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Matt Warren

The Top Five Events in 2014 - 0 views

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    "'Tis the season to make lists, and a list shall be made. We tend to see each year as extraordinary, and in some senses, each year is. But in a broader sense, 2014 was merely another year in a long chain of human triumph and misery. Wars have been waged, marvelous things have been invented, disease has broken out, and people have fallen in love. Nonetheless, lists are called for, and this is my list of the five most important events of 2014."
Matt Warren

The Islamic State Reshapes the Middle East - 0 views

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    "Nuclear talks with Iran have failed to yield an agreement, but the deadline for a deal has been extended without a hitch. What would have been a significant crisis a year ago, replete with threats and anxiety, has been handled without drama or difficulty. This new response to yet another failure to reach an accord marks a shift in the relationship between the United States and Iran, a shift that can't be understood without first considering the massive geopolitical shifts that have taken place in the Middle East, redefining the urgency of the nuclear issue."
Matt Warren

Thanksgiving and Puritan Geopolitics in the Americas - 0 views

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    "The first winter took many of the English at Plymouth. By fall 1621, only 53 remained of the 132 who had arrived on the Mayflower. But those who had survived brought in a harvest. And so, in keeping with tradition, the governor called the living 53 together for a three-day harvest feast, joined by more than 90 locals from the Wampanoag tribe. The meal was a moment to recognize the English plantation's small step toward stability and, hopefully, profit. This was no small thing. A first, deadly year was common. Getting through it was an accomplishment. England's successful colony of Virginia had had a massive death toll - of the 8,000 arrivals between 1607 and 1625, only 15 percent lived."
Matt Warren

Seeking the Future of Europe in the Ancient Hanseatic League - 0 views

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    "A bargain, forged in the fires of 2012's economic emergency, has defined the European Union for the past two years. It was an agreement made between two sides that can be defined in several terms - the center and the periphery, the north and the south, the producers and the consumers - but essentially one side, led by Germany, provided finance, while the other, fronted by Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece, promised change. In order to gauge this arrangement's chances of ultimately succeeding, it is important to understand what Germany was hoping to achieve with its conditional financing. The answer to that question lies in Germany's own history. "
Matt Warren

Judgment and decision-making: brain activity indicates there is more than meets the eye - 0 views

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    "People make immediate judgments about images they are shown, which could impact on their decisions, even before their brains have had time to consciously process the information, a study of brainwaves led by The University Of Melbourne has found."
Matt Warren

What the Fall of the Wall Did Not Change - 0 views

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    "Twenty-five years ago, a crowd filled with an uneasy mixture of joy and rage tore down the Berlin Wall. There was joy for the end of Germany's partition and the end of tyranny. There was rage against generations of fear. One fear was of communist oppression. The other fear was of the threat of a war, which had loomed over Europe and Germany since 1945. One fear was moral and ideological, while the other was prudential and geopolitical. As in all defining political moments, fear and rage, ideology and geopolitics, blended together in an intoxicating mix."
Matt Warren

Traveling Through Multiple Europes - 0 views

  • The crisis is having an uneven effect on EU member states because the eurozone locks countries with different levels of economic development into the same currency union.
  • Europe's geography helps explain these differences: Countries in the south have traditionally dealt with high capital costs and low capital-generation capacity, while countries in the north have seen the opposite.
  • Merely moving people and goods from point to point on the Iberian Peninsula has always posed formidable challenges for governments and traders.
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  • In contrast, most of Germany is flat.
  • The lack of any real physical borders to the east and west also helps explain Germany's historical conflict with its neighbors.
  • The same geography that made Germany a place of conflict also explains its economic power: Germany is the center of Europe from almost every possible point of view.
  • Greece is a rugged country with narrow coastal plains that swiftly give way to mountains.
  • Greece's extremely fragmented geography and its strategic position on the eastern Mediterranean helps explain why it has struggled throughout history to get anything done.
  • Whenever I'm in a foreign country, I make an effort to visit bookstores because the books people read and write offer insights into the social mood.
  • In an Oporto bookstore, among the bestsellers was a book called We Are Not Germans, while a Rome bookstore had a book called It's Not Worth a Lira, a plea to leave the euro and return to Italy's old currency, that appeared to be quite popular.
  • Germany is seen as a country where everything works and governments are efficient. On the other hand, it is also seen as a hegemon that doesn't understand or care about the situation in the nations it is trying to lead.
  • While conservative forces are moving to the right and nationalist forces are gaining strength, the center-left is going through an identity crisis that is generating frictions within the parties and confusing their traditional voters
  • The irony is that the same process that is creating political and social tensions in Europe's core is helping to mitigate the negative effects of a demographic change.
  • Poland was a country confident about its economic strength but worried about its future. History has given the Poles a deep understanding of geopolitics and too many reasons to be worried about the events beyond their borders.
  • The Poles are proud of being members of the European Union, but they are not completely confident that Brussels will come to their rescue should the crisis with Russia escalate.
  • . The crisis has now reached a point where its two main players are under extreme pressure. Germany joined the eurozone under the assumption that no bailouts would be given to nations in distress and no monetization of debt would take place. France joined the eurozone under the assumption that it would remain the political leader of Europe. The crisis has put all the promises and agreements that supported the Franco-German unity in doubt.
  • Europeanists believe that things would be much better if the European Union became a true federation. They are probably right. The question is how to accomplish this.
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    "Europe is overcrowded with people and with nations. Six decades ago, the need to suppress the dangerous forces of nationalism led to the unprecedented political, economic and social experiment now known as the European Union."
Matt Warren

Soda May Age You as Much as Smoking, Study Says | TIME - 0 views

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    "Nobody would mistake sugary soda for a health food, but a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health just found that a daily soda habit can age your immune cells almost two years."
Matt Warren

Centripetal and Centrifugal Forces at Work in the Nation-State - 0 views

  • This dynamism is not limited to China. The Scottish referendum and waves of secession movements -- from Spain's Catalonia to Turkey and Iraq's ethnic Kurds -- are working in different directions.
  • in China, one of the most intractable issues in the struggle for unity -- the status of Tibet -- is poised for a possible reversal, or at least a major adjustment.
  • More important, a settlement between Beijing and the Dalai Lama could be a major step in lessening the physical and psychological estrangement between the Chinese heartland and the Tibetan Plateau.
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  • The very existence of the Tibetan issue bespeaks several overlapping themes of Chinese geopolitics. Most fundamentally, it must be understood in the context of China's struggle to integrate and extend control over the often impassable but strategically significant borderlands militarily and demographically.
  • Perhaps no borderland is as fraught with as much consequence as Tibet under China's contemporary geopolitical circumstances. The Tibetan Plateau and its environs constitute roughly one-quarter of the Chinese landmass and are a major source of freshwater for China, the Indian subcontinent and mainland Southeast Asia.
  • Starting in the 7th century, China made sporadic attempts to extend its reach into the Tibetan Plateau, but it wasn't until the Qing dynasty that the empire made a substantial effort to gain authority over Tibetan cultural and social structures through control of Tibetan Buddhist institutions.
  • It is the Dalai Lama who represents the Tibetan identity in foreign capitals and holds a fractious Tibetan movement together, holding sway over both indigenous Tibetans in the homeland and the old and new generations of Tibetan exiles.
  • Under the People's Republic, China has some of the clearest physical control and central authority over one of the largest and most secure states in China's dynastic history.
  • Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama's international prestige exposed the central power in Beijing to numerous international critics. Moreover, it offered New Delhi an opportunity to exploit Beijing's concerns by hosting the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile.
  • Beijing's strategy has been to try to undermine the Dalai Lama's international prestige, constrain interaction between the exile community and Tibetans at home and hope that when the spiritual leader dies, the absence of his strong personality will leave the Tibetan movement without a center and without someone who can draw the international attention the Dalai Lama does.
  • Central to Beijing's calculation is interference in the succession process whereby Beijing claims the right to designate the Dalai Lama's religious successor and, in doing so, exploit sectarian and factional divisions within Tibetan Buddhism.
  • Beijing insists the reincarnation process must follow the Tibetan religious tradition since the Qing dynasty, meaning that it must occur within Tibetan territory and with the central government's endorsement, a process that highlights Tibet's position as a part of China, not an independent entity.
    • Matt Warren
       
      The devil in the details.
  • the Dalai Lama has discussed the potential for succession through emanation rather than reincarnation. This would place his knowledge and authority in several individuals, each with a part of his spiritual legacy, but none as the single heir.
  • More concretely, the Dalai Lama has split the role of spiritual and political leadership of the Tibetan movement, nominally giving up the latter while retaining the former.
  • In doing so, he is attempting to create a sense of continuity to the Tibetan movement even though his spiritual successor has not been identified. However, it also separates the Dalai Lama from any Tibetan political movement, theoretically making it easier for the spiritual leader and Beijing to come to an accord about his possible return as a spiritual -- but not political -- leader.
  • But the maneuvering by the Dalai Lama reflects a deeper reality. The Tibetan movement is not homogenous. Tibetan Buddhism has several schools that remain in fragile coordination out of respect for the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan political movement is also fragmented, with the younger foreign-born Tibetans often more strongly pressing for independence for Tibet, while the older exiles take a more moderate tone and call for more autonomy. The peaceful path promoted by the Dalai Lama is respected, but not guaranteed forever, by the younger and more radical elements of the Tibetan movement, which have only temporarily renounced the use of violence to achieve their political goals.
  • At a minimum, the spiritual leader's fame means no successor will be able to exercise the same degree of influence or maintain internal coherence as he has done.
  • both Beijing and the Dalai Lama -- and by extension his mainstream followers -- understand how little time they have and how, without a resolution, the uncertainties surrounding the Tibet issue could become permanent after the spiritual leader's death.
  • Of course, many uncertainties surround the return of the Dalai Lama; it is even uncertain whether it could happen at all. Indeed, overcoming 55 years of hostile relations takes enormous effort, and even if the Dalai Lama is allowed to return to Tibet, it is only one of several steps in much broader negotiations between Beijing and the Tibetan exile community over how to reach a resolution, including the possible resettlement of 200,000 Tibetans in exile, the status of the government-in-exile, the authority of the Dalai Lama and, ultimately, the succession process for the spiritual leader.
  • Perhaps more important, even if there were signs of a resolution developing, the succession issue is likely to be a roadblock. Beijing is unlikely to give any concession in its authority to appoint a reincarnated spiritual leader, and the Dalai Lama shows little intention of allowing Beijing's unilateral move.
  • Again illustrating how an individual can play a role in geopolitics, the potential for reconciliation between Beijing and the Dalai Lama could affect the balance between China and India.
  • China has long viewed India's decision to host the Tibetan government-in-exile as a hostile gesture. However, India's ability to exploit China's concerns about Tibet has diminished along with the government-in-exile's influence and claim to represent Tibet as a legitimate entity.
  • a settlement would not eliminate the underlying geopolitical rivalry between India and China on other fronts -- from their 4,000-kilometer land border to the maritime competitions in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea and their competition for energy and other resources.
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    ""Here begins our tale: The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been." This opening adage of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, China's classic novel of war and strategy, best captures the essential dynamism of Chinese geopolitics. At its heart is the millennia-long struggle by China's would-be rulers to unite and govern the all-but-ungovernable geographic mass of China. It is a story of centrifugal forces and of insurmountable divisions rooted in geography and history -- but also, and perhaps more fundamentally, of centripetal forces toward eventual unity."
Matt Warren

Turkey Must Tread Carefully Against Islamic State - 0 views

  • Rumors have long circulated that Turkey has been aiding Islamic State fighters.
  • Turkey's dealings with the Islamic State are much more nuanced than has generally been understood. Last year in July, Stratfor shed light on this dynamic, analyzing how the Turks were caught between two very threatening realities — both demanding simultaneous management — on their southern flank: jihadists of various stripes and Syrian Kurdish separatists.
  • Turkey is all too aware of how Pakistan even today, nearly two generations after it agreed to serve as the staging ground for the U.S.-led effort to counter Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, continues to deal with the fallout of that war, which has not yet ended.
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  • From the Turks' viewpoint, the Americans and their Western and regional allies (with the exception of Jordan) all have the option of walking away from the conflict in Syria.

  • Not only does Turkey feel that it will have to deal with the mess in Syria long after other stakeholders have moved on, it also knows that the United States expects Turkey to manage the Syrians as well as other regional matters.
  • Turkey has not forgotten how, during the days of President Turgut Ozal, Ankara cut Iraq's export pipeline in 1990 at the behest of the United States in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War but was later left with the aftermath as promises of aid disappeared with the subsequent change of U.S. administrations.
  • This bitter experience informed Turkey's 2003 decision to refuse Washington access to Turkish territory for a northern invasion of Iraq. At the same time Turkey is deeply worried about being caught between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who are engaged in a vicious proxy sectarian war.
  • But in the real world, not only does the Islamic State exist, it is actually in competition with Turkey for influence among the Sunni Arabs to the south of the Turkish Republic.
  • Al-Hashimi is also very close to Turkey's main Arab partner, Qatar. Al-Hashimi periodically frequents Doha, which has significant influence among a range of jihadist groups and very likely played a key role in the release of the diplomats, which happened just days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Qatar.
  • Clearly Erdogan is not worried about any fallout from a prisoner exchange, especially since the United States recently released five high-profile Afghan Taliban detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for an American soldier, a deal also mediated by Qatar.
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    "As the United States begins its full assault against the Islamic State in Syria, backed by Arab allies, the absence of NATO ally Turkey is drawing attention and comment. Just days before the Sept. 22 beginning of U.S. airstrikes, Turkey managed to broker a deal with the Islamic State to return 49 diplomats held in Iraq for 101 days. Contrary to diplomatic and media speculation, however, Turkey is not supporting the transnational, Syria- and Iraq-based jihadist movement known as the Islamic State."
Matt Warren

The atheist libertarian lie: Ayn Rand, income inequality and the fantasy of the "free m... - 0 views

  • To believe that markets operate and exist in a state of nature is, in itself, to believe in the supernatural.
  • According to the American Values Survey, a mere 7 percent of Americans identify as “consistently libertarian.” Compared to the general population, libertarians are significantly more likely to be white (94 percent), young (62 percent under 50) and male (68 percent). You know, almost identical to the demographic makeup of atheists – white (95 percent), young (65 percent under 50) and male (67 percent). So there’s your first clue.
  • Your second clue is that atheist libertarians are skeptical of government authority in the same way they’re skeptical of religion.
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  • In their mind, the state and the pope are interchangeable, which partly explains the libertarian atheist’s guttural gag reflex to what they perceive as government interference with the natural order of things, especially “free markets.”
  • Robert Reich says that one of the most deceptive ideas embraced by the Ayn Rand-inspired libertarian movement is that the free market is natural, and exists outside and beyond government. In other words, the “free market” is a constructed supernatural myth.
  • “Statutes, passed by the government, allow for the creation of corporations, and anyone wishing to form one must fill out the necessary government paperwork and utilize the apparatus of the state in numerous ways. Thus, the corporate entity is by definition a government-created obstruction to the free marketplace, so the entire concept should be appalling to libertarians,”
  • Governments don’t “intrude” on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren’t “free” of rules; the rules define them.
  • “In reality, the ‘free market’ is a bunch of rules about 1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); 2) on what terms (equal access to the Internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections?); 3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?); 4) what’s private and what’s public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); 5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on.”
  • Atheists are skeptics, but atheist libertarians evidently check their skepticism at the door when it comes to corporate power and the self-regulatory willingness of corporations to act in the interests of the common good.
  • Corporations pollute, lie, steal, oppress, manipulate and deceive, all in the name of maximizing profit. Corporations have no interest for the common good.
  • In the 1970s, consumer protection advocate Ralph Nader became famous for helping protect car owners from the unsafe practices of the auto industry. Corporate America, in turn, went out of its way in a coordinated effort, led by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, to destroy Nader.
  • The documentary “Unreasonable Man” demonstrates how corporate CEOs of America’s biggest corporations had Nader followed in an attempt to discredit and blackmail him. General Motors went so far as to send an attractive lady to his local supermarket in an effort to meet him, and seduce him. That’s how much corporate America was fearful of having to implement pesky and costly measures designed to protect the well-being of their customers.
  • Today America is the most income unequal among all developed nations, and we find ourselves here today not because of government regulation or interference, but a lack thereof.
  • The unilateral control that Wall Street and mega-corporations have over economic policy is now extreme, and our corporate overlords have seen to the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich in U.S. history, while corporations contribute their lowest share of total federal tax revenue ever.
  • By every measure, Australians, Scandinavians, Canadians, Germans and the Dutch are happier and more economically secure. The U.N. World Development Fund, the U.N. World Happiness Index and the Social Progress Index contain the empirical evidence atheist libertarians  should seek, and the results are conclusive: People are happier, healthier and more socially mobile where the size of the state is bigger, and taxes and regulations on corporations are greater. You know, the opposite of the libertarian dream that would turn America into a deeper nightmare.
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    "Atheist libertarians pose as skeptics -- except when it comes to free markets and the nature of corporate power"
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    If Ayn Rand hadn't existed, the corporations would have found it necessary to invent her...
Matt Warren

Scotland's Independence Vote Shows a Global Crisis of the Elites - 0 views

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    "It is a crisis of the elites. Scotland's push for independence is driven by a conviction - one not ungrounded in reality - that the British ruling class has blundered through the last couple of decades. The same discontent applies to varying degrees in the United States and, especially, the eurozone. It is, in many ways, a defining feature of our time."
Matt Warren

The Origins and Implications of the Scottish Referendum - 0 views

  • the idea that the union of England and Scotland, which has existed for more than 300 years, could be dissolved has enormous implications in its own right, and significant implications for Europe and even for global stability.
  • In many ways, this union was a pivot of world history. To realize it might be dissolved is startling and reveals important things about the direction of the world.
  • Scotland and England are historical enemies. Their sense of competing nationhoods stretches back centuries, and their occupation of the same island has caused them to fight many wars. Historically they have distrusted each other, and each has given the other good reason for the distrust.
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  • The British were deeply concerned that foreign powers, particularly France, would use Scotland as a base for attacking England. The Scots were afraid that the English desire to prevent this would result in the exploitation of Scotland by England, and perhaps the extinction of the Scottish nation.
  • From an outsider's perspective, Scotland and England were charming variations on a single national theme -- the British -- and it was not necessary to consider them as two nations.
  • We need a deeper intellectual framework for understanding why Scottish nationalism has persisted.
  • The French Enlightenment and subsequent revolution had elevated the nation to the moral center of the world. It was a rebellion against the transnational dynasties and fragments of nations that had governed much of Europe.
  • After the French Revolution, some nations, such as Germany and Italy, united into nation-states.
  • After World War I, when the Hapsburg, Hohenzollern, Romanov and Ottoman empires all collapsed
  • A second major wave of devolution occurred in 1992, when the Soviet Union collapsed
  • The doctrine of the right to national self-determination drove the first wave of revolts against European imperialism in the Western Hemisphere, creating republics in the Americas.
  • The second wave of colonial rising and European withdrawal occurred after World War II.
  • the entire world could not resist the compulsion to embrace the principles of national self-determination through republican democracy. This effectively was codified as the global gold standard of national morality in the charters of the League of Nations and then the United Nations.
  • The incredible power of the nation-state as a moral principle and right could be only imperfectly imposed. No nation was pure. Each had fragments and minorities of other nations. In many cases, they lived with each other. In other cases, the majority tried to expel or even destroy the minority nation. In yet other cases, the minority demanded independence and the right to form its own nation-state. These conflicts were not only internal; they also caused external conflict over the right of a particular nation to exist or over the precise borders separating the nations.
  • After the war, a principle emerged in Europe that the borders as they stood, however imperfect, were not to be challenged. The goal was to abolish one of the primary causes of war in Europe.
  • The point of all this is to understand that the right to national self-determination comes from deep within European principles and that it has been pursued with an intensity and even viciousness that has torn Europe apart and redrawn its borders.
  • One of the reasons that the European Union exists is to formally abolish these wars of national self-determination by attempting to create a framework that both protects and trivializes the nation-state.
  • The possibility of Scottish independence must be understood in this context.
  • Nationalism, the remembrance and love of history and culture, is not a trivial thing. It has driven Europe and even the world for more than two centuries in ever-increasing waves. The upcoming Scottish election, whichever way it goes, demonstrates the enormous power of the desire for national self-determination. If it can corrode the British union, it can corrode anything.
  • There are those who argue that Scottish independence could lead to economic problems or complicate the management of national defense. These are not trivial questions, but they are not what is at stake here.
  • At best, the economic benefits are uncertain. But this is why any theory of human behavior that assumes that the singular purpose of humans is to maximize economic benefits is wrong.
  • Humans have other motivations that are incomprehensible to the economic model but can be empirically demonstrated to be powerful.
  • If this referendum succeeds, it will still show that after more than 300 years, almost half of Scots prefer economic uncertainty to union with a foreign nation.
  • This is something that must be considered carefully in a continent that is prone to extreme conflicts and still full of borders that do not map to nations as they are understood historically.
  • The right to national self-determination is not simply about the nation governing itself but also about the right of the nation to occupy its traditional geography. And since historical memories of geography vary, the possibility of conflict grows.
  • Consider Ireland: After its fight for independence from England and then Britain, the right to Northern Ireland, whose national identity depended on whose memory was viewing it, resulted in bloody warfare for decades.
  • England will be vulnerable in ways that it hasn't been for three centuries.
  • This is not an argument for or against Scottish nationhood. It is simply drawing attention to the enormous power of nationalism in Europe in particular, and in countries colonized by Europeans.
  • the idea that Scotland recalls its past and wants to resurrect it is a stunning testimony less to Scottish history than to the Enlightenment's turning national rights into a moral imperative that cannot be suppressed.
  • At a time when the European Union's economic crisis is intense, challenging European institutions and principles, the dissolution of the British union would legitimize national claims that have been buried for decades.
  • But then we have to remember that Scotland was buried in Britain for centuries and has resurrected itself. This raises the question of how confident any of us can be that national claims buried for only decades are settled.
  • For centuries, nationalism has trumped economic issues. The model of economic man may be an ideal to some, but it is empirically false.
  • I think that however the vote goes, unless the nationalists are surprised by an overwhelming defeat, the genie is out of the bottle, and not merely in Britain. The referendum will re-legitimize questions that have caused much strife throughout the European continent for centuries, including the 31-year war of the 20th century that left 80 million dead.
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    "The idea of Scottish independence has moved from the implausible to the very possible. Whether or not it actually happens, the idea that the union of England and Scotland, which has existed for more than 300 years, could be dissolved has enormous implications in its own right, and significant implications for Europe and even for global stability."
Matt Warren

The Virtue of Subtlety: A U.S. Strategy Against the Islamic State - 0 views

  • It is important for a president to know when he has no strategy. It is not necessarily wise to announce it, as friends will be frightened and enemies delighted.
  • A president must know what it is he does not know, and he should remain calm in pursuit of it, but there is no obligation to be honest about it.
  • Strategy is something that emerges from reality, while tactics might be chosen.
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  • Given the situation, the United States has an unavoidable strategy.
  • The United States has been concerned about the status of Russia ever since U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese war in 1905. The United States has been concerned about the Middle East since U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower forced the British to retreat from Suez in 1956. As a result, the United States inherited -- or seized -- the British position.
  • A national strategy emerges over the decades and centuries. It becomes a set of national interests into which a great deal has been invested, upon which a great deal depends and upon which many are counting. Presidents inherit national strategies, and they can modify them to some extent. But the idea that a president has the power to craft a new national strategy both overstates his power and understates the power of realities crafted by all those who came before him.
  • The American strategy is fixed: Allow powers in the region to compete and balance against each other. When that fails, intervene with as little force and risk as possible.
  • For example, the conflict between Iran and Iraq canceled out two rising powers until the war ended. Then Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened to overturn the balance of power in the region. The result was Desert Storm.
  • This strategy provides a model. In the Syria-Iraq region, the initial strategy is to allow the regional powers to balance each other, while providing as little support as possible to maintain the balance of power.
  • For the United States, there is no threat to sovereignty, but that makes the process harder: Great powers can tend to be casual because the situation is not existential. This increases the cost of doing what is necessary.
  • The American experience in Iraq highlighted the problems with counterinsurgency or being caught in a local civil war. The idea of major intervention assumes that this time it will be different. This fits one famous definition of insanity.
  • There is then the special case of the Islamic State. It is special because its emergence triggered the current crisis. It is special because the brutal murder of two prisoners on video showed a particular cruelty. And it is different because its ideology is similar to that of al Qaeda, which attacked the United States. It has excited particular American passions.
  • the fragmentation of Iraq into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions was well underway before the Islamic State, and jihadism was deeply embedded in the Sunni community a long time ago.
  • Finally, the Islamic State -- engaged in war with everyone around it -- is much less dangerous to the United States than a small group with time on its hands, planning an attack.
  • In any event, if the Islamic State did not exist, the threat to the United States from jihadist groups in Yemen or Libya or somewhere inside the United States would remain.
  • Because the Islamic State operates to some extent as a conventional military force, it is vulnerable to U.S. air power.
  • There is no reason not to bomb the Islamic State's forces and leaders. They certainly deserve it. But there should be no illusion that bombing them will force them to capitulate or mend their ways.
  • In the first place, is it really a problem for the United States? The American interest is not stability but the existence of a dynamic balance of power in which all players are effectively paralyzed so that no one who would threaten the United States emerges.
  • The United States does not have the force needed to occupy Iraq and Syria at the same time. The demographic imbalance between available forces and the local population makes that impossible.
  • The Turks are emerging as a regional power. Their economy has grown dramatically in the past decade, their military is the largest in the region, and they are part of the Islamic world. Their government is Islamist but in no way similar to the Islamic State, which concerns Ankara.
  • The United States must turn this from a balance of power between Syria and Iraq to a balance of power among this trio of regional powers. They have far more at stake and, absent the United States, they have no choice but to involve themselves. They cannot stand by and watch a chaos that could spread to them.
  • It is impossible to forecast how the game is played out. What is important is that the game begins.
  • The Turks do not trust the Iranians, and neither is comfortable with the Saudis. They will cooperate, compete, manipulate and betray, just as the United States or any country might do in such a circumstance.
  • The point is that there is a tactic that will fail: American re-involvement. There is a tactic that will succeed: the United States making it clear that while it might aid the pacification in some way, the responsibility is on regional powers. The inevitable outcome will be a regional competition that the United States can manage far better than the current chaos.
  • It is not clear why he thinks those NATO countries -- with the exception of Turkey -- will spend their national treasures and lives to contain the Islamic State, or why the Islamic State alone is the issue.
  • U.S. strategy is sound. It is to allow the balance of power to play out, to come in only when it absolutely must -- with overwhelming force, as in Kuwait -- and to avoid intervention where it cannot succeed.
  • In this case the tactic is not direct intervention by the United States, save as a satisfying gesture to avenge murdered Americans. But the solution rests in doing as little as possible and forcing regional powers into the fray, then in maintaining the balance of power in this coalition.
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    "U.S. President Barack Obama said recently that he had no strategy as yet toward the Islamic State but that he would present a plan on Wednesday. It is important for a president to know when he has no strategy. It is not necessarily wise to announce it, as friends will be frightened and enemies delighted. A president must know what it is he does not know, and he should remain calm in pursuit of it, but there is no obligation to be honest about it."
Matt Warren

Urbanization and Demographics Could Skew China's Economic Rebalancing - 0 views

  • The added burdens facing small- and medium-sized cities, especially those located deep inside China that are sequestered from mainstream global trade, will be substantial and perhaps socially and politically destabilizing. 
  • In July, the Chinese government announced that a revision to the one-child policy had been implemented throughout the country's provinces and regions. The announcement of the revision, which allows couples in which either partner is an only child to have up to two children, heralded the end of the controversial policy.
  • Two decades ago, China's fertility rate fell below 2.1, the generally accepted population replacement rate. Since then, it has dropped to roughly 1.5 or, by some measures, as low as 1.4. These are comparable to fertility rates in Russia and Italy but well below those of the United States, Australia, the Netherlands and many other more advanced economies.
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  • The urbanization of the past two decades has altered the country's demographic balance rapidly and profoundly. The change has hastened the decline in fertility and population growth rates, particularly those of China's working-age population, as the size of the country's elderly population has risen.
  • If the government achieves its target, China's urban population will grow by more than 230 million between now and 2030, reaching approximately 975 million.
  • For China's leaders, further urbanization on a significant scale is not optional: It is imperative. China is in the early stages of an effort to rebalance toward an economic model grounded in robust domestic consumption and characterized by greater economic integration between, and equality across, its diverse regions.
  •  
    "China's urban population may grow by as many as 230 million people in the next 15 years. But most growth will take place not in metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing but in the myriad small- and medium-sized satellite cities around them. And as residents flock to these cities, China's working-age population will begin to decline, and its elderly population will grow dramatically."
Matt Warren

Iraq and Syria Follow Lebanon's Precedent - 0 views

  • For nearly 100 years, Sykes-Picot defined the region. A strong case can be made that the nation-states Sykes-Picot created are now defunct, and that what is occurring in Syria and Iraq represents the emergence of those post-British/French maps that the United States has been trying to maintain since the collapse of Franco-British power.
  • Sykes-Picot, named for French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot and his British counterpart, Sir Mark Sykes, did two things.
  • First, it created a British-dominated Iraq.
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  • Second, it divided the Ottoman province of Syria on a line from the Mediterranean Sea east through Mount Hermon.
  • The British named the area to the west of the Jordan River after the Ottoman administrative district of Filistina, which turned into Palestine on the English tongue.
  • The British had promised postwar power to both. It gave the victorious Sauds the right to rule Arabia -- hence Saudi Arabia. The other tribe, the Hashemites, had already been given the newly invented Iraqi monarchy and, outside of Arabia
  • And thus, along with Syria, five entities were created between the Mediterranean and Tigris, and between Turkey and the new nation of Saudi Arabia.
  • The most important interest, the oil in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula, was protected from the upheaval in their periphery as Turkey and Persia were undergoing upheaval. This gave the Europeans what they wanted.
  • What it did not do was create a framework that made a great deal of sense of the Arabs living in this region.
  • The Europeans used the concept of the nation-state to express divisions between "us" and "them." To the Arabs, this was an alien framework, which to this day still competes with religious and tribal identities.
  • It was Lebanon that came apart first. Lebanon was a pure invention carved out of Syria. As long as the Christians for whom Paris created Lebanon remained the dominant group, it worked, although the Christians themselves were divided into warring clans.
  • Lebanon's issues were not confined to Lebanon. The line dividing Lebanon from Syria was an arbitrary boundary drawn by the French.
  • From the outside it appeared to be strictly a religious war, but that was an incomplete view. It was a competition among clans for money, security, revenge and power. And religion played a role, but alliances crossed religious lines frequently.
  • The complexity of Lebanon goes far beyond this description, and the external meddling from Israel, Syria, Iran and the United States is even more complicated.
  • The point is that the clans became the reality of Lebanon, and the Lebanese government became irrelevant.
  • But in the end, the state existed at the forbearance of the clans. The map may show a nation, but it is really a country of microscopic clans engaged in a microscopic geopolitical struggle for security and power.
  • A similar process has taken place in Syria. The arbitrary nation-state has become a region of competing clans.
  • Something very similar happened in Iraq. As the Americans departed, the government that was created was dominated by Shia, who were fragmented. To a great degree, the government excluded the Sunnis, who saw themselves in danger of marginalization. The Sunnis consisted of various tribes and clans (some containing Shiites) and politico-religious movements like the Islamic State. They rose up in alliance and have now left Baghdad floundering, the Iraqi army seeking balance and the Kurds scrambling to secure their territory.
  • It is a three-way war, but in some ways it is a three-way war with more than 20 clans involved in temporary alliances.
  • the most likely outcome is what happened in Lebanon: the permanent power of the sub-national groups, with perhaps some agreement later on that creates a state in which power stays with the smaller groups, because that is where loyalty lies.
  • The boundary between Lebanon and Syria was always uncertain. The border between Syria and Iraq is now equally uncertain. But then these borders were never native to the region. The Europeans imposed them for European reasons.
  • Therefore, the idea of maintaining a united Iraq misses the point. There was never a united Iraq -- only the illusion of one created by invented kings and self-appointed dictators. The war does not have to continue, but as in Lebanon, it will take the exhaustion of the clans and factions to negotiate an end.
  • The idea that Shia, Sunnis and Kurds can live together is not a fantasy. The fantasy is that the United States has the power or interest to re-create a Franco-British invention crafted out of the debris of the Ottoman Empire.
  • There are two issues here.
  • The first is how far the disintegration of nation-states will go in the Arab world.
  • But the second issue is what regional powers will do about this process.
  • All of this aside, the point is that it is time to stop thinking about stabilizing Syria and Iraq and start thinking of a new dynamic outside of the artificial states that no longer function.
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    "Lebanon was created out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This agreement between Britain and France reshaped the collapsed Ottoman Empire south of Turkey into the states we know today -- Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and to some extent the Arabian Peninsula as well. For nearly 100 years, Sykes-Picot defined the region. A strong case can be made that the nation-states Sykes-Picot created are now defunct, and that what is occurring in Syria and Iraq represents the emergence of those post-British/French maps that the United States has been trying to maintain since the collapse of Franco-British power."
Matt Warren

Turkey's Geographical Ambition - 0 views

  • Erdogan knows that Turkey must become a substantial power in the Near East in order to give him leverage in Europe. Erdogan's problem is that Turkey's geography between East and West contains as many vulnerabilities as it does benefits. This makes Erdogan at times overreach. But there is a historical and geographical logic to his excesses.
  • Because Ottoman Turkey was on the losing side of that war (along with Wilhelmine Germany and Hapsburg Austria), the victorious allies in the Treaty of Sevres of 1920 carved up Turkey and its environs, giving territory and zones of influence to Greece, Armenia, Italy, Britain and France.
  • Turkey's reaction to this humiliation was Kemalism, the philosophy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (the surname "Ataturk" means "Father of the Turks"), the only undefeated Ottoman general, who would lead a military revolt against the new occupying powers and thus create a sovereign Turkish state throughout the Anatolian heartland.
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  • Gone, in fact, was the entire multicultural edifice of the Ottoman Empire.
  • Kemalism not only rejected minorities, it rejected the Arabic script of the Turkish language.
  • Kemalism was a call to arms: the martial Turkish reaction to the Treaty of Sevres, to the same degree that Putin's neo-czarism was the authoritarian reaction to Boris Yeltsin's anarchy of 1990s Russia.
  • The problem was that Ataturk's vision of orienting Turkey so firmly to the West clashed with Turkey's geographic situation, one that straddled both West and East. An adjustment was in order. Turgut Ozal, a religious Turk with Sufi tendencies who was elected prime minister in 1983, provided it.
  • In Ozal's mind, Turkey did not have to choose between East and West. It was geographically enshrined in both and should thus politically embody both worlds. Ozal made Islam publicly respected again in Turkey, even as he enthusiastically supported U.S. President Ronald Reagan during the last phase of the Cold War.
  • Ozal used the cultural language of Islam to open the door to an acceptance of the Kurds.
  • there were many permutations in Islamic political thought and politics in Turkey between Ozal and Erdogan, but one thing stands clear: Both Ozal and Erdogan were like two bookends of the period.
  • Remember that in the interpretation of one of the West's greatest scholars of Islam, the late Marshall G.S. Hodgson of the University of Chicago, the Islamic faith was originally a merchants' religion, which united followers from oasis to oasis, allowing for ethical dealing.
  • In Islamic history, authentic religious connections across the Middle East and the Indian Ocean world could -- and did -- lead to wholesome business connections and political patronage. Thus is medievalism altogether relevant to the post-modern world.
  • Turkey may be trying its best to increase trade with its eastern neighbors, but it still does not come close to Turkey's large trade volumes with Europe, now mired in recession.
  • The root of the problem is partly geographic.
  • Turkey constitutes a bastion of mountains and plateau, inhabiting the half-island of the Anatolian land bridge between the Balkans and the Middle East. It is plainly not integral to a place like Iraq, for example, in the way that Iran is; and its Turkic language no longer enjoys the benefit of the Arabic script, which might give it more cultural leverage elsewhere in the Levant. But most important, Turkey is itself bedeviled by its own Kurdish population, complicating its attempts to exert leverage in neighboring Middle Eastern states.
  • The de facto breakup of Iraq has forced Turkey to follow a policy of constructive containment with Iraq's Kurdish north, but that has undermined Turkey's leverage in the rest of Iraq -- thus, in turn, undermining Turkey's attempts to influence Iran.
  • Turkey wants to influence the Middle East, but the problem is that it remains too much a part of the Middle East to extricate itself from the region's complexities.
  • Erdogan knows that he must partially solve the Kurdish problem at home in order to gain further leverage in the region. He has even mentioned aloud the Arabic word, vilayet, associated with the Ottoman Empire. This word denotes a semi-autonomous province -- a concept that might hold the key for an accommodation with local Kurds but could well reignite his own nationalist rivals within Turkey.
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    "At a time when Europe and other parts of the world are governed by forgettable mediocrities, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister for a decade now, seethes with ambition. Perhaps the only other leader of a major world nation who emanates such a dynamic force field around him is Russia's Vladimir Putin, with whom the West is also supremely uncomfortable."
Matt Warren

The End of Consensus Politics in China - 0 views

  • What is the fundamental purpose of Xi's anti-corruption campaign? An attempt to answer this question will not tell us China's political future, but it will tell us something about Xi's strategy -- not only for consolidating his personal influence within the Party, government and military apparatuses, but also and more important, for managing the immense social, economic, political and international pressures that are likely to come to a head in China during his tenure.
  • The announcement July 29 of a formal investigation into retired Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang marked something of an end to the first major phase of Xi's anti-corruption campaign.
  • Zhou was known to sit at the apex of at least these three power bases, and his influence likely extended deep into many more, making him not only a formidable power broker but also, at least in the case of his oil industry ties, a major potential obstacle to reform.
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  • Now begins another phase. There are indications that it will center on the military. There are other signs that it will target Shanghai, the primary power base of Jiang Zemin and the locus of financial sector reform in China.
  • the formation of a unified National Security Council chaired by Xi himself and his apparent wresting of the reins of economic and social reform from Premier Li Keqiang, suggest that some other and deeper shift is underway
  • Stratfor believes this shift involves nothing less than an attempt to rework not only the way the Communist Party operates but also the foundations of its political legitimacy.
  • China is in the midst of an economic transformation that is in many ways unprecedented. The core of this transformation is the shift from a growth model heavily reliant on low-cost, low value-added exports and state-led investment into construction to one grounded in a much greater dependence on high value-added industries, services and above all, domestic consumption.
  • China is not the first country to attempt this. Others, including the United States, achieved it long ago. But China has unique constraints: its size, its political system and imperatives, and its profound regional geographic and social and economic imbalances. These constraints are exacerbated by a final and perhaps greatest limit: time
  • China is attempting to make this transition, one which took smaller and more geographically, socially and politically cohesive countries many decades to achieve, in less than 20 years.
  • For the past six years, the Chinese government has kept the economy on life support in the form of massively expanded credit creation, government-directed investment into urban and transport infrastructure development and, most important, real estate construction. In the process, local governments, banks and businesses across China have amassed extraordinary levels of debt. Outstanding credit in China is now equivalent to 251 percent of the country's gross domestic product, up from 147 percent in 2008. Local governments alone owe more than $3 trillion. It is unknown -- deliberately so, most likely -- what portion of outstanding debts are nonperforming, but it is likely far higher than the official rate of 1 percent. 
  • Despite claims that China's investment drive was and is irresponsible -- and certainly there are myriad anecdotal cases of gross misallocation of capital -- it nonetheless fulfills the essential role of jumpstarting the country's effort to "rebalance" to a new, more urban and more consumption-based economic model.
  • This means that in the next few years, China faces inexorable and potentially very rapid decline in the two sectors that have underpinned economic growth and social and political stability for the past two or more decades: exports and construction.
  • And it does so in an environment of rapidly mounting local government and corporate debt, rising wages and input costs, rising cost of capital and falling return on investment (exacerbated by new environmental controls and efforts to combat corruption) and more.
  • Chinese household consumption is extraordinarily weak. In 2013, it was equivalent to only 34 percent of gross domestic product, compared to 69-70 percent in the United States, 61 percent in Japan, 57 percent in Germany and 52 percent in South Korea.
  • Whatever the Chinese government's stated reform goals, it is very difficult to see how economic rebalancing toward a consumption- and services-based economy succeeds within the decade. It is very difficult to see how exports recover. And it is very difficult, but slightly less so, to see how the government maintains stable growth through continued investment into housing and infrastructure construction, especially as the real estate market inevitably cools.
  • The pressures stemming from China's economy -- and emanating upward through Chinese society and politics -- will remain paramount over the next 5-10 years.
  • The above has described only a very small selection of the internal social and economic constraints facing China's government today. It completely neglects public anger over pollution, the myriad economic and industrial constraints posed by both pollution and pervasive low-level corruption, the impact of changes in Chinese labor flows and dynamics, rising education levels and much more. It completely neglects the ambivalence with which many ordinary Chinese regard the Communist Party government.
  • It also neglects external pressures and risks, whether economic or military.
  • Xi knows this. He and his advisers know China's virtually insurmountable challenges better than anyone.
  • The anti-corruption campaign is one of those steps. It serves many overlapping functions: to clear out potential opponents, ideological or otherwise
  • Underlying and encompassing these, we see the specter of something else. The consensus-based model of politics that Deng built in order to regularize decision-making and bolster political stability during times of high growth and that effectively guided China throughout the post-Deng era is breaking down.
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    "Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign is the broadest and deepest effort to purge, reorganize and rectify the Communist Party leadership since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the rise of Deng Xiaoping two years later. It has already probed more than 182,000 officials across numerous regions and at all levels of government. It has ensnared low-level cadres, mid-level functionaries and chiefs of major state-owned enterprises and ministries. It has deposed top military officials and even a former member of the hitherto immune Politburo Standing Committee, China's highest governing body. More than a year after its formal commencement and more than two years since its unofficial start with the downfall of Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, the campaign shows no sign of relenting."
Matt Warren

Gaming Israel and Palestine - 0 views

  • The most interesting aspect of this war is that both sides apparently found it necessary, despite knowing it would have no definitive military outcome.
  • An argument of infinite regression always rages as to the original sin: Who committed the first crime?
  • For the Palestinians, the original crime was the migration into the Palestinian mandate by Jews, the creation of the State of Israel and the expulsion of Arabs from that state.
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  • For Israel, the original sin came after the 1967 war, during which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.
  • Cease-fires are the best that anyone can hope for.
  • Under these circumstances, the Gaza war is in some sense a matter of housekeeping. For Hamas, the point of the operation is demonstrating it can fire rockets at Israel.
  • For the Israelis, the point of the operation is that they are willing to carry it out at all.
  • Israel can't go far enough to break the Palestinian will to resist; it is dependent on a major third-party state to help meet Israeli security needs. This creates an inherent contradiction whereby Israel receives enough American support to guarantee its existence but because of humanitarian concerns is not allowed to take the kind of decisive action that might solve its security problem.
  • The question therefore is not what the point of all this is -- although that is a fascinating subject -- but where all this ends.
  • Palestine has two population centers, Gaza and the West Bank, which are detached from one another.
  • Within its current borders, a viable Palestine is impossible to imagine.
  • Given its history, Israel is unlikely to take that risk unless it had the right to oversee security in the West Bank in some way. That in turn would undermine Palestinian sovereignty.
  • Geography simply won't permit two sovereign states. In this sense, the extremists on both sides are more realistic than the moderates. But that reality encounters other problems. 
  • Currently, Israel is as secure as it is ever likely to be
  • Israel can't radically shift its demography. But several evolutions in the region could move against Israel.
  • there are many things that could weaken Israel -- some substantially. Each may appear far-fetched at the moment, but everything in the future seems far-fetched.
  • Israel is now as strong as it is going to be. But Israel does not think that it can reach an accommodation with the Palestinians that would guarantee Israeli national security, a view based on a realistic reading of geography.
  • In these circumstances, the Israeli strategy is to maintain its power at a maximum level and use what influence it has to prevent the emergence of new threats. From this perspective, the Israeli strategy on settlements makes sense. If there will be no talks, and Israel must maintain its overwhelming advantage, creating strategic depth in the West Bank is sensible; it would be less sensible if there were a possibility of a peace treaty.
    • Matt Warren
       
      What is sensible is horrifying. How mundane?
  • The primary Palestinian problem will be to maintain itself as a distinct entity with sufficient power to resist an Israeli assault for some time. Any peace treaty would weaken the Palestinians by pulling them into the Israeli orbit and splitting them up.
  • By refusing a peace treaty, they remain distinct, if divided. That guarantees they will be there when circumstances change.
  • Israel's major problem is that circumstances always change.
  • Time is not on Israel's side. At some point, something will likely happen to weaken its position, while it is unlikely that anything will happen to strengthen its position. That normally would be an argument for entering negotiations, but the Palestinians will not negotiate a deal that would leave them weak and divided, and any deal that Israel could live with would do just that.
  • The Palestinians need to maintain solidarity for the long haul. The Israelis need to hold their strategic superiority as long as they can.
  •  
    "We have long argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict is inherently insoluble. Now, for the third time in recent years, a war is being fought in Gaza. The Palestinians are firing rockets into Israel with minimal effect. The Israelis are carrying out a broader operation to seal tunnels along the Gaza-Israel boundary. Like the previous wars, the current one will settle nothing. The Israelis want to destroy Hamas' rockets. They can do so only if they occupy Gaza and remain there for an extended period while engineers search for tunnels and bunkers throughout the territory. This would generate Israeli casualties from Hamas guerrillas fighting on their own turf with no room for retreat. So Hamas will continue to launch rockets, but between the extreme inaccuracy of the rockets and Israel's Iron Dome defense system, the group will inflict little damage to the Israelis."
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