Archive for November, 2010

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

Since Israel declared independence in May 1948 as a Zionist (democratic and Jewish) nation, the United States has been its most loyal friend on earth. As other nations have vacillated in their support, ours has never faltered. Since World War II, Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in the world. The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in grants to Israel.

U.S. bilateral military aid provides Israel with privileges unequalled by any other recipient country. Israel can use some U.S. military assistance both for research and development in the U.S. and for military purchases from Israeli manufacturers.

In addition, all U.S. foreign assistance earmarked for Israel is delivered in the first 30 days of the fiscal year. Most other recipients normally receive aid in installments. Congress also appropriates funds for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs.

In August 2007, the Bush administration announced it would increase U.S. military assistance to Israel by $6 billion over the next decade. The agreement called for incremental annual increases in foreign military financing to Israel, reaching $3 billion a year by 2012. The Obama administration requested $2.775 billion in foreign military financing to Israel for 2010.

Although we have provided assistance with nuclear delivery systems, France, not the U.S., was most heavily involved in supporting Israel’s development of nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, we have had a consistent policy for Israeli nuclear activities of looking the other way. That policy, and the concessions we have made to Israel to persuade it not to use nuclear weapons over the years, have validated its nuclear arsenal’s existence.

In the international political arena, the U.S. has been unstinting in its support of Israel. In 1972, George H.W. Bush cast the first U.S. veto in the U.N. Security Council. Between 1972 and 2009, the U.S. cast 48 vetoes and negative votes on every issue that was in any way critical of Israel.

We have vetoed resolutions proposed by our allies, Spain and France, and by our then enemy, the USSR, as well as resolutions with signatures from three to 20 nations.

This history reflects the fact that there are millions of Jewish and non-Jewish Americans, particularly those who were alive and aware of the Holocaust, who genuinely support the existence of a democratic, Jewish Israel and continue to do so.

The situation became more complicated in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, largely as a result of Israel’s West Bank and East Jerusalem settlement policies and by the political emergence in Israel of the Jewish emigration from the USSR, a country that, along with its citizens, never really understood much about democracy.

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 forbids resettlement by an occupying power of its own civilians on territory under its military control.

On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and an obstacle to peace and to economic and social development [… and] have been established in breach of international law.”

By acceding to Israel’s every wish, the U.S. has enabled an Israel that believes it can act with impunity, without making any adjustment to the international, regional and national realities that face her. Her own imperatives far outweigh those of her neighbors and her people. This situation encourages aggressive behavior, as in the Gaza War and its aftermath, the ongoing settlement program, and a knee-jerk military reaction to perceived threats.

Although the Obama administration, doggedly searching for the elusive two-state solution, has slightly hardened the position of this government on Israeli settlement policies, all of the requests made by the administration have either been ignored, or flat-out rejected by the Netanyahu government.

But the two-state solution is the only one that preserves a Zionist (democratic and Jewish) Israel. Demographic realities show clearly that Jews in Israel will soon be outnumbered by Arabs, forcing Israel to choose between democracy and Jewishness. The situation worsens as the settlements absorb the West Bank and more and more Arabs. In the longer run, it is doubtful that Americans will support an expansionist, apartheid, and/or non-democratic Israel.

Our ongoing uncritical backing has enabled Israel to behave in a self-absorbed and counterproductive way. Israel lives in a “safe” world constructed with U.S. economic bricks and mortar, surrounded by a U.S. political moat and protected by U.S. military hardware. This uncritical support has permitted Israel to behave in ways that have weakened her morally in the eyes of the world, left her in a perpetual state of war with her neighbors and with a highly questionable Zionist future.

This is hardly what sensitive and thoughtful Americans would have done for Israel if we truly had cared about her future as Zionist state. In terms of Israel’s future viability, we have not behaved like her true friend.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

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[Originally published in The Herald of Randolph.]

National Council of US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) activities are sponsored by major US corporations, largely energy (oil) and defense firms, all of which have major direct and indirect stakes in the Middle East.

For the past 19 years, NCUSAR has sponsored and annual “U.S. Policymakers Conference”.  One of this year’s presenters was Ambassador Ryan Crocker who was US Ambassador to Iraq from 2007–09 during the US “Surge” and has been a vocal supporter of US policy in Iraq under President George W. Bush.

Crocker said, inter alia, that it is “quite likely that the Iraqi government is going to ask for an extension of our deployed (military) presence (there)” past our now stipulated 2011 withdrawal.  Although the last of our “combat” forces were said to have been withdrawn this past August, there remain roughly 50,000 “advisors” in Iraq as a part of “Operation New Dawn” which is scheduled to end at the end of 2011

During his presentation to the NCUSAR conference, he also predicted that the U.S. will be asked by the Iraqi government to provide them with heavy material and military weaponry and that this effort will probably start after 2013.

Iraq is our first, but not only, American tarbaby in the Middle East.  We are watching here the first salvo in the upcoming internal US political battle over our future course of action in Iraq and the greater the Middle East.

On the heels of the Crocker pronouncements we have seen a rash of sectarian bombings, almost certainly carried out by Iraqi Sunnis against the Shia population.  In addition, despite the recent announcement of the “solution” to the months-long political impasse between Maliki, whose political base is within the Shia community and includes the militant Sadrists, and his rival, Allawi, who represents secular Shia, anti-Iran nationalists and most Sunnis, the potential for it to fall apart always present.

All of these tensions are reflective of the one reality that our current policy refuses to acknowledge , that without repressive management, Iraq is not a viable state.  In fact, it is a patchwork of competing secular, religious, tribal, ethnic and political interests created over a century ago by Imperial Britain to suit its own needs and interests.  In addition, lurking in the background are the Kurds whose sole interest, as it has been for millennia, is survival, and the Iranians who seek to establish regional hegemony at the expense of the Iraqis.

It is difficult for Americans to acknowledge that we are facing a frightfully expensive activity in a region where our military presence and activities unite peoples against us.

It matters not when our troops leave Iraq.  Until we do leave, we will represent a damping factor, replacing the despotic and violent hand of Saddam Hussein.  But once we do leave, whether that is tomorrow or in twenty years, Iraq will likely devolve into its component parts.  That devolution may be violent or, with luck and good planning, almost peaceful.  There will be some sort of Kurdish area, a Sunni area and a Shia area.  They may end up as separate entities or in some sort of confederation, but they will not be a “state” as we know states today.

What seems increasingly hopeful about this miserable situation is that there seems to be little appetite in the region for a broader conflict.  The neighbors show no inclination to precipitate a wider blood bath.  Turkey has its issues with the Kurds, Iran has its ties with the Shia and Saudi Arabia, and Jordan with the Sunnis.  But there is no future for any of them in a broader conflict.  Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait and the Gulf States are praying that this too will pass!

There is a very clear choice here.  As realists, we can get out of Iraq as planned and let political, religious, tribal determinism take over while we do everything we possibly can to insure that any conflict within Iraq not get any broader.  If we are going to take this course, we need to do it fast, before our military presence and activities in the region turn the entire region against us, which is where we are heading now.

Or as dreamers, we can hang in for 5, 10 or 20 years in the hope that things will get better, only to find that whatever would happen if we were to withdraw tomorrow, inevitably will happen in 5, 10 or 20 years.

Dreaming is one gigantic gamble.  Given our own current domestic and international realities, it is one we can ill afford.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe, the Middle East and as Chief of the counterterrorism staff.  A longtime resident of Brookfield, he now lives in Williston.

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[Originally published in the Barre Times-Argus and Rutland Herald.]

Much is being made here in America of Iran’s provision of money to Karzai’s Presidential office in Kabul.  Some call it meddling in internal Afghan affairs, others call it a classic Iranian covert action operation designed to clandestinely undermine American interests in Afghanistan.  Some believe that these payments are really an expression of Iranian national interests in the region.

Most Americans approved of our 2001 invasion of Afghanistan on the grounds that it was justifiable retaliation for 9/11. When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, there was some skepticism among the population, but a supine Congress went along.

The first analyses of the Invasion outcomes were pointedly critical in the sense that the results favored Al Qaida and Iran, not the US.

Al Qaida has a major problem in Islam. It is unacceptably radical and therefore, lacking general support from moderate Muslims, it is very likely to die on the vine.  What our invasion of Iran and subsequent reinvasion of Afghanistan have done is set up a Hobson’s choice for Muslim moderates.  Whom do they hate more, the invading foreign army (American) or Muslim apostates (Al Qaida)?  Without that invading, foreign army there would be no future for Al Qaida.

So, we have voluntarily entered into a policy the ultimate outcome of which is to strengthen Al Qaida in the Muslim World. Our hopes for stability in that region as well as our need to cope effectively with fundamentalist Muslim terrorism, will continue to be unachievable as long as that policy of military confrontation is in place.

As if that were not enough, our military-based policies in the region have accomplished just about all the goals Iran has had in its quest to become a major player in the Gulf region. As the largest, most populous, best educated country on the Gulf and rich in natural resources, Iran thinks is should have some influence there.

First, we wiped out Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party which represented the backbone of regional opposition to Iran’s goals.

Our defeat of Iraq unleashed Shia Iran, the largest country with the largest army in the region (and non-Arab to boot) against the mostly Arab and Sunni Gulf states and Israel.

Then, in taking on the Taliban in 2001, we fought and defeated another major threat to Iran – a fundamentalist Sunni organization that had nothing religiously or philosophically in common with the fundamentalist Shia in Iran.  In the vast chess game of the Middle East, the Taliban had always been arrayed against Iran.  We forwarded Iran’s goals with our 2001 invasion and again with our 2009 reinvasion of Afghanistan.  A weaker Taliban is absolutely in Iran’s favor.

Finally, with Saddam and the Baath in power, the inherent religious, tribal and sectarian destabilizing elements in Iraq were managed through forceful repression.  With Saddam gone, those forces were unleashed.  The result has been internecine warfare which has led to internal instability which has only been marginally mitigated by the US military presence.  In short, we have created a new, unstable “Iraq” which benefits only Iran and Al Qaida.

What we accomplished with invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq has wiped out all of Iran’s real enemies and given Al Qaida hope for survival.  If Iraq and Al Qaida had been asked to create a US policy for their region, one which weakened the United States and strengthened them, they simply could not have done better than the combined Bush and Obama policies.

So, all of that history aside, how can we be surprised that Iran is funneling money to the Karzai government?  With American commitment to the region on the wane, Karzai is their best bet for keeping the Taliban out of real power and fostering the national instability that is in their interest.

How can we be surprised that the Iranians are supporting their Shia co-religionists in Iraq and that they are almost certainly creating instability there?  A dis-united, unstable Iraq is in their national interest.

How can we be surprised that Iran is baiting Israel?  Israel-baiting keeps the pot boiling in the Middle East and supports the instability that in turn supports Iranian national interests.

And all of this encourages regional instability which is precisely what we would like to eliminate, but which we will never do as long as our own unique contribution to instability, our military presence and activities, is ongoing.

This is not an apologia for Iran.  We don’t have to approve of what the Iranians are doing, but must understand why they do it, because if we don’t we will never find a policy that will permit us to realize our goals for stability in that region.

Haviland Smith of Williston is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East and as Chief of the Counterterroism Staff.

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