Recent Realpolitik Articles
The massive shelling of Gaza by Israeli forces, which they say is in retaliation for rocket fire from Hamas, has predictably led to everyone in the western world assume their traditional positions. I don’t want to argue about which side is right or wrong, because clearly the world is starved of that debate.
Yesterday the Jerusalem Post published an outrageous op-ed by former PM Ariel Sharon’s son, Gilad Sharon, arguing that for a “decisive conclusion” to this crisis, Israel needs to assume it citizens are “not innocent” and needs to “flatten all of Gaza”. There is even a comparison to the US nuclear strike on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WW2.
I’ll come back to the madness of the proposals later, but Sharon is right on one point: Israel is out of options. The latest attack on Gaza is a desperate gamble and the country’s die-hard supporters in the West need a different approach to secure the country’s long term future. There are two key reasons I say this.
First: Hamas has developed longer-range rockets. This means hit targets further and with more accuracy, placing even the citizens of Tel Aviv under the threat of rocket attacks. Hamas’ increasing military capability was spearheaded by Ahmed al-Jabari – the man that Israel assassinated, kicking off the latest conflict. The New York Times explains:
The commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, had shifted Hamas’s low-grade militia into a disciplined force with sophisticated weapons like Fajr-5 rockets, which are named after the Persian word for dawn and have significantly increased the danger to Israel’s major cities. They have a range of about 45 miles and are fired by trained crews from underground launching pads.
Under Mr. Jabari, Hamas also developed its own weapons industry in Gaza, building long-range rockets as well as drones that they hoped to fly over Israel just as Israeli drones roam the skies of Gaza, sowing fear in its population.
Israel says it is readying a ground force because it wants to take out these long-range rocket pads. I believe that. I just don’t believe this is possible in the medium term. Hamas will immediately build more and continue with its strategy, with help. Israel also believes that taking out top commanders will make Hamas think twice. This is even more naive: it didn’t happen when Israel assassinated Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and it won’t work now. In fact, every time Israel attacks Hamas is strengthened and local support rises.
Second: the Arab spring has hugely changed the area. This is especially true of Egypt, which won’t stand around letting the IDF kill large numbers of Palestinians like Hosni Mubarak did. They have already watched by as 100s of Egyptian activists poured into Gaza this week with medical supplies. If the situation gets worse that trickle will turn into a flood and Israel won’t achieve its goals either. It is unlikely to want a full-scale military conflict with Egypt.
The Arab Spring also strengthened Hamas’ ties with other Arab states, simultaneously loosening Iran’s hold. This means Hamas has gained political legitimacy – the exact opposite of what Israel has been trying to achieve (now you know why Israel also opposed the toppling of Hosni Mubarak).
Unlike past years, the surrounding Arab leaders won’t want to sit by and watch Israel massacre more civilians: not just because the governments have changed, but because inaction could fuel uprisings against them. That rubicon has been crossed.
All this gives Israel very limited time. It is gambling that hitting Hamas with overwhelming force may dissuade it from more rockets attacks in the near future. This is why Gilad Sharon is advocating extreme overwhelming force. The Israeli establishment has become so myopic that the only options under consideration seem to range from retaliation to extreme action.
But neither would not work because it is more likely that Hamas will want to escalate warfare and engage Israel more permanently. Israel would become even more weakened and isolated, with peace even further away. It’s survival would be under even more threat.
There is only one way out of this in the long term for Israel: to break the cycle. Establish a long term cease-fire; stop the illegal settlements; start talking to Hamas; work towards confidence building measures and eventually negotiate a treaty.
If Israel’s supporters in the West want to see the country prosper and survive, they must recognise the dead-end it is currently in and call on it to push in a new direction. Otherwise they too will become complicit in the carnage that is likely to follow.
Rising star of the Chinese Communist Party – Xi Jinping – will take the initial steps towards becoming Paramount Leader of China this month.
As the country looks set to overtake the USA as the largest economy on the planet during his ten year term it’s worth considering what his reign will mean for China’s relationship with the west.
The most striking thing about Xi Jinping isn’t his plan for the future of China. It’s that virtually nobody knows what it is.
This is owed to the nature of China’s succession process, which forgoes the campaigns, manifestos and leadership debates which have preceded the US presidential election which also takes place this month.
For this reason it is difficult to anticipate the impact Xi’s reign will have on Sino-western relations. But there are some clues of what is to come.
On the face of it Xi seems fairly western-orientated. He has spoken about the importance of strengthening Sino-American economic ties, describing the symbiotic relationship between the two countries as “an unstoppable river”.
A recent trip to the US was well received, with Xi’s warm and engaging presence being contrasted with current president Hu Jintao. During the trip he visited Iowa in what has been seen as an attempt to reassure normal Americans that China is an economic friend.
His pro-business attitude has been widely reported and remarkably he even said: “government should be a limited government.” This position should play well, both for foreign investors interested in China’s markets and for western leaders eager to have China as an ally.
Despite this, there are a number of issues which have the potential to become contentious.
As a “princeling,” one of the descendants of those revolutionaries who founded the PRC, Xi has Marxist thought deeply ingrained in his history. He spent time as a youth working in China’s “yellow earth” rural farming communities during the Cultural Revolution.
It has been suggested that as a result of this experience Xi became “redder than red” and he has proposed to address the vast inequality currently experienced by China.
He has also been outspoken about China’s critics abroad. Western hostility to China has been increasing in recent times, particularly in the US. On a visit to Mexico, Xi berated “foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us.”
He continued: “First, China does not export revolution; second, it does not export famine and poverty; and third, it does not mess around with you. So what else is there to say?”
Regardless of his own intentions, Xi will ultimately be beholden to the political and economic realities his reign will face.
Nationalism is an increasingly important phenomenon in China, and ongoing discontent with western positions on Taiwan, Tibet and human rights could force Xi to be more assertive towards other leaders.
Similarly, a fragile global economy has the potential to drive China’s economic focus inwards, preventing Xi from engaging more with the west even if he wants to.
Finally, finally, it looks as though the Labour leadership is edging towards a coherent position on the European Union.
Denis MacShane, presmuably with the go-ahead from Miliband, yesterday wrote a piece for Comment is Free, setting out how Miliband might use his visit to Hollande this week to set out a substantive Labour position quite distinct from Cameron’s silly rhetoric.
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contribution by Jack Barker
For over a year the ruthless Assad dictatorship in Syria has terrorised and murdered thousands of its own people. The bodies of adults and children have been burnt and destroyed by the Assad army.
The US government has alleged that Russia is sending attack helicopters to the regime and warned that Syria’s conflict could become even deadlier. Russia has continued to insist that any arms it supplies to the country are not being used to suppress anti-government dissent.
But Russia isn’t the only one responsible for the deadly but booming arms trade- $45-60 billion arms sales are agreed each year.
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Emma Burnell says that politics has to be about morality. I’m not sure, for at least four reasons.
1. Morality is weak against power. If there is any moral truth at all, it is that the mass murder of innocent civilians is wrong. But when it happens, the “international community” does nothing to stop it. Stalin’s famous sneer - “The Pope! How many divisions has he got?” is true.
On a more prosaic level, a similar thing is true of bosses’ pay. A periodical fit of morality might stop one or two individuals from taking their bonuses. But a serious and systemic reduction in bosses’ pay requires a shift in the balance of class power.
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contribution by Dan Smith
“That 11 September, that lethal Tuesday morning, I awoke with dread to the sound of planes flying above my house,” wrote Ariel Dorfman in the New Statesman recently. “When, an hour later, I saw smoke billowing from the centre of the city, I knew that life had changed for me, for my country, forever”.
Dorfman – contrary to popular assumption – was not writing about New York in 2001. He was describing events 28 years earlier in Chile. Chile 1973 is the forgotten 9/11.
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An apparently humanitarian policy by the west has, therefore, exposed its earlier lack of humanitarianism. Pessimists might add that this could mean that in supporting the overthrow of Gaddafi, the west has helped install a regime which has a grudge against us.
A year after I first set out the definitive strategy for attacking Cameron and his “New Conservatism”, it looks like some within the Labour leadership may finally be inching towards something similar.
Sean Woodward’s secret strategy memo tells the Shadow Cabinet:
[T]he very terrain on which we will fight is changing……..Analysis of Tory party policy, carried out over the summer, convincingly demonstrates the Conservatives are shifting to a distinctly rightwing strategy, in both their chosen focus on issues and their solutions.
I have been deeply sceptical about ‘whataboutery’ when it is used an argument for consistent inaction on human rights everywhere.
Nicolas Kristof captures a central point in his last New York Times column:
Just because we allowed Rwandans or Darfuris to be massacred, does it really follow that to be consistent we should allow Libyans to be massacred as well? Isn’t it better to inconsistently save some lives than to consistently save none?
contribution by David Malone
Events in Bahrain are getting less notice than they deserve. Bahrain is like Saudi, it far larger neighbour an absolute monarchy and one divided from many of its people not only by accumulated wealth and jealously hoarded power, but by religious conviction.
Like Saudi Bahrain has a deep Sunni/Shiite divide. For the last few weeks there have been pro-democracy protests in Bahrain. As there have been on and off for the last thirty years or more.
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