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Will the Afghan Surge Succeed?

By M. Shahid AlamDissident Voice

It is likely that the ‘surge’ is primarily a political move to try to pass off the retreat from Afghanistan as another ‘mission accomplished.’

More than eight years after dismantling the Taliban, the United States is still mired in Afghanistan. Indeed, last October it launched a much-hyped ‘surge’ to prevent a second Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, not imminent yet, but eminently possible.

The first dismantling of the Taliban was a cakewalk.

In 2001, the United States quickly and decisively defeated the Taliban, killed, captured or scattered their fighters, and handed over the running of Afghanistan to their rivals, mostly Uzbeks and Tajiks from the Northern Alliance.

Unaware of Pashtoon history, American commentators were pleased at the smashing victory of their military, convinced that they had consigned the Taliban to history’s graveyard.

Instead, the Taliban came back from the dead. Within months of their near-total destruction, they had regained morale, regrouped, organized, trained, and returned to fight what they saw as a foreign occupation of their country. Slowly, tenaciously they continued to build on their gains, and by 2008 they were dreaming of taking back the country they had lost in 2001.

Could this really happen? That only time will tell, but prospects for the Taliban today look better than at any time since November 2001.

In 2001, the United States had captured Afghanistan with the loss of only twelve of its own troops. Last year it lost 316 soldiers, and the British lost another 108. The numbers speak for themselves.

The United States had occupied Afghanistan with 9000 troops. When Obama took office in January 2009, these numbers had climbed to 30,000. In October, US troop strength in Afghanistan had more than doubled. This does not include tens of thousands of foreign contractors and some 200,000 Afghan troops armed and trained by the Americans.

Yet, NATO could not deter the Taliban advance.

That is when President Obama ordered a troop surge. US troop strength will soon reach 100,000. At the same time, the United States is inviting Taliban fighters to defect in return for bribes. In tandem, President Karzai – for the umpteenth time – is offering amnesty to defecting Taliban fighters. So far, there have been no high-ranking defections.

Can the United States defeat these men – returned from the dead – it calls terrorists? It is a vital question. It should be, since the United States claims that if the Taliban come back, Afghanistan will again become a haven for Al-Qaida, their training ground and launching pad for future attacks against Western targets.

How did the Taliban stage this comeback?

Simply, the answer is: by finding strength in their handicaps. If you had compared the defeated Taliban in December 2001 to the Mujahidin in 1980, you would conclude that history had closed its books on them irrevocably.

The Mujahidin brought several advantages to their fight. All Afghan ethnicities opposed the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. They had financial, military and political support from all the Western powers. President Reagan honored them as freedom-fighters. They also had support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. In addition, tens of thousands of foreign fighters would join the Afghan Mujahidin.

In comparison, Taliban prospects looked quite dismal after their rout in November 2001. Nearly all the factors that favored the Mujahidin worked against the Taliban. Taliban support was confined mostly to one Afghan ethnicity, the Pashtoons. In the United States and its European allies, they faced a more formidable opponent than the Mujahidin did in the Soviet Union.

There was not a single Muslim country that could support the return of the Taliban: the US forbade it. Worst of all, the Pakistani military, partly for lucre and partly under US pressure, threw its forces against the Taliban. Under the circumstances, few Muslim fighters from outside Pakistan have joined the Taliban.

Their goose was cooked: or so it seemed.

Nevertheless, the Taliban defied these odds, and now, some eight years later, they have taken positions in nearly every Afghan province, with shadow governments in most of them. Is it possible to reverse the gains that Taliban have made in the face of nearly impossible odds?

What can the US do to weaken the Taliban? They have few vulnerabilities because the United States has been so effective in denying them any help from external sources. They have built their gains almost exclusively on their own strengths: and these are harder to take away.

What then are some of these strengths? Unlike the Mujahidin, the Afghan resistance against the United States is less fractious. The Taliban make up the bulk of the resistance. Other groups – led by Haqqani and Hekmatyaar – are much smaller. The Afghan resistance has a central leadership that the Mujahidin never had.

Unlike the Mujahidin, the Taliban do not have the technology to knock out the helicopters, drones or jets that attack them from the air. On the ground, however, they have technology the Mujahidin did not have. They have acquired suicide vests and, more importantly, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) developed by the resistance in Iraq. Indeed, the Taliban claim to have improved upon the IEDs they acquired from Iraq.

Notwithstanding their apparent lack of sophistication, the Taliban leadership have proved to be savvy in their use of videos, CDs, FM radio stations, and the internet to publicize their gains, build morale, and mobilize recruits.

Despite the satellites, drones, spies on the ground, and prize money for their capture, much of the Taliban leadership has evaded capture. In particular, Mulla Omar remains a ghost. He has not been seen or interviewed since 2001. Yet he remains in touch with his commanders through human couriers.

Afghanistan’s corrupt government is another Taliban asset. They have spawned a tiny class of Afghan nouveau riche battened by drug money, government contracts and cronyism. President Karzai implicates the US occupation in the blatant corruption of his own government.

It appears that there is little that the United States can do to neutralize these elusive advantages. Instead, it tries to blame and shift the burden of the war on Pakistan. It continues to pressure and bribe Pakistan’s rulers to mount full-scale military operations against the Taliban support network in Pakistan.

More and more, Pakistan’s military leaders have been caving under these pressures, escalating their wars against their own population. This has provoked a backlash. A new faction of the Taliban has emerged to launch deadly attacks against military and civilian targets in Pakistan. These attacks are destabilizing Pakistan. In turn, the US uses these attacks to push Pakistani rulers into greater capitulation to its demands.

In addition, President Obama has dramatically escalated drone attacks against the Taliban support network in Pakistan. In tandem, Pakistan too has been launching more massive air and ground attacks against their hideouts. However, none of this has deterred the escalating Taliban attacks against NATO and Afghan forces.

No one suggests that the Taliban can match the credentials of America’s freedom fighters in the late eighteenth century. The latter were committed to the proposition that all men are created equal, barring a few rarely mentioned exceptions. The Taliban are zealots and misogynists, but only a tad more so than the Mujahidin whom the West embraced as freedom fighters.

The West celebrated the Mujahidin’s victory over the Soviets. The same people, fighting under a different name, have now pushed the United States into a costly stalemate. Will the US prolong this stalemate, and push Pakistan too over the brink? Or will it accept the fait accompli the Taliban have created for them, accept its losses, and save itself from greater embarrassment in the future?

Once or twice, the United States has retreated from unwinnable wars and survived. It is likely that the ‘surge’ is primarily a political move to try to pass off the retreat from Afghanistan as another ‘mission accomplished.’ Let’s hope that this stratagem works somehow, because the alternative is likely to be much worse for all parties involved in this unwinnable war.

US offered Rigi ‘extensive aid’ for Iran attacks

Press TV

US promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran

The captured ringleader of the Jundallah terrorist group, Abdolmalek Rigi, has confessed that the US administration had assured him of unlimited military aid and funding for waging an insurgency against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The following is the detailed transcript of Rigi’s confession, stated in Farsi, as broadcasted on Press TV.

“After Obama was elected, the Americans contacted us and they met me in Pakistan.They met us after clashes with my group around March 17 in (the southeastern city of) Zahedan, and he (the US operative) said that Americans had requested a meeting.”

“I said we didn’t have any time for a meeting and if we do help them they should promise to give us aid. They said they would cooperate with us and will give me military equipment, arms and machine guns. They also promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran.”

“They asked to meet me and we said where should we meet you and he said in Dubai. We sent someone to Dubai and we told a person to ask a place for myself in Afghanistan from the area near the operations and they complied that they would sort out the problem for us and they will find Mr. Rigi a base and guarantee his own security in Afghanistan or in any of the countries adjacent to Iran so that he can carry on his operations.

“They told me that in Kyrgyzstan they have a base called Manas near Bishkek, and that a high-ranking person was coming to meet me and that if such high-ranking people come to the United Arab Emirates, they may be observed by intelligence people but in a place like Bishkek this high-ranking American person could come and we could reach an agreement on making personal contacts. But after the last major operation we took part in, they said that they wanted to meet with us.

“The Americans said Iran was going its own way and they said our problem at the present is Iran… not al-Qaeda and not the Taliban, but the main problem is Iran. We don’t have a military plan against Iran. Attacking Iran is very difficult for us (the US). The CIA is very particular about you and is prepared to do anything for you because our government has reached the conclusion that there was nothing Americans could do about Iran and only I could take care of the operations for them.

“One of the CIA officers said that it was too difficult for us to attack Iran militarily, but we plan to give aid and support to all anti-Iran groups that have the capability to wage war and create difficulty for the Iranian (Islamic) system. They reached the conclusion that your organization has the power to create difficulties for the Islamic Republic and they are prepared to give you training and/or any assistance that you would require, in terms of telecommunications security and procedures as well as other support, the Americans said they would be willing to provide it at an extensive level.”

Iran’s security forces arrested Rigi on Tuesday by bringing down his plane over the Iranian airspace, as he was onboard a flight from the United Arab Emirates to Kyrgyzstan.

The Iraq Withdrawal: Obama vs. the Pentagon

By Raed JarrarCommon Dreams

Obama should not forget that he is the Commander-in-Chief, and should stand up to the Pentagon

This Monday, Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, asked officials in DC to approve contingency plans to delay the withdrawal of US combat forces. The next day, the New York times published an op-ed asking president Obama to delay the US withdrawal and keep some tens of thousands of troops in Iraq indefinitely. Both the Pentagon and NY times article argue that prolonging the occupation is for Iraq’s own good. According to these latest attempts to prolong the occupation, if the US were to leave Iraqis alone the sky would fall, a genocidal civil war will erupt, and Iran will takeover their nation and rip it apart.

Excuses to prolong the military intervention in Iraq have been changing since 1990. Whether is was liberating Kuwait, protecting the region from Iraq, protecting the world from Iraq’s WMDs, punishing Iraq for its role in the 9/11 attacks, finding Saddam Hussien and his sons, fighting the Baathists and Al-Qaeda, or the other dozens of stories the U.S. government never ran out of reasons to justify a continuous intervention in Iraq. Under President Bush, the withdrawal plan was linked to conditions on the ground, and had no fixed deadlines. Bush only promise what that “as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down”. But Iraqis never managed to stand up, and the US never had to stand down.

Obama came with a completely different doctrine that thankfully makes prolonging the occupation harder than just making up a new lame excuse. He has promised on the campaign trail to withdraw all combat troops by August 31st of this year bringing the total number of US troops down to less than 50,000. Obama has also announced repeatedly that he will abide by the binding bi-lateral agreement between the two governments that requires all the US troops and contractors to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 without leaving any military bases behind. Both these promises are time-based, and not linked to the conditions on the ground. In addition, President Obama announced last week his intention to call an end to Operation Iraqi Freedom by August 31st, and to start the new non-combat mission as of September 1st this. The new mission, renamed “Operation New Dawn”, should end by December 31st 2011 with the last US soldier and contractor out of Iraq.

Conditions on the ground in Iraq are horrible. After seven years under the US occupation, Iraqis are still without water, electricity, education, or health care. Iran’s intervention and control of the Iraqi government stays at unprecedented levels. Iraq’s armed forces are still infiltrated by the militias and controlled by political parties. But so far, the Obama administration has not attempted to use any of these facts as a reason to change the combat forces withdrawal plan, or to ask the Iraqi government to renegotiate the bi-lateral security agreement. This week’s calls to prolong the occupation are surprising because they expose a conflict between the Pentagon on the one hand and the White House and Congress on the other hand. In fact, the executive and legislative branches in both the US and Iraq seem to be in agreement about implementing the time-based withdrawal, but the Pentagon is disagreeing with them all.

Obama should not forget that he is the Commander-in-Chief, and should stand up to the Pentagon. Iraq is broken, but the US military occupation is not a part of the solution. We cannot fix what the military occupation has damaged by prolonging it, neither can we help Iraqis build a democratic system by occupying them. We cannot protect Iraqis from other interventions by continuing our own. The first step in helping Iraqis work for a better future is sticking to the time-based withdrawal plan that Obama has promised and the two governments have agreed upon. President Obama should send a clear message to the Iraqi people to confirm that he is going to fulfill his promises and abide by the binding security agreement with Iraq, and this message must also be clear to the American people in this pivotal elections year.

Iran: US acting as Military Dictatorship in Middle East

Press TV

We recommend Clinton and other US statesmen to open their eyes to realities in the region even one time

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says the US is acting as a military dictatorship in the Middle East by killing countless number of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iran’s top diplomat made the comments in response to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said Iran is “moving toward a military dictatorship.

Mottaki described Clinton’s remarks as “modern deceit,” and added that
“We are regretful that the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton … tries to conceal facts about the stance of the US administration trough fake words.

This (Clinton’s remark) is aimed “at diverting the attention of the public in the region (away from their problems) to unreal and incorrect topics,” he added.

The Iranian minister raised questions about the US military dictatorship in the region and said that Washington has killed large numbers of Iraqi and Afghan civilians while Iran has accepted and helped millions of refugees from the two countries.

He accused Clinton of trying to advance Washington’s policy in the Middle East through lies, saying that regional countries are well aware of the true nature of such methods.

Mottaki criticized “unsuccessful strategies” of the US government in Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan and said Washington seeks to create crisis for democratic and independent states by waging a soft war.

“The US targets scientific and technological achievements of countries and their independence by interfering [in their internal affairs] and spending vast sums,” he said.

He underlined that the US has adopted “wrong” approach in the Middle East and said that Washington pays no attention to realities in the region and forges military dictatorship by stoking tension and instability.

“We recommend Clinton and other US statesmen to open their eyes to realities in the region even one time… They should respect rights of regional states to development, welfare and modern technologies without enmity,” Mottaki said.

He noted that regional countries would never be deceived by the US policies.

Counterrevolution in Turkey

By Etyen MahcupyanToday’s Zaman

A true democracy needs a counterrevolution

There is a cliché Kemalists have frequently voiced since the establishment of the republic. According to it, modern and “progressive” civilian and military bureaucrats are trying to educate and transform the people of Turkey, while “reactionary” groups acting under the influence of religion resist their efforts.

Since these reactionary groups are apt to adopt newer forms, all kinds of liberation help them make a public appearance on the political scene, and this results in the risk of losing strongholds conquered for the sake of modernization. Thus, according to this line of thought, the republic is a revolution bringing this nation to modernity. Those who oppose this change knowingly or unknowingly become tools of a counterrevolution which imparts the darkness of the “Middle Ages.” Accordingly the Turkish state’s struggle against counterrevolutionaries must continue until the last of these counterrevolutionaries is destroyed.

This perspective acquired political meaning after the multiparty regime was introduced because the emergence of political parties other than the one considered acceptable by the state implies that they entertain mentalities or ideologies different from the republican ideology. This, in turn, suggests that the political parties outside the Republican People’s Party (CHP) tradition serve more or less to the purposes of counterrevolution. On the other hand, it was quickly realized that the republic had failed to convince the majority of the people to give into an authoritarian secularism mentality and “right-wing” political parties categorically assumed government offices. For this reason the republic had to develop a system that would restrict political participation of “counterrevolutionaries” and limit the area of activity of right-wing political parties and restore the regime when things go out of control. The republic needed a reliable and dependable institution that would be ready for action at all times in order to ensure the custody of this system.

Naturally, the army was the only eligible candidate for such a task. During the late years of the Ottoman Empire, the army had been perceived as the bearer of modernity, and it produced the “savior” of this country. Thus, the military became the ideological reference of the republican era and institutionalized it. In a nutshell, the “republic” asserted itself as a “permanent revolution” that has to fight continuously against visible and invisible enemies. The system called democracy could only be allowed to the extent that it found a place within this tutelary regime and does not pose a threat to this regime.

Based on this background information, we can understand more readily why the National Security Policy Document is prepared by the military and why perceptions of internal threats are shaped by generals as well as why this document is kept secret from the legislative body. This is because the republic has always had fears about society, and its fears continue to exist today. What they call “internal threats” are nothing but the society itself and its choices and demands that the army does not like. These choices and demands have always implied greater freedoms; in response, the military opted to restrict freedoms. Their understanding of internal threats was largely guided by these concerns.

The National Security Policy Document was instrumental in keeping civilian politics, which is inclined to get along well with the military, under tightly controlled tutelage. However, they needed an autonomous power against those who refuse to accept this tutelage. This was achieved by Article 35 of the Internal Service Law of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). According to this article, the army has the task of “protecting and watching out for” the regime. This article is the legal basis for all military coups in Turkey.

Still, all military coups need an infrastructure because military rule has to be reinforced both at a local level and within institutions as well as to destroy any potential resistance. Therefore, since 1960, the army dominated the social sphere with justifications of “public order” at every opportunity and institutionalized its presence in social life. This mechanism, systematized under the title of security and public order, reached its peak in 1997 with the Protocol on Cooperation for Security and Public Order (EMASYA). With this protocol, the military obtained the opportunity to collect intelligence and conduct operations at will and without control.

In short, the National Security Policy Document, the Internal Service Law and EMASYA served as tools to make the revolution permanent in this country. Unfortunately, this “revolution” tends to exclude social demands, fails to accept social change and perceives freedoms as threats. For this reason, given the Kemalist perception of democratic demands as “counterrevolution,” a true democracy needs a counterrevolution.

Accordingly, the government’s abolishment of EMASYA last week was a major step toward liberation. It is now time to do away with the National Security Policy Document and the Internal Service Law.

Egypt detains Muslim Brotherhood Leaders

Worldwide Religious Network

Thirteen senior members of the Islamist opposition movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, have been detained.

They include its deputy leader, Mahmoud Ezzat, the organisation says.

The Brotherhood is officially outlawed in Egypt but its members have many seats in parliament, sitting as independents.
A spokesman for the group said the arrests were an attempt by the authorities to thwart its preparations for elections later in the year.

Supporters are routinely arrested.

Charity work

The Brotherhood has been banned from open political activity since 1954, and leading activists are frequently arrested and imprisoned by the authorities.

Despite this, Brotherhood members standing as independent candidates won 20% of the seats in the last parliamentary election in 2005, its best ever result.

In January, the movement named Mohammed Badie, a 66-year-old veterinary professor, as its new leader.

He has said that the Muslim Brotherhood was not an adversary of the Egyptian government and that he would try to avoid confrontation with it.

The Muslim Brotherhood has influenced Islamist movements around the world with its model of political activism combined with charity work.

Time for George Mitchell to resign

By Stephen M. WaltForeign Policy

The administration's early commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace was either a naïve bit of bravado or a cynical charade

If Mideast special envoy George Mitchell wants to end his career with his reputation intact, it is time for him to resign. He had a distinguished tenure in the U.S. Senate — including a stint as majority leader — and his post-Senate career has been equally accomplished. He was an effective mediator of the conflict in Northern Ireland, helped shepherd the Disney Corporation through a turbulent period, and led an effective investigation of the steroids scandal afflicting major league baseball. Nobody can expect to be universally admired in the United States, but Mitchell may have come as close as any politician in recent memory.

Why should Mitchell step down now? Because he is wasting his time. The administration’s early commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace was either a naïve bit of bravado or a cynical charade, and if Mitchell continues to pile up frequent-flyer miles in a fruitless effort, he will be remembered as one of a long series of U.S. “mediators” who ended up complicit in Israel’s self-destructive land grab on the West Bank. Mitchell will turn 77 in August, he has already undergone treatment for prostate cancer, and he’s gotten exactly nowhere (or worse) since his mission began. However noble the goal of Israeli-Palestinian peace might be, surely he’s got better things to do.

In an interview earlier this week with Time’s Joe Klein, President Obama acknowledged that his early commitment to achieving “two states for two peoples” had failed. In his words, “this is as intractable a problem as you get … Both sides-the Israelis and the Palestinians-have found that the political environments, the nature of their coalitions or the divisions within their societies, were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that” (my emphasis).

This admission raises an obvious question: who was responsible for this gross miscalculation? It’s not as if the dysfunctional condition of Israeli and Palestinian internal politics was a dark mystery when Obama took office, or when Netanyahu formed the most hard-line government in Israeli history. Which advisors told Obama and Mitchell to proceed as they did, raising expectations sky-high in the Cairo speech, publicly insisting on a settlement freeze, and then engaging in a humiliating retreat? Did they ever ask themselves what they would do if Netanyahu dug in his heels, as anyone with a triple-digit IQ should have expected? And if Obama now realizes how badly they screwed up, why do the people who recommended this approach still have their jobs?

As for Mitchell himself, he should resign because it should be clear to him that he was hired under false pretenses. He undoubtedly believed Obama when the president said he was genuinely committed to achieving Israel-Palestinian peace in his first term. Obama probably promised to back him up, and his actions up to the Cairo speech made it look like he meant it. But his performance ever since has exposed him as another U.S. president who is unwilling to do what everyone knows it will take to achieve a just peace. Mitchell has been reduced to the same hapless role that Condoleezza Rice played in the latter stages of the Bush administration — engaged in endless “talks” and inconclusive haggling over trivialities-and he ought to be furious at having been hung out to dry in this fashion.

The point is not that Obama’s initial peace effort in the Middle East has failed; the real lesson is that he didn’t really try. The objective was admirably clear from the start — “two states for two peoples” — what was missing was a clear strategy for getting there and the political will to push it through. And notwithstanding the various difficulties on the Palestinian side, the main obstacle has been the Netanyahu government’s all-too obvious rejection of anything that might look like a viable Palestinian state, combined with its relentless effort to gobble up more land. Unless the U.S. president is willing and able to push Israel as hard as it is pushing the Palestinians (and probably harder), peace will simply not happen. Pressure on Israel is also the best way to defang Hamas, because genuine progress towards a Palestinian state in the one thing that could strengthen Abbas and other Palestinian moderates and force Hamas to move beyond its talk about a long-term hudna (truce) and accept the idea of permanent peace.

It’s not as if Obama and Co. don’t realize that this is important. National Security Advisor James Jones has made it clear that he sees the Israel-Palestinian issue as absolutely central; it’s not our only problem in the Middle East, but it tends to affect most of the others and resolving it would be an enormous boon. And there’s every sign that the president is aware of the need to do more than just talk.

Yet U.S. diplomacy in this area remains all talk and no action. When a great power identifies a key interest and is strongly committed to achieving it, it uses all the tools at its disposal to try to bring that outcome about. Needless to say, the use of U.S. leverage has been conspicuously absent over the past year, which means that Mitchell has been operating with both hands tied firmly behind his back. Thus far, the only instrument of influence that Obama has used has been presidential rhetoric, and even that weapon has been used rather sparingly.

And please don’t blame this on Congress. Yes, Congress will pander to the lobby, oppose a tougher U.S. stance, and continue to supply Israel with generous economic and military handouts, but a determined president still has many ways of bringing pressure to bear on recalcitrant clients. The problem is that Obama refused to use any of them.

When Netanyahu dug in his heels and refused a complete settlement freeze — itself a rather innocuous demand if Israel preferred peace to land — did Obama describe the settlements as “illegal” and contrary to international law? Of course not. Did he fire a warning shot by instructing the Department of Justice to crack down on tax-deductible contributions to settler organizations? Nope. Did he tell Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to signal his irritation by curtailing U.S. purchases of Israeli arms, downgrading various forms of “strategic cooperation,” or canceling a military exchange or two? Not a chance. When Israel continued to evict Palestinians from their homes and announced new settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in August, did Obama remind Netanyahu of his dependence on U.S. support by telling U.S. officials to say a few positive things about the Goldstone Report and to use its release as an opportunity to underscore the need for a genuine peace? Hardly; instead, the administration rewarded Netanyau’s intransigence by condemning Goldstone and praising Netanyahu for “unprecedented” concessions. (The “concessions,” by the way, was an announcement that Israel would freeze settlement expansion in the West Bank “temporarily” while continuing it in East Jerusalem. In other words, they’ll just take the land a bit more slowly).

Like the Clinton and Bush administrations, in short, the idea that the United States ought to use its leverage and exert genuine pressure on Israel remains anathema to Obama, to Mitchell and his advisors, and to all those pundits who are trapped in the Washington consensus on this issue. The main organizations in the Israel lobby are of course dead-set against it — and that goes for J Street as well — even though there is no reason to expect Israel to change course in the absence of countervailing pressure.

Obama blinked — leaving Mitchell with nothing to do-because he needed to keep sixty senators on board with his health care initiative (that worked out well, didn’t it?), because he didn’t want to jeopardize the campaign coffers of the Democratic Party, and because he knew he’d be excoriated by Israel’s false friends in the U.S. media if he did the right thing. I suppose I ought to be grateful to have my thesis vindicated in such striking fashion, but there’s too much human misery involved on both sides to take any consolation in that.

So what will happen now? Israel has made it clear that it is going to keep building settlements — including the large blocs (like Ma’ale Adumim) that were consciously designed to carve up the West Bank and make creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, and other moderate forces will be increasingly discredited as collaborators or dupes. As Israel increasingly becomes an apartheid state, its international legitimacy will face a growing challenge. Iran’s ability to exploit the Palestinian cause will be strengthened, and pro-American regimes in Egypt, Jordan, and elsewhere will be further weakened by their impotence and by their intimate association with the United States. It might even help give al Qaeda a new lease on life, at least in some places. Jews in other countries will continue to distance themselves from an Israel that they see as a poor embodiment of their own values, and one that can no longer portray itself convincingly as “a light unto the nations.” And the real tragedy is that all this might have been avoided, had the leaders of the world’s most powerful country been willing to use their influence on both sides more directly.

Looking ahead, one can see two radically different possibilities. The first option is that Israel retains control of the West Bank and Gaza and continues to deny the Palestinians full political rights or economic opportunities. (Netanyahu likes to talk about a long-term “economic peace,” but his vision of Palestinian bantustans under complete Israeli control is both a denial of the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations and a severe obstacle to their ability to fully develop their own society. Over time, there may be another intifada, which the IDF will crush as ruthlessly as it did the last one. Perhaps the millions of remaining Palestinians will gradually leave — as hardline Israelis hope and as former House speaker Dick Armey once proposed. If so, then a country founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust — one of history’s greatest crimes-will have completed a dispossession begun in 1948 — a great crime of its own.

Alternatively, the Palestinians may remain where they are, and begin to demand equal rights in the state under whose authority they have been forced to dwell. If Israel denies them these rights, its claim to being the “only democracy in the Middle East” will be exposed as hollow. If it grants them, it will eventually cease to be a Jewish-majority state (though its culture would undoubtedly retain a heavily Jewish/Israeli character). As a long-time supporter of Israel’s existence, I would take no joy in that outcome. Moreover, transforming Israel into a post-Zionist and multinational society would be a wrenching and quite possibly violent experience for all concerned. For both reasons, I’ve continued to favor “two states for two peoples” instead.

But with the two-state solution looking less and less likely, these other possibilities begin to loom large. Through fear and fecklessness, the United States has been an active enabler of an emerging tragedy. Israelis have no one to blame but themselves for the occupation, but Americans — who like to think of themselves as a country whose foreign policy reflects deep moral commitments-will be judged harshly for our own role in this endeavor.

The United States will suffer certain consequences as a result-decreased international influence, a somewhat greater risk of anti-American terrorism, tarnished moral reputation, etc.-but it will survive. But Israel may be in the process of drafting its own suicide pact, and its false friends here in the United States have been supplying the paper and ink. By offering his resignation-and insisting that Obama accept it-George Mitchell can escape the onus of complicity in this latest sad chapter of an all-too-familiar story. Small comfort, perhaps, but better than nothing.