Thursday, March 17, 2011

Libya and R2P

I had drafted this before the vote, and am pleased that many of the worries I had were dealt with in the Resolution, not least the exclusion of foreign occupation. I would also like to think that if my points on command and control were included, it might just have reduced the number of abstentions.


We can accept that a patient with a brain tumour might desperately need surgery, but there is still cause for alarm if Jack the Ripper offers to operate. Both method and motive are open to question.

So while no person with a conscience wants Gaddafi to win his sanguinary battle of repression against his own people, there are more than enough doubts that the US is the appropriate specialist to call. However, like Jack the Ripper - they do have the knives. We should avoid the reflexive binary positions both of those who support any intervention in an Arab country and those who equally obdurately oppose any intervention by any Western power, anywhere.

In fact, ever since the 2005 General Assembly when Kofi Annan steered the UN General Assembly into accepting that that the Security Council’s remit over threats to peace and security extended to what was happening inside sovereign nations, there is legal grounds for Security Council intervention.

There is clearly present need, unless the world is prepared to stand by and watch massacres of disloyal Libyans. And of course, one of the problems with the US as a self-appointed instrument in this case is that Washington seems neutral about not dissimilar events in Bahrain, Yemen or even in Gaza, preferring to arm the perpetrators and provide some measure of diplomatic protection. The sudden US rediscovery of Libyan tyranny is also somewhat problematic, as indeed are its previous military attacks on Libya.

Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN spoke eloquently, and from her previous record, probably sincerely, about the need for intervention. However, a few weeks before she had with deep insincerity cast a veto expressing her own and American opinion on Israel’s repression and breaches of international law in the West Bank!

Even accepting the motive, method is a problem. Consistently in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the US has shown a predilection for high technology ariel warfare and shown a propensity to risk civilian life rather put its own military at risk. Even in Kosovo, which most of the locals consider gratefully to have been a “good” war, President Clinton’s refusal to countenance ground forces or risk American casualties by bombing from below 15,000 feet incurred unnecessary casualties and eroded international support, while not frightening Serb leader Milosevic in the slightest.

In Libya, it might be different. Clearly identifiable columns of government forces trailing along the few passable roads along the coast would make an easily identifiable targets. But US over-caution, in wanting to take out Libya’s negligible air defences before acting could easily involve serious mistakes and casualties. No one who saw the WikiLeaks video of the helicopter gunning down journalists in Baghdad is going take the sensitivity of the US military for granted. We do not want Benghazi destroyed to save it.

On the positive side, decisive intervention would send a clear message to Gaddafi’s forces, largely one might presume motivated by fear of reprisals from the regime that there were speedier and worse consequences than that, or indeed an eventual trip to International Criminal Court in The Hague.

As to motive, one of the reasons that Russia has been reluctant to consider a military option, apart from its own bugbears like Chechnya, has been Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s personal experience of American arrogance in times past. Moscow supported intervention against Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait, and then as UN Ambassador he was consistently snubbed and humiliated by the US and UK as they pursued the resolutions, the sanctions, the air strikes and the rest, far beyond the intention of the resolutions or the will of the majority of the Security Council.

So, immediate surgery is needed. It would be best to find a more trusted surgeon, but if Jack the Ripper has the only scalpels, what do you do? There are two elements that could be considered in a UN resolution, both to get Russian and maybe even Chinese support, and to reassure many others around the world.

The first is to ensure a sunset clause. Any mandate for military action should have precise limitations both about the nature of operations and a time limit. It should return to the Council within days or weeks for a renewal of authority. Secondly, there is a need to ensure that there is some element of shared control over operations. After the Rwanda and Srebrenica debacles no one, including the UN Secretariat itself, would or should entrust this task to international civil servants. But a subcommittee of the Security Council, or even a revival of the long somnolent UN Military Staff Committee, of representatives of the Permanent Five members should provide some reassurance against irrational exuberance on the part of the Pentagon. The machinery is there just waiting reactivation. Indeed the Pentagon has a Military Staff Committee whose purpose is to liaise with the UN body.

Those who are opposed to intervention on principle will of course continue to do so. But the Libyan opposition, who have asked for help, are the ones who will pay the price for others’ high-mindedness. Pragmatic mandates could help.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Israel Unwilling to Apply the Same Law to Itself That It Demands Be Applied to Others

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

March 2011, Pages, 28-29, 32
United Nations
Israel Unwilling to Apply the Same Law to Itself That It Demands Be Applied to Others
By Ian Williams

"O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!" wrote Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet. For those who need a translation, he prays for the gift of seeing ourselves as others see us after seeing a louse crawl out of a young lady's hair in church.
Observers of the Middle East have long noticed Israeli insouciance to the lice swarming in that country's head.
According to the commentary from pro-Israel government sources, it is unthinkable, provocative and anti-Semitic for states like almost the whole of Latin America to recognize Palestine—until they do, of course, in which case it immediately becomes a futile and wasted gesture. Israeli hasbara (propaganda) is indeed capable of believing three impossible, and contradictory, things before breakfast. Fortunately, Israel is not trying to agitate an American attack on Latin America, so countries there have some leeway.
In particular, the polemics from some Israeli think tanks against the idea of the U.N. recognizing a Palestinian State would surely benefit from Jehovah's largesse in this matter.
Alan Baker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, for example, solemnly intoned for the benefit of foreign diplomats and press that the recognition of a Palestinian state was illegal "as set out in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, relating to a capability of governance, permanent population, defined territory, and capacity to enter into relations with other states." From 1985-89, before becoming Israel's ambassador to Canada, Baker was seconded by the Israeli government to the U.N.'s Department of Legal Affairs, where he seems to have survived despite his interpretation of international law being so notably at variance with that of everyone but Israel and its supporters.
Nothwithstanding his insistence on "permanent population, defined territory, and capacity to enter into relations with other states" for Palestinian recognition, Baker's time at the U.N. clearly was not spent in the archives. When Israel was admitted to the world body in 1949, if it had any recognized frontier at all it was the boundaries of the Jewish State demarcated by the commission that recommended partition, and explicitly excluded both parts of Jerusalem. This is why, of course, not one single member state now has an embassy to Israel in that city.
Israel's admission was delayed until the conclusion of armistice agreements with its neighbors, which came at heavy cost: the assassination of U.N. representative Count Folke Bernadotte by the party led by Yitzhak Shamir, which now, of course, rules Israel.
And that state at the time had a temporarily permanent population that included a majority of Arabs, but a much less permanent population of outsiders who were deemed to be automatic citizens. It is a little too late to call for nullification of Israel's accession to the U.N., although perhaps less tardy to remind the state of the promises it made on that accession to abide by U.N. decisions.
Baker also solemnly said that any attempt to secure recognition of Palestine was a violation of Palestinian commitments under the Oslo agreements. Of course, one would have to look hard in the Oslo agreements to see where they countenanced repeated Israeli military incursions into the West Bank and Gaza, assassinations and arrests of elected PA officials, blockading Gaza, and blowing up U.N. facilities.
And with hallmark chutzpah he solemnly accused the Palestinians of violating undertakings under "Article XXXI, para. 7, not to initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations." Unlike, of course, doubling the settler population since the agreements were signed. Indeed, so damning was a recent EU report on Israeli activities that European foreign ministers vetoed its publication—fruitlessly in the age of WikiLeaks since The Independent newspaper in Britain promptly leaked it. The report accused Israel of "restrictive zoning and planning, ongoing demolitions and evictions, an inequitable education policy, difficult access to health care, the inadequate provision of resources and investment," policies which it concluded had a demographic intent.
Describing the political consequences of Israeli policy in Jerusalem, the document added: "Over the past few years the changes to the city have run counter to the peace process. Attempts to exclusively emphasize the Jewish identity of the city threaten its religious diversity and radicalize the conflict, with potential regional and global repercussions."
In the face of this accurately depicted reality, Baker's breathtaking audacity, indeed mendacity, should be beyond satire. But across the world, some politicians, headline-writers and letter-writers will repeat it—and do so sincerely. After all, if one's worldview is that Israel is never wrong, then clearly reality must be ignored or adjusted accordingly.
In fact, it has been some years since I pointed out in this column that the status of Jerusalem can indeed be negotiated between the parties—but that their agreement has no validity until and unless the U.N. rescinds that partition resolution which made Jerusalem an international city under U.N. jurisdiction. It is indeed unfair and anomalous that the world's diplomats, by refusing to base embassies in Jerusalem, respect the residual authority of that resolution over the city, but forget the only legally sanctioned boundary between the Jewish and Arab states.
Baker invoked Brazil's words in the Security Council in 1967 to decry the Latin American states' recognition of Palestine "within the 1967 boundaries." He quotes them as saying, "Its acceptance does not imply that borderlines cannot be rectified as a result of an agreement freely concluded among the interested States. We keep constantly in mind that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East has necessarily to be based on secure permanent boundaries freely agreed upon and negotiated by the neighboring States."
Indeed, the pre-1967 boundaries were armistice lines without permanent legal foundation, and the Latin Americans, like the Palestinians, often invoke international law, since it is one of their defenses against neighboring bullies, notably the U.S. Everyone agrees that the 1967 boundaries are negotiable—but international law and the U.N. Charter also outlaw the acquisition of territory by force, which is why not one single country in the world has recognized Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, its legal title to the West Bank and Gaza, or even the Golan Heights.
But there is no rule saying Israel is entitled to keep the 1967 boundaries and then add more territory. Indeed, the Palestinians would be legally and morally justified (albeit at the risk of some questioning of their grip on reality) in demanding in negotiations a return to the original U.N. partition lines of 1947.
The Lake of Tiberias Strip
Also, to return to a theme the Palestinians seem to have forgotten, while the Golan Heights are indisputably occupied Syrian territory, the strip along the Lake of Tiberias is, under the Mandate boundaries, equally indisputably occupied Palestinian territory. The British and French had drawn up the boundaries and left a 10-meter strip—the beach, effectively—as part of Palestine to ensure what was then British control of the lake and the headwaters of the Jordan.
That strip was indeed allocated to the Jewish state in the U.N. partition plan, but one suspects that the Israelis would not be eager to cite that plan as definitive on the boundary front, since it would imply that their boundaries would shrink way behind the 1949 Armistice Line. In fact, to the south of Lake Tiberias the Syrians controlled more extensive Palestinian territory that was later designated a demilitarized zone. The IDF continually encroached on it, of course, but in 1949 Ralph Bunche sent a letter to Israel and Syria denying Israel's claims of sovereignty over the area to be included in the Armistice Agreement. In language that ironically foreshadowed current Israeli diplomacy he declared, "Questions of permanent boundaries, territorial sovereignty, customs, trade relations and the like must be dealt with in the ultimate peace agreement and not in the armistice agreement."
In 1967, the Israelis took the lot, and subsequently annexed the whole of the Golan Heights. But since Resolution 242 calls for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967, that presumably includes the Golan, and the strip of Mandatory Palestine and the DMZ, which should fall to the Palestinian State. At the very least, if the 1967 boundaries are to be negotiated, then these territories should be Palestine's to regain—or at least to be countered with equivalent concessions from the other side.
Over on the other coast, Lebanon raised the issue of U.N. help in demarcating the maritime boundary in the Mediterranean, where Beirut considers that it has claims to some of the natural gas fields Israel is claiming as its own. Indeed, a quick glance at a map suggests that the Lebanese do indeed have a point. However, the U.N. spokesman said—correctly—that Resolution 1701 only covered the U.N. delineating the land boundary between the two countries. Now Israel has become very upset because the U.N. Special Representative for Lebanon, Michael Williams has said—equally correctly—that the U.N. could help clarify the boundary.
In fact, not only are there clear legal principles, not least under the International Treaty on the Law of the Sea, for marking maritime boundaries, but there are fora, such as the Hamburg-based International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, and the International Court of Justice itself, where interpretations of those principles could be argued. Israel's distress at this suggests that it does indeed have some doubts about its legal claim to the full extent of the gas fields. As the American poet Robert Frost noted, "good fences make good neighbors." On land and at sea, it is in everyone's long term interest to agree upon boundaries—unless a party has designs to move the posts permanently.
Bringing together these issues, the Palestinians have been threatening to take two issues to the U.N. Firstly, to recognize Palestine as a state, as well over 100 U.N. members already have and secondly to condemn the illegal settlement building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
It is a sad epithet on Obama's initial enthusiasm for building relations with the Muslim world that Washington seems to have promised Netanyahu to veto both. Perhaps in gratitude for the prime minister's compliance with oft-repeated and humiliating U.S. pleas for a mere settlement freeze?
It is a great opportunity missed. Despite its bluster, the Israeli government is worried about U.N. resolutions and not vetoing them would be a painless way for the U.S. to exercise some leverage on the recalcitrant Likudniks. If Hilary Clinton can condemn settlements, then why veto the U.N. Security Council doing the same? If President Obama can look forward to a Palestinian state, then why shouldn't the U.N. follow the wishes of a clear majority of its members?
Sadly, like Israeli legal exegesis, these are mysteries beyond understanding.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why No Go for US No Fly

Tribune 11 March 2011

Ian Williams on Libyan intervention

Some people would have picketed the Normandy Landings as imperialist intervention. (The Communist Party of the USA did actually condemn the British blockade of Nazi Germany as an imperialist attempt to starve German workers!) On the other hand, when I went to the UN legal department at the time of the belated attempts to help the Kurds after the first Gulf War, they shuffled their feet, and admitted that one of the few modern precedents they could find for “humanitarian intervention,” was Hitler’s land grabs in Czechoslovakia when he claimed to be rescuing Sudeten Germans from persecution.

When Kofi Annan persuaded the governments of the world to reinterpret the UN Charter to encompass “The Responsibility to Protect,” even supporters of intervention invoked the maxim “First do no harm,” and warned of the need to consider carefully the motives, intentions and methods of those intervening. Beware of brain surgeons with grudges and hatchets.

So, even though there are good ethical reasons to help the rebels in Libya, sadly there are few candidates qualified to do it. Obama has certainly blown it with his recent veto, which regresses US standing back to the inglory days of George W. Bush. (By the way, the UK went against the Blairite tradition and supported the resolution.)

In the face of Netanyahu’s refusal even to pause building settlements which the US coyly calls “illegitimate” but which the rest of the world unequivocally condemns as “illegal,” the US stood firm - and threatened to withdraw aid to the Palestinian victims unless they withdrew the embarrassing resolution!

One consequence is that this effectively rules out any attempt at international intervention in Libya, even to enforce a no-fly zone - at least if it involves US or NATO forces. There would be too many questions in the region about whether the jets flew for democracy or Israel, which was after all invoked by Mubarak’s security forces and the Yemeni president against protestors.

Gaddafi is still in some parallel universe where he thinks invoking Al-Qaeda gets him a free pass in Washington. This sounds like he is not quite hundred dirhams to the dinar, but put in the regional context of US support for any murderous autocrat who signs on for the anti-terrorist crusade and it is not that stupid. It might work yet, but if it doesn’t and there is any Western intervention, you can guarantee that he will invoke Israeli interference.

It is an interesting exercise to compare Obama’s recent stands, (or in some cases “prones,” might be a better word) on events in the region with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who has categorically condemned settlements as illegal, and called for Mubarak to step down long before the leaders of the free world screwed their courage to the sticking place. After making the call, he returned to New York to fierce protests from the Egyptian mission to the UN, which have one gathers, been replaced with thanks and plaudits from the new regime in Cairo.

In Libya Ban called for "an immediate halt to the government's disproportionate use of force and indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets". This is welcome change from the UN’s traditional inability to distinguish between victim and perpetrator in conflicts and reflects Ban’s unprecedentedly forthright condemnations of member governments committing crimes - and, it is worth remembering, his public support for the International Criminal Career when he was running for the office with the support of the Bush administration.

Of course, Ban has no troops of his own, even if he wanted to deploy them. The UN is now sending a fact-finding mission which could restrain regime excesses in Tripoli, and one also suspects that other countries are sending less public missions to help the rebels, which one hopes are more circumspect than the arrested British SAS team. Any help has to be hands off to be successful. And the ironic result of democracy in Libya, like in Egypt, will be an elected government more anti-Imperialist than its paid-for predecessor.

Pity the Poor Shareholder!

Comment: The Case For Dividends Over Buybacks
Ian Williams, Speculator Column
Inside Investor Relations | Mar. 7, 2011,

Corporate cash reserves are swelling, leading to decisions about what to do with them. The order of priorities seems to be: give executive bonuses, buy back shares, do some M&A, invest in the business and last – and least – pay dividends. Well, not quite last: repaying debt seems an even lower priority.

Are buybacks good for shareholders? Perhaps, up to a point, except there is so often an uncanny relationship between the number of shares bought back and the number distributed in stock options. We are assured – usually by people who have been fighting tooth and nail to avoid expensing stock options on their books – that buybacks are a tax-efficient way of distributing cash to shareholders. There is indeed a tax on dividends, but there is also a tax on capital gains, so if there is any water in the argument that continuous buybacks raise stock prices, then those who seek to cash in will be paying capital gains tax on this reputed increase in value.

Milo Mindbender in Catch 22 used to appropriate his comrades’ parachutes and replace them with ‘A share’. Many retirees must have felt the same falling feeling recently when they tried to draw down the shareholder value for which they forwent dividends.

It is, ultimately, all about power. When the Banks fell off Wall St, all the presidents’ men did indeed put them back together again, and bonuses at publicly traded banks hit $135 bn in 2010. The shareholders who had been told their stock would rise in value because of all those buybacks saw their dividends going to the people who crashed their portfolios almost to penny stock levels at one point.

Indeed, I was amazed at the naivety of some bankers to whom I extended therapy for not diversifying, when I discovered how many of them had kept all of their stock in, for example, CitiBank, as it performed Humpty Dumpty imitations. Cisco is a good example: it has never paid any dividends, but its share-purchase program has bought back a third of its stock – which has blipped recently, but is down some 70 percent over a decade of buybacks.

Unlike many of the companies that suffered then, Cisco makes essential products and delivered profits. It has some $25 bn net cash in its back pocket, and it is only now thinking of doling out a meager dividend – mostly, one suspects, because more portfolio managers now demand dividends from stock they hold.

So what’s in it for the corporate managements? It’s back to being all about power. Not only do buybacks conceal stock options, but they also reduce the number of stockholders, perhaps gently guiding unhappy stockholders toward the exit, consolidating control in executive-appointed boards.

But apart from votes for boards on emoluments and other decisions that the Business Roundtable has fought against tenaciously and bitterly, the buybacks disenfranchise shareholders from decisions on the most basic issue: what happens to their money. Dividends enfranchise shareholders and allow them to take the cash, spend or reinvest in the same company or elsewhere. It is, as it should be, their decision – not a CEO’s.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Wisconsin's Winning Ways

Now the spirit of protest has gripped Wisconsin

As protests swept Europe and the Middle East, there was a growing feeling that Americans, in their traditional isolation, would accept anything forced down their throats. But the revolt began, and in the least expected place, in the heartland state of Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of union members occupied the state capitol to protest [...]
by Ian Williams
Tribune Friday, March 4th, 2011

As protests swept Europe and the Middle East, there was a growing feeling that Americans, in their traditional isolation, would accept anything forced down their throats. But the revolt began, and in the least expected place, in the heartland state of Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of union members occupied the state capitol to protest against and try to thwart the Republican governor’s plans to use the financial crisis to end collective bargaining.

Ironically, the protestors invoked Egypt and, in an example of international solidarity, Egyptians and many others from around the world have been calling in orders to the nearby pizzeria to feed the protestors.

Governor Scott Walker is a conservative ideologue at the sharp end of a cabal of like-minded right-wing governors. Bankers caused the overall financial crisis, but they blame the unions. Governors such as Mr Walker exacerbated financial woes by railroading through tax cuts, benefitting mostly business, which in the case of Wisconsin almost exactly match the current deficit.

Across the United States, Republican governors have made public employees and their unions a scapegoat. In Wisconsin, as elsewhere, the public employee unions offered concessions under duress, but Governor Walker made it an ideological grudge fight by trying to end all collective bargaining rights – in response to which Democratic state senators fled the state to ensure there was no quorum while unions began their occupation and protest. The governor ordered state troopers to their homes to bring them forcibly to senate session.

Mr Walker’s proposal allows the traditionally powerful and well-paid police and warders’ unions to retain their union privileges, not least since they endorsed his candidacy, but even they know that the writing is on the wall and hundreds of them joined the protest last week. It is not against public employees but workers and unions in general. Private employers in the US spend millions fighting unionisation and, for decades, laws that protect labour rights have been ignored or scaled back by successive governments.

The ideological battle lines were drawn when a journalist recorded a spoof phone call he had made to Governor Walker while posing as one of the Koch brothers – multibillionaires whose dollars have financed initiatives ranging from the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry to Tea Party protests – and are behind the current ferocious anti-union campaign. On the call, Mr Walker calmly weighs sending agents provocateur to the protest to instigate violence.

The revolt in Wisconsin has evoked unprecedented solidarity across the US. One of the most telling details to emerge is that the four conservative states which do not allow teachers to join a union have the worst education levels in the country.

No Go for No Fly..

Middle East
Mar 5, 2011
Asia Times

To fly or not to fly?
By Ian Williams

So, there is an eccentric dictator, disliked by all his neighbors. When the chips came down with demonstrations across Libya, his only friends are similar arch-bombasts, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega and Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, and even their friendship seems based on a safe physical distance, a steady supply of cash and a presumed shared enemy in Washington.

With the Arab League, Organization of Islamic States, the African Union, the European Union and now even the full United Nations Security Council - including China, Russia and India - on your side against Muammar Gaddafi, surely this is a time where the

UN doctrine of "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) adopted five years ago and American declarations of humanitarian intent should form a vector of forces all heading in the same direction?

Sudan is still sitting pretty after far more bloodshed in Darfur, showing the power of friendship and diplomacy, with the Arab League and African Union trying to pull the leash back on the International Criminal Court, while even Security Council members who do not accept ICC jurisdiction, like the US and India, voted to refer Libya's rulers.

And yet, despite, dare we say, bombast from Senator John McCain and Senator Joe Lieberman, the Barack Obama administration is correctly hesitant about letting loose the dogs of war on Gaddafi, not even to enforce a no-fly zone.

The framers of the R2P principles at the UN made a bedrock principle of "First Do No Harm", and US intervention would clearly fail that test spectacularly. This is sad. Yet the resistance in Libya deserves, and might even need support. Indeed rather than physical intervention, a clear threat that it was possible and likely would give second thoughts to small groups of Gaddafi loyalists who must already have that sinking feeling of going down with a mad captain heading straight for the White Whale.

Although the present juncture of events in the Arab world was then unthinkable, or at least unforeseen, a year ago, Obama might have been able to get away with it then. His outreach to Muslims with speeches in Cairo and Istanbul added to the general feeling of euphoria that a black American with a Muslim middle name and an African surname had been elected president was enough, and what is more, his seemed to be the first administration since George H W Bush to confront Israel on settlements and peace.

Since then a lot of water has flowed - backwards - under the bridge. While he maintained some pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about settlements, he had a chance, but the revelation that the only sanctions threatened were a cut off of aid to the victim - the Palestinians, unless they knuckled under, showed a reversion to Clintonian, indeed Bush politics.

The first veto, of a resolution actually stating US views on Israeli settlements (if we elide the weaselly distinction between "Illegitimate" and "illegal"), starkly revealed US isolation and choices. It had 130 sponsors and every US ally on the Security Council voted for it. The fervor with which Washington tried to head off the vote shows they knew the risks they were taking, but nothing explains why they thought it was worthwhile.

We can see the potential as Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh refers to the protesters in his country as American and Israeli agents. It is nonsense, but he knows that it would be a potent objection if he could make it stick. The riots across the Arab world are not about Israel and Palestine, they are about food, democracy and many other pressing domestic issues.

But polls have shown that Arabs do feel strongly about the humiliation of their Palestinian brethren by Israel. And instead of biddable and buyable kleptocrats, Washington now has to worry about the views of the Arab electorate for the first time. They might not want to go to war against Israel: but they certainly will not countenance being bases for a war for Israel, or even the US, against yet another Arab country.

Even more broadly, after Iraq, for which British premier Tony Blair claimed humanitarian reasons when the weapons of mass destruction went missing, there is no way that the US could repeat a Kosovo operation without a UN mandate - which the US is almost certainly not going to get.

In addition to traditional Russian suspicion of US motives, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has memories. He was UN ambassador when Moscow extended the hand of cooperation over the first Iraq war in 1991 - and he feels quite rightly betrayed. Russia voted for sanctions - and saw them maintained for a decade after their declared original purpose of liberating Kuwait had been achieved. He saw UN measures to help the Kurds against the Ba'athist regime expanded to include a no-fly zone over the whole country, and once again maintained for a decade with no explicit UN authorization.

Now that the US is looking and sounding like the old-style US administrations, he is not cutting them any slack. There was a sound "nyet" to any suggestion of military action in the resolution.

In fact, he is saving the US from itself. After Obama's first veto he has reverted to being just another US commander-in-chief, and there are many people in the region who would ask whether those jets were flying for democracy or Israel - a question with extra force since many of those who are advocating it were much less keen to lend support to Egyptians ousting Hosni Mubarak, let alone the king of Bahrain.

Even Gaddafi, who eccentrically blames al-Qaeda as if this will win him support from Washington, is likely to raise the Israel specter if the US Air Force flies in. Even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a clear US surrogate is incompatible.

However, rather than the US, a threat of Turkish, or Egyptian intervention or interdiction of the Libyan military might overcome many of the legitimate actions, and indeed would encourage the rebels while stripping Gaddafi of the last of his crew so he could go down without taking the ship with him.

Ian Williams is the author of Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past, Nation Books, New York.

(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

The end of the end of history
Mar 4

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Goldstone again

This week’s Catskill Review of Books, on WJFF 90.5 FM or streaming on, features Ian Williams talking to Lizzy Ratner, one of the editors of Nation Book’s edition of the Goldstone Report, about how the book shows the effect of Justice Goldstone’s report on him personally, as well how people worldwide see Operation Cast Lead, the attack on Gaza.