I think Miller’s article has reality turned on its head: Obama is not floundering in the Middle East because circumstances are strategically unfavorable but because his actions are tactically unsound.
A peace process seems more plausible now than anytime since the 90s. Palestinian factions are no longer capable of conducting terrorist operations. The West Bank is ruled by Abbas and Fayyad, the most moderate of all conceivable Palestinian leaders. Israel’s right wing is willing to start negotiating. Hamas and Hezballah have just been dealt military defeats.
In the future probably look worse. Soon Mubarak will be out of power. Iran will have the bomb. Hamas might overthrow Abbas. This is a highwater mark in terms of the ability of parties to achieve a peace treaty.
The problem is that instead of pressuring Abbas, who is refusing to negotiate directly with Bibi, Obama is condemning settlements. This is of course the opposite of the peace process dogma, which claims that Obama should pressure the more instrangiant side.
One thing only does Aaron David Miller get right: Peace between Israel and her neighbors will not be achieved in this generation. As was the case with pan-Arab nationalism in the 1950’s and 60’s, not until this Islamicist generation burns itself out will another opportunity arise.
For the rest this article exemplifies everything that is wrong with American (and Jewish/American) thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict starting with the three “premises” of our policy in the region:
“First, pursuit of a comprehensive peace was a core, if not the core, U.S. interest in the region, and achieving it offered the only sure way to protect U.S. interests; second, peace could be achieved, but only through a serious negotiating process based on trading land for peace; and third, only America could help the Arabs and Israelis bring that peace to fruition.”
Where to begin? Let me count the fallacies:
STRAW MAN ARGUMENT:
“The notion that there’s a single or simple fix to protecting those interests, let alone that Arab-Israeli peace would, like some magic potion, bullet, or elixir, make it all better, is just flat wrong. In a broken, angry region with so many problems — from stagnant, inequitable economies to extractive and authoritarian governments that abuse human rights and deny rule of law, to a popular culture mired in conspiracy and denial — it stretches the bounds of credulity to the breaking point to argue that settling the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most critical issue, or that its resolution would somehow guarantee Middle East stability.” [So what? It would be truly surprising if the opposite were true.]
IT’S ALL ABOUT US
“But three other issues, at least, have emerged to compete for center stage, and they might prove far more telling about the fate of U.S. influence, power, and security . . .” [This is about the whole world’s security not just our own; and it is just possible that U.S. influence and power in the region are powerless to settle the conflict.]
THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE
“the 9/11 attacks were a fundamental turning point for an America that had always felt secure within its borders . . .”
Frank Furedi has an excellent piece in Arts and Letters Daily this morning: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/8607/ And I quote:
“Risk assessment is based on an attempt to calculate the probability of different outcomes. Worst-case thinking – these days known as ‘precautionary thinking’ – is based on an act of imagination. It imagines the worst-case scenario and then takes action on that basis. . .
We live in an era where problems of uncertainty and risk are continually amplified, and where our fearful imaginations can make these problems seem like existential threats.
Numerous critics of old forms of probabilistic thinking call for a radical break with past practices on the grounds that we simply lack the information to calculate probabilities. This rejection of probabilities is motivated by a belief that the dangers we face are just too overwhelming and catastrophic – the Millennium Bug, international terrorism, swine flu, climate change, etc – and we simply cannot wait until we have all the information before we calculate their possible destructive effects.
Worst-case thinking encourages society to adopt fear as of one of the key principles around which the public, the government and various institutions should organise their lives. It institutionalises insecurity and fosters a mood of confusion and powerlessness. Through popularising the belief that worst cases are normal, it also encourages people to feel defenceless and vulnerable to a wide range of future threats.”
Maybe it is time for American policy makers to read the story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby.
FALSE CHOICE THINKING (THE EITHER/OR FALLACY)
“And finally there’s Iran, whose nuclear aspirations are clearly a more urgent U.S. priority than Palestine. . .” [See RED HERRING above]
THE IMBECILIC COUNTER EXAMPLE
[But that linkage wasn’t compelling when Bush used it to suggest that victory in Iraq would make the Arab-Israeli conflict easier to resolve] Bush got it wrong? Duh.
It is time for American policy makers to make a “cruel and unforgiving” assessment of what’s really possible and what’s not. . . [See IT’S ALL ABOUT US above]
GETTING IT BACKWARDS
Americans are optimists. Our idealism, pragmatism, and belief in the primacy of the individual convince us that the world can be made a better place. [Not sure what individualism has to do with it, but idealism and pragmatism are precisely what are lacking our approach]
LYING TO OURSELVES
“We believe that if people would only sit down and discuss their differences rationally and compromise, a way might be found to accommodate conflicting views.” [If we could walk in the other guy’s moccasins for a mile, we might see how lacking in rationality and compromise “land for peace” is; land plus blood money — a lot of blood money — plus acknowledgment of the wrong that has been done by the party that did it [again it is not all about us or about Israel] spells peace, nothing less.]
PREMATURE SELF-CONGRATULATION (AND IRRELEVANT TO BOOT]
“After all, America is the big tent under which so many religious, political, and ethnic groups have managed to coexist, remarkably amicably.” [The challenge of diversity in America has barely begun, and it remains to be seen how well we will deal with it. Judging by the way our elites are selling working-class African-Americans down the river in the name of free trade and open borders I’d say the prospects are not good. The prospect of a racially stratified class-based society is what worries me. As for Obama’s Race to the Top? How about a race to the middle, to that happy medium where all races can coexist without fear or envy no matter their talents?]
WHO ARE WE KIDDING?
“America’s reputation as an effective, even honest, broker. . . ” [We are Israel’s ally — and may we ever remain so! — but not an honest broker. The only honest broker is the universal human sense of reason and equity as exemplified in the behavior of the one true prophet upon which Christians, Moslem’s, and Jews are fully agreed. (See definition of Hanifya)]
I cannot go on. It is too painful. Let me conclude with an observation: The Jewish people have been absolutely traumatized by history (by our European ancestors to be exact) and in consequence are so bent out of shape that they cannot possibly see — or if they see, they cannot say — what their true existential situation is. Neither could we if we were in their shoes — and who would want to voluntarily be in their shoes? Therefore it up to us, the goyim, to do it for them: to apply the universal principles of reason and justice which we learned from the Jews in place of force and fraud as the means of settling international disputes. Israel shall be redeemed by judgment, in the words of Isaiah (I think it was Isaiah) and so will the rest of the world, if redeemed we shall be. God deliver us! Why else does Israel exist?
Israel has been an ally of the United States. The Palestinians chose to align themselves with the Soviet Union, and then Iraq under Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, under George H.W. Bush. They chose poorly. They lost.
Still, the United States covered Arafat in the trappings of legitimacy, and brought him to the peace table in hopes of securing a deal. But at that point, behind closed doors if necessary, Arafat ought to have been told, in terms worthy of Don Corleone, to sign on the dotted line, or else. He lost the war; what rights did he have as a loser? He was lucky to get just about everything he had ever professed to want. He said no, and didn’t even counteroffer.
The mystery to me, is why we wonder why the Palestinians won’t agree to a deal, after two generous offers from two different Israeli prime ministers.
Why should they? They are treated as victors, not as the losers they are. The international community cries to the heavens every time the Israelis mobilize to neutralize their offensive capabilities, and when hostilities cease, we all subscribe to the notion that there is a stalemate.
This is not a stalemate, or an impasse. The Palestinians lost, and yet they have had two very good peace offers, as least as good as anything they will ever get, and we wring our hands wondering if they will accept them, and are baffled when they don’t even counteroffer, which is was occurred in both cases.
We’ve had peace in western Europe and Asia for decades, not because some Nobel prize winner brought the Allies and the Axis powers together and hashed out a deal, but because the winners overwhelmed the losers militarily and dictated the terms of the peace, which were far-reaching, wise and just. Germany and Japan have prospered beyond all anticipation ever since.
If we keep rescuing the Palestinians from the consequences of their actions, they will continue to rebuff terms of peace, on some flimsy principle or other.
There is just no mystery to this, and the illusion isn’t that we can unilaterally effect a peace, but that we can do so in a way different from how it’s been done for millennia, giving the loser no choice but to accept the offer. There is nothing wrong with that so long as the terms are just, and who can argue that the Palestinians are better off now than they would have been if they’d accepted Barak’s offer, or even Olmert’s.
I don’t have anything remotely approaching Mr. Miller’s diplomatic expertise, but I, along with millions of other Americans, came to this realization many years ago.
It’s not that we have special brilliance or insight into the region or anything, we just have common sense and the ability to recognize plain reality as it is.
A bit of idealism is certainly OK in the diplomatic realm, but the amount of naivete and wishful thinking that our political class has displayed over the years on this issue is staggering.
Longish, pretty clear, but far from brilliant, especially contrasted with what we’re used to here on the topic.
Maybe WRM believes the piece is significant due to who wrote it? So that if Miller — former peace process insider and true believer — has gained enlightenment, it’s a sign others in power have too.
I’m delighted to read this, as only recently I’ve come to a similar conclusion, though not fueled by the extensive knowledge and experience base Mr. Miller clearly enjoys.
And I would argue somewhat differently, that there is first a need for an Islamic reformation as a primer to any two-state solution, much less peace. Today, elsewhere, there was a curious but sadly typical article about a Mullah arguing that earthquakes are Allah’s angry replies to the shennanigans of wanton women. This chronic silliness tells you all you need to know about this essentially anti-scientific culture swathed in layer upon layer of intolerant religion that has for whatever reasons been wholly unable, hitherto, to reform itself.
If Israel were to commit tomorrow to no new settlements, the next day to a return to ’67 borders, and the third to the right of return, all those sacrifices would be ravaged on the fourth day when every contiguous and noncontiguous Arab Muslim country would attack in an attempt to utterly destroy what little would already be left of Israel.
Having travelled extensively in the Mideast in the mid-60s, and having greatly treasured the Arab people who were so gracious to me, a beardless and unwise 18 year old hitchhiker from the Midwest, I now soberly also realize that there isn’t a single Arab Muslim in the Mideast (ok, a slight exaggeration) or anywhere else short of the Islamic diaspora who can truly be called moderate. In other words, only when Arabs, who are brilliant people, leave Arabia do they start to see the big picture. Whether this lack of moderate expression is out of fear for personal safety or not doesn’t matter. The air there is terminally stale and without the prerequisite oxygen pumped into the region that reformation would bring they will all sufficate.
The good news, I’m hoping, is that the Great Islamic Reformation is already underway, a little secret told us by our media on an hourly basis to those listening carefully, which doesn’t include the media itself. All this chaos there…let’s hope it’s their reformation in full swing and let’s also hope that given the ever-speeded-up nature of world events these days, that it will transpire relatively quickly.
Any guesses how quick a quickie reformation could take? Yeah, right. (Not to mention the violent fallout thereafter when Europe once upon a time reformed its stale religion.) Okay, so it wouldn’t be a two-hour tune-up.
Again, a great article and I really appreciate the author taking us through his experiences as his personal paradigm shift took place.
Now I gotta go on Amazon and order his book.
It’s not often that you see old hands shout to an administration “What are you doing? You have no strategy! You have no plan! You are out of touch with reality!” particularly when those old hands are working for the party in power, or have done so in the past.
But this week we have seen it twice: Robert Gates telling the Obama administration that they have no Iran policy; and Aaron David Miller telling them they have no Mideast Policy.
You can read both pieces as a plea for the Obama administration to stop playing games of “let’s pretend” and start basing US policy on reality.
For the sake of clarity and consistency, let me add that I have no objection to a peace deal being imposed by the U.S. on the Israelis, either.
Only, given that the Israelis have stepped up to the plate twice on offering deals, and twice with withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, it is not really necessary, Netanyahu’s obstinacy notwithstanding. By all means, the U.S. should impose terms.
OK, Roy, let’s imagine the US “imposes” a deal — something along the lines Olmert offered Abbas in September 2008, which Abbas thought wasn’t good enough, even though it would have fulfilled central Palestinian demands, like the equivalent of 100 percent of the pre-1967 territory, Arab parts of Jerusalem for the Palestinians, plus a connection between the Westbank and Gaza, and as a goodwill gesture, a few thousand refugees “returning” into Israel proper.
Let’s say this Palestinian state is supposed to be de-militarized for the time being — and let’s say the Palestinians cared about that as much as Hezbollah cares about the UN resolution that ended the Lebanon war 2006, and previous agreements that require a disarming of Hezbollah. So there are a few attacks on Israel, including let’s say on the airport, every other week a few rockets on Israeli towns etc.. — what happens then? Since the US imposed the peace, are they going to keep it? And how exactly?
Without any formal experince, I also came to some of the same conclusions these past few weeks, that Obama has more pressing foreign policy priorities, and that land-for-peace is no longer the big lever. Obama fixated on the settlements to pacify his base, not because it made sense. I also expended effort to understand the last Israeli election. This is where even Miller stumbles by glossing over Netanyahu’s fractious coalition. One million ex-Soviet immigrants since Oslo has changed the polity as much as the intifada and rockets from Gaza. Likud is now the center, and Netanyahu is the center within Likud. For the Beltway crowd to fail to understand the shift inside Israel is arrogant ignorance.
America is no longer able to be an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. Maybe the only priority should be to help solve the rift within the Palestinians.
I’m with Mike M…perhaps I benefit from lack of multiple post graduate degrees and years of diplomatic service because Miller’s conclusion was obvious to me after Arafat rewarded everyone involved with the Oslo Accords with the nasty, depraved, cynical intifada. After that I was done with them [ed.]…to hell with ’em.
Why should they settle? The Arabs living in the former territory known as Palestine are running a lucrative racket. Peace would force them to actually govern like civilized people with real institutions and economy. Why go bother with that when you can get billions of dollars as a reward for not working for a peaceful solution. It’s all about the incentives and the incentives are perverse…this is currently the world’s biggest racket.
Petra, my answer is that your cynicism about a real ceasefire is probably warranted. Attacks on Israel are likely to continue, even if at a reduced rate.
However, if Israel makes concessions, it will have a freer hand, diplomatically and politically, to redress those attacks with reprisals. If Israel steps up to the plate once more, and makes those same concessions, and if the Palestinians agree to terms, then greater pressure will be exerted on the Palestinians to rein in their militants.
It’s not fair, but that’s the reality of of it. Israel cannot afford global isolation or an alienated United States. If it could, it could go its own way, heedless of the criticism of the rest of the world. But it can’t, and in reality, no country can, indefinitely.
I happen to think the Palestinians wallow in their oppressed status, and that they threw away an opportunity in Gaza to demonstrate the sincerity of their peaceful, nation-building intentions. In fact, I’m skeptical of their peaceful intentions, given that their culture is so suffused with antisemitic propaganda. Agitprop on television and in mosques is probably the best indicator of the likelihood of lasting peace, and the signs aren’t good.
But that fact doesn’t exempt the Israelis from complying with the wishes of its indispensable ally, however misguided you believe those intentions are. It’s just the bitter reality.
Roy, Israel has made many concessions in the last 20 years. Which of them gave them a “freer hand” to answer attacks? None of them, just the opposite. Israel had a freer hand before Oslo than after. The world is buying the Arab idea that if Israel offers up any land as a concession, they have admitted that they are illegitimate interlopers in Palestine, who must depend on Arab acceptance for any hope of legitimacy. Surprise, said acceptance never arrives, but remains dangled as a lure for future concessions.
Roy, I should perhaps make clear that I used to be a supporter of Peace Now until Camp David — as all my friends were. I’ve also supported Olmert’s proposals in my own writings, but the fact that they were spurned by the Palestinians simply means that the already feeble belief in the possibility of a peace agreement is now all but dead. The fact of the matter is — and annual polls as well as many Palestinian statements support this — that a sizeable chunk of the Palestinians (i.e. for most of the time more than 50 percent) has always been ambivalent about any 2 state solution. The argument of the 1 staters, i.e. that it is ultimately only a matter of time before Israel can be undermined, has always had considerable appeal among Palestinians, and the Obama administration’s conduct certainly does much to strengthen this camp.
I cheered Obama’s election — in fact, I expected him to become America’s first black president when I saw the first interview with him after he became a senator. But his Mideast policy sure is a disaster. Oh well, so was the Bush Mideast policy… It was after all Bush who insisted that Hamas be allowed to run in the Palestinian elections, even though this meant a violation of the Oslo accords; and it was Bush who insisted on the Iraq war, even though it was clear that this would only benefit Iran.
Roy, you really have to step outside the frame of the U.S. as Israel’s “indispensable ally” or that Israel “cannot afford global isolation or an alienated United States.” Go read WRM today on Israel and India. I add that Israel has better relations with Russia, China, and perhaps Germany, than the U.S. executive branch.