C. Confronting ISIS – Opposition Party Critiques

Corporealism XVI: Justin Trudeau Redux

C. Opposition Party Critiques

by

Howard Adelman

Though the exchanges over differences between the Liberals and the Tories over the withdrawal of the CF-18s were more heated, they also lacked much substance because the differences were tactical more than strategic. In contrast, the differences between the Liberals and the NDP loomed larger because they are strategic differences and they help to make the picture both sides took that much clearer. But first we begin with the similarities. Like the Tories, the NDP agreed with and supported a number of the Liberal initiatives:

  • the increase in humanitarian aid, but based on three fundamental principles: neutrality, independence, and impartiality incompatible with an intervention mission
  • welcoming refugees into Canada
  • enhancing diplomatic engagement
  • engaging in the interdiction of both arms and funds as the critical factors in eliminating the threat and scourge of ISIS
  • make sure that Canada is the kind of country where everyone feels welcome, thereby ensuring that no Canadians would ever consider joining ISIL
  • robust intelligence capabilities
  • robust training and advising, but not in combat zones
  • a radical separation of humanitarian assistance and the military mission lest humanitarian workers be put in harm’s way
  • development aid, specifically for the Iraqi government’s reconstruction and stabilization efforts in regions liberated from Daesh

However, the NDP

  • accused the Liberals of reneging on their election promise that they would end the Conservative government’s mission
  • does not want military engagement; does not want the Liberals to follow the Conservatives in asking Parliament to approve the deployment of Canadian troops in active conflict zones while defining the mission as a non-combat one; “We in the New Democratic Party believe that this is entirely appropriate, as there are few other decisions that governments make that could be more important than placing Canadian troops in harm’s way. Yet, public debate seems to have veered into a narrow cul-de-sac over this question of whether or not this is in fact a combat mission.” The Liberals have muddied their own promise to draw “a clearer line between combat and non combat.”
  • In addition to the withdrawal of the CF-18s, opposes Canada remaining (“fully”???) part of the allied bombing mission with Canada continuing to contribute two Aurora surveillance planes, a refuelling plane and now, in addition, four helicopters to fly missions over Iraq and, with the surveillance aircraft, help paint targets on the ground for the allied bombing missions
  • “Canada could be providing a leadership role in cutting off the funding, the arms, and the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS.” (Randall Garrison, Esquimalt–Saanich-Sooke), particularly the $1 million to $3 million a day in oil being sold by ISIS on the world market
  • In a multilateral military mission, Canada should only participate if it has the mandate of the United Nations
  • wants figures on the proportion of trainers, now tripled, who would be in the front lines and under what guidelines
  • wants the training to include human rights and international law components
  • wants projections of the casualty count
  • wants weapons provided to Kurdish forces tracked and their use monitored
  • wants Canada to sign the Arms Trade Treaty
  • wants an exit strategy lest Canadian men and women in the Armed Forces are interminably put in harm’s way
  • wants criteria to determine whether the approach taken is the correct and want measures to assess the results
  • wants an overall review of defence policy in general without waiting two years to arrive at one
  • domestically, wants Canada to develop a strong campaign of counter-extremist messaging based possibly on the model of Regroupement interculturel de Drummondville, but the Liberals reiterated that, while developing a de-radicalization in Canada, the primary focus would be overseas on preventing the recruitment of foreign fighters, who may be Canadian, and enhanced capabilities and measures to counter those recruitment efforts; the Liberals focus more on fighting radicalization in that region to stifle the terrorist group’s perverse and diabolical propaganda so that nobody else thinks they will go to heaven by murdering their fellow human beings.

The NDP made it clear that they did not support the withdrawal of the fighter jets or oppose the deployment of the other aircraft or additional advisers and trainers on the ground because the NDP doubted the capabilities or willingness to fight or stand in harm’s ways, as required, in the service of Canada and world peace, nor even the characterization by the Canadian Armed Forces of the mission as a hybrid one, somewhere between traditional combat and non-combat missions, but opposed misleading Canadians and calling it a non-combat mission. The NDP hammered away at the supposed record in Afghanistan rather than Iraq, and queried in what way what Canada is doing in Iraq differs very much from what Canada did in Afghanistan. The NDP kept stressing the absence of clear goals and boundaries for this “combat” operation, even though Canada was in an advisory role in such battles, and, like the Tories, but for very different reasons, reminded Canadians of this past December when Canadian Armed Forces personnel became engaged in a firefight with Daesh forces.

Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (the Conservative representative from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) repeated the point that, “the families of soldiers well remember the 2002 friendly fire incident when U.S. jets fired on Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, killing four of them.” Of course, she used the point for the opposite rationale, to justify keeping the CF-18s in Iraq and Syria. “Our CF-18s would have known they were Canadian boots on the ground, and now we are back to relying on other countries for air cover.” She also asked whether the Liberal government was introducing anti-armour in the ground equipment to make up for the absence of the CF-18s. In another example of, what proved to be, bad questioning, Dan Albas, the Conservative member from Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, suggested that since the Liberals were now deploying four Griffon helicopters to medically evacuate people, was that not an admission that more casualties could be expected because the CF-18s had been withdrawn?

These are two of many examples of the Tories asking questions where the questioner was not prepared for an answer that would undercut rather than advance their position. As I pointed out in the last blog, this happened when the Tories insisted on blaming ISIS for genocide, only to have the Liberals endorse that description of ISIS. The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, replied to the first query above that the anti-armour capability should have been provided before the Liberal government was elected. Further, “in inclement weather, the air strikes cannot take place. If there is a threat that can only be taken care of by anti-armour capability, we need a portable system to do so, and that system is not in our inventory any more.”

 

It is not as if the Tories could not ask questions that could elicit gaps in the Liberal policy. For example, Mr. Todd Doherty, the Tory member from Cariboo-Prince George, insisted that, “If we are putting our forces in the line of fire, we want to ensure that they have every tool to be effective and ensure that they come home safety,” and asked, “Does the hon. member not believe that we should be making sure that our forces should have access to all tools to ensure they come home safely?”

Similarly, when Tom Kmiec, the Conservative member from Calgary Shepard, cited the names and numbers of all the ISIS commanders killed by Canadian air strikes, Sajjan replied, “that is exactly what has happened. The air strikes were effective and targeted, but the enemy also learns from our lessons. I remember when I was serving, I had a rule. When we were in some intense combat, we could never use a strategy twice because the enemy would always learn from it. When we looked at the analysis with our military commanders, we looked at where the mission was at, where the evolution of the enemy was at. When I asked the ground force commander, General Clark, what he needed, the first thing he said to me was ‘intelligence’. The enemy is getting smarter because of our effectiveness in the past. We need to increase our intelligence capability. Why our Canadian intelligence capability? It is effective. Why do we need to increase our training capacity? This is what is needed on the ground. This is to defeat ISIS. It can only happen with troops on the ground. It cannot be done from the air.”

So many times the Tories asked questions and only fell into traps. As well, Tories often tried to score points with irrelevancies – the 1990s role of peacekeepers was catastrophic for Canada, especially in Rwanda, where 800,000 people were killed because our soldiers were powerless to intervene. In addition to being irrelevant, the point was factually incorrect on a number of points

    1. Other than the Commander (Roméo Dallaire) and a communications unit, very few of the peacekeepers in Rwanda were Canadians
    2. The 800,000 were not killed because Canadian soldiers were “powerless to intervene” but because UN and powerful states like the U.S. would not authorize intervention.

The Liberals notably, on a much more macro level, attacked the Conservatives for losing Canada’s reputation internationally because they distanced Canada from responsible international engagement, avoided many international talks (e.g. climate change), for being forced to step out of the running for a position on the United Nations Security Council, all emphasizing the Liberal primary goal of rebranding.

The Conservatives not only attacked the Liberals for withdrawing the fighter jets and for adopting a liberal brand with a stress on the use of diplomacy internationally, but insisted that these moves were totally out of synch with Canadian opinion polls even though the Liberals won the election with a clear majority.

  • an Angus Reid poll  of February 2016 indicating that 63% of Canadians want Canada to continue bombing ISIL targets at the current rate or to increase the number of bombing missions conducted against ISIL
  • 47% believe that withdrawing our CF-18s will harm Canada’s reputation abroad
  • only 18% of Canadians polled thought that pulling our jets from the fight would have a positive effect on our international reputation
  • two out of five people, 37%, believe that Canada should continue with the current number of bombing missions against ISIL; one-quarter, 26%, believe that .the number of missions should be increased
  • 64% believe that the threat ISIL poses has increased
  • half of those people (about 30%) believe that the threat has increased significantly
  • 33% believe that Canada should increase its involvement in the fight against ISIL.

The Tories also indirectly criticized the refugee resettlement program and stressed the humanitarian aid for the refugees in the camps (Pierre Paul-Hus, member form Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles), as if the Liberals did not announce an even larger humanitarian program. Further, the Tories characterized the withdrawal of the CF-18s as a retreat rather than acknowledging an increased presence on the ground. The rebranding became the main target of the Tories who kept insisting, implausibly, that the Liberals had made a decision “not to deploy our military” (Rona Ambrose), a gross distortion. A number of valid criticisms for keeping the CF-18s in the war were missed in a continuing effort to make political points instead of analyzing and criticizing in depth the Liberal shift in policy.

The substantive Conservative Position entailed:

  • keeping the jets in theatre on the grounds that they were needed for cover for 75 troops on the ground and, if tripled, need more cover
  • even if Canada only carried out 2.5% of the strikes, Canada was one of the five countries that were bombing targets effectively
  • By withdrawing the CF-18s, Canadian troops on the ground will be relying on allies to do the heavy lifting.

The problem is, as the NDP pointed out, Canada was not cutting its military and abandoning its allies. Further, no one asked to substantiate the Liberal claim that

  • sufficient air cover exists with interoperability and communication with the ground whatever the source of the troops
  • deployment in Afghanistan did not have air cover
  • the battle requires far more robust engagement, but by a different contribution
  • the coalition has significant capability to maintain the gains the jets have achieved.

Further, the Tory claim that the policy had alienated Canada’s allies seems to have been refuted by a number of American military experts. Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (the American mission), said that, “everybody likes to focus on the air strikes, right, because we get good videos out of it and it’s interesting because things blow up—but don’t forget a pillar of this operation, a pillar of this operation, is to train local ground forces. That is a key and critical part.” James Stavridis, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander said, “Now I understand you’re going to shift from doing training, which is… perhaps the most important of all. So I applaud the fact that our Canadian military and NATO colleagues will be working on the training mission with the Iraqi security forces, potentially with the Kurdish Peshmerga in the north because we don’t want to send 100,000 troops or 150,000 troops like we did in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Did the Tories not have any authoritative sources to back their claim that America resents the Canadian shift?

What most surprised me about the debate, other than the even greater ineptitude than I imagined of the vast majority of Tory politicians who spoke, and other than the by-and-large enormous civility of the debate, was the number of parliamentarians who served in the Armed Forces or in overseas missions. They may not outnumber the lawyers, but there were a large number, more that I, for one, ever expected. I have not undertaken a count for the current parliament, but I am convinced from reading Hansard that the total numbers would approach that of the last parliament where 1 in 13 had military experience, “over 50 having served either in the regular forces or in reservist organizations, representing military service in a variety of operational theatres including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland.

 

Tomorrow: D. Defining the Enemy

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Advertisements

Corporeality I: The Body Politic and Diplomacy – External Affairs

by

Corporeality I: The Body Politic and Diplomacy

by

Howard Adelman

“Howard, you’re never going to be a diplomat.”

Not that I had ever aspired to be one, but why? Why not me? When a Canadian ambassador addressed me with this comment, Canada was then gavelling the Multilateral Refugee Working Group (RWG) negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in the early 1990s before the Oslo peace process unravelled with the collapse of the Camp David and Taba peace talks and the al-Aqsa intifada took their place. (Cf. David Goldberg and Tilly Shames (2004) “The ‘Good-natured Bastard’: Canada and the Middle East refugee question,” Israel Affairs: Special Issue: Israel in the International Arena, 10:1-2, 203-220) Though the focus was on the Palestinian refugees before the millions of Syrian refugees became the poster children for Middle Eastern displacement, the RWG performed another role. It served not simply as the venue for advancing the discussion on the Palestinian refugee issue, but as a front for the bilateral talks and a safe place out of the spotlight to debate hot process issues, such as PLO participation and Palestinian representation and identification as a separate delegation independent of the Jordanian one. I was present as a technical adviser.

Could I not become an ambassador because I was too forthright, because I lacked the smooth etiquette of even a junior in the foreign ministry? Either of these elements would have disqualified me, but that was not the explanation the ambassador offered. “You’ve been educated as a philosopher. Ever since Descartes, philosophers have been trained to think in terms of clear and distinct ideas. However, diplomacy relies upon equivocation. Diplomats have to use language that means different things to the different parties in the negotiations.” He was only being partially satirical.

I would not qualify for a number of reasons. On Friday I wrote about Jethro in the Torah and his meeting with Moses and Aaron as an example of the following characteristics of a diplomat:

  1. Courtesy – Jethro notified his hosts of his arrival to ensure that he was welcome by the leader of the people – something which Netanyahu did not do when Ron Dermer, his American-born Israeli envoy to the U.S., cooked up the scheme with the House of Representatives Republican Majority Leader, John Boehner, to have Netanyahu address a joint session of Congress without informing the President;
  2. Recognition – Moses and Aaron (not Aaron alone) went out to greet Jethro on what was the tarmac at the time and demonstrated that the head of a nation should greet a visiting envoy;
  3. Respect – Moses did so by showing the visiting diplomat the highest regard in both his words and body language;
  4. Jethro was a formidable diplomat because he was a very careful listener and not only heard Moses’ long tale about the Israelite escape from Egypt, but was able to summarize the narrative so that Moses and Aaron could recognize how close Jethro had been listening;
  5. Jethro demonstrated that he also understood the Israeli position by providing an empathetic summary of the Israelite perspective without ever actually endorsing it;
  6. Jethro demonstrably came with only one goal in mind – reconciliation and peace;
  7. The one attitude that was absolutely verboten was arrogance;
  8. Jethro was the exemplar of the refusal to use force or his position of authority to persuade Moses and Aaron, but relied on words alone to influence his son-in-law;
  9. Jethro went further and demonstrated his initiative and creative imagination by sacrificing to the Israelite God for the role He played in freeing the Israelites from Egypt, something which the Israelites themselves had not yet done;
  10. Finally, both Moses and Jethro understood the important role of breaking bread together in a festive meal as a way to cement a relationship.

How do the current parties in Middle East negotiations measure up to these standards? David Remnick, outstanding editor of The New Yorker, in an article on Secretary of State John Kerry in the final double issue for 2015 entitled, “Negotiating the Whirlwind” (pp. 66-77), offered a number of insights into Kerry’s attributes as a negotiator, though the focus was on the possibility of making a break through on Syria rather than Kerry’s role in the last failed effort to get the peace negotiations off the ground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry is portrayed as having the following characteristics:

  1. He is a man of exemplary courage “undaunted by risk” having won three Purple Hearts and both a Bronze and a Silver Star in the Vietnam War in spite of George W. Bush’s toadies’, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, attempts to besmirch that military record, the ultimate in irony, for George W. Bush sat out the war stateside as a member of the Texas National Guard;
  2. Though without question a man of the establishment, Kerry demonstrated a different kind of courage in standing up against the received wisdom as a leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War  and became for me personally at that time a real hero;
  3. He is unwilling to go for the jugular if the cost might be undermining the whole diplomatic effort;
  4. His overriding character as a negotiator is that he is tireless and doggedly relentless;
  5. He seems to suffer a more serious handicap than being a philosopher dedicated to clear and distinct ideas for he is prone to verbal logorrhea and a propensity to be rhetorically undisciplined;
  6. Further, instead of being a master of equivocation, he is infected with the disease of the wasp establishment in the United Sates and a betrayal of his forgotten Jewish grandfather as he has mastered the precise contradictory trait of using unboundaried rhetoric to describe raw reality, but doing so in “upholstered platitudes ;“
  7. He has an abounding faith in the value of personal relationships;
  8. He believes in the power of persuasion and the importance of influence, though always with the American qualifier of carrying a stick in the other hand;
  9. He contrasts with Barack Obama’s skepticism because he exudes a “sentimental optimism;”
  10. Like Jethro, he does understand and has mastered the art of building trust by both understanding the Other and demonstrating that understanding in dealing with contentious parties.

How do these characteristics fit the attributes most desirous in a diplomat such as the exemplary Benjamin Franklin? Courage is irrelevant, absolutely necessary when it comes to fighting a war, but irrelevant at the negotiating table. Nor does being an angry young man and an anti-establishment warrior qualify one as a diplomat speaking from personal experience. Third, tireless optimism is no substitute for caution and careful analysis, but actually gets in the way of the latter two prerequisites for diplomacy. Being relentless may be necessary for a Churchill, and his bulldog, when fighting a life-and-death war against the Nazis, but is irrelevant in diplomatic negotiations and may, as Remnick writes, be like the car buyer who enters the automobile showroom and lets the salesperson know that he is determined not to leave until he has purchased a car.

Kerry with his weak command of linguistic skills has shown that he lacks mastery of the core tool of a diplomat, absolute proficiency in the use of language which must be clear and concise as well as always coherent and non-contradictory. Equivocation is one thing; padded platitudes are another, especially when, instead of demonstrating being in touch with reality, they reveal detachment from it. When this is compounded with a record of contradictions – supporting Bush’s foolish war in Iraq but then voting against appropriations for reconstruction – this is not an outstanding record of achievement to waltz on the stage of foreign diplomacy. This may be the result of relying too much on advisers. This is not helped when later one avoids responsibility for taking that advice and remains critically bitter about the advice Robert Shrum gave him not to take on and challenge the calumnies of the Swift Boat Veterans.

Personal relationships, as Jethro and Moses demonstrated, are key to foreign relations, but as Kissinger noted, Kerry’s “unbounded faith” in the value of such relationships may be misplaced. However, his belief in the power of persuasion, in spite of carrying a big stick, his belief in putting that big stick behind his back instead of waving it in the air, and his comprehension in demonstrating empathetic understanding are exemplary, though marred somewhat by his sentimental optimism unbecoming of a diplomat.

How do those skills and weaknesses reveal themselves when attacking some of the major diplomatic challenges of our time? Cuba was clearly Obama’s doing, largely due to insistence of the Cubans, but this put Kerry’s nose out of joint. One cannot imagine Aaron being disturbed because Jethro as a foreign diplomat wanted to deal directly with Moses. A second success, certainly in my eyes, was the conclusion of the nuclear arms talks with Iran. Kerry’s persistence, his efforts to build personal relationships, his mastery of the material and the core issues while communicating a complete understanding of the position of the Iranians, his refusal to play the military card, all contributed to his success. But with the Iranians, not with his former colleagues in the Senate who were well aware of his unwillingness to trot out America’s military might, of Kerry’s unwillingness to go for the jugular as revealed in his handling of the election results in his contest with George W. Bush, of his sentimental optimism and his unbounded faith in personal relationships. They may have loved John Kerry as a colleague but they distrusted him as a tough negotiator. Well you can’t please everyone all the time, and perhaps never given the force and irredentism of populist Republicans these days.

A lesser known success was Kerry’s efforts to broker a compromise with the contenders for leadership in Afghanistan. When the election results threatened to undermine the country’s feeble democracy, Kerry negotiated a compromise between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani stretching personal relationship diplomacy almost to the breaking point, but sufficient to keep the government together, an absolute prerequisite in fighting the war against the Taliban.

But look at the failures – Egypt, Libya, the partial alienation of Saudi Arabia. But these may have had more to do with Barack Obama than with Kerry, a topic which I will take up tomorrow.  The most outstanding failure was the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but this was not a failure of negotiating skills, but of wasting diplomatic capital on a quixotic effort driven by that sentimental optimism and absolute faith in himself if only he could get both parties into the same room. Here taking huge risks was folly for the probability of a fearful Mahmoud Abbas taking the necessary risks for peace can be compared to that of Arafat whose courage amounted to the sliver of a new moon while Abbas’ willingness to take a risk was hidden behind the moon in eclipse. With Abbas on one side and, a bullying, blustering unreliable bull shitter like Netanyahu on the other (I told you I was unsuited to diplomacy), the chances of getting even the wisp of victory out of the negotiations was even less than the chance of winning over a billion dollars in the recent lottery draw in the United States, especially given the intractable positions on both sides.

But the problem goes even deeper. The late intervention in the Balkans and the Dayton Accords were not, as Kerry claimed, a diplomatic success, except in the eyes of Richard Holbrooke and other Americans for it left the shattered parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina patched together like a smashed teacup with the shards glued back together, but in a form useless as a teacup because it will not hold any hot water for long. And Rwanda was not a failure of America to intervene, but a failure of the Clinton administration to support and allow the UN peacekeepers already there to be reinforced and do their jobs. Kerry may demonstrate a capability in empathetic understanding but it is not matched to the same degree in objective understanding.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Barack Obama as a Political Leader and Diplomat.

The Structure of the State: Parshat Yitro/Jethro Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

The Structure of the State: Parshat Yitro/Jethro Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

by

Howard Adelman

Last week I wrote about political leadership from the perspective of the Torah. This week my subject is the distribution of the various powers of the state dedicated to protecting and serving a nation beginning with the role of foreign affairs and international diplomacy. How should political leaders deal with political leaders from other states? For Jethro is not only Moses’ father-in-law; he is also the high priest of the Midianites. How does a foreign religious leader also emerge as a confidant and critical advisor of Moses in the design of the polity for the Israelites? How and why did a foreign personality presume to do so? Was it simply because he was “family,” that he was mishpacha?

This week’s parsha is not only about Jethro. That is the subject of chapter 18. But chapter 19 is about the Israelites camping in front of Mount Sinai and their encounter with God. Chapter 20 is about Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and Moses’ role to serve as an intermediary between the people and God and, therefore, the defender of the constitution, the basic covenant for a nation. What do these events that follow and historically rival the escape from Egypt have to do with Jethro coming to Sinai with Moses’ wife and two children to meet with Moses and subsequently offer his political advice?

As stated above, Jethro was a Midianite priest. He may also have been a Prince of the Midianites, for he is called a Midian leader in some translations, but given the difficulties and indignities his daughters suffered at the hands of other shepherds at the well where Moses met his future wife, I very much doubt it. But prince or priest, whether he combined the office of political leader as well as religious leader is not the issue for me, for it is his religious leadership that is important.

Recall what Aaron’s role was as High Priest when there was no temple. Aaron’s initial job was to be the intermediary between God and Pharaoh. When Moses demurred from accepting his divine assignment to represent the Israelites in the negotiations with Pharaoh to free the Israelites from Egypt, Aaron was appointed as God’s spokesman. Aaron was made Secretary of State. Aaron had the job of being a light unto the nation with the most symbolic job assigned to a High Priest, lighting the candles on the menorah so that Israel could be the light to other nations, whether in dealing with enemies in pursuit or nations the Israelites would face in front of them. If Moses was the political leader of the Israelites, Aaron, his older brother by three years, was appointed as foreign minister, or, as designated in the United States of America, Secretary of State. It was Aaron who had the job of guiding the ship of state in foreign waters (and in foreign lands). Thus, when we encounter Jethro here and he is called a Midianite priest, we recognize his role as the nation’s chief diplomat.

We know that Moses worked for his father-in-law after he married Zipporah for almost a decade and during that time presented him with two grandsons, Gershom (stranger) and Eliezer (God’s helper). Their names are ironic because it is Jethro who will come as a stranger to the Israelites at Sinai and will serve as God’s helper by being Moses’ helper, not simply, as it is said, because he gave Moses a refuge from the sword of Pharaoh, but in allowing Moses to emerge subsequently as a person worthy of being the intermediary between God and the people of Israel.

When Jethro as a courtesy sent a message that he was arriving at the Israelite camp with Moses’ wife and two sons, Moses himself, not just Aaron, went out of the camp to greet him, bowed down to him in respect and kissed him. The first lesson in statesmanship is that when a foreign minister visits, it is the political head of state who should greet him. Further, not just the leader, but the ambassador from another nation must be welcomed, not as a supplicant, but as one worthy of both love and respect.

Jethro and Moses then returned to Moses’ tent where Moses told his father-in-law everything that had taken place since he left the land of the Midianites on the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba. He did not tell the story of what he did, but of what God did to Pharaoh as the enemy and how God subsequently saved the Israelites from the hardships they encountered in the desert. In other words, Moses did not raise himself up through what happened, but offered Jethro a detached portrait of the political landscape for which God (or history) was responsible. Jethro responded by summarizing the tale and concluding, “I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”

Arrogance has been considered one of the seven of the worst character defects. Egyptian pharaohs were the epitome of arrogance for they considered themselves to be above other mortals, to be embodied gods. Arrogance is a denial of personal vulnerability. The corollary of raising oneself on a pedestal entails treating others as only worthy of contempt. Pharaoh was overbearing and overestimated his power to an undue degree. Jethro contends that the real and most basic reason God treated Pharaoh so badly was that he was a conceited, self-important prig with a false sense of his own enormous grandiosity.

Contrast those characteristics with those belonging to Moses or Jethro, but our focus here must be on Jethro. First of all, instead of parading his own idolatrous gods as greater than the Israelite god and engaging in a macho contest, Jethro praised YHWH as “greater than all the gods.” He behaved in precisely the opposite way than Pharaoh. In doing so, Jethro did not renounce his idolatrous religion; he merely recognized the God of Israel as the greatest among the gods. Jethro was not a believer in monotheism. Nor is there any suggestion he had himself circumcised and converted to Judaism as suggested by some interpreters.

[Some Talmudists claim that when the text says wa-yihad Yitro (Exodus 18.9), translated as “Jethro rejoiced,” this meant that Jethro self-circumcised, that he felt a stinging in his flesh and when you exchange the ח with a ה to be wa-yihad, then the meaning is that Jethro became a Jew. I think this is farfetched and does not at all fit in with the thrust as well as the details of the story.]

Note also that Jethro paid no attention to the part of the story when God saved the Israelites in the desert and provided water and manna. It was not God as a material provider that interested him. He came as a foreign minister, not as an economic minister focused on material things. His concern was authority and power and how it was to be exercised. Jethro said that God was greater than all the other gods because he protected His people and punished those who would treat them “arrogantly.” That is the function of statesmanship. Jethro then made a sacrifice, brought a burnt offering and joined Moses, Aaron and the elders of Israel in a festive meal. What Jethro did was also a diplomatic reproach to Moses and Aaron, as well as the 600,000 Israelites because, until Jethro arrived and performed his sacrifice, none of the Israelites had deemed recognizing the power of the Other as important.

The next day Jethro observed Moses acting as a judge and welfare officer when his people came to him with requests and the need to resolve disputes. That part of the story reminded me when I was first introduced to Yasser Arafat in Gaza. (He had not yet moved to Ramallah.) It was 9:30 or 10:00 p.m., which I thought was quite late for a political meeting. We were ushered into a very large room with chairs all around the sides. I was totally shocked to see about half the chairs filled. My memory may be exaggerating, but I thought there were twenty-five people waiting. We were told they were waiting to see Arafat. We were then ushered into an anteroom. There were four people waiting there. We were taken past them right into Arafat’s office.

The office was plain and unadorned. We were introduced, but the meeting was perfunctory – evidently just a matter of form. When we left, I asked the person who was our intermediary what all those people were doing so late in the evening waiting to see Arafat. He informed us that it is the same every evening and seven days a week. People go to Arafat to complain about a neighbour’s dog barking (that literally was one of his examples), to ask for funds to bury a relative or help a child get medical help. Arafat dispenses money, rulings and advice sometimes until three in the morning. That is what Jethro saw Moses doing.

13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.

27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.

If the function of a foreign minister or secretary of state is to represent his nation so that it can be a light unto other nations when dealing with them (not just representing a nation’s interests in Kissinger’s terms of realpolitik), the function of a political leader is to represent his nation in dealing with God, in dealing with history, in dealing with a nation’s destiny, in interpreting its fundamental constitution. The chief political officer is neither the chief law maker nor the judiciary. After separating the functions of statesmanship and diplomacy from being the head of a nation, the judicial functions too must be delegated to others. Thus, we have a different take on the separation of powers – foreign affairs from leader of the state, leader of the state from chief judicial officer. The next lesson will be about the making of laws, but that comes after Jethro leaves.

How did Jethro then prepare for what took place afterward? First, it was Jethro who told Moses that his job was to be an intermediary between his people and God. Second, as we soon learn, Moses is not the prince of his people, is not the lawmaker, but only the receiver of the fundamental constitution for the people, the covenant with God, which is a constitutional set of rules recommended for all nations. Third, Jethro had to go away because the people had to learn two other lessons that could not come from Jethro. For Jethro was an idolater; the Israelites were commanded to put away the worship of all idols.

“You shall not make [images of anything that is] with Me. Gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.” (Exodus 20:20) This was the culmination of all the commandments the Lord gave to Moses and was a repetition of verse 4: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness which is in the heavens above, which is on the earth below, or which is in the water beneath the earth.” The Israelites were not forbidden from making images, but graven images, objects or things worshipped as divine. “Graven” is the right adjective. Don’t make what is dead and treat it in a solemn way.

There was a second reason Jethro had to leave. He came from a hierarchical society. In contrast, God wanted to teach the Israelites obedience to the constitution, the covenant intended to guide all peoples. “And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth.” (Exodus 19:5) But for the Israelites to be a truly holy nation, they had to be a nation of self-legislators, a nation in which every member was a prince, a democratic nation. “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6)

Jethro could not teach Moses or his people not to be idolaters, nor that the nation must become one in which all were princes, a democratic nation. Thus, in this parsha, we are provided with the framework for the construction of a state that will serve the nation. Separate foreign affairs and diplomacy from the functions of internal rule and make certain attributes characteristic of that role. Secondly, separate executive power from the judiciary. Thirdly, create a constitutional “monarchy,” that is where the function of the head of state was to be bound to upholding the fundamental covenant or the constitution of that state from the exercise of power and make the head of state the embodiment of that covenant and the representative of that covenant to the people. Fourth, make the state a democratic state whereby the powers of making laws, within the boundaries of the constitution or the fundamental covenant of that state, are made by the people who shall all be treated as princes of the state.

With the help of Alex Zisman

SUNDAY: Foreign Affairs, Diplomacy and the Body Politic