Randy's Corner Deli Library

17 June 2007

A Boycott Built on Bias

Sometimes Friedman is a bit wishy-washy for my tastes. But here, he calls the stinking rose by its true name: British UCU's anti-Jewish boycott. What is most interesting is the silence on the part of the "left" and so-called "liberals" in the face of behavior on the part of other nations that would callfor boycotts that would actually be deserved. Israel at least has a moral conscience and the socio-political structure to realize that the takeover and occupation 40 years ago was a mistake, but also realize that, after 40 years, there are consequences to just "getting out". See, e.g., Gaza, er, Hamasistan. Makes you wonder what the agenda actually is of the "left" which so quickly criticizes Israel but is silent in the face of behavior of Arab countries. Makes me sick to have them called "left" or liberal, for they are neither. Congratulations to Mr. Friedman for a little moral clarity.


Op-Ed Columnist
A Boycott Built on Bias
Published: June 17, 2007

Two weeks ago I took part in commencement for this year’s doctoral candidates at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The ceremony was held in the amphitheater on Mount Scopus, which faces out onto the Dead Sea and the Mountains of Moab. The setting sun framed the graduate students in a reddish-orange glow against a spectacular biblical backdrop.

Before I describe the ceremony, though, I have to note that it coincided with the news that Britain’s University and College Union had called on its members to consider a boycott of Israeli universities, accusing them of being complicit in Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Anyway, as the Hebrew U. doctoral candidates each had their names called out and rose to receive their diplomas from the university’s leadership, I followed along in the program. The Israeli names rolled by: “Moshe Nahmany, Irit Nowik, Yuval Ofir. But then every so often I heard an Arab name, like Nuha Hijazi or Rifat Azam or Taleb Mokari.

Since the program listed everyone’s degrees and advisers, I looked them up. Rifat got his doctorate in law. His thesis was about “International Taxation of Electronic Commerce.” His adviser was “Prof. D. Gliksberg.” Nuha got her doctorate in biochemistry. Her adviser was “Prof. R. Gabizon.” Taleb had an asterisk by his name. So I looked at the bottom of the page. It said: “Summa Cum Laude.” His chemistry thesis was about “Semiconductor-Metal Interfaces,” and his adviser was “Prof. U. Banin.”

These were Israeli Arab doctoral students — many of them women and one of whom accepted her degree wearing a tight veil over her head. Funny — she could receive her degree wearing a veil from the Hebrew University, but could not do so in France, where the veil is banned in public schools. Arab families cheered unabashedly when their sons and daughters received their Hebrew U. Ph.D. diplomas, just like the Jewish parents.

How crazy is this, I thought. Israel’s premier university is giving Ph.D.’s to Arab students, two of whom were from East Jerusalem — i.e. the occupied territories — supervised by Jewish Israeli professors, all while some far-left British academics are calling for a boycott of Israeli universities.

I tell this story to underscore the obvious : that the reality here is so much more morally complex than the outside meddlers present it. Have no doubt, I have long opposed Israel’s post-1967 settlements. They have squandered billions and degraded the Israeli Army by making it an army of occupation to protect the settlers and their roads. And that web of settlements and roads has carved up the West Bank in an ugly and brutal manner — much uglier than Israel’s friends abroad ever admit. Indeed, their silence, particularly American Jewish leaders, enabled the settlement lunacy.

But you’d have to be a blind, deaf and dumb visitor to Israel today not to see that the vast majority of Israelis recognize this historic mistake, and they not only approved Ariel Sharon’s unilateral uprooting of Israeli settlements in Gaza to help remedy it, but elected Ehud Olmert precisely to do the same in the West Bank. The fact that it is not happening now is hardly Israel’s fault alone. The Palestinians are in turmoil.

So to single out Israeli universities alone for a punitive boycott is rank anti-Semitism. Let’s see, Syria is being investigated by the United Nations for murdering Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Syrian agents are suspected of killing the finest freedom-loving Lebanese journalists, Gibran Tueni and Samir Kassir. But none of that moves the far left to call for a boycott of Syrian universities. Why? Sudan is engaged in genocide in Darfur. Why no boycott of Sudan? Why?

If the far-left academics driving this boycott actually cared about Palestinians they would call on every British university to accept 20 Palestinian students on full scholarships to help them with what they need most — building the skills to run a modern state and economy. And they would call on every British university to dispatch visiting professors to every Palestinian university to help upgrade their academic offerings. And they would challenge every Israeli university that already offers Ph.D.’s to Israeli Arabs to do even more. And they would challenge every Arab university the same way.

That’s what people who actually care about Palestinians would do. But just singling out Israeli universities for a boycott, in the face of all the other madness in the Middle East — that’s what anti-Semites would do.

16 June 2007

Fatah activists are settling scores with Hamas in Lebanon as well as West Bank. Hamas threatens a wave of terror

Fatah lines up for revenge on West Bank

DEBKAfile Exclusive: Fatah activists are settling scores with Hamas in Lebanon as well as West Bank. Hamas threatens a wave of terror

June 16, 2007, 10:42 PM (GMT+02:00)

Rampaging Fatah gunmen took revenge for their defeat in Gaza on Hamas activists on the West Bank in a rampage Sat. June 16 through the Hamas-held parliament, government and local council offices on the West Bank. Hundreds of Hamas officials were detained.

Saturday night, Fatah gunmen also hurled themselves against Hamas bases and offices in Lebanese refugee camps. Serious clashes erupted near the southern port of Sidon.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the IDF is quietly allowing Fatah intelligence officers and al Aqsa Brigades activists freedom of movement across the West Bank. They are not stopped at Israeli checkpoints and allowed to pass without the usual searches for weapons or explosives.

Hamas has warned Fatah to call off its purges in the West Bank and Lebanon or else face deadly terrorist attacks including suicide bombings, shooting attacks and car bombs. Mahmoud Abbas’ government headquarters and the homes of Fatah political and military leaders will be singled out.

According to our Palestinian sources, Mohammed Dahlan, Abbas’ No 2, who has just arrived secretly in Ramallah, is a prime Hamas target.

They add that Sami Abu Zuhairi, who issued the threat to Fatah, headed a group of Hamas intelligence and terrorist officers who trained near Khartoum especially for the Gaza coup under Iranian Revolutionary Guards instructors.

Abu Zuhairi now heads the intelligence team urgently sifting through the archives captured in the offices of Palestinian Authority security services, as DEBKAfile revealed on June 15. He also led the looting of Yasser Arafat’s villa in Gaza Saturday in search of incriminating materials against Fatah and Israeli leaders in the records of the 12 years Arafat and top PLO leaders spent in Tunis from 1982-1994.

Hamas Poised to Convert Captured Gaza Strip into Islamist Enclave

Hamas Poised to Convert Captured Gaza Strip into Islamist Enclave

DEBKAfile’s Exclusive Log of Five-Day Blitz

June 14, 2007, 12:58 PM (GMT+02:00)

Abbas' Presidential Guardsmen surrender to Hamas

15 June: Hamas has completed its conquest of the Gaza Strip, will convert Mahmoud Abbas’ Presidential compound into big mosque. The Hamas Executive Force has taken over the last two Fatah strongholds: the Preventive Security HQ and the National Security compound, dragging personnel out and shooting some on the spot. After settling scores, Hamas leaders say they will offer amnesties to guiltless Fatah activists. Masked Hamas fighters seized US-made and Israeli equipment and vehicles, rifled intelligence files, in the fortified building constructed with US military aid funds after hoisting a green Hamas flag.

14 June: Hamas seizes control of strategic Philadelphi enclave on Egyptian border and all Gaza’s border crossings with Egypt and Israel. At least 35 people died in the fighting Wednesday. Any international force in Gaza will be resisted in the same way as an Israeli occupation army, said a Hamas spokesman Thursday, June 14.

Senior Israeli officers described the Hamas victory to DEBKAfile as a greater misfortune for Israel than its Lebanon War setbacks. There, Hizballah was forced by Israeli military action to accept a UN ceasefire and international peacekeepers.

Hamas has no such incentive. In the case of Gaza, the winner takes all and can dictate terms. A radical Islamic enclave with a dominant Iranian-Syrian military presence has sprung up unopposed as a hostile reality on Israel’s southwestern border. It has made the Israeli-Middle East Quartet’s boycott an irrelevance.

The Hamas Executive Force completed the seizure of all pro-Fatah Presidential Guard border positions, including the Karni goods crossing and the Sufa, Kerem Shalom and Rafah transit points, after midnight Wednesday night, June 14. Their commander Col. Musbah Basichi and his 60 officers fled to Egypt. At least 35 Palestinians were killed in fighting Wednesday.

Hamas pounced as Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert held a belated conversation with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the deployment of an international force on the Philadelphi route. Hamas leaders flushed with victory will hardly accept such hindrance to the free flow of smuggled arms, missiles and explosives into the Gaza Strip.

Israeli military and security personnel administering the crossings on the Israeli side will have to work cheek by jowl with Hamas operators. The Israeli government, which decided to stay out of the Hamas-Fatah conflict, must now decide whether to break off ties with Hamas-controlled Gaza and seal the crossings, or interact with the new masters in order to admit emergency supplies for 1.4 million Gazans.

13 June: Overnight, thousands of Palestinian security officers loyal to Fatah were under Hamas siege at their last bastions – Gaza City’s Presidential Guard compound and the General Security command.

They are running out of food, water and ammunition. Hamas and its Executive Force had overrun some 80 percent of the Gaza Strip, while loyalists of Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah, including complete clans, surrendered and turned in their weapons. Hamas has set up large prisoner camps, some on the rubble of the Gush Katif villages. Wednesday afternoon, a desperate Abbas appealed to Israel to permit arms and ammunition to be transferred from the West Bank. Israeli officers said it was too late. Fatah is a lost case and any arms crossing into Gaza will be seized at once by Hamas.

Israel decides to stay out of the Palestinian internecine war in Gaza.

Prime minister Ehud Olmert led the cabinet in a decision Tuesday night, June 12, to avoid “fighting on the side of the pragmatists against the extremists.” Olmert said an international force is worth considering for securing the Philadelphi border enclave of the Gaza Strip against further arms smuggling. DEBKAfile: This would replicate the situation in South Lebanon where UNIFIL troops have been helpless to halt illegal gunrunning to the Hizballah from Syria. The UN Security voiced concern over this traffic only Tuesday, June 12.

12 June: DEBKAfile reported Hamas’ seizure of Gaza’s main south-north highway in fierce fighting with many casualties, most Fatah.

By borrowing this Israeli tactic for bisecting the territory to contain terrorists, Hamas shut in Mahmoud Abbas’s Presidential Guard, which has not yet been thrown into battle, and choked off ammunition re-supply routes to Fatah fighters. To tighten their control, Hamas units also commandeered high rise rooftops.

Hamas then gave Fatah till Friday noon to surrender their arms or become wanted men under sentence of death. Abbas called the situation “madness.”

UNWRA has cut down its personnel in Gaza after two aid workers were killed.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Hamas’ planning and combat tactics clearly betray the professional hands of Syrian and Hizballah officers who have set up a command center in the Gaza Strip.

DEBKAfile’s Military sources: Iran and Syria are the winners of Hamas’ military coup against Fatah in Gaza Strip

It was the second triumph in a week for a Palestinian force backed by Iran and Syria, after the Lebanese army failed in four weeks’ combat to crush the pro-Syrian factions’ barricaded in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian camp near Tripoli.

Tuesday, Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Palestinian Authority forces faced disaster. Their inevitable ejection from the Gaza Strip effectively severs Palestinian rule between Ramallah, where Fatah will have to fight to retain control of the West Bank and Gaza, dominated now by an Islamist Palestinian force manipulated from Tehran and Damascus.

The Iran-Syrian alliance has acquired by brute force two Mediterranean coastal enclaves in northern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Its momentum, launched a month ago in both sectors was unchecked. The Fouad Siniora government’s troops failed to break through to the Palestinian camp and crush the pro-Syrian uprising. The Olmert government stood by unmoved as the most radical elements in the Middle East snatched the Gaza Strip on Israel’s southwestern border.

The Bush administration is finding itself forced out of key Middle East positions, its main assets Siniora and Mahmoud Abbas trounced on the battlefield.

Israel’s technological feat of placing the Ofeq-7 surveillance satellite in orbit Monday quickly proved ineffective against the sort of tactics Tehran and Syria employ: mobile, suicidal Palestinian terrorists, heavily and cheaply armed with primitive weapons, who are winning the first round of the Summer 2007 war and preparing for the next.

11 June: DEBKAfile reported: The brutal civil strife has brought the fragile Hamas-Fatah unity government to closure. The War Crimes Prosecution Watch has condemned rival Palestinian factions fighting in Gaza for attacking civilians, prisoners and hospitals.

Senior Palestinian politician Saab Erikat warned the “Mogadishu syndrome” is overtaking Palestinian Gaza. “If war and lawlessness are not extinguished, the fire will burn us all”

The outcome generated by the civil war is the separation of Palestinian rule between Hamas-controlled Gaza and the Fatah-led West Bank.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Hamas threw its entire 5,000-strong Executive Force armed with mortars, RPGs, heavy machine guns and grenades into the final bid to conquer the Gaza Strip, whereas Fatah commanders’ desperate appeals to Mahmoud Abbas for reinforcements drew nothing but a futile call for a ceasefire.

15 June 2007

Bush's Amazing Achievement

Bush's Amazing Achievement
By Jonathan Freedland
Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic
by Chalmers Johnson
Metropolitan, 354 pp., $26.00

Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower
by Zbigniew Brzezinski
Basic, 234 pp., $26.95

Statecraft and How to Restore America's Standing in the World
by Dennis Ross
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 384 pp., $25.00

One of the few foreign policy achievements of the Bush administration has been the creation of a near consensus among those who study international affairs, a shared view that stretches, however improbably, from Noam Chomsky to Brent Scowcroft, from the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco to the well-upholstered office of former secretary of state James Baker. This new consensus holds that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a calamity, that the presidency of George W. Bush has reduced America's standing in the world and made the United States less, not more, secure, leaving its enemies emboldened and its friends alienated. Paid-up members of the nation's foreign policy establishment, those who have held some of the most senior offices in the land, speak in a language once confined to the T-shirts of placard-wielding demonstrators. They rail against deception and dishonesty, imperialism and corruption. The only dispute between them is over the size and depth of the hole into which Bush has led the country he pledged to serve.

Last December's Baker-Hamilton report, drawn up by a bipartisan panel of ten Washington eminences with perhaps a couple of centuries of national security experience between them and not a radical bone in their collective body, described the mess the Bush team had left in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating." The seventy-nine recommendations they made amounted to a demand that the administration repudiate its entire policy and start again. In the words of former congressman Lee Hamilton, James Baker's co-chair and a rock-solid establishment figure, "Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward."[1]

So it comes as less of a surprise than once it might have to see Dennis Ross and Zbigniew Brzezinski—two further fixtures of the national security elite—step forward to slam the administration in terms that would, in an earlier era, have seemed uncouth for men of their rank. Neither Ross, who served as Middle East envoy for both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, nor Brzezinski, a conservative Democrat and cold war hawk, could be dismissed as Nation-reading, Howard Dean types. Yet in withering new books they both eviscerate the Bush record, writing in the tone of exasperated elders who handed over the family business to a new generation, only to see their successors drive the firm into bankruptcy. Both books offer rescue plans for a US foreign policy they consider to be in tatters.


Accordingly, their arguments are less striking than the fact that it is Ross and Brzezinski who are making them. Those who have been listening to the antiwar movement since 2002 will nod along at this assessment of the Iraq adventure:

It is hard to exaggerate the Bush administration's fundamental miscalculations on Iraq, including but not limited to unrealistic policy objectives; fundamental intelligence failures; catastrophically poor understanding of what would characterize the post-Saddam period, and completely unrealistic planning as a result; denial of the existence of an insurgency for several months; and the absence of a consistent explanation to the American people or the international community about the reasons for the war.
Small wonder that after nearly four years of warfare, Iraq has been a disaster, costing thousands of lives, requiring the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, stretching our forces and reserve system to the breaking point, and becoming a magnet for terrorists and hostility toward the United States throughout the Muslim world.
But they should marvel that it comes from Dennis Ross, a loyal former lieutenant of Baker's who writes glowingly of Bush père and who was as comfortable in a Republican administration as a Democratic one. If they do not, then it is only because Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith, Scowcroft, and even the late Gerald Ford have made Republican attacks on the Bush record since 2001 seem normal.



Similarly, a sentence like this has been uttered in European chancelleries every week for five years:

The Iraq War in all its aspects has turned into a calamity—in the way it was internally decided, externally promoted, and has been conducted—and it has already stamped the Bush presidency as a historical failure.
Yet that verdict comes not from some Venusian in Paris or Berlin but from Brzezinksi, that hardheaded Martian creature of Washington. Lest there be any doubt, the former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter issues a report card on the three presidencies since the end of the cold war. George H.W. Bush gets a B, praised for his calm management of the expiration of the Soviet Union and the united international front he constructed for his own desert confrontation with Saddam. Clinton manages a C, credited for effective championing of globalization and oversight of NATO enlargement, but debited for allowing too many important matters, especially nuclear proliferation, to drift. Bush's son is slapped with an unambiguous F.


That verdict is rooted in the administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq, which can't help but form the heart of both books. Judged even by the lights of Bush's own "war on terror" it has been a spectacular failure. It took a country that had been free of jihadist militants and turned it into their most fecund breeding ground; it took a country that posed no threat to the United States and made it into a place where thousands of Americans, not to mention many tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Iraqis, have been killed. And it diverted resources from the task that should have been uppermost after September 11, namely the hunting down of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, allowing them to slip out of reach.

What's more, Bush's "war on terror" did bin Laden's work for him. Brzezinksi is not alone in suggesting that it was a mistake to treat September 11 as an act of war, rather than as an outrageous crime; in so doing, the administration endowed al-Qaeda with the status it craved. What followed was a series of missteps that seemed bent on vindicating the jihadists' claim of a war of the West against Islam. Whether it was the invasion of Iraq or the early talk of a "crusade" or the abuses at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, the Bush administration fed violent Islamism all it needed to recruit young men the world over. What began as a fringe sect has become, thanks in no small measure to the Bush administration, a global movement able to draw on deep wells of support.

There were ancillary effects. North Korea and Iran, in addition to Saddam Hussein's Iraq the other two charter members of the axis of evil, became more dangerous in the Bush years, advancing further down the nuclear road. That was partly because, with the US tied down in Iraq, they were given a free hand; and partly because the thumping of Saddam had taught would-be nuclear powers a crucial lesson. As Ross puts it, "We attacked Iraq, which did not have nuclear weapons, but have avoided doing the same with the North Koreans, who may have as many as twelve." The 2003 invasion served as a glossy advertisement for the protective power of nuclear arms.

Both Ross and Brzezinski reserve special contempt for Bush's handling of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, shifting the US position from that of an honest broker, albeit one sympathetic to one side, to a partisan ready to indulge whatever course Israel chose to adopt. Here Ross draws on his experience as Middle East envoy during the years of the Oslo peace process, explaining how disengagement by the Bush administration has not only prevented progress but also actively aggravated the conflict. Both authors lay out how the administration's refusal to undertake the hard work of peacemaking has deprived the Palestinians of the state they have craved so long, denied Israel the long-term security it needs, and allowed the sore that most poisons Muslim attitudes toward the West to fester.

For those with the stamina to face it, there are further indictments in both books of every aspect of US foreign policy, from the failure to take a lead on dealing with climate change to the distracted inattention to the rise of China. Some of these strategic blunders relate once again to the invasion of Iraq, whether it be the needless estrangement of European allies or the avoidable driving into a corner of Iran, whose influence from Baghdad to Beirut has self-evidently increased.

The accumulated result has been a plunge in global esteem for the United States. A survey in January 2007 for the BBC World Service found that only 29 percent of those polled in eighteen countries believed the US was playing a "mainly positive role in the world," a fall of eleven points in two years.[2] As Brzezinski writes,

Because of Bush's self-righteously unilateral conduct of US foreign policy after 9/11, the evocative symbol of America in the eyes of much of the world ceased to be the Statue of Liberty and instead became the Guantánamo prison camp.
It's hard to read Ross and Brzezinksi without coming to share their nostalgia for the steady, realistic, and grounded statecraft of George H.W. Bush in contrast with the faith-based pursuit of neoconservative fantasy that has passed for international affairs under his son.

Scathing as they are, these books are mere slaps on the wrist compared to Nemesis, the third volume in Chalmers Johnson's blistering trilogy, which stands as the centerpiece of the American Empire Project, a series of works published by Metropolitan Books examining recent changes in America's strategic thinking, particularly under the Bush administration, and the consequences of those changes at home and abroad. The first in Johnson's series, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, argued that the United States had, particularly through the covert activities of the Central Intelligence Agency, spilled so much blood and caused so much damage in other people's countries that it was only a matter of time before it felt the wrath of those nations' vengeance. (The term "blowback," Johnson concedes, was not his own coinage: the CIA used it following its involvement in the 1953 overthrow of Iran's elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, an event that, according to Johnson, led to the blowback of the 1979 revo-lution and the installation by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of the anti-American theocracy which has ruled ever since.) Blowback was published in March 2000, making little impact. It took only eighteen months, however, for Blowback suddenly to look chillingly prescient, winning an audience for Johnson he might otherwise have lacked.

For while Brzezinski in particular edges up to the outer limits of the Washington foreign policy consensus, Johnson unabashedly stands far outside it. Ross and Brzezinski, as former security officials, take as their premise the belief that the United States should be the dominant force in international relations; Brzezinski goes so far as to dub Bush, Clinton, and Bush as "Global Leader" I, II, and III. The chief complaint of both Brzezinski and Ross is that the current president has fumbled this designated role. Johnson's starting point is quite different: he brands as imperial arrogance the very assumption that America should extend its reach across the planet (and beyond, into the heavens).

The clue is in the subtitle: "The Last Days of the American Republic." Johnson joins those who urge Americans, despite their anti-imperial origins in ejecting King George, to see that they have succeeded both ancient Rome and nineteenth-century Britain in becoming the empire of their age. This impulse became fashionable in the post–September 11 period, including among those who saw the imperial mission in a benign light.[3] Johnson's perspective is very different. He wants the scales to fall from American eyes so that the nation can see the truth about its role in the world, a truth he finds ugly.

Scholars can make a parlor game of compare and contrast between Washington and Rome, and the parallels are indeed striking.[4] Both rank as the predominant military powers of their time, Rome brooking no competition, while, by Johnson's reckoning, US military spending exceeds that of all the other defense budgets on earth combined. In each case, military strength both fosters and is fostered by technological prowess: while Roman armies built the straight roads that served as the arteries of their conquered lands, so the US Department of Defense incubated the information superhighway, the Internet that now girdles the globe.

The Romans often preferred to exercise power through friendly client regimes, rather than direct rule: until Jay Garner and L. Paul Bremer became US proconsuls in Baghdad, that was the American method too. Rome even took in the scions of their defeated peoples' leading families, the better to prepare them for their future as Rome's puppets; perhaps comparable are Washington's elite private schools, full of the "pro-Western" Arab kings, South American presidents, and Afri-can leaders of the future. Sometimes the approach backfired, then and now. Several of those who rebelled against Rome had earlier been sponsored as pliant allies; their contemporary counterparts would surely be Saddam Hussein, a former US ally against Iran, and the one-time CIA-funded "freedom fighter," Osama bin Laden.

Still, Johnson is in deadly earnest when he draws a parallel with Rome. He swats aside the conventional objection that, in contrast with both Romans and Britons, Americans have never constructed colonies abroad. Oh, but they have, he says; it's just that Americans are blind to them. America is an "empire of bases," he writes, with a network of vast, hardened military encampments across the earth, each one a match for any Roman or Raj outpost. Official figures speak of 737 US military bases in foreign countries, adding up to an armed American presence, whether large or small, in 132 of the 190 member states of the United Nations.

Johnson reckons the number is actually higher, if one includes those bases about which the Pentagon is coy. The 2005 Base Structure Report omits to mention, for example, garrisons in Kosovo, as well as bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, even though it is well known that the US established a vast presence in both the Persian Gulf and Central Asia after September 11. (Admittedly, the US was evicted from its base in Uzbekistan in 2005.) Nor does the Pentagon ledger include the extensive military and espionage installations it maintains in Britain, estimated to be worth some $5 billion, since these are nominally facilities of the Royal Air Force. "If there were an honest account, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas, but no-one—possibly not even the Pentagon —knows the exact number for sure," writes Johnson. Intriguingly, he notes that the thirty-eight large and medium-sized US facilities around the world, mostly air and naval bases, match almost exactly both the thirty-six naval bases and army garrisons Britain maintained at its imperial peak in 1898 and the thirty-seven major sites used by the Romans to police the empire from Britannia to Egypt, Hispania to Armenia in 117 AD. "Perhaps," muses Johnson, "the optimum number of major citadels and fortresses for an imperialist aspiring to dominate the world is somewhere between thirty-five and forty."

Precise figures are hard to come by, but there are an estimated 325,000 US military personnel deployed abroad, often alongside dependents and large numbers of civilians, most of them living in sealed compounds, each one a little island of America. As Johnson showed in his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire, this is a parallel world that has its own airline, the Air Mobility Command, connecting one base to another, and an elaborate system, known as Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR), dedicated to ensuring that America's imperial servants feel they have never left home. They can be entertained in their own multiplexes playing the latest blockbusters, amused by satellite television airing American shows, and fed by fully stocked branches of Burger King. Johnson spares no detail:

Some of the "rest-and-recreation" facilities include the armed forces ski center at Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps, over two hundred military golf courses around the world, some seventy-one Learjets and other luxury aircraft to fly admirals and generals to such watering holes, and luxury hotels for our troops and their families in Tokyo, Seoul, on the Italian Riviera, at Florida's Disney World, and many other places.
The most recent addition to the empire is perhaps the most arresting. The new US embassy in Baghdad is, despite its name, a base. It is set inside a 104-acre compound, making it "six times larger than the UN, as big as Vatican City, and costing $592 million to build." It will be defended by blast walls and ground-to-air missiles, and have its own apartment buildings, along with its own electricity, water supply, and sewage system. (In a dry aside, Johnson notes that "like the former American embassy in Saigon, the Baghdad embassy will have one or more helipads on the roofs.") Life will continue here as it already goes on in the US-enforced Green Zone, complete with its swimming pools, dry-cleaning outlets, and around-the-clock availability of pork in the mess canteen, as cosseted and disconnected from the surrounding reality as Happy Valley was from the rest of Kenya.[5]


Johnson argues this point in the same way he presents his entire case, through the accumulation of cold numbers and hard facts. Little of his material is drawn from primary research; rather Johnson scours published sources and draws facts together to form a picture few others are willing to see. He doesn't labor the imperial analogies, but the similarities are clear. While Rome used to tax its colonies, the US expects those who host American bases to do their bit for "burden sharing," paying for their own protection, as it were. Japan pays up most: $4.4 billion in 2002. These arrangements are presented as voluntary, but Johnson is skillful at showing how, stage by stage, the host countries have little hope of showing their American guests the door.

In some respects, the parallel with the British Empire is the more striking, with the defeated and there-fore reliable nations of Japan and Germany playing the role Britain once assigned to its dominions in South Africa or New Zealand. More import-antly, the British told themselves to the very end that they were only ruling other parts of the world, painting the map pink, from the noblest of intentions. Their goal was to bring civilization to the dark continents, their rhetorical fervor no less than the Americans of today who swear their sole purpose is the export of democracy.

Some, even among American foreign policy's sternest critics, accept that self-description. William Pfaff has recently written that today's Americans, like the British before them, are engaged in something other than crude, acquisitive imperialism. If that was their goal, if Iraq really was all about oil, as many in the antiwar movement have long insisted, then the US could simply have annexed the relevant areas and installed a dictator. But Pfaff argues that the American purpose is of a different order. While "empires usually leave their subjects as they find them," he wrote, "colonizers want to teach new values, convert the hearts and—so to speak—save the souls of the colonized." Iraq has been, wrote Pfaff, an exercise in "value conversion," seeking to win the country for Western-style government and market capitalism.[6]

I suspect that Chalmers Johnson would snort at the notion that Americans are well-meaning colonizers, set only on saving the souls of their subject peoples. For Johnson, the talk of value conversion is only so much fluff, designed to win the public support that would be absent for a naked smash-and-grab raid on a sovereign state. All imperial adventures have disguised themselves as civilizing missions; even the Spanish conquistadors of the sixteenth century claimed to be freeing from superstition and backwardness the Aztec, Mayan, and Inca peoples they crushed. In this reading, the rhetoric is only rhetoric. America's purpose is the same as imperialism's ever was, to allow the foreign power safe and unimpeded access to whatever pickings the plundered nation has to offer.

What complicates the picture is the sincerity, naive as it may be, of so many of those neoconservative dreamers, perhaps extending to the President himself. Clearly they, no less than their British predecessors, believe, or believed, that they are engaged in the work of liberation rather than conquest. Are they themselves deceived by shadowy forces who use the veneer of spreading democracy to conceal a more base purpose? Or is it instead that imperialism, once in motion, exerts a momentum of its own?

While they often converge on the same point, Johnson enters this discussion from an angle different from that of Noam Chomsky and the traditional anti-imperialist left. He certainly has sympathy for those who have found themselves on the receiving end of America's sense of manifest destiny, including the luckless Japanese who have had to endure the boorishness and sometimes outright brutality of the 50,000 US troops, military-related civilians, and their dependents stationed in Okinawa. But his is a patriot's passion: his motive is to save the American republic he loves. While Chomsky argues that American guilt can be traced back to the Constitution —he disapprovingly quotes James Madison's insistence that the new Republic should "protect the minority of the opulent against the majority"[7] — Johnson reveres that document and the careful balance of powers it constructed. His fear is that America's steady descent into imperialism renders those arrangements unsustainable, just as the rise of the Roman Empire ensured the slow death of the Roman Republic.

This is the core of his argument, that by extending its reach in the world America is not only endangering itself physically, by increasing the risk of blowback, but bankrupting itself, financially, constitutionally, and morally. The economic evidence is devastating, a succession of numbers each more stark than the last. The annual Pentagon budget, which falls short of $500 billion, is far from the whole story. There are also the separately accounted costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which stood in 2006 at approximately $450 billion since their inception. When those sums are combined with military spending by agencies other than the Pentagon, the national defense outlay for 2007 reaches $622 billion. Johnson would have us add to that figure the ongoing costs of wars past, including the lifetime care of the seriously wounded ($68 billion) and widows' pensions, as well as State Department subsidies paid to foreign countries to encourage their purchase of US-made weapons ($23 billion). That would still exclude the interest paid on the share of the national debt incurred by military spending, for which Johnson cites one estimate of $138.7 billion. Even on the most conservative reckoning, the US is spending more in real terms on defense now than at any time since the Second World War. If it accounts for a relatively modest share of GDP, per-haps less than 5 percent, that is only because the US economy is now so much bigger than it was.[8]

What's driving this is a nexus of military, political, and financial interests, all of whom benefit from ever-increasing military spending. Johnson provides an anatomy of one particularly egregious example, the expansion into space weaponry represented by the so-called National Missile Defense program (NMD). Patiently he demonstrates why a system aimed at intercepting nuclear bombs before they can land on America does not and could not work. For one thing, no one has yet worked out how to identify a hostile launch and no interceptor has yet been designed that can tell the difference between an incoming warhead and a decoy. The result is that NMD is nothing more than a boondoggle in the sky, at last count pulling in $130 billion of American taxpayers' money, a figure which on current plans would reach $1.2 trillion by 2015.

But the NMD pork-in-space project is far from exceptional. Seeking fat contracts, the big defense companies give donations to those politicians who will pay them back by commissioning expensive defense projects; the contractors then reward the politicians by locating their firms in their districts; finally the voters, glad of the jobs, reward the politicians by reelecting them. Johnson offers dozens of examples, including Florida's Democratic senator Bill Nelson, a member of the Armed Services Committee, who in the 2006 federal budget "obtained $916 million for defense projects, about two-thirds of which went to the Florida-based plants of Boeing, Honeywell, General Dynamics, Armor Holdings, and other munitions makers." Since 2003, Nelson has received $108,750 in campaign contributions from thirteen companies for which he arranged contracts. It's a cycle perpetuated by everyone involved: contractors, politicians, voters. Everyone benefits from this untamed form of military Keynesianism—except the next generations of Americans who can be expected to drown in a debt that now measures $9 trillion and grows daily.


Yet even this does not pose the greatest danger to the republic. Johnson looks to Rome and to Caesar to demonstrate how the powers required to maintain an empire are incompatible with the checks and balances of a republic. His attempts to argue this theoretically are weaker than his practical case studies. He describes in detail the CIA's transformation from Harry Truman's provider of reliable intelligence into an outfit that performs covert military operations— such as the toppling of Chile's democratically elected president Salvador Allende in the 1973 coup which installed the murderous regime of Augusto Pinochet. The CIA, writes Johnson, has long been beyond the reach of meaningful democratic oversight; it has become a presidential private army, an American counterpart to Rome's praetorian guard.

Tellingly, however, his most powerful evidence is drawn from the Bush years since 2001. Johnson may argue that these are trends that have been in evidence for decades, but it is the current administration which has illuminated them. By declaring the nation at war and himself a wartime president, Bush has grabbed powers to himself that America's founders never intended him to have. As the infamous "torture memo" made clear, Bush's legal team has constructed something it calls the "unitary executive theory of the presidency" to place the Oval Office outside the law, arguing that there can be no infringement on his "ultimate authority" as commander in chief in the conduct of war. Because practically any measures taken, at home or abroad, since September 11, 2001, can be construed as the conduct of war, this doctrine is nothing less than a claim of absolute power. Whether it be treaties signed and ratified by the US, like the Geneva Conventions, or the laws of the land passed in Congress, nothing can touch him. He is Caesar.

There was a time when such claims would have sounded overheated (and some, like Johnson's comparison of Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rums-feld to Adolf Eichmann, still do). Yet now Johnson finds mainstream allies for at least part of his case, Brzezinski among them. Not only is Brzezin-ski unafraid to describe US activities as imperial, he has joined those who believe the current administration is "propagating fear and paranoia" and is engaged in "the deliberate manipulation of public anxiety." Once again, this was the sort of argument previously marshaled chiefly by those outside the United States and a world away from its governing circles.[9] It testifies to Bush's recklessness that he has now placed a man of Brzezinski's stature alongside them.

With the license granted by the "war on terror," and the acquiescence of both Congress (until January 2007) and much of the US press and television, as well as several federal judges, the administration has been able to trample on the Constitution and the once-cherished liberties it contains. The pattern is clear, whether it involves eavesdropping without a warrant by the National Security Agency; the denial of habeas corpus to inmates of Guantánamo Bay; the deliberate obstruction of the Freedom of Information Act; the constant use of presidential "signing statements" usually to nullify legislation passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President himself; or the torture at Abu Ghraib and Camp X-Ray. As Johnson writes:

Over any fairly lengthy period of time, successful imperialism requires that a domestic republic or a domestic democracy change into a domestic tyranny.... The United States today, like the Roman Republic in the first century BC, is threatened by an out-of-control military-industrial complex and a huge secret government controlled exclusively by the president. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, cynical and short-sighted political leaders of the United States began to enlarge the powers of the president at the expense of the elected representatives of the people and the courts.
The public went along, accepting the excuse that a little tyranny was necessary to protect the population. But, as Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1759, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
What can be done? For Ross and Brzezinski, the solutions are arduous, but at least imaginable. Ross urges a return to statecraft, to the painstaking work of diplomacy and alliance building. Indeed, of the three books, his is the one that would be of most direct use to the next administration taking office in 2009. Condoleezza Rice's successor could do worse than sit down with Ross's "Negotiation: Twelve Rules to Follow," followed by his "Eleven Rules for Mediation." (A canny publisher might try to publish those sections on their own, aiming them at the CEO market; inside Ross's foreign policy monograph there may be a business best-seller crying to get out.)

Among his concrete tips is the suggestion that the US back a new nongovernmental body to perform, under international direction and in secular fashion, the popular tasks now undertaken by the Islamists of Hamas or Hezbollah, namely providing social services and building civic institutions like hospitals and schools. Ross surely sees the danger of such an approach: that any agency known to be US-backed would instantly be deemed suspect by much of the Palestinian street. His answer might be to seek Saudi, rather than American, patronage, exploiting Riyadh's palpable anxiety over the rise of Iran and its Islamist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon. The Saudis, Ross argues, could be persuaded to bankroll anti-Islamist forces, including the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, if that would weaken Hamas.

Ross is right to see the opportunity presented by Sunni concern over the rise of Iran, an opportunity to form an alliance against aggressive Islamism that the Bush administration has squandered. Still, one cannot help but detect a bad, even imperialist habit here: the desire to pick other nations' representatives for them. Rather than devising clever ruses to marginalize Hamas, would not US energies be better spent encouraging Hamas toward a political, rather than armed, pursuit of its goals, dangling before the organization the rewards that would come if it changed course?

Ross has some imaginative ideas for Iran, too, including an alternative to full-scale military action. He floats the notion of a covert operation to sabotage Iran's delicate nuclear machinery. Such a step, he writes cheerfully, would "prove very costly for the Iranians to overcome, and yet would be completely deniable." Unlike Bush's former UN ambassador John Bolton, who said, "I don't do carrots," Ross is keen to show he would use both the carrots of "soft power" and the sticks of physical force as well. One wonders, though, how "deniable" such force could be in today's world and if such a covert plan could be efficiently executed in the first place.

Brzezinski is equally brimming with advice, calling, like Ross, for a Washington that shows more respect to the world and one that would shore up the Euro-Atlantic area of nations, lest it lose its influence to East Asia. Most radically, he advocates for a shift in the American social model, away from excess consumption and income inequality toward a more ecologically sustainable pattern that would appeal internationally. One of Brzezinski's most striking observations is that an "awakening" is underway around the world, a stirring, if vague, sense of injustice—and that the United States can only succeed if it is held to be on the right side of the divide. "In today's restless world, America needs to identify itself with the quest for universal human dignity," he writes. What that will take, he adds provocatively, is both "a cultural revolution and regime change."

Necessarily, it is Johnson, who has diagnosed a more radical problem, who has to come up with a more radical solution. He cannot merely call for greater powers for Congress, because by his own lights, "the legislative branch of our government is broken," reduced to the supine creature of large corporations, the defense contractors first among them. Instead, he urges a surge in direct democracy, "a grassroots movement to abolish the CIA, break the hold of the military-industrial com-plex, and establish public financing of elections"—but he has the grace to recognize how unlikely such a development is.

So he is left offering not an eleven- or twelve-step program, but rather a historical choice. Either the United States can follow the lead of the Romans, who chose to keep their empire and so lost their republic. Or "we could, like the British Empire after World War II, keep our democracy by giving up our empire." That choice was neither smooth nor executed heroically, but it was the right one. Now much of the world watches the offspring of that empire, nearly two and a half centuries later—hoping it makes the same choice, and trembling at the prospect that it might not.

[1] "Iraq Report Well Received in Washington," NPR, December 6, 2006, available at www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6587217.

[2] "World View of US Role Goes from Bad to Worse," available at www.pub licdiplomacy.org/14.htm#Apr2007.

[3] See, among others, Michael Ignatieff, "The Burden," The New York Times Magazine, January 5, 2003; and Niall Ferguson, Colossus: The Price of America's Empire (Penguin, 2004).

[4] See, for the most recent example, Cullen Murphy, Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America (Houghton Mifflin, 2007).

[5] For a breathtaking account of the American enclave in Baghdad, see Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (Knopf, 2006).

[6] "The Doomed Colonial Wars of the US and NATO," March 2, 2007, available at www.williampfaff.com/modules/ news/article.php?storyid=212.

[7] See Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (Metropolitan, 2006), p. 207.

[8] Much of the publicly available data on military spending is gathered by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, www.csbaonline.org.

[9] See the BBC TV documentary The Power of Nightmares, written and produced by Adam Curtis, 2004. It argued that politicians who could no longer inspire, sought to scare instead, citing the Bush team as a prime example. "Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us: from nightmares," the film's introduction declares. It has never been shown on American television.

06 June 2007

Q & A with Michael Oren

Q & A with Michael Oren


Jun. 5, 2007

On the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, renowned historian
and senior fellow at Shalem Center's Adelson Institute for
Strategic Studies answers questions sent by JPost.com readers on
those six remarkable days in June 1967.

Daniel Teeboom, Amsterdam: I read that you discovered Jordanian
plans about what to do with the vanquished Jews of Israel, had
the Arabs won. These stories have been rumors for many years,
will the documents be made available online? They can be used
for all kinds of pro-Israeli activities and would be worth their
weight in gold.

Michael Oren: I was indeed able to acquire Jordanian diplomatic
and military documents from 1967. Among these were the plans for
Operation Tariq, the planned Jordanian attack against West
(Jewish) Jerusalem and the Latrun Quarter. These plans provided
for the execution of the civilian populations of several Jewish
communities, such as Moza, which lies just west of Jerusalem.
Some of these documents fell into Israeli hands during the war
and were later presented to King Hussein in the secret meetings
he held with Israeli representatives in London. The King denied
having any knowledge of Tariq.

It is important to demonstrate that not only the Jordanians but
also the Egyptians and the Syrians had planned the conquest of
Israel and the expulsion or murder of much of it Jewish
inhabitants in 1967. Many of the so-called "revisionist
historians" today are claiming that the Arabs never had
aggressive intentions toward the Jewish state and that Israel
precipitated the Six-Day War in order to expand territorially.
The documentary evidence refutes this claim unequivocally.

Ann Lesser, Los Angeles: Do you agree with the recent article in
The Economist that the Six Day War was wasted and that it has
caused more problems than it solved?

Michael Oren: The Economist article's argument only holds if one
believes that Israel's survival is a bad thing. If Israel had
lost the Six-Day War, it would not exist today. Yes, it is true
that the Six-Day War precipitated the controversy surrounding
Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, the conflict over
Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem, and contributed to the
rise of Palestinian terror. But without Israel's 1967 victory,
there would today be no peace between Israel and Egypt or Israel
and Jordan. If the West Bank and Gaza remained under Jordanian
and Egyptian occupation, as they were in 1967, there would be no
talk today of creating a Palestinian state in those territories.
And if Israel had not proven its military mettle over the course
of six intense days, there would be no strategic alliance
between the United States and the Jewish state. My guess,
though, is that the Economist is not thrilled about that either.

Yaakov Slabiak, Dallas: Your concluding statements in "Power,
Faith and Fantasy" suggests that the USA can bring a new world
order of security and peace and even democracy to the Middle
East by "responsibly wielding its strength and consistently
upholding its principles." What can we reasonably expect for the
Middle East in the near term and beyond from the politicians in
Washington, DC in view of the divided domestic opinion on the
Iraq war, and what may be a united international stand on
stopping Iran's nuclear power ambitions?

Michael Oren: American policy-makers, whether Republican or
Democrat, must convince the American people that there is no
separating from the Middle East in the way that the United
States separated from Vietnam in 1975, and this for the simple
reason that the Middle East will not separate from America.
Extremist elements in the region will continue to seek ways of
harming American interests and killing American citizens long
after the last U.S. soldier has left Iraq. It is imperative,
therefore, that the American people are made to understand that
this is a protracted conflict and one with invariable
vicissitudes. There will be setbacks, much as there were in all
of America's previous wars, but victory remains possible.

To this end, the United States must explore the possibility of
maintaining permanent ground and naval forces in the Middle East
(much as Jefferson did in 1801), invest heavily in intelligence,
and actively promote reformist forces in the Middle East. The
United States should continue to support the advocates of
democracy in the Middle East, but without trying to impose
American ideas and institutions on the peoples of the regions.
Most importantly, the United States must uphold its own
principles and avoid at all costs a repetition of the Abu Graib

Even after taking all of these steps, American decision-makers
will face a complex and potentially treacherous environment in
the Middle East, one that will require patience, perseverance,
and creativity to negotiate. In the long run, though, America
has no choice.

To stop Iran, for example, Washington will have to combine
international diplomatic action with the imposition of its own
far-reaching sanctions, all the while maintaining a credible
military threat. If diplomatic initiatives and economic
strictures fail-and all signs seem to indicate that that
will-the United States must act to prevent the Iranians from
acquiring strategic capabilities. The use of force will at that
moment become not only justified but mandatory.

Steve Lewine, Paradise Valley: The decision to give "Har Habiet"
(the Temple Mount) to the Muslims, was it debated, was anything
asked of the recipient, is it written in stone, did they even
request this gift?

Michael Oren: There was no debate surrounding Moshe Dayan's
decision to keep the Temple Mount or, as the Muslims call it,
Haram al-Sharif ("the noble sanctuary"), under the aegis of the
Muslim authorities or Waqf. The decision reflected Israel's
policy of maintaining the status quo toward all holy sites,
Jewish and non-Jewish, in the Old City. For example, Christian
control of the Holy Sepulcher was also retained. Israeli
officials in 1967 were deeply concerned that the world would not
accord with Israeli control of the Old City and were anxious to
show that Israel would respect the rights of all religions.

To be sure, the Muslims never asked Israel to recognize this
right, nor do they in any way express gratitude for having
received it. On the contrary, the Waqf has since served as a
center and a catalyst for Muslim denial of Jewish rights, both
in Jerusalem and outside, and has worked assiduously to destroy
any remnant of the first and second temples. In retrospect,
Dayan's decision was a terrible mistake but, in fairness, there
was no way of knowing that in 1967.

Gil Aharoni Los Angeles, CA: You mention in your book that,
after the war, Eshkol entertained the idea of making peace with
Jordan based on the UN partition lines. Do you mean the lines
stipulated in UN Resolution 181? Could Eshkol really have
considered turning over land that was sovereign Israeli
territory for 19 years?

Michael Oren: I don't recall asserting that Eshkol ever was
willing to make peace on the basis of UN Resolution 181. That
document, Israel contended, had been nullified by the Arabs'
rejection of it and their attempt to defeat it by force of arms.
Eshkol was, however, willing to trade all of the captured Sinai
Peninsula and almost all of the Golan Heights in return for
peace treaties with Egypt and Syria, respectively, and to
consider creating an autonomous Palestinian entity in the West
Bank. His offers, though, were rejected by the Arabs' decision,
taken at the Khartoum Summit later in 1967, to deny Israel all
peace and recognition and to reject any negotiations with the
Jewish state. Palestinian notables expressed an interest in the
autonomous entity plan, but feared that any attempt to negotiate
with Israel would result in their assassinations by radicals-and
the radical they mentioned by name was Yasser Arafat.

Matthew Reid, Boston: As an Israeli Historian writing on Israeli
history in an academically rigorous and honest fashion, what
methods do you use to identify and hopefully filter out your own
biases and preconceptions? Also, how does your own military
service color your understanding or interpretation of your

Michael Oren: You have touched on the greatest challenge I face
as an historian. Though it has become very fashionable in the
history field to indulge one's prejudices and preconceptions, I
view my biases-and I have them-as obstacles to be overcome. This
means that in every paragraph, if not every sentence, I must
pause and ask myself whether I am, in fact, being as balanced
and objective as possible. Later, I submit my writing to readers
whom I trust to render candid judgments.

My military experience, on the other hand, assists me in
understanding the dynamics of the battlefield and of war-time
decision-making. I know what it's like to be in command
positions as well as to be a simple soldier under fire, and I
have tremendous sympathy for anybody-Israeli or Arab-in similar
positions. As a result, I am less likely to judge soldiers in
battle and prefer, when possible, to understand them.

Toni Manson, London: Is there any credible evidence that Sadat's
peace overtures in 1971-2 were credible? e.g. Did he offer
diplomatic recognition?

Michael Oren: From what we know-and the record is still far from
clear-Sadat proposed that Israel withdraw from all of the
territories captures in 1967, including the West Bank and
Jerusalem in exchange for a non-belligerency treaty that would
eventually evolve into peace. Diplomatic recognition per se was
never mentioned. But one thing I know from studying Middle
Eastern diplomatic history is that until the Egyptian, American
and Israeli documents are de-classified, we will never know for
sure whether or not peace was possible before the outbreak of
the 1973 war. It is, however, interesting to note that many of
the historians who now claim that Israel missed an opportunity
to make peace before that conflict also say that Sadat required
his "victory" in 1973 in order to gain the legitimacy necessary
to make peace in 1979.

Jason Ream, L.A: Do you think if Israel had offered all the
territory it had conquered in 1967, including east Jerusalem,
back to Jordan, Syria and Egypt the day after the war ended they
would have accepted them in exchange for peace?

Michael Oren: Absolutely not. The Arab states were categorical
in declaring their refusal to grant Israel peace or recognition,
or even to negotiate with it in return for the territories.

Cliff Court, Cape Town: In recent times, renewed questions have
arisen as to whether Egypt was indeed going to attack Israel at
all at that time and, in turn, whether it was correct for Israel
to launch their preemptive strike. In your opinion, was there
any doubt that Egypt would in fact have attacked if Israel had
not done so first?

Michael Oren: We know from Egyptian documents that the Egyptian
army prepared a detailed plan for bombing strategic sites
throughout Israel and for cutting Israel in half with a combined
armored and infantry thrust. The plan, codenamed "The Dawn " (or
al-Fajr), was set to be implemented on May 27 but was blocked
when the United States and the Soviet Union together pressured
the Egyptians not to attack. The danger of an Egyptian offensive
against Israel remained. However, with hundreds of thousands of
Arab soldiers gathered on its borders, Israel could not respond
to even a minor Palestinian guerilla attack without
precipitating a general Arab assault. Pre-emption was the only

James Michael Price, Haymarket, Virginia: In the book "The
Secret War Against the Jews", by John Loftus and Mark Aarons,
the claim is made that the US naval ship Liberty had on board
two Hebrew-language experts who were translating Israeli
military communications intercepted on the Liberty during the
1967 war. They further claimed that the translations were sent
to a British intelligence site on Cyprus, where the British used
that information to make maps of Israeli military deployments in
the Sinai and then sent those maps to the Egyptians. Your book
tells a much different story. What is your opinion of the claims
of Loftus and Aarons?

Michael Oren: There is absolutely no documentary evidence to
support Loftus' thesis, this after several thousand documents
relating to the Liberty incident have been declassified.
Contrary to Loftus' contention, there were no Hebrew speakers
aboard the Liberty, only Arabic and Russian translators.

Brent Olsson, Oklahoma City: What credence do you give accounts
that the Six Day War was precipitated by a Soviet scheme to wipe
Israel before it could develop a nuclear weapon?

Michael Oren: I have found no documentary evidence to support
this thesis and one must assume that some evidence of it would
be found in the tens of thousands of documents that have been
declassified at American, Israeli and Russian archives. Nor is
the theory substantiated even obliquely in the extensive Arabic
sources that have become available. On the contrary, it appears
that the Soviets, after helping to precipitate the crisis by
encouraging Egypt to evict UNEF, did everything to discourage
the Egyptians from closing the Straits of Tiran and going to
war. Finally, the question must be asked why the Soviet Union,
which had diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, would risk
a global confrontation just to eliminate the Dimona reactor,
which had yet to produce a single atomic weapon. Israel had
never threatened the Soviet Union, nor had it pledged to use its
strategic capabilities to "wipe off the map"-to quote
Ahmadinejad -any of the Soviets' Arab client-states.

Mark, Toronto: Moshe Dayan said the following: "After all, I
know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my
opinion, more than 80 percent, but let's talk about 80 percent.
It went this way: We would send a tractor to plow some area [in
the Golan DMZ] where it wasn't possible to do anything, in the
demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would
start to shoot. If they didn't shoot, we would tell the tractor
to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get
annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the
air force also, and that's how it was." My question is: Is there
truth to this or is this Dayan simply lashing back with
exaggerations? This is coupled with stories of IDF soldiers
masquerading as farmers to draw fire from the Syrians or whole
Kibbutzim staffed by soldiers.

Michael Oren: There is an element of truth to Dayan's claim, but
it is important to note that Israel regarded the de-militarized
zones in the north as part of their sovereign territory and
reserved the right to cultivate them-a right that the Syrians
consistently resisted with force. Syria also worked to divert
the Jordan River before it flowed into Israel, aiming to deprive
the Jewish state of its principle water source; Syria also
actively supported Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel.
Israel occasionally exploited incidents in the de-militarized
zones to strike at the Syrian water diversion project and to
punish the Syrians for their support of terror. Dayan's remarks
must also be taken in context of the fact that he was a member
of the opposition at the time. His attitude toward the Syrians
changed dramatically once he became defense minister. Indeed, on
June 8, 1967, Dayan bypassed both the Prime Minister and the
Chief of Staff in ordering the Israeli army to attack and
capture the Golan.

David Guy, Rehovot: The BBC's Martin Asser suggests the origin
of the Six Day War was a water dispute Your response?

Michael Oren: Water indeed played a principle role in
precipitating the Six-Day War. The Egyptians closed the Straits
of Tiran to all shipping bound for Israel's vital southern port
of Eilat. The Syrians attempted to divert the Jordan River
before it flowed into Israel, and attempted to obstruct Israel's
effort to convey water from the Sea of Galilee to the parched
Negev Desert. All of these efforts, whether Egyptian or Syrian,
originated in the Arab refusal to accept the existence of the
permanent and legitimate Jewish state in the Middle East. That,
and not water, was the cause of the Six-Day War.

Luis Bautista, Chicago: How did the Israel Air Force so
brilliantly carry out the plan to demolish the air forces of
Egypt, Syria and Jordan?

Michael Oren: The plan, code-named Focus, was meticulously
planned and rehearsed over the course of four years. It involved
extensive coordination between the air force, army intelligence,
and the Mossad, and employed the newest in military and avionic
technology. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Focus was the
result of a courageous decision on the part of the Israeli

Mike Lawson, San Francisco: Dear Mr. Oren, why is it that so
many authors out there publish blatantly anti Israel material,
far more than there are people producing fair or pro Israel
books? Why are these books given legitimacy and how can this be

Michael Oren: This is a very complicated question with a
multi-faceted answer that lies beyond our issue today. I will,
however, say that promoting research projects such as "Six Days
of War" and "Power, Faith and Fantasy," which present Israel and
the U.S. involvement in the Middle East in an equitable and
balanced light, is crucial. Such projects, which are quite
expensive to carry out, are only possible through the assistance
of academic bodies such as the Shalem Center, where I am a

Andrew White, London: Tom Segev's new book on the Six Day War
received a gushing review in this week's Economist (26 May
2007). Is this the beginning of Six Day War revisionist history?

Michael Oren: Alas, it's not the beginning. Segev's primary
thesis, namely, that the Six-Day War was the product of
irrational Israeli fears and war-mongering, has been around for
many years. It is implicit in Jimmy Carter's recent book, which
describes Israel-quite wrongly-as having attacked Jordan and
Syria pre-emptively in 1967. It is crucial to note, however,
that neither Segev nor Carter employ even one Arabic source. In
essence, the Arabs simply do not exist for them. The end result
is not only an injustice to Israel but moreover gross
discrimination toward the Arabs, who are treated as
two-dimensional figures, incapable of independent
decision-making and political dynamics.

Alan Feinberg, Jr, Washington DC: Given the way the shocking
victory in 1967 created and reinvigorated Zionist sentiment in
Israel and around the world and the current cynicism about the
origins and effects of that war today, how do you assess the
state of Zionism in Israel and the West? Does it concern you?

Michael Oren: I'm deeply concerned about the state of Zionism in
the world today. In the West and especially in the academic
community, Zionism is increasingly seen as an illegitimate if
not illicit concept that has produced a racist and colonialist
regime. More troubling still, many Israelis, and particularly
the youth, have lost a sense of the meaning and morality of the
Jewish state. The good news is that there are today a growing
number of grass roots organizations and philanthropies dedicated
to defending Zionism on Western campuses, while in Israel,
institutions such as the Shalem Center are working to strengthen
the Zionist idea. It was heartening to note that last summer's
call-up of the Israeli reserves received more than 100 percent
response (that is, more reservists reported for duty than those
who were listed as active). That percentage was higher than the
one recorded in 1967.

The Zionist heart is strong, but its mind needs to be
reinvigorated. We need writing and research that can articulate
the Zionist mission-its foundations and its ethos.


05 June 2007

"Six Days in June" - A Production of WBGH Boston for PBS


There is a program which is airing over the course of the next several days entitled “Six Days in June” produced by WBGH Boston for National Public Television. For all the bias and Israel-bashing on PBS and NPR, I must tell you that I was very impressed with the tone, content and, yes, the balance of the program. It told the truth about what happened from a historical perspective and about the consequences for all sides that are with us 40 years later. The program intelligently discusses the military, social and cultural issues and consequences of those fateful days and reminded me (I was all of six years old at the time) of just how close the world was to a global war as the result of this war. Remember that the Soviet fleet was a mere 10 miles off the coast of Haifa ready to launch a ground invasion on Israel to get it to stop its invasion of Syria. Meanwhile, in an interview with Robert McNamara who related, in chilling detail, how he ordered the Sixth Fleet, which had been sailing toward Gibraltar, to turn around and head for Israel to defend Israel against Soviet and Syrian aggression. The world was as close to all-out war as it had been since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. In the UN, the Syrians, Egyptians and Soviets all pushed for a cease-fire along the Syrian front after the destruction of the Egyptian and Jordanian Armies. The Israelis stalled for time, which allowed Moshe Dayan’s army to push within 40 miles of Damascus. It was only then that Israel agreed to the cease fire.

Part of the attraction of this program (2 hours long) was the interviewing of officers and soldiers on all sides and to get their perspectives, perspectives which, with the benefit of 40 years of hindsight, could stand to be repeated or at least reviewed by all sides concerned. It was with some shock that I watched as Nasser, announcing his resignation after the humiliating defeat, offer to listen to the “will of the people”, but then, instead of attempting to negotiate peace with Israel, headed off to Khartoum, Sudan with the rest of the Arab league and came out with the three “no’s”. No peace with Israel. No recognition of Israel. No negotiations with Israel. Some of the Arabs interviewed were very clear that they felt that they had been lied to by their leaders and that the only reason why there was a Khartoum conference was to ensure that those regimes stayed in power and that the issues of the people under whom they live until today, exist only to perpetuate their own power. That this is still the truth cannot be gainsaid.

From the Israeli perspective, can we say that past is prologue? Moshe Dayan is quoted as saying “What do we need this Vatican for?” Many, many questions were asked about the wisdom of taking over the West Bank and the occupation that Israel finds itself enmeshed in as I write this and for the foreseeable future. There was no doubt that the war was necessary; that it was just; that it was carried out to perfection by people who knew that if they lost even a single battle to the massed Arab armies, it would spell the end of Israel. But let there be no doubt that there were then, just as there is now, plenty of misgivings about what to do about the West Bank and the problems –personal and institutional - that Israel inherited from the Jordanians. The problem, as was pointed out by more than one Arab observer in the program, is that Arab political and social institutions are inherently incapable of anything other than existence for the mere sake of existence and not for the benefit of the people over which they allegedly govern. That this is the lasting lesson of the 1967 war is too clear for more words.