Nine years ago an article by Gal Luft titled “The Palestinian H-Bomb: Terrorism's Winning Strategy” addressed suicide bombing against Israeli citizens as a fearsome and inexorable force. The tactic instead proved to be a self-destructive fizzle. It earned enemies rather than friends, drove Israelis deeper into their defensive crouch, was ultimately controlled by Israel through measures such as a meandering defensive barrier, and did absolutely nothing to bring Palestinians closer to self-determination and their own state.
Mainstream Palestinian thinking, feeling the need to do something in the face of continued occupation, subjugation and statelessness, has moved in recent years toward the belief that the polar opposite from terrorism as far as tactics for subjugated peoples are concerned—viz., peaceful protest—must be pursued as the center of any strategy for trying to gain relief from the Palestinians' plight. The belief is based on recognition that the Palestinians have legality and morality on their side in objecting to the continued occupation and colonization of land seized through military conquest. The more peaceful parts of the Arab Spring elsewhere in the Middle East have served as inspiration for what can be accomplished through nonviolent means, and they have placed in sharper relief the fact that the Palestinians conspicuously lack the popular sovereignty that many of their Arab brethren are striving to obtain.
This week a group of Palestinian activists employed one form of peaceful protest—civil disobedience—by boarding a Jerusalem-bound bus on the West Bank reserved for Israeli settlers. They called themselves “Freedom Riders,” after the self-designation of those who used similar methods to protest segregation in the southern United States of the 1960s. The objectives and circumstances of the Freedom Riders back then and their newest namesakes are indeed very similar. The chief difference is that the protesting riders in Dixie were told to go to the back of the bus, whereas the Palestinians were told that they cannot use the bus at all.
This tactic is the latest step in a decades-long evolution, not just among Palestinians but among Arabs generally, toward methods that are more reasonable, more defensible, and have greater hope of being effective, as they confront Israeli-imposed injustice in the occupied territories. There was, to begin with, the blunder of not accepting the United Nations plan for the partition of Palestine in 1947. The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, said in an interview last month, “It was our mistake. It was an Arab mistake as a whole.” Rejection of the plan meant forgoing a Palestinian state that would have been larger than anything any Israeli leader has offered since. And it meant handing Israel a repeatedly invoked blame-shifting excuse for its own obduracy, no matter how drastically Arab postures toward Israel have changed in the interim. (The Arab League's peace plan, which would involve full recognition and acceptance by the entire League of the State of Israel—with territory substantially greater than the U.N. partition plan had allotted to the Jewish state—has already been on the table for nine years.)
Then there was the violence, including the supposed H-bombs and the milder stone throwing of two phases of intifada. The violence had a lot to do with the disposition of longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who was inherently a resistance chief who probably did not have it in him to bring his people to any promised land of peace. The stone throwing was an understandable reaction to the frustrations of subjugation and occupation, but stones are projectiles and throwing them is still violence. Any form of violence led to a framing of the conflict in the Israeli-preferred terms of defense and security—not just as a gambit of Israeli governments but as a reflection of genuine concerns among ordinary Israelis about their security. And ultimately the intifada violence, like the suicide bombing, was brought under control.
Peaceful protest, including civil disobedience, has a better chance than violence of getting results for the same reasons that such nonviolent tactics eventually undid segregation in the United States. Eschewing violence gets away from the narrow defense-and-security framework and lets light shine on issues of justice. Tactics such as civil disobedience publicize to the wider world the realities of oppression and subjugation. And they confront members of the oppressing population themselves with those same realities.
That last point is one of the respects in which similarities with the American civil rights movement go well beyond buses as vehicles of both segregation and protest. Segregation in the United States was broken down not just because a segment of the white population was forced to submit to new rules but also because a segment of that population that was sustaining segregation was shamed and enlightened into changing its ways. That eventually extended even to the Strom Thurmonds and George Wallaces.
The other prominent apartheid system, the one in South Africa, also showed similarities. Opposition to apartheid there involved violence, including terrorism by the African National Congress. But ultimately the bomb throwers made less difference in ending the system than did the example set by that embodiment of peace and dignity, Nelson Mandela.
Despite the advantages that civil disobedience and other nonviolent means have over the alternatives, any effort to dismantle the apartheid system that Israel maintains in the occupied territories still faces several huge obstacles. One is that however peaceful mainstream Palestinian thinking may have become, it takes only one act of violence committed by some uncontrolled element on the fringe to undo all the good done by the nonviolent methods.
Another great obstacle is the determination on the Israeli Right, reflected in the policies of the current government, to cling to the conquered territories and to continue colonizing them, no matter how shameful those actions are. A further unfortunate dynamic is that the Israeli occupation fosters—as Ronald Krebs argues in the current Foreign Affairs—illiberalism in Israel itself. That illiberalism in turn inhibits full discussion of the issues of justice and fairness that are at stake. A recent indication of that illiberalism, and of how much the current Israeli government views vigorous discussion of these issues as a threat to its policies and is determined to squelch such discussion, is approval by a cabinet committee of legislation aimed at curtailing foreign financial support to leftist human-rights groups.
Then there is the problem of how deeply embedded, largely because of the years of violence, the defense-and-security framework is in the thinking of many Israelis outside the government. The immediate reaction of the Israeli settlers who were also riding on that West Bank bus that the protesters boarded was not encouraging. “Terrorists!” said one of them, notwithstanding the nonviolent nature of the act he had just witnessed.
The principal hope rests with the sense of decency and fairness that surely resides within most ordinary Israelis. That sense would have a better chance of coming out and having an effect if it were not for another huge obstacle: politics within the United States leading to policies that have had the effect of condoning and supporting not what is fair and decent in Israeli behavior but instead what is destructive and obstructionist.
Ilich Ramirez Sánchez, the Venezuelan radical with the nom de guerre Carlos, has recently been back in the news for the first time in a long while. He has been imprisoned in France since being captured in Sudan seventeen years ago. Now the French are trying him again for some more of his crimes—in this case a series of bombings in the early 1980s. Carlos, represented in court by a female lawyer he married in prison several years ago, looks and sounds as smarmy and unrepentant as ever.
Carlos's eclectic terrorist career got him involved with partners as varied as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, East Germany and Iraq. He also has traversed a lot of ideological ground. He inherited his Marxism from his father, who showed his political leanings with the names he chose for his children: Ilich's brothers were named Vladimir and Lenin. But while in prison Ilich/Carlos converted to Islam and wrote a book titled Revolutionary Islam in which he expressed support for Osama bin Laden. An odd transition if you think about the substance of the ideologies—godless Marxists are intellectually far, far away from the radical Islamism that bin Laden purveyed.
A common mistake in trying to understand what makes Carlos—or any other radical individual, group or regime—tick is to try to draw too much out of the ostensible substance of whatever ideology they are spouting or subscribing to at the moment. Radical ideologies do serve important purposes for radical actors, but the purposes are mostly served by having any such ideology, not by the tenets of a particular ideology. We err in declaring things like World War IV and viewing radical Islam as fundamentally different from militant challenges of the past because of purported afterlives or any other ostensible elements of an official system of beliefs.
For Carlos or most any other terrorist leader, either radical Marxism or radical Islam or radical something else will serve as the rationale for a career of violence. Some radical ideologies will serve better than others only for reasons having to do with what happens to have resonance or currency in the time or place the terrorist is operating. At his current trial Carlos identified himself as a “professional revolutionary”—an apt description and one not dependent on his being a Marxist or an Islamist or anything else. (Another example in international terrorism that has exhibited an ideological blend of Marxism and Islamism is the Iranian group Mujahedin-e Khalq.)
For individuals who get swept up in terrorist groups, Marxism or Islamism or something else serves as what the late Israeli scholar Ehud Sprinzak called an “ideological master-key”: a coherent belief system to reassure him that he has done the right thing by forsaking other attachments and getting into the dangerous and difficult business of terrorism. Again, the specific content is less important than having some such belief system. And the belief system is less important than personal circumstances and grievances in propelling the individual into that business in the first place.
For regimes and states, radical and non-radical alike, ideologies serve still other purposes (including for our own state, although we usually do not like to apply the term ideology to the belief systems that undergird our own political culture). As for states subscribing to a revolutionary ideology such as Marxism-Leninism, the experience with the likes of the USSR and China tells us that although ideology does leave an imprint, it is less influential than the basic state and regime interests of power and survival. The same is true of a revolutionary, or ostensibly revolutionary, Islamist regime such as Iran.
This year's crises in public finance on both sides of the Atlantic invite comparisons, mostly of first-order economic questions—such as, will Standard & Poor's do to France's credit rating what it did to America's? But at a deeper level there are similar political techniques being used, albeit for vastly different purposes.
The driver of crisis in the United States has been an ideology of the right, which has come to dominate the Republican Party and has been boosted by the Tea Party movement—the ideology that holds that it is always better to have less government in domestic affairs, less revenue going into the public purse and less infringement on private wealth, no matter what damage any of this does to the public pursuit of common interests. There was nothing imaginative about the ideologists' perpetration of the debt-ceiling travesty this summer. It was mostly simple coercion; a game of chicken in which the perpetrators used not democratic procedures but instead the threat of harm to the national interest to get their way. They were aided in playing this game by the belief that the principal political damage from economic troubles will be to the incumbent president they are determined to bring down. This belief continues to motivate their stubborn resistance to measures that would alleviate the stubborn unemployment.
However crude all of this is, there is also a slightly more subtle side to the way the ideologists of the right are using the fiscal crisis as a tool. This way is embodied in the concept of “starving the beast.” The more strained are the public finances—strained all the more by an adamant, oath-taking refusal to countenance increased tax revenue—the stronger will be the political basis for shrinking the domestic side of government. It is the use of an economic crisis to achieve a political, ideologically driven goal.
There is nothing substantively comparable to this in Europe. Nor can it fairly be said that any significant element within the eurozone actually wanted the current crisis there. And yet, it is hard to believe that at least some of the more far-sighted creators of the euro couldn't have foreseen what is happening today, given the inherent disconnect involved in creating a monetary union without a corresponding fiscal union. Leaving individual governments to their individual, sometimes profligate, budgetary ways (with nothing more to rein them in than performance standards that even some of the bigger and wealthier members of the eurozone have flouted) without the safety valve of inflating their own currencies seems bound to have caused this kind of trouble eventually. But for confirmed European integrationists, this is not necessarily a bad thing. They hope—and some of them are openly predicting—that the crisis will force participants in the European experiment to move that experiment farther along the road, to get to that missing fiscal union sooner rather than later.
Of course, if this is the game being played, it is a dangerous one. During the current dark days one is hearing many predictions about the experiment moving backward rather than forward. But the integrationists may be right that there already is enough of a shared stake in the European experiment in general and the monetary union in particular that the preponderance of forces will be more forward than backward. Whether or not they are right, the process they see unfolding is, like the one the American rightist ideologists see on their side of the ocean, the use of economic crisis and economic incentives associated with the crisis to achieve a political objective. The objective of the Europeanists—the heirs to Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman—is greater political unity.
So on the eastern side of the Atlantic the political goal behind economic troubles is to achieve greater harmony among peoples of the continent and to drive even farther from the realm of possibility any repetition of the horrendously costly European wars of the first half of the twentieth century. On the western side the political goal is to entrench a narrow ideology that divides rather than unites the peoples of even a single country. This contrast is a reminder that fundamentally similar methods can be used to pursue drastically different objectives, including the noble and the ignoble.
A recurring canard, which neoconservatives are especially fond of perpetuating, is that the late Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi gave up his unconventional weapons programs (and his involvement in international terrorism) because the war in Iraq scared him into thinking he would also be a target of regime-changing U.S. military force. This notion serves the dual neocon purposes of suggesting that military force is the fail-safe solution to nuclear proliferation problems and salvaging some supposed value from the blunder known as the Iraq War. Joshua Muravchik repeats the notion in a piece this week (although Muravchik, unlike most other neocons, has in the past acknowledged that the Iraq War may have been a bad idea to begin with). The trouble with this notion is that Qaddafi had made his decision about ending his weapons programs and getting out of international terrorism years earlier, when the Iraq War was still only an out-of-reach dream in the fevered minds of out-of-power neocons. Following the Libyan dictator's decision, secret talks with the United States began in 1999 (which I know firsthand because I participated in the initial rounds of the talks). At most, later events in Iraq might have helped to give the later rounds of negotiations a final nudge; they certainly were not a cause of Qaddafi's drastic redirection of policy, which he had decided on previously.
The lesson of the Libya experience, as far as ending nuclear-weapons programs or other undesirable behaviors is concerned, is clear. The experience was a success thanks first to several years of multilateral sanctions, which Qaddafi found both economically and politically wearying, and second to the willingness of the United States (and Britain) to engage with Qaddafi's regime and to strike a deal with it that involved, among other things, a normalization of relations. The Clinton and Bush administrations both deserve credit for providing that critical second ingredient, notwithstanding the distaste of dealing with a loathsome regime with American blood on its hands.
The treatment of the Libyan case is perhaps the most egregious but not the only mischaracterization of historical cases by Muravchik, who contends that only military force and regime change have ended nuclear-weapons programs and that sanctions and diplomacy have failed to do so. He invokes World War II as one of his examples because “Allied armies stopped Hitler from getting the bomb.” I always thought that World War II in Europe had to do with a few other things as well. He counts Ukraine and Kazakhstan as instances of regime change turning a state away from nuclear weapons, which is a bit of a stretch given that they were new states carved out of a stripped-down empire and that the legacy state of that empire—i.e., Russia—continues to have a large arsenal of nuclear weapons today. He also states that “apartheid's fall ended South Africa's nuclear quest,” while failing to note that it was the white apartheid government that ended South Africa's nuclear program in the late 1980s, before apartheid was dismantled in the 1990s.
Muravchik's examples of sanctions and diplomacy supposedly failing are curious because in most of those examples sanctions and diplomacy were not tried or given a chance. He cites, for example, Israel. When was Israel ever sanctioned for its nuclear-weapons program? After the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was negotiated in the late 1960s, there was a brief period when the United States urged Israel to sign it. But as with most of the rest of U.S.-Israeli history, the Johnson administration caved to Israeli desires and shipped Israel the advanced fighter aircraft and other weapons it was seeking at the time even though Israeli never signed the NPT. Then the Nixon administration reached a secret deal with Israel promising never to make an issue of the Israeli nuclear arsenal as long as the Israelis did not openly declare it.
Another example mentioned is India, which also was never subjected to significant persuasion or pressure on its nuclear program. The French were practically cheering on the Indians as India prepared its series of nuclear tests in 1998, and the United States later reached its own deal with New Delhi that bestowed a U.S. seal of approval on the Indian nuclear program, weapons and all. Then there is North Korea, whose first nuclear-weapons test in 2006 was preceded by several years in which the Bush administration eschewed diplomacy as a means of dealing with the issue. The administration did so by refusing any bilateral talks with Pyongyang and also vacating terms of the Framework Agreement that was a basis for the alternative diplomatic forum of the six-party talks.
Muravchik invokes the Israeli strike on an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 as a supposed example of successful use of military force, but it instead was a distinct failure and clearly not an instance of getting a regime, in Muravchik's words, to "turn away from nuclear weapons." The Iraqis instead responded by redoubling their nuclear efforts using an alternative route to the production of fissile material; a decade later they were far closer to having a nuclear weapon than they were in 1981.
A further lesson in all this is that it is possible to stretch history however one wants to try to prove whatever one wants, no matter how much an objective rendering of events points in the opposite direction.
The report on Iran that the International Atomic Energy Agency released this week had been awaited with bated breath, with much pre-spinning of the substance. But the breath was at least as much baited as bated. Despite references in the surge of report commentary about new evidence on this or that aspect of the subject, the report told us nothing of importance to policy on Iran that was not already well known. The voluminous commentary has consisted chiefly of people saying what they had intended to say on the topic all along, with the report being just the latest peg on which to hang such talk.
This week's surge in comments about the Iranian program is another step in a long-running process that seems destined to push U.S. policy toward a disastrous conclusion. It is a process of talking up Iran and specifically the nuclear program as if there were no greater danger to Western civilization as we know it. When this theme is voiced often enough, loudly enough, by enough people, it becomes a received wisdom that is accepted automatically with no effort to determine whether it is true. That in turn leads to the notion, also widely and automatically accepted, that an Iranian nuclear weapon must be prevented at all costs, with no effort to add up the costs. Commentary such as that heard this week entrenches the further theme that Iran is on an inexorable march toward building a nuclear weapon, with no consideration to all the influences, many of which are in the control of the United States, that will help to determine whether or not Tehran ever takes that step. As the discourse about the Iranian nuclear program moves through still more chapters, with the IAEA report being the occasion for the latest chapter, the very length of the discourse fosters the impression that all manner of means have been tried to deal with the perceived problem that the program represents. The impression lingers even though there are wide diplomatic avenues that have never been explored. So we get patently false remarks such as one from Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy that “no one can reasonably argue that countries threatened by Iran have not tried all peaceful alternatives.”
This whole process treats a policy question such as “what should be the U.S. posture toward Iran?” as if it is to be equated with an empirical question such as “is Iran working to make a nuclear weapon?” This is not the first time this mistake has been made. In the selling of the Iraq War, the Bush administration hammered so relentlessly into the public consciousness the theme of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that many people never stopped to notice that a presumed Iraqi unconventional weapons program, even if entirely real, simply did not equate with a case to launch an offensive war.
American politics, especially amid a presidential-election campaign, exacerbate these unfortunate tendencies. We see it most obviously in Republican presidential candidates falling over each other in an effort to declare their love for Israel and their toughness on Iran.
The latest round in the national discourse about Iran contains several gaping holes, the biggest of which is any serious and careful consideration of what danger an Iranian nuclear weapon actually would pose. The closest things to a serious effort to posit such a danger ultimately come up short. The direction the discourse has taken has meant that any questioning of this supposedly grave danger is already outside the mainstream. But being in the mainstream does not make something valid.
After the death last month of Saudi Crown Prince Sultan, other shoes necessarily would drop. The biggest one dropped Monday, with the announcement that the longtime governor of Riyadh, Prince Salman bin Abd al-Aziz, is replacing Sultan as minister of defense. This move, which was hardly a surprise, could be read as a solidification of the power of the Sudairi Seven, the full brothers and political allies who have included Sultan, Salman, the late King Fahd, and the interior minister and new crown prince, Nayef. It probably should be read at least as much as a solidification of control for the time being of the generation of the sons of King Abd al-Aziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia—notwithstanding much talk and speculation about when more power would shift to the grandsons.
Salman is well equipped to fill his enhanced role. He is an intelligent man who is reported to have support among the grandsons, notwithstanding whatever impatience some of the latter may have over succession issues. Taking over the defense ministry will strengthen his claim to someday become king. Think how good it would look for an American politician to have a resumé that included experience both as a big-city mayor and as secretary of defense. Salman—the only one of the senior generation of Saudi princes I have ever met—is an imposing presence who is said to physically resemble his father more than do any of the other sons of Abd al-Aziz.
One bit of good news in this transition is that the senior princes evidently have a clear idea of how they intend to preserve stability at the top over the next few years. Another bit is that Salman is someone the United States ought to be comfortable working with, including on defense matters in his new portfolio. One connection of sorts he has with the United States is through his son Prince Sultan bin Salman, who became the first Arab (and Muslim) astronaut when he flew on the space shuttle Discovery in 1985.
But the further issues of transition, involving the generation of the grandsons, will still have to be faced before long. (Salman is already in his mid-seventies.) The Allegiance Council, charged by King Abdullah with naming new kings and crown princes, first performed that duty last month when Nayef was named crown prince. But it was hardly much of a test for the council, given that Nayef was the odds-on favorite. The council consists of the surviving sons of Abd al-Aziz and sons of those who are already deceased. Time and mortality are bringing the grandsons ever closer to their moment.
Ross Douthat's column in Sunday's New York Times offers the provocative thesis that many of this nation's (and some other's) biggest blunders and troubles are due in large part to meritocracy in which intelligent and talented people rise to positions of influence. The problem, says Douthat, is that such people are prone to a form of hubris in which they overestimate their ability to understand and manipulate the world. Hereditary aristocracies, Douthat writes, suffer from stupidity and pigheadedness, while one-party states do so from ideological mania. Meritocracies suffer from leaders who are excessively confident that their skills and knowledge are up to any task and thus become too reckless in their risk-taking. Douthat centers his piece on the story of Jon Corzine, the former head of Goldman Sachs (and former senator and governor), whose most recent Wall Street firm, MF Global, has filed for bankruptcy after apparently taking some bad risks with $600 million of customers' money. But Douthat says the same sort of phenomenon has cropped up in the realm of public policy with such endeavors as the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, or the European Union's creation of a common currency.
There is a lot of validity to this argument, and this type of hubris frequently appears in both public and private sector decision making. But some indications that there is more to the blunders than Douthat describes can be seen in one of his examples: the Iraq War. Ideology was a big part of what drove the war. You don't need a one-party state for ideology to play such a role—just control for a time by one party of some of the functions of the state. And although the war makers certainly had excessive confidence that they knew what they were doing, the launching of the war involved the rejection of much relevant expertise. The excessive and misguided risk taking that was involved was due less to meritocracy than to some people getting in a position—through whatever means, not necessarily merit—in which they could place big bets with other people's money, and in this case with other people's lives.
That is the biggest common thread involving the reckless risk taking of masters of the universe on Wall Street and that of makers of public policy in Washington: the ability to place big bets in which it is someone else's resources that are at stake. This is true of investment bankers who can operate on a “heads I win, tails the taxpayers lose” basis. It also is true of policy makers who get to claim a win if things work out but who do not suffer the way that taxpayers or soldiers suffer if things do not. The fact that those who are in temporary control of the government at any one moment are playing with other people's money and lives is a further reason they should be cautious in placing any bets at all—in addition to Douthat's sensible reason that decision makers need enough humility to realize that they don't really know enough to be confident that their gambles will work out.
In foreign policy there are a couple of additional reasons for caution that do not apply similarly on Wall Street. One is that the policy maker usually is dealing more with incalculable uncertainties and less with calculable risks than the gamblers on Wall Street are. The other reason is that with any public policy the inconsistent and selective nature of political attention means that some risks get paid far more attention than others, regardless of the actual magnitude of the risks involved. Something like the risks from a disliked regime owning powerful weapons tends to get plenty of attention; the risks of using military force to try to do something about such a regime get far less.
An article by Charlie Savage in Thursday's New York Times highlights how lawyers in the executive branch enable their bosses to circumvent certain Congressionally imposed constraints on their activities. The mechanisms employed include opinions issued by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel regarding the unconstitutionality of legislative provisions, sometimes coupled with presidential signing statements and often citing precedents established by previous administrations, even ones of a different party. The issue the article focuses on is the propriety or impropriety of executive branch lawyers citing each other as a way of effectively nullifying some Congressional actions, with the courts shut out of the matter because the subjects of the legislation are ones on which no one has standing to file a lawsuit. The issue deserves attention, as does the related one of the abuse of signing statements, as practiced most conspicuously by the immediate past administration, in which questions of constitutionality are not even invoked but instead an administration says in effect that it will not execute part of a statute simply because it doesn't happen to like it.
Another important issue that the article does not address, however, is what business Congress has in enacting some of these constraints in the first place. Some of them are not only clear encroachments on executive power but a hamstringing of the executive's ability to perform its normal functions. Earlier this week I wrote about one particularly egregious example that has not yet been enacted but is part of draft legislation currently under consideration: a ban on U.S. diplomats having any contact with Iranian ones. Others have also pointed out the senselessness of this provision, even apart from any considerations of constitutionality. The lead reference in Savage's article concerns a comparable restriction that was enacted earlier this year: a ban on the White House's Office of Science and Technology using any appropriated funds to engage Chinese officials. The ban was inserted into a budget bill by Republican members who said they were worried about Chinese espionage. Wouldn't the White House want to prevent Chinese espionage just as much as members of Congress do, and aren't those who arrange contacts with the Chinese in the best position to determine whether a particular contact runs a risk of it?
The legislative and executive functions are two different activities of government, best performed by two different types of bodies. The Founding Fathers recognized this, which is why the U.S. Constitution looks the way it does. The legislative branch establishes general rules and policies; the executive branch applies them to particular cases and problems. The first function requires a representative body for the rules and policies to reflect the broad popular will. The second function requires a hierarchical body to achieve efficiency and unity of purpose.
On matters in which the courts have had a chance to get involved, the third branch of government has endeavored to keep sorted out the proper functions of the first two. Many executive-branch actions that have entailed improperly writing rules as they were being implemented have been invalidated. This has happened even when the legislative branch has tried to give the executive such liberties. The Supreme Court struck down some of the New Deal legislation on grounds that it involved a delegation by Congress of legislative powers to the executive. Things ought to work the other way as well. Not only should the executive not legislate; the legislature should not execute.
So the same U.S. Congress that has done too little in performing some of its proper rule-setting and policy-making functions, and has let some of those functions—most notably the power to declare war—atrophy, has done too much when going beyond those proper functions and starting to operate on the executive branch's turf. This jumbling of what ought to be clearly separated powers is not due to some desire to mess up the Constitution, even if it has that effect. It is more a matter of politics in the narrow sense trumping statesmanship. It also reflects a sort of attention deficit disorder that characterizes American politics in general and the U.S. Congress in particular, in which action is taken more often to respond to the flaps, controversies, causes célèbres and popular themes of the moment than to build coherent and durable policies.
Amid the demographic news about the world's population reaching seven billion—either now or in a few months, depending on whose count you trust—the Chinese news agency Xinhua carried a story about population trends in China, and two significant trends in particular. One is the aging of the Chinese population, with fertility too low to offset increases in the ranks of the elderly. The other is a large gender imbalance—rooted chiefly in one-child policies and gender-selective abortion—that is becoming more prominent in the adult population. There are about 15 million more males than females today in China. The imbalance will become more pronounced over the next ten years, with an estimated 30 million men during that period being unable to find brides and get married.
Chinese leaders have some major challenges ahead, rooted in this demography. The growing burden of a large elderly population requiring support from its younger, still-working brethren can become a drag on economic growth. The experience of graying Japan over the past couple of decades is one that Chinese leaders surely want to avoid. As for the gender ratio, a surplus of unmarried young adult males has historically been associated with instability and a propensity for violence both internally and externally. Unmarried males are, for example, disproportionately numerous in the ranks of terrorists. Past Israeli efforts to put Palestinian terrorists on a more peaceful path have emphasized getting them married.
While the potential difficulties for Beijing are clear, the implications for the West are not. These demographic patterns in China could cut different ways for Western security interests. Insofar as Beijing is more preoccupied with internal problems and its growth slows, the larger rise of China and the threat it may pose is lessened. And if some of those unmarried men become societal misfits, the authority against which they rebel would be China's own. The implications of those dimensions are largely positive for the West.
An offsetting negative dimension is that the gender imbalance, and the tendency of such an imbalance to be associated with instability and authoritarianism, will work against any hoped-for evolution of Chinese politics and society in a Western direction. Even worse would be military adventurism to occupy and work off the steam and frustrations of the unmarried males—another effect seen of gender imbalance in the past.
All hard to predict, but worth watching.
The South African jurist Richard Goldstone endured much unjustified abuse when he prepared a report that cataloged Israeli excesses during the brutal military operation in the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009 known as Operation Cast Lead. The abuse was heaped on him despite the truth of what he described, despite the balanced nature of a report that also described excesses committed by Israel's adversary Hamas, and despite Goldstone subsequently going out of his way to refute other accusations against Israel, relevant to the Gaza operation, that he believed were unjustified. Goldstone gives every indication of being a decent and fair man.
Given that experience, it is understandable that Goldstone would seize additional opportunities to visibly defend Israel, especially at a time when the Arab Spring and the heightened sensibilities regarding popular sovereignty or its absence have sharpened the regional focus on Israel's continued subjugation of Palestinians. It is also understandable that Goldstone, as a South African, would pick up on use of a term that played such a large role in his own country's history. And so he writes that applying the word apartheid to that subjugation of Palestinians is a “slander” against Israel.
Goldstone's op-ed includes a couple of important and valid observations. One is that “Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and the West Bank cannot be simplified to a narrative of Jewish discrimination. There is hostility and suspicion on both sides.” The other is that Arab citizens of Israel—i.e., the Israel of the 1967 boundaries—enjoy political and civil rights and are not subject to anything that could be described as apartheid.
But then there are the subjugated Palestinians in the occupied territories, whose situation Goldstone describes with understatement as “complex.” Earlier in his piece Goldstone refers to a definition of apartheid in the 1998 Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court. The core of that definition is “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.” Even though these words describe exactly the current situation in the West Bank, Goldstone uses two strained arguments to contend that it does not. One is that the roadblocks, the walls, the restrictions on movement, and all the other aspects of the oppression and domination are a response to Israelis feeling threatened by terrorism. This is a dangerous and open-ended rationale, because almost every group of oppressors has used a threat from the oppressed group as justification for its own actions—at least as a public rationale, and often reflecting a genuinely felt threat. Many Afrikaners certainly felt threatened by the black majority in South Africa.
Goldstone's other argument is that the arrangement in the West Bank is not intended to be permanent; Israel, he says, has agreed “in concept” to a Palestinian state. But concepts do not displace realities. After forty-four years of the reality of Israeli occupation, how much longer will concepts suffice? Indeed, introducing the idea of Israeli concepts makes the comparison with South Africa all the more appropriate. Insofar as Israeli prime minister Netanyahu has given any indication of his concept of a Palestinian state, it looks a lot like the bantustans of South African apartheid. Underlying all this is the reality that Goldstone does not mention at all: the continued Israeli colonization of occupied territory that has now reached half a million settlers and is intended to create facts on the ground that will be the basis for making some version of the current arrangement permanent.
It is appropriate to look beyond the present to the future in discussing the use of the term apartheid, because in addition to describing the current situation it can fairly be used to assess the choices Israel must make when facing the reality of demographic trends. Over the long term, Israel cannot be a Jewish state and retain all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River and be free and democratic. If it chooses in favor of the first two, it will be an apartheid state indefinitely. In thinking about the future, we also should remember that apartheid in South Africa ended—not just as a “concept,” but as a reality. But Israel has still not produced an F. W. de Klerk (and the Palestinians have not produced a Nelson Mandela).
Apartheid has such significance in the history of South Africa—and because of the importance of that experience, in the history of human oppression generally—that it is understandable if a South African would be sparing in applying the term to other situations. Maybe out of respect to South Africa, any discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian situation could eschew the term and instead say “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.” But that's twelve words rather than one. And if the one word fits—as it certainly does in this instance—it will be used, and appropriately so.
Image: Carlos Latuff