We have received several thoughtful messages in response to my comment this morning on Charles Krauthammer’s column prainsing what he deduces to be Ariel Sharon’s strategy as well as my reference to Neville Chamberlain. One reader who asked not to be identified writes:
I was a little disappointed by your opening piece today on Israel and its statesmen. I agree Peres falls short certainly. However, whether one agreed with Oslo or not, one must give Rabin credit for a brave attempt at peace, however flawed, foisted upon him by James Baker and George HW Bush. Oslo was the direct result of our half baked, incomplete victory in PG I, and a product of very cycnical statesmanship from the likes of Baker and Scowcroft. GWB has done an excellent job burying that cynicism, going so far as to call it out as dishonorable in his inauguration speech. I detest Oslo, but I cannot blame Israeli statesmen for it. Rabin gave his life to it. He just never properly understood the impracticality of it, not because he was a flawed statesman, but because he was a (very) flawed military commander.
Sharon’s strategy, which can work with GWB’s support, is pretty clear to me. And it reflects his military genius and confidence. It is oversimplification to say he is falling back to a defensible perimeter. He is creating and defining it as we speak. He will allow for the creation of a Palestinian nation state precisely because, when it is created, it will be an entity against which one can wage conventional war. By explicitly creating its borders, Sharon is ensuring Israel’s ability to defeat it in the event Palestine chooses to wage war. The only way to put an end to this nonsense of factionalization of Palestinian warmaking is to make it responsible for itself. Hamas can’t get away with shelling Israel from a formal nation state. The day that happens, Israel can “go all out.” Under current circumstances, Israel cannot truly defeat the Palestinians, it can only impose pain. However, if a formal nation state of Palestine engages in war with Israel, she can bring the full weight of military supremacy to bear – airpower. The day Palestine is formally consecrated is the day the bleeding stops — that’s the bet anyway.
Carol Herman writes:
We live in an age of media defeatism. Sharon is a lone survivor against the libel that has been perpetrated. And, as such, he has learned to dance. He can’t come out and give you his strategy, because the world stage will destroy his efforts. The bigger question is why no Israeli blog has leapt to the rescue? The numbers protecting Arik Sharon are there. He has popular support!
The 8,000 civilians in Gaza are not holding back the tides of terrorism. They’re just a costly interference. Using up taxpayer money, to sport small enclaves, where, surprise to no one, the settler’s HATE the IDF! (Settler’s don’t join the army. Most get the “gift” of a religious pass. And, the real problem is that Israel has yet to figure out how to separate church from state, effectively.)
Jews in Israel are denied their natural inclinations because their party system allows for minority parties, and extremists, to garner enormous powers in their parliamentary system. What is fantastic about Sharon is that he LEADS because he makes decisions and promotes a much healthier IDF. Look how Halutz got into the Chief of Staff’s job. This is a man, just like Sharon, that was pilloried by the activist judges. They thought they were going to dictate to Sharon. And, surprise, surprise, Sharon does what he has to do in order to bring about peace in a world where Jews are hated. (France, and the UN, and the Germans thrown in for good measure, would love to rip Sharon to pieces. Brussels would love to try him in their world’s court.)
So, what’s the deal? Start with this. Sharon has identified the outposts that most of the Israelis HATE! And, are loath to support. Sharon, by pulling back has not lost anything. As a matter of fact, he’s confused the arabs, because he’s not waiting for them. And, terror is down! Don’t you think the arabs would be striking at Israel if they could?
Our president also faces a hostile press. He also DANCES. What we have here, however, is a blossoming blog market. (Oh, how I miss Steve Den Beste’s USS CLUELESS!) But so many have stepped up to the plate. And, explained WHY our military was really winning. Maybe, it’s easier with troops on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq to do this? And, it’s harder to do with the diplomatic situation? But Arik Sharon won in February 2000, and he immediately stretched out his hand to this president! He didn’t wait for 9/11! He was always there for Bush.
Always explaining how you can deal with the terrorists…If you think Sharon’s giving away inches…Well, you don’t know anything about his waistline … and how many inches he has left to spare!
I think, too, that the best stuff in Israel occurs in Hebrew. And, very little translates over to us. But please don’t add to the weight against Sharon! He gets enough t’zuris from the liberal press. And, you’re right. Where are the Jews? They’re not here, in America, either, if you want to know the truth. Because you can’t point to one decent analysis that comes off the presses or out of the TV screen. Not in Hollywood, either. So why blame little Israel?
Greg Rich writes:
On Israel…I realize your post was a rhetorical question, but I will answer it anyway! Proportional representation. I don’t know why it is so popular. Presumably societies feel the need to “give voice” to vocal minorities and proportional representation certainly does that. But since it slices the electorate into so many factions, it permits old faces like Shimon Peres to hang around becasuse there is SOME sector of the electorate that will never give up on them. In a constituency based system like ours, he would have been out. Note that the British system is also a constituency based system.
Our system essentially buries extremist factions. You can even get 20% of the vote and get no electoral votes in a presidential election. But in a proportional representation system, you could live off 20% of the vote for generations.
I think that Sharon is much underestimated, although I agree that it is hard to discern his strategy. I suspect the reason he doesn’t articulate it is that it is to some extent an act of faith that Israel can create a future reality different from the current reality by encouraging civil society among the Palestinians.
Both Michael Sheldon and Steve Myktyn wrote to the same effect and took up my reference to Chamberlain. Here’s Myktyn’s message:
1. Chamberlain continued to hold an important post under Churchill in the Cabinet when Churchill became Prime Minister.
2. Churchill never spoke ill of Chamberlain at that time, referring instead to his sincerity and integrity.
3. Even after Chamberlain became too sick to attend Cabinet Meetings, Churchill had the main telegrams sent to his home where Chamberlain
continued to read them until he died.
4. The British politicians, including Chamberlain, that had favored appeasement changed their position after Poland and were strong supporters of defeating Hitler whatever the cost.
Your point about Sharon and Peres is perhaps well-taken, but using Chamberlain and Britain to reinforce your position is not.
I’m writing from memory, but didn’t Churchill comment about Hitler when the Luftwaffe bombed Chamberlain’s hometown of Birmingham: “What an ingrate!” Ouch!
UPDATE: Lawrie McFarlane writes:
Churchill made his reference to German ingratitude after they bombed the factory owned by Neville Chamberlain’s predecesor, Stanley Baldwin. Churchill blamed Baldwin more than Chamberlain for Britain’s unpreparedness, though I’ve always thought that was out of loyalty to the latter, who (grudgingly) brought him into the Cabinet in 1939 after Baldwin kept him out.
And it’s not true, pace Steve Mytkyn, that “British politicians, including Chamberlain, that had favored appeasement changed their position after Poland and were strong supporters of defeating Hitler whatever the cost.” As the Cabinet minutes show, both Chamberlain and Halifax tried to force Churchill to negotiate with Hitler after the fall of France. After one grim session, Churchill marched out of the war Cabinet, called a meeting of the rest of his ministers, and insisted on carrying on the fight. He was given a standing ovation and used this display of resolve to put down Halifax. I think it was this confrontation that led to Halifax’s subsequent dismissal and appointment as ambassador to the U.S.
UPDATE 2: Sean Brearcliffe writes:
One reader of the strategy story stated that the Oslo accords were “foisted” on Rabin by George HW Bush and Jim Baker. The Oslo accords were signed during the Clinton administration, were arrived at in secret negotiations between Rabin’s government and the PLO, and then Clinton quickly tried to take credit. George HW Bush had nothing to do with that disater as near as I can remember.
UPDATE 3: Please see additonal post-Shabbat comments from Israel here.