March 26, 2002



(Read Part 1 -- Part 2) A long-term, multi-decade strategy of fracturing the Arab bloc and bringing Western values to the region in the process will only help Israel in the long run. However, in the long run, as they say, they may all be dead. What is likely to happen in the meantime? The prescription for a workable solution is actually fairly clear... the difficulty is getting Israelis to recognize it, not anyone else. First off:

Forget the "Peace Process." Forget the Saudi "plan," of course... it's not a plan but an ultimatum. But more than that: forget the idea of bilateralism, altogether. As is clear by now, Israel has no one to talk peace with: Arafat either cannot or will not, and his successors were he to be ever overthrown are even more bloodthirsty. As for the rest of the Arab world, they cannot control Arafat at risk of their own populations' rioting, and they have nothing to offer Israel by themselves. Nor does America have a role... it will only reinforce prejudices in the region by intervening. Israel must create its own solution, and then defend it for however many decades (centuries?) it takes the region to come around. That solution, however, cannot be the "Greater Israel" solution of the Zionist extremist... Israel must come up with something that the United States can, if not exactly like, at least not hate. Some territory must be given up to the Palestinians. A first step would be:

Evacuate Gaza. The Gaza Strip would be an abomination even if all the people were of the same religion. Six thousand Israeli settlers control 90 per cent of the land, including all the agriculturally productive parts. Nearly a million Palestinians squat on the remaining 10 per cent. Most of the stories of settler and IDF shootings of unarmed Palestinian boys come from Gaza. The strip is not strategically valuable, and is only a drain on the IDF: the port itself would guarantee at least some economic success for the inhabitants, if the intifada ever ended. Israel has already wrapped fortifications around the entire strip which can be easily bolstered into a wall. Israel should immediately move to evict its own settlers, hand over full authority to whatever fragment of the Palestinian Authority wants it, and settle down behind the Gaza Wall, allowing no more Gazan day-labour into the country than is absolutely necessary to keep their economy moving. The west can rebuild Gaza however it likes: the important thing is that Israel will have shown the world it will not inhibit Palestinian self-determination, provided its own security is not at risk. This will mollify the next inevitable step:

Annex the Golan. There are 17,000 Jewish settlers on nominally Syrian land in the Golan, too. The difference is, this is clearly strategic land. To surrender it threatens all of Israel, and everyone knows it. Rather than push for its return, the West should acquiesce in its annexation. This could lead to a regional war, of course, but one Israel is still rather likely to win over the hapless Syrians. In the end, the result will be the same: a strengthened local position, and a victory Israel can use to calm its own domestic extremists as it goes on to the next phase:

Divide the West Bank. Martin van Creveld is one of the most brilliant living military historians. He has essentially written the book on the history of military logistics. So one can have no doubt his opinion is valuable when he opines in Newsweek that if Israel doesn't end the occupation and build a "wall" between itself and the Palestinians on the West Bank, it will inevitably succumb:

History shows that walls can work. The Roman Limes, or border, kept the barbarians out for several hundred years, as did the Great Wall of China. The wall between Greek and Turkish Cypriots works. For decades the Berlin wall turned that city into a very secure place indeed.

This will be the big crisis, of course. The West Bank must be partitioned. Jerusalem must be claimed to the exclusion of the Palestinians, along with enough land to provide a military buffer. But the hotbeds of Palestinian unrest must be left outside the wall -- Ramallah, Jericho, the camps -- and the wall left open on one side, into Jordan (basically you'd be looking at the area of Samaria to the east of the Janin-Nablus-Ramallah-Jericho line). That will mean the evacuation of thousands of Jewish settlers. Particularly, that means abandoning the settlements along the Jordan, which will be incredibly unpopular domestically. Any Palestinians who choose to stay on the Israeli side of the wall would have to have some means of gaining Israeli citizenship. The Palestinians will demand more, and cite UN resolutions. But Israel will have to be steadfast. Hunkered down behind the Samarian wall, with the Palestinians left to their own devices, the suicide bombings will stop, and more traditional battles (force-on-force incursions, F-16 strikes against Katyusha rockets) will resume. That is the price of being Israel. But the IDF will no longer be gnawed at from within by the brutality of the intifada, and the Jewish state can unite in the task of preserving its own survival again.

The results of a Samarian wall will be complex. Unable to support themselves on their remaining land, unable to cross the wall to work in Israel, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will emigrate... many to other Arab countries, where they will become destabilizing influences there, much to American pleasure. The annexation of territory and changes to borders will tax the international system, just as Kurdistan would: Israel's friends in the west will have to fight long and hard to mitigate the force of past and future Security Council resolutions. The current prime minister, Sharon, is too beholden to settler interests to take any of these actions. That means he must leave office before Israel can even start moving towards a unilateral solution: of the current politicians, perhaps only Netanyahu has the mix of support required to pull it off. The loss of the dream of an Israel all the way to the River Jordan will produce its own violent unrest at home. The threat of a weapon of mass destruction hurled at Tel Aviv will never disappear until the whole region renews itself. Those are all negatives. But the likelihood of Israel surviving until that renewal will increase markedly.

The West can help by keeping the UN off Israel's back; by doing its part to destabilize and distract the Arab world through other means; by providing funds to support both settler eviction and mollify Palestinians still claiming their right of return. But the inevitable solution to the Israeli dilemma will be a unilateral one. If the country stays around long enough to enact it, that is.

Posted by BruceR at 04:00 PM



(Read Part 1) That last entry was non-constructive criticism, I know. What would be a viable prescription for establishing a friendly Arab world? I don’t have all the answers, either, but here’s a few obvious ideas.

Bring Back Deterrence. Given the recent announcements in Britain and the United States, this is clearly being done. Any rational actors left in the Middle East cannot mistake the clear message that an attack on the American or British homelands with weapons of mass destruction will lead to a commensurate response. That’s not a permanent solution, of course, but it should buy enough time to:

Divide and Conquer. The Middle East is too big for one bite, and bite-and-hold occupational tactics won’t work. At least some of the countries on the list must be neutralized before taking out the remainder, likely by facing them off against each other. An amenable government in Iran, for instance, would simplify the situation remarkably. Currently, however, all these countries are more or less united, by hatred for Israel, if nothing else. They are an unassailable bloc right now, and that bloc needs to be fractured. Therefore the United States must:

Repudiate Wilson. The Wilsonian commitment to preserving the world’s 1919 borders has outlived its usefulness in the Middle East, at least. The U.S. has done much to preserve the worsening status quo by insisting that the lines drawn in the sand by the colonial powers must forever be preserved, fearing the instability that would result if they did not (Even if it meant ignoring Wilson’s other principle, that of national self-determination). But in the Arab world, the U.S. needs instability now. The borders are artificial, and work against peaceful solution: unlike those determined by centuries of war and peace treaties in Europe say, they were imposed borders, with little relation to the facts on the ground. This is particularly a problem in the case of:

Kurdistan. As that recent New Yorker piece everyone’s talking about amply demonstrates, Iraqi Kurdistan is the closest thing to a pro-American Muslim state that exists in the region. Yet Wilsonian determinism dictates it must forever be under the thumb of whoever rules in Baghdad. This is clearly unacceptable. The biggest destabilizing act the U.S. could create right now (and easily defendable at home and abroad) is not this silly pretext of UN inspectors vis-a-vis Iraq, but the recognition of Kurdistan as its own country, backed by American occupying force. The impact would be to send ripples through the whole regional system, not to mention cripple Iraq far more than inspectors would. But that’s what you do when the chess pieces are lined up for a stalemate: you upset the board. The short-run result could be blowback, and even a regional war, but the long-term result, as the strength of the western economic system and the energy of the resurgent Kurds, inevitably made itself felt, would be a deep penetration of American values into all the immediately surrounding countries and beyond, leading hopefully to a series of internal revolutions in other countries that America could then capitalize on down the road. In the meantime, the threat of weapons of mass destruction would likely be lifted off both America and Israel, as the Arab countries focussed on this new, more urgent threat.

Recognizing Kurdistan would not be seen as a threat to Islam, per se: the larger Islamic world would necessarily be divided against itself on the question. There are probable negative consequences: Turkish antipathy, and other attempts to redraw borders finally, in Africa, for instance. These could be managed through a combination of diplomacy, bribery and force… and in any case, turmoil in Africa is not a threat to Americans at home the way Middle Eastern extremism is. The UN would also be undermined by the redrawing of boundaries… but that would be necessary collateral damage in the short run.

But what about the Israel question, you say? As I will explain next, there really is no role for Americans in the coming Israeli-Arab war. And there is no way that America can defend its values (ie democracy) in that country without reinforcing the growing Muslim-vs-the-world polarity that threatens world peace. Defending Jews against Muslims with American armed force, rather than Kurdish Muslims against other Muslims, can only increase the risk to the United States.

Make no mistake. The equilibrium of the region is going to vanish at some point in our lifetimes. Kurdistan, not Israel, offers the best chance for the Americans to influence the new equilibrium that emerges (and by fracturing the Arab bloc, ensure Israel's long-term survival, as well). Sometimes, when you don’t like the answer, you have to change the question.

Posted by BruceR at 03:19 PM



I don't want it to seem like I'm picking on Steven Den Beste. I so totally agree with almost everything he writes, that the rare cases of disagreement are the only thing unusual enough to be worth writing about. Either that, or I could just put "what the Captain said" at the top of each day's entries, I suppose.

And it's not that I think Arab militancy isn't the most dangerous force in the world today, too. But Den Beste's proposed solution, occupation and subjugation of the Middle East, seems pretty much a non-starter, purely for statistical reasons.

Look, in modern times, armies have generally just been capable of keeping a lid on a restive population if they can keep a ratio of at least 1:100 of occupiers to civilians. The British more or less locked down Ulster for 25 years, but never got troop strength before the most recent truce much below 18,000 (not counting the RUC), for a 1.5 million population during that time. The Israelis, by contrast, have 20,000 soldiers permanently watching just under 3 million Palestinians, and are losing control by the day.

Postwar Japan and Germany were exceptions to that rule, with ratios more like 1:1000. This was achieved for two reasons: first, that the recent military defeat had been utterly destructive and overwhelming, and second, that there was nowhere left in the world for Japanese extremists or Nazis to run or turn too. Flight, regrouping, and rebuilding, the traditional tactics of the resistance fighter when completely overmatched, were simply not available to them.

America's deployable ground forces overseas, Army and Marine, come to around 600,000, in 13 divisions (10 army, 3 marine). Given the standard NATO rotation model of a third of one's forces overseas at any one time, that comes to 200,000 total foreign deployable. Of that, it's unlikely at least half wouldn't be needed somewhere else besides the Middle East. So the remaining 100,000 troops could conceivably keep the lid on an isolated, defeated region with 100 million civilians long enough for its society to be suitably restructured. Populations of the more obstreperous Middle East countries:

Lebanon: 4 million
Israel/Palestine: 10 million
Yemen: 17 million
Syria: 18 million
Saudi Arabia: 22 million
Iraq: 25 million
Iran: 65 million

See the problem yet? To occupy all those countries, even in ideal circumstances, would take over 150,000 soldiers, fulltime. And the circumstances would be far from ideal soon enough.

That 1:1000 ratio assumes that every other country in the region was on side with the American plan: leave one country untouched (like Sudan, or Somalia), where the bad guys can hide, and the occupier-to-civilian ratio necessarily climbs to Irish levels: over a million American ground troops, which to be sustainable would require a 10-fold increase in American combat strength.

Such an increase would not be possible. Other countries could not be relied on (being generally uninterested in recreating the Arab world in America’s image). The necessary dilution of the quality of the American fighting soldier would be strenuously opposed by the military. Conscription would certainly be necessary. Casualties would soon become unacceptably high. And the rebels would hide in whatever safe haven was still open to them, and wait for the next U.S. election. To follow Den Beste’s prescription would be to recreate Vietnam, and lose it again, for much the same reasons as the first time.

The future of the West in warfare is in leveraging its militaries’ technological and economic advantages into high-value, transformative strikes... true surgical warfare in the purest sense. Mass occupation and cultural reshaping by force ceased to be an option decades ago. A different approach is needed here.

Posted by BruceR at 02:35 PM



Damian Penny is taking flak today for exulting over Canadian snipers' high kill counts. Writes one correspondent:

These are serious men doing a grusome [sic], grim job. I doubt they are enjoying it as much as you are.

Do soldiers, particularly victorious ones, "enjoy it"? Anyone who actually spends time with them knows it's a lot more complex than that. Mixed with the understandable horror and fear are other emotions, part professional pride maybe, part warrior exuberance perhaps. Lee hinted at the dichotomy when he said, looking over the ruin of the Union army he'd destroyed at Fredericksburg: "It is well that war is so terrible: we would grow too fond of it." Or think of Churchill after his Sudanese days: "Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result." Read Richard Holmes, or David Grossman, or Niall Ferguson... all of them describe circumstances where the majority of professional, western soldiers, as Churchill put it on another occasion, smiled as they fought... even, in Ferguson's case, in the trenches of World War One.

The snipers in question were professionals, specialized in killing at a distance. They did their jobs well, and they all survived. So I suspect they have not spent their entire time then and since appalled at the horror of what they were doing. I'm sure some occasionally even cracked a smile. That's how soldiers are. Every press account I've read so far backs that up, including the one Penny provides. To say that they couldn't possibly have "enjoyed it" (why? because that would be un-Canadian?) is as simplistic as assuming they did would have been.

PS: Damian moderates his earlier glee, saying maybe he's watched too many Clint Eastwood movies. Funny, I never saw an Eastwood character that seemed to take any joy in anything. If all our soldiers were mini-Clints, they'd be a pretty joyless lot indeed...

Posted by BruceR at 02:02 PM



In honour of my 20,000th visit, I've changed the discussion forum to something less onerous. I get too many great emails I can't manually reprint... hope this helps. To kick things off, though, I've reprinted the thoughts on my Margolis challenge by fellow Canadian blogger Charles Tupper Jr.

Posted by BruceR at 12:09 PM

WHO IS DO? Long on


Long on my list of artists who should be famous, but aren't yet, is the trance singer Do. Given her almost un-Googleable stage name, it's not surprising one can't come up with a picture of her, or even much information... her current remix of Bryan Adams' "Heaven" with Spain's DJ Sammy was on round-the-clock radio play over the last weekend, on all the good stations within range of my unit's army exercise, anyway. Best one can tell from the video is she's vaguely Jewel-like. Great track, though, and the girl has killer pipes. It strikes me this is the kind of quiet breakthrough into mainstream North American radio play that girls like Shakira and Kylie had to pay millions in marketing for... too bad about the name, I guess.

Posted by BruceR at 01:07 AM