Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Friday, April 25, 2003
Wow; I take a couple of days off for Passover and all kinds of news happens.

* Arafat and Abu Mazen have made some kind of deal, obviously. It's inconceivable that the Chairman would allow himself to be shunted aside. What, precisely, are the dimensions of the deal we don't yet know, but we can rest assured that the deal will keep Arafat firmly in control. But Abu Mazen's installation gives Tony Blair the figleaf he needs to pursue the road map. It also ends any possibility of Martin Indyk's latest brainstorm - an American protectorate in the territories - being enacted, since (whether Indyk understands this or not), such a course would be predicated on the end of the P.A. and of negotiations with Israel. It's a variation on the idea of an imposed settlement which actually looked like not so terrible an idea back before Israel's invasion of the territories, but which now is highly unrealistic. This is a period of great diplomatic danger for Israel: the stars are lining up for a major push for uncompensated Israeli concessions. But I'm actually pretty optimistic about this government's ability to navigate these treacherous waters.

* The capture of Tariq Aziz is a very good omen for our ability to clean up the rest of the leadership, and for being able to make sense of what last minute deals were struck between the Iraqi leadership and the Syrian government. Speaking of which: I have to disagree with Stanley Kurtz on this one, something I don't like to do. The momentum building for some kind of action against Syria - whether diplomatic or military - is enormously positive. Hezbollah is a real threat to Americans (though obviously far more so to Israelis) and Syria is a major terror sponsor. It's also the only practical way for Iran to wreak global havoc with plausible deniability. It's also a totally bankrupt country with no real friends left on earth. We should be able to pressure a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon without military action. Where military action will be needed is in eliminating Hezbollah. The best way to do it would be to have the Lebanese do it themselves. America owes a debt of honor to Lebanon; our two countries have a long history together, and America basically abandoned the country to be devoured by the Syrians after the attack on the Marine barracks. A credible threat of American force really could push the Syrians out without a shot being fired. And it would very much be in an independent Lebanon's interest to eliminate the Hezbollah, which is the biggest obstacle to their full reconnection to the community of nations. Of course, the second-biggest obstacle is the continued presence of the descendants of Palestinian refugees in Lebanese camps. Unfortunately, there is no way to finally stabilize Lebanon without a solution to their plight, and that solution is a bit elusive. In any event, it is absolutely true that Syria is the keystone to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, but only in the sense that longstanding Syrian obstructionism and war-mongering has made peace impossible. Bibi Netanyahu leaned all the way out of the window to get a deal with Assad the elder (so far out that his own former Defense Minister, Yitzchak Mordechai, running as the Center Party's candidate for PM in 1999, dared Netanyahu in a televised debate to say that he didn't promise essentially the entire Golan to Assad in exchange for peace). Hafez al-Assad wouldn't take it. Bashar is, if anything, worse, because he shows signs of being under the spell of Hezbollah. If you really believe that peace between Israel and the Arabs is the key to ending the terrorist threat from the region, then you should favor strong action against Syria and Hezbollah.

* And there's another, even more pressing reason for taking out Hezbollah: Iran. The most recent issue of The Jerusalem Report - which everyone interested in the region should read - spent most of the issue on the threat from Iran. I wrote something earlier in the week about how imperative it is to control the transfer of nuclear technology. Well, it seems that Iran is now far enough along in its nuclear ambitions that Russian help, while nice, is no longer necessary. They can do it on their own: they have designed their own centrefuges, they have their own uranium sources, and the design of the actual bomb itself is not terribly complicated. They are also developing intercontinental ballistic missiles of their own. So that makes three nations too far along the nuclear road to stop which are potential serious threats to America: Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. So what does this have to do with taking out Hezbollah? Iran for the past couple of years has been boiling over with discontent; the population is overwhelmingly sick of the regime and ready to rejoin the world community. I don't know if they would abandon their nuclear program even after a revolution. But I think the odds are very good that a new regime would be more friendly to the West, which would either make their nuclear ambitions less problematic or potentially raise the real prospect of bribing them to give those ambitions up. There are huge demonstrations planned for July 9. I don't know how much America can do to support internal efforts to overthrow the regime. But the key factor we can affect is the perception of the Iranian military of the risk of sticking with this regime. And that's where Hezbollah comes in. America, in its war on terror to-date, has taken out Iran's enemies but done nothing to touch Iranian assets. We have attacked the Sunni al-Qaeda but not the Shiite Hezbollah, though both have killed hundreds of Americans and have declared themselves at war with America. We have overthrown Taleban Afghanistan and Baathist Iraq, leaving both countries potentially ripe for Iranian influence. We have no interest in direct conflict with Iran. But Iran also has no interest in direct conflict with us, at least not yet. An American campaign to wipe out Hezbollah would potentially cause a crisis for the regime. It would make it clear to everyone that America is going to take out Iranian-backed terror groups as well as Sunni groups. It would force Iran's leadership to decide whether it will defend its friends or abandon them at the first sign of trouble. Doing nothing would raise real credibility problems for the regime; to use a popular phrase, they would look like a "weak horse" - a "paper tiger" even. But doing anything overt in support of Hezbollah would be extremely dangerous. Action against Hezbollah will also clear up in the Iranian people's minds that a choice is to be made: stick with the current regime, and ultimately face the real prospect of direct conflict with America, or get rid of it and open up the prospect of not only friendship with the West but a position of extraordinary security and influence throughout its near neighborhood. Right now, a lot of Iranians seem to think that it's at least possible that America is afraid of confronting the regime, and many more think that the regime's foreign policy is not really something the West has a problem with. The most important audience for this message is the Iranian military, because if the people rise up against the regime then the only thing that can save the regime is if it is willing the massacre the people (as the Chinese did in 1989). And to do that, they have to have the military in their corner, at least passively. If the regular army sides with the people, the security services will fold, because they will not believe they could win an actual civil war, and would prefer to save their skins. That, anyway, is my suspicion. So it is very important that the military get the message that, if they side with the regime against the people, they are putting themselves on a likely course for war with America. They do not want that.

* I don't agree with Stanley Kurtz that, given our manpower constraints, we need to consolidate our gains before taking on new challenges. The best defense is a good offense. We should not forget that both the Baath leadership and the Taleban largely melted away. We have not captured most of the leadership. Both groups are out there, presumably plotting their return to power. Moreover, in their absence, Iran is moving in to fill the power vacuum. Every move we've made so far in the 9-11 war has been to Iran's geostrategic benefit. We can't consolidate here, because that would only mean handing the initiative to the Iranians, who will be convinced that we are afraid of confronting them, and to the remnants of the Taleban and the Iraqi Baathists. Both groups can be confronted in Syria, Iran's primary client state and the probable hideout of various members of the Iraqi leadership.

* How do we accomplish both? How do we consolidate our position in Iraq and Afghanistan while preparing for possible conflict in Syria and Korea? We clearly need more manpower - from home, and from our allies - to do the job. Kurtz has promised a piece on how to grow the military at home. I think we also have to become more creative about growing it abroad. If we don't want to actually create an American version of the Foreign Legion - something Jonah Goldberg has advocated in the past, and which I touched on with my suggestion a few weeks ago that we consider actively recruiting for the American military in Mexico, Central America and the Philippines specifically - then we need to start working on building alliances with foreign militaries to operate on a global scale. The Poles seem ready for action. The Canadians used to be fabulous allies for this sort of thing; I think it would be worth just about any concession on trade or water rights or what have you to woo them back. We can't rely on UN peacekeeping forces for the kinds of jobs we will have to do in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. And we can't rely on local powers like Turkey. And we obviously can't rely on NATO. And we can't stretch the Brits too thin any more than we can stretch ourselves. In any event, we need to be working on this problem right now, 'cause there's no time to waste.

* In the meantime, a brief word of praise for this fellow Garner we've sent to Iraq. In the words of an originally skeptical Iraqi: he's the genuine article. He looks to be a wonderful choice for the job. And if his work in Iraqi Kurdistan is any precedent, the country will be mostly self-governing in a matter of months, which would be very good. I do think an American presence will be necessary for much longer than that because the central government will not be strong enough for while to confront real threats, whether internal (Kurdish separatism, Shiite revolutionaries, Baathist thugs) or external (Iran, Turkey), and because we will need to shepherd the country through de-Baathification. But we don't need permanent military bases in the country (one thing this war proved is just how militarily capable we are when *denied* prime military launching pads, in this case in Saudi Arabia and Turkey), and we don't need a long period of American administration. I'm still very wary of the long-term future of Iraq. I think the best-case outcome is that it becomes a weak state dependent on American protection, which is why I think the stakes for regime change in Iran have gotten even higher post-war. But I'm more optimistic than in the past about how we're going to handle the transition to self-rule in Iraq. The country is not going to become a democracy so quickly. But I'm more optimistic than I used to be that it could evolve into something like what Lebanon was back before the civil war. And that would be a big improvement.