Sunday, December 28, 2003

Ariel Sharon has proposed a new "disengagement plan" in his recent speech at a conference in Herzliya. The plan calls for Israeli forces to withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank, behind a perimeter marked by the "security fence" currently under construction. (The fence mostly follows the 1948 Israeli-Jordanian border, but juts out in places well into the West Bank.) The plan also calls for some settlement outposts beyond this perimeter to be dismantled.

The plan has drawn mixed reviews. about 60% of Israelis support it, but many on the left doubt that it will actually be implemented. Meanwhile, the right complains that it represents a victory for terrorists, and a defeat for settlers.

I have a more mundane objection to the plan: it's doomed to fail. The standard argument for withdrawing behind a security fence is that it has succeeded in Gaza, since no suicide bombers have launched attacks on Israel from there. But it's also the case that from Gaza--where the IDF never launched a full-fledged invasion of all the cities, as it did in the West Bank--there has been a steady rain of crude rockets on adjacent Israeli lands, such as the Gaza settlements and the town of Sderot (inside pre-1967 Israel). If the IDF were to "disengage" from the West Bank, it might well be able to prevent suicide bombers from penetrating its security perimiter. But it would be incapable of preventing massive barrages of rockets on towns near the perimiter--including several major Israeli cities.

What would Israel do in such a situation? if it returned to the West Bank in force, it would be no better off than it is now--indeed, worse off, since it had afforded the terrorist organizations time and space to regroup and rejuvenate themselves. If it restrained itself from re-entering the West Bank, it would have to respond from a distance, using weapons, such as artillery and helicopters, that are much more likely to cause collateral civilian damage, and thus earn condemnation from world opinion. And it would run the risk of international "observers" or "peacekeepers" entering the territories in Israel's absence, and turning into de facto defenders of the terrorists' turf.

The security fence is clearly a necessary measure for the protection of Israelis. And the Israeli far right's complaints notwithstanding, there's nothing wrong with the removal of a few settlement outposts, if it improves Israel's security situation. But abandoning the West Bank to the mercy of Arafat's goons, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the rest is good neither for its inhabitants nor for their Israeli neighbors. Israeli politicians should stop treating this option as if it were a remotely viable one.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

In early December, the New York Times published an ominous-sounding account of the harsh measures being taken by US troops to quell guerrilla forces still operating in occupied Iraq:
As the guerrilla war against Iraqi insurgents intensifies, American soldiers have begun wrapping entire villages in barbed wire. In selective cases, American soldiers are demolishing buildings thought to be used by Iraqi attackers. They have begun imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas, in hopes of pressing the insurgents to turn themselves in. …

“If you have one of these cards, you can come and go,” coaxed Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman, the battalion commander whose men oversee the village, about 50 miles north of Baghdad. “If you don’t have one of these cards, you can’t.” The Iraqis nodded and edged their cars through the line. Over to one side, an Iraqi man named Tariq muttered in anger. “I see no difference between us and the Palestinians,” he said. “We didn’t expect anything like this after Saddam fell.”
Both Eric Rescorla and Crooked Timber's Henry Farrell noted the new American tactics with great consternation. I offered comments to each, based on my previous arguments, suggesting that their concern was misplaced.

Well, I didn't expect such quick vindication. According to the Washington Post,
At the heart of this tightly woven network is Auja, Hussein's birthplace, which U.S. commanders say is the intelligence and communications hub of the insurgency....U.S. commanders said they dealt the insurgents a major blow when they decided Oct. 30 to isolate Auja, surrounding it with fence and razor wire so the sole exit was past a U.S. military checkpoint. Russell said this move severed the insurgency's intelligence and communications hub from the outside campaign.
Of course, this latter account could be exaggerated, or even entirely misguided. But so far, at least, my analysis appears to be holding up pretty well.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

If I were an advertising executive for Remington or Norelco, I'd rush to produce a last-minute holiday ad campaign based on this picture.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

In a pre-dawn sweep, German police raided over 1,200 homes of suspected followers of a Turkish Islamic radical named Muhammed Metin Kaplan.

Thousands of confused German students took to the streets in protest, worried about losing access to their SAT prep courses.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The US Supreme Court has ruled that Congress can restrict "soft money" contributions to political parties and restrict purchases of political advocacy advertising in the period immediately preceding an election. Meanwhile, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has declared that contributions to terrorist organizations are constitutionally protected, unless it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the contributor knew of the recipient organization's terrorist activity.

The solution for campaign organizations is obvious: they should take their cue from foreign terrorist groups and establish a clandestine network of interlocking "charitable" and "political" organizations, with money being secretly funnelled from the former to the latter via elaborate money-laundering enterprises, preferably in foreign countries. A corporation can hardly be held responsible, after all, if its donation to the "World Regulation Relief Fund" results in an attack ad against a local congressman being purchased by a tangentially related foreign political organization--right?

I can think of no better way to clean up the financing of American campaigns. Thank goodness for the uncanny wisdom of the federal judiciary.

Monday, December 01, 2003

In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum mourns the lack of a "national debate" on the recently-passed Medicare reform bill. "[W]e as a nation have lost our appetite for grand domestic policy debates," she laments.

These sound like admirably democratic sentiments--until one considers who she meant by "we". Surely she didn't expect the average family to debate the finer points of Medicare reform over the Thanksgiving dinner table. Heck, the likes of Matthew Yglesias, Daniel Drezner and Oxblog's David Adesnik--none of them exactly strangers to policy wonkery--have all conceded that the subject of Medicare is one truly powerful snooze-inducer. Perhaps Anne Applebaum has a stronger stomach for it, but if so, she's in rare company.

In fact, the whole idea of "deliberative democracy" is rather dubious to begin with. After all, if the public ought to be ruminating on the minutiae of every issue, then what on earth is representative government for, anyway? Even if the public were competent to engage in such niggling discussion, they would have neither the time nor the inclination to do so, being far too preoccupied with their own lives to dwell, Applebaum-style, on such matters.

In practice, the system works quite well with much less public involvement. Voters get riled up over a few specific, fairly straightforward issues that they can grasp--Applebaum mentions two recent ones: telemarketing and spam--and happily leave the details of the rest to the political insiders, with the understanding that if they're handled sufficiently incompetently that they become visible problems, then politicians' heads will roll.

After all, that's how CEOs deal with underlings, or customers with merchants. All that they require is accountability, not micromanagement, and the threat to do business with someone else usually (eventually) suffices to produce competent results. If I trust the food I eat, the home I live in, and many other necessities of life to this system, then why not the laws that govern me, as well?