Sunday, March 17, 2024

TWO STATE SOLUTION: A REALITY CHECK

As the Israeli-Hamas war drags on the Biden administration and many international government and UN officials have been insisting that a "day after" program be addressed.  This "what to do now" subject has almost universally been accepted as a plan for the reconstruction and administration of Gaza but also a plan to form a "two state solution" meaning the creation of an independent, demilitarized Palestinian state comprising the territories of Gaza and the occupied West Bank.  

This is not a new goal.  It's origins go back at least to the negotiations for a two state division of the region along the recommendations by the UN General Assembly in 1948. When negotiations failed because of the rejection of the proposals by Arab nationalists, Jewish leaders declared the independent state of Israel. The issue reappeared in the 1993-1995 Oslo accords which gave formal recognition of the Palestinian Authority as a civil authority in the "occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank. The agreement also recognized Israel's "right to exist" and put forth the goal of a two state solution to the decades old conflict.

But more recent claims that only an independent Palestinian state will bring an end to the seemingly perpetual violence, lack the specificity of the previous failed negotiations.  The suggestions offered so far seem to have a "last", or "only" chance mentality in the context of "no other possible solutions".  The result is a goal rather than a plan, and one characterized by a lack of acceptance of the enormous complexity of the enterprise. 

The creation of a nation state cannot be accomplished by international edict, the UN, the International Court of Justice, or even general international demands or support. It can only be done with the acceptance of Palestinian leaders and the Israeli government. 

First, the war in Gaza must end. It seems highly unlikely that this will occur without the government of Israel's determination that Hamas has been removed from political control in Gaza and as a security threat to Israel. No simple cease fire will accomplish this. Then difficult negotiations will have to start to create a civil authority that can plan and administer the enormous task of funding and rebuilding the mostly destroyed infrastructure and housing for the 2.3 million Gaza residents who will also need to be provided with a basic survival system of food distribution and health care. The enormity of these tasks will require an international consortium of competent regional governments who are motivated to fund and make the long term commitment necessary.  That, in itself will be a challenge.  But while a separate level of primary negotiations for the next step of creating an independent Palestinian state could be started while reconstruction is underway, the physical and political character of the post war Gaza will have a significant role to play as the "state" negotiations proceed.

Thus, with respect to "state building" there are at least four foundational requirements that have to be addressed before any such state could come into existence.

The first is structural infrastructure mentioned above. Second, governmental infrastructure; a legislative, executive and bureaucratic administrative system including a revenue base and a domestic security system. Third a welfare base including income support and healthcare.  Fourth is a cultural evolution, both social and political, including basic education reform and media support, which will require a strong government role and international support and which will take a long time to develop.

The current effort to create an independent Palestinian state is starting from scratch.  There has never been a Palestinian state.  The region has been a historical crossroads of tribes and empires for millennia.  In terms of modern history, the most recent controlling authorities have been the almost six hundred years of the Ottoman Empire which was replaced by the League of Nations British Mandate established with the defeat and dismemberment of the Ottomans after World War One. This of course was followed by the British withdrawal and the establishment of Israel after World War Two. The non- Israeli territories of Gaza and the West Bank were absorbed respectively by Egypt and the new state of Jordan, also a former British Mandate territory, until  the Israeli occupation after their victory in the 1967 Six Day War.

The infrastructure issue:

A new state cannot be built around a population living in massive tent encampments.  With an estimated 60% of permanent shelters in Gaza heavily damaged or destroyed, the first task after military operations have ended will be the demolition and removal of the mountains of rubble before new housing and neighborhoods can be constructed.  This operation alone will take years.  In the mean time better interim housing and sanitary services plus basic living supplies and distribution services will have to be provided. The immensity of these tasks is hard to comprehend. 

Governmental structure:

The Biden administration' s view of a new Palestinian governing authority is based on the concept of a "revitalized and reformed" Palestinian Authority (PA) which is the administrative body in the West Bank and which would be expanded to include authority in post war Gaza. When would such a body be established and what powers it would have has not been discussed.  "Revitalized and reformed" is a euphemistic label for what will be necessary which is "completely replaced", except perhaps with respect to its' title. 

The existing PA is widely viewed by the Palestinian residents of the West Bank as corrupt and undemocratic.  The PA has been the recipient of millions of dollars in Intenational aid but there is little evidence that the bulk of this aid has been used for the benefit of the Palestinian residents.  The PA's political head is  eighty-eight year old president, Mahmoud Abbas who effectively discarded the Oslo Agreements and who has not held a political leadership election since 2005. He and his whole administrative staff will have to be "revamped and reformed" i.e. removed, before the infrastructure project in Gaza begins.  But the talent pool of possible Palestinian leaders with the appropriate experience and commitment to peaceful redevelopment is presently quite limited. Indeed, the idea of reform took a major hit recently when Abbas named a long time crony and personal supporter, Mohammed Mustafa as the new PA Prime Minister. 

The governing authority  in Gaza since 2007, has been the terrorist organization Hamas whose development experience has been limited to building the miles of underground tunnels to be used as defensive positions in the planed war with Israel. The heirs to political leadership in Gaza the current PA, hardly offer much more than Abbas and his supporters.  The reconstruction cannot wait for a proven Palestinian leader who has not been part of the anti-Israeli resistance to be identified.  The interim and long term first political authority will have to be an "ad hoc" international organization of capable individuals from neighboring Arab states, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and perhaps Saudi Arabia, who all have security interests in the region.  The international  bureaucrat's and arm chair "experts" of the United Nations must not be included in this effort which should be kept small enough to be efficient and narrow in purpose enough to not go astray. It has been suggested that such a governing body be strictly technocratic in orientation although Israel must be included with respect to security issues. 

Welfare component: 

The initial responsibilities with  the third foundational welfare component  which besides health care, includes the national  revenue base and financial support systems which are connected to the basic infrastructure rebuilding through employment and foreign aid. These functions have largely been the responsibility of foreign government aid, UN aid agencies and non-governmental organizations in both Gaza and the West Bank for many years.  Reducing dependence on these groups will take years and may always be necessary along with International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (IBRD) participation.

Cultural evolution:

The transformation of the existing Palestinian culture away from militant anti-Zionism and antisemitism and  the futile ideological goal of the destruction of the state of Israel. is essential to the creation and long term stability of any Palestinian state.  The current view from the outside i.e. the U.S., UN, EU, as part of a middle term negotiation for a Palestinian state is a facile political position.  Proponents of the two state solution automatically include this proposition as a condition without even discussing the inevitable problems. 

 Generations of Palestinian children have been indoctrinated with these hateful beliefs. These children are now adults and the war in Gaza has undoubtedly reenforced their anger. A refocused educational system in the new Palestinian state over time, will determine the success of the current goal of a permanent peaceful relationship with Israel. 

Israel is the only liberal democratic state in the Middle East region.  The neighboring "moderate" Arab states which presumably will participate at all levels of negotiations, do not represent liberal democratic role models for Palestinian Arabs, most of whom have existing deep seated anti-Western, Islamic based prejudices.  Egypt  has a semi-authoritarian presidential government which came to power in 2013 by the military overthrowing the elected government of the Freedom and Justice Party, itself an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamic group with a terrorist background. The president is a former army general and the Egyptian constitution has been "amended" to allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to serve a six year term after a four year term and then to serve a third term.  He won the 2023 election by over 86% of the vote in a multi-party contest. Jordan is a hereditary monarchy.  Both these Israeli border states achieved "moderate" labels based on their signing peace treaties with Israel but they are not liberal democracies.  Saudi Arabia is another hereditary monarch established in 1932 with a strict Islamic culture. Then there is Iran, a Persian theocracy with elections managed and governed arbitrarily by an Islamist "Supreme Leader". Israel border state Syria, an Arab state which is another hereditary dictatorship, is currently engaged in a civil war and is supported by Iran and Russia.  Border state Lebanon has an elected government but is divided by its' constitution into shared Christian and Muslim leadership after it endured a religious based civil war lasting from 1975 to1990.  It is home to the Iranian client, terrorist, armed militia Hezbollah, which controls much of southern Lebanon from which it launches missiles at Israel. Hezbollah cannot be controlled by the Lebanese military or government and is a significant security threat to Israel.

 This is the immediate regional political environment in which a new democratic(?) Palestinian state would be created. 

What are the chances that a Palestinian Arab, Islamic population that has never known any type of democratic representative government, can be enticed to adopt the Western secular "rights of man" (and women) philosophy,  and political party based peaceful competition and compromise, necessary for stability and peace with the currently hated Israel? 

 Israel is of course the key player in any two state negotiation and in the present domestic political context, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and majorities of Israel voters and members of the parliament, the Knesset, are opposed to a Palestinian state on Israel's borders.  Years of Israeli's experience with Palestinian entities, individuals and small groups of terrorists entering from the West Bank, rocket and balloon attacks from Gaza, wars with the Yassir Arafat's led Palestinian Liberation Organization, and Hamas, culminating in the horrific attack on October 7th, don't provide much assurance that a 'state' combining these two regions would not be a continuing and serious threat to the security of Israel. Unfortunately, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's recent condemnation of Netanyahu and his democratically elected government and his call for regime change in Israel, doesn't help achieve progress in settling the Gaza conflict or starting preliminary "two state" discussions.  

With or without a declaration of a Palestinian state, it will take years for both sides to see the possibility of separate political cultures that accept the concepts of peaceful cooperation and respect for profound social differences. Is it possible over time? Theoretically at least, it would seem so.  There are almost two million Arab Israeli citizens.  They have representation in the Knesset and the ethnic and religious differences within Israeli society have only taken the form of political tension without serious militancy. 

But intense anti-Israeli hatred generated by decades of conflict and culminating in the enormous civilian deaths in the current Gaza military campaign, does not exist solely within the regions of a prospective Palestinian state.  The major provocateur of "Zionist" hate is Iran, which supports and arms anti-Israel terrorists throughout the region. Iran, the Shi'ite Persian theocracy, has  a wider regional plan that sees Israel, a culturally and politically Western oriented democracy, and its' major ally, the U.S., as major impediments to its expansion as a regionally dominant entity. It is likely to continue its aid and encouragement to any Palestinian splinter group who shares its goal of the destruction of the Jewish state.

One other tremendous obstacle that will have to addressed and that doesn't appear to have a workable solution is the existence of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Since Israel took control of the West Bank territory from Jordan during the 1967 "Six Day War" it has authorized over 144 settlements there.  An addition 100 unauthorized settlements called "outposts" have also been constructed by Israeli citizens mostly motivated by biblical claims to the territories of Judea and Sameria.  While the total area under administrative control by the Palestinian Authority (PA) consists of @ 60% of the West Bank, it is a fragmented series of "enclaves". Israel maintains control of the areas in between and the Israeli settlements and outposts are scattered throughout the entire region.  They have a total Israeli population of @650,000 including @220,000 in settlements in East Jerusalem which the Palestinian Authority wants to claim as its' capitol when the actual Palestinian state is achieved.

Most "two state plans" in the past have recognized the virtual impossibility of dismantling these Israeli communities, some of which have near city size populations.  The result has been a series of "enclave" plans with connecting roadways, and some "land for peace" swaps , all of which have failed.  In its' best case, if ever mutually approved, the unauthorized Israeli "outposts" would have to be dismantled, which would require a dramatic measure of political courage by whatever Israeli government was in power at the time, but the remaining settlements would assure that the state of Palestine would look like no other sovereign nation in the world.

Eventually, probably sooner than later by necessity, these realities will begin to sink in to the international advocates of the "essential" two state solution, and the political posturing that is driving it now will take on a more serious orientation.  The key will be deep seated patience and organization, and the necessity of substantial compromise by all participating parties.  The process will take years and it will have abundant rejectionists.  





    







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Saturday, March 2, 2024

THE MULTIPARTY CONGRESS, FACTIONS, AND GRIDLOCK

The U.S. Congress is currently trapped in a condition of what might be described as the more common circumstance of gridlock where the two houses are controlled by majorities in each of the two  major political parties.  That is, in effect, true as the Senate is controlled by a tiny majority (51/49) of Democrats and the House by a similar small majority (219/213) by Republicans (there are three empty seats out of the total 435).  But the current reality is that the disfunction that exists reflects  a "de facto" existence of two different political groups in each party who exercise political power beyond their respective numbers.  This is much more apparent in the House of Representatives but still exists in the Senate.

The major organizational structure which promotes this "four party' reality is the existence of ideological fringe groups called caucuses.  On the far Left in the House is the Congressional Progressive Caucus and on the far Right is the Freedom Caucus.
Of the current total of Republican House members, the Freedom Caucus numbers @40 or 18%.  But of the 213 Democrat House members, the Progressive Caucus numbers 99 or 46%.  Since the Republicans currently hold the majority based on their slim numbers, and the all important Speakership, the existence of the Freedom Caucus has more significance for their agenda that that of the Progressive Caucus on the Democrats.  A defection of only three Freedom Caucus votes from an otherwise party line vote would block any Republican party initiative. 

In the event that Democrats take control of the House in the 2024 elections the 99 votes of the Progressive Caucus will be a formidable influence from the far Left.  For now, in the House, the Freedom Caucus has been able to use the lack of a federal budget and the prospect of a "shut down" of the government if one is not passed or a "continuing resolution" which simply extends the level of existing spending, is not passed, to try and pass such things as border security legislation or significant cuts in federal spending.  Members of the Progressive Caucus have threatened to withhold support for pending foreign aid bills if President Biden doesn't take a more forceful stance with Israel with respect to a cease fire in the Gaza war.  Recently the House and Senate agreed to a 
continuing resolution of sorts, to avoid the imminent government shut down but it is an extremely short term fix and leaves the problem of an ideological impasse looming over the very near future.                                                                                   
In general, the existence and policy preferences of these two more ideologically rigid congressional party sub-groups make bargaining and compromise impossible which seriously impacts the normal legislative process.  

There are serious issues with serious consequences if no action is taken.  The Biden administration wants to continue significant military aid to Ukraine whose troops are now being outmanned and out gunned by the Russians.  They also want to continue the program of long term aid to Israel.  Unfortunately both these issues have become significantly politicized.  The Freedom Caucus influenced House Republican majority want's to pass and submit two separate aid packages for consideration by the Senate and signature by the President.  The Biden administration want a combined package to keep the Republicans from attaching separate non-relevant policy requirements to each.  

Objectively, this blockade by both sides makes little sense.  What the Republicans want to add to the aid appropriations are significant cuts in overall federal spending and strict border security measures.  These are legitimate issues.  Economists on both sides of the partisan fence have long warned of the dangers of unrestrained federal deficits and the accumulation of federal debt which now roughly equals the total Gross Domestic Product of the U.S., the world's largest economy.  Border security is now the foremost cited election issue in public opinion polls with millions of immigrants causing social and economic chaos in large cities throughout the nation.

But cutting federal spending, except in defense spending is an affront to Progressive dogma which the Biden administration is unwilling to risk.  Border security has been made a social issue instead of an economic issue by the Progressive wing of the Democrat Party which has led Biden to ignore the problem up until now.

But the politicization of the underlying foreign aid issues is on both sides.  The Freedom Caucus is heavily influenced by former President Trump who is the presumptive Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential election.  Trump has shown himself to have adopted even more of an isolationist orientation than during his presidential term. He has what seems like a simplistic attitude towards international relations which also seems to be more based on a lack of understanding or disinterest in the vast complexities of the subject; "When I'm President I'll end the Ukraine war in 24 hours."; "I'll secure the border by building a wall and making Mexico pay for it." He equates "America first" with American withdrawal from international responsibilities which have threatened continued U.S. aid to Ukraine which has been supported by major U.S. allies in NATO  who see Russian expansion as a formidable threat.  

With respect to Israel Trump has taken a more sympathetic position while President; moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; recognizing the strategic border area between Israel and Syria  known as The Golen Heights, as Israeli territory; and promoting the Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arabic nations.

But still, the Trump influenced Freedom Caucus in the House joins the Progressive Caucus in a position of "sacrificing the good in favor of the perfect" by not compromising to move forward with these important policies.  

If the influence of these two extremist sub-parties isn't enough of a disfunction, the whole legislative and international orientation of the government is over lain by the raw politics of the 2024 election.

With respect to aid to Israel, Biden is feeling pressure from the Left of his party and Arab population concentrations in Michigan to rescind his early "unconditional" support for Israel after the heinous attack by Hamas on October 7th and demand a permanent ceasefire under the threat of terminating historical U.S. military aid.  The significance and horror of this attack on Israel has been abandoned by much of the American media in the face of Israel's invasion and bombing of Gaza where Hamas resides and is embedded in the highly dense civilian population.  

Biden has tried to mollify his progressive critics by calling for a cease fire in the Gaza war "as soon as possible", and negotiations for a Palestinian state in its' aftermath. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his "war cabinet" have rejected both possibilities and have only agreed to a six week ceasefire if the hostages held by Hamas are released. Of course a ceasefire in any conflict can only put in place by the agreement of the two parties to the conflict, Hamas and Israel. It cannot be imposed by Biden, American college students or Arab-Americans in Michigan. So far, Hamas and the Israeli government are miles apart on the terms of such an agreement.

Those threatening a cut off of military aid is over estimating the short term effect on Israel's military capabilities and war strategies as well as under estimating the long term political effect of a cutoff of aid to Israel.  Netanyahu, while unpopular in Israel with respect to domestic issues, has wide support for his war policies and is unlikely to accept a cease fire as long as Hamas remains as a terrorist threat and a political force in Gaza.  

In the broader picture, the U.S. has major security interests in the Middle East region and Israel is an important  ally and counterweight to the regional and hostile ambitions of Iran. the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain and the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have mutual security interests with respect to Islamic terrorism and Iranian expansion.  Biden has also stated that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if China invaded it and his administration has been building stronger security relationships with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.  While these nations are not in the Middle East, to send the message that Biden's policies are just temporary promises  subject to domestic electoral political pressures would have a negative impact on U.S. credibility and would appear ominously similar to Republican candidate Trump's recent criticism of U.S. collective defense obligations under the NATO treaty. 

One would hope that Biden is more likely to continue to try and tamp down the Arab-American and other protests by upping criticism of Israel's war tactics but avoiding actual threats to terminate decades long military assistance to Israel.

All of this is symptomatic of a fundamental fragmentation of the American body politic.  Polls show that the two most important issues to voters are the economy and border security, which common sense would demand that compromise is necessary for the general welfare.   But campaign "experts", opinion "journalists" and political activists continue to promote the tactic of identifying and promoting narrow or single issue voting blocs with uncompromising positions.  In general terms the two major caucuses include these smaller groups with the result being policy gridlock. This can't be resolved without a broader political consensus providing significant majorities to one party or the other in the Congress. However, the fragmentation of the country by the promotion of multiculturalism, race and religion as political identities makes this highly improbable.                                                                                                                      

  















Friday, February 9, 2024

THE "END OF DEMOCRACY": UNSERIOUS POLITICAL THEATRE

The outline of the 2024 presidential election already seems to be a replay of the 2020 election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.  But even before the recent Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, the tone of the campaigns were set.  Polls showed, and continue to show, President Biden in significant trouble.  Biden's age and obvious mental befuddlement hang over him like a dark shadow while wide spread dissatisfaction with three years of open borders and inflation causing trillion dollar spending programs, attacks on the fossil fuel industry while gasoline prices spiked and Bidens' lurch to the far Left on social policies, have provided a fertile field for Trump's campaign.

On the other side, there are many reasons for voters to say "not again" to another four years of Trump.  Trump has broken all the rules, norms and standards of decent behavior and presidential dignity.  He is a national and international embarrassment. His erratic and personal style of governance is a regrettable and dangerous substitute for any president's primary and needed attribute, leadership. The list of his abnormal traits and consummate arrogance provides many valid reasons to vote against him.  But the desperate Democrat campaign smear of "the end of democracy" isn't one of them.  

The founders of America's constitutional system created a framework with the basic foundation being avoidance of concentrations of power.  The result was the separation of powers; three independent branches of government with counter balancing "checks and balances" including a federal judiciary protected from political influence by lifetime tenure.  Legislation must be passed by both houses of Congress; a presidential veto is possible but can be overturned by a 2/3 vote in both houses. Presidential appointments are subject to Senate approval. Presidents have significant unilateral powers in some areas, especially foreign policy and trade,  if specifically granted by legislation or judicial review of constitutional provisions.  The power to issue "executive orders" is not a open ended power to rule by edict. Executive orders are subject to judicial review and often run up against the separation of powers doctrine as both Trump and Biden found out during their respective administrations. 

But Biden, or his campaign staff, have bought in to the apocalyptic strategy to avoid debates on policies which are his weakest points.  Biden has made the strategy clear;  "Democracy is on the ballot."  ''Whether democracy is still America's sacred cause . . . is what the 2024 election is all about."

The evidence that Biden himself mentions most is Trump's participation and incitement of the January 6, 2020 assault on the Capitol by mobs of his supporters. This of course was an attack on the heart of our democracy both by infrastructure and process.  This followed Trump's challenges in several key states of the results of the November vote. Challenges of voting outcomes when they are narrow is a common and legal procedure. Assault on the capitol and attempts to interrupt the counting and certification of the Electoral College votes in the Congress is not. 

But neither was successful. All Trump's challenges in state and federal courts after the election were turned down for lack of evidence. Georgia's Republican Secretary of State who officiated that state's election turned down Trump's personal request to "find" enough votes for him to make him the winner in that state. In the Electoral College certification process on January 6, Trump's own Republican Vice President Mike Pence, who was on the ballot with him, chose the Constitution and his oath to uphold it, and refused to illegally manipulate the process.  

Although, Biden himself stated "I don't consider any Trump supporter to be a threat to the country", he has made no distinction by labeling Trump and his "Maga" supporters as the underlying "threat to democracy "should Trump win in 2024. And of course, the Democratic Left in Congress, the media and opinion journals, have dutifully engaged in the simplistic and over wrought claim.  The problems with it are as obvious as the convenience of using a simple "existential" label with few specifics.                       

The few examples of an attack on the democratic system of the U.S. which the left wing media and opinion writers cite are mostly focused on Trump's admittedly hostile attitude to well established "norms of behavior"; extreme hyperbole, claims of his intention to do things quickly without specifically mentioning legislative cooperation, or questionable approval by the federal courts.  

An example of "what Trump might do in a second term" is withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which he hinted at in his first term.  Of course, this has nothing to do with the state of democracy in the U.S.  Indeed, the U.S. congress included an amendment in the 2024 Defense Authorization Act which requires any President to get congressional approval to withdraw from NATO including a 2/3 vote in the Senate.

Democrats also assert that Trump will try to repeal "Obamacare", the government health insurance act passed when Obama had majorities in both Houses of Congress.  Of course this would require legislation passed by both houses and also would itself be an exercise in democratic process. An attempt to do this failed in 2017 during Trump's administration.

Trump has himself said he could use the "Insurrection Act" to use federal troops to put down destructive political protests.  But the Insurrection Act is another democratically enacted statute. In general the term currently in use refers to 10 U.S.C. 332-335 which authorizes the president to "call into federal service" units of state's National Guard 'and "use such of the armed forces as he considers necessary in a state if any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination or conspiracy if it hinders the execution of the laws of the state or the U.S. "

Is such an action "undemocratic" or "authoritarian"?  Not if the President follows the text of the statute.  

The prospects of Trump actually using the Insurrection Act in this way depend on several things.  One, he has said he will, but Trump routinely says he will do things and then acts as if he didn't say them.  Two, actual anti-Trump or anti-government protests or just about any large protests that turn in to violent and destructive demonstrations or riots must occur.  Then, the process of nationalizing state national guard units will take time and the protests may have run their course before such action could be completed.  But if not then the question of what the rules of engagement of such forces should be.  Will they be armed with the usual military weapons?  Will the weapons be loaded and available for the protection of the troops? Will the risks of such a response turn into a replay of the 1970 Kent State University disaster?  Even Trump would not want that kind of disaster on his hands.

Certainly there have been episodes in which local law enforcement was inadequate to maintain order.  The 2020 protests which occurred after the police killing of George Floyd quickly turned into riots with looting and the destruction of public and private property in 40 cities in 20 states.  The city of Portland, Oregon alone suffered 100 days of violent protests while police were ordered to stand aside.  The January 6, 2020 attack on the nation's capitol itself deserved the use of National Guard units to protect the personnel and process of the nations representative government.

Democrats claim that Trump, if elected will "weaponize" the Dept. of Justice to seek revenge against his political enemies.  He has actually said he would; and then he said he wouldn't have time to do that; another episode of Trump's outrageous bluster.  But if he tried it, it would require massive changes of personnel in the Dept. of Justice first, before "Trumped up" charges against others could be brought about.  Indictments would have to be sought in Grand Juries manned by ordinary citizens. The major road block for such actions that actually went to trial would of course be the federal judiciary which is beyond the reach of the president.

But the charge of the "end of democracy" is such a grandiose political driven election tactic as to have limited influence on the uncommitted who will play a critical role in the election. It is essentially "preaching to the choir" of confirmed Trump haters. Polls don't show much, if any, impact on Biden's declining job approval.

 The nation's democratic system operates across thousands of local and state government institutions, which like the federal judiciary mentioned above are "far beyond the reach" of any president. 

However, Trump's inability as President to destroy the nation's representative democratic, federal system, is by no means a recommendation for his election.  Again by any set of historical norms, basic rules and standards of character, he should have politically disqualified himself long ago.  The fact that he leads in most public approval ratings over President Biden perhaps says much more about Biden than about Trump. 

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Wednesday, January 10, 2024

GAZA: WIDER WAR PROSPECTS AND REALITIES

The Israeli War Cabinet and Prime Minister Netanyahu have acknowledged that the goal of eliminating Hamas from Gaza will take "months" or "whatever is necessary".  The major political issue currently is the plight of Gaza's civilian population, @2.3 million people whose physical conditions are untenable. There seems to be no easy solution for this domestic catastrophe since the suggestions and demands of those not direct participants in the conflict contradict the war aims of the Israeli government.  But they also contradict the interests of Hamas if the primary step is a permanent cease fire which Israel would certainly demand includes the disarmament of Hamas fighters.  Without such a condition a ceasefire would represent a victory for both Hamas and its' sponsor Iran which is unacceptable to Israel.  Indeed, a Hamas spokesman has declared that the atrocities committed on October 7th against Israeli civilians was just a "rehearsal" for future attacks. 

Without a ceasefire the next most important issue on the agenda of the Biden administration, and which Secretary of State Blinken is reported to discuss, again, with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with a number of regional political leaders, is the avoidance of an "escalation' of the Gaza conflict into a regional war. Such an escalation would present Biden with a difficult political problem at the outset of his 2024 presidential campaign. It would depend on the nature of such an event and the possibility of pressure for the U.S. being drawn directly into it, presumably on the part of Israel. The alternative would be staying out and demanding a hopeless diplomatic solution which would put Biden's credibility as an avowed supporter of a strategic ally versus a conflict avoider based on political pressure from the Progressive Left of his Democrat party. His decision could hurt him in either case in the upcoming election.
 But in practical terms the conflict is already a regional war in geographical terms but not much of a "wider war" considering the participants and "relatively" limited nature of the current conflicts and the history of such conflicts.   The question is, to what levels the current regional conflicts will expand and who will be the major antagonists.

The prospects for escalation are centered around four areas;  Israel's northern border with Lebanon; the occupied West Bank currently under administrative control by the Palestinian Authority and its' Fatah political party;  the northern section of Yemen on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula; and U.S. and "allied" bases in Syria and Iraq.  The major threat is the border with Lebanon which is controlled by the Iranian sponsored Hezbollah militia.  A limited but serious missile attack on Israeli towns close to the border by Hezbollah has been going on for some months.  Israel has responded with artillery and air strikes but neither side has demonstrated the probability of ground combat by their respective armed forces beyond aggressive public statements. 

Although designated as a "terrorist group"  Hezbollah by virtue of its' size, weaponry and combat experience in Syria in support of Syrian President Assad in his battle against a loose coalition of anti-Assad militias, Hezbollah is a formidable adversary. However,  Hezbollah  does not exist in a social and political environment that is unified in its support for them.  The population of Lebanon is roughly one third Christian, one third Shi'a Muslim like Hezbollah, and one third Sunni Muslim.  The Lebanese government which is divided along these lines and maintains a national military, is conflict averse and opposes any expansion of Gaza war into its' territory. Memories of the fifteen year long civil war (1975-1990) and its' economic and structural destruction as well as the deaths of 120,000-150,000 people, are still strong. This was followed by the short Israeli/Hezbollah war in 2006.  A Hezbollah missile attack on major Israeli cities or a major cross border attack would cause missile sites and bases in Lebanon to come under attack as well as a response by Israeli ground forces.  Clearly, the threat of "regional expansion" of the Gaza conflict lies in the hands of Hezbollah and its' sponsor Iran, not with Israel whose leaders have made it clear that they seek no large scale conflict in Lebanon and who have exercised considerable restraint in the face of missile attacks on border communities.  But those attacks have resulted in the evacuation of 150,000 Israel citizens from their homes creating a situation which cannot be tolerated indefinitely.   

 With respect to threats to widen the Gaza war on the part of the Houthi militias in Yemen, the threat they represent hardly deserves their inclusion.  The Houthis are another Shi'a tribal surrogate of Iran.  They are themselves operating under a truce with government supporters suspending a lengthy civil war (2014-2022) which wrecked havoc with Yemen's civilian population and remains politically unsettled. Saudi Arabia, which shares a border with Yemen, supports the internationally recognized government opposing the Houthis and supported that government militarily during the conflict. A widening conflict between the Houthis and the U.S. led international maritime presence in the Red Sea could upset the truce in the Yemen civil war which would not affect the Gaza war but put the Houthi resistance movement at significant risk.    

Yemen is the poorest nation in the Arabian peninsula. It's only significant sources of export income are degrading oil and natural gas reserves.  Yemen itself is 1,600 miles from Israel and the Houthis have expressed their "support" for Hamas by attacking international shipping in the Red Sea in transit to and from the Suez Canal.  They have done this with armed drones, missiles, and small boats. This in no way helps Hamas or hurts the Israeli war effort, and after questionable delays the Biden administration has organized an international naval response to protect civilian shipping and has "implied" that further attacks will bring a more serious military response, presumably, a further much delayed attack on the Houthi missile and small boat  launching sites. 
The Houthis have tried to use their "support" for Hamas and the Palestinians as a tool to generate domestic support in the face of severe economic hardship in the territory they control but time is running out for their interruption of vital international maritime trade. 

Other concerns about a "regional war" include attacks by a variety of small Islamic terrorist groups on American and allied troops in Iraq and Syria. The number of U.S. military personnel is relative small at around 2,500 and consists of "advisors" who are part of a continuing operation against the international terrorist  Islamic State.  These attacks and counter attacks have been small so far without American fatalities and the idea that Biden will undertake a major military operation as a result is unrealistic.  The easy solution would be to withdraw this small military presence which is not going to be a deciding factor in the local terrorist problem in any case. There presence does not have the full support of the Iraqi government in any case. 

The fourth concern about a widening of the Gaza war most mentioned is a dramatic increase in anti-Israeli terrorist activity or even a third Intifada, or popular uprising, by Palestinians, in the West Bank. So far the increase in hostilities there have been mostly on the part of radicalized Israeli settlers who have been attacking Palestinian civilians. The Israeli military who have been attacking small Palestinian terror cells in the West Bank must intervene to stop the radical settlers from further inflaming the local population and should cooperate with the Palestinian Authority administrators to the extent they can, to limit the expansion of hostilities.  In any case the situation in the West Bank is not a part of a "wider regional war" although it could complicate the Israeli war effort in Gaza. There is no heavily armed or organized Palestinian resistance in the West Bank and tensions and conflict have been part of the Israeli occupation for decades. While Iran could conceivably attempt to  intervene indirectly by smuggling arms into the West Bank, it is not in the interests of the Palestinian Authority which exercises domestic governance and receives significant monetary aid from abroad, to assist or participate in a general uprising. In most of the post-Gaza war  discussions so far the Palestinian Authority is mentioned as serving as the fundamental governmental entity in a future Palestinian state which would include Gaza. Officials in the PA will not want to put that scenario at risk by taking an active role in opening a new anti-Israeli insurgency. 

Is a wider regional war possible?  Of course, wars are essentially unpredictable.  But Israel is not seeking such and escalation as it devotes it attention and resources to the conflict with Hamas in Gaza. A wider war is largely up to Iran whose regional aspirations are behind its sponsorship of Islamic client groups.  A direct conflict with Iran is highly improbable as Iran has demonstrated an unwillingness to expose itself the destruction such a conflict would bring and it prefers a strategy of attrition towards Israel through the use of its' surrogates and now the domestic political/electoral pressures on Biden's Israeli policy of "rock hard support".   

The war in Gaza will end when Israeli leaders accomplish their goal of eradicating the Hamas leadership and disarming the rank and file; or when the Hamas leaders see the end in sight and flee to a sympathetic nation, although the list such places is quite short.  Of course the subsidiary conflicts in the region will continue as they have for decades and it will take decades more for a permanent solution to the Palestinian problem, if one is even possible.