Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Interview: The Code of Ethical Warfare of the IDF

by David Horovitz

Tel Aviv University philosophy professor Asa Kasher co-authored the first IDF Code of Ethics and continues to work on the moral doctrines that shape the parameters of our army’s actions.

He has taught at the IDF colleges since the late 1970s and for a long time was the only professor talking to officers about military ethics. When the IDF decided to try writing a Code of Ethics, he was approached and appointed head of a team of generals that wrote a draft and then the final version of the 1994 code, which was approved by chief of staff Ehud Barak and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

In the wake of Richard Goldstone’s belated withdrawal of the accusation that Israel deliberately targeted civilians in Operation Cast Lead, and the fresh round of moral argument the judge’s climbdown has provoked, I contacted Kasher to discuss the IDF’s ethics. I wanted to understand the thinking that underpins IDF dos and don’ts, the problematics of grappling with enemies that do not follow any such rules, and the gaping discrepancy, Goldstone’s reversal notwithstanding, between most Israelis’ certainty of the IDF’s morality and the international diplomatic, media and legal community’s relentless opprobrium.

I also wanted to put to Kasher specific criticisms of IDF actions in Gaza, including some that have been penned by columnists in this newspaper. Among them: the assertion that Israel was unwarrantedly heavy-handed in Operation Cast Lead, that the “kill ratio” of Israelis and Palestinians indicates a disproportionate Israeli response, and that we can hardly complain about Hamas fighting out of uniform and from within residential areas when it is Hamas that was under attack from an invading Israel in that operation, and it naturally defended itself as effectively as it could.

These are not criticisms, I should add, for which I feel any sympathy. But they are widely invoked, they will be raised again if, or rather when, the IDF is next drawn into conflict, and I wanted the IDF’s guiding moralist to address them.

Kasher said much that I might have anticipated, but a great deal more, too, that placed Israel’s recent wars in a context that I had not fully drawn before. I was particularly struck by his explanation for the change in IDF approach over recent years to the endangering of its soldiers – the altered balance it has drawn, prompted by Kasher, when it comes to the safety of its personnel, on the one hand, and the “non-dangerous neighbors” of terrorists, on the other.

People think, he said, “that soldiers are there to be put into danger, that soldiers are there to take risks, that this is their world, this is their profession. But that is so far from the reality in Israel, where most of the soldiers are in the IDF because service is mandatory.” When it comes to Israeli soldiers, “I, the state, took them out of their homes. Instead of him going to university or going to work, I put a uniform on him, I trained him, and I dispatched him. If I am going to endanger him, I owe him a very, very good answer as to why. After all, this is a democratic state that is obligated to protect its citizens. How dare I endanger him?”

Prof. Kasher, I want to talk to you about the nature of the warfare Israel has been drawn into in recent years – the fact that it’s not army against army. Israel is now fighting against enemies that maintain their offensive capabilities in the heart of residential areas, and that fire into our residential areas.

As someone central to drafting the IDF’s moral code, I want to ask you about the moral considerations that underpin the way Israel fights these wars. And I want to know whether you believe we are capable of continuing to defend ourselves, practically and morally, against enemies that often have no moral compunctions. Are we capable, that is, of surviving, protecting ourselves, without sinking to their level?

I was very struck, in 2006, when I interviewed the thenair force commander Eliezer Shkedy, and he told me the Gaza Kassam crews often took kids out with them when they went to fire on Israel. I asked him whether we regarded these children as combatants, and thus were prepared to fire at them. He was offended by the question.
He said that of course the IAF wouldn’t fire on them. What it had done, he said, was improved its accuracy so that it could target the Kassam crews more precisely without hitting the children. (“If we know that [the terrorist] is holding his son’s hand, we do not fire,” Shkedy said then. “Even if the terrorist is in the midst of firing a Kassam, and the Kassam is aimed to kill. We do not fire. You should know that.”)

I want to know whether we are still that careful, whether we’re still prepared to follow that kind of framework. I wonder whether it is moral not to fire when a Kassam crew is about to fire on Israeli civilians but a child that the crew has brought with them is too close and might therefore be hit.

But let’s begin with this question: Can we survive here, facing enemies that use immoral methods, without sinking to their levels?

Our responsibility is to maintain our moral standards. That’s a very important starting point because in matters of war it can sometimes get blurred. People are always talking about factors like international law, public opinion, the Western world – that is, outside factors that we’re supposed to match up to. No, I say we have to uphold our own standards.

What are those standards?

We take decisions that reflect our acceptance of some aspects of international law; other parts, we have not accepted. The prime question, in these fields of morals and ethics, is what I see when I look in the mirror – not when I watch the BBC.

When the enemy becomes more ruthless and harsher than it was in the past, then we have to protect ourselves in smarter and different ways, but still according to the standards that we have set for ourselves.

You can use the analogy of a police officer at a bank robbery. If he sees that the robber is holding a toy gun, he won’t shoot him. He’ll simply catch him. But if it’s a real gun, and the robber has already killed hostages and he’s about to kill more, and the only way to stop him and save the hostages is to shoot him, the policeman will shoot him.

That robber’s actions have required me to protect myself from him via harsher measures. It’s not a case of: he’ll shoot so I’ll shoot, or he’ll do terrible things so I’ll also do terrible things, or he doesn’t care about killing hostages so I won’t care about killing robbers. That’s absolutely not the point at all. He doesn’t care about killing hostages, but I do care: I don’t want to kill him unless there’s truly no alternative.

This robber is threatening people’s lives, so we will shoot him if there is no other alternative. If we can catch him without firing on him at all, excellent. If we can catch him by injuring him, without killing him, excellent. If there’s no alternative, it’s a tragedy to hit him, but that’s what has to be done.

And that broadly is what is happening with our enemies today. If our enemy would fight on the battlefield, on open ground, in uniform, carrying his weapons openly, then it would be a case of an army facing off against a force that behaved like an army, and children and other non-dangerous people would not get hurt. But the enemy has changed the way it fights. So we have no choice. We have to protect ourselves as necessary.

Now there’s a basis to what we have to do: We are a democratic state. And that means two things. One, we are obligated to effectively protect our citizens from all danger. So we have a police force, to protect against crime. A Health Ministry, to protect against medical dangers. A Transportation Ministry, against the dangers on the roads. And we have a Defense Ministry, to protect us against the dangers our enemies represent.

The state cannot evade this obligation. It can’t say, “I am busy, I have more important things to do.” There is nothing more important than protecting citizens’ lives. Nothing.

A democratic state wants to deal with all kinds of other things, all kinds of agreements, citizens’ rights, elections, free media and so on. Okay, fine. But to enjoy all or any of that, you have to be alive. Before you get to any of that, to protect any of that, you have to protect my life. A state is obligated to ensure effective protection of its citizens’ lives. In fact, it’s more than just life. It is an obligation to ensure the citizens’ well-being and their capacity to go about their lives. A citizen of a state must be able to live normally. To send the kids to school in the morning. To go shopping. To go to work. To go out in the evening. A routine way of life. Nothing extraordinary. The state is obliged to protect that.

At the same time, the moral foundation of a democratic state is respect for human dignity. Human dignity must be respected in all circumstances. And to respect human dignity in all circumstances means, among other things, to be sensitive to human life in all circumstances. Not just the lives of the citizens of your state. Everybody.

This applies even in our interactions with terrorists. I am respecting the terrorist’s dignity when I ask myself, “Do I have to kill him or can I stop him without killing him?”

And I certainly have to respect the human dignity of the terrorists’ nondangerous neighbors – who are not a threat. We always talk about “innocents,” but “innocence” is not the issue here. The issue here is whether they are dangerous. So the correct translation is “non-dangerous.”

As in, non-threatening?

Yes, that’s the significance. If they are “not dangerous,” that means I don’t have even the beginning of a moral right to harm them deliberately.

Okay, so that’s some of the theory. Now relate that to Operation Cast Lead.

Fine. We have to protect our citizens and we have to respect human dignity. But when it comes to a war like Operation Cast Lead, those two imperatives are likely to clash. I am obligated to protect my citizens, but I have no way to protect them without the non-dangerous neighbors of the terrorists becoming caught up in the conflict. What am I to do?

Two things: First, you decide what is more important in the given situation. And second, you do whatever you can so that the damage to the other side is as small as possible: Maximizing effective defense of the citizens; minimizing collateral damage.

How do I decide which of the conflicting imperatives is more important? People don’t like this idea, because they don’t understand it: They think it is immoral to give priority to the defense of the citizens of your state over the protection of the lives of the neighbors of the terrorists. They don’t understand that the world is built in such a way that responsibility is divided.

Please elaborate.

We are responsible for the residents of the State of Israel. Canada is responsible for the residents of Canada. Australia, for Australia. And that’s just fine. We are not responsible for the lives of Canadians in the same way as we are for the lives of Israelis and vice versa. This is completely accepted and completely moral and no one questions this. We don’t have one world government that is responsible for everything. We have states with their own responsibilities.

Now from this stems the fact that when you have clash of imperatives, this responsibility for one’s own citizens takes precedence over the other responsibility to the non-dangerous neighbors. This isn’t anything to do with us being Israel, or Jews. The same applies to the United States or to Canada or to any other country.

I cannot evade my prime responsibility to protect the well-being of the citizens of my country. Now, among all the means I could use to protect them, I will choose those that are better morally – better from the point of view of the effectiveness of the protection and the minimalization of the damage to the neighbors of the terrorists.

And what do we do to minimize the harm done to the neighbors of the terrorists?

We can’t separate the terrorist from his neighbors. We can’t force the terrorists to move away, because they don’t want to move away. That’s their whole strategy: To be there. The Hamas terrorists in Gaza, Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, they want to work from within. The terrorists have erased the difference between combatants and non-combatants.

They live in residential areas. They operate from within residential areas. They attack civilians. And they won’t leave when I tell them to leave. No one has the power to move them from where they are without conquering the entire area, which requires special justifications.

But if we can’t force the terrorist out, we can make the effort to move his neighbors. He won’t move away from his neighbors, but maybe his neighbors will move away from him. And experience shows that this kind of effort succeeds. That is, very many non-dangerous neighbors do move away from terrorists if they are warned.

So Israel, the IDF, carries out very intensive warning operations. Unprecedented. There are those who don’t like the term, “the most moral army in the world.” I think it’s a very complex phrase, and one has to make all kinds of professional diagnoses. You can’t just blithely invoke it. But let’s look at that claim in this particular context.

Who tries harder than we do to warn the neighbors [to leave a conflict zone]? Who does it better than we do? I don’t know if the public realizes this, but we recently carried out precisely such an act of warning – by publishing a map of Hezbollah positions in south Lebanon. Israel released details of hundreds of villages where Hezbollah has a position deep inside the village. From there, they’ll fire on us if and when they want to, and we will have to protect ourselves. That means we’ll have to fire into the village.

The publication of this map is a warning: We know, it says, that Hezbollah is intertwining its terrorists with non-dangerous neighbors. Understand that to protect ourselves in this situation will mean endangering the populace. The populace has to know that it is in a dangerous situation.

What to do in this dangerous situation? We don’t know. We’re telling those non-dangerous neighbors to give it some thought. Try to kick out Hezbollah? That is apparently very difficult. Move away from the Hezbollah position? Perhaps that is possible. Get away when the time comes? That may sound theoretical at present, but when the time comes, who knows? The fact is, this is an advance warning.

Now let’s come to Operation Cast Lead in this context. We distributed leaflets [to Gaza civilians, telling them that they should leave a potential conflict zone]. It may be that we can do that better – distribute better leaflets, more detailed, with more precise guidance on how to get away. We broke into their radio and TV broadcasts to give them announcements, to warn them. That can be done still more effectively.

We made phone calls to 160,000 phone numbers. No one in the world has ever done anything like that, ever. And it’s clear why that is effective. It’s not a piece of paper that was dropped in my neighborhood. The phone rang in my own pocket! Yes, it was a recorded message, because it’s impossible to make personal calls on that scale. But still, this was my number they dialed. It was a warning directed personally to me, not some kind of general warning.

And finally, we had the “tap on the roof” approach. The IDF used nonlethal weaponry, fired onto the roofs [of buildings being used by terrorists]. That weaponry makes a lot of noise. It constituted a very strong, noisy hint: We’re close, but you still have the chance to get out.

What we don’t use is nohal shachen (the “neighbor protocol”). I recently read comments by a British general, a commander in Afghanistan...

Gen. Richard Kemp?

No, this was someone else, saying at a press conference, how moral his forces are. And then he described their policy, which was nohal shachen, as the symbol of the morality of British soldiers.

What did he say, specifically, that they do?

He said that when they are facing a terrorist hiding out in a building with non-dangerous neighbors, they make one of the neighbors telephone or speak through a loudspeaker to the Taliban terrorist who is in this building, and say that rather than killing him and the neighbors and destroying the house, he should surrender and that he’ll be taken away with various guarantees. This British commander was very proud of this ostensibly humane procedure – a procedure that the courts here forbid us to do. We don’t do it.

We issue warnings in an unprecedented way – not one warning, but many. We make enormous efforts to get the neighbors away from the terrorists.

Now there’s one more thing that maybe we could do, and there’s an argument surrounding it: send soldiers into the building. Send in soldiers to check that maybe someone has stayed. I am against this. Very against this.

So there’s a difference between what we did in Jenin [during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, where 13 soldiers were killed in an ambush] and what we did in Gaza?

Yes, we changed our approach. The approach is more appropriate now. I think what we did in Jenin was a mistake. There was a primitive conception that “it’s all right to endanger soldiers.” Every time there was a dilemma like this – soldiers here and non-soldiers on the other side – the soldiers were endangered.

Why was that wrong?

You need, to a certain limit, to warn the people to get out. At a certain point, the warnings are over and there are two possibilities. That people have stayed because they don’t want to leave or because they can’t leave. If they can’t leave, despite all the warnings, despite the possibilities to get them out, even to send ambulances to get them out, that’s interesting to me, and we’ll come back to that.

But if a neighbor doesn’t want to leave, he turns himself into the human shield of the terrorist. He has become part of the war. And I’m sorry, but I may have to harm him when I try to stop the terrorist. I’ll do my best not to. But it may be that in the absence of all other alternatives, I may hurt him. I certainly don’t see a good reason to endanger the lives of soldiers in a case like that.

Sometimes people don’t understand this. They think of soldiers as, well, instruments. They think that soldiers are there to be put into danger, that soldiers are there to take risks, that this is their world, this is their profession. But that is so far from the reality in Israel, where most of the soldiers are in the IDF because service is mandatory and reserve service is mandatory. Even with a standing army, you have to take moral considerations into account. But that is obviously the case when service is compulsory: I, the state, sent them into battle. I, the state, took them out of their homes. Instead of him going to university or going to work, I put a uniform on him, I trained him, and I dispatched him. If I am going to endanger him, I owe him a very, very good answer as to why. After all, as I said, this is a democratic state that is obligated to protect its citizens. How dare I endanger him?

Even in uniform, he is still considered one of those citizens that the state is obliged to protect?

Yes, he is one of the citizens that I have an obligation to protect. But somebody has to do the protecting. So each generation produces its soldiers. Now it’s this generation. Before that it was their parents. After this, it will be their children. Their turn. Their generation.

But even now that it’s this generation, that these are the people in uniform, I need a very strong reason to send them somewhere dangerous.

Why do I conscript them to the army? Two words: No choice. Given the threats around us, a volunteer, standing army would not be sufficient.

And why did we send them to Gaza? Because for eight years before Operation Cast Lead, we tried all the other options. It didn’t help. There was no choice. We sent the army to Gaza because there was no choice.

And why did we send them to that particular theoretical house we’ve been discussing? Because there were armed terrorists in it who were attacking Israel. There was no choice. But now you want to send soldiers into that house just in case, by chance, there’s still someone inside, who doesn’t want to leave. You want me to send in soldiers to pull him out? Why? Why do I owe him that? I have issued so many warnings and this man has refused to come out. I haven’t got a strong enough reason to tell that soldier he has to go in. This man has been warned five times and decided not to leave. Therefore he took the danger upon himself. After all those warnings, one has to act against the terrorists and those of his neighbors who have decided not to leave, and not endanger the lives of the soldiers.

And what, now, of the issue of civilians who are prevented by the terrorists from leaving a conflict zone?

This has to be handled in a graduated fashion. I’ll explain. Let’s imagine a fictitious situation, whereby the terrorists have forced 20 children onto the roofs of every single building in Gaza that has been marked as a target because it has terrorists in it. That’s what I see in my reconnaissance photographs. Every single roof is covered with children.

That means that I can’t fire on those buildings. But they’re firing at me from those buildings. There are 20 children on the roof, and from the house the terrorists are firing. It’s the same in every house. If I can’t fire on any house because there are children on the roof, I have lost my capacity to protect myself. There is nothing I can do.

Always in those circumstances, people say, “Well, make peace.” Fine. Great. I want peace. We have to seek peace. But right now I’m facing these houses and they’re firing at me. Talking about a peace conference now is not really the point. Or people say, as with the cop facing the murderous bank robber, “Don’t shoot him. We need to clean up the neighborhood so that the people have jobs and don’t turn to crime.” Again, great, yes, that’s true. We have to create a situation where there aren’t criminals in that neighborhood, but right now I’ve got an armed robber in the bank and he’s threatening to kill his hostages. So, right now I have to protect the citizens of my state, and if I don’t fire at any of the houses that have children on the roof, then I won’t be able to protect my civilians. And that’s unthinkable, out of the question.

So, what I have to do, and it’s tragic however you look at it, is fire at one of those houses. The first place that they fire at me from, even though there are children on the roof, I will immediately fire on it, and some of those children will be killed – because I have no choice, because I have no other means to protect myself. The terrorists took away from me the normal means of self-defense. It’s out of the question that I not protect myself, so I hope the terrorists will take the children off the roofs, and I will wait for them to take the children off the roofs in order to defend myself against the terrorists, but if they don’t take the children off the roofs, I will continue. I have no choice. A state cannot say “I will allow my citizens to be killed because the enemy has placed children on all the roofs and I will not kill children.”

That brings me back to what you mentioned at the very beginning about your interview with former air force commander Shkedy and the circumstances when Israel will fire and won’t fire.

I can always ask myself, in all kinds of circumstances, maybe there’s a different way to stop this terrorist or that attack. Maybe I have more time. If there’s time, if there’s an alternative means, then that’s fine. When he was IDF chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon once said that he prevented a targeted strike at [Hamas military commander Salah] Shehadeh when his daughter was right next to him. (Shehadeh was eventually killed in a targeted strike in 2002, in which 14 other people were killed, including his wife and nine children. Thenprime minister Sharon later said he would have aborted the operation had it been realized that it would cause those other fatalities.) Ya’alon evidently knew there would be another opportunity and that he could take the risk of waiting longer to strike. It wasn’t now or never.

But when it’s now or never, there is no choice. I wouldn’t sleep after giving an order which involved killing not only terrorists but also the daughter of a terrorist. If there is a choice, you have to use it because of your imperative to respect human dignity. But sometimes there’s no choice.

Is Israel facing more and more such dilemmas? Are there more and more situations in which commanders would find it hard to sleep?

We will always be obligated to protect our citizens. We will never relinquish that obligation. This is very profound. This is Israel. This is the state of the Jewish people.

I was born here and my parents came here long before World War II. I didn’t go through the Holocaust. My wife did. My wife is a survivor. What lesson do I learn from World War II? That we cannot rely on anybody else. That when it’s time to protect ourselves, there’s no one else we can rely on. And we have no exemption, ever, from thinking about how best to protect ourselves. And if the enemy puts children on all the roofs of the buildings from which it fires on us, we will not capitulate to them. It’s a tragic situation, but we won’t capitulate.

This also requires leadership that is capable of explaining to the soldiers why they have to do this – why they have to do something totally counter-intuitive.

Absolutely. And the package of measures that we take to minimize the harm to those who are not dangerous to us is truly without equal anywhere else.

When we carry out targeted killings, the approvals process is exhaustive. Then there’s a stage when it goes through “operational research.” A model of the situation is created in order to determine the most appropriate weaponry, the most appropriate plane to use, the most appropriate angle so that there’s a high likelihood that the terrorist will be hit but that the collateral damage will be as low as possible. And what Shkedy told you about targeted strikes is confirmed in the statistics. The numbers for collateral damage in such strikes are very, very small nowadays.

Now let’s say, in one such strike against a key terrorist, the pilot has fired his missile and in those few seconds before it hits the pilot suddenly sees a school bus appear on the scene. He doesn’t need anyone’s permission to abort the mission and detonate the missile elsewhere, harmlessly. He decides not to attack, in order not to cause collateral damage.

Obviously they would never seek out a yellow school bus, as was done a few days ago [in the Hamas missile attack near Kibbutz Sa’ad in which Daniel Viflik, 16, was killed]. We make immense efforts to minimize the damage on the other side, to minimize the harm to people who do not constitute a threat.

These Palestinians and Hezbollah, they’re playing this win-win game and it’s depressing to see. If Israel doesn’t fire at them, they’re very happy, and I can understand that. But if Israel does fire on them, and children are hurt, they’re also happy. They celebrate. I believe that these losses destroy the mothers and the fathers. But the community is ostensibly happy: “Great, we’ve got something nasty to say against Israel. Israel kills children.”

And you have this whole community, including parts of the international media and some Israelis, who look at these episodes with one eye. This community sees only the poor children who have been killed. And they really are pitiful children. What’s the emerging narrative? That Israel kills children and doesn’t care about it. Such aggressors. Such barbarians. And all the thousand things we do precisely to avoid such situations are ignored.

This community and various international political bodies tell us, “Yes, you’re entitled to defend yourselves. We can’t take that away from you. The right to self-defense is in the charter of the United Nations. So yes, you have to protect yourselves. But you mustn’t harm anybody who isn’t dangerous.” There is no such reality. Not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan.

Well, they ask that Israel not be disproportionate, that it not be too heavy-handed.

It’s good that you mentioned that. The world in general doesn’t have a clue what proportionality is. Proportionality, first of all, is not about numbers. The question of proportionality, according to international law, is whether the military benefit justifies the collateral damage. And secondly, also according to international law, it is a consideration for the commander in the field, because only the commander in the field can make the judgment: What does he gain from what he’s about to do and what is the collateral damage he is likely to cause? With Israel, we fire and two minutes later, the UN secretary- general is already accusing us of using disproportionate force. On what basis does he make that assumption? How can he possibly know?

And, finally, this whole concept of proportionality exists in international law only in situations where you know that you’re going to harm non-dangerous people. It’s not relevant in other circumstances. This is designed for situations where noncombatants will be hurt and in those circumstances the commander in the field must weigh the benefits and the damage. The questions of proportionality are clear only at the extremes. Between those extremes, only the commander in the field can weigh the balance. It’s very hard to give him a formula.

I want to put to you some of the criticisms that have been raised about why and how the IDF conducted Operation Cast Lead, including objections raised by columnists in this newspaper. It’s been asserted that we, Israel, invaded their territory, and they were defending themselves against us. The kill ratio, of approximately 100 to 1, has been highlighted as ostensible evidence of the IDF’s disproportionate use of force. It’s been argued that, of course Hamas didn’t engage in open, conventional conflict with us – army to army, in uniform – because they would have lost. Their only chance was to fight from within residential areas. And it’s been asserted, again as evidence of an ostensible Israeli overreaction, that while Israel sustained a little over two dozen fatalities from their attacks on us between 2005 and 2008, their losses in that period totaled 1,250.

First of all, it’s absolutely ridiculous, and I have no other word, to say that we invaded their territory and therefore they were defending themselves from us, as though we stormed in out of the clear blue sky and they were protecting themselves. The true picture is that they attacked Israel non-stop and Israel was defending itself from their relentless attacks. If they had not relentlessly attacked us, the IDF would not have gone in.

Yes, but they offered a kind of cease-fire at the last moment.

But they always breach their ceasefires. They fire on us and then they declare a cease-fire so that we won’t be able to protect ourselves against their next attack, against their next attack on a school bus. Out of the question.

Self-defense does not only mean the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. Self-defense constitutes a lot of other things as well. Iron Dome-style is a case of, okay, he fired on me, I intercepted the missile in mid-air and so he didn’t succeed in hurting me. That’s great. But self-defense means that I need to silence him – to cause him not to attack me next time, in a few moments, with the means that he’s used to attack me now.

I have to deny him the capacity to do that?

Yes. Not in the widest sense of what that might entail, but by means that are appropriate for the situation.

Look at the Second Lebanon War. It began with the kidnapping of soldiers and the killing of soldiers. Does that mean that I am allowed only to kidnap or kill a few Hezbollah soldiers? No. I have to ensure that Hezbollah is not able now or in the near future to carry out a similar action. Self-defense extends to attacking the source of the attack he has just carried out and from which he would be able to attack me again in a moment. If I don’t take action, he will presumably attack me again. He always wants to attack me. I have no reason to think that there will only be one Kassam or Katyusha. He’ll fire another.

So, coming back to Cast Lead, this was certainly not our invasion and their defense. When facing the armies of the United States and the Soviet Union in World War II, did the Germans have the moral right to self-defense because those armies invaded their country? The entire invasion of the allies into Germany was self-defense against Nazi Germany. To claim that, in Gaza, they are defending themselves against our invasion is really a not-serious objection.

Now, as to the matter of kill ratio. That’s not the point. It’s not a sporting contest. You ask yourself, “What is he doing to me?” – not in terms of the damage but in terms of the danger.

Look at what happened with the recent attack on the school bus. Only one child was killed. “Only one.” One too many. But if the terrorist had fired five minutes earlier, there would have been dozens of children killed. The fact is that there’s a danger to the lives of children traveling in a school bus on the roads of Israel. That [most of the children] were lucky this time, that one child was killed and the rest not, does not enter the equation.

Let’s say I have the ultimate Iron Dome system and nobody is being killed from their attacks. Am I therefore barred from attacking those who are firing on me? Of course not. I have to be concerned for a dangerous situation in which Iron Dome doesn’t work, or doesn’t work properly, or I don’t have enough Iron Dome batteries in service. I need to silence the source of the danger and therefore I am permitted to attack it.

As for the numbers of those killed on the other side, that needs to be examined without any connection to how many were killed on our side. Hamas today admits to having lost very high numbers of people who were directly connected to Hamas. All those “policemen” [killed in IAF attacks at the start of Cast Lead] were not policemen in the Western sense of the word. Those weren’t people employed to give speeding tickets. Information published soon after Cast Lead detailed their combat deployment, the role each of them was to play when the IDF came in. This was a support force for the Hamas army. We hit them legitimately.

Now, there were 200 people who were not dangerous who were killed.

Just 200?

Yes, 200 who had no link to Hamas. All the rest had a clear tie to Hamas. And each of the cases in which those 200 were killed must be checked. Those 200 are, of course, 200 too many. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have carried out the operations of Cast Lead as we did. But it does mean that if there’s a Cast Lead II, we’ll have to use approaches that mean there won’t be the 200 – that there’ll be the fewer the better.

We can learn from each of the circumstances in which the 200 were killed. On the margins, some of those deaths stemmed from a lack of professionalism, where a soldier didn’t do what he should have done. Obviously there are things to correct.

But I would stress that to have the military police question hundreds of soldiers after an operation like this, while I understand the political effect, is not good for the army. It won’t save lives. You have to rely on the probes that the army itself carries out.

People think the ideal treatment is to send in the toughest police investigators and mete out the heaviest punishments. You can give any punishment you like. But it won’t solve problems that stem from a lack of professionalism, or mistakes in judgment, or misunderstandings, that cause people to get killed. Some of our soldiers were also killed, by our own fire. No one on our side wanted to kill our own soldiers, but it happened. They were killed. So obviously there are things to correct on the level of professionalism. Simply punishing people won’t help in any way.

Internal army investigations are the correct forum for addressing this, initially at least. If it turns out to be necessary, you have a military prosecutor and it becomes a legal matter.

There was a case in the military courts of two Givati soldiers, from a combat engineering unit, who took a Palestinian kid and told him to open a suspicious bag. What’s extraordinary about this story – and I’ve read all the court papers – is that these soldiers were standing right next to him. If the kid had set off an explosive, they would also have been killed. And when the kid could not open the bag, they fired at it. Again, if it had exploded, they would all have been killed. And these were soldiers whose military expertise was in handling explosives. So this was a failure of judgment by soldiers who hadn’t slept, I was told, for three days. Unprofessional work.

Now, of course, this was inexcusable. They were rightly tried and punished for taking and using the child in this way. But the main problem was that they acted unprofessionally. That’s what needs to be corrected.

I want to return to those Hamas policemen who were killed on day one of Cast Lead. On that day they weren’t engaging in terrorism. They were at a graduation ceremony. And yet you say it was morally acceptable to kill them?

When you enter a place, you have to think about not only who is firing on you, but on who will be firing on you. That’s the rationale behind the laws of war. In this case, those forces certainly had the potential to hurt the IDF. Gaza is a very small place. This is Hamas. These were the forces that were helping Hamas. And therefore it was clear that tomorrow they would be joining up with the forces trying to hurt the IDF.

What about the argument that Hamas would obviously be defeated by the IDF in a conventional war and therefore its only chance is to fight from within residential areas?

Listen, we’re not living in the Middle Ages. These are not wars between knights, where it’s not fair if one has a big spear and the other has a little dagger. This is about the obligation to provide effective protection for my citizens. The fact that you are weak militarily does not exempt you from the measures I have to take to protect my citizens.

If you take steps toward peace, then we won’t be firing at each other. So, at a diplomatic level, I will tell you that I want peace. But there was a disengagement. I left your area altogether. What do you want from me? Israel left completely. It wasn’t easy. Part of the public felt terrible pain. Personally, it didn’t pain me to leave areas that we conquered in 1967. But to see that after 30 years we were destroying all the homes and pulling out the children who were born there, my heart ached for those children.

So we left, and what have we got? The Hamas Charter, which says you have to destroy Israel. Gilad Schalit, and no allowing the Red Cross to get near him.

Israel will protect itself in the light of the way that it is attacked. If the enemy doesn’t have tanks, then it won’t be a battle of armored forces against armored forces. But it will be a battle, and I will protect myself against whatever you use to attack me. The fact that you don’t have tanks and planes does not justify terrorism. That’s no moral justification. Moral justification is not a function of the means you have. It relates to the limitations on the means that you use.

And yet there is a lot of international empathy for the notion raised, among others, by Ted Turner a few years ago, that they have no weapons apart from their bodies. (“The Palestinians are fighting with human suicide bombers, that’s all they have,” said the CNN founder in 2002.)

Well, they could make peace. When did the suicide bombers start? After Ehud Barak made his offers to Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton [in 2000], and Arafat rejected them. If negotiations fail that doesn’t mean you say, “It’s over, now we have to start shooting.” If negotiations fail, you prepare better for the next round of negotiations. It’s okay for Arafat to say “no” at some stage. That’s how negotiations work. You can say no over and over, but you keep negotiating. Instead of that, that the suicide bombers start coming? Why is there sympathy for that?

People sympathize with that until it happens to them. When it happens to them, they all change. All those countries – Britain, Spain, Sweden – the moment they face terrorism, they change.

But they don’t change. In Britain, for example, after the 2005 London quadruple suicide bombing, people blamed Tony Blair. They said Britain was being attacked because he was too supportive of Israel or too supportive of George Bush in Iraq...

But in practice, in Britain too you now have the Terrorism Act which allows them to do all kinds of things to fight terrorism. Britain is actually the most similar to us because it lived with Irish terrorism for so many years.

But I still don’t see any empathy for Israel.

In my dealings with the representatives of foreign armies, I don’t come up against any opposition to the principles I’ve set out for you. No opposition, except maybe among the Dutch. The Dutch don’t think of themselves as an army – more as a force for policing peace.

Yet international public opinion is hostile, and that influences political opinion, which impacts the international climate, which ultimately can limit Israel’s capacity to protect itself...

Let’s dissect that concept of public opinion and governments and the international climate. Governments follow their own interests. When they have an interest in criticizing us, they criticize us. When they have an interest in defending us, they defend us.

When the Goldstone Report was published, I immediately said that we had nothing to fear from the point of view of implementing international law – because we are more moderate than the rest of the world, and if those were the standards, we would not be able to do anything to protect ourselves, but neither would the US or NATO or anyone else in Iraq or Afghanistan. And therefore the US and NATO could not allow that report to have a practical impact. Now that Goldstone’s written his article, shifting a little, that’s even more the case.

Would Israel have carried out all these investigations without Goldstone?

Yes. And look how few indictments were served in the end. It would have been the same without Goldstone.

So you have these governments whose actions are a function of their interests. You have the Human Rights Council of the United Nations – excuse me, but if people don’t think this is all about politics, just look at this body, which was chaired by Libya and 80 percent of whose decisions are against us. Everyone’s talking differently about Libya today, but this Libya they’re all attacking now is the same Libya that acted against us all the time.

And you have all this talk about occupation, as though we’re the only people on earth in this situation. The situation of occupation is very problematic. But China has been in Tibet for longer. And the former Soviet Union, in those islands north of Japan – also longer. And the world makes no fuss. There are no demonstrations anywhere about the fact that those Japanese islands are under Russian sovereignty. China has raped Tibet, killing monks and nuns, destroying the Tibetan monasteries. No fuss.

It’s all a function of politics. Speaking out against us, it’s because of political interests. And by the way, criticizing us isn’t necessarily anti-Semitism. It can be a function of other issues, of oil issues, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iraq, I don’t know – all kinds of considerations.

As for the international media being largely against us, there are lots of explanations for that. You have to recognize it, and put it in proportion. How important is it what The Guardian says? Now, with the Conservative government in England, who cares what the Guardian says? Does it influence the prime minister? That’s hard to believe. It might matter a bit more shortly before elections. The public, at the margins, may be influenced by the newspapers, but the importance of newspapers in influencing politicians is limited.

Why is it deemed important what the newspapers say? Because they influence public opinion? And why is public opinion important? We have no genuine access to the public’s real opinions. We don’t know exactly what the public is thinking. And you’d have to prove to me that it is important. The public’s influence on politicians is limited.

But the fact is that Israel feels itself increasingly isolated, and there are potential practical implications.

Really? What potential for practical consequences? We as Jews – and I understand this, but we have to stop it – are acutely sensitive to every attack on us. Not only when it’s anti-Semitism or anti-Israel. Even when someone attacks us for this or that government’s politics. The lights go on. “They’re attacking us.” It seems to us to be absolutely terrible. I understand that feeling. We don’t have a history of being loved by everyone. Quite the reverse. But some perspective is required. Obviously we have to be active on all fronts. The international media is a front. So you have the IDF Spokesman. You have the Ministry of Public Diplomacy. Everyone must do what they can to improve this situation. But it’s not that important.

Look what happened after Operation Cast Lead. European leaders and the US president came here. That was a sign of solidarity with Israel. So I don’t think there’s a danger of us becoming [a pariah state] like South Africa.

Practical consequences: This fall, the Palestinians may well take a resolution to the UN General Assembly seeking statehood. And over 100, 120, 130, I don’t know, nations will support it, possibly backed by a “uniting for peace” resolution that carries the potential for non-binding sanctions and boycotts.

First, I don’t know what practical implications there would be. Second, we know that in situations like this we sometimes only have the US and Micronesia with us, and we’ll survive. And third, and most important, we do have to work on the question of Palestinian statehood. With more alacrity than we are doing.

I don’t need to wait for a Bar-Ilan speech by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and for all kinds of interesting observations from prime minister Sharon, to recognize that it is essential that there be a Palestinian state. The State of Israel, in its Proclamation of Independence, recognized the Palestinian state. It declared that “the right of the Jewish people to establish their state is irrevocable. This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state.” Like all other nations! The Zionist mainstream supported the Partition decision, which provided for a state for the Jews and a state for the Palestinians. We recognized a Palestinian state from the very start.

That’s nothing new. That’s not doing a favor to anyone. The question is under what circumstances will a Palestinian state be established. I don’t have to help in the establishment of something that wants to wipe me out. But that the Palestinians have the right to be a people in their own state, in their territory somewhere between the river and the sea, goes without saying.

I want to come back to the objections to what the IDF did in Gaza. You note that we pulled out all our people, but the objection is that we didn’t free Gaza. We still prevent products going in. We still control the borders. We haven’t given them full control.

Since they are arming themselves relentlessly, via weapons-laden ships, via the tunnels, my self-defense requires those controls. I don’t want to have to depend on Iron Dome to shoot down the missile. I want the missile not to reach Gaza from Iran in the first place. So I maintain the sea blockade, which is unquestionably legitimate according to all the laws of war at sea, to prevent them from bringing in the weaponry. And the same goes for the land crossings. We don’t allow free access, because it is likely to endanger us.

We have “effective control” at the borders – on what goes in and out. But we don’t have effective control inside. Hamas is the de facto government of Gaza; Hamas has effective control there. And therefore Hamas is responsible for the fact that there are terrorists mixed in with their non-dangerous neighbors. They carry the responsibility for that.

Apart from that, we take care that there not be a humanitarian disaster in Gaza from the point of view of food and medicines and needs.

Is existing international law on wars appropriate for the kinds of situations we’ve been discussing, or does it need amending?

International law was created for other purposes. It was created amid assumptions that war was a case of army against army. Uniformed forces. Civilians at the side. In those circumstances, what’s accepted internationally is acceptable to us. By and large people respect this. These are laws that apply to classic war situations.

But now, when we are in a war with organizations, not states, all the assumptions collapse. Why are states signed up to international treaties? For reasons of political prudence, not high morality: If I don’t harm his civilians, he won’t harm my civilians, and we’ll both benefit. If I won’t kill his prisoners, he won’t kill my prisoners; I won’t fire chemical weapons at him, and he won’t fire chemical weapons at me. It’s all reciprocity.

But now, in our situations, there is no reciprocity. Israel is always trying to minimize the collateral damage it causes its enemies, and its enemies are always trying to maximize the damage – not collateral; they are really aiming for the citizens.

This takes us back to where this interview started: It doesn’t mean Israel will now act in the way its enemies do. But you see now that Israel has to act according to its interests and its standards, and not according to some kind of picture that is common to Israeli and its enemies. This whole notion of reciprocity has disappeared.

And then there’s the question of the practicalities underpinning the rules of war, which requires distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants. It used to be very simple: soldiers have uniforms, with US Army or Marines or IDF written on them. Weapons are carried openly. You’re either in uniform or you’re not. It’s very crude. And it works. It’s clear who are the soldiers and who are not.

Now, it’s a mish-mash. Now, you have citizens with good intentions and citizens with bad intentions. No one can tell you to preserve the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. We preserved it effectively, because it was easy to draw the distinction. Not any more.

I’m not saying we need to change the rules of war. But we need to widen them. Don’t cancel anything, but understand that in these new wars, you need something else. Something else that rests on the same moral basis: to “alleviate the calamities of war,” as someone put it in an international document two hundred years ago.

How do you alleviate the calamities of war? First of all, have no war at all, if possible. But if war erupts, let’s ask ourselves how to realize those principles, how to protect ourselves and warn the non-dangerous neighbors, alleviating the calamities of wars. We need doctrines, in the spirit of international law, that tell us what to do in certain circumstances that are not the classic war situations. And remember, these certain circumstances are always changing. We need a doctrine that is appropriate for every situation.

In the first years of the 2000s, we fought against a civilian organization that dispatched suicide bombers from a political entity – the Palestinian Authority – but not from a state.

Then we had the Second Lebanon War, with Hezbollah, a semi-military organization, supported by the Iranian and Syrian armies, sitting on the territory of the state of Lebanon, and some of its activities were terrorism, and some were guerrilla activities against soldiers.

Then came Operation Cast Lead. Again, not against a state – the PA is in charge, but it’s not a state – but against a semi-military organization, getting support from the same places, from Iran and from Syria, and it is the de facto government. Which was not the case in the two previous cases.

And now, if there’s a Third Lebanon War, Hezbollah sits in the Lebanese government. It is no longer a militia sitting in south Lebanon. It is a party in the Lebanese government. So if it fires on us, we’ll need a different doctrine covering what to do. The Lebanese government includes a party that has a militia that is firing on you. It’s not the Lebanese Army that is attacking you, but you are being attacked by a force that is in the government.

These appropriate doctrines must be informed by the same spirit: we are a democratic state, we must protect our citizens, we respect human dignity, we must minimize collateral damage in every effective means...

And people are working to produce these new doctrines?

[Former IDF Military Intelligence chief] Amos Yadlin and I wrote a doctrine that dealt with targeted killings, in the mid-2000s. Every army that fights needs its doctrine.

Are people working on other aspects?

People are comparing notes. And every international situation is different. But if I look at the way democratic states are grappling with their situations, it’s very similar. So there’s a kind of process. There are treaties that the world has signed up to – Geneva, Hague and so on. And then there is customary international law. The world is full of non-democratic state bodies which don’t interest me. But it seems that the democratic world...

Is following practical doctrines that are very similar?

Yes. I was in Germany not long ago, at a conference on targeted killings. It was an audience of officers. One speaker was a fourstar German general. One was from the International Red Cross. And I was there to detail the Israeli reality. And I presented the approach we have discussed regarding targeted strikes, which Yadlin and I and many others developed in the mid-2000s. The audience accepted it. The man from the Red Cross didn’t object to it.

In the subsequent working groups, the German general said he understood the Israelis. They were in a different situation from the Germans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. If the Germans were forced to operate in similar circumstances to Israel, they would do the same. And remember that today’s Germany is super-democratic.

I hear the same thing everywhere in democratic states. I’ve been to something like 15 of them, from India to Canada. There is no one who will say I don’t have to protect my civilians and to minimize the damage [to the other side]. There is no one who will say I must not harm the other side and minimize the damage to my civilians. No one will say that. No one. Nowhere.

Have there been things that Israel has done, that the IDF has done, that do trouble you?

We do need to greatly improve our professionalism – not only in terms of operating weaponry, but in terms of better understanding the principles I’ve set here.

I’ll give you an example: I heard a certain person say, during Operation Cast Lead, that we have to cause the other side to understand that ba’al habayit hishtagea – that Israel has “gone crazy.” That’s absolutely unacceptable. In fact, we have to cause them to appreciate the very opposite: that Israel is anything but crazy. That Israel acts aggressively only because it has no chance. It hits people only because it has to. It hits non-dangerous people only in a case of collateral damage, while making immense efforts not to harm them.

And if some minister or other says something so unacceptable, because he is irresponsible or because he lacks understanding, that doesn’t mean our soldiers should think that. Their commanders need to explain this to them. They need to understand this.

If the degree of understanding of the key principles I’ve laid out here was greater, it is possible that there would have been fewer than 200 fatalities among the non-dangerous people who were killed in Operation Cast Lead. We don’t explain enough and we don’t understand enough. People perform better when they understand what they are doing.

What do you think of the Israeli media’s coverage of Operation Cast Lead and of the local NGOs, including the rush to highlight the subsequently discredited Rabin military academy allegations in March 2009 that soldiers had deliberately targeted civilians?

Local media is guilty of sensationalism and a lack of responsibility. Haaretz has an agenda and skews everything in the service of that agenda. And others, like Yediot and Ma’ariv, are just sensationalist. There is no connection even between their headlines and the content.

I read the protocol of that discussion in the Rabin academy. I also read everything that the Breaking the Silence soldiers said. I read the full document. That full document emerged only after the international media came to me for a response to the alleged summary that had come out a few days earlier. From that summary, you might have thought they had exposed a huge wave, a tsunami, of war crimes, which it was very hard to believe could be possible. And in fact, it wasn’t possible. Everything was skewed in that report. This is a political body with a political agenda which is legitimate, but it uses methods in my opinion that are not legitimate in terms of media ethics and NGO ethics.

As for B’Tselem, and international NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, they all have double standards. For them, there is the poor, pitiful side and the strong side. Testimony that comes from the pitiful side is taken at face value. Whatever comes from the strong side is tainted – “it’s a spokesman, it’s a whitewash.” Radical suspicion for one side and virtually an unlimited readiness to accept everything that comes from the other. That’s a double standard and it creates an utterly skewed picture. I don’t rely on them.

On the other hand, it doesn’t matter where an accusation comes from, the IDF must take a look at it. The IDF must look into every story from B’Tselem, every story from Machsom Watch, every story from Amnesty International. Not because I rely on them. I don’t. But you don’t have to rely on them to do your work properly. Look into every story. There’s a tiny, microscopic proportion that has some basis, so look, check, find out..


David Horovitz

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Orange County's Misguided Award

by IPT News

He has wished for "the implementation of Sharia [Islamic law] in all areas" of society, said Muslims can never accept homosexuality and predicted God's wrath on America for its support of Israel.

Now, Muzammil Siddiqi is about to be honored by Orange County, Calif.'s Human Relations Commission. Siddiqi "has steadfastly worked with other faith leaders to build understanding of the great commonality that exists between all religions, despite the political clashes that can drive wedges between them," an announcement from the board says. Siddiqi is among "amazing individuals and groups who have made extraordinary human relations contributions to Orange County!"

Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Society of Orange County, is active in interfaith programs and even traveled to Auschwitz and Dachau last summer. He signed on to a statement acknowledging "chilling places where men, women and children were systematically and brutally murdered by the millions because of their faith, race, disability and political affiliation."

As the Investigative Project on Terrorism's profile of Siddiqi shows, his views have not always been so tolerant of others.

A year after 9/11, Siddiqi indicated the identities of those responsible remained unresolved. " It is - the point is that we said - whosoever did it, we condemn it. We did not say it is Muslims who did it," he told a convention of the Islamic Society of North America in September 2002. "We did not say this and that. But the point is that whosoever did it, it was wrong. And this is a basic point … We cannot say in surety whoever did it or not. But the point is that if the name of Islam is taken, we have to clarify the name of Islam."

Homosexuals need "to repent, turn to God and take Islam seriously," he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001. "Being gay and Muslim is a contradiction in terms. Islam is totally against homosexuality. It's clear in the Koran and in the sayings of the prophet Mohammed."

In an online question and answer session two years later, Siddiqi called homosexuality "evil" and warned that tolerating it begs God's wrath. "There are agencies and lobby groups that are working hard to propagate it and to make it as an acceptable and legitimate lifestyle," he wrote. "For this reason it is important that we should speak against it. We should warn our youth and children about the evil of this lifestyle. We should make it very clear that it is Haram and absolutely forbidden. It kindles the wrath and anger of Allah."

God's wrath was on Siddiqi's mind during an October 2000 rally in Washington. The rally came a month after the second Palestinian intifada had started. The violent uprising started after Israeli political leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, a holy place for Jews, but also the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had been planning the violence, and used Sharon's visit as a pretext.

Israel was solely to blame for the conflict, Siddiqi said, although American support facilitated it. "We want to awaken the conscience of America. America has to learn that because if you remain on the side of injustice, the wrath of God will come," Siddiqi said. "Please! Please all Americans, do you remember that, that Allah is watching everyone. God is watching everyone. If you continue doing injustice, and tolerating injustice, the wrath of God will come."

By the time the rally occurred, the Jewish Holy Site of Joseph's Tomb was destroyed by Palestinian rioters and two soldiers were lynched in Ramallah.

Yet, "the Palestinian demonstrators are not violent people," Siddiqi said. "The violent people are those who are oppressing them day and night and for many years. We want to say to our government to respect the right of the Palestinian people. Do not be the blind supporters of oppressors. And al-Aqsa, my brothers and sisters, is our sacred mosque. It belongs to Islam. It belongs to all the Muslims of the world, 1.5 billion Muslims of the world, it belongs to them. We cannot accept any threat to the al-Aqsa mosque."

Siddiqi described the rally as "a gathering of all the Muslims of America, all the national organizations of Muslims of America together." And he was not alone in making statements condemning American policy. Muslim Public Affairs Council founder Maher Hathout blasted Israel as an "apartheid brutal state," saying of its leaders that "butchers do what butchers do."Abdulrahman Alamoudi, then the head of the American Muslim Council and one of the nation's most influential Muslim political activists, taunted the U.S. designations of Hamas and Hizballah as terrorist organizations. Alamoudi would plead guilty three years later to illegal dealings with Libya and to aiding a plot to assassinate a Saudi crown prince.

No speaker at the 2000 rally called on Hamas or other terrorist groups to cease attacks on civilians.

It is unknown whether Orange County officials were aware of Siddiqi's history when they selected him for recognition. It's also possible that Siddiqi's views have moderated in recent years, though there is no public record of him recanting.

In a letter to Orange County supervisors, retired law enforcement agent Gary Fouse suggested that Siddiqi "come forward before May 5 and publicly address these charges. If there is a credible explanation for these allegations, or if they are not true, let him make it clear. Then I would not oppose the award. If he cannot explain or refute these concerns, then I see no justification for this honor."

See our 2008 profile of Siddiqi here. See a full transcript of Siddiqi's 2000 speech here.


IPT News

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Invitation to Israeli Leader Puts Obama on the Spot

by Helene Cooper

A Republican invitation for Israel s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address Congress next month is highlighting the tensions between President Obama and Mr. Netanyahu and has kicked off a bizarre diplomatic race over who will be the first to lay out a new proposal to reopen the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

For three months, White House officials have been debating whether the time has come for Mr. Obama to make a major address on the region s turmoil, including the upheaval in the Arab world, and whether he should use the occasion to propose a new plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

One administration official said that course was backed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the president himself, but opposed by Dennis B. Ross, the president s senior adviser on the Middle East.

As the administration has been pondering, Mr. Netanyahu, fearful that his country would lose ground with any Obama administration plan, has been considering whether to pre-empt the White House with a proposal of his own, before a friendly United States Congress, according to American officials and diplomats from the region.

People seem to think that whoever goes first gets the upper hand, said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator and a director at the New America Foundation. Using Mr. Netanyahu s nickname, he said: If Bibi went first and didn t lay out a bold peace plan, it would be harder for Obama to say, actually, despite what you said to Congress and their applause, this is what I think you should do.

The political gamesmanship between the two men illustrates how the calculation in the Middle East has changed for a variety of reasons, including the political upheaval in the Arab world. But it also shows the lack of trust and what some officials say is personal animosity between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu.

White House officials are working on drafts of a possible proposal, but they have not decided how detailed it will be, or even whether the president will deliver it in a planned speech. If Mr. Obama does put forward an American plan, officials say it could include four principles, or terms of reference, built around the final status issues that have bedeviled peace negotiators since 1979.

The terms of reference could call for Israel to accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. For their part, Palestinians would have to accept that they would not get the right of return to land in Israel from which they fled or were forced to flee. Jerusalem would be the capital of both states, and Israeli security would have to be protected.

Mr. Netanyahu has made it clear that he wants Israel s security needs addressed before any peace deal with the Palestinians. He has become even more concerned about security because shifts in power among Arab states in recent months have weakened Israel s already fragile relations with its neighbors, particularly Egypt.

The tussling between the Obama administration and the Israeli government reached a peak last week when Mrs. Clinton, in Washington at a meeting of the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, announced that Mr. Obama would be speaking in greater detail about America s policy in the Middle East and North Africa in the coming weeks.

Her announcement electrified Israeli officials, who quickly got on the phone with American officials and journalists to determine whether Mr. Obama had decided to put an American plan on the table. He had not made such a decision, and White House officials cautioned that the internal debate was still going on.

But two days later, the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, announced his intention to invite Mr. Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress. America and Israel are the closest of friends and allies, and we look forward to hearing the prime minister s views on how we can continue working together for peace, freedom and stability, Mr. Boehner said in a news release.

Like many other foreign leaders, Mr. Netanyahu has addressed Congress before. He did so in 1996, and four other Israeli prime ministers have over the past 35 years. The platform gives American elected leaders the opportunity to publicly demonstrate their support for Israel before the politically crucial Israel lobby.

Mr. Netanyahu s address will coincide with the planned meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, arguably the most powerful of the American groups that advocate for Israel.

Brendan Buck, Mr. Boehner s press secretary, said that staff members had received no pushback from the White House about the invitation to Mr. Netanyahu. Obviously, it s a troubled time for the region, he said. Our members have been very interested in demonstrating that we stand with Israel.

Last November, Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, told Mr. Netanyahu that the new G.O.P. majority in the House would serve as a check on the administration, in a statement that was rare for its blunt disagreement on American foreign policy as conveyed to a foreign leader.

Mr. Cantor put out a statement after a meeting with Mr. Netanyahu saying that he made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.

Brian Katulis, a national security expert with the Center for American Progress, a liberal research organization, said that Republicans were trying to make Israel a partisan wedge issue.

And that s bad for Israel, and that s bad for the United States, Mr. Katulis said. But he added that the administration would never publicly, or even privately, oppose the notion of an Israeli leader addressing Congress.

Two American officials, speaking on condition of anonymity out of diplomatic caution, said they thought that if Mr. Netanyahu intended to make a bold proposal for a peace deal with the Palestinians, he would do so before his own people in the Knesset.

Instead of focusing on peace-making, everybody seems to be focused on speech-making, said Martin S. Indyk, vice president for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and a former United States ambassador to Israel. And unless the speeches generate peace negotiations, making speeches will not generate peace.

Much of the debate is taking place under a pending deadline of the United Nations General Assembly meeting scheduled in September, when the Assembly is expected to broadly endorse Palestinian statehood in a vote that could prove deeply embarrassing to Israel and the United States, which are both expected to vote against it.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 22, 2011

An article on Thursday about tensions between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel misstated the location of a speech last week in which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that Mr. Obama would offer details soon about America s policies in the Middle East. It was in Washington, D.C., at a meeting of the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, not in Qatar.


Helene Cooper

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

'Responsibility to Protect?' I Call Bull on That

by Rick Moran

President Assad's troops in Syria are literally gunning down hundreds of protesters in the streets - as bad behavior as we saw with Gaddafi. And yet, the R2P advocates appear to have lost their voice - a collective case of laryngitis.


At least 72 protesters have been killed by security forces in Syria, rights groups say - the highest reported death toll in five weeks of unrest there.

Demonstrators were shot, witnesses say, as thousands rallied across the country, a day after a decades-long state of emergency was lifted.

Many deaths reportedly occurred in a village near Deraa in the south, and in a suburb of the capital, Damascus.

US President Barack Obama called for a halt to the "outrageous" violence.

"This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now," the president said in a statement.

You tell 'em, Barry! Give 'em another "strongly worded statement." That ought to stop the madman from massacring his own people.

Protesters - said to number tens of thousands - chanted for the overthrow of the regime, Reuters news agency reports.

Video images coming out of Syria show footage of many confrontations where live ammunition was used.

President Bashar al-Assad's lifting of the emergency had been seen as a concession to the protesters.

In their first joint statement since the protests broke out, activists coordinating the mass demonstrations demanded the establishment of a democratic political system.

At least 260 people have been killed in the unrest - about as many who died before the R2P crowd convinced the UN to go into Libya. Given the lack of progress there, is it possible that the "humanitarian interventionist" crowd is having second thoughts?

Not likely. It's just that the "peace at any price" crowd thinks that Assad is the only hope for peace between Israel and Syria. Can't go in and upset the applecart by tossing Assad aside. Therefore, Assad will get a free pass - except for vacuous statements like Obama's that I'm sure has the Syrian strongman quaking in his boots - and the world will turn a blind eye to the killing.


Rick Moran

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Exposing Iran’s End Times Vision

by Ryan Mauro

Reza Kahlili, a former member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps who spied for the CIA, obtained and released a secret documentary produced by the Iranian regime last month that claimed that President Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Khamenei and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah are the incarnations of prophesied figures. Their religious command is to lead a final war that destroys Israel to trigger the arrival of the Hidden Imam. The publication of this video has thrown a wrench into the regime’s plans by embroiling it in a political crisis.

The film had several startling revelations, such as that Ayatollah Khamenei believes he is required to lead an Arab coalition in destroying Israel and that the death of Saudi King Abdullah will be a green light for the sequence of End Times events to begin happening. The Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in the Arab world is viewed as the fulfillment of Islamic prophecy. Given Khamenei’s poor health and viewing of recent events as signs that the final war is to begin soon, the video could not be more chilling. Luckily, Kahlili’s release of the film is causing trouble for the regime.

“The movie has caused intensive internal fighting. The moderates are attacking Ahmadinejad and the hardliners are rejecting the comparison of the mythical figures to Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. The hardliners are angry that the video made it to the West, proving that the regime is messianic,” Kahlili told FrontPage.

The managing editor of Kayhan, a state newspaper, has criticized the film because he feels the West can use it as a weapon against Iran. Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, the highest Shiite religious authority, has said it is a danger to Islam.

“The analysis for the timing of the Coming of the last imam is quite concerning. These analyses could weaken the very belief of Muslims. Such activities should not take place in Iran…This is very worrisome,” al-Sistani said. A top seminary in Qom has also rejected the equating of Ahmadinejad with Shoeib-Ebne Saleh, the End Times character who is to lead the recapturing of Jerusalem.

It is telling that the regime has not denied the arguments made in the film. The regime truly believes its contents. The producers of the film held a press conference after the controversy began to defend themselves and their product. They confirmed that it had been shown to Ahmadinejad and Khamenei for approval and that Khamenei nods when the chief of the Revolutionary Guards and senior clerics call him “Seyed Khorasani” during meetings. Khorasani is the prophesied figure who leads a nation from the East in a final war to prepare the way for the Hidden Imam’s emergence, according to the film.

“Many have asked him to verify his position and he has chosen silence. Well if it was not true, if it was not in accordance with his own belief, then wouldn’t the Supreme Leader come out and say this is not true and stop this argument?” one producer said. Indeed, on April 12, a representative of Khamenei told a state-run media outlet that several grand ayatollahs have endorsed the comparison.

Khalili told FrontPage at least one producer of the film has been arrested to stop him from making any more revelations. Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, was fired on April 9. He has denied involvement in the film’s creation but Kahlili says his office was responsible for it.

“The in-fighting will not stop their plans for the final war. They will proceed as before, but with more careful steps….However, this should give us a big awakening that this is a defining moment in history where we can avoid another Holocaust,” Kahlili said.

All indications are that Iran’s plans are indeed moving forward and the stage is being set for war in Bahrain. On April 13, a representative of Khamenei referred to the uprising there as “the best opportunity to establish and prove Islam’s legitimacy to the world. And side by side with those oppressed people, it is also the best opportunity to begin setting the stage for the emergence of the 12th Imam, our Mahdi.”

Dispelling any notion that the film’s message is just a political tactic, the representative said, “First, it is natural that the Mahdi will go to war, but this war needs to be primed…It is true that we are the source of all revolutions, but now the source needs to create a ripple effect.” The Iranian regime truly does believe it is being instructed by Allah to lead this End Times war against Islam’s enemies and the current conflict in Bahrain is part of it.

Kahlili has done the world a favor by releasing this video, and the turmoil inside the regime that it has caused will hopefully inhibit Iran’s dangerous plans. More importantly, it is a wake-up call to the West: the smoking gun that details the Iranian regime’s beliefs and plans. Iran expert Ken Timmerman describes it as “nothing short of a declaration of war, an Iranian version of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which after all in German means ‘my struggle’ or ‘my jihad.’”

The West couldn’t ask for a more clear warning of what is ahead. If this won’t wake it up, then it is frightening to think of what will.


Ryan Mauro

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Awakening to Obama’s “Hosni” Hell

by Michael Goodwin

This article is reprinted from the New York Post.

First, the bad news. If you’re keeping score at home, another day passed with more slaughter of demonstrators in the streets of Syria without serious objection from the White House. The stalemate in Libya remained a stalemate and Jordan can’t get a handle on a new wave of protesters.

Now, for the really bad news.

There are increasing signs that the “Arab Awakening” is a gift to Iran and its terrorist franchises. In Bahrain and especially Yemen, anti-American and anti-Western forces are filling the gaps as government control shrinks.

And now for the worst news.

The most dangerous developments are happening in Egypt, which was a bulwark for 30 years against Iranian expansion and Arab Islamic fundamentalists. But the risky departure of Hosni Mubarak, under American pressure, threw the door wide open to both and the results already are disturbing.

Many people saw this coming — but apparently, they did not include a single soul in the White House.

Even though leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood were talking about getting Egyptians ready for “war with Israel” in January and sabotaging a natural-gas pipeline between the countries, President Obama still decided that Mubarak had to go even before a succession was clear. Saudi Arabia, among others, saw the push against Mubarak as a betrayal of an American ally and an invitation for Islamists to make a move.

They were right, and it didn’t take long for proof to emerge. Published reports around the world say Iran and Egypt are on the cusp of establishing diplomatic relations and exchanging ambassadors. The London Telegraph quotes a spokesperson for the Egyptian foreign minister as saying, “The former regime used to see Iran as an enemy, but we don’t.”

The paper also reports that the Egyptian leader of the Islamist Labour Party, who was imprisoned under Mubarak, has been released. He is running for president and, in Tehran to meet the Iranian foreign leader, declared that the revolt against Mubarak was “inspired by the Islamic revolution” in Iran.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian foreign minister, in another sharp break with the past, said he might visit Hamas leaders in Gaza.

Egypt is the largest and most important Arab country to both the United States and Israel, and its decision to move closer to Iran is a potential disaster that can only be read as a lack of confidence in American leadership. For the same reasons, a miffed Saudi Arabia is trying to improve relations with Russia and China.

About all this, American officials are said to be “worried.” Well, that’s rich — and very late.

After initially floundering in its responses to the Arab upheavals, the White House decided to formulate a single policy of backing the protesters, even when, like Mubarak, their targets were our allies.

When that backfired, the White House opted for common sense — one nation at a time. It realized that one size did not fit all and that it had to take a more strategic view of American interests.

Or at least it seemed to. More lately, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton seemed to have made another decision: not to have any policy at all. So while the nasty thugs in Syria shoot down protesters, we pass up a chance to help possibly bring regime change to a true adversary. We wade into Libya without a real plan and we seem to have no answer at all for Yemen, Bahrain and Jordan.

All of which benefits Iran, which counts Syria as it most reliable ally and conduit for its terrorists and weapons. Meanwhile, the mad mullahs continue their march toward the bomb.

The good news in all this? There isn’t any.


Michael Goodwin

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Mission Creep and Its Discontents

by Amitai Etzioni

Washington's persistent difficulties in Afghanistan are due to the Obama administration's mission creep. Within a matter of months, U.S. operations expanded from counterterrorism measures designed "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in the future"[1] to a counterinsurgency strategy viewing nation-building and democratization as prerequisites to military success—a highly unrealistic goal in a country that is as poor, illiterate, corrupt, and conflicted as Afghanistan.

Having made the Afghan war the edifice of his battle against violent extremism, President Obama, here with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, December 3, 2010, has been struggling to shape a coherent strategy. His frequent juggling of goals and his lack of clarity on what they are has reduced public support for the war and hindered U.S. efforts to disengage. Photo by Michael Sparks, CJTF-101

The mission creep and confusion in Afghanistan has greatly hindered U.S. efforts to find a way to complete its campaign and to disengage. As the target keeps changing and enlarging, public support for the intervention both in the United States and in other nations is declining while the human and economic costs of the war are mounting. A return to the original goal and to some version of the "Biden approach"—advocating reliance on drones, Special Forces, and the CIA to ensure that Afghanistan will not again become a haven for terrorists after the U.S. departure—may provide an answer.

Counterterrorism to Counterinsurgency

Having made the Afghan war the edifice of his struggle against violent extremism, President Obama has been struggling to shape a coherent strategy. His first strategic review of the situation in Afghanistan, completed in March 2009, was basically framed as a counterterrorism mission to be carried out by military forces and the CIA. However, over the following year, the president endorsed Gen. David Petraeus's change of strategy from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency, which holds that in order to accomplish the security goal of eliminating terrorists and their havens, a considerable measure of nation-building must take place.

In discussions of counterinsurgency, the term "nation-building" is typically avoided, but the precept that to win the United States must build an "effective and legitimate government" and that counterinsurgency means not just destroying the enemy but also holding the territories and building the new polity, in effect amounts to nation-building. Moreover, the scope of nation-building has been steadily extended. Thus, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated that "we share an interest in helping build an Afghanistan that is stable and secure; that can provide prosperity and progress and peace for its citizens."[2] Obama added the following day that he had "reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to an Afghanistan that is stable, strong, and prosperous." He reiterated the 2009 goal to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future." But he also underscored the need for "a civilian effort to promote good governance and development … In addition… [to] open the door to Taliban who cut their ties to al-Qaeda, abandon violence, and accept the Afghan constitution, including respect for human rights."[3]

As the Hamid Karzai government started to negotiate with various factions of the Taliban about the conditions under which they might support the government, or join it, or lay down their weapons after the departure of U.S. and NATO forces, the nation-building goal was extended. It grew from an "effective and legitimate government" in the eyes of the Afghans to ensuring that democracy and human rights, especially women's rights, as stated in the Afghan constitution (fashioned under U.S. influence and in line with the values Americans hold dear) are respected and that Shari'a or Islamic law does not become the law of the land.

Late in 2010, as it became clearer that nation-building was progressing rather poorly, mission creep turned into mission confusion. At several points, the U.S. government opposed negotiations with the Taliban. At others, it endorsed and facilitated these talks.[4] A more moderate goal was mentioned much more frequently: Weaken the Taliban to the point that they become truly interested in a peaceful settlement or in avoiding a civil war among the various ethnic groups after U.S. troops leave.

Most recently, a geopolitical goal has been added—namely to ensure that after the U.S. withdrawal, the Afghan government will not tilt toward Pakistan or come under its influence—especially not that of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)—because such a tilt could trouble India, which in turn might lead to a regional war or to India distancing itself from the United States, just as Washington is counting on New Delhi to countervail China.

The discussion proceeds by spelling out the reason why nation-building, a key element of counterinsurgency, is not working in Afghanistan, the need to draw much more on structures and leaders already in place rather than building new ones if Washington is to disengage successfully, and it closes by outlining what might be done and what lessons might be learned from this war, one of the longest in which the United States has ever engaged.

The Limits of Nation-building

Champions of nation-building, which often entails pouring large amounts of money on the nations to be reconstructed, ignore the bitter lessons of foreign aid in general. An extensive 2006 report on the billions of dollars invested by the World Bank since the mid-1990s in economic development shows that despite the bank's best efforts, the "achievement of sustained increases in per capita income, essential for poverty reduction, continues to elude a considerable number of countries."[5] Out of twenty-five aid-recipient coun­tries covered by the report, more than half (14) had the same or worsening rates of per capita income from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. Moreover, the nations that received most of the aid, especially in Africa, developed least while the nations that received very little aid grew very fast (notably China, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan).[6] Other nations found foreign aid a "poisoned gift" because it promoted dependency on foreigners, undermined indigenous endeavors, and disproportionately ben­efited those gifted at proposal writing and courting foundation and foreign aid representatives, rather than local entrepreneurs and businessmen.

In addition, the World Bank and other students of development have learned that large parts of the funds provided are wasted because of widespread and high-level cor­ruption. In The White Man's Burden,[7] American economist William East­erly systematically debunked the idea that increased aid expenditures in and of themselves can alleviate poverty or modernize failed or failing states and pointed to the key roles that bad government and corruption play in these debacles. Steve Knack of the World Bank showed that huge aid revenues may even spur further bureaucratization and worsen corruption.[8] Others found that mismanagement, sheer incompetence, and weak government were almost as debilitating.

Afghanistan was ranked by Transparency International as the third most corrupt nation in the world in 2010.[9] Its government lost much of whatever legitimacy it had following fraudulent elections. It does not govern large parts of the country. It surely qualifies as a failing state—eight years after reconstruction began with few signs of improvement. A 2008 study by The Economist found that several of the main reasons that Afghanistan's development is proceeding so poorly are the widespread corruption, cronyism and tribalism, lack of accountability, and gross mismanagement. The Economist recommended that the West pressure President Karzai to introduce reforms.[10] But how should Karzai proceed? Should he call in all the ministers and ask them to cease taking bribes and stop allocating public funds to their favorites? Fire them and replace them—with whom? And if he did, what about their staffs? Many of the police, judges, jailors, customs officers, and civil servants in Afghanistan regularly accept bribes and grant strong preference to members of their family, clan, and tribal group.[11] Most are poorly trained and have no professional traditions to fall back on. How is a president, even one backed by foreign powers, to change these deeply ingrained habits and culture?

One may argue that such reforms occurred in other countries, including in the West. Indeed, social scientists could do a great service to developing nations if they conducted a thorough study of how those nations succeeded in curbing corruption and gross mismanagement.[12] The study would probably show that the process took decades, if not genera­tions, and that it entailed a major change in social forces (such as the rise of a sizable middle class) and major alterations in the education system—among other major societal changes. Such changes cannot be rushed and must be largely endemic.

Many conditions that are unlikely to be reproduced elsewhere led to successful reconstruction in Germany and Japan after World War II. First, both nations had surrendered after defeat in a war and fully submitted to occupation. Second, many facilitating factors were much more established than they are in countries in which social engineering is now being attempted. There was no danger that Japan or Germany would break up due to a civil war among ethnic groups as is the case in Afghanistan and Iraq. No effort had to be expended on building national unity. On the contrary, strong national unity was a major reason change could be introduced with relative ease. Other favorable factors included competent government personnel and a low level of corruption. Political scientist Robert Packenham cites as core factors the pres­ence of "technical and financial expertise, relatively highly institutionalized political parties, skillful and visionary politicians, well-educated populations, [and] strong national identifications."[13] And, crucially, there was a strong culture of self-restraint present in both Japan and Germany that favored hard work and high levels of saving, essential for building up local assets and keeping costs down.

Conditions in the donor countries were different as well. In 1948, the first year of the Marshall Plan, aid to the sixteen European countries involved 13 percent of the U.S. budget. In comparison, the United States currently spends less than 1 percent of its budget on foreign aid, and not all of it is dedi­cated to economic development.[14] Other nations are giving relatively more, but the total funds dedicated to foreign aid are still much smaller than those committed to reconstruction at the end of World War II. In short, the current tasks are much more onerous, and the resources available are meager in comparison.

Sociologist Max Weber established the importance of culture or values when he demonstrated that Protestants were more imbued than Catholics with the values that lead to hard work and high levels of saving, essential for the rise of modern capitalist economies.[15] For decades, developments in Catholic countries (such as those in southern Europe and Latin America) lagged behind the Protestant Anglo-Saxon nations and those in northeast Europe. These differences declined only when Catholics became more like Protestants.

Culture is also a major factor that explains the striking differences between various rates of develop­ment, especially between the Southeast Asian "tigers" (which received little aid) and African and Arab states that received a great deal. It is not that these latter states cannot be developed because of some genetically innate characteristics of the people living there, but because their cultures stress other values, especially traditional religious values and commu­nal and tribal bonds. These cultures can change, but, as the record shows, only slowly, and the changes involved cannot be foisted upon them by outsiders.

When all is said and done, one must expect that development of countries such as Afghanistan will be very slow and highly taxing on all involved, which is exactly what has happened there. Corruption continues to be endemic at all levels of the Afghan government. Efforts to suppress the growth of opiates and the illegal drug trade have failed. Warlords continue to play a major role in large parts of the country. The government is not considered legitimate, following fraudulent elections. The majority of citizens feel that the judiciary is bought, law and order is lacking, and a considerable number are yearning for the days when the Taliban were in charge. Indeed, the Taliban influence is growing in parts of the country, including in the north, where it was weak in earlier years.[16]

All this indicates that counterinsurgency efforts are very unlikely to succeed in the foreseeable future. This is quite openly acknowledged by General Petraeus, who called for patience in a 2007 BBC interview because "the average counterinsurgency is somewhere around a nine or a 10 year endeavor," and the British counterinsurgency in Northern Ireland took "decades."[17] But Americans and the citizens of other involved nations are very unlikely to support such a long-run project at such high cost, which is estimated to already have cost the U.S. government $336 billion by the end of 2010, and with the addition of $119 billion requested for 2011, will cost $455 billion by the end of 2011.[18] In short, the nation-building goals are too ambitious and must be abandoned.

Working with Local Forces

The nation-building project has been a top-down one. Washington and its allies sought to rely on the national government headed by President Karzai and on a constitution that centralizes more power in the national government than any democratic society and in a society in which local, ethnic bonds and commitments are far stronger than in any democratic society. The national government appoints provincial and district governors and city mayors. Although district councils are supposed to be elected, elections have not yet taken place. At the same time, the Afghan sense of nationhood is weak, and the primary loyalty of most Afghans is to their ethnic group—the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen, etc. Moreover, the national army has a disproportionately high number of officers from non-Pashtun groups, especially the Tajiks,[19] while the Taliban's closest affinity is with the Pashtun and further divides society along ethnic lines. Attempts to reduce the tension between the political structure and the societal one have run into difficulties because of the close alliance between the coalition forces and the national government. To disengage, much more attention will have to be paid to local powers and local institutions and leaders that are in place.

Alexander Thier, the director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Jarat Chopra, a former professor at Brown University, write that in Afghanistan, "family and tribal affiliations outweigh all others" and that tribal elders "are not willing to place a united Afghanistan over advancement of their particular tribe."[20]

The Taliban were defeated in Afghanistan in 2001 with very few U.S. casualties; only twelve U.S. service members were killed. This has obscured the fact that the war was won by a U.S.-supported coalition of ethnic groups, mainly Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara, known as the Northern Alliance.

U.S. officials tend to favor national forces although even in the United States, much police work is locally and not nationally controlled. Even the U.S. National Guard can be called up only by the governors of the various states, and each unit primarily serves its own state. Yet in Iraq, after U.S.-led coalition forces removed the Saddam regime, Washington and its allies tried to create a national force by insisting that Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish units either disarm or be integrated into a national force. Moreover, initially the Bush administration positioned Shiite forces in Sunni areas and Sunni forces in Shiite areas in the hope that they would cease to view themselves as tribal forces and start acting like "Iraqis." The result was often increased bloodshed.

A similar development took place in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of the defeat of the Taliban in 2001, the new Afghan government sought to disarm the tribal forces that had ousted the Taliban—what the government referred to as the AMF (Afghan Militia Forces)—in favor of fashioning a new national army. As a result of this disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, about 63,000 militiamen were disarmed by 2005. However, there are still a great number of unofficial ethnic forces and other private armies. Estimates of their size run between 65,000 and 180,000. Recently several attempts have been made to work with local forces. NATO forces have contracted with private security companies to secure dangerous stretches of highway, while the Local Police Force Program was established in July 2010 as part of a larger "village stability platform" to supplement the Afghan National Army and provide regional security.[21] In Wardak province, the Afghan Public Protection Program has helped to establish security in what was a Taliban stronghold.[22] To further disengage, Washington and its allies will have to shift more weight and resources to these local forces and rely less on the Karzai government.

An essential feature of a stable political system, and one able to adjust as changes occur, is the availability of institutions that can be used to settle differences without resorting to violence. Westerners tend to assume that these political institutions will be democratic and that various particularistic interests will be represented by elected officials. In this way, ballots will replace bullets. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. government and its allies invested considerable effort in introducing free and fair elections, in part to serve the purpose of absorbing ethnic and regional conflicts into political institutions.

Given, however, that the format of the introduced political institutions was greatly influenced by U.S. guidelines, they often do not reflect the preferences of the majority of the Afghan people. For instance, Washington insisted that the Afghan constitution be drafted and approved by consensus before the election of the National Assembly and national officials, and it promoted Karzai as the national leader. None of these moves helped lend legitimacy to political institutions that were imported and alien to begin with.

In Afghanistan, as in other countries in similar states of societal development, native people have their own institutions and their own ways of selecting leaders and resolving conflicts. These include tribal councils, community elders, and religious authorities. That is, the people often rely on natural leaders—those who rose to power due to their charisma, persuasive powers, lineage or religious status, but who were not elected in the Western way. Initially, it is best to try to work with them, rather than expect that they could be replaced by elected officials in short order. The same holds for various councils and inter-tribal bodies.

Seth Jones of the RAND Corporation argues that a strategy that seeks to build a strong central government and to hold territory with foreign forces is unlikely to work in Afghanistan.[23] He reports that the national presidential elections in 2004 and parliamentary elections in 2005 did little to diminish the power of regional warlords and tribal militias. Even efforts that were made to relocate such leaders and wrest them from their regional power bases were unsuccessful. Instead of attempting—and failing—to break these solid ties, strategists should draw upon them to promote security in Afghanistan. Jones points out that a successful bottom-up strategy must strengthen the local tribal and religious leaders who understand their communities best, so that they may provide security and services. Indeed, he writes that "the most effective bottom-up strategy in Afghanistan is likely to be one that already taps into existing local institutions … Local tribal and religious leaders best understand their community needs."[24]

To illustrate the influence of local natural leaders, one only needs to look at Ismail Khan. After the defeat of the Taliban, Khan, a warlord in Herat, became governor of the area. Despite his ability to maintain security, Khan's support of Iran and his refusal to send the tax revenues he collected to the central government in Kabul, coupled with a wish to strengthen Karzai, led Washington to urge his removal. Khan was removed from his local post in 2004, a move that resulted in violent protests, [25] sectarian violence, increased crime, and the Taliban making inroads into Herat. Similarly, Governor Gul Agha Shirzai of the Nangarhar province was removed from a previous gubernatorial position because of his autocratic, warlord style but is now viewed as necessary to stabilize the province. Atta Muhammad Noor, the governor of Balkh province, has been credited with bringing security to his province and eradicating the poppy trade there.[26] This is not to suggest that all these tribal chiefs can or should be made into local partners. Each must be examined in his own right. However, one can work with many to improve their records. The more Washington and its allies work with local leaders, including religious ones, the sooner it will be able to disengage.

There remains a danger that if the U.S. forces disengage, having increasingly drawn on local forces to provide security and stability in their area of the country, a civil war might break out among various groups, especially among the Pashtun and other ethnic groups, or among various warlords. The best way to minimize this risk is not to presume that one can fashion an effective national government to which various local power centers will yield but to work out inter-local coalitions, treaties, and agreements.

The Geopolitical Mission Creep

Recently, an argument surfaced that the United States cannot withdraw from Afghanistan until that country is well-stabilized because such a withdrawal would cause Pakistan—especially the ISI—to greatly extend its support for violent Islamist groups in Afghanistan and use it as a base for terrorist attacks against India. This could result in a new battleground for Indo-Pakistani rivalry, bring other powers into a confrontation, and even risk a nuclear war.[27]

Although Pakistan is a U.S. ally in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, various observers believe Islamabad is playing both sides. Pakistan's historical alliances with the Afghan Taliban and the Islamist Haqqani network extend from the 1990s when the country supported the rise of the Taliban government. Moreover, the ISI, which appears anti-American and pro-Taliban, is following a different course than the Pakistani military. Journalist Helene Cooper observes in The New York Times,

What Pakistan wants most in Afghanistan is an assurance that India cannot use it to threaten Pakistan. For that, a radical Islamic movement like the Taliban, with strong ties to kin in Pakistan, fits the bill.[28]

Cooper also believes that Pakistan wants to keep the Taliban in its "good graces" should U.S. forces withdraw and leave the Taliban to reassert control over the country. Likewise, Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council asserts that Pakistan's support of extremists is "leverage in the sense that it allows [the Pakistanis] to have a government in Kabul that is neutral, if not pro-Pakistan. That's why they've always hedged on the Afghan Taliban."[29]

There is an ethnic dimension to the Indo-Pakistani rivalry in Afghanistan, as well. Pakistan wants an Afghan government that provides greater representation for the Pashtun and is more closely allied with Pakistan. The current Afghan government contains more Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara members that were aligned with the India-backed Northern Alliance, and thus Pakistan perceives the current Afghan government as being too close to India.

Additional evidence to support the claim that Pakistan is at least somewhat favorable to the Taliban and would be more so should U.S. forces withdraw, can be seen in the accusations that Islamabad is undermining the current peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. According to The New York Times, Pakistan's apparent stance against the peace process is due to the fact that the Karzai government is reported to be leaving out those Taliban members regarded as being controlled by the ISI. [30] Those Taliban leaders not associated with Pakistan who do show willingness to negotiate have been suppressed by Pakistan; for example, Pakistani agents arrested high-level Taliban official Mullah Baradur. The New York Times also reports, "Afghans who have tried to take part in, or even facilitate, past negotiations have been killed by their Taliban comrades, sometimes with the assistance of Pakistan's intelligence agency."[31]

A number of observers have suggested that a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would precipitate the return of the Taliban with ties to Pakistan that would enable increased terrorism against India. As Steve Coll observed in a New Yorker blog, "The probable knock-on effect of a second Taliban revolution in Afghanistan would be to increase the likelihood of irregular Islamist attacks from Pakistan against Indian targets—not only the traditional target set in Indian-held Kashmir, but in New Delhi, Mumbai, and other cities, as has occurred periodically during the last decade."[32] Likewise, Robert Kaplan writes in a report for the Center of New American Security that Afghanistan is a "principal invasion route into India for terrorists" and "an Afghanistan that falls under Taliban sway … would be, in effect, a greater Pakistan, giving Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate [ISI] the ability to create a clandestine empire composed of the likes of Jallaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Lashkar-e-Taiba."[33] The latter group carried out the 2009 Mumbai terror attacks against India.

Aside from terrorism, some observers point to potentially even more devastating consequences of increased India-Pakistan rivalry, following a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the likely return of the Taliban that it could facilitate. Associated Press reports that the "fight [in Afghanistan] pits nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan against one another in a battle for influence that will almost certainly gain traction as the clock ticks down toward America's military withdrawal."[34] Coll contends that the tension caused by terrorism against India, emanating from Pakistan, "would present, repetitively, the problem of managing the role of nuclear weapons in a prospective fourth Indo-Pakistani war." [35]

Finally, some observers hold that a U.S. withdrawal would be seen as an abandonment of India, causing it to move closer to other powers. Associated Press reports that

India warns that it would form a coalition with Iran—an alliance that would infuriate Washington—if the Taliban appear poised to return to power. The "self-interested coalition" could include Russia and several Central Asian states that would also fear a Taliban return. [36]

Kaplan suggests that a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would be tantamount to deserting India, causing it to move closer to China:

The quickest way to undermine U.S.-India relations is for the United States to withdraw precipitously from Afghanistan … [It] would signal to Indian policy elites that the United States is surely a declining power on which they cannot depend. D├ętente with China might then seem to be in India's interest.[37]

During off-the-record briefings in Washington, conducted under Chatham House rules, which allow the use of the information but not the identification of the source or organization at which the briefing took place, U.S. State Department officials indicated that indeed the department saw the need to keep India on the U.S. side for many reasons but especially to "balance" China, a major consideration in determining the role Washington should play in Afghanistan.

An Assessment

The frequent re-juggling of the goals of a mission and lack of clarity on what they are is detrimental to any campaign. The main difficulties the U.S. administration faces in Afghanistan are due to mission creep generated by nation-building—in both the somewhat-limited counterinsurgency version and the expanded human rights and democracy version—often a highly unrealistic goal, in particular in a country that is as poor, illiterate, corrupt, and conflicted as Afghanistan.

The military mission, as originally defined by President Obama, was achieved in Afghanistan but not in Pakistan. However, there is no reason to hold that continued fighting in Afghanistan, by drawing on large conventional forces and a similar number of private contractors, will change the situation in Pakistan. Attempts to move the government to confront the Pakistani Taliban and eradicate the havens for Afghan terrorists in that country have largely failed. So have most efforts to pressure, cajole, or incentivize Islamabad to change the balance between the largely anti-U.S. ISI and the other parts of the military—and between the military and the civilian authorities in favor of the latter. Pakistan continues to have a rather unstable regime, to harbor terrorists, to be unable to put down an insurgency, to hold nuclear arms, and to be headed by a civilian government that is unpopular.

The most promising avenue for significant change in Pakistan lies in helping it and India to settle their major differences, which would free the Pakistani military from its eastward obsession and enable it to fight terrorism and insurgency, improve the economy, and downgrade the importance of nuclear arms. This is a very challenging mission, which might well be impossible to carry out. However, the prospects of such a settlement have little to do with what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan.

With regard to the geopolitical goal, New Delhi has many interests that Washington can serve—or neglect—from continued outsourcing to deals concerning fuel for nuclear reactors and technical knowhow, from weapon agreements to sharing intelligence about terrorists. For example, U.S. intelligence agencies are reported to have had knowledge about those who attacked Mumbai before they struck.[38] Hence, given the high costs of staying the course in Afghanistan and the likelihood that it will fail, Washington will be better served if it disengages even if this leads to some displeasure in India.

Moreover, it further suggests the important role Washington can have by fostering a settlement of the Kashmir issue and other sources of conflict between India and Pakistan—a win-win situation compared to overstaying in Afghanistan to please India—a lose-lose condition. It remains for another day to ask whether the whole notion of nations such as India "balancing" nations such as China is not a highly anachronistic one, harkening back to the days when nations had no ideological commitments and shifted sides to maintain a balance of power.

Can Washington Afford War?

In recent years, a consensus is emerging among students of international relations that U.S. power is declining and that its foreign policy will have to adapt to its increasing weakness. This thesis has numerous facets and implications, only one of which is here explored—namely, the argument that because of the stressed condition of the U.S. economy, interventions of the kind seen in Iraq and Afghanistan will no longer be possible, at least in political ways.

Michael Mandelbaum of Johns Hopkins University contends:

the limits that constrain the government in its external initiatives will be drawn less on the basis of what the world requires and more by considering what the United States can—and cannot—afford. In an era in which fewer resources will be available for everything, it is certain that fewer will be available for foreign policy. When working Americans are paying more than in the past to support their fellow citizens who have retired, and retirees are receiving fewer benefits from the government than they were promised, neither group will be eager to offer generous support to overseas ventures.[39]

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said:

I think the Congress and the president would look long and hard at another military operation that would cost us $100 billion a year … If there's a real threat out there, the president and Congress will spend whatever it takes to protect the nation. But in situations where there are real choices, I think this would be a factor.[40]

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes:

If we become weak and enfeebled by economic decline and debt, as we slowly are, America may not be able to play its historic stabilizing role in the world.[41]

This viewpoint is based on the failed and costly attempt to engage in nation-building but does not apply to military interventions. Thus, the U.S. intervention in 1991 that rolled Saddam out of Kuwait exacted a heavy cost from Iraq for violating another nation's sovereignty and shored up U.S. credibility in the world, but it was achieved swiftly with few casualties and at a low cost of $61 billion,[42] almost 90 percent of which was borne by U.S. allies. The same is true of 1989's Operation Just Cause in Panama. The 2003 invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam's regime were carried out swiftly with few casualties and low costs. Only $56 billion had been appropriated for Iraq operations by the time President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" on May 1, 2003, and 172 U.S. servicemen had died.[43] Most of the casualties and costs were inflicted during the nation-building phase that followed. Since May 2003, more than 4,500 Americans have died and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and the direct financial cost has totaled $650 billion.[44] The overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 was carried out swiftly with minimal U.S. casualties and low costs. Most of the casualties and costs that followed took place during the nation-building phase—only $21 billion was spent in 2001 and 2002 while the costs since then have amounted to more than $300 billion.[45] Only twelve U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan in 2001, but almost 1,300 more have died since then.[46]

Thus, it is wrong to conclude that the United States will be unable to afford military interventions to support its foreign policy goals, for instance, compelling Iran to give up its nuclear sites—although they are likely to be substantially higher than the interventions just cited—as long as no nation-building follows. This is not to suggest that the United States should go to war because wars are cheap. On the contrary, a nation should engage in a "just war" if and only if there is a clear and present danger, if all other means to resolving the conflict have been exhausted, and only to protect innocents. However, when the United States must engage in war, economic considerations will not prevent it from proceeding.

Some argue that Washington has a moral obligation to "reconstruct" countries it invades.[47] Opinions can differ on what the United States owes a country it helped liberate or that used to harbor terrorists. However, in any case, given that nation-building cannot be carried out long-distance by foreign powers in nations in an early state of development (in contrast to post-World War II Germany and Japan), the moral issue is moot. At the same time, there is no reason to stop non-lethal interventions through educational, cultural, and public diplomacy means, from Fulbright scholarships to foreign aid. It is also worth noting that diplomacy is dirt cheap. The U.S. State Department budget famously has fewer foreign service officers than the Pentagon has military band musicians.[48] Granted, a return to military interventions and counterterrorism without counterinsurgency efforts would mean that once the United States topples a regime that endangers it or others, the people of the nation will have to duke it out to determine which kind of regime will be established without coerced U.S. tutelage. Hence, for instance, if the people of Afghanistan find that the Shari'a law that the Taliban is promoting is too harsh from their viewpoint, they will have to fight the Taliban. On the other hand, if they favor a strict Shari'a regime, the swift justice the Taliban metes out, its harsh way of dealing with pedophilia and drug dealers—combined with injustice to women—then Washington should let them embrace that regime while exhorting them to work for reforms, the way it does in many nations in the Middle East and elsewhere.

In any event, the American decline is to a considerable extent a reflection of an inability to live up to the excessively ambitious goals Americans set for themselves. It matters little whether this goal-setting is due to an idealistic American commitment to human rights and democracy, to falling prey to public relations, to a lack of realism, or to sheer arrogance and hubris. If the United States limits its goals to key national interests and global security—it can readily afford to use its power for good purposes.[49]

Amitai Etzioni is a university professor and professor of international relations at George Washington University, director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies, and the author of Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy (Yale University Press, 2008).

[1] Barack Obama, "Remarks by the President on a New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan," Mar. 27, 2009.
[2] Hillary Clinton, "Remarks at Reception in Honor of Afghan President Hamid Karzai," May 11, 2010.
[3] Barack Obama, "Remarks by President Obama and President Karzai of Afghanistan in Joint Press Availability," May 12, 2010.
[4] The Guardian (London), July 19, 2010.
[5] "Annual Review of Development Effectiveness 2006: Getting Results," World Bank Independent Evaluation Group, Washington, D.C., 2006.
[6] Ibid.
[7] New York: Penguin, 2006.
[8] Stephen Knack, "Aid Dependence and the Quality of Governance: Cross-Country Empirical Tests," Southern Economic Journal, 2 (2001): 310-29.
[9] "2010 Corruption Perceptions Index," Transparency International, Berlin, accessed Jan. 12, 2011.
[10] "A War of Money as Well as Bullets," The Economist, May 24, 2008.
[11] CNN, Dec. 2, 2010.
[12] See, for example, Susan Rose-Ackerman, Corruption and Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
[13] Robert A. Packenham, Liberal America and the Third World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), pp. 34-5.
[14] Curt Tarnoff and Larry Nowels, "Foreign Aid: An Introductory Overview of U.S. Programs and Policy," Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C., Apr. 15, 2004.
[15] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 2 ed. (Abingdon, N.Y.: Routledge Classics, 2001).
[16] The Washington Post, Dec. 6, 2010.
[17] BBC News, July 9, 2007.
[18] Amy Belasco, "The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations since 9/11," Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C., Sept. 2, 2010.
[19] Antonio Giustozzi, "Afghanistan's National Army: The Ambiguous Prospects of Afghanization," Terrorism Monitor, Jamestown Foundation, Washington, D.C., May 1, 2008.
[20] Alexander Thier and Jarat Chopra, "Considerations for Political and Institutional Reconstruction in Afghanistan," U.N. Public Administration Network, New York, Jan. 2002.
[21] The New York Times, June 5, 2010; Seth G. Jones and Arturo Munoz, Afghanistan's Local War: Building Local Defense Forces (Santa Monica: National Defense Research Institute, RAND Corporation, 2010), p. 57.
[22] Time, Oct. 27, 2010.
[23] See, also, Andrew M. Roe, "What Waziristan Means for Afghanistan," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2011, pp. 37-46.
[24] Seth G. Jones, "U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan," RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia, Washington, D.C., Apr. 2, 2009.
[25] The Washington Post, Feb. 21, 2006.
[26] Environment News Service (Washington, D.C., and Seattle), June 6, 2007.
[27] The Economic Times (Mumbai), Nov. 10, 2010.
[28] Helene Cooper, "Allies in War, but the Goals Clash," The New York Times, Oct. 9, 2010.
[29] Time, Dec. 2, 2009.
[30] The New York Times, Oct. 19, 2010.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Steve Coll, "What If We Fail in Afghanistan?" The New Yorker, Nov. 16, 2009.
[33] Robert D. Kaplan, "South Asia's Geography of Conflict," Center for a New American Security, Washington, D.C., Aug. 2010.
[34] Associated Press, Apr. 25, 2010.
[35] Coll, "What If We Fail in Afghanistan?"
[36] Associated Press, Apr. 25, 2010.
[37] Kaplan, "South Asia's Geography of Conflict."
[38] The Washington Post, Oct. 16, 2010.
[39] Michael Mandelbaum, The Frugal Superpower: America's Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era (United States: Public Affairs, 2010), p. 33.
[40] The Telegraph (London), May 9, 2010.
[41] Thomas L. Friedman, "This I Believe," The New York Times, Dec. 1, 2009.
[42] "Conduct of the Persian Gulf War," final report to the U.S. Congress by the U.S. Department of Defense, Washington, D.C., Apr. 1992, appendix P.
[43] "The Cost of Military Operations in Iraq: An Update," analysis by the House Budget Committee's Democratic staff, Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, 2003.
[44] "The Budget and Economic Outlook: An Update," Congressional Budget Office, Washington, D.C., Aug. 2010.
[45] Belasco, "The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11."
[46] "Faces of the Fallen," The Washington Post, accessed Jan. 12, 2010.
[47] Noah Feldman, What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), p. 80; Bill Wineke, "Whatever Happened to Freedom Fries," Wisconsin State Journal, June 12, 2005; Gerard F. Powers, "The Dilemma in Iraq," America, Mar. 6, 2006, pp. 19-26.
[48] National Public Radio, Sept. 29, 2010.
[49] For more discussion, see Amitai Etzioni, Security First (New Haven: Yale, 2007); idem, "The Promise of the Proliferation Security Initiative," Foreign Affairs, May/June 2009.


Amitai Etzioni

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