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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Saturday, January 04, 2003 ::

What makes a border "defensible"?
The argument that many Israelis make about how the pre-'67 boundaries were not defensible seems outdated to me, when talking about the conflict with the Palestinians. The idea of a defensible border relates to the ability of Israel's army to defend the country against Arab armies that were constantly threatening a full-scale invasion. The Palestinians present a totally different threat, with individual terrorists slipping through one at a time. As long as terrorist groups are operating freely in the territories, which of course they'll continue to do as long as Arafat's in charge, they're going to constitute a serious threat to Israel's security, so all the checkpoints, closures, and curfews are necessary to catch terrorists before they get into the country. The idea of withdrawing to "defensible lines" doesn't make much sense as a response to this threat, although the idea of a security fence might, if done properly. On the other hand, those who argue that Israel could never agree to withdraw close to the '67 boundaries also have it wrong when they make the argument that that boundary wasn't defensible. If the Palestinians produce a leadership that--with credibility, this time--dismantles all the terror groups and really commits itself to peace, what difference would it make where the border is? A peaceful, non-terrorist Palestinian government would constitute no more of a threat to Israel on 90-95% of the West Bank than it would on 50% of it.

Some argue that Israel within its pre-'67 boundaries was too thin to be defensible, and as an example they often cite the mere 8 mile distance between Netanya and Tulkarem. I once read something by an Arab journalist who pointed out that Tulkarem always has been, and always will be, 8 miles from Netanya, the point being that unless Israel wants to rule over Tulkarem forever, it will eventually have to relinquish its control there no matter how close the city is to Netanya. What matters is having a credible Palestinian partner who's willing to stop terrorism and put an end to the conflict. It wouldn't hurt to put the outlines of the final deal on the table right now, with negotiations and implementation conditioned on the emergence of a credible partner. Such an approach with Egypt after the Six-Day War--offering a withdrawal from the whole Sinai in exchange for a full peace treaty--would have helped back then as well. It might not have been enough to avert the '73 war, but seeing as how Israel ended up withdrawing from the entire Sinai anyway, it certainly wouldn't have hurt to put that on the table even before Sadat came to Jerusalem and proved to the Israeli public that he was a partner for peace.
1:05 PM
:: Friday, January 03, 2003 ::
Still more on those wacky Koreans
Even though I disagree with Charles Krauthammer's proposed approach to the N. Korea problem--threaten China with a nuclear-armed Japan if China doesn't put the squeeze on N. Korea--I don't mind quoting him on the difference between the military option there and in Iraq:
Yes, we could bomb the nuclear processing plant in Yongbyon. Problem is, that would not destroy Pyongyang's entire capacity for producing nuclear weapons, the way the 1981 Israeli attack on the Osirak reactor destroyed Iraq's.

And given North Korea's propensity for using special operations, infiltration and sleeper agents (techniques it has used with success against South Korea), we have to imagine that it might retaliate with a smuggled nuclear weapon against American facilities or perhaps even against the American homeland. It might be suicidal. It is improbable. It is not impossible. That alone might deter us from a preemptive attack on Yongbyon.

But even if nukes were not a consideration, we would be deterred by North Korea's conventional military capacity. Unlike Iraq, it has a serious army, a million strong and possessing thousands of artillery tubes, many hidden in caves, many that can reach -- and reduce -- Seoul.
Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute has some good suggestions:
Seoul, Tokyo and Washington should propose a grand bargain to North Korea.

- Pyongyang would come clean on its nuclear programs, allowing on-site inspections and resealing the unprocessed plutonium at immediate issue today.
- It would stop selling missiles abroad and ban all flight testing of longer-range missiles.
- It would let all Japanese kidnap victims and their families leave North Korea.
- And it would make disproportionately large (though not unilateral) cuts in conventional forces, as well as reductions in its forward-deployed military capabilities near the demilitarized zone.

In exchange, South Korea, Japan and the United States would provide substantial economic aid (they would also keep food as well as fuel oil flowing now, on humanitarian grounds and as a show of good faith). Japan is eventually expected to provide up to $10 billion as a form of compensation for its colonization of North Korea, so much of the funding could come from Tokyo. We would sign a peace treaty and open up diplomatic relations. As requested, we would provide technical aid to accompany the economic aid so North Korea could begin to reform.

But this offer would be hard-line, and Reaganesque, in a very important way—it would essentially be all or nothing. North Korea could not get half the aid by making good only on nuclear and missile programs, for example, because such an approach would reaffirm its policy of blackmail. By adding conventional forces to the equation, we would be setting much of the agenda, and also forcing North Korea to make fundamental choices about the future nature of the regime and about economic reform.

12:38 PM
:: Wednesday, January 01, 2003 ::
Empty rhetoric makes things worse
Former Gore national security adviser Leon Fuerth argues that the Bush administration's unsupportable belligerence on North Korea comes with a price:
It is certain that the Bush administration now faces an immediate loss of credibility. Its report on National Security Strategy, released in September, claims the right of pre-emption as a means to deal with the type of threat that Iraq is said to represent by virtue of its efforts to build weapons of mass destruction. There is no sign, however, that the administration plans to use this doctrine against North Korea, which poses a danger to the vital interests of the United States by virtue of what it has already accomplished...

So on the way to war with Iraq, the United States has been caught out by North Korea — which apparently saw its opportunity in our distraction and seized it. This drama is far from over, but with each day North Korea moves closer to its goal of either forcing the administration to negotiate or of enhancing its ability to produce weapons of mass destruction.
Absent other options, Fuerth argues for some sort of negotiations, but he rightly points out that all the bluster about evil and appeasement is on the verge of backfiring:
If the president negotiates, he will send a message that the key to respectful attention from his administration is blackmail... Like it or not, the administration needs to test the theory that North Korea is trying to force the United States into negotiations. That would be bitter medicine for the administration to swallow, but in view of the alternatives it would be wise for the administration to reverse course and engage with North Korea.

2:03 PM
"Transfer" as a solution to "The Troubles"?
Apparently someone submitted a suggestion of transfer to the British government in response to the violence in Northern Ireland 30 years ago:
At the height of bloodletting in Northern Ireland, the British government considered trying to end the sectarian conflict by forcibly moving hundreds of thousands of Catholics to the Irish Republic, according to records released today.

But the top-secret contingency plan -- dated July 23, 1972 -- was rejected out of concern that it would not work unless the government was prepared to be "completely ruthless" in carrying it out, and that it would provoke outrage at home and abroad, especially in the United States.

"We do not believe that the government would be able to obtain the support of public opinion in Great Britain for the drastic actions that we consider in this paper," the newly declassified document said.

"Any faint hope of success must be set against the implications of a course which would demonstrate to the world that (the government) was unable to bring about the peaceful solution of problems save by expelling large numbers of its own citizens and doing so on a religious basis," the document added.

The plan came to light in a batch of formerly confidential papers declassified after 30 years and released by Britain's Public Records Office. The plan is contained in a report commissioned by the government of Prime Minister Edward Heath at a time when Britain was on the verge "of losing control" in Northern Ireland, the document says.
How long before someone demands the trial of Heath as a war criminal for apparently reading a report that entertained the thought of transfer?
1:33 PM
:: Monday, December 30, 2002 ::
Someone should make a movie about this guy
In David Mamet's widely linked-to recent piece about visiting Israel, he mentions reading an article by Michael Oren about Orde Wingate, a British military hero and staunch Zionist. This is the article in question, which is really interesting. Oren describes Wingate as
a British officer widely regarded as the father of modern guerrilla warfare. A brilliant tactician and a daring innovator, Wingate was credited by many with turning the tide against Axis forces in Ethiopia and Burma during World War II. Winston Churchill hailed him as “a man of genius who might well have become also a man of destiny." Yet Wingate had his share of detractors, as well; if some admired him as a hero and a visionary, others denigrated him as an egotist, an eccentric, even a madman.

On one point all his observers agree: Wingate was a Zionist. An implacable advocate for Jewish statehood in the late 1930s, when the British had all but abandoned their promise to create a homeland for the Jews, he formed and led the Special Night Squads (SNS), a Jewish fighting force that saved dozens of settlements from destruction during the Arab Revolt (1936-1939) and trained military leaders such as Yigal Allon and Moshe Dayan, who would later form the core of the Israel Defense Forces. Wingate dreamed of one day commanding the first Jewish army in two thousand years, and of leading the fight to establish an independent Jewish state in the land of Israel.
Achieving success in Burma against the Japanese must have been a heck of an achievement, but, not to take anything away from the guy, one does have to remember that the Ethiopian campaign was fought against the pathetic Italians. Wingate was killed in a plane crash in Burma, an unfortunate end that led to his ironic burial site:
On March 24 [1944], while flying to a forward position, the Mitchell bomber carrying him crashed in the jungle. No identifiable remains of Wingate were ever found, save for his trademark pith helmet. Charges of foul play were later raised and never conclusively settled. Since five out of the nine men aboard the Mitchell bomber were Americans, their common remains— several pounds of bones—were interred at Arlington National Cemetery, far from the places in which Wingate was revered as a hero.
I've heard Wingate's name before but didn't know anything about him. It seems like he could be seen as a Zionist version of T.E. Lawrence--one of Wingate's cousins, according to Oren--whose immortality was assured by being the subject of one of the best movies ever made. I'll bet that Wingate's adventures could be the basis for a fascinating movie. Maybe Mamet can give it a shot!
4:35 PM
:: Sunday, December 29, 2002 ::
How do you solve a problem like Korea?
Apologies up front for the lame joke above, which I must have seen somewhere at some point in the past, but, surprisingly, not in the past few weeks of escalating tensions with N. Korea. There's a great piece in the Washington Post today by one of their editorial staff writers, Steven Mufson:
A veteran diplomat once gave me this advice: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

When it comes to North Korea, the Bush administration appears to have violated this elementary rule of diplomacy again and again. It has gone from chafing at a diplomatic deal it didn't like, to calling the North "evil," to turning its back on the diplomatic deal after discovering violations, and now to standing by indignantly amid a burgeoning crisis...

Could the Bush administration have handled North Korea in a different way to prevent this turn of events? Perhaps not. After all, North Korea's pursuit of uranium enrichment capabilities predated by a couple of years Bush's declaration that the country was part of the "axis of evil."

Yet the United States still needs to deal at some level with countries such as this, and the Bush administration's policy toward North Korea has been confused from the beginning. Many members of the administration and leading Republicans in Congress were obsessed with shredding the Agreed Framework that the Clinton administration had negotiated, and not without reason. It made little sense for North Korea to get, or even want, a light water nuclear reactor for electrical power generation when a fuel oil plant would have worked better and been built faster. But that's what the Agreed Framework provided, at North Korea's insistence...

To many Republicans, remedying the flaws in the accord represented more than a matter of bargaining. It became a moral crusade. With reports trickling out about repression and starvation in North Korea -- including pieces I wrote from Pyongyang and the Chinese side of the North Korean border -- many Republicans decided the United States should view the Kim Jong Il regime as one of unmitigated evil. Rather than look for a reason to reengage North Korea and renegotiate the Agreed Framework, they wanted to rip it up completely, not only ending the construction of the new, somewhat safer reactors but also cutting off fuel oil shipments to the North. After all, they were only propping up an immoral regime.

Beware what you wish for.
I recently said to my dad that N. Korea appeared to be adopting the Palestinian strategy: negotiate an agreement, brazenly violate it when it seems convenient to do so, demand additional concessions up front as the price to be paid for another agreement, and repeat whenever necessary. He agreed and pointed out that Bush, so far, has had no response but the Sharon strategy, or lack thereof. Mufson has some suggestions:
The administration's sense of moral clarity interfered with its chances of containing this crisis. It equated talking to North Korea with making concessions or, as one official put it, "caving in." How could the administration talk to a regime that is truly, in Bush's words, "evil"? These officials had lambasted the Clinton administration for its naivete when Albright went to Pyongyang to meet with Kim. And that was before we knew that North Korea was trying to enrich uranium.

Bush administration officials say they also feared that negotiating with North Korea after the admission would have set a bad precedent for other nations. There may be only a linguistic distinction between "talking" and "negotiating," but the world would have judged whether the United States had caved in by what emerged from such meetings. If Bush negotiators had obtained concessions from North Korea, that might have had a different effect. Instead, the administration hard-liners have confused process with results.

Rather than keep North Korea's confession secret, as it initially did, the administration should have pounced on the admission and preemptively demanded that North Korea return to the negotiating table to come up with tougher terms: cancellation of the reactor projects, acceleration of the required export of spent fuel rods from the older plutonium reactor, and destruction of the more recent uranium enrichment devices. International inspections, which the Agreed Framework did not require until the transfer of sensitive reactor technologies, should happen earlier...

The United States has asked others, like Japan, Russia and China, to help bring North Korea to its senses. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has distanced itself from the "evil" regime by cutting off fuel oil shipments. But North Korea won't let itself be pushed away so easily.

A moral argument can be made for regime change in North Korea, which brutalizes its own citizens. In the absence of a strategy of regime change, diplomacy with such an odious regime might be another one of the world's evils, but a necessary one. If it's smart and tough, it might even produce some results.
The administration does seem to be waking up to the need for an actual policy to deal with N. Korea, which they're calling "tailored containment." Georgetown professor Victor Cha makes a pretty convincing case for such a policy:
Engagement's proponents argue that the North's tampering with the Yongbyon nuclear facilities last week — including the unsealing of buildings, disabling of monitoring cameras and demanding the removal of international inspectors — is a cleverly disguised attempt to create a crisis and thus coerce a reluctant Bush administration into negotiations.

Maybe so. But even if such talks could result in a more comprehensive nonproliferation agreement to replace the Agreed Framework, there is little evidence to believe that Pyongyang could be trusted to comply with it. Given the revelations in October of another secret nuclear weapons program, the credibility of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Washington is less than zero...

As in 1994, going to war to deal with the North Korean nuclear problem is not an option. If Mr. Kim chooses not to make unilateral efforts at resolving international concerns about his nuclear weapons programs, then the only alternative is isolation and containment of the regime.

But won't such a strategy cause Mr. Kim to lash out? Such concerns were justifiably voiced in the crisis eight years ago. But the North Korea of 2002 is very different from the North Korea of 1994. Since 1994, North Korea has won diplomatic ties with the European Union, economic ties with South Korea, a potential normalization settlement with Japan and international food aid. If faced with the choice of complying with its nonproliferation commitments or facing total isolation, the regime's decision will be complicated by one simple fact: It now has much more to lose than it did in 1994.

Different times require different thinking. In 1994, engagement was the level-headed consensus policy option, as any other alternative would have led prematurely to war. Today, engagement is not credible (nor, for that matter is preemption). If Mr. Kim chooses not to cooperate, the only true "moderate" option is isolation.
That makes a lot of sense, but the problem is getting the allies Cha mentions to go along with it. They won't have anyone to blame but themselves if they let N. Korea get away with blackmail, but here again is a case where the administration has needlessly damaged its own credibility by, up to this point, ignoring any other option except calling the bad guys evil. The North Korean regime clearly is evil, but just saying it doesn't constitute a policy, much like calling Saddam evil didn't get us any closer to solving that problem. All it does is allow everyone else to present themselves as princes of sophistication in a childish duel between the US and the enemies of the free world. Paradoxically, all this tough-talking from the US has made it even more difficult to adopt an actual policy that can be tough and effective. I guess it feels good to some people to talk tough while everyone else is dithering, but when the time comes to get tough, you need as many friends as you can get. That's even more clear in the case of N. Korea than in the case of Iraq, where it's already pretty clear.
2:37 PM
This one is really tough to handle
There's not much worse for a Kentucky fan than losing to Louisville. Even worse, there's getting your butt kicked by Louisville, which is exactly what happened yesterday. The Cats started off well, with an assist from Louisville's awful performance through most of the first half. Then Louisville rallied and kept playing better while the Cats fell apart and, most distressingly, gave up in the last 7-8 minutes of the game. Hopefully they'll get their act together before conference play starts in January.
1:54 PM

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