Category Archives: Foreign Policy

AFTER RUSSIA LOSES

Wars are unpredictable affairs. Experts can evaluate troop strength and weaponry. But morale and courage do not lend themselves to quantifiable analysis. Nor does leadership. No one can predict when a former KGB agent will become psychotic, or when a former comic will mutate from a Charlie Chaplin to a Winston Churchill.

But allowing for the uncertainty, it now appears likely that Russia will lose its war against Ukraine.

Russian forces are running out of supplies. There are reports of hungry Russian soldiers looting supermarkets and gas stations, desperately seeking food and fuel. Russian rations have been found bearing 2002 expiration dates, evidence of corruption within Russia’s military bureaucracy. That 40-mile convoy of armored vehicles, the subject of much speculation, has been stalled outside the capital for days, apparently unable to move. The reason may relate, again, to corruption. Reportedly, government officials bought cheap Chinese imitations of the Michelin XZL military tire, and the shoddy merchandise is failing, as counterfeits are wont to do.

Cable television maps show expanding Russian penetration into the country. But appearances are deceiving. Ukraine is very large, and the Ukrainian defense forces are trading territory for time. The further the Russians advance, the longer and more vulnerable their supply lines become. So while they may occupy more space, they are unable to capture many cities.

Moreover, it is not clear whether capturing cities represents any kind of victory. Russians troops may blast their way in, but once in, they lack the manpower to control. In the southern city of Kherson, military units were greeted by defiant crowds, jeering and calling them “fascists.” In one video, a local resident can be seen climbing up on a Russian armored personnel carrier, triumphantly waving the Ukrainian flag while local citizens cheer. From the video, it is hard to tell who has conquered whom.

Russia has now committed all of the personnel mobilized for the invasion. There are no remaining reserves. Russian casualties are much higher than expected. Ukrainian military officials recently claimed the figure exceeds 11,000, while Russia put the figure at a much lower 498. Both figures may be dismissed as propaganda, but the actual number doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Russia has become so desperate for manpower that it is hiring Chechens, and offering large cash payments to Syrians, to fight in Ukraine.

The bombing of civilian targets, however inhumane, is another sign of weakness, not strength. Putin and his commanders would not be unleashing this misery if they thought they were winning. Instead, they would be preparing to install a puppet government to rule a sullen and subdued populace. Bombing civilians just stiffens Ukrainian resolve. It is the military equivalent of a childish temper tantrum, and further evidence that Russia is losing.

Anything can happen. But in view of what is happening so far, it may be time to start planning for Russia’s defeat. And that planning should begin with this somewhat counter-intuitive realization: historically, Russia and the United States have been friends, not enemies.

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SEPTEMBER 11, 2021 IS COMING

For the past 19 anniversaries of 9/11, we have commemorated that national tragedy with a certain sense of relief and vindication.  On the first anniversary, even as we mourned the 2,977 victims, we could derive some measure of comfort from the fact that we had hunted down their killers, smashed their hideouts, and ousted the 7th century Taliban fanatics who had sheltered and nurtured them.  

By the 10th anniversary, we could mark the death of Osama Bin Laden.

What emotions will we experience on the 20th anniversary?

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THE EQUIVALENCY MYTH: ISRAEL AND HAMAS IN THEIR OWN WORDS

As fighting flares in the Middle East, many in the American media establishment and commentariat  have adopted the familiar crouch position known as “equivalency.” The New York Times, for example, faithfully includes both sides’ latest casualty figures, and carefully juxtaposes photos of bombing damage in Gaza with rocket damage in Israel — as if efforts to kill civilians are equivalent to retaliatory efforts to prevent the killing of those civilians.

In that same newspaper, Hamas terrorists are never called “terrorists” because that would undermine the equivalency narrative. Instead, the terrorists are called “militants” –to distinguish them, one supposes, from the imaginary Hamas “moderates.”

The problem with equivalency is not that it adds extraneous information to the mix. Arab lives do matter. Destruction in Gaza is newsworthy. It is proper to report on those subjects.

Rather, the problem with equivalency is that it doesn’t report enough information. It provides no perspective. It doesn’t tell the reader anything about the actors, other than their respective suffering. It would be acceptable for media outlets to present both sides’ casualty figures, and both sides’ property damage — IF those outlets also presented both sides’ values, motives, and aims.

But they do not.

Fortunately, that information is readily available. One need not guess or argue about it because it is there, in the parties’ own words.

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FREEING AFRIDI

President Joe Biden came into office promising to unify the country. So far, unity has proved elusive. On confirmations, immigration policy, Iran, and countless other issues, the parties seem as combative and disunited as ever.

But if unity is elusive, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It’s just a matter of finding issues on which both parties can unite.

Here is one: Freeing Dr. Shakil Afridi.

His is not exactly a household name. But it should be. Millions of Americans who watched the 2012 Academy Award winning Zero Dark Thirty caught a glimpse of a Pakistani doctor who set up a polio vaccination program in an effort to secure DNA samples from the residents of the compound which the CIA suspected housed Usama Bin Laden. That character, unnamed in the movie, is based on Dr. Afridi.

Dr. Afridi as depicted in Zero Dark Thirty
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ERDOGAN THREW IT ON THE GROUND

I go to my favorite hot dog stand
And the dude says,
“You come here all the time! Here’s one for free”
I said, “Man! What I look like? A charity case?”

I took it and threw it on the ground!
I don’t need your handouts!
I’m an adult!
Please!
You can’t buy me hot dog, man!

The Lonely Island (“Threw it on the Ground”)

In his Threw It On the Ground video, Adam Samberg demonstrates to an energy drink salesman, a hot dog vendor, his girlfriend, and others, that he is not a man to be trifled with. Whether he is handed a free sample drink, a complimentary hot dog, or a cellphone on which his Dad is calling, he shows his fierce independence by throwing it on the ground.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not exactly throw President Donald Trump’s October 9, 2019 letter on the ground, but he was animated by the same defiant spirit when he visited the White House and returned the letter to its author.

Adam Samberg   Erdogan

In fairness to the Turkish President, President Trump’s letter could be viewed, much like the hot dog man’s gesture, as an attempt to buy him. The U.S. leader had written that in return for halting his invasion of Syria, Trump would help him “make a great deal.”  Not only that, but also: “History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way.”  He warned him not to be “a tough guy” or “a fool.”

According to early reports, Erdogan threw the letter, not on the ground, but in the garbage bin. Continue reading

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THE US AND THE UN: TIME TO GO OR TIME FOR A TIME-OUT?

Last month, hours before the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the United States for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Ambassador Nikki Haley said: “I’ve often wondered why, in the face of such hostility, Israel has chosen to remain a member of this body.” An interesting question. But a better question would have been: Why has the United States chosen to remain a member of that body?Nikki Haley

It is easy to understand why the United States joined originally. The UN emerged from the World War II alliance formed to combat the Axis Powers.  On January 1, 1942, three weeks after Pearl Harbor, the United States and 25 other nations signed the “Declaration of the United Nations,” pledging to commit their full military and economic resources to defeat Germany and Japan.  During the war, 20 additional countries signed the Declaration. These 46 countries were invited to attend the San Francisco Conference in 1945, which formally established the organization.

We are now three generations removed from that genesis. During those years, the UN has metamorphosed from its original mission as a bulwark against dictatorships to a safe harbor for them. According to Freedom House, only 45% of the members of the General Assembly are full-fledged democracies. The rest range from repressive authoritarian regimes such as Russia, Iran, and China, to full blown prison camps like North Korea.

If the United States were not already a member, would it make sense for it to join the UN in its present form? Continue reading

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THIS YEAR IN JERUSALEM

The President of the United States confronted a difficult decision concerning recognition in the volatile Middle East. He was personally sympathetic to the Israeli side.  Many of his closest friends and confidantes were Jews, including some with whom he had participated in business ventures. But now his Secretary of State argued forcefully against recognition. The Secretary’s opposition was shared by almost the entire foreign policy establishment, as well as by the New York Times and the Washington Post. He was warned that if he proceeded with recognition, violence would erupt throughout the Middle East, America’s position at the United Nations would be weakened, and he himself would be accused of pandering for the Jewish vote.

Bucking the advice of his Secretary of State, the President decided in favor of recognition. The Prime Minister of Israel thanked him, and told him that his decision would earn him an immortal place in Jewish history. Jerusalem old city Western Wall with Israeli flag

These events, as recounted by Clark Clifford, occurred 70 years ago, when the President was Harry Truman, not Donald Trump; the Secretary of State was George Marshall, not Rex Tillerson; the Prime Minister was David Ben Gurion, not Benjamin Netanyahu; and the issue was recognition of the State of Israel, not recognition of its capital. With the benefit of hindsight, most would agree that Truman made the right decision in May of 1948. Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel — though almost universally condemned by the supposed experts on the region today — ultimately will also be seen as the right move. Continue reading

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REGRETFULLY YOURS, DONALD TRUMP

The 2016 Republican and Democratic Party conventions are history, but nothing said there can be aptly labeled historic. Of course, partisans on both sides insisted that their favorites delivered oratorical performances that were one part Winston Churchill and two parts Hank Aaron. The preferred phrase was: “He (or, equally often, she) hit it out of the ballpark.” In fact, even though many speakers did creditable jobs reading the words others wrote for them, no one really hit it out of the infield.

TRUMP

But if most of the noise was sound and fury signifying nothing inside the convention halls, at least one memorable statement was made outside. That statement was made by Donald Trump, and it was a statement that he, the nation, and the world, may live to rue.   Continue reading

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ELIE WIESEL, ENTEBBE, AND THE PARADOX OF POWER

In a strange coincidence of timing, the world marked two events of great import to the Jewish people during this past Fourth of July weekend. The first was the death of Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, author of 54 books, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The second was the 40th anniversary of the Raid on Entebbe, in which Israeli commandos flew 2500 miles to Uganda to rescue 102 hostages.

The two events inform the way the world sees modern Jewry. But they do so from opposing poles. Elie Wiesel’s life and works embody the Jew as Victim. When he wrote about genocide or evil on a mass scale, Wiesel commanded respect because these were not merely academic issues for him. They were part of his personal biography. The Raid on Entebbe, on the other hand, symbolizes the Jew as Warrior. The Israeli soldiers stunned the world with their lethal military effectiveness.

Wiesel2 yoni

The differences have consequences. As the Jewish State’s image shifted from Wiesel’s world of suffering and oppression, to the triumph of the Entebbe operation, so did sympathy and support. Israel became perceived more as master than martyr. Continue reading

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SELF-INSPECTION: A FARCE IN FARSI

On October 5, 2014, a huge orange fireball illuminated Tehran. The explosion took place at Parchin, an Iranian military installation used for testing nuclear weapon triggers. Witnesses reported that all trees in a hundred-yard radius of two neighboring villages were burned, while windows in the capital were shattered.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that this same Parchin facility will be subject to inspection – by the Iranians themselves.rouhani

Under a secret side agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran, not the IAEA, will provide photographs, videos, and environmental samples of the site. The evidence will be furnished “using Iranian authenticated equipment.” In short, as two commentators have noted, the agreement leaves it to Iran to take an inspection selfie. The Director General of the IAEA will be permitted to visit the site but only “as a courtesy by Iran.”

Until now, opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action could marshal their arguments with some degree of respect for its apologists. Granted this was difficult, with the Obama administration insisting – falsely – that Israel was the only nation opposing the treaty, and implying – deviously – that domestic opponents were guilty of double loyalty.  But the Parchin deal marks the point where tragedy turns into farce.

There is no historical precedent for such an arrangement. Or is there? Continue reading

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