Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Straight Line from Qana to Darfur

There are more casualties of Olmert's folly than the thousand or so dead in Lebanon and Israel, and more even than Israel's shattered myth of military omnipotence. Bush and Blair's resistance to a UN ceasefire call, and the US's effective cover for the Israeli attack on the UN compound at Khiyam, have disarmed the UN as much as Hezbollah. These shortsighted policies have effects far away-and especially so in Darfur, for which the Security Council is considering the long delayed peacekeeping force.

A week after resolution 1701 called, very belatedly, for a ceasefire in South Lebanon, the UN was desperately trying to pull together troop contributions for the peacekeeping force, while the Israelis were seemingly in flight from reality, as well as from Hezbollah, by trying to dictate which countries would be allowed to send troops.

When 1701 passed, Ehud Olmert had immediately thanked Bush for his procrastination of the cease-fire in order to give time for Israel to "finish the job." He did not bother with Blair since why would he talk to the dummy when he had the ventriloquist on the line. But to everyone except Olmert and Bush,the resolution was a graceful way for the Israelis to climb out of the hole that they had dug themselves into-and to stop the slaughter and destruction, amounting to war crimes, that the IDF was perpetrating.

However, left unresolved is the question of how Lebanese sovereignty can be assured by forcing the Lebanese government, against its will, to disarm a group that last week had the support of 87% of the population and which is represented in the government in Beirut. Indeed, for all the talk of green revolutions and new democracy, one might wonder at the fossilized electoral system that still assumes a Maronite majority that has not existed for over half a century and which gives Hezbollah only 18 seats out of 128 in the population when the Shi'a who support it amount to at least 40% of Lebanese. While calling them "terrorists" or "Islamo-fascists" may give some therapeutic relief to people who should know better but signed up for the War on terror, it is not an effective, nor particularly democratic, way to come to solutions.

Apart from the almost obligatory snub to the UN-the two day Israeli offensive launched to coincide with the resolution-the IDF withdrew from the trap with surprising speed, instead of the grudgingly slow compliance that most people expected. Previous experience suggests that it was not respect for UN decisions that motivated such rapid Israeli withdrawal, and on present evidence, it certainly was not because it had succeeded in its mission of destroying Hezbollah. The real Israeli attitude was revealed in the weekend commando raid in the Bekaa valley that Annan condemned as a breach of the ceasefire but which was predictably described by Israel as a "defensive" operation. Resolution 1701, at Israeli and US insistence only called for a halt to "offensive" operations.'
For their part, the Lebanese government and the UN seem to have adopted a variation of Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military for Hezbollah's weaponry. As long as they don't come out with them, neither the Lebanese Army nor the peacekeepers will go poking around for them, and that seems to have been what dissuaded France from its original hint that it would provide thousands of troops. France has been in the forefront of the anti-Hezbollah campaign at the United Nations, and has no wish to deliver hostages in South Lebanon.

The cease-fire resolution offers some hope, however, assuming the Bush Administration will pressure Olmert to help redeem the tattered reputation of American diplomacy by implementing it. A crucial issue is the disputed Shebaa Farms.

Interestingly, at the UN this week Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni said that the Shebaa farms area, currently under Israeli occupation, was an issue between Lebanon and Syria, which could either be stress induced oversight, or a signal that the (illegal) Israel annexation of the Golan Heights is not so sacred after all. If one part of it can be handed back to Lebanon, then the rest can go back too Syria and reports from Jerusalem suggest that the Ministry is actively considering reopening negotiations with Damascus.

However , not even Bush would claim that the war was launched to restart negotiations with a charter member of the latest edition of the Axis of Evil, and if Israel had wanted to, a simple phone call to Damascus phone call would have been a less costly message than invading Lebanon.

On the wider front, Secretary of State Condoleezza's Rice's declaration, several hundred mangled civilians into the Lebanese war, that it was "premature" for a cease-fire, should come back to haunt the Bush/Blair Axis each time it tries to rally support for its adventures abroad.

Blair sincerely supported the principle of "The Responsibility to Protect" when it was was agreed last year, but he should be aware that his touching faith that being a galley slave on Bush's piratical adventures gives him a hand on the helm leads to shipwreck on the rocks.

Foreign policy, in Robin Cook's memorable phrase, should have an "ethical dimension," but it should also be joined up. The US and UK are not always wrong. Horrible things have been happening in Darfur, and the UN warns that worse is about to unfold. However, what credibility can Bush and Blair have in pushing for a UN force there after fighting to stop the ceasefire in Lebanon? After Iraq, with bellicose talk about Syria, they have given Sudan the diplomatic weaponry to fend off any UN force that could protect civilians there.
Published Tribune 25 August 2006

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ceasefire and Frustration

My latest in the Nation on the prematurity of ceasefires and infant mortality.


After thirty-one days of war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, more than 1,000 dead and a week of haggling between France and the United States, the United Nations Security Council finally approved a cease-fire resolution on Friday.
With visible exasperation, Kofi Annan, beyond American retaliation as his term finishes at the end of this year, told the Council, "...my disappointment and sense of frustration are shared by hundreds of millions of people around the world. For weeks now, I and many others have been calling repeatedly for an immediate cessation of hostilities, for the sake of the civilian population on both sides who have suffered such terrible, unnecessary pain and loss. All members of this Council must be aware that its inability to act sooner has badly shaken the world's faith in its authority and integrity."
And that that was just frustration over the time it took to get the resolution. An actual cease-fire will take longer. One reason is that acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his American friends want to disguise the unpalatable truth that they have achieved nothing that could not have been done within days of the Hezbollah kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, which sparked the conflict.
While the US delegation included the Israelis, the Lebanese surrogate was France, which ironically was one of the major movers of earlier UN resolutions designed to hobble Hezbollah. Israeli actions in Lebanon, however, have created such a constituency for Hezbollah in Lebanon that Paris ended up negotiating on its behalf.
The tie-breaker in the deadlocked negotiations was the Lebanese offer to send in 15,000 troops to match a phased Israeli withdrawal, although Friday's attack on a refugee convoy under Lebanese Army escort--yet another murderous "accident"--seems to designed to show what the Israeli Defense Forces really think of them.
In the same insensitive vein, knowing that an agreement was near in New York, Olmert's government launched a new offensive on the very day the draft was coming to fruition. Even as he professed support for the resolution, he announced that the offensive would continue until the cabinet could meet on Sunday to decide whether to call it off. Olmert called Bush early Saturday morning "to thank him for the concern he showed for Israel's interests in the Security Council."
The Israeli leader has reason to be grateful for the Bush Administration's callous and foolish procrastination of a cease-fire in order to give time for israel to "finish the job," with Hezbollah. However, beyond from the ruined infrastructure of Lebanon and hundreds of new graves, it is difficult to see what the Olmert administration achieved. Hezbollah now enjoys immense prestige across the Arab and Muslim world for standing against Israeli arms longer than any of the national armies of the region.
UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown, due with Annan to finish his term at the end of the year, also showed that lame ducks have teeth by drawing attention to the almost irreparable damage that George W. Bush and Tony Blair have done to both American and British diplomatic standing by making themselves subservient to Olmert's political interests. Bush could have rescued Olmert from his own folly by supporting a cease-fire, but caught up in the same Manichean mindset, encouraged him in his folly. In a concentrated version of Vietnam, the Israeli military almost daily claimed impending victory, declared free-fire zones, and lost the hearts and minds of a nation as it shattered their bodies. And the Katyushas kept coming.
The resolution itself has plenty of hostages to fortune, taking diplomatic ambiguity to its outer limits. At American insistence, it contains no criticism of Israel actions, and makes few demands. It calls for "the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations." Yet Israel's continuing offensive already shows a very flexible definition of immediacy, and, according to its representatives, everything that its forces do is "defensive."
The resolution calls for "the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers," but merely encourages "the efforts aimed at urgently settling the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel." In case anyone forgets, Israel kidnapped these prisoners in incursions into Lebanon every bit as illegal as the Hezbollah incursion that the UN has agreed sparked the current hostilities.
In fact, as even Tony Blair admitted, the conflict goes back much further and cannot be resolved without a general settlement of the Middle East issue, including Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. One almost has to admire the chutzpah of Israeli spokespeople demanding the immediate implementation of Resolution 1559, to disarm Hezbollah, while ignoring the numerous resolutions about annexation of Arab territory. It is perhaps illustrative of Israeli attitudes that six years after its last withdrawal from Lebanon, the resolution urges Israel to hand over maps of the minefields it left behind.
The cease-fire resolution offers some hope, however, assuming the Bush Administration will pressure Olmert to help redeem the tattered reputation of American diplomacy by implementing it.
The last UN commission, acting on Mandate-era maps, decided that the disputed Shebaa Farms were Syrian territory. Syria, which has difficulty recognizing Lebanon, let alone its boundaries, claimed that the farms had been handed over to Lebanon, which has provided Hezbollah's militia with its raison d'etre as a national liberation movement.
Lebanese or not, this is not Israeli territory, and a solution that puts an international force in place there would indeed allow Hezbollah to claim victory again. But it would also deprive Hezbollah of its last excuse to remain armed, and direct it into politics.
With a resolution cobbled together from two such differing world views, one side trying to implement international law and the other holding that such law does not apply to Israel (or the United States), there are some genuine difficulties.
The augmented UN force is charged to enforce and defend Lebanese sovereignty and control over its own territory. The resolution calls for an arms embargo for all military material not requested by the Lebanese government.
The US and Israeli side sees this task simply as disarming Hezbollah. The augmented UN force, with potential contributors like France and Turkey, may well see the task as restraining Israeli impingements on Lebanon and defending civilians against their attacks.
Additionally, Israeli actions have mainstreamed Hezbollah, which, has become the most popular force in the country. It is easy to see some permutation of the movement's influence in the government and the incorporation of its military wing into the Lebanese Army that would quickly frustrate any such enforcement.
The cease-fire resolution charges the UN with much of the detail of implementation, including setling of the Shebaa Farms dispute, marshaling international troops, monitoring Israeli and Hezbollah withdrawal, exchanging prisoners, and returning refugees. We can only hope that the UN is not being set up for failure. After all, the US stance at the United Nations over this conflict has weakened the one organization that can provide a framework for it.
We should remember not only the resolution that took so long to pass, but those that fell to a threatened American veto, which has, for example, implicitly legitimized bombing UN peacekeepers in Khiyam.
The fundamentalists in Washington have shown that they have not learned a thing from the murderous fiasco in Iraq. US behavior--from expedited delivery of cluster bombs to an Israeli Army, mainstreaming a fundamentalist militia in one of the new Middle Eastern democracies, alienating even "friendly" Arab regimes, and making a mockery of international law and the UN itself--puts the Bush Administration's "war on terror," in perspective.
Secretary of State Condoleezza's Rice's declaration, several hundred mangled children ago, that it was "premature" for a cease-fire, should come back to haunt the Administration each time it tries to rally support for its amoral adventures abroad.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Semantics of Terror

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060828/terror_semantics and www.maximsnews.org

Ian Williams

NATION ARTICLE | posted August 12, 2006

What do Nelson Mandela, Michael Collins, Archbishop Makarios, Menachim Begin, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Shamir, Eamon DeValera and Jomo Kenyatta have in common?

As everybody knows, but few remember, they were all vilified as "terrorists," by the British or American authorities.
Ronald Reagan branded Mandela's African National Congress as a terrorist organization--and to be fair, they did commit some terrorist acts, while the ancestors of Israel's Likud Party blew up the King David Hotel assassinated Lord Moyne, the highest British official in the Middle East, during the war against the Nazis and gunned down United Nations representative Count Folke Bernadotte for trying to negotiate a peace settlement.

I have appeared on several Fox and MSNBC shows recently where the hosts acknowledge that Israel is failing in Lebanon, and that the invasion was a mistake, not least because there is no exit strategy. But then I find myself under attack because I will not describe Hezbollah as "terrorist." In fact, I use the same formula that British diplomats (in the better days of a more independent foreign policy) used: "a group that sometimes commits terrorist acts." This answer does not satisfy pro-Israeli cable television anchors; in fact, it gives them an excuse to grandstand their fury.
The easy invocation of "terrorism"--whether by journalists or political leaders--is not merely sloppy use of language. It is precisely targeted phrasing and intended to terrorize dissent. Especially in the binary, Manichaean mindset of the United States and Likudnik Israel, once a group has been labeled "terrorist" it becomes the epitome of evil; to suggest that any of their arguments have any validity makes one a terrorist supporter. Using these words seems to shut down the higher cerebral functions of many of the listeners.

Of course, it is difficult to be dispassionate about blood and dismembered bodies, but in the interests of preventing more of the same, we should take a deeper look. According to Kofi Annan, who was trying to get governments to agree on a definition at the United Nations last year, an act is terrorism "if it is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non- combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act."
It is concise and precise--and clearly excludes much of what Israel, the US and other governments have tried to brand as terrorism.
For years Israeli leaders have called Palestinian leaders terrorists, because they did not want to deal with them or indeed with any of the claims of the people they represented. In recent weeks, Israeli forces have kidnapped some thirty-eight elected Palestinian representatives, because they deemed them "terrorists." Hamas and Hezbollah are "terrorists," and in Israel's view, no one should talk to them, no matter how many Palestinians or Lebanese vote for them and support them.
The abuse of the concept has reached its nadir in the amorphous "war on terror," which currently covers any military operations that the United States, Israel, Russia, and anyone else trying to jump on the bloody bandwagon should wish to undertake, not to mention any rolling back of civil liberties and international law that it entails. Dead dissidents, or even just passers-by from Chechnya to Xinjiang, from Uzbekistan to Gaza, Abu Ghraib to south Lebanon, become posthumous terrorists as soon as their killing is reported.
It was under the guise of the "war on terror" that Iraq was invaded. The alleged weapons of mass destruction were a legal distraction: For most Americans the real justification of the war was the fiction that Saddam Hussein was behind the September 11 attacks. Interestingly, under the fog of the "war on terror," the one place that the term was justifiable, American troops have now pretty much abandoned Afghanistan, the host country of uncaught Osama Bin Laden, and handed over operations to NATO.
Simply labeling groups as "terrorist," and demonizing those who stop to think more deeply about it, stops odious comparisons that may challenge prevailing prejudices.
For example, in 2001, I was interviewed on a radio show some weeks after the indisputably terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, which I had lived close to and watched in real time. The host asked about progress at the UN in adopting a definition of terrorism. I was explaining the difficulties and went out on a limb--"You know, there were hundreds of brave firemen and police who died in the Center--and how many of them do you think had attended NorAid dinners," raising funds for the Irish Republican Army bombings. Luckily the interviewer did not explode, but stopped in his tracks to think about it--"That means that they were supporting terrorism, too!" he exclaimed as revelation hit him. Of course, if they had been raising funds for Hamas, they would probably have been in prison instead of rescuing people in the towers.
But even here, there is room for clear thinking. Under the prospective UN definition, Irish Republican Army attacks against Security Forces may have been criminal--but they were not terrorist actions. A phoned-in warning usually preceded even the IRA bombs on civilian targets. Sadly, however, the IRA made such a mess of the warnings so often that their campaign carried an inevitability of deaths and injuries that certainly put its actions inside Annan's definition.
So, while it certainly was not the most clever action that Hezbollah has perpetrated, taking two Israeli soldiers prisoner was not terrorism, although raining Katyusha rockets indiscriminately down on civilians certainly is a form of it.
But how is that different from Israeli planes and artillery killing civilians in Lebanon--or, for that matter, in Gaza? Israel claims that the civilian deaths are collateral damage of attacks on Hezbollah, but apart from the morality and legality, the math defies these excuses. Current Israeli deaths run roughly one civilian dead for two military dead. The far higher Lebanese casualties are running at around ten civilian dead (including three children) for every claimed Hezbollah victim. The continuing nature of those casualties suggests, as Kofi Annan told the Security Council last week, that there is a "pattern of breaches of international law." His view was backed up even forcefully by NGOs like Human rights Watch.
To put it in another and even more topical context, blowing up a random airliner is clearly terrorism--but could someone blow up an airliner to get Ehud Olmert and claim that the other casualties were just a regrettable necessity? That sounds callously unconvincing. But how is this different from bombing an apartment block full of civilians because there may be a Hamas or Hezbollah leader in there?
Committing terrorism requires a fanatical worldview: The casualties are either deemed guilty by association--as implied by Al Qaeda for those working in the WTC--or sadly necessary sacrifices on the altar of a better world. Insofar as they have any rationality, acts of terror are often predicated on the stupidity of the authorities who can be relied upon to create support for the perpetrators with widespread repression and retaliation.
From that perspective, Hezbollah's capture of the two Israeli soldiers has been spectacularly successful. Israel began the war on moral high ground, at least as the West saw it. After a month of concentrated viciousness and incompetence the tide of public opinion has turned.
Israel's retaliation with its recklessness for civilian life has won overwhelming Lebanese and Arab support for Hezbollah, and has in one short month reversed Israel's diplomatic gains across the world, while totally isolating the United States and Tony Blair.
One might add that Osama bin Laden's bloody assault on the WTC has had precisely the same effect on a global scale. From a position of overwhelming global public sympathy and support, the Bush Administration's reactions with the "war on terror" have alienated the rest of the world to the extent that China is now much more popular in many countries polled.
Mesmerized by the word "terrorism," as I said, it appears that the Bush Administration's higher mental faculties, never really in top gear, have been totally paralyzed. But that is no reason for the rest of us to succumb.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

UN Reform: Cup over half full

Of course, the events in Lebanon prove a real need for reform at the UN. Sadly it is concomitant on reform in the capitals-the willingness of big powers to enforce a just solution regardless of the political influence of the contending parties in their capitals. As I described yesterday, the resolution at the UN on Lebanon is hamstrung because no outsiders want to take on Israel politically or Hezbollah militarily. The "UN" is already being blamed for its ineffectiveness by the supporters of the Administration who are doing most to ensure that very ineffectiveness. - Ian

Reform or Counterrevolution at the UN?

Ian Williams | August 7, 2006


Although the American media generally depicted Kofi Annan's end-of-term reform package for the United Nations as a failure, its achievements are by no means negligible. The cup is certainly more than half full. Frankly some of the "failures," such as reform of the Security Council, were not only entirely predictable but relatively benign as well. Above all, the successful adoption of the "Responsibility to Protect" at last year's summit far outweighs any perceived or alleged failures in mere administrative reform. Such a framework of principles to protect human rights goes directly to what many of the world's people expect of the organization.

In diplomacy, apart from carrying a big stick, it helps to speak precisely and frame the discourse. Sadly, the moment it started talking about "reform," the UN allowed itself to be sucked into a tendentious American congressional agenda. "Reform" implies an existing state of insupportable corruption and inefficiency. Such a rhetorical framing has allowed American legislators and editors to attack the UN for "waste, mismanagement, and corruption."

Of course, such inefficiencies do exist in the UN system, but in fairness, far less so than in the average American municipality, let alone the U.S. federal government. The recent report on how the U.S. government let billions of dollars of the "Oil for Food" surplus run away into the sands was far more damning than anything proven against the UN. But this report met with almost complete silence.

The U.S. Congress has called on the UN to modernize its procedures. The UN could certainly improve matters in this regard, especially in its personnel practices. However, the substance of congressional demands reveals that "UN reform" is a scarcely concealed invitation to accept Washington's dictate on every issue.

Reflecting the powerful American domestic lobby that pushed for withholding dues from the UN over twenty years ago, Congress wants the UN to stop criticizing Israel and, in effect, dismantle the apparatus of resolutions that the rest of the world sees as a framework for a Middle East peace agreement. It is said that one of the attractions of academic politics is that participants pay no price for their folly. Similarly, Congress can attack or propose "reforms" for the UN, win political and financial support, and incur little penalty from the silent majority who, polls show, actually think the organization is a good thing.

Since it is probably too late to reframe the debate away from "reform," the UN is doomed to a perpetually unrequited struggle to live up to the expectations it has publicly espoused. The UN Secretariat cannot ignore demands from its largest contributor. And in the present parlous state of UN/U.S. relations, the UN is not in a position to call attention to this underlying congressional strategy (though the candid remarks of U.S. Ambassador John Bolton often confirm the worst suspicions of the global south that the reforms are a takeover plot by the North in general, and the United States in particular).

A Fine Balance

Kofi Annan's negotiating genius has been to balance institutional and functional changes in the United Nations system against aid and trade concessions for the developing world. One of the payoffs for the global south was the success of Annan's team in bypassing John Bolton's resistance and getting the commitment of the world community and even from George Bush, for the social and development targets of the Millennium Development Goals (even though it may be as hard a job again to implement the commitments) .

Another achievement has been the reinterpretation of international law and the UN Charter to incorporate the "Responsibility to Protect," a recognition that the international community and the UN not only have the right, but the duty, to intervene when states fail to protect their citizens. Of course, there is a long distance from acceptance of the principle to its application, as the continuing horrors in Darfur and the new ones in Lebanon demonstrate. But to get states such as China, Sudan, and indeed Bolton's United States to accept the principle will almost certainly go down as Kofi Annan's greatest achievement. It reflects the occidentocentric view of "reforms" that neither the MDG, nor the Responsibility to Protect, is usually counted as a reform success.

A third major change has been the replacement of the Human Rights Commission, where many countries clustered precisely to thwart examination of their human rights records, with the Human Rights Council. The new body's adoption of the principle of universal examination of national records was a welcome break with tradition.

After voting against the creation of the Council, the United States declined to seek membership-which was either a show of displeasure or a realistic awareness of John Bolton's popularity. In keeping with past practice, the Bush administration didn't bother to criticize the African group for adopting a slate of candidates that included Morocco and Egypt, because these are, in FDR's terms, "our" human rights offenders.

Many American critics of the Council naively hoped that it would stop criticizing Israel. Those hopes were immediately dashed by a special session that did just that. As long as Israel provides its critics with so much ammunition, the Council will not likely give Israel a break, which suggests as well that it will be equally strict with other future offenders.

Beyond Bureaucracy?

Set against the qualified success of the HRC is the most visible failure, the reform of the Security Council. As I argued last year, this possibly has more to do with the national machismo of aspirant permanent members than with how efficient or representative the body is. It is precisely these contending ambitions of potential members that prevent expansion and other reforms.

Also at risk in this reform process is the influence of the General Assembly. One strategy of the "reformers" is to clear up "obsolete" mandates. There are indisputably far too many such mandates. Like the congressional resolutions criticizing the UN, there is little or no cost associated with supporting new tasks. The lack of selectivity has led to a loss of power for the Assembly compared with the Security Council.

The global south is also right to suspect a hidden agenda of clearing out pro-Palestinian resolutions and departments in favor of neoliberal economic and social nostrums. Again, Ambassador Bolton has done little to mitigate such suspicions. But the global south would be better off making more positive counter-proposals. The world really can live without mandates to investigate UFO's or support conservative front organizations (Bolton's favorite when he was at the State Department).

UN critics, understandably, go after the managerial shortcomings of the organization, which are tied to personnel policies among other matters. Certainly a root-and-branch reform of the Office of Human Resources Management is in order. While under the current system many delegates from the global south try to get jobs in the organization for themselves or their protégés, the alternative of an independent international civil service should not be a strategy by which Washington handpicks supportive insiders.

In the end, however, a real "reform" of the United Nations should not be about bureaucratic details. We should not measure efficiency by how long a piece of paper stays in an in-tray but by how long it takes to implement vital political decisions. Middle East resolutions, Western Sahara, Darfur, the Balkans, Congo, and an interminably long list of similar tragedies, Lebanon being the latest, await the attention of the UN. As part of a real reform process, senior UN officials should begin to be less discreet and publicly "name and shame" states that are ignoring, defying, and frustrating mandates. If such an airing of grievances in public embarrasses some of the loudest critics of the organization, so much the better.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Saving Face, Not Lives

Here's my take on the UN Security Council resolution on Lebanon, which is reminiscent of the fine sounding but fundamentally flawed resolutions about Milosevic for the early part of the Balkan Wars, showing concern while wishing he would hurry up and finish the job.

As I have discovered on Fox and MSNBC, even those who can see the Israeli offensive is getting nowhere seem to think repetition of the word "terrorist" about Hamas and Hezbollah absolves Olmert of all sins and stupidities committed. I'll return to the subject in more detail.


Saving Face, Not Lives

Ian Williams

August 08, 2006


Ian Williams is the author of Deserter, a look at Bush's military career. He has been covering the U.N. and the Middle East for publications around the world, including the Nation. His last book was strictly non-fundamentalist, Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776, and his next is on the U.S. and the United Nations.

One month and a thousand dead later, the U.S. is belatedly supporting a United Nations "cease-fire" resolution on Israel and Lebanon that could, if it were drafted carefully, give all the parties a chance to climb down from their various dead-end positions and declare victory. Sadly, that is not an option for those who have died so far, but at least it would stem future blood-flow.

However, the present resolution-drafted to much fanfare over the weekend and set to be voted on later this week-is about saving face, not saving lives. Knowing the feelings of United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, President Bush and the Israelis about the United Nation's legitimacy and effectiveness, you know that they will only toss the very hottest of potatoes in the direction of the U.N.

A sonorous but empty resolution will allow negotiators like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to distance herself from any failure, and blame the U.N., even though it is patently obvious that only Washington has any influence with Israel.

So it should not be too surprising that the phrasing of the resolution takes diplomatic ambiguity into a completely new dimension. One of the key indicators is the absence of any invocation of Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, which authorizes use of military force to make resolutions binding. It is mentioned-but as a promise for a future resolution on an international force.

In the absence of serious international pressure-which means the U.S.-on the parties, it simply means that Israel will carry on, and Hezbollah will fight back. It would be reassuring to think that back-channel negotiations between the sides had produced a discreet timetable for everyone to pull back under cover of the ambiguities of the resolution, but there are few visible signs of that.

The present resolution does not really even call for a cease-fire. It does call for Hezbollah to stop fighting, but has no provisions for Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and simply calls upon Israel to stop "offensive" military operations. Of course Israel will claim that, by definition, all its operations are defensive, so there is far too much wiggle room there.

Indeed, Israeli ambassador to the United States Daniel Ayalon said on television only hours after the first draft of the resolution was released that under his understanding of the "cease-fire," Israel will continue pounding Lebanon until Hezbollah surrenders and returns the captured Israeli soldiers.

Meanwhile, in their eagerness to pull together a face-saving draft, neither the French nor the Americans seem to have considered what the Lebanese might want-despite the resolution's constant invocation of Lebanon's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Lebanon wants a cease-fire and withdrawal of Israel troops before the international force comes into play. Contributors to the putative international force would almost certainly insist on that as well.

The Lebanese, inflamed into unity behind Hezbollah by the Israeli attacks are also unhappy at the contrast between the demand for the "the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers," and the limp "encouraging the efforts aimed at settling the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel."

On one crucial issue, there is only a vaguely-worded request to the U.N. Secretariat to send "proposals" to the Security Council on how to deal with "border issues"-a veiled reference to the Shebaa farms region, a chunk of land Israel holds onto despite the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

The Shebaa farms are an esoteric but essential point necessary to remove with Hezbollah's excuses to be a resistance movement.

When the Israelis withdrew six years ago, the U.N. decided the area was not part of Lebanon but part of the Syrian Golan-although it is worth recording that U.N. resolutions also say Israelis should with draw from all occupied land, whether Lebanese or Syrian, including Shebaa.

The Shebaa farms became the excuse for Hezbollah, with Syrian encouragement, to continue its self-professed liberation struggle. Handing them over, even to an international force, would remove that excuse, but would allow Hezbollah to claim victory-and maybe to cooperate in disarming and disbandment.

Above all the resolution ignores what might be called the real "root causes" of the conflict. While the Western world was watching Lebanon and Israel, the Arab world is also scrutinizing what is happening in the Palestinian territories, where Israel's military campaign against the Hamas government has continued with a ferocity matching anything in Lebanon, including the kidnapping of 38 elected legislators-the latest the speaker of the Palestinian assembly this weekend.

It is clear that there will be no solution in Lebanon unless there is a comprehensive peace settlement in the region, and one of the messages that the Arab League ministers will be taking to New York this week when they plea for revisions to the U.N. resolution is that Hezbollah will grow in political strength across the Arab and Muslim world unless such an agreement is reached. That is not a prospect that any of the governments involved relish.

The Arab League has an offer on the table: recognition of Israel and a comprehensive peace settlement based on the 1967 boundaries. The U.S. could reinforce that with a message to Israel that the U.S. will pledge defense of those boundaries but no further. No more weapons deliveries until after a ceasefire.

It would help those who genuinely want peace in Israel, and redeem the U.S.'s battered reputation in the Middle East-and, indeed, the rest of the world.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

May You be With the Force

A Force to be Reckoned with
Asia Times 4 August 2006,


In addition, Mark Malloch Brown showed yesterday that a lame duck Deputy Secretary General can still have teeth in his bill, with his reminder to 'Yo-ny' Blair that he has lost all credibility as an interlocutor in the Middle East, and indeed as the US. Often regarded with suspicion by the developing world, MMB has followed up on his truth-to-power rap on Bolton with a statement of the obvious, that is almost heroic in today's invertebrate state of diplomacy.


By Ian Williams

When St Augustine converted to Christianity, he prayed to become virtuous-but not just yet. Similarly, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Israelis want a ceasefire, but not just yet. They also did not want a multinational force, but the "yet" has caught up with them already.

In fact, now that the Israeli vision of rapid and complete victory has evaporated, they want an international force so much that their former robust refusal has dropped down the memory hole.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would stop the offensive "only after a robust international peacekeeping force is in place in southern Lebanon to protect Israel from border raids and rocket attacks".

Even if everyone is too polite to mention that Olmert is eating his words, the force is his only feasible exit strategy, unless the Israelis follow the neo-conservative plan of digging themselves deeper into the hole they have made, and continue their assault, sending in more troops.

Unless they suffer another outbreak of stupidity, the Israeli leadership will be looking for a ceasefire and an international force that they can disguise as a victory, but with the casualties and costs to Israel of the Hezbollah bombing, and the diplomatic costs of the Lebanese casualties, it will take some very heavy disguise.

Insofar as the assault on Lebanon has any rationale, it was that Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz had hoped to prove to a skeptical Israeli electorate that, despite their lack of military experience, they really were tough guys. As Shimon Peres proved in 1996, the last Qana massacre, killing Lebanese wholesale seems the approved way for Israeli politicians to assert their military machismo, even if each time they predictably come unstuck.

There are reports of intelligence failures that led the Israeli leadership into thinking that they could breeze into Lebanon, whack Hezbollah and declare victory (see A new face to Hezbollah's resistance, August 3).

That combination of credulity for wish-fulfillment intelligence and a desire to disguise military experience is so reminiscent of President George W Bush that we should not be too surprised that he has applauded the disaster from the beginning.

Diplomatically, any solution has to allow all sides to declare victory and back down, and the idea of a force authorized by the United Nations seems to be the preferred ladder for everyone to climb down, which is of course rich in irony, since the Khiyam bombing certainly expressed Israeli commanders' true feelings about both the UN and international forces, all the more so since Likud, the party whose founders killed UN representative Count Bernadotte, has packed the high command while it has been in power. But the politicians can claim victory if an international force is on border - the other side, of course.

For its part, Hezbollah, by standing up to the Israelis for far longer than any recent Arab armies, has already won a victory politically in the Arab world. A payoff that may persuade the Lebanese and Hezbollah could be the handover of the Sheba Farms area to Lebanon, or to the UN force.

The question here, certainly not helped by Damascus' reticence about Lebanese borders in general, is whether the Israelis are occupying Syrian or Lebanese territory. One thing is sure, these are not Israeli territories. In fact, they come, like the Golan and the Palestinian territories, under UN Resolution 242, long outstanding, which says the Israelis should get out of them anyway.

It would certainly be anomalous to have a UN force enforcing Israeli control of annexed territories; Israel would have to "un-annex" them, since it grabbed them as part of the Golan Heights.

But the problem with an international force is, of course, in the details. If its task is simply to disarm Hezbollah, which does after all have the support of most of the people living in the south, it will soon be getting the dedicated militant attention that drove Israel out, unless it shows even-handedness by resisting Israeli incursions into Lebanon, which are in fact much more frequent than those going the other way.

The pipe dream of it patrolling the hitherto loosely demarcated border with Syria sounds like the invention of someone trying to prevent any force at all being established.

The fig leaf for the multinational force would be the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty, symbolized by the disarmament of the militias, as called for in UN Resolution 1559. But while Washington talks of new democracies in the region, it blithely ignores the unanimous votes of the newly elected parliaments of Iraq and Lebanon condemning Israel.

It raises a major paradox: if the purpose of 1559 is to restore sovereignty to Lebanon, then how is that process served by disarming Hezbollah against the wishes of the Lebanese people and parliament? According to a Zogby poll, last year even before the invasion, Syria was more popular in Lebanon than the United States was. (Israel had zero support from any Lebanese, even the Maronites, who look to the "Christian" US to back them.)

If the Israeli action impels the Lebanese government to "nationalize" Hezbollah's armed wing, and nominally incorporate it into the Lebanese armed forces, then where does that leave 1559?

Apart from the question of what the international force will do is the even more vexed question of who will do whatever. The bombing of the UN post at Khiyam was a hint to potential troop contributors as to what they can expect. Even now, some people in the Israeli army, who may not have taken Olmert into their confidence, do not want a UN force with teeth, possibly because they still cherish illusions of following in the bloody footsteps Ariel Sharon left on the road to Beirut in 1982.

If they want to avert the prospects of a new Khiyam, any countries joining a multinational force should get cast-iron guarantees from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the US on protection for the force-including anti-aircraft capability.

The French, the most enthusiastic proponents of the force, seem to be implying that it will indeed be strongly armed, with armor and artillery, which raises the interesting question: In the event of shooting between Israeli and UN/multinational forces, which side will the United States be on? And the prospect of German troops firing on Israel may be a little too historically ironic for any of the parties to contemplate.

It is clear that insofar as there is a solution, the UN is at the core of it, and for that to succeed the US must be behind the solution, rather than behind Israel. That is a lot to ask of any US administration with mid-term elections in the offing, and even more so of one that seems to have shared the delusions that have led Olmert to disaster. Maybe Washington will eventually begin to listen to its "other" allies.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Digging Deeper into the Mire

The Israeli assault on Lebanon proves that Marx was wrong. He claimed that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

In the Middle East, it just gets more tragic each time. The Israeli leadership seems determined to repeat every mistake they have made in the past, regardless of the cost to their own people, let alone the Lebanese, and let alone the rest of the world.

All their previous invasions of Lebanon have led to a strengthened Hezbollah, and according to a Zogby poll, last year even before the invasion Syria was more popular in Lebanon than the US. (Israel had zero support from any Lebanese, even the Maronites who look to the 'Christian' US to back them.)

Consider the implications of their arrogance: with the exception of Tony 'Yo' Blair, who is beleaguered by a cabinet revolt disavowing his shameful policy of disappearing up Bush's rectum on the issue, every country in the world wants an immediate ceasefire.

Israel's chutzpah in announcing world backing for its invasion when the US effectively vetoed everybody else in Rome, was too much even for the US, which repudiated it quickly-but, one may add, quite mendaciously, since it is quite clear the Bush administration is indeed encouraging Olmert in his folly.

When Qana again became the focus of IDF barbarism, even Condoleezza Rice insisted on and got a 48-hour halt to the Israeli air assault.

But the woman has no pride. Did she not notice that the so-called halt still allowed Israeli operations in support of ground offensives, and retaliation against alleged Hezbollah rocket launch sites? Since that is the excuse that Israel has used for most of its bombing of civilian targets, one wonders whether Rice realized that they were making a fool of her. (for more on this see the Hindu's Siddharth Varadarajan)

And then, in New York, Senator Charles Schumer announces that he was considering supporting the confirmation of John Bolton-because he was a strong supporter of Israel. Excuse me, but the last I heard, Bolton's position was Ambassador of the United States to the UN. Israel has its own vociferous representative at the UN. Can you imagine a legislator announcing support for a US ambassador because he was a strong supporter of say, Mexico, or Britain?

But of course Schumer is entirely correct in his diagnosis. Bolton, presumably with the full support of the White House, has not only sat on resolutions calling for a ceasefire, he managed to stonewall and then attenuate a resolution condemning the bombing attack on the UN camp at Khiyam, which killed four UN observers. Whatever happened to resolution 1502, passed unanimously in the wake of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, declaring attacks on UN personnel on mission to be a war crime?

At a time when most countries of the world are trying to pull together some type of peacekeeping force for the border, the message that the United States sends is that contributors can expect that their soldiers can expect no support whatsoever in the event of a murderous Israeli attack.

The Israeli leadership seems conflicted. On the one hand, they are admitting that they conceived their grand plan with false intelligence (does this sound familiar?), and have met far more opposition and paid a far higher cost than they expected.

So they are poised. Either they follow the NeoCon plan of digging themselves deeper into the hole they have made, and continue their assault, sending in more troops, or they look for a face saving multinational force.

The fig leaf for the multinational force would be the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty, symbolized by the disarmament of the militias called for in resolution 1559. But what if the sovereign Lebanese government does not want to disarm Hezbollah, how does the international community enhance its sovereignty by forcing it to something that a majority of the Lebanese, according to the Zogby poll, does not want?

But apart from pulling the Israeli chestnuts out of the fire, what would a UN or multinational force achieve? On the current basis, little or nothing. If it robustly defended the border area against Hezbollah, which does after all have the support of most of the people living there, it will be getting the attention that has driven Israel out.

The only way it would have local credibility would be it tries to resist Israeli incursions into Lebanon, which are in fact much frequent than those going the other way, it can count on zero backing from the US and, at present, from the UK.

A pay off that may persuade the Lebanese and Hezbollah could be the handover of the Shaba farms area to Lebanon, or to the force. The question here, certainly not helped by Damascus's reticence about Lebanese borders in general is whether the Israelis are occupying Syrian or Lebanese territory. One thing is sure, these are not Israeli territories. In fact they come, like the Golan, and the Palestinian territories, under resolution 242, long outstanding, which says the Israelis should get out of them anyway. It would certainly be anomalous to have a UN force enforcing Israeli control of annexed territories.

But that returns us to first principles. A Middle East peace does not depend on resolution 1559, which barely scraped by, but on 242, and it is clear that involves pressure on the Israeli government, financial, logistical and diplomatic. With significant portions of the Democratic Party seeming to agree with the White House that no matter what Israel does, no matter how unspeakable, they will give it unqualified support, that does not look very hopeful.

But at least the other members of the Security Council should be making it plain that there will be no concessions to US polices on Iran, Korea or anywhere else, until the US shows signs of recognizing that international law applies to itself and Israel, as well to others. If they agree to a multinational force, then they should get cast-iron guarantees from NATO and the US on protection for the force - including anti-aircraft capability.

And for a ray of hope, here is another ad from Gush Shalom in the Israeli paper Haaretz

"We warned them

And called on them

To escape!"

That is disgusting


Because we have:

Bombed the roads.

Destroyed the bridges.

Cut off the supply of gasoline.

Killed whole families on the way.

There is only one way

Of preventing more such disasters,

Which turn us into monsters:

T O S T O P!

There is no military solution!


Help us to

pay for actions and ads

by checks to Gush Shalom

P.O.Box 3322,

Tel-Aviv 61033.


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Ad published in Haaretz,

August 1, 2006.