Tuesday, January 18, 2005

When I read dr. Clam's original spiel on Israel, it reminded me a great deal about this snippet of an article I had read in the Economist in May 2003. I only just checked it now for accuracy.

So how did the neo-cons go from being one group among several to the positions of influence they now occupy? By articulating views that came to seem more important after September 11th 2001—but which many conservatives agreed with even before that.

Neo-cons start with the notion that America faces the challenge of managing a “unipolar world” (a phrase coined by a neo-conservative commentator, Charles Krauthammer, in 1991). They see the world in terms of good and evil. They think America should be willing to use military power to defeat the forces of chaos. Admittedly, they go on to advocate democratic transformation in the Middle East, a view that is not shared throughout the administration. (This is an extremely radical policy, so not only are neo-cons not ‘neo', they are not, in the normal sense of the term, conservative either.) But that apart, their views are not so different from others in the administration.

Neo-cons are also energetic in style, preferring moral clarity to diplomatic finesse, and confrontation to the pursuit of incremental advantage. They are sceptical of multilateral institutions that limit American power and effectiveness; they prefer to focus on new threats and opportunities, rather than old alliances.

Again, these views are not unique to neo-cons. The trends have been visible in American policy since the end of the cold war. Indeed, as Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations points out, opinion in the Republican Party has been shifting for longer than that. The movement away from Euro-centric east-coasters towards Sunbelt conservatives more concerned about Asia, Latin America and the Middle East began with Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan in the 1970s.

These common intellectual roots made it possible for neo-cons to maintain close ties with traditional conservative politicians such as Messrs Rumsfeld and Cheney. Though neither really counts as a neo-con, Mr Rumsfeld signed a letter to President Bill Clinton in 1998 urging him to make removing Saddam Hussein and his regime “the aim of American foreign policy”, and the founding document of neo-con policy was the Defence Planning Guidance drafted for Mr Cheney in 1992 during his stint as defence secretary. Written by Mr Wolfowitz and Mr Libby, it raised the notion of pre-emptive attacks and called on America to increase military spending to the point where it could not be challenged. Ten years later, both ideas have been enshrined as official policy in the 2002 National Security Strategy.

The event that turned general like-mindedness into specific influence was the terrorist assault of September 11th 2001. “Night fell on a different world,” Mr Bush said. Neo-cons had long been obsessed with the Middle East and with “undeterrable” threats, such as nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists. Traditional Republican internationalists, who had less to say on either count, offered little intellectual alternative. As the old rule of politics says, “You can't fight something with nothing.” Mr Bush therefore embraced large parts of the neo-con agenda.

Dr Clam answered my question on winning thus.

(1) I think there is a broad consensus in Israel that a win for Israel would be to exist as a normal state behind secure and defensible borders, with nobody shooting at them.

(2) I think there is no broad consensus in Palestine what a win for Palestine would be. I would suggest that the most probable definition of a win among Palestinians is still "All the Jews go back to where they came from." That is the crux of the problem.

But I get the feeling that at some level, Israelis believe that winning is the palestinians not getting what they want ie. formal statehood and Israeli settlements disbanded, because obviously it would be easier to be behind secure borders if there wasn't so many enclaves to have to defend (or attack for that matter). Also, I hardly see there being possibilities for "labour mobility" if everybody goes back behind their secure borders. Clearly there could be win-win situations, but both sides are more intent on making the other side losers. I guess when the military elements on both sides aren't really interested in winning at all but making sure the enemy doesn't get a leg up, where does it end? The civilian elements are more keen for win-win by compromise, but they are utterly hostage to the military elements. As soon as there's a sniff of negotiation an attack will be certain to scuttle it.


Dr. Clam said...

You're still trapped in that "moral equivalence" "cycle of terror" mindset. It does not map well to reality. There is a basic asymmetry between what the average Israeli wants and what the average Palestinian wants, as I said before. Only when you accept that as a fact can you hope to make progress, whether you are the Secretary General of the UN or a harmless blogger...

Dr. Clam said...

In the non sequitur department, I ought to point out that the labour mobility thing is very much a single-sided sword: sealing the borders hurts the Palestinian economy, but Israel is still a desirable destination for Third World workers and has easily made good the missing low-wage jobs by importing workers from places like the Phillipines, Eastern Europe, and Nigeria...