Tuesday, May 31, 2011
As I indicated to "Dylan," I actually would like to see the IDF withdraw its protection from outlying settlements, but I know that this will never happen within the heavily populated settlement blocs contiguous with Green Line Israel. Nor will this happen in parts of East Jerusalem where 200,000 Jews now live and where ordinary (non-fanatic) Israeli Jews have resided for 30 to 40 years. Israel will not risk civil war to coerce 400,000 Jews to abandon homes they've lived in for decades, and to leave areas that most Israelis want to see recognized as part of Israel within a two-state agreement. There needs to be a negotiated territorial compromise in these places.
One should not be overly rigid in applying international law. The application of any law is generally subject to discretion. Police are given some discretion when it comes to enforcing certain laws (e.g., J walking, marijuana); prosecutors exercise some discretion in deciding when to prosecute; and judges usually have the right to exercise discretion in sentencing (even leaving aside that huge matter of interpreting the law). And politics often trumps law, especially when we are dealing with sovereign states (which are armed) rather than non-sovereign individuals. Furthermore, the interpretation of international law is more contentious and therefore more problematic than law in general.
I don’t favor endless negotiations and I would like to see a very assertive international community pressure both sides to come to an agreement. Yet, like it or not, only a mutually agreed upon resolution can bring this conflict to an end in a peaceful way. It will not be decided in a court of law.
Bob Dylan says:
Friday, May 27, 2011
There is also a very interesting article in DISSENT magazine, available online, by Ben Gidley, an academic in London, England, which deals with overlapping themes---specifically, how his union is grappling with the challenges of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel. (See mention of this at the "Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine" [TULIP] website.) Gidley's union has a record in recent years of being very critical of Israel, flirting with calls for BDS, and the like.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
A sensible appraisal by Lesley Gelb [in the Daily Best] of the Obama speech and reactions to it. And an excerpt of an email I wrote in response to a friend, once an ardent supporter of Obama, writing to an acquaintance "high up in the Obama administration," of her disappointment with Obama's speech:
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
|Sanaa Ibn Bari|
As a few of us were waiting at the conference table for the formal discussion to begin, some of us chatted about Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech before Congress. I hadn't seen it, but I've just read the NY Times news report and viewed some taped snippets. Rob Malley, the ex-US diplomat and a veteran analyst on the Middle East appears to have been most apt in concluding the following: “We’re not talking about a peace process anymore; we’re talking about a P.R. process.... None of this is going to help avert any of the dangers that the president mentioned in his Sunday speech, that Israel faces.”
And, as is often (but not always) the case, I found Thomas Friedman instructive in his most recent column ("Lessons from Tahrir Square"). He advised the Palestinians to begin a campaign, along with Israeli Jews, to persuade Israel's "silent majority" of their peaceful intent, to rally behind the formulation of “... a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders — with mutually agreed adjustments — including Jerusalem, where the Arabs will control their neighborhoods and the Jews theirs.” Unfortunately, the slogan Friedman urges of "two states for two peoples" may actually be more problematic now for Palestinians than for Israelis.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Unfortunately, too many people (most importantly, Prime Minister Netanyahu) seized upon Obama’s statement about the pre-June ‘67 lines, disregarding his call for trading territory. That Netanyahu and so many others found this controversial, defies belief and illustrates how far we've come from a peace agreement almost arrived at in 2008. It also indicates that the US needs to be more assertive in helping the parties finally achieve peace; yet it further underscores how little hope there is to expect such heavy lifting now, with next year's election campaign already taking shape.
The program led me to some insights:
Sunday, May 22, 2011
When writing about President Obama’s speech on Thursday, I got one thing very wrong. I wrote:
“Bibi will not have anything here to fight with Obama about tomorrow.”
Well, that was wrong; but not as much as you might think.
As MJ Rosenberg pointed out in his Friday column, a lot of this anger is contrived, and geared toward attaining a political goal.
We need to understand what that goal is and what Netanyahu’s reprehensible hubris on Friday after meeting with the President of the United States, was meant to achieve.
We can start with a basic fact: this tumult is not really about Obama’s statement regarding the 1967 borders. This is a contrived controversy, based, to begin with, on a willful distortion of what Obama said.
The President did not call for a return to the 1967 borders. He merely stated what is obvious, what has been American de facto policy all along and the fundamental truth of any two-state solution: that negotiations must start with the 1967 borders, and whatever modifications may be agreed to start from there.
So, what was the purpose of this intentional distortion and elaborate theater by Netanyahu, one which was subsequently lauded and backed by the ultra-right wing Israeli cabinet and a drove of Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle?
In fact, it was a bold, albeit clumsy, gambit by Netanyahu to rework the entire framework of what is generally understood to be the framework for negotiations.
Netanyahu is hoping to re-create the change wrought by George W. Bush with his 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon. In that letter, Bush went some distance toward pre-determining the outcome of final status issues by promising Sharon that Israel would not have to go back to the pre-1967 borders and that Palestinian refugees would not be able to return to Israel.
Everyone knew that was going to be the American vision of resolving the conflict, but by stating it publicly, Bush essentially made those the new starting points for any talks, effectively giving away much of what the Palestinian Authority intended to bargain with.
Netanyahu would like Obama to reaffirm those points and take them off the table, and also state unequivocally that there will be no talks with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.
Netanyahu is well aware what such a statement from Obama would mean: the end of any possibility of peace talks, the end of even the meager American words objecting to settlement growth and a growing division between Israel and the US on one hand and Europe and the rest of the Quartet partners on the other.
That’s why Obama doesn’t want to do these things. So, Netanyahu went on global television and ordered him to do so.
That sounds absurd, but that’s what he did. Consider Bibi’s words:
“…while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines, because these lines are indefensible, because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years… So we can’t go back to those indefensible lines, and we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan. I discussed this with the president. I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make.”
Let’s translate that: Mr. President, I heard every word you said yesterday, and screw you, we are going to keep our settlements and the Jordan Valley. I’ve told you that’s what’s going to happen, so deal with it. Go tell the Palestinians that the land that is called Area A and some of Area B will have to do for their state.”
On Hamas, Obama has not changed his stance; he repeated that he expects Hamas to renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by past agreements. Obama, recognizing what many Israeli right-wingers have said – that a deal with half the Palestinians would never hold anyway – left a door open to the Palestinians by saying “…the Palestinians are going to have to answer some very difficult questions about this agreement that’s been made between Fatah and Hamas.”
That’s not good enough for Bibi.
“…[This] echoes something the president just said, and that is that Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas… And Hamas has just attacked you, Mr. President, and the United States for ridding the world of bin Laden. So Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of al-Qaida…I think President Abbas has a simple choice. He has to decide if he negotiates or keeps his pact with Hamas, or makes peace with Israel. And I — I can only express what I said to you just now: that I hope he makes the choice, the right choice, of choosing peace with Israel.”
Translation: “The door you left open will be slammed shut. If you try to open it again, you will be painted as an appeaser of terrorism, and it will be no problem to deceive Americans about the great differences between Hamas and al-Qaeda. Don’t think for a minute that your killing bin Laden is going to change this. I will give the Palestinians a choice—either engage in a peace process that excludes a major portion of the Palestinian polity, thus rendering it insubstantial, or don’t have one at all.”
This, of course, frees Netanyahu from ever being threatened with real peace.
And then the real topper, the refugees. Bibi said:
“…the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state but certainly not in the borders of Israel…the Palestinians come to us and they say to Israel: accept the grandchildren, really, and the great-grandchildren of these refugees, thereby wiping out Israel’s future as a Jewish state. So that’s not going to happen. Everybody knows it’s not going to happen. And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly, it’s not going to happen.”
Translation: “Barack, be a good boy and tell the Palestinians that this is no longer a final status issue and it has already been pre-determined. After all, if refugees will not come back to Israel and this is determined before talks, there’s nothing to talk about. We will not have to compensate them for something that is not negotiable anyway, and what they do with their refugees is not our concern if they’re not going to come back to Israel. Now go tell them that.”
Obama changed nothing in his statement. He simply put forth a point more clearly than has been done in the past that is fundamental to a two-state solution. Here’s what George W. Bush said in 2005:
“Any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 Armistice lines must be mutually agreed to. A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity of the West Bank, and a state of scattered territories will not work. There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza. This is the position of the United States today, it will be the position of the United States at the time of final status negotiations.”
Obama said nothing different in substance. Indeed, he said substantially less than this on Thursday.
So, with a foreign leader sitting in the Oval Office and publicly telling the President of the United States what to do, being condescending and arrogant toward him, naturally, Congressional leaders would express their outrage, right?
Hell, no, not on the best day, and certainly not on the eve of their annual hajj to the AIPAC conference.
But they will blast their own President and support that foreign leader against not only the President, but against clear US interests that have been repeatedly articulated by diplomats and military leaders who, unlike Congress members, actually have some familiarity with Israel, the Palestinians and the tactical and diplomatic situation on the ground.
The Republicans started, and this is no surprise. The party that once held to realist, albeit selfish and imperialistic, views of foreign policy now cares nothing about its own country if by betraying it they can score political points for themselves.
But then came the Democrats as well, falling over themselves to blast the most prominent member of their own party.
So, in closing, here is a selection of some comments by these sycophantic and clueless members of Congress, and other notable figures on the American political scene.
Mitt Romney: “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus,” Romney said. “He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace. He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends.”
Michele Bachmann: “Today President Barack Obama has again indicated that his policy towards Israel is to blame Israel first. In a shocking display of betrayal towards our ally, President Obama is now calling on Israel to give up yet more land and return to its 1967 borders. If there is anything that has been proven, the policy of land-for-peace has meant that Israel has continually had to give away increasing amounts of its land and decrease its size. In exchange, it still has not known security. President Obama wants to further this policy by putting Israel in a very vulnerable position with borders that would be extremely difficult to defend. “
Orrin Hatch: “Rather than stand by Israel against consistent unprovoked aggression by longtime supporters of terrorism, President Obama is rewarding those who threaten Israel’s very right to exist.”
Newt Gingrich: “Congress in the next week should pass resolutions in the House and Senate condemning the president setting the 1967 lines.”
Tim Pawlenty: “President Obama’s insistence on a return to the 1967 borders is a mistaken and very dangerous demand. To send a signal to the Palestinians that America will increase its demands on our ally Israel, on the heels of the Palestinian Authority’s agreement with the Hamas terrorist organization, is a disaster waiting to happen”
One prominent Democrat, Howard Berman, the leading minority member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs did defend the President.
Howard Berman: “It has been my expectation for many years, dating to the end of the Clinton Administration, that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would involve a border that is close to that of 1967 but with agreed upon land swaps. That is fully consistent with Israel’s right to have defensible borders and to retain its settlement blocs, positions for which there is overwhelming support in Washington.”
But Berman was in the minority.
Joe Lieberman (not a Democrat, but an Independent generally counted as part of the Democratic bloc in the Senate, but a major hawk on Israel): “In particular, the President’s remarks have revived and exacerbated fears in Israel about the commitment and understanding of this Administration with regard to their unique security situation. The fact is, while the exciting and hopeful new reality in the Arab world is the Arab spring, the newest reality in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not hopeful. It is the threatening new unity government between the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, a group which the U.S. government has long designated as terrorist because it is committed to violence and the destruction of Israel.”
Steve Rothman, usually a staunch Obama backer: “It is important to remember that a full return to the 1967 borders will be indefensible for Israel and that talking with terrorists who want to destroy Israel is a non-starter.”
Eliot Engel: “The 1967 armistice lines were simply not defensible, and Israel must not be made to return to them.”
Ted Deutsch: Israel cannot be expected to make any territorial concessions that do not acknowledge the reality on the ground. The 1967 borders are indefensible. References to ‘land swaps’ must mean that major Israeli population areas in the post-Six Day War territory, including the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, will forever continue to be a part of the Jewish state of Israel.”
Shelly Berkley (a Democrat, but possibly the most hawkish one in the House on Israel, and certainly among the most ignorant): “”I am also deeply concerned by any calls for Israel to return to the armistice line that existed before 1967. That line left Israel far too vulnerable to outside attack, and without access to many of the Jewish holy sites on the other side of the line. Past experience demonstrates that when the Arabs have controlled the Jewish holy sites they have not permitted access to Jews. “
Thursday, May 19, 2011
The negative is in omitting the historical fact that the Jewish community within Palestine accepted the UN's 1947 partition plan for two states (one primarily Jewish and the other basically Arab), while the Arab side--including native Palestinian militias--violently rejected this solution and attempted unsuccessfully to destroy the Jewish state in its infancy. It is as a consequence of this war initiated by the Arab side that the tragic Palestinian refugee problem emerged.
But the positive aspect of this article is that Abbas affirms a two-state solution now, with a readiness of the Palestinian Authority that he heads to accept statehood on 22 percent of what was the British Mandate when it ended in 1948. As long as a "just solution for Palestinian refugees" is understood to be one that encompasses financial compensation and resettlement within the new Palestinian state and not a massive influx into what is sovereign Israel today, peace could be at hand.
Unfortunately, the current Israeli government will dwell on the negative rather than the positive in the position laid out by Abbas. And the
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Carefully constructed, Abbas' op-ed both champions the traditional Palestinian narrative, suggesting that Israel was 'born in sin', but also leaves much room for a two-state peace on the basis of the pre-'67 Green Line.
Abbas' frame for the conflict is the Palestinian refugee issue. This is understandable - after all, besides being a refugee himself, Abbas is the head of the Palestinian national liberation movement, not a member of the World Zionist Organization, and the Nakba is the central feature in the Palestinian national narrative. Jewish concerns and rights are not mentioned - but, again, Abbas' purpose here is not to present a balanced view, but to promote the interests of his own people. I would expect Binyamin Netanyahu to take a similar approach when he goes to the US later this week.
What is most important is that, when it comes to a practical solution, Abbas is very clear regarding the territorial dimension of a future peace: A Palestinian state on 22% of what was once British Mandate Palestine - i.e., the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. And, even more important, is the broad hint in his concluding paragraph that the refugee issue will have to be resolved within the borders of that 22%.
Meretz, the liberal Zionist party in Israel, would do well to imitate [Northern Ireland's non-sectarian liberal] Alliance. Alliance never abandoned its support for power sharing and for negotiations and the rule of law. But when the situation was not ripe for peace, it concentrated on other issues: the economy, civil rights, policing, etc. Meretz should not abandon a sincere commitment to the two-state solution. But it should emphasize other issues when the situation is not ripe for peace--opposition to religious coercion, support for Arab civil rights within Israel, opposition to human rights violations by the IDF and Shin Bet. These in the long run may do more to advance the cause of peace than crying in the wilderness.Click here for this entire post, and click on the following links for his other recent commentaries:
Friday, May 13, 2011
One can read Dr. Eisen's recent op-ed in the NY Jewish Week for a sense of his views: "Appreciating, And Learning To Talk About, Israel" is a passionate plea for civility and honesty regarding Israel's flaws as well as its merits, from an unabashed supporter of Israel and a self-described political, religious and cultural Zionist.
Dr. Ruskay has a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia, but has had only one stint in academia, as vice chancellor of JTS for eight years. He achieved a measure of notoriety in the 1970s as a leader of Breira, an organization of "premature doves" regarding Israel, who were largely excoriated by the Jewish establishment at the time. Still, this did not bar him from a highly successful career in mainstream Jewish institutions.
One point he raised in passing, which was not picked up and discussed any further, surprised me. He was good enough to confirm by email what I thought I had heard:
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Monday, May 09, 2011
Also on the Kushner affair, in his Political Insider blog, James Besser (The Jewish Week's Washington correspondent) sensibly asks, "what kind of pro-Israel movement do we want?" He warns against a narrow ideological view regarding Israel.
While Kushner's views on Israel should be entirely irrelevant to his suitability for an honorary degree (especially at a public university), they are a source of confusion, as well as controversy. In his vociferous protest against CUNY's board, he's indicated that he's been misrepresented, that he's never opposed Israel's existence.
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Although it has some potential to be for the good, I fear that this reconciliation agreement is not a step forward. On the bright side, it permits the possibility for Hamas to indirectly endorse a two-state solution with Israel, by acknowledging that the PLO remains authorized to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people (a holdover provision of the Oslo Accords) and implies that Hamas would not oppose peace with Israel if such an agreement were ratified in a referendum. But if Hamas continues to insist that all Palestinian exiles in their diaspora—or at least those designated as refugees—should vote in this referendum (not just Palestinians in the territories), any peace agreement would be that much harder to sell; this is because such an agreement would of necessity affirm a right to compensation but not a wholesale right of return to what is now Israel.
Moreover, one would have to trust Hamas to be true to its word (a tall order), and for Hamas and Fatah to coexist peacefully—as they have not in the past. The issue all of us should address is whether Hamas will ever deal diplomatically and non-violently with Israel. If the Israeli government were wiser than it is, it would pose exactly this in response to the Fatah-Hamas agreement, rather than rejecting it outright. The prevailing international view is that Israel refuses to recognize and negotiate with Hamas, but the opposite (that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel) is more relevant.
My thoughts return to the unfortunate results of the Palestinian election in
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
I’ve pasted below the full text of what is, according to the Palestinian National Initiative (Mustafa Barghouti’s organization), the new Palestinian unity agreement. My thanks go to independent journalist Jared Malsin for alerting me to this translation, and to Ma’an News’reporter and English Editor George Hale for the list of signatory organizations.
The translation is rough in some places, and there is a distinct lack of clarity in some areas, making me wonder if the former hasn’t led to some of the latter. But on the whole, this agreement doesn’t say much that hasn’t been reported already. I’ll just make a couple of points.
There is a good deal here about healing the rift that has developed between Gaza and the West Bank. It’s unclear how that can be accomplished while Israel lies between the two territories, and is not likely to be disposed to allowing passage between them. Elections could be a problem as well, although Israel did allow Hamas to campaign in 2005. Still, given that experience, it’s hard to count on such “largesse” again.
There are two passages that seem to be key, but are very vague in their wording.
Section 2 seems to indicate that Hamas is agreeing to allow the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to continue to be the representative of the Palestinian people in negotiations, primarily of course, with Israel. We should recall that, despite a blurring of the line between the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, the two are different, albeit overlapping, bodies, and the PLO is still the only recognized representative of the Palestinian people (so recognized by Israel, the US and the international community, and at one time by the Palestinian people. Whether this remains true for Palestinians is problematic at best). This is what allows Hamas to straddle the line between dealing with Israel and its refusal to recognize the “Zionist entity.” It would seem thisreaffirms Hamas’ stated position of years past that they would abide by an agreement negotiated by Abbas is it was approved by a popular referendum.
But the section is so vaguely worded that, when coupled with Hamas’ recent callfor the PLO to cancel its recognition of Israel, one has to wonder just what it means in real life.
The second key piece is section 4.A. This would seem to be the part that leads to the end of Salam Fayyad’s role in the PA. If so, that would really be a shame. I don’t think he’s the right person to be prime Minister, but he brings a lot to the Palestinian table, and those skills should not be wasted.
Fayyad is mis-cast as Prime Minister, and this is most obvious in the limited democratic structure he has put into the PA government. Nathan Brown, in a long piece about the failures of what he calls “Fayyadism” makes this point. But Fayyad has done an excellent job of managing the fragments of the Palestinian economy and installing fiscal responsibility and transparency…you know, the things he is actually trained for. These would be useful skills for both an interim and whatever new permanent so-called government the Palestinians come up with.
But Hamas seems to have identified Fayyad as the symbol of everything that is wrong with the PA. And Fatah’s own concern about Fayyad’s not being one of their own means they won’t come to his defense, particularly since the sectors they appeal to also like Fayyad, perhaps too much. Still, some of the words Hamas spokesmen have used seem to indicate they recognize some of his skills and might be persuaded to make use of them. Again, time will tell.
In all, the document doesn’t really contain surprises, and leaves an awful lot of detail unclear. That is probably necessary in order to come up with a document that could garner the signatures of all the groups listed. But it is also a recipe for a collapse of this agreement similar to the ones we have seen in the past.
Read for yourselves.
Full text of the Agreement between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo
This document is currently in the process of being signed by all of Palestine’s factions and parties.
Under the auspices of Egypt, delegations from the Fatah and Hamas movements met in Cairo on April 27, 2011 to discuss the issues concerning ending the political division and the achievement of national unity. On top of the issues were some reservations related to the Palestinian National Unity Accord made in 2009.
Both political parties mutually agreed that the basis of understanding made during the meeting are committing to both parties in the implementation of the Palestinian National Reconciliation Agreement. The basis of understanding agreed upon by Fatah and Hamas are as follows:
A. Election Committee:
Both Fatah and Hamas agree to identify the names of the members of the Central Election Commission in agreement with the Palestinian factions. This list will then be submitted to the Palestinian President who will issue a decree of the reformation of the committee.
B. Electoral Court:
Both Fatah and Hamas agree on the nomination of no more than twelve judges to be members of the Electoral Court. This list will then be submitted to the Palestinian President in order to take the necessary legal actions to form the Electoral Court in agreement with the Palestinian factions.
C. Timing of Elections:
The Legislative, Presidential, and the Palestinian National Council elections will be conducted at the same time exactly one year after the signing of the Palestinian National Reconciliation Agreement.
2. Palestine Liberation Organization
The political parties of both Fatah and Hamas agree that the tasks and decisions of the provisional interim leadership cannot be hindered or obstructed, but in a manner that is not conflicting with the authorities of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
It was emphasized that the formation of the Higher Security Committee which will be formed by a decree of the Palestinian President and will consist of professional officers in consensus.
A. Formation of the Government:
Both Fatah and Hamas agree to form a Palestinian government and to appoint the Prime Minister and Ministers in consensus between them.
B. Functions of the Government:
1. Preparation of necessary condition for the conduction of Presidential, Legislative and the Palestinian National Council elections.
2. Supervising and addressing the prevalent issues regarding the internal Palestinian reconciliation resulting from the state of division.
3. Follow-up of the reconstruction operations in the Gaza Strip and the efforts to end the siege and blockade that is imposed on it.
4. Continuation of the implementation of the provisions of the Palestinian National Accord.
5. To resolve the civil and administrative problems that resulted from the division.
6. Unification of the Palestinian National Authority institutions in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem.
7. To fix the status of the associations, Non-Governmental Organizations and charities.
5. Legislative Council:
Both Fatah and Hamas agree to reactivate the Palestinian Legislative Council in accordance to the Basic Law.
— Islamic Jihad
— Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
— Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine
— Palestinian People’s Party
— Palestinian Popular Struggle Front
— Palestinian Liberation Front
— Arab Liberation Front
— Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command
— Baath Arab Socialist Party (al-Saika)
— Palestinian Arab Front
— Palestinian Democratic Union (FIDA)
— Popular Resistance Committees [observer only]
Monday, May 02, 2011
It is no surprise that the assassination of Osama bin Laden has brought a wave of celebration in the United States. I, however, found my sentiments best expressed by a 9/11 survivor, Harry Waizer:
“If this means there is one less death in the future, then I’m glad for that,” said Mr. Waizer, who was in an elevator riding to work in the north tower when the plane struck the building. He made it down the stairs, but suffered third-degree burns.
“But I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama Bin Laden.”
The crowds I have seen in New York and Washington have been chanting and waving flags in scenes that could easily have been taken from a global sporting event. I don’t mean to minimize the real feelings of anger that were justifiably raised by the barbarity of the 9/11 attacks. But if people are going to treat this as a contest of some kind, it’s worth looking at the score.
Bin Laden, obviously a fanatic, lost his life. But the cost to the world was so much greater.A terrorist begins with the understanding that he is leading a much less powerful force than his foes. Part of the goal of terrorism is precisely to increase the brutality of the targeted state, increasing the fear, the terror, of the populace so that it will support greater violence.
At this, Bin Laden succeeded spectacularly. Since September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, where it has predictably become mired (as have so many invaders before it); its government created an elaborate (albeit ridiculous) lie in order to whip up sympathy to invade Iraq, where it also became entangled; its support for the Israeli occupation became even more fanatical and mindless; and, despite the obviously shallow mantra about “not being at war with Islam,” the US intensified its image in the Arab and Muslim worlds as the imperialist enemy, a condition which is about to bring serious consequences as the Arab Spring makes popular opinion a much more important factor in the region.
Add to that some 6,000 more Americans killed after 9/11, not to mention the people killed in the various foreign countries, numbering easily into six figures at minimum, trillions of dollars spent on the war effort and the damage that has done to the American ability to recover from the massive theft of money by Wall Street, the geometric increase of Iranian influence in the Middle East due to the American invasion of Iraq, and the concomitant decrease in American influence in the region, helped along by the fact that it took nearly a decade for the US to locate and kill bin Laden, and we see just how much the terrorist gained by taking an act that would get him killed at the not-terribly-young age of 54.
I have no doubt that if this deal had been offered to bin Laden before 9/11, he would have not only accepted but would have been giggling at the one-sided nature of the deal.
And we can rest assured that the US is not close to fully paying the price bin Laden extracted for his life. The Middle East, as we can see modeled in Turkey and Egypt, is quickly moving farther away from cooperation with the US. We remain trapped in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and even our puppets, like Hamid Karzai, are defying American policy priorities. And, lest we forget, in the end, bin Laden was an important figurehead of al-Qaeda, but there are many similar groups in the world and even al-Qaeda itself was far from dependent on bin Laden to do its dastardly work. Al-Qaeda and similar groups have been losing popularity for a long time, especially now as Egypt, Tunisia and other countries have shown there are popular and better ways to gain their rights. But the terrorist groups will still survive, and bin Laden’s death isn’t going to make a terribly big difference, beyond hopefully dispiriting some of the militants with the death of their charismatic leader.
We didn’t win here. If a crowd is going to cheer about this like it’s a baseball game, what they’re really cheering is the ending of a long inning where our team just kept getting hammered, giving up run after run. When the game finally ends, we will have taken too many losses to have any realistic chance of winning.
That’s what we need to recognize now that we have, after far too long and at far too high a cost, killed Osama bin Laden. Hillary Clinton has already said we are not going to realistically assess the score here, but are going to continue down the same forlorn path. But perhaps, after emotions have died down, we can convince more Americans that it is time to turn away from this path of destruction and try to finally bring at least some hint of what most Americans incorrectly believe to be our high ideals into foreign policy for a change.