June 30, 2007

From the Anbar Awakening to the Surge

By Michael J. Totten

Frederick and Kimberly Kagan have written a very worthwhile piece about the strategy underpinning the United States military’s surge in Iraq.

The new strategy for Iraq has entered its second phase. Now that all of the additional combat forces have arrived in theater, Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno have begun Operation Phantom Thunder, a vast and complex effort to disrupt al Qaeda and Shiite militia bases all around Baghdad in advance of the major clear-and-hold operations that will follow. The deployment of forces and preparations for this operation have gone better than expected, and Phantom Thunder is so far proceeding very well. All aspects of the current strategy have been built upon the lessons of previous successful and unsuccessful Coalition efforts to establish security in Iraq, and there is every reason to be optimistic about its outcome.

I’ll be honest here. “Optimism” and “Iraq” in the same sentence sound ludicrous to me unless we’re talking about Kurdistan. Too many times I naively believed the U.S. was “turning the corner” on the insurgency, only to later feel like a sucker. Don’t be a sucker is perhaps the best one-sentence advice I can give to anyone who chooses to engage or even dabble in Middle East politics. I learned that one several times from experience.

At the same time, though, I know that conflict does not equal failure. And lack of victory in the middle of a war doesn’t pre-ordain failure at the end of a war. Otherwise it would not be the middle.

Insurgencies are monstrous things. A few days ago Algerian Minister of Culture Khalida Toum said the Islamist insurgency war in that country, which killed 150,000 people and is only just now winding down, was like “ten years of 9/11 and nobody offered their condolences.”

Some insurgencies are broken in less than ten years. Israel put down the Palestinian intifada much quicker than that. The Lebanese Army, which is terribly weak, has mostly eliminated Syria’s proxy Fatah Al Islam in less than two months. So who knows? Maybe the U.S. will pull it off.

So many mistakes have been made in Iraq that I don’t even know how to count them. I’m also, to again be totally honest, not qualified to judge every mistake as a mistake. I’m not an ignoramus about the military and war, but I’m far indeed from being a general. And the only war zone I’ve been to in Iraq so far is Kirkuk.

What’s encouraging about the surge is that it’s the product of a hard learning experience from American military commanders who have been watching what works and what doesn’t.

The essay by the two Kagans is worth reading in its entirety because they analyze the military’s past mistakes and show how the lessons learned then are being applied to the surge now. They look at the botched and successful campaigns in Fallujah, Najaf, Sadr City, Tal Afar, the Upper Euphrates, Ramadi, and Baghdad.

Here is what they wrote about Ramadi:

Early in 2006, the U.S. military command withdrew the additional forces introduced to support the elections, and thereafter resisted all suggestions of a more active posture or a larger American presence. In 2006 the focus was on training the Iraqi military and transitioning responsibility for security to the Iraqis. It was hoped that the results of the 2005 elections would lead to the political progress that was seen as the key to reducing violence, and Generals John Abizaid and George Casey believed that an active American presence was an irritant that caused more trouble than it cured. They also feared that American forces conducting counterinsurgency operations would allow the Iraqi forces to lie back and become dependent on the Coalition. The overall U.S. posture in the first half of 2006, therefore, remained largely defensive and reactive, and the military command aimed to reduce the number of American forces in Iraq as rapidly as possible.

In the meantime, the situation was deteriorating dramatically. Al Qaeda terrorists destroyed the Golden Dome of the al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra (a Shiite shrine in the predominantly Sunni Arab province of Salahuddin), and a wave of sectarian violence swept Iraq. Within days more than 30 mosques had been bombed, and death squads began executing civilians across the country in large numbers in tit-for-tat sectarian murders.

The failure to follow up either on the successes in Falluja in 2004 or on the beginnings of clearing operations in the Upper Euphrates in 2005 allowed Anbar Province to sink deeper into the control of Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists. As late as August 2006, the Marine intelligence officer for the province declared that it was irretrievably lost to the enemy.

Nevertheless, the Marines and Army units in Anbar began a series of quiet efforts to regain control that ultimately led to spectacular and unexpected success. They began to engage local leaders in talks, particularly after al Qaeda committed a series of assassinations and other atrocities against tribal leaders and local civilians as part of an effort to enforce their extreme and distorted vision of Islamic law. U.S. forces under the command of Colonel Sean MacFarland also began a quiet effort to apply the clearing principles honed through operations in Falluja, Sadr City, and Tal Afar to Ramadi. There were never enough forces to undertake such operations rapidly or decisively, and success never appeared likely, at least to outside observers, who focused excessively on the force ratios.

But the effort was successful beyond all expectations. The tribal leaders in Anbar came together to negotiate an accord that ultimately produced the Anbar Awakening, an association of Anbar tribes dedicated to fighting al Qaeda. Recruiting for the Iraqi Security Forces in Anbar increased from virtually zero through 2006 to more than 14,000 by mid-2007. As the 2007 surge forces augmented U.S. troops in Anbar and began to change the political dynamic in Iraq, efforts to clear Ramadi and bring overall violence in the province under control also peaked. As New York Times reporter John Burns noted after a recent visit to Ramadi, Anbar's capital has "gone from being the most dangerous place in Iraq, with the help of the tribal sheikhs, to being one of the least dangerous places." And the Anbar Awakening movement has spread to Sunni tribes in neighboring areas. Parallel organizations have developed in Babil, Salahuddin, and Diyala provinces, and even in Baghdad. As the new strategy of 2007 took hold, U.S. forces found that they could even negotiate and work with some of their most determined former foes in the Sunni Arab insurgency--groups like the Baathist 1920s Brigades that once focused on killing Americans and now are increasingly working with Americans to kill al Qaeda fighters. Coalition operations in Anbar, which looked hopeless for years, have accomplished extraordinary successes that are deepening and spreading.

Just about anything can happen in Iraq. The Anbar Awakening may not last. Empowered Sunnis in that province may end up gunning for the Shia for all anyone knows.

But if anything can happen, it may just yet last. Iraqi Kurds fought a pointless civil war in the 1990s after they were liberated from Saddam Hussein before they matured into the political grown-ups they are today. The Lebanese fought an Iraq-style civil war for fifteen years, but almost none – not even Hezbollah – want to go back to that even after the Syrian regime has spent years trying to get them fighting again.

Iraqis have disappointed and made suckers of many of us. But they aren’t robots of perpetual war any more than the Kurds or Lebanese were.

Postscript: I’m at the very end of the media embed bureaucracy process, and am awaiting the green light from the U.S. military in Iraq to purchase my plane ticket to Kuwait. Then I’m off to Baghdad and Al Anbar. Keep watching this space.

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to get there sooner, but coordination with the United States military and the government of Iraq is a very slow process. Getting into the war isn’t like booking the next flight to France.

I can’t publish dispatches on this Web site for free without substantial reader dontations, so please pitch in what you can. Blog Patron allows you to make recurring monthly payments, and even small donations will be extraordinarily helpful so I can continue this independent project.

Blog Patron Button.gif

If you prefer to use Pay Pal, that is still an option.

If you would like to donate for travel and equipment expenses and you don't want to send money over the Internet, please consider sending a check or money order to:

Michael Totten

P.O. Box 312

Portland, OR 97207-0312

Many thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:26 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 28, 2007

The “Surge” Can Not Yet Have Failed

By Michael J. Totten

You can be forgiven if you thought the United States military’s “surge” in Iraq has failed. At least you’ll be forgiven by me. I quietly assumed some time ago, before I had ever even heard of the surge, that the U.S. is going to lose this war in Iraq because the American public doesn’t have the will to stick out a grinding insurgency that might not ever be winnable. I’m not saying it isn’t winnable. I really don’t know. How could I possibly know? But we live in a democracy with civilian control of the military. If Americans want to give up – it’s over.

But the surge is only just now beginning.

Two weeks ago Dave Kilcullen, Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to General Petraeus, said the following to Austin Bay:

I know some people in the media are already starting to sort of write off the “surge” and say ‘Hey, hang on: we’ve been going since January, we haven’t seen a massive turnaround; it mustn’t be working’. What we’ve been doing to date is putting forces into position. We haven’t actually started what I would call the “surge” yet. All we’ve been doing is building up forces and trying to secure the population. And what I would say to people who say that it’s already failed is “watch this space”. Because you’re going to see, in fairly short order, some changes in the way we’re operating that will make what’s been happening over the past few months look like what it is—just a preliminary build up.

That was two weeks ago. Between then and now, the surge finally started. Only just now has it finally started. It can’t yet have failed.

Go over to the Small Wars Journal where Kilcullen describes what the surge strategy is.

And be sure to read Michael Yon’s dispatch from Baqubah, if you haven’t already, where he describes Arrowhead Ripper in person, which is the opening shot in this campaign.

This is our last chance to avert a total catastrophe. American public opinion is not at all likely to tolerate any further adventures if this doesn’t work. But the war isn’t over until it is over, and it’s probably best not to say the surge failed when it only just started a week ago.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:06 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 27, 2007

Feels like 1967, Redux – UPDATED

By Michael J. Totten

While the United States is psychologically preparing itself to lose the war in Iraq, the Middle East may be plunging headlong toward a catastrophe.

Israel is preparing for an imminent war with Iran, Syria and/or their non-state clients.

Israeli military intelligence has projected that a major attack could come from any of five adversaries in the Middle East. Officials said such a strike could spark a war as early as July 2007.

On Sunday, Israeli military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin told the Cabinet that the Jewish state faces five adversaries in what could result in an imminent confrontation. Yadlin cited Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and Al Qaida.

"Each of these adversaries is capable of sparking a war in the summer," Yadlin was quoted as saying.

Yadlin said Hamas could be planning a major attack to divert attention away from efforts by the Palestinian Authority to isolate the Gaza Strip. He said Syria might be promoting such an attack.

Officials said Iran has direct influence over Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. He said Al Qaida has increasingly come under Iranian influence and was being used by Iran and Syria in such countries as Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

Joshua Muravchick is rightly concerned that the U.S. may be drawn in as well.
Democracies, it is now well established, do not go to war with each other. But they often get into wars with non-democracies. Overwhelmingly the non-democracy starts the war; nonetheless, in the vast majority of cases, it is the democratic side that wins. In other words, dictators consistently underestimate the strength of democracies, and democracies provoke war through their love of peace, which the dictators mistake for weakness.

Today, this same dynamic is creating a moment of great danger. The radicals are becoming reckless, asserting themselves for little reason beyond the conviction that they can. They are very likely to overreach. It is not hard to imagine scenarios in which a single match--say a terrible terror attack from Gaza--could ignite a chain reaction. Israel could handle Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria, albeit with painful losses all around, but if Iran intervened rather than see its regional assets eliminated, could the U.S. stay out?

UPDATE: A reader emails: My daughter just came from spending five months at Ben Gurion University in Beer-Sheva. She had a wonderful time studying, hiking, camping, student demonstrations, working in soup kitchens, skiing up north, petra...etc. She came home two weeks ago and just matter of factly stated that "everyone knows there is a war coming."

That is pretty much how the "Israeli street" feels right now according to just about everything I've heard and read lately.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:12 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 25, 2007

The Nut Job Media Circus

By Michael J. Totten

Rage Boy.jpg

The now-infamous Rage Boy

If there is any more absurd a group of “activists” in the world than Rage Boy and his Islamist pals throwing tantrums over Salman Rushdie’s novels and knighthood, Korans allegedly flushed down the can, and pencil drawings in Danish and other newspapers, I don’t know about them. I have deliberately avoided writing or even posting about such people because they really ought to be starved of media oxygen.

Christopher Hitchens is absolutely correct when he writes the following:

I have actually seen some of these demonstrations, most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn't be if there was a big, surging mob involved.
My Israeli friend Lisa Goldman is a great journalist for lots of reasons, and one of them is because she writes about what it’s really like in the West Bank and Gaza and steps back from the camera, so to speak.
On Friday afternoon in Manar Square, for example, I ran into Ohad Hemo, an acquaintance who covers Palestinian affairs for Israel’s Channel 1 news. By then there was finally some media-worthy action. A few dozen Fatah-aligned fighters had shown up in the square, most traveling on the back of pick up trucks. They wore combat-style uniforms, although some wore street shoes instead of army boots. Their faces were covered in ski masks and they brandished weapons in what the Times called a “a show of force by Fatah.” That sounds very dramatic, of course, but the reality was not very impressive: again, I felt as though I were watching a parody of machismo that seemed a bit silly, if not comic.

lionguy.jpg

Other than stare into the camera and pose, the fighters didn’t do anything at all. It was all pure theatre: I listened and watched as the various foreign television reporters positioned themselves in front of the masked gunmen and spoke seriously to the cameras about the rising tension in Ramallah, trying their best to make it sound as if they were in the middle of a war zone. But if their cameramen had panned out for a wider shot they would have shown crowds of mostly young men hanging around, eating snacks, buying cold drinks from vendors, and taking photos with their mobile phones. There was no sense of fear or menace at all. I even saw one photojournalist, who works for an American newspaper, giggling a bit as she aimed her camera at a masked fighter who was posing as if he were having his portrait painted, his eyes stonily focused on the horizon.

Hardly any reporters ever bother to write paragraphs like these, preferring instead to wallow in the sensational because they need a “story.”

I can think of no better evidence of journalism malpractice than the fact that the popularity, strength, and sheer malevolence of the region’s bad actors are both exaggerated and downplayed by the same media organizations.

There is no shortage of lunatics in the Middle East who blow up civilians with car bombs, kidnap journalists, hurl political opponents off skyscrapers, shoot rockets at foreign cities, and do everything in their power to exterminate racial and religious minorities. These people are very often portrayed as less extreme and dangerous than they really are.

Meanwhile, average Middle Eastern people are indirectly shown to be more extreme than they really are by the gross and apparently deliberate magnification of stunts by the most extreme elements of their societies. Almost every photo I’ve ever seen taken in the West Bank shows a nut job with a hood over his face and a rocket launcher or gun in his hand. But I didn’t see a single person who looked anything like that when I went to the West Bank myself.

There’s a flip side to this story.

I was downtown Beirut when Hezbollah first occupied it with their sit-in and rally last December, and I took the following photos of Martyr’s Square.

Razor Wire Martyrs Square 3.JPG

Razor Wire Martyrs Square 2.jpg

Razor Wire Martyrs Square.JPG

Martyr’s Square is by far the largest open area in the city. It’s where Lebanon’s famous March 14 rally against Syrian occupation took place. Hezbollah claims they filled Martyr’s Square and the rest of downtown with demonstrators. They claim their rally was much larger than the anti-Syrian rally on March 14 the year before.

It’s a lie, as those pictures show. The Lebanese Army barricaded the entire area and forced Hezbollah into much smaller parking lots for their rally and photo ops.

The previous year Lebanon’s Syrian-installed President Emile Lahoud remarked that the March 14 rally against his patrons was tiny. March 14 responded by saying Zoom Out so the world could see how many people actually showed up to protest downtown.

Here’s the zoomed out picture.

March 14 2005 Beirut.jpg

That crowd was genuinely enormous. That’s Martyr’s Square, the area Hezbollah wasn’t allowed to even set foot in. Almost a third of the country’s population showed up that day.

When you zoom out the cameras on Hezbollah, Rage Boy, and the masked men of Fatah, they look pathetic and small by comparison. Zoom out on the liberals of Lebanon and you’ll see an ocean of people.

According to an old saying, cameras don’t lie. But sometimes they do. They conceal as well as reveal.

Reality is largely irrelevant in my profession, I'm sorry to say.

UPDATE: Reader Ned Jacobson points out that the cover for Stephanie Gutmann’s The Other War is another example of what we’re talking about here.

The Other War.jpg

I swear to you I have never done -- and will never do -- what those journalism school graduates shown on that cover did.

UPDATE: Apparently the cover of that book is photoshopped.

(Big sigh)

I don't photoshop my pictures, either, to make any kind of point whatsoever.

UPDATE: The author says the picture is not photoshopped. See the comments where she weighs in.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:56 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Four Modest Proposals

By Michael J. Totten

Dan Simmons (the science fiction writer) has written a fascinating and well-informed essay about four ways we can get out of Iraq.

It isn’t possible for anyone to agree that all four options are good ones. They’re contradictory (and absurd) on purpose. But the whole thing is a delightful and thought-provoking out-of-the-box read by a clearly intelligent person.

It’s impossible to excerpt this piece. You really just need to read it.

I can’t resist, though, revealing his third modest proposal: Give the keys of Iraq to the Iranians and join the insurgency. It’s a terrible idea. But it’s a modest proposal, not a serious one, and it works both as a joke and as a strictly intellectual exercise.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:15 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 24, 2007

Terrorists Kill UNIFIL Soldiers

by Michael J. Totten

Terrorists in Lebanon killed five U.N. soldiers from Spain and wounded four more in the southern city of Khiam with a roadside bomb.

As long as the Syrian regime faces no punishment for its actions, this is only going to escalate. This is not a maybe.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 23, 2007

A Warning from Gaza

By Michael J. Totten

Efraim Halevy writes about Hamas in the New Republic.

The handwriting was on the wall; everybody knew that there would be a showdown between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip; everybody knew that Hamas was the overriding force in that territory. In the Middle East where the "Mu'ahmara," the conspiracy, has been the leitmotif behind every catastrophe, the man in the street knew that the Americans and Israelis had been conspiring with Fatah, that Hamas had been conspiring with the Syrians and Iranians, and that the Saudis were toiling to get things on track and to move the entire region in the direction of moderation. But now, a week after the events that culminated in the takeover of the Strip by Hamas, people are just now overcoming their surprise.
Let’s see: the Americans are siding with a weak government compromised and undermined by militarily superior terrorists, the Syrians and Iranians are backing the terrorists, and the Saudis are trying to broker some kind of moderate compromise. Sound familiar? It should.

Here is Michael Young in Beirut’s Daily Star:

In recent days, some have suggested that Hizbullah intends to do in Lebanon, or part of Lebanon, what Hamas did in Gaza. The reality may be worse, if more subtle. A statement on Sunday by Hizbullah's Nabil Qaouk could be read as notification that the party might defend what he termed "Lebanon's unity" by force - shorthand for a military coup. Qaouk's warning that foreign observers should not deploy on the Lebanese-Syrian border, his describing such a project as "Israeli," his presumption that he had the right to impose a new "red line" on the state, all suggest a new mood in Hizbullah, one that is dangerous.

Hizbullah's attitude is only convincingly explained in the framework of Iran and Syria implementing a project to reclaim Lebanon, but more importantly perhaps to eliminate international, particularly Western, involvement in the Levant. After having won in Gaza, Tehran and Damascus are now pushing forward in South Lebanon. Their joint objective, regardless of their different priorities on other matters, appears to be to remove the Siniora government, undermine United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, and create a situation where the international community would have to accept a Syrian return to Lebanon, which would, by extension, scuttle the Hariri tribunal.

How would such a project be carried out? Here's one interpretation. The priority is to emasculate the Siniora government, whether by taking control of its decisions or through the creation by Syria of a parallel government. In this context, the opposition's calls for a national unity government don't favor unity at all. Opposition parties will only enter a Cabinet they can control and bring down. We know that because they rejected the 19-10-1 formula proposed by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, which would have given them the means to block decisions they didn't like. But the opposition's insistence on a 19-11 division is valid only for torpedoing a government through the resignation of its 11 ministers. The aim is apparent: to bring to office a president sympathetic to Syria.

If its conditions for a unity government continue to be rejected by the majority, the opposition might create a parallel government or engineer a situation allowing President Emile Lahoud to remain in Baabda. There are surely problems in a second government, not least of which that Sunni representation is bound to be anemic. This could create a troubling sense that a Sunni-dominated Siniora government is facing off against a Shiite-dominated pro-Syrian government, which could backfire regionally against Hizbullah and Iran. There is also the fact that Michel Aoun's bloc might begin cracking if the general enters such a government.

What would the purpose of this second government be, beyond wreaking havoc in the country and putting pressure on Siniora's government? Simply, to neutralize the effectiveness of the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL in the South, by making their interlocutor in the state unclear. Many have overlooked that the Nahr al-Bared fighting might have been a stage in a process to render the army less effectual in South Lebanon. Several units have been pulled out of the South in the past six months - first to prevent sectarian clashes in Beirut after the opposition built its tent city in the Downtown area last December; then to engage in fighting in the North. This has given Hizbullah much more room to maneuver in the border area, while also opening space up for groups operated from Syria. Even if Hizbullah did not fire the rockets against Kiryat Shmona on Sunday - probably the work of pro-Syrian Palestinians - it almost certainly was aware of the attack, and did not oppose it.

Arab governments are finally taking notice that the Islamist radicals they have been tolerating, appeasing – and sometimes even nurturing – are clear and present dangers to them. Their winking and subtle support for Israel during last summer’s war with Hezbollah may have been explainable by the Sunni-Shia conflict, but their sudden fear and loathing of Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, cannot be.

I’m skeptical, to say the least, of the West’s sudden swooning for Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. This corrupt band of gangsters and killers destroyed Palestine before it was born, and they haven’t improved an iota since Arafat died. They are just about the most unconvincing allies and saviors imaginable.

But who knows, maybe they’ll turn it around. Not likely, but it’s barely possible. If the Hamas takeover of Gaza really does spook Arab governments, as it should, there is a chance – albeit a small one – that Fatah, the Saudis, the Egyptians, and the rest of the so-called “moderates” will finally figure out that Islamists threaten everyone in the Middle East, not just the Israelis, and that the Israelis, in fact, don’t threaten anyone but the Islamists and, tragically, the civilians who are unlucky enough to live in their neighborhoods.

Apparently none of the Arab governments, except the one in Syria, ever expected or even wanted Hamas to dominate Palestine or even defeat Israel. (Hamas could not do the latter without first doing the former.)

Arab regimes have been playing appeasement games of their own to keep the radicals busy fuming at somebody else.

You could even argue that the Syrian regime has been appeasing Islamists, that support from Damascus is really just a life-insurance policy so the Islamists don’t gun for the Baath Party as they did before Hafez Assad flattened large parts of the Sunni city of Hama. Bashar Assad’s regime is overwhelmingly Alawite. They belong to an extremely deviant and heretical branch of Twelver Shiism that is no longer really even Islamic. The Alawites probably figure that have no choice but to ride the Islamist tiger so they won’t be eaten. Assad also, quite cleverly I must say, whips up Islamists to deter the U.S. and Israel from terminating his regime. No one wants to see the Hamasification of Syria after the departure of the Assads.

I don’t expect most Arab governments to wise up and follow the lead of Jordan’s King Abdullah and forge an actual alliance with Israel any time soon. Some, none more than Syria’s, have gone too far to turn back.

But if Lebanon falls, and if Iran gets nuclear weapons, and if maniacs wearing ski masks take over Iraq after the U.S. withdraws, most of them will eventually figure out who their real enemies are. What’s happening to Abbas, Seniora, and Maliki can happen to any and all of them, even Assad.

The fact that Arab governments threaten to build nuclear arsenals to counter Iran’s, but not Israel’s, all by itself tells you who and what they’re really afraid of. Blowback isn’t just for Americans anymore.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 22, 2007

All occupation, 12 percent of the time

By Noah Pollak

At the end of a news story in today's NY Times about the efforts of Egypt, Jordan, and Israel to shore up the Abbas presidency, Steven Erlanger cites the results of a just-released poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research:

The poll, taken between June 14 and 20, indicated a further loss of confidence in Palestinian leadership and anger with the infighting. The poll of 1,270 adults, done in face-to-face interviews in both the West Bank and Gaza, has a margin of sampling error of three percentage points.

Palestinian satisfaction with Mr. Abbas dropped to 36 percent from 48 percent in March. Some 75 percent of those surveyed want early presidential and parliamentary elections. About 58 percent support the new emergency government, while 38 percent oppose it. In Gaza, opposition is at 47 percent.

The polls show little change from March in support for each of the groups. In new legislative elections, among those polled, Fatah would get 43 percent of the vote, unchanged from March; Hamas would get 33 percent.

Most Palestinians polled — 59 percent — said they saw Fatah and Hamas as equally responsible for the infighting, and 71 percent said that both sides were losers. About 70 percent believe that the chances for an independent Palestinian state are low or nonexistent.

And 56 percent said that infighting and the lack of law and order were the greatest threats to Palestinians, followed by poverty (21 percent), the Israeli occupation (12 percent) and international sanctions and boycotts (10 percent).

Polling data like these is particularly useful and interesting when it comes to the views of Palestinians, whose western spokesmen are legion. It has always struck me that there is a profound disconnect between what Palestinians themselves believe and what their western champions claim they believe -- which makes me wonder about the extent to which their champions actually care about them, or rather are fixated on promoting a Palestinian narrative that suits their own purposes.

Posted by Noah Pollak at 12:23 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 19, 2007

Commentary, both good and awful

By Noah Pollak

Robert Satloff is the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and yesterday he gave a talk about Hamas and Gaza. It has been posted on the Institute's website, and it is sweeping, nuanced, and sober. It would be pointless to try and excerpt it here, so, as they say, read the whole thing -- satisfaction guaranteed.

There are a few other pieces worth checking out as well, by Fouad Ajami, Dennis Ross, and a truly jaw-dropping op-ed in the Washington Post by Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller. They argue the following:

As the United States and others seek to empower [Abbas], they should push for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire in Gaza and the West Bank, which will require dealing -- indirectly at least -- with elements of Hamas. They should resist the temptation to isolate Gaza and should tend to its population's needs. And should a national unity government be established, this time they should welcome the outcome and take steps to shore it up. Only then will efforts to broker credible political negotiations between Abbas and his Israeli counterpart on a two-state solution have a chance to succeed.

This is a train wreck comprised of international relations jargon, wishful thinking, and reality-denial. Their prescription, with all the pretentious diction chipped away, is: 1) make diplomatic overtures to Hamas, 2) push for an Israel-Hamas cease-fire, regardless of Hamas' flawless track record of immediately breaking every such agreement, 3) deliver aid to Gaza such that its residents will scarcely have an occasion to question their new Islamist despotism and Hamas will be freed from the need to engage in any kind of pothole-fixing governance, and then, 4) endorse a "national unity" government inclusive of Hamas and "take steps to shore it up" (however many op-ed columns it takes, one presumes).

But we've already seen this movie. The Saudis tried the national-unity gambit a couple of months ago, and quite predictably the Hamas leadership showed up in Mecca for the photo op and then quickly set about destroying Fatah back in Gaza. If anyone hasn't gotten the memo, Hamas is working with Iran these days, not with the Saudis, the Americans, or the Israelis -- and Malley and Miller's big idea is to do a repeat of that sideshow, with the U.S. standing in for the Saudis. Finally, with the national unity government "shored up," 5) the Israelis would at last have a partner with whom to negotiate a two-state solution.

But Messrs. Malley and Miller, in this dreamscape, what about the half of the unity government named Hamas? You know, the organization whose purpose is to wage jihad and destroy Israel (and Fatah)? What acts of sorcery will be required to induce Hamas' hard-core jihadists to not just faithfully join a unity government, but then to renounce the very purpose of their existence and consent to a two-state peace with Israel? And how do Malley and Miller think that Hamas' paymasters and strategic mentors in Tehran and Damascus are going to react to the idea of peace with Israel?

How is all of this supposed to work, you know, in reality?

These ideas have no chance of being either adopted or of working (other than on newsprint), but it's worth looking at the common premise of the authors' proposals: It is the idea that the United States and Israel should do nothing to make Hamas and its constituents pay, in any way, for their behavior. There should be no pushback whatsoever; and not only should America and Israel not push back, they should actually reward Hamas by begging for cease-fires and offering aid money, diplomatic overtures, and unity-government proposals.

One thing I'd like to know from the authors of this op-ed is the following: At what point do you stop trying to placate a group like Hamas? I wonder if the authors themselves even know.

Posted by Noah Pollak at 8:11 PM | Permalink | Comments Off
« Older Entries |

Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Read my blog on Kindle









Sponsored Links

Buy a used boat

Shanghai Hotels

Yachts for sale


Recommended Reading