to secure the continued existence of a friendly regime.
So under this scenario, Iran would not only break out of political and economic isolation, it would break out of the increasingly fragile great-power diplomatic ring placed around it. A reliable and strong Iran dominating the region would probably receive the support of Russia and possibly that of China. We may end the 2010s by seeing a decisive defeat of the US-EU group on the UNSC and the emergence of a Russian-Chinese-Iranian alliance.
If this does not occur, then we return to the original two scenarios as possibilities. Either intensified repression and economic decrepitude or a breakdown in civil and state power. As earlier, the likelihood depends upon the will of the regime to commit to the necessary force to suppress dissent or the strength of the opposition movement or movements.

Goodbye to Plenty of Fish!

May 9, 2012

And so, it is goodbye to Plenty of Fish… I can count the number of women who actually talked to me on the fingers of one hand and I can say that they all came across as really sweet.
But I cannot see the point of continuing to pretend that anything is going to result from online dating sites. The theme of women deluged with emails from men is repeated countlessly and I find the unrewarding process of searching, reading a profile to get an idea about the young lady and writing a message more sophisticated than “hi” followed by silence to be tedious and frustrating. So I think I will stick to writing, wargames, roleplaying, history, philosophy and politics. At least these are actually pleasurable!
Farewell and good riddance!

Conservative governments & perception

May 4, 2012

Extreme: a point or quality as far from the perceived moderate centre as is possible.
Extremist: someone takes a position diametrically beyond the normal variety of positions.

Cameron’s coalition restricted disabled benefits. This is described as ‘extreme’ and he is therefore an ‘extremist’.
There are good reasons for this to be classified as hyperbole as the situation can only be defined as extreme by ignoring the possible extremities beyond the current position.
I have noted before that Cameron is not perceived within the Conservative Party as a radical and by certain conservative writers as a ‘wet’ or a soft liberal Tory. Indeed, there is an explicit comparison made with Ted Heath (‘the Eton Grocer’).
If Cameron were an extremist Conservative (he’s also called a Thatcherite), then he would have abolished disability benefits in their entirety!
THAT would have been an extremist position. A minor cut does not make one an extremist unless one is only prepared to consider one’s own position as the sole and rational norm, in which case, one has become close-minded and prejudiced!

The LSE and Leftist thinking

February 17, 2012

A professor at the LSE, James Hughes, in a December lecture said:

I can’t think of a more radicalised government than the Bush administration….well…maybe North Korea.

I cannot think of a more stupid statement from someone of age, experience and learning. Compare this to the Russian doctrine on the use of military force in foreign policy:

Alexei G. Arbatov, The Transformation of Russian Military Doctrine: Lessons Learned from Kosovo and Chechnaya, Marshall Centre Papers 2 (Garmish-Partenkirchen: George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, July 2000).

The main lesson learned is that the goal justifies the means. The use of force is the most efficient problem solver, if applied decisively and massively. Negotiations are of dubious value and are to be used as a cover for military action. Legality of state actions, observation of laws and legal procedures, and humanitarian suffering are of secondary significance relative to achieving the goal. Limiting one’s own troop causalities is worth imposing massive devastation and collateral fatalities on civilian populations. Foreign public opinion and the position of Western governments are to be discounted if key Russian interests are at state. A concentrated and controlled mass media campaign is the key to success.

This is classical Russian thinking, redolent of Clauswitz: massive force, the irrelevance of the question of legitimacy and the need to have an objective and to stick to that aim. The result might be a hard war or massive civilian casualties but the aim of a war fought for clear national interests is to achieve the political objective set. And the result is that Russian borders states, though turbulent in places, are subservient to Moscow’s interests and even Chechnya has seen the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Now compare this to the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both were fought with the aim of overthrowing a hostile regime deemed to threaten US national interests and both were fought to rapid and successful conclusions. The occupation stages saw a transformation of US military tactics and strategy towards a much more decentralised, “boots on the ground” mode in order to defeat a dangerous insurgency, which broke into civil war in Iraq. The US was able to defeat one insurgency and has badly damaged another without adopting the Russian doctrine of massive force.

So how is the Russian doctrine as applied in Chechnaya, Georgia and the salient states less radicalised that that of the USA?  Perhaps the professor was referring to international law?

Well in this case, we can compare Iraq, which is cited as the most egregious example of US aggression and Georgia. Russia justified its intervention on the grounds that the South Ossetians were Russian citizens – yet those citizens DID live in Georgian territory and even if the territory was de facto independent, Russia had no grounds under international law to go to war as this did not count as self defence. By contrast, the US argument that Iraq was in breach of obligations, which reactivated the UN Security Council Resolutions dating back to the Gulf War, made use of international law and precedent.

In the language of the time, Russia was behaving as a rogue state. Yet, it attracted very little criticism beyond a short period after the fighting in Georgia ended. By contrast, the rancour over Iraq has yet to fully cease.

Russia has actively pursued and murdered dissidents and critics around the world including an attempt to kill a US journalist in New York. By contrast, the US since 2001, has actively pursued, captured or killed Islamic terrorists around the world. The differences in these two imperial policies ought to be stark to anyone. The Russians have hunted down internal opponents, including the case of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. The US has pursued active enemies belonging to terrorist groups.

If James Hughes meant internal politics, he could not be more wrong. He accords the US administration under President Bush second place in the most radicalised state on the planet, reserving first place for North Korea. I cannot think of a more stupid comparison or one which reveals his own prejudices more starkly than this.

By radicalised, it is clear that Professor Hughes means “on a path towards totalitarianism”. North Korea is the most totalitarian and vicious state on the planet. The US had the Patriot Act. You could probably number on one hand, the states which are less totalitarian than the USA.

This brings us to the title and the implicit question: why do leftists in general, and leftist academics in particular, view a Republican administration in the US as a totalitarian (radicalised) force?

In part, I believe, this stems from an inability to analyse Republicans in any but the most prejudicial terms. Republicans are characterised as “neocons”, “warmongers” and “Christian fundamentalists” and this attitude is so ingrained in leftist prejudice, that any calumny can be associated with Republicans and believed. For a comparison, note the language used about the Tea Party movement (racist, religious fundamentalist, angry white men etc) and the language used when examining the #Occupy movement (protesters, progressives, grass roots). Both terminological sets are not descriptive but prescriptive: the Tea Party is conservative, it must be racist etc.

The language is motivated by a desire to demonise and the same desire is present in the lazy presentation of the US under Bush as only less totalitarian than North Korea. The aim is not to describe a reality but is one of wish fulfilment. A Republican administration is routinely watched for signs that it is about to turn into a totalitarian fundamentalist regime, hence cries even in 2002 of “Take our country back!” from the radicalised wing of the Democratic party. Note that I am using radicalised in relation to the Democratic party as a reference to the leftist radicals and activists who dominate the socialist/liberal wing of the Party.

A fantasy is being routinely acted out, even by people who should know better (academics) and here I am forced to turn again to Richard Landes’ theme of millenarianism. Demonisation forms a part of millenarian beliefs and doctrinal structures. If believers value the ideas which will lead to a better world (even if these consist of the wished for absence of something), then doubters, sceptics and political and cultural opponents are deeply ignorant (of the Truth) or deeply wicked (for rejecting the Truth).

There is another aspect to this as well. What we broadly call leftist or left-wing ideologies have largely collapsed, though Marxist prejudices retain a very strong hold in academia (especially in the USA) and left-wing political thought is, by and large, reactionary, in the sense that it is against secular developments. So a leftist can be against capitalism or against globalisation or against war, but except in the latter case (a nebulous belief in ‘peace’), this system does not require the believer or activist to be for anything in particular. In a certain way, this is very appealing as it returns the individual to the ‘dream’ stage of political thinking in which the object (political objective) becomes subliminal and thus immune to criticism, even if it remains too vague to articulate.

Thus an OWSer activist in New York can campaign against “the banks” or against “capitalism” and still retain a sense of destiny because what replaces the present wickedness will inevitably be better. However, unlike classical reactionaries, the political object remains future-orientated and not located in a past which is shared both historically and in folk memory. These are not conservative reactionaries. Indeed, one might call them radical reactionaries as they wish for change as an end because they no longer are able to imagine the means without becoming subjected to scepticism or doubt. Analysed through a millenarian perspective, this is a resort to preaching as a format, naming that which is desirable and that which is wicked and calling upon the faithful to take this knowledge into their hearts.

It is possible to understand leftist prejudices constituting a series of articles of faith, forming the basis of a pseudo-religion with a common set of assumptions, prejudices and moral precepts. And as a community bounded by a religious or customary set of moral principles, precepts, abjurations and evocations, the leftist political community is as many other political and civil communities are, partly defined by opposition. Yet, as outlined earlier in this piece, the leftist community places itself in opposition to a vanished or even fantastical opposition and applies the demands of fundamental resistance to its own attitudes towards those who do not share their beliefs. In part, this would shed some light on why leftist political groups are highly inclined towards internecine warfare and splitting into new political factions.

Given these weaknesses as a community, the sense of oppositional definition in times of weakness is accentuated as a subconscious means of protecting the political community on the Left. Hence, James Hughes described a Republican administration as the nearest thing to a totalitarian regime in the West. A domination of the political world by a political faction which is not a part of their community (i.e. not Leftist) is treated as a catastrophe of gigantic proportions and one which cannot be reconciled with the assumptions, prejudices and beliefs of the Leftist community. Given that Leftists routinely treat conservatives as moral and intellectual degenerates, there can be no questioning of Leftist superiority complexes and the Left must then go over into rhetorically violent opposition, when criticism of a Republican president becomes in the hysteria of the day, an act of patriotism and of “speaking Truth to Power” in which the Leftists fall into two not incompatible roles: those of prophet and of revolutionary opposition.

Yet, given the absence of political programmes and articulated beliefs (it remains my contention that much of what is expressed as opposition is a reaction to another’s rejection of their subliminal political tropes) and in the aftermath of the political emasculation of the Left, all that is available to the Leftists is overt opposition and insistence on the primacy of shared narratives. This can be seen in the fantasy of peace in Palestine, in the dissatisfied sacralisation of international laws and institutions, the reaction to political arguments which do not place the state at the centre of economic and social life and the confusion over collectivism and individualism.

The utopian dreams of the Left have not collapsed as such but aspects of the articulated forms of these have subsided back into the collective unconsciousness of the Left. The appeal is still strong to the believers but the ideas are in flux or increasingly irrelevant to the present. The superiority complexes of the Leftist political community have left them dangerously vulnerable to cognitive dissonance and perilously tempted by a series of sentimental political tropes and certainties which collectively represent a political dead end. I will end with an analogy: even a stopped clock, tells the correct time twice a day. Thus it is with the Leftist political community.

Inequality and Social Injustice

November 24, 2011

In a recent post, Norman Geras  correctly takes Heather Stewart to task for regarding communities as the prime arbiters of moral disputes but one could challenge the idea that inequalities of birth are morally objectionable.

If A is born into a family which is loving, educated and wealthy then, yes, A has a fundamental advantage in life compared to B who was born to parents in poverty and without education. But is this really a moral injustice? It’s not a fault which could be laid at the feet of A when he reaches adulthood. He is a responsible free agent, he is free to choose how to conduct his life. Instead to fit the scenario of origins into a moral injustice paradigm, we subscribe to placing the fault at the feet of society. Society is not a free agent but a collection of free agents in relationships (which constitute this and that) who are individually free to choose how they might regard the posed question of social injustice.

To place this ‘moral injustice’ of B’s relative disadvantage at the feet of us all is itself an act of moral violence. We are each then implicitly accused of creating or sustaining a partial notion of injustice and asked to intervene ‘collectively’ though the state, which action is predicated on the fiction that this represents the collective will of society or the collection of free agents in a series of relationships with one another. This also disregards the autonomy of the free agent as a collective solution lacking consent then becomes the tyranny of either a minority over the majority or vice versa.

Is this notion that inequalities of birth are inherently morally objectionable actually an attempt to ennoble resentment at another’s fortune of birth? Are we attempting to use B as an excuse to pull down A to an ‘intermediate’ level and thereby satisfying our own envy of another’s fortune? These are questions which we must pose to cut through the mire of moralising resentments which have afflicted public thought in recent times.

A silly interlude

October 16, 2011

He said, “Son… You’re a daft sod and no mistaking”
“No mistaking,” said I, “What makes you think you’re mistaken?!”
He said, “The three cardboard tanks!”
“Where?!” I said in a panic.
“Oh no! He cried, “I’ve lost them again! There goes my idiot’s pension”
And with that he rushed off in a cloud of peppers.
Strange man. I never saw him again…

The human panda…!

October 4, 2011

“You will remember how the Germans brilliantly destabilised Russia in 1917, by sending Lenin in a sealed train from Zurich to the Finland Station in St Petersburg. We could send the human panda to Beijing, in the same spirit of discreet sabotage.”

Boris Johnson suggests sending Edward Milliband to China to destabilise their economy and boost our own. Brilliant! “the human panda”!
H/T to Benedict Brogan.

The empirical case for defensible borders (JPost)

September 5, 2011

The empirical case for defensible borders
09/05/2011 20:49

Israel will have to maintain a perimeter presence along the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Against the backdrop of a possible Palestinian bid for independence at the United Nations this September and thus far unsuccessful deliberations within the Quartet regarding terms of reference for restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the issue of defensible borders merits renewed attention.

Former foreign minister Yigal Allon was one of the clearest and most authoritative exponents of the case for Israel’s need for defensible borders. In an October 1976 article in Foreign Affairs, Allon noted that whereas Israel’s rivals seek to “isolate, strangle and erase Israel from the world’s map,” Israel’s strategic aims have been focused on its “imperative to survive.”

Thus, even if peace agreements are reached, border and security arrangements must ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself in the event that such agreements are breached. As the recent upheavals in the Middle East have clearly demonstrated, this guiding principle has not lost its salience.

Allon contended with a number of claims raised to counter Israel’s argument for defensible borders. Then, as now, technological advances such as missile technology were pointed to as obviating the need for strategic depth and topographical assets. Then, as now, international guarantees were pointed to as constituting a satisfactory substitute for physical control of defensible ground.

Then, as now, such arguments did not coincide with anecdotal experience, drawn, as noted by Allon, from historical cases such as the German air ‘blitz’ against Great Britain, or the American air-strikes against North Vietnam, which demonstrated the limitations of air-launched attacks and continuing importance of having “boots on the ground.”

Then, as now, such arguments failed to account for the resounding failure of international guarantees to ensure Israel’s security, as evidenced, for example, in UNEF’s withdrawal from Sinai in May 1967.

Yet even beyond cases such as these, today we have the benefit of quantitative research which has shed a great deal of light on numerous international relations phenomena.

Two research findings are of particular relevance in this regard: the strong correlation between extant territorial claims and violent international conflict and the positive association between conflict durability and insurgents’ access to an international boundary.

The first indicates Israel has considerable grounds to expect security threats to persist, even subsequent to an agreement, as long as substantial Palestinian territorial claims to pre-1967 Israel persist. Thus, the fundamental source of potential conflict – the willingness – will in all likelihood continue.

The second underscores the fact that access to an international border would provide Palestinian militants with the opportunity to continue – and expand – violent activities against Israel. As many scholars and observers of international relations have long understood, a conjunction of willingness and opportunity is an almost certain formula for violent international conflict.

Thus, forcing Israel into indefensible borders, such as those of June 4, 1967, is unlikely to lead to a stable regional order.

On the contrary, insofar as comparative, empirical research can serve as a guide, relinquishing an Israeli presence along some of the borders of a Palestinian state will severely diminish the chances of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will probably exacerbate it. A cursory glance at developments in Gaza since Israel relinquished control of the Gaza-Sinai border in 2005 provides a rather stark confirmation of this basic observation.

Territorial claims and conflict Over the past several decades, a very large, empirical literature has emerged which demonstrates the key role of territorial claims as a source of international conflict. Numerous studies, employing different research designs, varied spatial and temporal domains and independently conceived theoretical frameworks, have produced robust findings pointing in essentially the same direction, permitting a very decisive conclusion: territorial revisionism leads to violent international conflict.

The particular value of this body of research is that the above conclusion has retained its validity, notwithstanding the numerous controls that have been imposed in different studies over the years.

Irrespective of whether or not rivals sign treaties or commence their relations violently or peacefully, notwithstanding the variance in rivals’ cultural and historical background, or configuration of relative power, regardless of the rivals’ institutional structure (democratic or not) and level of economic development and taking into account the numerous other caveats that have been explored in the literature, the basic finding remains intact.

While different factors have been shown to exert a mitigating effect on conflict, none appears capable of entirely vitiating the basic association between territorial revisionism and war.

While it may appear trivial in some sense, the finding actually bears non-trivial policy implications. What it says, in effect, is that in instances where territorial claims cannot realistically be resolved, either through a negotiated or non-negotiated redistribution of land, violent conflict is likely to persist. This remains true, in particular, whether or not a formal treaty is signed between rivals. Indeed, empirical work on treaties has largely shown that while they are not mere “scraps of paper,” in the words of one of the prominent scholars in this field, they don’t generally appear to be capable of resolving disputed issues. At best, they may be able to manage them, primarily by affecting the incentives and degree of uncertainty facing potential rivals.

The ramifications in the Israeli- Palestinian context should be clear, with regard to what can be realistically expected from a political settlement, at least at the present time. There can be no doubt that political forces such as Hamas and numerous fundamentalist affiliates would continue to harbor territorial claims regarding the pre-1967 territory of Israel, even were a peace treaty to be signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The problem is further underscored by the positions of the Palestinian Authority.

Its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, its objections to formulas such as “two states for two peoples” and its continuing commitment to the idea of having descendants of Palestinian refugees settle in Israel with the explicit goal of gaining demographic, and eventually political, control within it, reflect an ongoing nurturing of ultimately territorial demands for pre-1967 Israel. The extent to which Palestinian schools and popular culture venerate the idea of a “right of return,” and the consistency with which Palestinian leaders affirm support of it, reflect a firm commitment within a broad Palestinian constituency to these ethnically-based territorial claims.

Might the Palestinian Authority disclaim these positions in the context of future negotiations? Perhaps, though it has revealed no indication of willingness to do so in eighteen years of talks. Recent revelations of internal, classified documents pertaining to Palestinian negotiating positions during the past decade, including on the question of refugees, have been extremely edifying in this regard, illustrating the very tangible, concrete nature of the Palestinian Authority’s ambitions with regard to the refugee question.

Commissioning classified demographic studies that explored alternative scenarios for the influx of hundreds of thousands and potentially millions of Palestinians into Israel over a number of years, while contemplating the open-ended negotiation of additional migrations, presumably into perpetuity, these documents reveal a calculated, remarkably matter-of-fact vision for using the refugee issue as a means of acquiring demographic (and ultimately political) control of Israel.

Yet, even if the Palestinian leadership were to renounce their call for “return,” would such a renunciation resonate with popular sentiments among Palestinians, sentiments that have been meticulously cultivated over decades? It seems unlikely.

Would it reflect the views of millions of Palestinians kept in “refugee” status in neighboring states since 1948? It seems rather whimsical to suppose that it might.

A sober analysis cannot but lead to the conclusion that very significant followings within Palestinian public opinion will continue to harbor territorial claims with respect to pre-1967 Israel, even subsequent to a possible Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

The empirical literature on territorial claims – particularly those with an ethnic component – presents us, in turn, with the unfortunate conclusion that such claims can be expected to continue fueling violent conflict.

Such conclusions are sometimes erroneously taken to imply a sense of determinism or inevitability as to the likely trajectory of the conflict. This is not, however, the case. Territorial claims to pre- 1967 Israel and tolerance for violence can be expected to persist in Palestinian society at least partly because they have been, and continue to be, deliberately cultivated by Palestinian elites, as has been extensively documented by organizations that monitor Palestinian society and media.

Just as such motifs have been promoted over the years, so too can others, including those which may ultimately assist in fostering a culture of tolerance, territorial compromise and rejection of violence.

The continuing salience of borders as a component of security As argued above, there is little reason to doubt that significant Palestinian territorial revisionism will persist, with its attendant potential for violence, whatever political arrangement emerges between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. A question may nevertheless be posed as to whether the location and topographical features of Israel’s borders will play a significant role in determining its security in such a context.

Here too, as in the case of territorial claims, the theoretical and empirical literature is able to shed some light. It has long been argued by globalization theorists that geographical boundaries have been losing significance in the international arena. This trend is typically noted to be related to processes of transnational economic integration, alongside tremendous advances in communication and transportation technologies.

The value of territory as a military asset has also been argued to be diminishing, inter alia, due to advances in missile and intelligence-gathering technologies. The significant decline in large-scale inter-state war in recent decades appears to corroborate this view.

Yet, as noted by some scholars, borders do not generally seem to be losing in importance so much as changing their role.

As Peter Andreas phrased it in his 2003 article in International Security: “In many cases, more intensive border law enforcement is accompanying the demilitarization and economic liberalization of borders.”

The struggle against ‘clandestine transnational actors’ (CTAs), whether they come in the guise of organized crime or terrorist organizations, is becoming a growing concern for states concerned with safeguarding their borders against the infiltration of narcotics, weapons or illegal migrants. The post-9/11 focus on homeland security is symptomatic of this general trend.

It is, therefore, not surprising that in recent empirical work on the subject of geography and rebel capability, covering civil conflict duration across the globe for much of the post-WWII period, it has been shown that “conflicts where rebels have access to an international border are twice as durable as other conflicts” (Halvard Buhaug, Scott Gates and Päivi Lujala [August 2009] “Geography, Rebel Capability, and the Duration of Civil Conflict.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 53(4): 544-569).

The reasons are clear: such access serves as a life-line for the supply of weapons, funds, personnel, training, and, if need be, a safe haven, all of which can significantly enhance the relative capabilities of the insurgents and thus underpin protracted conflict.

COUPLED WITH the inherent instability of the Middle East, vividly underscored in recent months, a realistic appraisal of Israel’s geopolitical situation behooves caution. In such circumstances, the importance of maintaining defensible borders is all the more plain, notwithstanding the general global trend towards a reduction in large-scale interstate war. Once again, empirical research is instructive in this regard: where territorial revisionism persists, so too does war.

Some have argued that international guarantees and UN peacekeeping troops can serve as a substitute for direct border control by a concerned state. While findings have been reported revealing such measures to be capable of mitigating conflict, it has yet to be shown that they can decisively end it, where significant territorial claims persist.

Tellingly, “identity” conflicts – those involving religious and ethnic aspects – prove significantly less susceptible to the irenic effects which treaties and international involvement may otherwise display. Also, multi-national troop deployments prove especially ineffective against groups determined to funnel illicit goods across a poorly secured boundary.

This general observation gains very clear, specific expression in the Israeli-Arab arena.

Hezbollah, with unhindered access to the Lebanese-Syrian border, has for years enjoyed a massive influx of missiles and other weaponry, supplied by Iran and Syria.

Notwithstanding the efforts of an enhanced UNIFIL since 2006, Hezbollah has succeeded in increasing its arsenal to over 40,000 rockets, distributed throughout some 270 south Lebanese villages. The threat thereby posed to Israel, demonstrated as recently as 2006, when over 4,000 rockets were fired on densely populated areas in Israel, can scarcely be questioned.

Hamas has similarly benefited from the fact that Israel no longer controls the border between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, transferring many thousands of rockets, mortars and other weaponry through tunnels burrowed under the border.

Whereas the IDF presence on the Philadelphi Route in the 1967-2005 period could not prevent all weapons-smuggling efforts, the sheer magnitude of the weapons-smuggling operations since 2005, in terms of both quantity and quality of the armaments, belies any notion that control of the boundary has no military significance. The more than 9000 rockets and mortars that have struck Israeli territory since 2000 similarly illustrate the very tangible security threat thereby presented.

Moreover, the pattern of rocket and mortar fire serves to illustrate the key role of border control. As documented in a March 2011 study by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Center, in the five years subsequent to the Israeli withdrawal, the number of rockets and mortars that struck Israel increased by more than 150% to 6,535 compared with the 2,535 in the five year period prior to the withdrawal.

Tellingly, whereas rockets, which are relatively sophisticated and effective, made up only 26% of fired projectiles in the earlier period, they accounted for 73% in the later period, reflecting the enhanced smuggling capacity of Hamas following the Israeli withdrawal.

THUS, TO prevent the emergence of a heavily armed, hostile Palestinian state dominating Israel’s 15 kilometer wide heartland – precisely as has transpired pursuant to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and relinquishing of control over Gaza’s southern boundary – Israel will have to maintain a perimeter presence along the borders of a Palestinian state. This implies a continuing Israeli presence on the eastern boundary, that is, along the Jordan Valley.

The viability of a Palestinian state Contrary to certain claims, maintaining an Israeli presence along the Jordan Valley is entirely compatible with the establishment of a contiguous, viable Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria.

According to Palestinian statistics, based on a 2007 census, approximately 10,000 Palestinians reside in those parts of the Jordan Valley that were not already passed over to Palestinian civilian control under the Oslo Accords. This amounts to less than a half of a percent of the Palestinian population of Judea and Samaria, as documented by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Moreover, the area lies exclusively to the east of the main Palestinian population centers, such that its omission would not interfere with the contiguity of a Palestinian state. Thus, excluding the Jordan Valley from the territory of a Palestinian state would have negligible demographic implications. By contrast, as argued above, the security implications would be weighty indeed, and probably critical with respect to the durability of a two-state arrangement.

The stated Palestinian position is clearly incompatible with such a territorial division. Palestinian claims to the Jordan Valley form part of their claims to Judea and Samaria in its entirety, claims which compete with those of Israel to the same territory. Reflecting an appreciation for these conflicting claims, the terms of reference of the peace process, as expressed in the Oslo Accords as well as relevant United Nations resolutions, from Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) through to Security Council Resolution 1850 (2008), have consistently required that the borders, along with other disputed issues, be agreed upon between the parties. A priori rejection of the possibility that Israel will retain a presence in the Jordan Valley in a final status settlement is flatly inconsistent with the principle of mutual agreement and negotiations, which has underpinned every peace breakthrough thus far achieved between Israel and its neighbors.

Thus, Palestinian opposition to a territorial division that would leave an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley should not be confused with a claim as to its inherent infeasibility. Not only is such a division consistent with the implementation of a two-state solution, there are strong grounds, based on an analysis of the security reality which can be expected to emerge, suggesting the necessity of such a solution.

THIS ANALYSIS does not imply that a stable, two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict cannot be achieved. It simply underscores what such a solution would have to look like if it were to be genuinely stable. Contrary to views which regard the 1967 boundary as a sine-quanon for such a solution, empirical research suggests that a relinquishment by Israel of perimeter control of Judea and Samaria would be highly destabilizing.

Such findings belie the idea that the mere presence of a signed agreement, or peacekeeping deployment, would obviate the need for Israel to retain tangible strategic assets as a component of its national security. Whereas this is a conclusion many observers of the conflict have intuitively understood for some time, today we have the benefit of quantitative empirical findings which serve to corroborate it.

The writer serves as policy adviser to the minister of foreign affairs and lectures on game theory and territorial conflict at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.

Roger Scuton, Beauty and Mysticism

August 25, 2011

What is lost in modern attempts to criticise and defend religion is to misunderstand the place of mysticism.
Roger Scruton is right when he asserts that the modern world is ideologically loveless. It rejects all notions of beauty and transcendentalism as either a flawed construction or as a deliberate fraud. Instead it merely seeks to tell us that all is despair and greed.
Compare this rejection of love to the story in the Ring Cycle. That to obtain objective dominion over the world, we must renounce love and thus gain control. But the temptations of dominion destroys everyone including the gods themselves.
The message of religion is not torment, control or manipulation but a binding of people. We make religion because without it we are left only with ourselves and our own desires.
Even humanists make religion by seeking at least an informal system of personal and public ethics.
What we must reject is the idea of a deific origin of beauty and religion. Indeed, this rejection has its roots in radical protestantism in removing God from the external to internal. We seek the transcendent in ourselves. This is why we see beauty in nature, in the human form and in music because these things resonate within our selves.
The acceptance of mysticism is the acceptance of the limitation that humans cannot individually or collectively acquire total knowledge and in accepting this, we can relinquish a conflict which has become destructive.
In letting go of a desire to encompass life within a single understanding, we instead rediscover that life is rich and deep in meanings, indeed multiple meanings!