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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, May 24, 2003 ::

A session with the man himself
Over the past few months, C-SPAN occasionally showed a class from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock about the Clinton presidency. I saw it once a while back when General Wesley Clark spoke to the class, which was quite interesting. He did a pretty convincing impersonation of Milosevic a couple of times, which must have been honed from the many meetings they had together. Last night must have been the last session of their semester, as the Billster himself came and talked to them. One of the students asked him if he had any regrets about the Rwandan genocide, and he seemed pretty honest in accepting blame for it. He said that they could have saved about half the people who were killed, i.e. more than 300,000 lives, if they had sent about 5000-10,000 troops when the genocide campaign started up. He explained that at the time, since he was trying to get support for a more active Bosnia policy and since the Somalia debacle was so fresh in everyone's minds from just half a year earlier, they didn't think they could get support for any active intervention. When they realized after a few weeks that they had made a mistake, it was too late to do anything about it. He expressed regret for not having taken action right when it started. It was at least a more honest take on that incident than Bush, who while he was trying to get support for the Iraq war resolution blamed the UN for having not intervened in Rwanda, in spite of having said during the 2000 campaign that he would not have supported a Rwanda intervention if he had been President when it happened.
3:11 PM
:: Thursday, May 22, 2003 ::
Bad news, surprisingly good news
Bad news tonight for the local guys, the Pistons, as they get their butts kicked by New Jersey to drive an effective nail into the coffin of Detroit's playoff run. But the Pistons got some very good news before the game, as they managed to luck into the number 2 pick in next month's draft. Barring some wildly unlikely developments, that means that the subject of this story will be anchoring their lineup for many years to come, starting in November. I certainly look forward to seeing him play.
10:59 PM
The phrase is "quid pro quo"
Ha'aretz diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn has two bylines today. The first one is about an arms sale:
U.S. backtracks, okays sale of Phalcon to India

Washington has lifted all its objections to Israel's selling a Phalcon airborne radar system to India and has given the Defense Ministry a green light for the $1 billion deal, without any conditions or limitations.

A year-and-a-half ago, Israel and India agreed to the deal, and the Americans gave their approval in principle. But in early 2002, the U.S. asked Israel to postpone the sale because of rising tension between India and Pakistan. It has since been frozen, waiting for U.S. approval...

The change in policy on Israeli weapons sales to India is the result of American interest in maintaining a stable balance of power between India and Pakistan. It has recently been pushing India and Pakistan to hold peace talks.
This is obviously good news for Israel, but why doesn't Benn mention the context provided by the other story he co-wrote in today's paper?
Israel told to accept road map `formally'

The U.S. administration is demanding Israel formally accept the road map to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so that it does not appear to be recalcitrant trying to delay advancing the political process...

As reported last night by Channel Two news, the U.S. administration has reversed its position in the last two days. Until now, the Americans have been saying there is no importance to a formal acceptance of the plan, and that the important thing is to start its implementation on the ground.
Total coincidence, or does one have something to do with the other?
12:55 AM
:: Wednesday, May 21, 2003 ::
Striking back
The Bush administration just released some more details about their plans for national missile defense. I understand the desire for a technological system that could intercept an incoming missile, even if I think it's a waste of money for various other reasons. What I don't understand is this:
As presented by the administration, missile defense is, in the words of one senior official, "an integral part of contemporary deterrence."
Can anyone explain this to me? You have a rogue state with nuclear missiles--N. Korea being the most obvious threat here--that you worry about because they might be crazy enough to fire one at you. We already have a huge nuclear arsenal that can wipe out any country around the world within days, maybe even within hours, of a nuclear attack on America, and everybody around the world knows that. Yet this is, apparently, not sufficient to achieve deterrence--but a working missile defense program is? So N. Korea might try to nuke us despite knowing that we would annihilate them in response--but they would hold their fire because their missile might be shot down?

Another justification that I've heard for missile defense (though it's not mentioned in the article linked to above) is that it would free the US from the constraints of "mutually assured destruction" by giving us other options if someone fired a nuke at us. Namely, if we shot down a missile attack, we wouldn't have to respond with our own nukes because the initial attack would have been thwarted. This strikes me as a wildly unrealistic approach. Let's say that Country X fires a nuclear missile at the US, and our functioning missile defense shoots it down. What's our next option? Dialogue? We have to assume, in that case, that Country X has more nukes that they're willing to fire at us, since they've already crossed that threshold with the first attack. At a bare minimum, we wouldn't be safe until we've toppled that regime. But it would take at least a few months to get enough forces overseas to launch a successful ground invasion of Country X (ok, I'm assuming it's not Mexico or Canada), and we would have nothing to rely on in the meantime to guarantee our safety against another nuclear strike. Would we really be willing to rely 100% on the hope that our missile defense would swat down any further attacks? Wouldn't we have no choice but to strike back ASAP with our own nukes to ensure the immediate destruction of the insane regime that had already tried to nuke us?

Of course, by far the most realistic nuclear threat facing the free world is a "dirty bomb" in a suitcase carried by suicidal terrorists. National missile defense is...let's see...how useless against that threat?
11:40 AM
Same old stupidity
Gil just posted about a success for Israel at the European judo championships in Germany, but unfortunately, another Israeli sportsman was dealing with an all-too-familiar situation at the same time in France:
PLAYERS from Yemen and Saudi Arabia will be questioned by the table tennis world championship organisers after refusing to play against an Israeli competitor.

The pair must appear before the Bercy championship's disciplinary committee today after an official protest at their decision to boycott matches against Gay Elensky was lodged by the Israeli delegation.

Elensky, 19, was due to play a men's singles qualifier on Monday against Hani Al-Hammadi but was handed the match when the Yemeni turned up but elected not to compete when he saw his rival.

Elensky was today down to meet Nabeel Al-Magahwi of Saudi Arabia but again he was handed victory without having to raise his bat in anger.

Al-Magahwi and Al-Hammadi did turn up to play their scheduled game against each other.

Before entering the championships each team chief signs a declaration that their players will be ready to take on anyone.

Elensky, who has lived in France for five years, was clearly upset at the turn of events, saying: "I wasn't surprised at what happened but even so I can't help feeling something."

1:09 AM
:: Tuesday, May 20, 2003 ::
Not quite the "Von Hoffman award," but...
I forget where now, but I recently saw a link to this book review from a few years ago. Michael Hirsh of Newsweek reviewed a book about Madeleine Albright that was published in 1999, and his review was written during the Kosovo war of that summer. He has a book out now about US foreign policy that I glanced at after reading the preface on Newsweek on-line, and it seems quite good, but Hirsh's assessment of the Kosovo war might have qualified him for Andrew Sullivan's "Von Hoffman award" for lousy predictions during wartime (though Hirsh was far from the only person making these particular predictions at the time). Here's how the bit about the war started, after Hirsh praised Albright's perseverance in her professional life:
It is all the more discomfiting, therefore, to have to conclude that what may be shaping up as the biggest U.S. foreign policy mess of the 1990s--and, perhaps, a debacle that will someday rank with the Bay of Pigs--must be laid at Madeleine Albright's door. I refer, of course, to the Clinton administration's virtual war in Kosovo.
Not quite the Bay of Pigs, was it? What surprised me was how Hirsh contradicted himself in his claims about what the administration should have done. First, they should have realized that Milosevic would never let go of Kosovo:
There's no question that, during the course of the negotiations, she (and everyone else) miscalculated the reactions of both the Kosovars and Milosevic, as well as the pressures the Serbian people would place on him not to let Kosovo go, despite all the warning signs...

The United States went to war, it appears, on the riskiest of bets: either that Milosevic would allow a province that was crucial to his political survival to be occupied by foreign troops, or that for the first time in history air power alone would prevail.
Then, Hirsh claimed that an earlier and tougher military intervention might have worked, right before somersaulting into the claim that the administration could have reached a negotiated settlement before the war with a more energetic negotiating strategy!
If Albright, the woman who famously upbraided Colin Powell in 1993--"What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?" she told him--had had her way in the Balkans, intervention would have been early, severe, and swift. That might well have kept Milosevic in check. If, on the other hand, Clinton hadn't been distracted by impeachment and had thrown himself into the Kosovo affair in January [1999]--as he did at last October's Wye Mideast talks--he surely would have hatched a Holbrooke-style compromise with Milosevic. Such a patchwork solution, arguably, might have worked to avert the worst of the humanitarian tragedy, even as late as March...

Given the limits of U.S. interests in the Balkans, it is tempting to conclude that something very like a Munich--a partition--was needed here. Let's face it: Milosevic didn't have the intention or capacity to rampage, Hitler-like, through Europe. All he ever wanted was his rump Yugoslavia, where he employed Hitler-like tactics, but a negotiated settlement might have kept the lid on his ethnic cleansing campaigns.
Of course, air power alone did prevail, for the first time in history. And it wasn't just air power that did it, but rather something that Hirsh completely missed: the combined political force of the whole Western alliance, channeled (for the first time in history!) through NATO, got the Russians to back down and leave Milosevic hanging, with no option but to accept the only deal he could get. It was a messy and sometimes poorly thought out military campaign, but it achieved all of its goals with zero(!) allied casualties. From what I saw of it, Hirsh's new book puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of international institutions and alliances, so I was very surprised to read how badly he had misjudged the Kosovo war.
11:21 AM
:: Sunday, May 18, 2003 ::
"The Baghdad Effect"
Ehud Ya'ari is talking about how the Iraq war has affected Syria:
Any thinking person will understand why Asad’s fiery speeches condemning any settlement with Israel have suddenly been forgotten, along with the lectures he gave -- to the embarrassment of his aides -- to other Arab heads of states, and his arrogant statements wishing the Americans trouble in Iraq. From the moment that he was told by the United States to halt the activities of the Palestinian terror organizations operating in his territory; to disarm Hizballah; to take his army out of Lebanon; to stop arming his Scud missiles with chemical warheads; to hand over all of Saddam’s henchmen who took refuge in Syria and to desist from any subversive activity in Iraq -- from that very moment, Asad’s easiest escape route was via entering into negotiations with Israel. Then he can tell the White House that most of the demands being made on him are being dealt with as part of a diplomatic process and will be resolved by agreement, and not as the result of massive pressure.

Simply put, instead of giving answers to Colin Powell -- or, God forbid, to Donald Rumsfeld -- Bashar al-Asad is ready to undergo Sharon’s fire test. But not necessarily in order to achieve results. The mere fact of the process is meant to remedy his ills.
Then there's some advice for how Israel should handle it, which sounds reasonable to me:
Israel’s strategic interest still lies in removing Syria from the arena of war before the decisive round of negotiations with the Palestinians. So if Syria wants to talk -- it’s welcome. But just like in the case of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen), performance should come first.

In other words, instead of throwing a lifeline to a drowning man, let’s see concrete steps from Syria toward neutralizing Hizballah on the Israel-Lebanon border and removing the long-range rockets from Lebanon, as well as an explicit commitment to urge Hamas & Co. to stop their war of terror.

Let the Syrian president do himself the honor of proving that his intentions are serious. Let him fulfill the main part of the demands that he heard from Powell. Let him part ways with Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas’s Khaled Mash’al. Let him sit his envoys down opposite the representatives of Sharon. And then let them talk about Lebanon first.

4:37 PM

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