Posted tagged ‘Israel’

How To Negotiate

March 11, 2018

The international stage offers the world examples of how to negotiate in difficult and complex situations. And at the end of the day, for populists leaders, “might makes right”, is the only real barometer.

  • Russia offers one example with its occupation and annexation of Crimea. One must recognize that Crimea has historic ties to mother Russia (as does nearby Ukraine). When the Soviet Union ran into financial difficulties and essential collapsed, the surviving “Russian Federation” tossed off the Crimean financial responsibility and “gave” the country to the Ukraine.Time passed and the present Russian Government decided to take back Crimea. So, in addition to historic ties between Crimea and Russia, the Crimean population is heavily salted with retired Russian military and government officers.Despite the international agreements, Russia simply said it was the will of the people and marched its troops into Crimea.
  • Another example of negotiation was presented by Israel. The Israeli government stated that there were legitimate claims by Palestinians and also by Israelis. Therefore, Israel divided the lands in question into two parts (about 50/50), and claimed one part outright for themselves. Israel then turned to the other half and said to the Palestinians, “let’s begin to negotiate”. The only question remaining would be over whether the Palestinians would have any land left after this second round of negotiations.
  • President Trump has now offered us a refresher on how authoritarian bullies negotiate. Trump simply makes a claim with no apparent justification and states that claim will be the starting point for a second round of negotiations. For example, the President has decided certain portions of NAFTA are not advantageous for certain US interests. Trump Administration negotiators were unsuccessful in resolving this issue in the frame work of the entire NAFTA agreement. End of story, no not quite.
    President Trump has decided on extremely weak grounds that steel and aluminum imports have weakened US capability to manufacture these basic metals in time of national emergency. Voila, a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% one on aluminum which is imported. And guess which countries would like to be exempt from these tariffs?
    President Trump has granted Canada and Mexico exemptions from the tariffs “temporarily” while negotiations continue on NAFTA. Hmmm. Do you wonder what will happen if Mexico and Canada do not cave on NAFTA negations?

All three of the negotiation styles are hallmarked by “bullyism”. “Might makes right” can help the negotiator rule the day in the short term but not without a stiff penalty. Russia has been hit with punishing sanctions. Israel has been isolated in the world court of opinion. And President Trump, who seems only interested in how anything he does or says benefits himself. is on a path (and taking Americans with him) to isolation and moral bankruptcy in world opinion and respect.

Hail to the Chief.

Danger Ahead?

February 11, 2015

It is relatively quiet on the domestic political scene. Alabama’s Supreme Court Justice, Rory Moore has fiendishly interrupted the gay marriage issue in Alabama, and in the process, struck a blow for State’s rights. In Congress, funding of the Homeland Security Department raises the prospect of a potential “shutdown” if agreement between Democrats and Republicans cannot be reached. Other than that, the Washington grid lock seems mostly in recess. Is this a time President Obama can relax?

Probably not. Look around the world and tell me what his next steps should be.

Syria is a political (and humanitarian) mess. Attempting to remove Basher Assad predictably has lead to an Iraq repeat, Arab killing Arab (and anyone else who gets in the way). Iraq is still highly suspect and shows no signs of uniting Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis into one functioning State. Egypt appears to be tilting further towards absolute authoritarian rule, albeit a secular dictatorship. Jordan, while currently flexing its muscles in its revenge battle with ISIS forces, is only inches away from chaos should the Monarchy be usurped.

And then there is Iran and Israel.

Iran’s government seems quite stable, but its foreign policies extend (and meddle) well into the Middle East.  Experts claim Iran is pursuing centuries old Persian and Shiite aspirations. Iran’s fingers are in Hezbollah, Hamas, Yemen, and Iraqi’s Shiites goals. Iran is also engaged in negotiating a nuclear development agreement with the West. This agreement may come to pass or may continue to be drawn out while Iran continues its nuclear programs in secret.

Israel suffers from a different type of instability. Israel is a full blown democracy where religious interests continue to hamper a secular view of the world. As a result, Israel sees advantages is Egypt’s authoritarian government, is ambivalent over the turmoil in Syria and Iraq because it sees these situations as enablers for its ambition in the West Bank. But Israel’s largest concern is Iran and in particular Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiations with Iran is out of the question because Israel fundamentally does not trust Iran to keep any promise, as well as Israel is not keen on making any concessions itself.

Hmmm. Is that all on the foreign stage?

Don’t overlook China and its aspirations to regain the leadership role China played in South East Asia thousand of years ago. (India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea may take exception to this goal.) And who can forget about Russia and their aggression in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. On one level, Russia can be said to be reliving its Eastern Europe role dating to back long before the Czars.

While the pundits may look for an over arching foreign policy, it is hard to see one. Prioritizing these situations might be more helpful and in the long term present a better chance for lasting solutions.

First, the Middle East is not the most important hotspot in the world regardless of the chaos taking place.

Second, Russia is significantly more important than the Middle East. Russia has a second rate economy but a first rate military with both nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Confronting Russian military aggression, which may become necessary, must be a last resort.

Third, China represents the most important place where American diplomacy needs to be placed. With 1+ billion people and the first or second strongest economy, China is going to become more powerful whether we like it or not. If you want fo think about doomsday, consider India has also 1+ billion people and nukes, Japan has a highly advanced technical and manufacturing infrastructure and is said could convert to a nuclear power over a weekend, and places like Vietnam, the Philippines, and South Korea are proud people who want to access minerals lying off their shores, these countries might be ready to fight for what they see as their rights.

But China represents something more. China has a lot to lose. China is now a very rich country after centuries of poverty. Under the motivation of not regressing, China could choose to exercise positive leadership including economic development and defense against rogue states in its region.

Similarly, Russia has both much to lose and much to gain by behaving responsibly on the world stage. Russia could also provide economic leadership through export of oil and gas, and security with targeted action against rogue regimes from India to Turkey.

I hope that President Obama sees the path forward as going through China (first), Russia (second), and then and only then through the Middle East. Of course both Russia and China may choose to pursue their own future vision.  And then what?

The alternative that peace is achieved in the Middle East (in some presently unknown manner) but relations with Russia and China sour. Are we better off?

Hmmm.  Better focus on those policies with the greatest potential payoff.

What Makes People Do Such Things?

July 21, 2014

Why would any country supply irregular troops with high powered, sophisticated missiles? Why would anyone possessing such missiles fire them indiscriminately at a flying object some 35,000 feet above? Why would these irregulars, once the plane shot down had been confirmed to be a civilian, non-combatant carrying about 300, not have stood down and allowed international aide workers to humanly collect the remains?

Why would a country bristle at the notion they were using disproportionate force in trying to stop missile attacks? Why would that nation act indignantly even though the death toll was running about 500 of them to 2 of us? Why would a country allow itself to get “suckered” in so that any response, no matter how justified, was likely to kill non-combatants?

Why would one religious sect wreak havoc upon another, all in the name of Allah? Why would the political establishment insist upon no realignment of government ministries, assuring a continuation of violence? Why would anyone send another to self detonate a massive bomb in hopes of killing an many innocents as possible?

Power and wealth offer as good as any explanation. If you have what you consider too small a share or maybe you have been cut out entirely, one can understand efforts, within certain bounds, of trying to correct the imbalance. Money and the personal power to get money can usually be attributed to most conflicts.

This weekend in Philadelphia, the Catholic Archdiocese made all in order in the Cathedral. The occasion was the visit of a relic, a two once sample of Pope John Paul’s blood. The faithful were invited to worship in front of the blood sample and use the occasion to seek divine intercession. Hmmm.

Besides creating the allusion of vampires and other blood suckers, why would any foist such a thing on others hoping for something better in life?

All of these events, in one way or another, defy rational explanation. They do reveal the lengths man is capable of going while at the same time offering what he purports to be a rational explanation.

What makes people do such things?

Caught Again In The Middle

July 11, 2014

“Ground Hog Day” is a movie where the same sequence of events seems to reoccur to Bill Murray all the time. It’s like deja vu all over again, so to speak. Looking at the news reports covering events in Gaza reminds me of that movie.

Once again, inexplicably, radical arab elements have chosen to fire enormous numbers of rockets into Israel. We have been here before. And we know what to expect. Israel will extract serious damage in retribution. In short, the poor, average Palestinian Gaza citizen will get the crap beat out of them.

After the rocket supply is exhausted, and world condemnation shifts to Israel (who will keep pounding), a cease fire will be agreed to. As the dust settles, we will see that Gaza wil have slid a little further into the sewer of humanity. And nothing else relating to a lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israelis will have changed.

World opinion can be an important goal. When Israel disproportionately responds to a Palestinian provocation as is too often the case, world opinion sides with the weaker Palestinians. So when peace talks are progressing (like a snail) and Hamas (or some other radical group) acts out (kidnapping, bombing, or stray rocket fire), how Israel responds can impact world opinion.

Almost always, Israel’s response has the flavor of an Arab argument settlement. “If you steal my chicken, I will steal two of yours”.  That’s like but even better than “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.

This particular Hamas provocation seems over the top. Firing over 100 rockets a day from Gaza where Israel has established blockades and strict boarder controls is impressive. But why this suicidal action? What are the Palestinians thinking?

There are two leadership attributes of resistance movements which seem to be in play. (1) For a resistance to flourish, it must have an enemy. With a well defined enemy, the rest of the citizenry will accept hardship when promised a better life in the future. (2) A resistance does not have to deliver the mail, sweep the streets, or fill pot holes. In short “resisting” is not governing or making a government work. It is perfect, however, for resistance leaders to scrape out a living while others remain destitute.

With this Hamas mind set matched against the Israeli negotiating philosophy (step one, divide the spoils in half, Israel takes its half and then Step 2, Israel returns to the bargaining table to dispute the other half), it is hard to see any end to this mayhem.

Israel’s past actions have brought it close to being an apartheid State (the way it is occupying the West Bank), and its excesses in reacting to provocations could justify “crimes against humanity” charges.  Hmmm.

But what else could Israel have done with a belligerent such as Hamas and Hezbollah and the tactics they select?

Learning From Recent History

April 30, 2014

The usual Congressional suspects are exercising their vocal cords again. These darlings of the Sunday talk shows are denouncing President Obama for lack of action in the Middle East and the Ukraine. Besides “leading from behind”, President Obama has simply been too tepid in his support of supposedly western leaning forces in these hot spots, they say. When asked to be specific, other than supplying arms to “our friends”, these critics have no response.


Syria is Iraq all over again. Were the US to get militarily involved, we should expect to be stepping into a totally amorphous situation. Everyone involved in the Syrian conflict is in it for themselves. The Syrian insurrection is not about ideals like the rule of law, or human rights. Rather it is about which political group can control which source of State revenue and benefit more than the others.

Israel and the Palestinians feel better off at the point of each other’s dagger than finding difficult sharing compromises. For the Palestinian Authority, this means continued employment and ready made excuses when the average Palestinian complains about the low standard of living. For Israel, no peace agreement allows the internal political process to avoid dealing with religious extremists. On the BBC evening news last night, a Jewish Hebron settler said that he was in Hebron because god wanted Jews living there. A peace agreement would undercut to this crazy thinking.

Egypt has also prompted criticism. When the US called for “democracy” with free and open elections, they got their wish. The only problem, the Muslim Brotherhood won. Under the Brotherhood’s leadership, the Constitution was redrawn changing the rules of the game (a no no in a Democratic society). Now with the military back in charge, believe it or not, there are Congress Members calling for change again.

The Ukraine is the latest conflict zone. Again American’s sense of fair play has been injured. While the theater of the absurd plays out in Eastern Ukraine, it should be clear that at best there is ambivalence within the Ukraine residents over its central government. Ukraine has no rich history of capitalism and democratic rule There is, instead, a longing for dependable handouts from the government. The Ukraine will be a financial drain on who ever becomes its rich uncle.

So, it rang true the other day when President Obama wondered out loud what people were thinking when they advocated getting tough with Russia? He asked whether they had learned anything after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan?

It is true that these are all complex and complicated situations. Direct sustained intervention was wrong and costly in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  It would be even a greater mistake now.  For enlightenment to return to these lands, it will take a century or longer.

Arguably the US should exert light pressure in the direction of capitalism and democracy in order to guide the nations forward. Light pressure, however, is not the hallmark of the military.

You Get What You Ask For

April 25, 2014

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would withdraw from Peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu said the reason for this decision was the Authority’s reconciliation with Hamas uniting both Gaza and the West Bank. Netanyahu describe the event as a choice between peace or terrorism.

Israel would never negotiate with terrorists, he said. The principle of not negotiating with terrorists is well proven strategy. The question is whether this view applies in this case.

What if somehow magically the Palestinian Authority and Israel has agreed to a set of swaps and a mutually acceptable border along the West Bank. Presumably the West Bank would emerge as a new sovereign state of Palestine. Why shouldn’t one expect that the Palestine would reach out to Gaza and seek reunification?

Netanyahu’s huffing and puffing are suspicious. News reports had indicated that both sides were still at odds over details of a settlement. The talks were about to end anyways due to the previously set end date.

Consider that Israel’s continued building of new settlements, and its claim to all of Jerusalem suggest Israel has no intention of land swaps that would provide a distribution of land similar to what existed at the time of the 1967 borders. These indications of a Hamas reconciliation was in fact a “gift” to Israel. Netanyahu could righteously profess Hamas was the reason, not the overall negotiations.

Of course it takes two to negotiate. The Arab world (and Iran) have been irrational about their reluctance to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Hamas and Hezbollah, in addition, have spearheaded the irrationality expression by perpetrating outrageous acts of violence. Lost in this violence unfortunately has been the political goals and rational routes to achieve them.

Israel negotiating position has been suspect for quite some time. It is not even clear that Israel would live by borders it drew if the Authority agreed to them.

In many regards, Israel is caught in a lose-lose position. Israel could simply annex all the lands on the West Bank and make the Palestinians Israeli residents. Demographic trends, however, predict that in time the Palestinian birth rate would produce a voting population greater than that of the Jews. If, as a consequence, Israel denied full citizenship to the Palestinians, Israel could look forward to being likened to the old South Africa… apartheid.

President Obama is faced with the disappointment of having tried to broker peace and having not succeeded. Given the behavior of both sides, Obama ought to withdraw and focus on other world regions.

The Palestinian Authority and Israel must now experience the natural consequences of their behaviors. While the US is obligated to defend Israel if necessary, the Middle East no longer plays the critical role in world affairs it once did.

In diplomatic terms, President Obama ought to tell Prime Minister Netanyahu he wishes him good luck and call when he is in the area.

Missed Opportunity?

April 10, 2014

Israel’s negotiating strategies employ the “reuse” tactic when ever it is convenient. Under this ploy, Israel makes an agreement to do X in return for Y.   X, however, may require multiple steps to complete as in a prisoner release. After the X and Y agreement, Israel will huff and puff about some other Palestinian behavior and tie the completion of X ( that is the release of the remainder of prisoners) to some additional change in Palestinian behavior.

The US has found itself in a similar position with recent bad Russian behavior.  The US could have reverted to this Israeli negotiating style but seems to have chosen not to. What?

Push back the video a few years to when Russia and the US agreed to the “New START Treaty” where each side agreed to reduce its arsenals of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Now fast forward to today and the Russian bad behavior in Crimea. If the US were Israel, the US would have postponed any further implementation of denuclearization until Russian behavior improved.

So what did the US do?

After conferring, not with the Russians, but with legislators from States which are home to most of the missile silos, the US announced plans to move forward with taking an additional bite out of the total nuclear arsenal. Hmmm.

Actually this should be no surprise. President Obama has kept the reduction of nuclear arms a top element of his foreign policy. The President seems to believe that US actions are the strongest form of leadership. Oh, if the world were only that simple.

In reality, it makes no difference in terms of having sufficient nuclear deterrents whether the US reduces its arsenal by 50 silos, 2 nuclear subs, or 33 B-52s or does nothing. The US (as well as the Russians) will still have more than enough weapons to kill everyone on the planet.

The more I think about this, the more I like the American position providing there is no illusion that this American action will prompt a similar Russian response at this time. Keeping ones word is a useful long term strategy. While keeping promises does not win the day every time, it does in the fullness of time.

On the other hand, can you imagine what former Vice President Cheney would have done with this issue?

The News Behind The News

January 12, 2014

Late yesterday the Israeli Government announce the death of Ariel Sharon.  Sharon will be remembered as a warrior and statesman for Zionism.   He may also be remembered as someone who was kept alive in a vegetative state for almost 7 years following a massive stroke in 2006.  It is hard to understand the technical heroics that were necessary but now Sharon is free.

But that is not all the news.

The day before Sharon’s death, the Israeli Government also announced additional settlements in the greater Jerusalem area.  And the land upon which these buildings will stand is land taken from Palestinians.  Hmmm.  Peace process?  I don’t think so.

Sharon gained his fame fighting against Arab aggression.  At a time when the Arab world could have recognized Israel and begun a reconciliation process, the Arabs instead used terrorism and outright attacks hoping to crush Israel and push them into the sea.  Sharon and others rallied Israelis and defeated the Arab aggression.

Fast forward to 2014, Israel’s future prospects seem clear.  One option is an honest negotiation involving land swaps around the 1967 borders and the creation of two separate States.  The other option which is consistent with unconstrained settlement expansion is a one State solution with second class status for the remaining Arabs.  In other words, an Israeli apartheid solution.

Israel is a democracy.  Its government represents a widely diverse electorate.  Ultra-orthodox on one side and reformed progressives at the other end of the spectrum.  In between are all sorts of Zionists.  But while the decision to continue building on Palestinian land may delight certain factions more than others, it is never the less the result of a democratic process and reflects the responsibility of all.

Israel has the memory of other former warriors and leaders.  These men and women defended the right to a Zionist State.  It appears now that Israel will need to find a new type of warrior, this time one who seeks to outrightly impose Zionism on whoever lives in the land Israel seeks to call its Zionist State where ever those borders may fall.

The news, however, will find it easier to dwell upon Sharon than on the death of democracy which is also taking place.


The Sound Of Reason

November 12, 2013

Last evening, Robert Gates, former CIA Director, Secretary of Defense, and holder of many other leadership positions including President of Texas A&M, spoke in Philadelphia.  In short, he was great.  He spoke clearly and straight forward.  He sprinkled in some insightful humor which both made one laugh and think.  Gates is on a speech giving circuit and if he comes to your city, try and see him.  You won’t be disappointed.

This was not just a light hearted evening.  Gates highlighted his years of service and the men he had served with.  President Reagan was the best, and Presidents Nixon and Carter seemed tied for the least redeeming.  The “take home” observations, however, involved the dysfunction of Congress and the seemingly intractable situation with Iran.

Gates, when asked if Congress was unethical, replied he thought they were no more so than most previous Congresses.  Rather, he said, Congress suffered from too many members who viewed their Congressional service as a “career”.  As such, all decision Congress members make are colored with how they align with reelection plans.  Forgotten is how decisions impact the Country, especially in the long term.

His Iran comments underscored Congress’ weakness.  Iran or Persia as it has been known historically is set upon being the dominant State in the region.  Iran has concluded this means they must possess nuclear weapon capability if not outrightly having them.  The fact that most of the rest of the world does not want nuclear weapons to spread makes no difference to the Iranians.  Just look at North Korea on one hand, and Iraq and Libya on the other hand.  Those with survive, those without perish.

But what to do, cautioned Gates, was a huge problem.  Preventive military intervention like a missile attack might slow the Iranians down but in the end they would rededicate themselves and put their nuclear facilities deeper underground.

Negotiating would almost certainly prove fruitless.  Iranians are great negotiators, Gates said, and they would string out talks until they had what they wanted.

With both the US and Israel having drawn lines in the sand, war looks inevitable (since Gates believed Iran would build nuclear weaponry).  War, however, would open Pandora’s box with the reactions of other Middle East countries or the greater Muslim world not to be predicted.

Should Iran gain nuclear weapon capability and the West do nothing, many other Middle East countries would begin their own programs.  Soon nuclear weapons would be available like AK-47s.

Gates describe Iran as a critical problem with no obvious solution.  With Congress as dysfunctional as it is, the US is in a weak position to forge any plan that would unite other countries in a common stand.  This was the note upon which the evening closed.


It was clear that Gates saw Congress as a much more important and urgent problem to solve than Iran.  Without Congress legislating rationally against a long term set of objectives the Country would become impotent.

As with Iran, Gates offered no new ideas on how to fix Congress, other than it was each of our responsibilities to try and do so.

Middle East Puzzle

October 24, 2013

There’s an old baseball story about a manager trying to defend one of his decisions.  It seems the game was tied with runners of first and second, one out.  The manager asks the gathered reporters what should the short stop do if the ball was hit to his right?  Should the short stop throw to third base for one out, or to second trying for a double play, or to first base for a sure single out?  About one third of the reporters picked “throw to third”, one third picked “throw to second” and one third picked “throw to first”.  There you have it said the manager, regardless of my choice, two thirds of you will find it wrong.

The story bears a more than slight resemblance to the Middle East.  What course should the Obama Administration being following?  As with this baseball story, what ever course the Administration picks, more than half of the Middle East players will be against the US choice.

Looking at Syria, it should be clear that the insurgents will be as bad a nightmare or worse than the current Assad regime.  They are unfit to rule.

Should Iran agree to certain concessions, and the Western powers accept these concessions and reduce the sanctions, you can be sure Israel and Saudi Arabia will be opposing any reductions in sanctions.

The clearest case for opposing an Iran compromise comes from the Saudis.  While the Saudis are Sunnis, they are first and foremost a regime that demands stability and status quo.  The Saudis are not in favor of popular vote (in the Middle East that exists today).  invading Iraq, aiding the Syrian insurgents, and encouraging the Muslim Brotherhood.  There were all actions the Saudis saw as very dangerous and totally misguided.

To a large extent, this is also how Israel see the Middle East.  Unfortunately, Israel did lobby for Iraq regime change and so its position is a little manufactured.  Also, the Israeli position versus Iran’s nuclear program is compromised.  Were Israel to say, if Iran gives up (and we can verify) its nuclear programs, we will do the same, there might be a basis for a brighter future.  Such a position would for sure put Israel in a less hypocritical position.  Middle East stability, not democracy, is what Israel thinks is in its best interest.

So that’s the lay of the land.  No matter what the Obama Administrations proposes, there will be a number of countries that object.  Hmmm.

Don’t forget, President Obama “leads from behind”.  In other words, the President tries to “react” to world events rather than precipitating them.  So how should he resolve the Syria uprising, the Iranian nuclear issue, the Palestinian-Israeli peace accords, the Iraq unrest, the Egyptian failed democracy, or pick any country in Africa’s lawlessness?

So, who again is worried about the delayed start-up of the Affordable Care Act web site?