Terror in America: Obama and Trump

Terror in America: Obama and Trump

by

Howard Adelman

I wrote this blog – or most of it – two days ago. But I didn’t, I couldn’t send it out. I did not like my conclusions. More importantly, the argument and evidence offered were only sketched rather than fully developed and properly supported. But, after all, this is only a blog and not an academic paper. So I invite readers to tell me I am wrong, to show me where I am wrong.

Clearly and unequivocally, Barack Obama’s greatest failure as president was in creating conditions which allowed Donald Trump to succeed him. Or is this assertion not so clear and unequivocal? Was Donald Trump elected through a confluence of external factors that had nothing to do with Obama – the FBI Director intervening in the election eleven days before most ballots would be cast with information that the FBI was investigating an additional trove of material that might (it never did) throw further light on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address and unprotected server. Russian hacking into the Democratic Party communications and releasing the information to Wikileaks may have done the critical damage. After all, Trump won Wisconsin by only 22,000 votes, Michigan by only 10,700 votes of 4.8 million cast, .002%, two-tenths of one percentage point, of the ballots cast in that state. Trump won Pennsylvania by 49,000 votes out of 6 million, .008 or 8/10ths of one percentage point. Poor Democratic party organization in those competitive states may have cost the election. Bur perhaps the loss also occurred because Obama had forged a role for himself right from the beginning as a president above the fray. Though he tried at the end, he clearly had difficulty in parting from his self-created image to pin the tail on the donkey. Perhaps this was because he was still blindfolded.

Look again at Obama’s farewell speech. What were the threats he pointed to as dangers to America? “A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism — these forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy, as well.” But how does a shrinking world or demographic change threaten democracy? And why are they put on the same level as growing inequality and terrorism? And to what extent was terror a real threat? Further, if, under Obama, the trend to increased inequality had been reversed, why not point to that rather than “growing inequality?” “Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.” Rather abstract and indirect if Obama was referring to Trump as a fear-monger indifferent to core values Americans hold dear.

But look when he pivoted to specific types of examples in the next paragraph – put the fight against terrorism on a “firmer legal footing,” end torture, close Gitmo, reform laws governing surveillance, and protect privacy and civil liberties.  These are all pretty remote from the concerns of most citizens. Does anyone believe that even one of these issues, let alone all five, mattered to a single one of Trump’s supporters? If Trump voters were afraid, it could possibly be from terrorists, but I will try to show that it was not and could not be. Nor was it a failure in due process or protecting terrorists from being tortured. Trump supporters could not care one whit about Gitmo, except perhaps what it costs to keep the few imprisoned there, if they only knew the actual costs. (In 2015, it was $445 million for the 41 prisoners still there, almost $11 million per prisoner.) In the election, they seemed more interested in their own fellow citizens being careless with information under their control than others looking at that information, including either their own government or a rival foreign power.

This is written with no criticisms of whether the goals Obama named are laudable. They clearly are for any small “l” liberal. But the implication of the remark is that Trump supporters were allowing their heroic leader to stir up fears that then trumped their concerns for individual liberty, freedom and respect for law. However, they were not primarily concerned with individual liberty, freedom and respect for law. And rather than terrorism being a major threat, it was not and was not even perceived to be a major threat. If it were, they could pay far more attention to home-grown terrorists, and, as we shall see, they were fully justified in largely ignoring that magnified threat.

Much more importantly and justifiably, they would be concerned with the scourge of gun violence that killed far more Americans than all the foreign wars in which America has been involved over the past eight years. From 2001 to 2014, over 440,000 people died from domestic gun violence in the U.S.A., almost 34,000 on average per year. In contrast, in the Afghanistan War, America lost 2,734 military personnel between 2008 and 2016, about 342 per year, or about 1% of those who died from gun violence in the U.S. In the Iraq War, there were only 591 deaths in those same 8 years, for Obama began withdrawing most American troops from there shortly after he took office. The death toll averaged 74 per year, or two-tenths of one percent who died from guns on American soil. In both operations, the death total has fallen dramatically during Obama’s second term.

I received the following feedback from my initial draft from a regular reader. “Again, those Americans for whom owning a weapon is sacrosanct do not look at deaths resulting from gun violence in an abstract way.  If they are the ones shooting the bastard who dared to look at them the wrong way, then that is justice served, their way: the customary method of settling disputes.  This is fierce individualism, protective macho gesture taking things in your own hand.  You do not need no namby-pamby principles, just a secure hand and a functioning gun.  They do not advocate for the right to bear firearms as a principle, but as a licence to take care of business, without the interference of government authority.  Of course, sometimes they are the ones who get shot: then all hell breaks loose: individual particular self-interest, not universal principles guide the actions.”

I will come back to the figures above in a blog on foreign terrorism, but note who died. In 2015-2016, three Americans died assisting Iraqi domestic military forces in the fight against ISIL terrorism – 31-year-old Navy Seal Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Keating, 27-year-old Marine Staff Sergeant Louis Cardin on his fourth deployment overseas, and 39-year-old Army Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, who left four children fatherless; he was also on his fourth deployment and had earned 11 bronze stars. The cost in the lives of American military personnel overseas fighting terrorism has been relatively very small, but the sense of who they were has been very large.

In this blog, I will focus on the alleged threat of terrorism within the United States to democracy. Examine the list of major violent attacks within the United States when Obama was president:

  1. Binghamton, New York, 3 April 2009 on an immigration centre; 14 killed, 4 injured
  2. Fort Hood, Texas, 5 November 2009; attack on the Soldier Readiness Center there; thirteen were killed and 44 injured
  3. Tucson, Arizona, 8 January 2011. At a supermarket political meeting, Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others were severely injured and U.S. District Judge John Roll as well as five others were killed
  4. Aurora, Colorado, 20 July 2012; 12 killed and 58 injured in shooting attack at a movie theatre
  5. Newtown, Connecticut, 14 December 2012; elementary school shooting attack
  6. Boston Marathon, 15 April 2013; 3 killed and 264 injured by two bombs, and later, 1 police officer killed and 1 injured in the capture of the bomber
  7. Washington, D.C., 16 September 2013; at the Navy Yard – 13 killed & 3 injured
  8. Fort Hood again, 2 April 2014; 3 killed and 16 injured
  9. Las Vegas, Nevada 8 June 2014; 2 police and 1 civilian killed in shoot-out
  10. Chattanooga, Tennessee, 16 July 2015; 4 marines, 1 sailor, 1 policeman killed
  11. Roseburg, Oregon Community College, 1 October 2015; 9 killed & 9 injured
  12. San Bernardino, California, 2 December 2015; 14 killed and 21 injured
  13. Orlando, Florida, 12 June 2016; nightclub killing of 50 and 53 wounded
  14. Dallas, Texas, 7 July 2016; 5 police killed & 8 injured by a sniper
  15. Baton, Rouge, Louisiana, 17 July 2016; 3 police killed and 3 injured
  16. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 8 January 2017; 5 killed, 6 injured.

These sixteen were major attacks classified as criminal, terrorist-Islamic, terrorist-right, or terrorist-left; 5 of the 16 fell into the classification, terrorist-Islam. But a closer examination of each of those cases raises serious doubts about the classification for at least one and probably three of them. In the 2009 Fort Hood, Texas attack on the Soldier Readiness Center, the perpetrator was Nidal Malik Hasan, a military psychiatrist identified over the previous decade as having serious psychological problems. In the last few years, he identified as a religious Muslim, but there was no connection ever discovered with radical Islamicist terrorism. Any reasonably objective analysis would conclude that this was a case of a criminal act by a deranged perpetrator who rationalized his action in terms of Islam, extremist Islam.

In contrast, the Boston marathon attack in April 2013 was a clear case of Islamic terrorism, though not carried out with any direct links to terrorist organizations, Islamic or otherwise. Dzhokha Tsarnaev was 9-years-old and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was 16-years-old when they immigrated from Eastern Europe to the U.S. They became self-radicalized Islamicist terrorists. In another case, that of the 2015 Chattanooga Tennessee attack and killing of military personnel, Muhammed Youssef Abdulaziz was born in Kuwait and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 6. His father was a Palestinian radical of the Hamas variety. Yet he too could be classified as a home-grown Islamicist terrorist without any known links to extremist groups abroad or domestically.

In the Chattanooga attack on military personnel in 2015, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez had substance abuse (sleeping pills, opioids, and painkillers) and alcohol problems. He was also suffering from depression and under his parent’s health insurance plan, was ineligible for treatment in a rehabilitation centre. He may also have been suffering from bipolar disorder. This was another case of an act of violence that took place under the banner of Islamicist terrorism that would be better classified as a criminal case of murder resulting from a deranged person.

The second deadliest attack during Barack Obama’s term took place in San Bernardino in 2015. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple, were the perpetrators. This was also a case of home-grown, self-radicalized Islamicist extremist terrorism, though inspired by foreign Islamicist terrorism, more specifically, ISIL which claimed them as “soldiers of the caliphate.”

The deadliest attack took place in Orlando, Florida on 12 June 2016. The devastation in that nightclub killing in which 49 were killed and another 53 injured, was caused by 29-year-old Omar Mateen. He was clearly a disturbed individual. He failed to become a state trooper and a prison guard and was working as a security guard. The psychologist who signed his papers permitting him to own a gun had never interviewed him directly and was fined for this lapse. Though his action, in his own words, was instigated by American airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, his history included a record of a number of threats to kill people that had nothing to do with religion.

In sum, only 2 of the 5 alleged Islamicist terror attacks and 2 of 16 terror attacks in general within the United States could be clearly and unequivocally classified as Islamicist terror actions. The three other cases were carried out by Muslims who claimed to be inspired by Islamic extremism, but were almost certainly cases more of mental derangement rather than religious ideology.

What are we to make of this analysis – that domestic Islamicist terror is not a real threat? Not at all. After all, none of the citations above refer to the number of alleged planned Islamicist terror attacks that were disrupted and prevented by the police and intelligence services or to those attacks in which there were only 1 or 2 casualties. However, even if account were taken of all those, the threat of domestic Islamic terror is not a significantly large problem. After all, two of the sixteen terror attacks were perpetrated allegedly by left wing terrorists and two by right wing terrorists, as many as the clearly and unequivocal Islamicist variety.

Domestic terror is not a serious threat within the United States. It does not compare in quantity to criminal terrorist incidents usually committed by people with serious psychological problems and certainly not anywhere comparable to the unique situation in America of thousands killed per year by gun violence having nothing to do with terrorism. Investing money in mental health facilities or monitoring of individuals buying guns would give far better safety and security results that the huge amounts invested in combating domestic Islamicist terrorism.

In any case, Donald Trump did not appeal to the fears of terrorism of his supporters, but to their hatred of terrorism and the religion that they felt deep-down endorsed or otherwise abetted that terrorism. Trump explicitly and repeatedly promised to “eradicate Islamic terrorism completely from the face of the earth.” Not Islamicist terrorism but Islamic terrorism! This is not an appeal to fear, but rather an appeal to the genocidal instincts we all harbour and, with the help of laws and institutions hopefully quell – to define a group as Other, as wholly other, as a threat, as a mortal threat, as a threat that the only way it can be dealt with is by extermination.

When Barack Obama reiterated that he was a liberal leader who defended liberal values, this only indicated how out of touch he was, how unsupportive the evidence was, of his position and the real danger. Packaging the threat in the language of threats to individual liberty is but a confession of the powerful forces of ultra blood and soil ethnic and religious nationalism, of demagogic populism, of a stress on strength and order rather than law and order. It is not as if Barack Obama does not know, did not know this, but that he was too circumspect in naming it and, in effect, talked beside the point. Barack Obama was perhaps not only personally guilty of mis-diagnosing the real problem in the hearts and minds of those in the street, but shared in the innocence and ignorance of those around the world who fought for liberal values in the Arab Spring, or marched in Iran, Turkey and Russia against militant dictatorships, and the women and men who filled the Washington Mall and streets around the world calling out for the protection of liberal values.

This is a war, a war being fought around the world, a war between liberalism and anti-liberalism. And the proponents of anti-liberalism are not afraid, are no longer intimidated, from defining themselves as non-liberal, as at war with liberalism and, therefore, at war with any other nation or religion that challenges their own sense of self-superiority. (Same reader commenting: “It is not so much that they are anti-liberal, but that they do not see any benefit from having liberal leaders, if they have no jobs. The liberals talk big, but the lives of the rustbelt denizens ain’t getting no better from that.  Screw the principles and the slogans and give bread. And I do not think these people truly believe they are superior: they are painfully aware of their disenfranchised status amidst the grand speeches about equality.  This much they understand: slogans do not feed hungry mouths.  And anyhow, anyone who acts superior is in fact troubled by a whole lot of inferiority complexes.  The aggression is just a protective mask.”) But until the stage of inter-nation war is reached, it is liberal values that must be struck down. Asserting that these fears are being stirred up and defending liberal values against that threat just misses the point totally. And if the women and men marching in Washington, marching in Los Angeles, marching in Toronto and marching in sixty or six hundred other cities around the world do not recognize their real enemy, then those liberals will be swept into the dustbin of history along with the defenders of a new liberal order in the Arab world, in Turkey, in Russia and in Iran.

The real threat is far, far greater than a threat to women’s rights and civil rights. The point is not to guard the values that make us who we are, but to go to war against the values who would make us something other than who we should aspire to be. An aggressive, not a defensive war was and is called for. And Obama still did not recognize this fact, or openly articulate it, when he left office. Defensive Maginot lines are one way to do battle, but such lines can always be breached by surprise and a blitzkrieg. The issue is not withdrawing from expanding democracy, defending human, women’s and LGBT rights, but fighting an aggressive war against ALL those who threaten the rights we already have won, terrorists of the left, right or Islamicist variety among them, but far more the citizens of America who do not fundamentally believe in democracy, do not fundamentally believe in rights, who believe in nation, who believe in strength and order rather than law and order, who believe a demogogic leader who will take them to the promised land where they supposedly once dwelt.

The fight against “extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism” may indeed be of a “piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalism,” but if you focus your guns and your ammunition primarily on those who would assault human liberties, then the main threat is given a wide-open birth. Trump does not just represent an alternative policy option in a pluralistic system of competing positions. Trump represents the enemy that sometimes comes in the guise of Islamicist terror, but far more dangerously under the banner of free speech and democratic liberties. This is the real fifth column. This is the real danger from within. And if we are too timid to brand that threat, to name it, to diagnose it and simply rise on our pillars of righteousness to defend civil liberties, we will have surrendered the field of battle to the enemy. And make no mistake – these are enemies. Aggressive war, not a defence of old standards, is required.

Barack Obama’s failure in this area is our failure. He articulates that failure best in his eloquent and inspiring words. They appeal to his allies because we share those same values and have become timid in warring on their behalf, if for the simple reason that wars so-called in defence of those values have been fought for quite different reasons inspired by radically different motives.

Obama was no Eisenhower leading the fight for democracy. Obama was not even a Harry S. Truman capable of firing General Douglas MacArthur. We needed a tough street fighter (and former haberdasher) more than a community organizer to do battle with the real enemy within that has now taken over the White House.

With the help of Alex Zisman

One reader wrote the following:

The media is simply not trustworthy. Most read no newspapers in America. If they did use media and relied on CNN, conservatives called them the Clinton News Network. Their bias was and still is outrageous. No problem for the conservatives. FOX feeds their own bias and outrates CNN three to one. Radio is a non-existent news source. CBC here was and still is horrendously over-the-top anti-Trump. Only one Canadian pundit of note, Conrad Black, had the timbre to go against the tide. Need I remind you of the so-called pollster blunders? It was the liberal media that created these misleading reports. Did they do it deliberately? How did they get it so wrong?… Many Americans see daily carnage in Syria and watch the horror of beheadings and mass suicide bombing and wonder when it will take place in their already troubled existence. Their own USA local news deals with the 15 minutes of overnight deaths by violence of their fellow citizens. Howard, in case you missed it, so does CBC News! Their lead morning reports deal with overnight deaths by stabbing and guns, every day! Our youth wonder if the music rave events they attend will see nightclub slaughters like those of France and Florida. You, like Obama now wish to downplay the fact that radical Islam is even a problem and rationalize such efforts by telling us more people die from domestic gun violence than from terrorism. That is simply two wrongs and no rights.

A Critique of John Kerry’s Analysis Resolution 2334

Resolution 2334: Why America Abstained
Part B: A Critique of John Kerry’s Analysis

by

Howard Adelman

On 28 December 2016, in the aftermath of the passsge of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, John Kerry shared his candid thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Did Kerry offer any analysis of this complicated and truly dialectical history in his speech? None at all! Simplistic and misleading dichotomous thinking framed his talk. There were also factual errors. The opinion polls in Palestine now indicate minority support for a two-State solution, contrary to Kerry’s claims, though his interpretation was valid in a poll conducted at the end of 2013, four years ago. Even in Israel, support for a two-State solution had slipped to a bare majority, 51%, by mid-year of 2015. Now support for a two-State solution has also fallen to a minority there as well. Though most Israelis still believe in a two-State solution as a desirable goal, most have given up believing in such a solution as a realistic one. I think this is what Kerry was really trying to get at, but which he never articulated adequately so crowded was his text with clichés about beliefs that held little correspondence with reality.

But the basic error of Kerry’s analysis is that Kerry believes the “status quo is leading towards one state and perpetual occupation.” I do not believe this is accurate. The status quo is probably leading to the prospect of Israel consolidating its control over the Old City of Jerusalem and integrating Area C unilaterally into Israel without unilaterally transferring equivalent territory to the Palestinians. As an alternative, what chance is there that either side would accept Kerry’s Principle four, making Jerusalem “the internationally recognized capital of the two states, and protect and assure freedom of access to the holy sites consistent with the established status quo”?

This is now the crunch point of the dispute. Is it better to propose a solution which both sides oppose? Or is it better to sidestep that issue and consolidate a peace in all other areas of dispute? Kerry believes that, “It is essential for both sides that the final status agreement resolves all [my italics] the outstanding issues and finally brings closure to this conflict.” I am not so sure. I am inclined to believe that since the Jerusalem issue appears to be the one insoluble one, it may be better to sidestep it. In any case, Kerry gave no arguments to justify why all issues had to be resolved. They rarely are in peace agreements.

Kerry may be correct on another point. “The U.S. and our partners have encouraged Israel to resume the transfer of greater civil authority to the Palestinians in Area C, “but has that been “consistent with the transition that was called for by Oslo?” Only in one interpretation. And even if that is accepted, it may now be obsolete given the new facts on the ground that are indeed now irreversible. Israel will continue to exercise protective military control over the settlements not in Area C, but integrating them within quasi-Israeli borders still seems decades away. In the meanwhile, there is no sign of any diminution of Palestinian governance over Gaza and over the rest of the West Bank. That is a terrible scenario as far as I can evaluate. But it is far more realistic than the picture Kerry paints of the present and immanent danger and one that has allowed him to opt for mistaken policies and very weak defences of those policies.

While Kerry went into far greater detail in depicting the violence perpetrated by Palestinians than Samantha Powers did in her UN speech on 23 December 2016, a speech directly lauded by the Palestinian Authority, Kerry’s speech, which was indirectly praised by the PA, did not explain why the Palestinian violence alone that he described, and that was not depicted in the Resolution, did not offer sufficient reason for the U.S. vetoing that Resolution. After all, the Resolution deliberately avoided pointing out an agent behind Palestinian violence. The PA, as Kerry himself noted, only paid lip service to non-violence and cooperating with the Israeli authorities in repressing political organizations behind that violence, while they feted and honoured terrorists.

Kerry in his speech said that, “Israel has increasingly consolidated control over much of the West Bank for its own purposes, effectively reversing the transitions to greater Palestinian civil authority that were called for by the Oslo Accords.” The first part of this assertion is accurate. The second part is not. The transition to greater Palestinian authority in Areas A and B, not to speak of Gaza, has not been reversed.

The Oslo Accords, as we have said, divided the West Bank into three areas, A, B and C. “Land in populated areas (Areas A and B), including government and Al Waqf land, will come under the jurisdiction of the Council during the first phase of redeployment” and was referred to as the “populated areas.” Area C consisting of the areas of the West Bank outside Areas A and B. In Area A, the PA was responsible for both administration and internal security. It originally made up 3% of the whole area and now makes up 18% of the area under complete PA control. Area B consists of about 22% of the West Bank and is under Palestinian administrative jurisdiction, but joint Israeli-Palestinian internal security. There are NO Israeli settlements in Area B. Palestinian authority has been strengthened in Areas A and B, discounting the loss of legitimacy resulting from its own ineptness in governance.

Area C is the problem. It consists of just over 60% of the land area of the West Bank, but only 100,000-150,000 of the 2.75 million Palestinians living in the West Bank live there. The lower figure is closer to the number of Palestinians who now actually live there. The latter figure in the range refers to the number that lived there at the time the Accords were signed. Israeli policies have encouraged an out-movement. Israelis are notorious for NOT granting building permits to Palestinians in Area C. In contrast, the 110,000 Israelis who lived in Area C in 1993 has grown to almost 400,000. Demographics have been at odds with the requirement of Oslo that Area C “will be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction in accordance with this Agreement.”

Thus, the numbers cited by Kerry re settlements are more or less accurate and correspond to the figures for settlements that I cited. Does the strengthening of the settlements east of the security barrier point to a trend to eliminate Palestinian control over that territory? How can one expect 80,000 or 90,000 or even double that number, 150,000 settlers in that territory ever offset the huge disproportion of a Palestinian population of 2.75 million? Whatever Israel does to thicken those settlements, the likelihood of their being incorporated into Israel is remote. The most that can be realistically expected is that they will remain in a sovereign Palestinian authority just as there are Palestinian towns, villages and neighborhoods within Israel. I simply disagree that these settlements make it “that much harder to separate,” that much harder to transfer sovereignty let alone to imagine such a transfer. It is quite easy to imagine and not that much more difficult to realize the transfer. Unless, of course, one accepts the principle that Palestine as a state should remain Judenrein.

There is a distinction between referring to the intentions of the Oslo Accords and the realization or failure in their realization. When we factor in two other elements, context, such as what followed the transfer of Gaza, and consequences, the huge increase in the number of settlers and the decline in the population of Palestinians, the explanation for what has happened over almost a quarter of a century can be attributed to either or both Palestinian malfeasance and Israeli bad faith in its failure to live up to its commitments, in different proportions depending on your information, point of view and ideology. But if we focus on consequences rather than argue about causes or commitments, we enter a reality whereby Israel will never transfer all of Area C and evacuate 400,000 Israelis. It was barely able to succeed in transferring 9,000 from Gaza. The most that can be realistically envisioned is a transfer of some of the territory in Area C along with land now in Israel to make up an equivalent total land previously in Area C.

Kerry stated that, “Now, you may hear from advocates that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace because the settlers who don’t want to leave can just stay in Palestine, like the Arab Israelis who live in Israel. But that misses a critical point, my friends. The Arab Israelis are citizens of Israel, subject to Israel’s law. Does anyone here really believe that the settlers will agree to submit to Palestinian law in Palestine?” Well you may also hear it from critics of settlements such as myself and, as I have heard directly from a Fatah leader, we believe that some settlers would agree to submit to Palestinian law rather than return to Israel proper. In any case, the choice would be for them to make. As it should be, rather than a forced evacuation of those settlements.

Kerry is absolutely correct that those settlements cannot remain either as enclaves of Israel or as enclaves within a sovereign Palestine protected directly by the IDF. Kerry is wrong, however, that Palestinians do not have equivalent rights to build in the territories they control administratively, as all the cranes in cities such as Ramallah indicate. The problem is I Area C. Kerry is also correct that the land on the other side of the barrier cannot be broken up further if a viable Palestinian state is to be created. But does Kerry believe that this can only be accomplished by dismantling those settlements? How does he believe that this would be politically possible? At one time, it could have been. But it is far too late for such a possibility. There is no question that the settlements on the other side of the barrier pose a challenge in a peace agreement. But not an insurmountable one. Not a problem close to that of the Old City.

Further, Kerry is correct that Israel has openly discriminated against Palestinians building in Area C. Demolitions of Palestinian structures have increased. The only way this will be settled is through some kind of a peace agreement, but there is little prospect of that if the dismantling of settlements are made part of the equation. To repeat, it is just too late for that now.

There is the other matter of the illegal outposts under Israeli law, sometimes located on Palestinian owned land. Would the enforcement problem towards these outposts shift if there was international recognition that the main bulk of the settlements would be integrated into Israel in exchange for a land swap and that the other settlements on the other side of the barrier would be permitted to continue, but only if the settlers there recognized sovereign authority held by the Palestinians? If Israel domestic law is extended to the settlements in Area C inside the separation barrier, just as it has been to the Jerusalem neighbourhoods built on the other side of the Green line, why would that threaten the possibility of peace if that peace agreement as thus far articulated includes those areas within Israel?
If one focuses on the extremist one-state advocates who decry a Palestinian state and the Hamas extremists who deny the legitimacy of Israel, then is Kerry not parroting the same distortions that Samantha Powers lambasted the UN for? But if Kerry were truly both honest and fair,t, he would have to oppose the Resolution. But the Obama administration clearly supported it with qualifications about the wording around violence and the U.N.’s past positions on behalf of Israel.

Kerry argues that the danger is a unitary undemocratic Jewish state of Israel permanently ruling over an unequally-treated Palestinian population. Why is this suddenly an immanent danger? Surely the trends in 2007 when Obama first took office were almost as great then or greater. There has been a degree of quantitative difference since then, but nothing qualitative. Kerry is correct. There are no answers if Israel becomes a fascist apartheid state ruling over almost 3 million Palestinians. But does the de facto support for Resolution 2334 undercut that possibility or is it more likely to increase its probability, even if still improbable at this time?

Why does Kerry not plug for a realistic two-State solution based on previous agreements between Israelis and Palestinians? Why provide de facto support for a Resolution that makes the armistice lines prior to the 1967 Six Day War as the reference point for resolving the problem and does so without referring to “the mutually agreed swaps” referred to as a basic principle in Kerry’s principles at the end of his speech and even in the Arab Peace Initiative? Admittedly, the U.S. sits between a rock and a hard place. Did its defence of Israel in the past without the current pressure of Resolution 2334 possibly encourage and/or facilitate the growth of extremism? This is a possibility. But Kerry’s analysis does not answer that question or even ask it.

Instead, Kerry insisted that the Obama switch to allowing a de facto Resolution so one-sided criticism of Israel to pass was a last ditch effort to preserve a two-State solution. If he had analyzed the various possible two-State solutions and indicated which forces are in play reinforcing one rather than another and then concluding how such an analysis affected American policy, one might give him greater credit. But when he holds out the fear of an undemocratic Israelis state ruling over 2.75 million Palestinians in perpetuity instead of considering what elements need to be put in place to ensure this remote possibility never becomes an immanent one, then it s very difficult to take Kerry’s position as serious. Is it possible that all of the impotent efforts of the UN to put pressure on Israel on dismantling ALL the settlements has strengthened the right and the resistance to Palestinians having their own state?

I have opposed settlements for five decades. So has the U.S. So have the Europeans. John Kerry offers an alternative solution as if he has suddenly discovered that the settlements have reached the stage where the two-State solution has been undermined. But U.S. administrations have always opposed settlements as obstacles to peace. And, in my estimation, they were correct to do so. But just when the time has come to forge a realistic solution that takes account of both the settlements and Palestinian aspirations, a pile up on Israel takes place. Does anyone believe that this will encourage such a stubborn and stiff-backed people to back down, especially when Donald Trump is soon to assume power and the right controls the government of Israel?

Kerry argued that if the U.S. had not abstained but had vetoed the resolution, the U.S. would have given Israel “license to further unfettered settlement construction that we fundamentally oppose.” Did the Obama administration give unfettered licence for Israel to expand settlements over the last eight years when it did not allow a U.N resolution selectively critical of Israeli settlements? U.S. Policy, as Kerry repeatedly said, always opposed settlements. Why would licenced be given now to support the growth of settlements but not before? Perhaps Kerry, without admitting it, wants to say that in vetoing and resisting previous UN resolutions in the past zeroing in on Israel and its settlement polices, the U.S. inadvertently gave a licence to expand settlement.

Obama has been a great president and a strong friend to Israel. John Kerry has been an excellent Secretary of State and one truly devoted to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. But his position recently has been ridden with inner contradictions. And his defence of his de facto support of the Resolution is weak and contradictory. If Resolution 2334 “simply reaffirms statements made by the Security Council on the legality of settlements over several decades,” why is so much emphasis given to the 1949 armistice lines as a reference point? Why has the U.S. shifted from calling the settlements an impediment to peace to calling them illegitimate and then shifted once again to calling them illegal?

I believe they are illegal according to most interpretations of international law. But why this shift so late in the Obama presidency and with so one-sided a resolution? Further, there was not just the reference to Eastern Jerusalem that includes the Old City that was problematic, it was the reference to eastern Jerusalem including the Old City as Palestinian territory. Does not this prejudge an outcome if the premise is self-determination of the largest community in an area? Why is that not the premise for Area C?

Further, Kerry’s second principle for a peace agreement required withdrawal for territory occupied in the Six Day War. He did not say “all” territory. But he also did not say that that clause of Resolution 242 also deliberately omitted the reference to ALL the territory. Why did John Kerry not make that clarification in his speech?

Kerry, to his credit, did spell out the terms now generally acknowledged by both sides to deal with the refugee issue that at one time appeared to be the most intractable problem. Return was omitted. “As part of a comprehensive resolution, they [the refugees] must be provided with compensation, their suffering must be acknowledged, and there will be a need to have options and assistance in finding permanent homes.”

Of course, the U.S. was not the manipulator behind the scenes in drafting the Resolution and pushing support for it. Such an interpretation is but part of a post-fact world. But this does not require an assertion, also made by Samantha Power, that “we [the U.S.] could not in good conscience veto a resolution that condemns violence and incitement and reiterates what has been for a long time the overwhelming consensus and international view on settlements and calls for the parties to start taking constructive steps to advance the two-state solution on the ground.” As I have written, the condemnation of violence was pro tem and had none of the specificity re agency or persistence contained in Kerry’s speech. The Resolution was not “about actions that Israelis and Palestinians are taking that are increasingly rendering a two-state solution impossible.” It was barely about Palestinian actions. And it never adequately demonstrated why those actions – by Israel or the Palestinians – made a solution not just difficult, but impossible.
“Further, to reiterate, if that Resolution was reasonable enough to allow de facto passage, why were not numerous other previous ones that differed very little from this one? The problem is that Kerry’s defence of the new American position rested on quicksand.

The real reason for the switch, I believe, emerges in one paragraph in reference to “the unusually heated attacks that Israeli officials have directed towards this Administration.” This was quid pro quo for an irrational Netanyahu and partisan treatment of the Obama administration that destroyed bipartisanship in the policy towards Israel and had given every ground for America to desert its ally.
But more on that in the next blog on Israeli policy in dealing with the Resolution.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Demography, Settlements and Jerusalem

Demography, Settlements and Jerusalem

by

Howard Adelman

Thus far, I have attended only to the framing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. I now want to turn to the nub. There are four issues, not just one. I deal with three in this blog: demography and Jerusalem as well as settlements. In the next blog, I will take up the impact of the resolution on the two-state solution and the issue of borders.

The resolution condemned “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.” Secondly, the resolution reaffirmed “that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” That is a mouthful. Demography and Jerusalem bracket the core thesis of settlements. The resolution demanded “that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” UNSC Res. 2334 required the freezing “by Israel of all settlement activity, including “natural growth,” and the dismantlement of all settlement outposts erected since March 2001.

As I stated, in my next blog on Resolution 2334, I will discuss whether and to what extent the settlements “dangerously imperil the viability of the two-State solution, particularly in light of the claim of that resolution that the two-state solution must be “based on the 1967 lines.” It is certainly a key repeated theme of the resolution which insisted on non-recognition of “any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations.” But then why is there no reference made to the distinctions between Areas A, B and C that was arrived at through negotiations? As I stated above, a follow-up blog will focus on border issues and the impact of the resolution on the two-state solution.

Excluding Nahal settlements established by the IDF for security purposes and outposts created by Israeli settler groups that are not legally recognized by Israel, I focus only on so-called “legal” settlements, that is, settlements authorized by the Israeli government, though they may be considered illegal by most of the international community and, in a few cases (Ofra), even illegal under Israeli law because much of the settlement was built on privately held land. Further, it is important to distinguish between and among settlements in different areas.

I already wrote about the Resolution’s reference to the wall. Many settlements are on the eastern side of the wall. Excluding the 28 Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley (population 15,000), there are less than 50,000 Israelis living in 10 different settlements that can be considered exurbs of Jerusalem as follows:

Kiryat Arba just outside of Hebron where the patriarchs and matriarchs
of Judaism are said to be buried and where Jews continuously lived
until the Hebron massacre of 1929. 7,100
Since the settlement was re-established in 1970, 16 settlers have
been killed in 8 different incidents, just over half the number
killed by Baruch Goldstein (29) in a single massacre.
Kokhav Ya’akov about 12 miles equidistant from both the Qalandiya
Checkpoint and Ramallah. 7,300
Beit El north of Jerusalem and just east of al-Bireh & Ramallah 6,500
Site of Jacob’s dream of angels going up and down a ladder
Geva Binyamin 5 km north-east of Jerusalem 5,200
Eli, Mateh Binyamin, north of Jerusalem and Ramallah 4,100
Ofra, northern West Bank between Jerusalem and Nablus 3,500
20 km. north of the old Green Line
Most built on expropriated privately owned land, hence illegal
under Israeli law; adjacent to Silwad and Deir Dibwan
Talmon, 18 km. north of Modin 3,700
Shilo, Mateh Binyamin 45 km. north of Jerusalem 3,400
Tekoa, Gush Etzion, 15 km. south of Jerusalem & 20 km. northeast of
Hebron; 5 killed in 3 separate incidents 3,500
Mitzpe Yeriho, 20 km. east of Jerusalem; 10 km. east of Ma’ale Adumim 2,300

Total 46,600

There are also over 90 settlements west of the wall or separation barrier with a total population of almost 400,000. In addition, there are almost 180,000 living in different very familiar Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem on land captured in the Six Day War in 1967 – East Talpiot, French Hill, Gilo, Giv’at Hamivtar, Har Homa, Ma’alot Dafna, Neve Yaakov, Pisgat Ze’ev, Ramat Eshkol, Ramat Shlomo, Ramot and Sanhedria Murhevet. Further, there are about 3,000 residents and 1,500 Yeshiva students living in the Old City, overwhelmingly in the Old Jewish Quarter with a very few scattered Jewish families in East Jerusalem. This can be compared to a non-Jewish population of 30,000 in the Old City and just under 500,000 non-Jews in East Jerusalem.

As I indicated in my last two blogs, ALL of these areas are considered illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, including the re-establishment of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City that was totally ethnically cleansed of Jews when the Jordanian government captured the Old City in 1948 and expelled all its Jewish inhabitants. Jews had continuously resided in the city for centuries. Under that Convention, it does not matter whether the case is one of a returned population or of voluntary movements as opposed to forced relocation of Israelis, these areas are all considered illegal since the population moved there after Israel occupied and annexed some of these areas after the Six Day War. Right wing defenders of Israeli actions insist they are legal under international law because a) they were captured in a defensive war; b) the territory did not previously legitimately belong to a recognized state. But most interpreters of international law simply make occupancy of a territory held by a belligerent following the cessation of a conflict as the relevant marker.

Currently, about 1 out of every 10 Jewish Israelis live in areas considered illegal under international law. International law may be an ass in not making any of these distinctions. It also may be totally ineffective. One need only recall the effort to evacuate 9,000 Jews from Gaza and the political storm that caused within Israel in the forced removal of a population living in an area lacking all the deep religious attachments of the sites under consideration. Can you imagine the effort it would take to move over 600,000? That would certainly tear the country apart. Anyone who opposed settlements all these years has to at least recognize this.

Well, what about the 65,000 living east of the separation barrier in the Jordan Valley and in the 10 neighbourhoods listed above? Many of the latter areas have deep religious significance for Orthodox Jews. Why do they have to be evacuated? Why could the population there not continue to live in a Palestinian state? After all, almost 1.5 million Arabs live within the Jewish state. This was precisely the question asked courageously by a Palestinian law student who was head of the youth wing of Fatah at a conference at al-Qds University that I attended. But then, what about all the settlements west of the separation barrier? If they stayed in Israeli hands, then Israel would be acquiring territory by force even if subsequently ratified by negotiations. After all, in the Oslo talks, the Palestinians had agreed to a land swap of an almost equal amount of territory in exchange for the territory on which these settlements were located.

Recall that the resolution condemned “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.” It did not call for a swap. It did not call for returning the settlements east of the separation barrier to a nascent Palestinian state, but leaving the settlers in place. The resolution condemned the whole effort to settle Jews on land cleansed of Jews between 1948 and 1967 whether or not they lived on that land prior to 1967. Why 1967? Why not include the territory captured by the new state of Israel in the 1948 war?

The answer is simple. If you go back to 1948 for the Jews, you have to go back to 1948 for the Arabs and the territory was not sovereign Arab land then. In particular, in the 1947 division of territory recommended by UNSCOP, Jerusalem was to remain an international city under UN auspices. But the two principles pushing the members of the Security Council last week were: 1) no acquisition of territory by force and then by movements of people into a territory; and 2) the principle of self-determination, namely that a territory should become the sovereign land of the national group constituting the largest majority in a territory. But then in the areas of settlement west of the separation barrier excluding Jerusalem proper, there are about 400,000 Jews and only 100,000 Palestinians. Does not a land swap already agreed to make sense and be worthy of endorsement by the international community? The supporters of the resolution were not being puritans about the issue. They did not condemn the occupation and seizure of different parts of Jerusalem in 1948.

The real answer is that using 1967 rather than 1948 is already a compromise, but one which allows control of both the Old City as well as Eastern Jerusalem to go to a Palestinian state. And though the two sides eventually agreed on water sharing and on refugees, they could not agree on Jerusalem. Hence, John Kerry yesterday rehashing an old condominium proposal on Jerusalem that had been consistently rejected by both sides.

Further, there had been two separate thrusts to the settler movement. One was the establishment of secure borders for the Jewish state. Second there had been the claims made by the Israeli right for sovereignty over the whole of the Mandate territory. The current right wing government in Israel includes heirs to that belief. They repeat the mantra and make most members of the international community believe that this is the ultimate goal of the settlements and not a two-state solution.

In the Oslo Accords, the territory of the West Bank had been divided into three zones. In zone A, the Palestinians had exclusive administrative and security responsibility. In Zone B, the Palestinians exercised administrative responsibility but security was a matter of joint responsibility. In area C, where most of the populated settlements are located, Israel retained both administrative and security control. The jurisdiction of the Israeli municipal regional councils cover almost two-thirds of Area C. Palestinians are forbidden according to their agreement to engage in construction and development in area C. Therefore, some could with some legitimacy claim that the settlements could now be said to have taken place in this area by agreement.

The resolution did not condemn settlement activity only in areas outside those in which Israel had been given the right to control and settle by previous agreements. Rather, 1967 and the old green armistice line became the dividing line. Why? Because by allowing the Fourth Geneva Convention to trump agreements already entered into by the parties, the status of the settlements west of the separation barrier were left in question. So, certainly, was the status of East Jerusalem and especially the Old City.

There are other issues. Some parts of a few settlements, specifically Ofra, were built on land expropriated from private Arab citizens, contrary to the legalization of those settlements by Israel. There were issues of division over water supplies, the provision of access roads and the provision of equality of water and sanitary sewers available to Palestinian towns in comparison to the Israeli settlements. Often, this was not because of intent but because of the difficulty of getting the two sources of authority to agree, especially when one authority disputed the legitimacy of the other. As a result, Israeli settlements enjoy advanced infrastructure; the nearby Palestinian towns do not. Further, Jewish settlers in the West Bank remain and retain full Israeli citizenship while Palestinians in Area C live under martial law.

I have concluded that the resolution is not really about the settlements, but about the status of East Jerusalem and the Old City and about using the humanitarian laws of war as leverage on behalf of the Palestinians who are in the much weaker position. Unable to defeat the Israelis militarily with or without the help of the Arab states, the Palestinians have enlisted the international community using international humanitarian law, diplomacy and economic pressure to confront the Israeli settlement policy.

There is, of course, for many Israeli Jews, and now perhaps most, the issue of the right to settle and live in the West Bank. Eugene Rostow wrote resolution 242 which ended the 1967 war. He has always claimed that it gave Jews the right to settle anywhere in the old Mandate territory since the resolution did not obligate Israel to return ALL occupied land, but only occupied land in anticipation that there would be a future further division. Further, resolutions calling for withdrawal of Israeli forces from ‘all’ the territories were defeated, not only in the Security Council but in the General Assembly as well. The 1993 Oslo Accord and the 1995 Israel-Palestinian Authority Interim Status Agreement specify that the issue of settlements was to be negotiated and neither accord prohibited Jewish settlements in the West Bank. However, the international community has come to the conclusion that in the over two decades since, it is Israel that has been the obstacle to concluding a final two-state solution. It is Israel that has been using the interim period to predetermine the results of the permanent status negotiations.

The mantra at the time and continuously preserved, but with a seriously diminished status, has been the refrain, “secure and defensible borders” when Israeli settlements and the wall were intended to put facts on the ground that would help predetermine the outcome instead of waiting for “secure and recognized borders” to be determined in negotiations. The number of applications for new homes in the West Bank continues to grow with almost 4,500 applications in 2015. The equivocation of diplomatic linguistic compromises allowed others to interpret the requirements of Resolution 232 in very different ways, and in a way that seems to have displaced its previous emphasis on security. Israelis have always contended that the old Green Line, the armistice line determined by the ceasefire agreement in 1948, was NOT a border and should not be used as a reference for applying international humanitarian law. Israeli courts have upheld that opinion, but the international court in The Hague did not in its advisory and non-binding opinion.

The situation had now been radically changed by the resolution at the same time as Donald Trump is coming into office and the Israeli right wing government is reacting to the passage of the resolution with very aggressive diplomatic and economic moves putting, as I will argue in my next blog, the prospect of a two-state solution in never-never land. The debate may be conducted over the rhetorical issue of whether Israel is an occupying power when the territory occupied did not legitimately belong to another state and, therefore, was not foreign territory, but the debate will be won, not in the diplomatic halls or through international and domestic courts of law, however useful they have been, but in power games which Netanyahu and the new Trump administration seem ready and eager to play.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Commands to Inoculate Against Dowsers and Firebrands

Tzav. Leviticus 6:1−8:36 – Commands to Inoculate Against Dowsers and Firebrands

by

Howard Adelman

[This blog written on 24 March but left incomplete and not sent out.]

God called.  God says to Moses. But Moses is to command Aaron. This portion begins with God telling Moses what he should do and Moses, not only carrying out “the request,” but issuing it as a command to Aaron. Moses was the Political Commander and he was instructed to “command” (tzav) Aaron and his sons. Even to the High Priest, God delivered His commands indirectly through a prophet rather than directly through a religious authority. On the other hand, the prophet had to deliver through an established institution. However, though indirect, there is the sense that there can be no dilly-dallying and no omissions. Commands must be carried out, both strictly and promptly.

Terrorists have once again released explosives in an airport and in a subway train, this time in Brussels. [This was initially written two days after the terrorist attack on Brussels on 22 March.] It is urgent that the authorities get their act together in sharing intelligence and improving coordination to arrest, but, more insistently, prevent future terror attacks. Repetitive routines are not just about preserving past rituals, but about protection and prevention. We are not just dealing with routines empty of meaning. These are institutions to be inculcated with repetition and precision. Why “command”? Just include an instruction booklet with the various parts and contents of the mishkan. But the instructions are not merely technical; they are holy. The five priestly sacrifices (burnt, meal, sin, guilt and free offerings), defining how meat is to be consumed, as well as the procedures and rituals for the ordination of priests, have deep implications, but I will only take time to unpack the first, the ritual of the burnt offering.

In the burnt offering, what must be done is not to take care of yourself and your loved ones. For the offering left only ashes. The importance of action could not be related to the self-interest of the priests. In the current reigning economic and, by extension, political orthodoxy, the core issue is always, “What’s in it for me?” But there is nothing in it for Aaron and his sons. For among Jews, the highest commandments were reserved for what you do for others when there is no gain for yourself. The dictum is not, “Behave, and certainly not believe, so that you too may be saved.” Further, this is not about their or our calling, what we are chosen and destined to do, but about what we must do in imitation of the duties that the priests were commanded to perform. It is about sacrifice, about Vayikra, “drawing closer to the Lord.”

The first command:

This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it. 3 The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. 4 He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. 5 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out: every morning the priest shall feed wood to it, lay out the burnt offering on it, and turn into smoke the fat parts of the offerings of well-being. 6 A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out. (Leviticus 2-6)

These are the bare facts without interpretation:

  • A living creature is killed, burnt and turned into ashes
  • The cremation takes place overnight even though the slaughtered animal is placed on the altar in the morning
  • The fire which consumes the flesh is an eternal, perpetual flame (versus the immortality of flesh), kept burning, not simply by wood, but by the fat of the sacrifice
  • The priest wears linen
  • The priest removes the ashes from the altar and places them beside the altar
  • The priest changes clothes
  • The ashes are then removed from beside the altar, taken out of the tabernacle and put in a clean place

What are we to make of this?  Some of the elements are obvious – the eternal flame of God versus the mortality of the flesh – but also that the eternal flame only keeps burning if it is fed by wood gathered by humans and supplemented by the fat of a mammal. You cannot outsource the feeding of your personal and embodied self. That is our highest and most sacred duty – not just for pleasure (the apple of desire is just so sweet), not just for self-preservation (the potato, symbolic of power and control), not just so that we can appear attractive to others (flowers and aesthetics), and not even for ensuring our health and freedom from

pain (plants as treatments and for relief from pain). The priests (and, by extension, ourselves) perform the burnt offering when there is nothing in it for ourselves, but what we do is entirely for the Other. And the symbol of the Eternal Other is the flame, for man, as the food journalist, Michael Pollan, has written, eats not primarily for his/her health and well-being, but for pleasure, for sociability, for establishing identity and power relationships. (See his 2006 volume, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, which my son, the farmer, contends has transformed his life and his beliefs. Too bad Michael Pollan is so rabidly anti-scientific.)

But why wear linen for a very dirty part of the job, collecting and moving ashes from the altar to beside the altar? And why change when moving the ashes away from the altar? The clothing consists of a linen coat, breeches, belt and mitre, usually interpreted as white and symbolic of purity, for the angel of God is clothed in linen. Because the extraction and weaving of linen is such an expensive and labour-intensive process, we now associate the material with refinement and high style, with quality and expensive attire. But linen is strong and durable. In the Middle Ages, linen was used to make shields (the Etruscans wore armour made of flax and the sails of the Roman fleet were made of flax) and, until very recently, the paper used to make our paper money consisted of 25% linen. By volume and weight, linen is not only much stronger than the core wood of the flax plant from which the linen fibres are separated by retting and scutching, but the longest and finest linen fibres are stronger than steel.

What characterizes linen most of all is its archival integrity, particularly when the slubs, the random small knots in the linen fabric, are not removed. Although in the finest linen fabrics, the slubs are removed, in the authentic and strongest linen, the irregular and discordant slubs that take away from perfectly smooth and refined linen remain. The beauty of linen is not in a wrinkle-free ironed look, but in a material that looks and feels and appears to be part of everyday life. Unlike wool or even cotton, moths cannot attack and weaken the fibre. Neither can water. In fact, unlike other textiles, linen is even stronger when wet and wet linen is not clammy like wet cotton; linen sluffs off water easily. But, most of all, linen resists dirt and stains. There is no better fabric, other than perhaps a rubber apron, to wear in a religious slaughter house or when collecting and setting aside the ashes of a burnt offering, especially since linen is such a cool fabric.

So it is better to think of linen in terms of integrity rather than purity. Though the Hebrew priests wore linen in imitation of the Egyptian priests, it is the combination of functionality with authenticity that is crucial to the wearing that material. But what has all of this to do with the burnt offering? What has all of this to do with the meaning and mores of our contemporary society? Think of God as fire by night (when the burnt offering was consumed by the flames) and cloud by day (water suspended in air), all in pursuit of land by nomads, by hunters and gatherers, for a civilization of settlement.

What are the respective roles of the divine and the human? Let us think of humans that try to make themselves into gods, that presume to take on the role of leadership as firebrands appealing to the rhetoric of strength through sacrifice or, a very different type, anarchists who advocate puffy and cloudy revolution against solidity and routine, against institutions and rituals. We have had illustrations of both types of populists in human history, including the history of the last century. Let me eschew initially the firebrands, especially the better known ones like Hitler and Mussolini, and begin with the amorphous varieties of clouds that throw such a damper on order and good government such as the hippies of the sixties and the preachers of Marxist liberation theology.

I begin by asking why Jews are forbidden to interweave wool and linen. “Thou shalt not wear a mingled garment of wool and linen together.” (Deuteronomy 22:11) Certain mixtures, shaatnez, are forbidden. Josephus, a critic of these priestly rituals, argued that the dictum was to preserve the distinction between the separation of the priestly and the ordinary classes, but that ancient Marxist class explanation never made sense to me since it would have been easier just to forbid ordinary humans from wearing linen. It is the mixture that is forbidden. Further, even in ancient times, the wife of a noble was clothed in fine linen and dressed her bed with the finest linens. (Proverbs 31:22) The point of an establishment is not exclusion but inclusion, not separation from but service for, not to presume superiority but to stand as a bulwark against the inferior. When we mix wool and linen, muddled thinking and disorganization with an elevated institution, we not only get aesthetic shlock, but a dangerous source for undermining the institutions and practices necessary to maintain society.

Rebels against standing institutions can succeed when a country’s institutions reveal extreme fatigue and failure in many of its areas and functions. When inherited practices and customs break down, a vacuum is created to be filled by arsonists and/or mystifiers and mystics – the latter lovers of ambiguity and disorganization. The former arsonists are firebrands; the latter are false prophets who claim to be rainmakers. These dowsers or water-witches promise to imitate Moses and allow water to spring out of rocks and sandy soil using political “divining” rods backed up by pseudoscience. In addition to being dysfunctional, existing political institutions demonstrate an inability to resist the attacks of firebrands and mismanaging mischief makers. The former set out deliberately to destroy existing institutions; the latter do so inadvertently by letting mold and rot seep further into the structures of continuity.

Let me illustrate by first discussing the anti-politics of the cloudy types, the dowsers, and then that of the firebrands, both of which would usurp God’s exclusive role, both of which are determined to tear down inherited traditions and institutions. Dowsers are far less dangerous than firebrands. The dowsers claim to get their power by being in sync with the vibes of the earth. They believe in physical bodies and its instruments, divining rods of all kinds that enable humans to talk with the Earth. When you begin accepting that your physical body can, and is now, absorbing energies from the Earth, then you begin to speak the language of dowsers. At your basic dowsing level, you have “felt”– or been signaled by – the flowing water inside the Earth.

Let me begin with a former Salesian Catholic priest who was a dowser. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was initially held in such high esteem because he stood out as a purist in opposition to the corrupt and powerful in Haiti under the Duvalier regime of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc”. He was first democratically elected President of Haiti in 1990 with 67% of the votes in an honest election and served until 1991 when he was ousted by a coup d’état, reversed in 1994 by US pressure, the threat of force in Operation Uphold Democracy and reinforced by UNSC Res. 940 on 31 July. Aristide took office for a second time in 1994 when he formally left the church and served until 1996 as President of Haiti, and then was re-elected and served from 2001 to 2004 when he was once again ousted in a second coup.

Aristide first earned fame in Haiti as a crusading parish priest for liberation theology when in 1985 he gave a rabble-rousing Easter Week sermon delivered at the Cathedral of Port-au-Prince urging Haitians to reject the regime in the name of righteousness and love, the signature words of a dowser engaged in promoting revolution on behalf of the people so “they would not go hungry.” As if we can feed ourselves on justice and love! Serving the other entails first ensuring that each human is entitled to survive and, against the priestly order, self-survival ranks higher than service to the Other. In 1988, Aristide was forced into hiding for defending the dispossessed and preaching participatory democracy when “vigilantes” attacked his church, burning it to the ground and killing 13 and wounding 77 parishioners with machine guns and machetes as the military and police stood by and refused to intervene.

When Aristide was first elected as President, he was the leader of the Front National pour le Changement et la Démocratie (National Front for Change and Democracy, FNCD). In his second election, he had broken with the FCND, finding its earth-based emphasis on survival alone as inadequate. He founded the Organisation Politique Lavalas, the Struggling People’s Organization (OPL) which demanded a much more radical flood torrent (lavalas in Creole). A revolution cannot be founded on a reference to needs alone but requires that the existing powers be swept away by the turbulent waters underneath that hunger for survival. Revolution, though not resorting to fire, required water as well as earth.

When elected for the second time, the Aristide regime made enormous advances is education (increasing schools, school attendance and access), health (training of doctors with the help of Cuba, reductions in communicable diseases, access), social welfare (public housing, doubling the minimum wage) and counteracting private sources of military power, such as the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes. However, whatever social and economic advances were made, Aristide never managed to bring institutional stability to Haiti even as he advanced democracy and the protection of human rights. This is the failure of dowsers – they are unable to ensure stability and continuity, including their own.

There are many other cases of dowsers achieving political power – in Latin America alone, Lucio Gutiérrez in Ecuador and Fernando Lugo in Paraguay – but I have to move on to discuss the threats from firebrands as well.

Instead of finally working to wash away the structures of corruption and the control of the instruments of coercion, firebrands and revolutionary strongmen come to power initially by literally setting fire to opponents and their institutions. Instead of promoting both populism and the constitution, populism means deconstructing and sweeping away any elements of constitutional protection. Essentially, any institutions that stand in the way of their absolute power must be eliminated or mangled beyond recognition, and set aside just as the High Priests of the ancient Hebrews set aside the ashes from the burnt offering. Firebrands usurp the role of the priests to emphasize humans in service to the Other in favour of power for themselves.

Lenin was a firebrand as were Mussolini and Hitler. Sticking to our own hemisphere, Fidel Castro stands out. More recently, so do Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Like the dowsers, they bring about important and valuable reforms, but at far greater cost to human liberty than the dowsers. Further, and more importantly, they have considerably more staying power. All are anti-constitutionalists who end up resting power in the hands of individuals rather than institutions and adding more and more power to the individual leader. They gain power by systematically weakening and attacking any opposition instead of recognizing the crucial role that an opposition plays in a democracy. They attack the rule of law, in particular the judiciary and its independence, as well as institutionalized democracy through an electoral process which they systematically subvert. Finally, they turn their guns on a free press to enable their continuation in office to be secured. They work to suborn the media to their own powers, thereby securing their continuation in office.

I do not believe I need to go on. Firebrands are too familiar. We need institutions in place to protect us from firebrands, but from dowsers as well, for dictatorial democracy in the name of the people and participatory power in their name as well, are inimical to lasting stability combined with fairness and justice. Currently, that role is served by constitutional representative democracy in opposition to populism. In the ancient world, high priests and oracles performed that function. By referencing and ritualizing the repetitive reading of the “burnt offering,” we provide one source of immunity against dowsers and firebrands.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Weaponizing Refugees Part II

Corporealism XIX: Body Politics in the Middle East

Weaponizing Refugees Part II

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday I set forth General Breedlove’s thesis that Russia deliberately instigated the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe to destabilize the EU and weaken its resolve in countering Russia’s expansionist aims.

What are the facts? First, as of about six months ago (September 2015), approximately 4 million refugees were produced by Syria in addition to another 7-8 million internally displaced, about half the population in the country. This was before the significant. Russian intervention that began at the end of September last year. Can the main cause of the displacement of about half a million more Syrians since September, and expectations that in 2016 we will see even more Syrians flooding Europe than the record number of about one million seen in 2015, be traced to that Russian intervention? And even if it can be, can that result be connected to a deliberate attempt by Russia to use the refugees to destabilize Europe?

There is a correlation between military attacks and displacement. In March of 2012 when we witnessed the first really large waves of refugees since the civil war began a year earlier, 2,000 fled to Lebanon after the attacks on Homs. Up to 20,000 arrived in Turkey and, in anticipation of tens of thousands more, Turkey built refugee camps in Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep and Sanlurfa. Already 80,000 had arrived in Jordan. With the April 2012 offensive by the Syrian army before the first of many UN-sponsored peace plans went into effect, 25,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Turkey in just over a week. The total number of refugees in Jordan increased by a whopping 50,000, from 80,000 to 130,000.

The refugees then were mostly women and children as the younger men mostly stayed behind as volunteers to fight Assad. As the numbers mounted by ten thousand a month, by August we recorded the first refugees getting on boats to reach the EU. Between August and December, the number of refugees quadrupled so the numbers were beginning to approach a million.

Russia was nowhere in the picture then, other than as a contractual supplier of weapons to the Syrian government. Russia’s exports of arms to Syria – roughly 1.5 billion dollars per year, including MI-25 helicopter gunships, the Buk-M2 air defense system, Yak-130 jet trainers – represented 10% of Russia’s military export trade. Amnesty International charged Russia with being complicit in crimes against humanity. Does anyone believe Assad had forced a million people into exile to undercut the unity of the EU?

In 2013, 2,000-3,000 refugees left Syria every day so that, by the end of the year, there were a million more refugees escaping violence and chaos, searching for shelter, food, water and medical supplies. Double that number simply went to other safer parts of the country, at the time, relatively untouched by the war. America, not Russia, began its meagre military contribution to the Syrian rebels. During that year, almost 5,000 refugees crossed to Italy.

Sweden offered 8,000 Syrian refugees permanent residence and family reunification for asylum seekers. However, the EU and state governments largely ignored warnings that such moves would both create a pull factor and lead to the creation of smuggling operations by organized criminal units. As is typical in countries of first asylum, each in turn developed compassion fatigue and tensions arise in each of the countries as the intake was not matched by any even modest orderly departure and resettlement programs by the West or even in any reasonable sharing of the humanitarian burden.

At the very same time, in September of 2013, Russia in a diplomatic initiative, perhaps more to prevent an American air intervention than for any humanitarian considerations, initiated the diplomatic move to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. At the same time, The New York Times published Vladimir Putin’s op-ed (12 September 2013) urging the U.S. not to intervene unilaterally in Syria and to seek a negotiated settlement. Russia argued all along that any effort to promote domestic reforms in foreign states based on ideological preferences (whether communist or liberal revolution) usually resulted in disaster rather than progress.

But the crisis only grew as a million more refugees were produced in 2014, now coming primarily from areas captured by ISIS, which suddenly emerged as a potent force in mid-year. Can anyone rationally claim that Russia was really the invisible hand behind the rise of ISIS? The number of Syrian refugees totalled about three million.

During 2015, another million refugees fled largely to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Turkey opened its exit gates and, by the end of the summer, over 303,000 asylum seekers had flooded Europe; almost 90,000 arrived in Germany alone. By the end of the year, the number of refugees reached 4 million and at least one million had fled to Europe, most after the Russians intervened at the end of September. Did Russia intervene to instigate a greater flight to Europe with the purpose of undermining the EU? Or did the milquetoast support of the rebels by the West over the previous few years influence the rapid exodus over the last two years? Did Western weak support reach an apex when 60 U.S. trained Free Syrian army fighters entered Syria from Jordan and were quickly decimated by the al-Qaeda affiliate, the al-Nusra Front?.

Compare that to the robust intervention by the Russians, approved unanimously by the Federation Council (Russia’s equivalent to the American Senate) – 12 Su-25 ground attack aircraft, 12 Su-24 interdictor aircraft, 6 Sukhoi Su-34 bombers, 4 Su-30 combat aircraft, 15 attack and rescue helicopters, surface-to-air antiaircraft systems, BM-30 missile launchers, surveillance drones, 6 T-90 tanks, 15 large pieces of artillery, 35 armoured personnel carriers and an initial instalment of boots on the ground in the form of 200 marines, all serving to help revive Assad’s prospects. That alone made many Syrians give up on the idea of ever returning home. The lesson: if you are going to intervene militarily, don’t simply stick a pinkie in the cauldron.

If Russia all along had a secret plan to destabilize Europe by producing millions of refugees, why did it lead the world in efforts to end the Syrian civil war in 2012 and put pressure on Assad to agree to reform the constitution and the electoral process?  Why in April 2012 did Russia agree to a UN draft resolution to provide UN observers to monitor the cease-fire with Assad agreeing to return his troops and heavy artillery to their bases? Russia’s bottom line throughout the war was that Assad had to stay in power, presumably under a reformed system, otherwise a vacuum would be created for an extremist Islamist takeover of Syria, an outcome absolutely antithetical to Russian interests.

Since there is no evidence whatsoever of Russia intending to produce more refugees or intending that those refugees head for Europe, or even envisioning that 1 million refugees among a population of 350,000,000 could break the back of Europe, why would anyone even entertain a hypothesis of the “weaponization of refugees” when there are much easier explanations, all much more compatible with the facts? Unless the charge is really not intended to explain the movement but distract attention away from the West’s role. With the exception of Sweden and Germany, there is virtually no significant evidence of Western states engaging in any responsible large scale burden sharing.

Without widespread political leadership championing a humanitarian approach, again with German Chancellor Angela Merkel being the exception to show most leaders up, there is no one to combat the usual widespread populist insecurities that accompany wide scale immigration into a country, especially when it is uncontrolled migration. So right- wing parties thrive and states, beginning with the right-wing government in Hungary, close their gates to refugees. The backlash was in full swing. That cannot be blamed on Russia, even though Russia played a significant role in perpetuating the war and exacerbating the fears.

At the end of February 2016, there were almost 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, 1.2 million in Lebanon, 630,000 in Jordan, a quarter million in Iraq and absolutely zero in any of the Gulf Arab states. It cost Turkey alone $8 billion a year in humanitarian assistance, with only 60% of that amount promised to be offered for distribution among all the first asylum countries in 2016. As ruthless and self-serving as Russia has been throughout the crisis, while offering zero opportunities for resettlement (though some Circassians managed to get back to their original homes almost a century earlier in the Caucasus), how is it possible to ascribe the blame for this crisis to a deliberate plan of Russia? Frankly, it is a preposterous thesis!

Given the extensive bombing, strafing and counter-attacks by the newly-equipped Assad forces on the ground and air strikes from the sky, it should be no surprise that an additional half a million refugees were the result. But was that the prime goal of the bombing? Was the increased record flows from Turkey into Europe, at a pace exceeding even last year’s, a result of this increased intensity in the fighting? Or had the refugees concluded that the civil war had been lost, a by-product of a conviction that Assad, with Russian backing, would not fall, and that territory controlled by the “moderate rebels” now would be re-captured? This belief was reinforced when the Americans would not even introduce a no-fly zone to protect the moderate rebels. Besides civilians getting out of the way of the battle, most had finally lost all hope of a succession by a more liberal regime. The rise of ISIS had not helped, but in various interviews it has not been hard to detect that the refugees had given up on Syria as their home and that they merely wanted to live somewhere else in relative peace and security.

Yet the “weaponization of forced migrants” thesis has received some high level support. Senator John McCain, a former Republican candidate for president in the U.S., has adopted Greenhill’s position. He claimed that President Vladimir Putin “wants to exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the transatlantic alliance and undermine the European project.” That Russia wants to expand its presence and influence in the Middle East is, I believe, incontrovertible. That Russia rejoiced at the disarray currently in Europe over a humanitarian approach to the Syrian refugees is likely. But that Russia intended precisely such a result, that long preceded its own large ramped-up involvement almost six months ago, is barely credible even when endorsed by an American air force general charged with the responsibility for the military defence of Europe. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoĝlu joined the chorus. Russia is “behaving like a terrorist organization and forcing civilians to flee” by carrying out air strikes “without any discrimination between civilians and soldiers, or children and the elderly.”

Fabrice Balanche, from the University of Lyon, argued that Russia’s and Assad’s forces have together devised a “conscious strategy of ethnic cleansing” against Sunni Arab tribes and other groups who oppose the Syrian regime. Sunnis have been a specific target of the Assad regime. In what has been by and large a sectarian conflict between the ruling minority Alawites, a Shiite offshoot supported by Iran, and the Sunni majority, the exile of one group or the other, depending on who was winning, was to be expected. But why have so many other minorities fled, minorities that had not been persecuted by the Assad regime, but, in fact, often enjoyed the protection of that regime? Why have Armenians, Assyrians, Yazidis and other Christians, Druze, Ismailis, Palestinians and Mandaeans fled, and Circassians even returned to the North Caucasus of Russia? Were Assad and his Russian backers simply indifferent to producing refugees since they seemed to readily attack and bomb even hospitals? Balanche argues that hospitals have been deliberately targeted to force people to move.

I cannot believe that scholars, political and military leaders have bought into such a flimsy thesis! But, after all, the leading Republican candidates for president in the U.S. have spouted such extreme nonsense as to make Breedlove’s claim even seem sensible. Senator Cruz, the only remaining candidate who has even a slight chance of beating Trump in the race for a majority of delegates for the Republican Convention, at the end of last year tabled the Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act barring any refugees coming from countries where territories are controlled by terrorists, Ted Cruz claims that 77% of the refugees “pouring into Europe right now” are young males. 63% are, not 77%. Further, single males frequently precede their families to mitigate risk and prepare a place for resettlement.

Donald Trump (17 November 2015) is far more outlandish, blaming not Russia but the Obama administration for planning to take in 100,000 to 250,0000 Syrian refugees (instead of the meagre 10,000 approved for 2016, though Trump’s imagined number would be a more responsible figure) and deliberately resettling Syrian refugees in states with Republican governors so as not to destabilize Democratic-governed states and to destabilize Republican ones, as well, presumably, to produce a constituency that will vote for the Democrats. Facts: 31 of 50 states have Republican governors and they have received two-thirds of a tiny number of just under 2,000 refugees, 41 refugees on average for Republican states compared to 36 for Democratic states. All refugees were distributed among states by NGOs, not political bodies. The intake of refugees is often a tribute to the generosity of small town America with no political role in the decision whatsoever.

Such are the extremes that the projection of illusionary and phantasmagorical intentions can reach.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Weaponizing Refugees Part I

Corporealism XIX: Body Politics in the Middle East

Weaponizing Refugees Part I

by

Howard Adelman

Today’s blog deals with “the weaponization of refugees.” This is an aside, but is relevant to the point I want to make about Canadian defence and foreign policy and the recent radical shift in Canadian policy where Canada has deliberately accepted a challenge to resettle a significant number of Syrian refugees to help play a part in easing the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East.

In that context and in the context of my writings on the Middle East, I received an e-mail from a CBC researcher/journalist asking if I was available to go on the Current, CBC’s morning current affairs show, on Thursday to discuss General Phillip Breedlove’s contention that the West had to develop a coherent policy about the “weaponization of refugees.” Breedlove is NATO’s top commander in Europe. I was not available because of a prior commitment which I could not change. This blog, hopefully, will serve somewhat as a substitute.

The phrase “weaponization of refugees.” has three different meanings. One interpretation of that phrase is about Daesh sending trained fifth columnists hidden among the refugees flooding into Europe (the returnee problem) as well as recruiting from alienated believers in Islam from among the dispirited refugees as well, presumably, from alienated Islamic youth raised in Europe. A second meaning refers to the militarization of refugees in camps which are used for raids on the country from which they fled.  The camps are used for many purposes, including R&R for militants, before launching another attack. Armed refugee camps usually de-stabilize the country in which they are located as well continue violence along the border of the country from which they fled. Sarah Kenyon Lischer produced an excellent report for the Mellon Foundation on militarized refugee populations using the refugees from former Yugoslavia as a case study.

However, there is another meaning – the use of coerced migration itself  to sow discord among other countries aside from the countries of first asylum. Philip Breedlove issued a warning in his oral testimony before the U.S. Armed Services Senate Committee last week (1 March 2016) claiming that Russia and Syria were using the pressure of massive numbers of refugees to disrupt the West, sow discord and division in Europe and weaken the Western alliance. NATO’s 28 member military defence alliance of Western nations. Given his status, Breedlove’s claim must be granted an initial credence. So his claim cannot be easily discounted as that of a crackpot.

The claim was made in his oral presentation and was not part of his written submission. I believe the written contentions are unassailable. In that written submission, he took up the issue of the first meaning of the “weaponization of refugees”, the seeding of terrorists from the refugee population flooding Europe and the recruitment of new members from susceptible youth. Breedlove pointed to three dangers. First, the threat of recruitment. “There is a concern that criminals, terrorists, foreign fighters and other extremist organizations will recruit from the primarily Muslim populations arriving in Europe, potentially increasing the threat of terrorist attacks.” Second, there is the threat from the backlash. “[L]ocal nationalists opposed to a large-scale influx of foreigners could become increasingly violent, building on the small number of attacks against migrant and refugee housing observed to date.”

Third, there are native-born and/or raised Islamicist extremists who volunteered to serve in Syria and have returned with military experience, training and enhanced ideological beliefs. “Foreign terrorist fighters remain a key concern for EUCOM and our foreign partners. Over 25,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria to enlist with Islamist terrorist groups, including at least 4,500 Westerners. Terrorist groups such as ISIL and Syria’s al-Nusra Front (ANF) remain committed to recruiting foreigners, especially Westerners, to participate in the ongoing Syrian conflict. The ability of many of these Europe-originated foreign fighters to return to Europe or the U.S. makes them ideal candidates to conduct or inspire future terrorist attacks.”

However, a main thrust of his oral presentation focused on the third meaning of the “weaponization of refugees.” What were his arguments? At its core, it is simple. Russia in alliance with Syria is deliberately forcing Syrians into becoming refugees. The two countries are doing this with only one single purpose in mind – not to get rid of supporters of the opposition to the Syrian regime, not simply to expunge other minorities at odds with the Alawite-dominated regime, but to weaken Europe, to send massive and continuous waves of refugees fleeing westward. In their desperation for security, for safely, for shelter, for food, for medical treatment, refugees will overwhelm European structures and undermine the European resolve to resist Russia’s geopolitical aims in Eastern Europe, specifically the Donetsk region of the Ukraine and Moldova, as well as in the Middle East. Putin has once again made Russia a power broker in the Middle East. The flow of refugees has been a prime weapon of choice, hence, “the weaponization of refugees.”

The barrel bombs raining down on Syrian cities and towns where the opposition gained some strength is not just intended to degrade that opposition, but to produce a massive exodus. That exodus has a much larger political goal. “These indiscriminate weapons used by both Bashar al-Assad, and the non-precision use of weapons by the Russian forces – I can’t find any other reason for them other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else’s problem.” As if the use of barrel bombs has only been a recent development in Syria.

According to Breedlove, Russia entered the Syrian theatre with enormous resources this past year, in the fifth year of the Syrian War, not just to buck-up the Assad regime, nor just to secure its naval position in the Mediterranean and its base in Tartus, Syria. (Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, however, on 26 June 2013 had once announced that the base was superfluous to Russian needs and no longer served any strategic military role for Russia.) Refugees flooded Turkey, not just to humiliate Turkey, an old adversary, but to suck in Turkey as an instrument of Russian policy to open the gates between Turkey and the EU in both revenge for the EU’s hard stance against Russia over the Ukraine issue, but also as a long term policy to fundamentally break the back of Europe by setting its path towards unity in a number of areas into reverse gear.

Breedlove went even further. “Russia,” he said, “poses a long term existential [my italics] threat to the United States.” Existential threat!!! One listens to Breedlove’s words and cannot help but think of Abraham Lincoln’s oft quoted famous first public speech at the Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois, called, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.” I quote at some length, even if only to read such inspiring rhetoric. Lincoln said:

We [the American People] find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Theirs was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

How then shall we perform it?–At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

America has never been really challenged by an existential threat, a threat to its continued existence as a state, by any external power, even in the surprise attack by the Japanese against Pearl Harbour. The threat, whether in the approaching civil war in the mid-nineteenth century, in the rise of McCarthyism and dealing with the communist threat after WWII, and currently in the fear generated by extremist Islamicist terrorists, has never been existential. America’s greatest threats have always come from within.

Breedlove’s claim, though always presented in the most calm and considerate manner, is so hyperbolic that it is hard to offer a dispassionate and detached consideration of his claim that:

  1. Russia and Assad are deliberately producing a mass outflow of refugees;
  2. The sole and overtly intentional objective is to sow discord in Europe;
  3. Weakening Europe in this way poses an existential threat to the S.

“Russia is eager to exert unquestioned influence over its neighbouring states in its buffer zone… so has used military force to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, Georgia and others, like Moldova.” True enough. Further, Russia exceeded any indication of the extent of its intervention in Syria when Russia indicated that it was only bringing in a few men and some material. Again, true enough, verifying the first rule of war is deception.

The phrase “weaponization of refugees” or “weaponization of mass migration” did not originate with Breedlove, but with Kelly Greenhill, an Associate Professor at Tufts University and a Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He wrote a book called, Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion and Foreign Policy. It is no accident that “weapons of mass migration” resonates so well with “weapons of mass destruction.” For the former is viewed as a developed twenty-first century exacerbation and inflation of a technique the author dates back to WWII and that has been used almost sixty times in the aftermath of that world war.

Essentially, Greenhill argues that engineered forced migration is a strategic tool used by governments to extract concessions from other governments. Turkey when it opened its gates to allow Syrian refugees to flee westward may not have used forced or coerced migration, but it did use induced migration to extract $3.3 billion in refugee aid from the EU as well as a promise by the EU to develop an organized and coordinated resettlement program for some of those refugees.

But was this instrumentalization of migration the Syrian intent? Was this the Russian intent? And was it used, not primarily for blackmail to help out an ostensible partner with a serious domestic problem of crisis proportions, but as a tool of foreign policy to weaken and even undermine an alliance that is viewed as a threat? Was it a primary goal for either party? And to what extent is it a threat to the EU and, by extension, to North America?

Tomorrow: The Response

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Fighting ISIL or ISIL or Daesh – to what end?

Corporealism XVIII: Body Politics in the Middle East

Fighting ISIL or ISIL or Daesh – to what end?

by

Howard Adelman

If I have characterized Daesh with reasonable accuracy, how should the West best fight this menace? Daesh is ensconced in eastern Syria and in western Iraq separated from the Turkish and Iranian borders by Kurdistan, the northern part of Iraq controlled by Iraqi Kurds and its Peshmerga forces. Daesh also has a presence in an oil rich small area of Libya. Daesh first captured Rojava after the Syrian army retreated in 2012. The great victory was the capture of Mosul that allowed ISIL to declare a caliphate established in the summer 2014.  This key victory included the defeat of the Iraqi army which literally turned tail.

Since then, ISIS has suffered setback after setback and the number of militants identified with its cause and fighting on the ground in Iraq and Syria is now estimated to have fallen from 31,500 to 25,000 altogether. (“The latest assessment about the number of fighters who are fighting on behalf of ISIL in Iraq and in Syria – based on an earlier assessment – was up to 31,500 fighters in that region of the world.  There’s a new assessment from our intelligence community that indicates that that number is now up to about 25,000 fighters.”  U.S. White House Press Secretary John Earnest 2 February 2016)

The key force that has limited the expansion of Daesh and that has itself expanded to fill the vacuum has been that of the Kurds of Northern Iraq and Syria who have won back Sinjar, Ramadi and Tikrit. Within Iraq, the Kurds now control disputed Kirkuk completely. In northern Syria, the Kurds much more than ISIS are being attacked by Turkish jets.

ISIS has been pushed back. The question is not its defeat but when and how and what part Canada and other countries in the West should play in its defeat. For the dilemma is a matter of “boots on the ground.” The West has relied on the Kurds with 120,000 experienced, battle-trained and determined fighters, largely equipped by the U.S. The other force countering Daesh has been a reconstituted Iraqi army, also trained and equipped by the U.S. and its allies. In the meanwhile, Russia and Iran are supporting Assad and his re-equipped army with Russian air support. Those forces have captured large swaths of territory from the American-supported Syrian rebels who lacked any air support or significant amounts of updated equipment.

In this multi-faceted war with multiple sides with some parties on the same side really engaged in supporting opposite strategies on the ground – the Turks and the Americans. The point is that the defeat of Daesh must be seen within a much larger context. The thirty million Kurds have been seeking an independent state since the end of World War I where, in the divvying up of the Middle East among the Great Powers, they were left divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and to a small extent, Iran. They now have de facto independence in northern Iraq and in parts of Syria. They are also the major boots on the ground responsible for the pushback of Daesh. But what is in it for them to combat Daesh in Mosul? It is not a Kurdish city. So the Allies are buying time to retrain and strengthen the Iraqi army. But a strengthened Iraqi army to the south of the Kurds endangers their quasi-independence. So if ISIL totally loses, they are likely to lose the strategic advantage they enjoy currently.

The other major concern is Turkey, which views the rise of the Kurds as the greatest threat they face, not Daesh. Turkey is involved in widescale bombing of Turkish Kurdish territories as well as Kurdish-controlled area in Syria under the guise of the war against ISIL. This is the paradox. The boots on the ground best able to defeat Daesh supplied by the Kurds and those supported by the Turks respectively, each for very opposite reasons, has no reason to destroy Daesh. At the same time, the Kurds in Syria have consistently ignored Turkey’s threats – such as when Turkey insisted that the red line of the Euphrates was not to be crossed by Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria. The Kurds, like the Russians subsequently, ignored Erdoğan’s bluster, even when they were attacked by Turkish jets. In fact, in the battle over the Menagh airbase, the Syrian Kurds defeated the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate that has been a proxy on the ground for Turkey.

The problem is not the defeat of Daesh, but the political order that the allies want to emerge out of the wreck in Iraq and now the even much worse wreck in Syria. In Iraq, the Kurds are at their peak now. If the allies build up the Iraqi army now to defeat ISIL, then what will almost certainly follow eventually will be a war between the central government in Iraq and the Kurds. And the Kurds fear being abandoned once again by the West after they have done the main dirty work in stopping and pushing back Daesh.

If the Iraq situation were not complicated enough, the issue of the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds exponentially increases the problem. When the revolution in Syria broke out in 2011, Turkey envisioned extending its influence southward. But Turkey has been thwarted at every turn – the rise of the Kurds in power in key parts of Syria along half of the border between Turkey and Syria, the increasing weakness of the rebels against Assad, the Russian support for Assad that has brought the two powers close to war with Turkey effectively now breaching Turkish air space almost with impunity.

More on the Kurds. They are not natural allies of the West; they have been allies of convenience. Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), may have been in jail since 1999, but he not only remains the titular head of the PKK in Turkey but the de facto head of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) based in Rojava, Syria and in Kobani, Syria where the Kurds delivered a resounding defeat to Daesh. The Kurds even captured Tal Abyad on the Turkish border and sent chills up the spine of President Erdoğan. Turkey may be an ally of the U.S. and a member of NATO, but the Kurdish boots on the ground fighting ISIS, whatever their skills, courage and determination, have been helped enormously by American air cover, the very air cover the Canadian CF-18s have now backed away from providing. Further, the main spotters have not been the aircraft that Canada and other coalition partners have left in the air – they mainly confirm reports from the ground that come virtually exclusively from the Kurds who then mop up after the fighter jets have destroyed the identified targets.

The Tories have been dead right. The air strikes against ISIS have been highly effective. It is estimated that in the battle for Kobani, air strikes, leaving aside injuries inflicted, killed over 10% of ISIL militants on the ground in the months of fighting for Kobani. But that does not mean that Canada should continue participating in the air strikes. Or, for that matter, even advising and training troops on the ground. It depends on what Canada envisions as the outcome it favours and whether there is a realistic prospect of bringing about its preferred outcome.

The key factor is the de facto new quasi alliance between Russia and the U.S., two world powers that seem to once again dividing up the Middle East as spheres of influence by either side. Will the cease fire they have organized bring peace to Syria and on what terms? Shades of the end of WWI and WWII! The situation will become even more destablized when, as I anticipate, Turkey implodes under all the competing pressures and the series of failures in Turkish foreign policy under Erdoğan, matched by even greater political and economic crises at home. Kurdistan, with its apparent stability, is also seething underneath in a general context of a recession instigated in good part by the dramatic decline in oil prices compounded by corruption and nepotism.

I could go on. But my purpose here is not to lay out a political-economic and military analysis of that part of the Middle East, but merely to point to three main themes:

  1. The defeat of Daesh is not the main problem – that will come; it is just a matter of when, where and how.
  2. The defeat is not a matter of destroying an insurgency in a battle for hearts and minds, but destroying the army of a quasi-state.
  3. The main problem is regional stability; right now it is a balagan, in Hebrew, an absolute and total mess.

Begin with the immediate problem, the coming battle over Mosul and even perhaps Raqqa, the presumptive capital of the Caliphate. It is no secret that the coalition forces will be attacking Mosul, likely in the spring and certainly by summer. Will Daesh stand and fight to the last man and woman? Hardly likely. They have not done so thus far. And their sending out signals that they will is but the first rule of warfare – deceive your enemies. When claiming that you will stand to the last militant, plan a careful retreat, first of the political leadership and then of the military leadership, and finally, whatever militants can be saved while leaving enough to sacrifice as many civilians as possible in Mosul. Evidently, the political leadership has already relocated to Libya in anticipation of the next defeat. For the second rule of warfare is, when you know you have a significantly inferior force, evade direct conflict with the enemy.

Whatever Daesh suffers on the moral front, they clearly understand the basic laws for conducting war. The fact that they are ethically challenged is not only revealed in their cutting off of heads and the severe repression they practice about dress and social behaviour, but also in the moral deterioration already underway as the leadership deserts and the militants resort to corruption and smuggling civilians out of Mosul for US$500 a person. Daesh will leave behind sleeper cells to work behind enemy lines. For they realize they are at the mercy of fighter jets in the air and have to avoid open battles lest their backs be broken by the jet-fueled falcons and hawks patrolling the skies that will break their backs if they appear openly. Hence the rapid decline in missions and the ability of the coalition to release Canada from its commitment to supply six CF-18s.

In the battle against Mosul, the coalition partners have much to learn from the Israeli battles in Gaza with roughly the same population. However, the coalition has one major advantage. It can conduct a pincer movement as Kagame did in 1994 in Rwanda and allow the enemy to escape. I am convinced the allies will follow this pattern otherwise the costs to civilian lives in Mosul will be too high. A third law of warfare is that the best victories are based on building a golden bridge to allow your enemy to retreat. When they cross that bridge, attack them from the air on the other side.

The problem, to repeat once again, will not be to defeat ISIS in battle, but to win the war. And I have not read anywhere what a victory at that level will look like.  Further, unless victory in the war is envisaged, the battle may be won, but the losses will be much greater as has been the pattern in so many American wars from Vietnam on. The key problem is not victory in the battle over Mosul, but victory in the war in the Middle East. And the wars fought there, whether under a Democratic or a Republican commander-in-chief, have been disastrous because battles are being fought, not wars.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Israelis, it may be impossible to fight a real war because of diplomatic and other considerations. But that does not seem to be the case with the Americans. Except they no longer recognize what war they are fighting and what they are fighting for. Stopping ISIL is the least of their worries. The problem is that the lack of clear direction from the Obama administration is certainly far better than the mass hysteria, currently being whipped up by the Republican Party front runner. And it is not just The Donald that is the problem. He is just the loudest barker by far in the current American political circus on the Republican side. After all, it was overwhelmingly Republican state governors who announced that they would not permit Muslim Syrian refugees to enter their states. It was these Governors who initially completely ignored the laws of the United States and the Constitution.

I wrote on Friday that a core of politics is not inflaming emotions and passions. On shabat, on the day dedicated to peace, the real purpose of fighting any war has been determined. Further, the precedent must be set for skill, understanding and judgment to rule the roost. Instead, all three appear to be totally invisible on the Republican side and just barely on the horizon in the case of the current American administration in spite of its enormous efforts to reign in the war hawks.

So the coalition lacks strong and wise leadership that allows us to discern the overall goals and strategy. The U.S. was correct to release Canada from its responsibilities to continue contributing CF-18s from the war in Iraq and Syria because those jets were, in fact, no longer what was really needed. But why train Iraqi soldiers unless we want Kurdistan in Iraq eventually to be significantly reduced in size and even eliminated, and, if the course as set continues to be followed, eventually ending the dream of an independent Kurdistan. The chance to redeem just one of the major errors from WWI will be lost.

Should Canada back the Kurds, not just opportunistically as the Americans currently appear to be doing, but long term? I do not know. I am, however, convinced that unless we answer that key question, we cannot have a judicious and intelligent foreign policy in the area backed up by the limited military forces we are able to contribute. What about Turkey? Should we continue backing our formal ally Turkey which, under Erdoğan has been practicing a vicious anti-democratic policy over the last few years and one even far more dictated by a combination of whim and hysteria than even the U.S. Republicans are promising.

ISIS may be a much bigger threat than either al-Nusra and al-Qaeda because it is driven by a war strategy and not an insurgency, and it has brought sabotage and not just terror to the home fronts of its enemies. So ISIS as an organization needs to be extinguished. But let us not exaggerate the threat as U.S. Air Force General Phillip M. Breedlove, the supreme allied commander in Europe who dubbed ISIS an existential threat. The real threat is that America may be in the process of blowing up whatever degree of sobriety there is left in America and setting off a really-out-of-control wildfire. Do not light matches at home on shabat if your eventual goal is peace.

On the other hand, ISIL terrorists are not just out-of-control testosterone driven thrill-seeking teenagers. Their average age is 26. They are dedicated and sober, even if truly psychopathic martyrs for their cause. But the West in warfare can take advantage of that wish to die a martyr by making it convenient for them, without sacrificing a sense of security and swaths of civilians in exchange. They have largely been nihilistic mass killers alienated from institutions of order and cool rational judgment who use Islam as justification for their heated madness and cold compassion.

What about the NDP’s proposals to concentrate on cutting off the financing of ISIS and acquiring more intelligence on the movements of volunteers for ISIS? The latter is declining anyway. On gathering intelligence overseas, Canada lacks and in-depth capacity. As for cutting off financing that has already been underway led by the Americans and Canada is a bit player in that game.

What about the push to increase humanitarian and development aid even further? The reality is that Canada under the Liberals by ratio to population already contributes roughly the highest amount in both categories compared to the $5.1 billion in total dollars committed by the U.S. to emergency aid, the $3.3 billion EU, $3.6 billion from Germany, $1.75 billlion from the U.K., etc. As my opening paragraph indicated, the replenishment of fighters has largely been effectively staunched and ISIL which is no longer able to replenish its losses. I think these NDP suggestions look more like panic in search of a policy and a strategy, though the NDP is the only party calling for a consistent policy within an overall plan.

The real larger issue is how to contain the enormous ambitions of Iran and Russia, which has already checked Turkey. Obama has been counting on diplomacy since he is unwilling to contribute more American troops on the ground to the fight. In the meanwhile, Assad’s forces, reinforced by Iranians and Hezbollah volunteers and resupplied by Russia and provided air cover by the Russian air force, has been able to recover control of a great deal of territory and even totally encircle Aleppo, which had been under the control of America’s Syrian allies according to a study by the Institute for the Study of War in its 5 February Report. In addition, the military pressure on Kuweires Airbase has been relieved and the threat along the Mediterranean coast to the Russian fleet has virtually been eliminated, at great cost to the Turkish strategic aim of bringing down the Assad regime. Russia has emerged as a “hero” against Turkish military intervention in Iraq. Thus, Turkey’s ambitions in Iraq have been set back considerably.

The Russians and their allies conducted a very strategic operation to suck the rebels and other militants from urban areas into the open and to destroy them there, indicating that the rebels were more committed to saving civilian lives at the cost of strategic advantage, especially in comparison to Daesh. The biggest winners over the past year have been Assad, the Russians and the Iranians, though the losses on the ground for both the Iranians (143 officers alone from the rank of captain up) and their cannon fodder from Hezbollah volunteers has been huge in addition to the huge cost in dollars, which Iran could ill afford at this time, estimated at $6-12 billion per year, after having lost $450-500 billion since the sanctions took effect and while costs rise for its support of the Houthis in Yemen as Saudi Arabia directly supports the other side.

In my estimation, the current “peace” efforts offer an opportunity for the Syrian regime and its Russian ally to recuperate and regroup from the recent strenuous efforts and unrestrained attacks on civilian populations, a justifiable concern that handicaps the West in the type of warfare being fought in Syria. There is clearly no comparable effort by the Western coalition to counter the Syrian-Iranian-Russian partnership and that coalition, not Daesh, has been the major victor over the last year of the war. The peace talks look to me more like a front to confer de facto victory to Assad and his backers.

So where does this put the various parties in the Canadian parliament, ignoring the separatist party in this assessment. The Tories appear to want to fight last year’s battles. The NDP seems determined to be irrelevant. And the Liberal policy may be the most delusionary since this is not a war for hearts and minds, but a typical power play by regional and international actors. If this assessment is anywhere near correct, how does it affect the development of an overall Canadian defence strategy and our deployment of troops in the Middle East? In the next blog, I will deal with the need for a revitalized defence policy and intervention policy for Syria and Iraq. Clearly it will be a sketch only since I have merely provided a caricature of what has been going on in Iraq and Syria rather than a detailed area by area analysis of this multi-sided competition for power and control in the region.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman