The Obama Administration has decided that a total freeze on settlements in the conflagration zones of disputed Israeli living spaces on Palestinian land is in the interests of Middle East peace (whatever the hell that is).
Pres. Obama should be careful what he wishes for:
Israel’s prime minister on Monday rejected the U.S. demand for a settlement freeze as unreasonable, moving closer to a collision with the Obama administration, while mobs of Jewish settlers attacked Palestinian laborers and burned West Bank fields.
Six Palestinians were injured in the stone-throwing attacks, meant to protest the removal of several tiny settler squatter camps by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Monday’s events highlighted Netanyahu’s increasingly difficult balancing act. The hard-line leader is trying to keep his pro-settler ruling coalition together by rejecting President Barack Obama’s call for a halt to all settlement activity, at the risk of hurting Israel’s all-important relationship with the U.S.
Settlers have vowed to respond with attacks on Palestinians and their property to any attempt to remove even the tiniest enclave _ a tactic known as “price tag.”
“We will do everything we can to oppose this,” said Yehuda Shimon, a resident of the Havat Gilad outpost in the northern West Bank.
This blog and many others have noted in the past the extremist views of the modern settler movement in Israel. A substantial minority of them are not only virulently racist and law-breaking, but treasonous to boot, ready and willing to employ violence against their own Israeli soldiers and police, not to mention the innocent Palestinians who have the misfortune of living beside them.
If Obama pushes too hard against the Israeli government on the settlement issue, he risks not only emboldening the settlers and their supporters into an open confrontation that could expose fault lines within the Israel-US relationship, but toppling the likely best government Israel is going to have for the next few years. The Israeli moderates and leftists are weak and disorganized, and the responsible Israeli right has ceded power to its extremist fellow travelers. While Israeli democracy remains strong and commitment to Israeli democratic principles remains significant, the odds of an extremist Israeli government taking office are not as improbable as they once were.
Combine a weakened US-Israel relationship in the short term with strong paranoia over the Iranian nuclear threat and you have the ingredients for a terrible disaster unfolding late this year or next in the form of a strident Israeli attitude towards festering Palestinian problems (the incompetent restraint of the IDF in the Gaza campaign reverting back to a no-holds barred Operation Galilee attitude) and the safety of Iranian civilians in the cross hairs of IDF jets bombing nuclear targets.
Curzon of Coming Anarchy had a rather blistering post about Obama’s incompetence thus far in office on the foreign policy front. While I disagree with him (each president is usually handed a retched pile of policy mistakes and consequences by his predecessor) in many ways, I acknowledge that Curzon is right in one respect: Obama’s mismanagement (whether out of incompetence, ideology or good intentions) of key alliances could come back to haunt us in a significant way in the short to mid-term. How he aligns relationships with Brazil, India, Turkey, Indonesia and other key states will perhaps dull the negative impact of such mismanagement, but its likely they won’t be enough to help us now when we may need it on important initatives.
Years from now, how will the world recall the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis? How will the abandonment of between a quarter million to a million or more people to certain death by the world be viewed?
Of course, killing fields are all too common so this line of questioning is pointless.
Cambodia, Rwanda, Dar Fur, the Congo. All have witnessed “the treatment”, international hand-wringing and the occasional hiccup of half-hearted measures to stem the dreadful tide of death. History repeats itself, especially in this fashion, early and often.
Burma seems destined to join these ranks. Credible reports of aid theft, continued obstruction and delay of accepting the necessary aid workers and whispered observations of ethnic minorities getting nothing intentionally (we call that ethnic cleansing in some places) mean nothing to the world at large.
What then could be done?
Military intervention is highly unlikely and probably not advisable.
Inaction is preferable to most but morally repugnant.
Begging the junta publicly and privately to accept aid is disgraceful.
Once again, the US finds itself in a position where it could influence events but cannot because it lacks the capacity in most instances to operate on multiple levels of policy and activity. The crisis develops to America’s policymakers as an either/or fallacy, either intervention or nothing, or like Dar Fur, intervention or half-hearted measures.
There is more to the picture. The following are examples of other measures that could be explored, some in tandem, some obviously cancel the other out.
- The US could dangle the prospect of a lifting of sanctions against Burma in exchange for a firm agreement to allow aid and (perhaps) engage in a real dialogue with China, India, Thailand and ASEAN or the UN present with regime opponents. The sanctions have a symbolic effect but little else in a country where the above countries enjoy far greater influence and economic pull than we do.
- The US could muster the “democracies” as John McCain and Robert Kagan are fond of claiming can be “aligned” and push at the UN and through the global media for an ICC related indictment of the junta as war criminals (Crimes against humanity, to include ethnic cleansing). Even if the Chinese and Russians veto it, push and push harder until the Olympic Games are set to begin. Control the narrative of the global media by influencing events relentlessly that builds up pressure on more affected parties like India, Singapore and Thailand. Failure is still likely but lessons learned from this may come in handy in future potential disasters like Bangladesh, North Korea, Laos, Cambodia, etc.
- Find an answer to the question of how influential are the Chinese in Burma? How many of the officers in the junta are in their pocket? What it would take if the possibility existed for China to support a coup in Burma? How could the US push this forward?
- Start arming the rebels in abundance. Such a tactic may be morally dubious at worst (though given the ruthless assault on ethnic minorities via rapine, aerial bombardment, murder of children, food weaponization and enslavement by the regime it isn’t that repugnant) but it will be China, Thailand & India’s mess to clean up after the failed state finally totters over. Their choice to worship the false deity of “Burmese stability” that supporting the generals represents is tantamount to that of an accessory to mass murder.
Is anything else available? Perhaps a long-term goal of opening the regime through trade (again, the lifting of useless sanctions) is the best option to be explored, though its also the most unlikely due to the idea of sanctions being a sanctified sacred cow in bipartisan American foreign policy.
Note none of these require an intervention by the US military. Just as a variety of diplomatic possibilities were not explored before and during Dar Fur, failure to identify the RPF as preferential to Hutu Power (Or even jamming the Hutu Power radio signals) and how realpolitik trumped humanity (supporting the ghastly Khmer Rouge versus the Vietnamese), matters are regularly portrayed in Washington as “either-or” and actual understanding of the problem at hand (and the opportunities open to explore) suffers greatly as a result.
Above all else, the world today and in the near to mid future will likely be as hostile and unpromising to the application of American military power to address such tragedies. The need for potential alternatives besides doing nothing will only increase.
This blogger is not egotistical enough to believe the ideas presented here are the best alternatives for Burma, yet considers the need for options beyond “just do something” or “do nothing” imperative to having a fighting chance at achieving some measure of our goals for Burma and respond to the enormous injustice regularly inflicted upon the many Burmese peoples in the future.
* Besides, stunned silence in the face of such depravity and craven shortsightedness from the generals and politicians in Asian and Western capitals is too much to bear without at least one more post about this.