This week commentators in Israel, the Arab world, and the United States have been writing the obituaries for Secretary of State John Kerry's attempt to negotiate some sort of peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. I was one of those commentators who wrote the obituary on the talks when they began last summer. I did this because the situation was not ripe for peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads a party and a coalition that still supports the idea of a Greater Israel created through the ongoing settlement of the West Bank. In 2009 he mouthed his acceptance of the two-state solution in a speech at Bar-Ilan University. But since then he has done nothing to indicate that he really believes in the necessity of such a solution or of Israeli territorial concessions in order to arrive at one. Members of his coalition such as Deputy Defense Minister Dani Danon have spoken out openly against a two-state solution with no punishment from Netanyahu. Meanwhile the Palestinians are divided between the corrupt Fatah Party ruling the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas ruling in Gaza. Hamas, and resistance within his own Fatah prevents PA President Mahmoud Abbas from making the necessary concessions on such things as a right to return to Israel for Palestinian refugees that would be necessary to reciprocate territorial concessions from an Israeli government interested in peace. Both Netanyahu and Abbas were content to rule in peace with no thought towards peace until Kerry came to disturb their tranquility.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Elections for the lower house of parliament, Lok Sabha, began yesterday in India. The elections are in stages across the country starting in northeast India near Bangladesh. They don't end until May 15 when counting begins. The purpose of the staggered dates is to allow police and poll workers to move from one state to another. Here Peter Bergen explains some of the unique features of Indian elections.
In the nineteenth century the United States also held elections on different dates according to when the various states decided to hold them in September through November. This way the president could monitor the results and see if he was likely to be reelected or not. But in the twentieth century elections were reduced to a single common Tuesday in November and the president in a close election would spend an anxious evening watching or listening as the returns came in to the White House over the radio or television. If you watch the election results on one of the networks or on a cable station like CNN, the command center has an array of fancy electronic screens to display the data and the political correspondents advise the viewers on what key indicators to watch for in the battleground states during the evening.
Here is my list of things to watch for during the next five weeks.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Last week there were two events that highlighted what unionists care about or, more accurately, what they fear. First, the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), a loyalist paramilitary party linked to the Ulster Volunteer Front (UVF), Billy Hutchinson, gave an interview in which he said that he did not regret the two murders for which he was convicted and served time in prison because they helped prevent a united Ireland. The murders were of two Catholic teenagers, picked out at random and killed for being Catholic. Both the UVF and its smaller satellite Red Hand Commandos and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) had a strategy of killing random Catholics as reprisals for republican terrorist and guerrilla actions on the theory that this would put pressure on ordinary Catholics to not cooperate with republican paramilitaries. Here is some nationalist reaction to the interview.
A few days later Anna Lo, the Alliance member of the Assembly for South Belfast and its candidate in the upcoming European Parliament elections, gave an interview in which she said she was in favor of a united Ireland and that she saw Northern Ireland as an "artificial colonial entity." Guess which of these two interviews was more upsetting to unionists?
Saturday, March 15, 2014
During the 2008 campaign Hillary Clinton famously challenged then Sen. Barack Obama's readiness for the presidency with her "3:00 phone call" ad about a president receiving a call in the middle of the night waking him up to deal with a crisis. Crises have traditionally been the real test of a president since 1945. All presidents feared being labeled as "soft on Communism" during the Cold War or appeasers and so many failed the test by over-reacting.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
In a snarky retort during the 2012 presidential campaign Obama told Republican nominee Mitt Romney that the 1980s wanted their foreign policy back after Romney said that Russia was America's greatest national security threat. Obama should have told Benjamin Netanyahu that Pretoria wanted its 1980s foreign policy back. From 1978 to 1989, during the period of State President P.W. Botha, the ideology of the ruling National Party in Pretoria was that of the Total Onslaught/Total Response. This was a sort of neo-apartheid gloss on traditional apartheid. All of Pretoria's critics and enemies were clumped together as one threat led and controlled from Moscow: this meant the Western anti-apartheid movement advocating economic sanctions against South Africa in the United States and Europe, the white liberal opposition Progressive Federal Party, the liberal English-language press, the Third World countries supporting sanctions and voting against Pretoria in the United Nations (UN) and the African National Congress (ANC) liberation movement and its de facto internal wing, the United Democratic Front, and the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) liberation movement in Namibia and its Angolan and Cuban protectors in Angola. All part of the same conspiracy. Part of a vast left-wing conspiracy--it would almost make Hillary Clinton blush.
Monday, March 3, 2014
The present standoff in Ukraine makes me think of two things. First, in 1994 Ukraine voluntarily gave up its control of Soviet nuclear weapons then stationed on its territory under American pressure. Kiev wanted to please Washington, which wanted only one nuclear successor state for the Soviet Union rather than four (Belarus and Kazakhstan were the other two republics with nuclear weapons). For the sake of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, Washington wanted Moscow to assume complete control of all Soviet nuclear weapons. I remember thinking that given Russian history, Ukraine was crazy to give up control of its deterrent to Moscow--the capital that had twice in the past strangled Ukrainian sovereignty. Had I been an adviser in the Clinton administration I would have urged Clinton not to pressure any of the three republics to give up their weapons for a few years until Moscow had proved its good intentions.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Putin once said that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of the Twentieth Century. Putin was a man formed by the Soviet Union, by the secret police that he spent his career in. Unlike Boris Yeltsin who appointed him prime minister in December 1999 he was never comfortable with the idea of freedom. Unlike Aleksander Solzhenitsyn who looks back to Russian history before the Soviet Union, Putin's scope of history is limited to the period after November 1917. So which Soviet leader does Putin see as his model? There are several who might come to mind.