Thursday, January 30, 2003
Okay, we have the real, final tallies of the Israeli election. And they will make Sharon smile: one more seat each for Likud and the National Religious Party, the seats coming from One Nation and Hadash (the Communist Party).
This means that, if necessary, Likud can form a narrow government with its most natural partners that will be relatively stable, as it will not depend on National Union. Sharon can even do it without One Nation *or* Yisrael B'Aliyah, although one would presume that YBA would support the government even if it didn't join in order to focus on rebuilding the party. Sharon can get to 60 with just Shas, United Torah Judaism and the National Religious Party. YBA supporting from outside gives it a 2-vote margin.
I'm inclining more and more to the proposition that Shinui will join this government. His pow-wow with Labor made Mitzna look absurd, and he left the meeting saying two important things: (1) he'll sit with Shas if the Tal law on yeshivah-student draft exemptions is ended; (2) he won't be "held hostage" by Labor but would join a government without them if the guidelines are acceptable. So I may get to give Lapid points for being responsible after all.
Opening #1, by the way, is essential for Sharon, because snubbing Shinui would be a problem for him, but snubbing Shas would be a disaster. I wonder what would happen if Sharon were to make repeal of the Tal law and an end - or dramatic reduction - in yeshivah deferments a part of the coalition guidelines, and then approached Shas about being in the government? I wonder if Shas could bend on this matter in order to stay at the government trough they need to feed at to survive? Even more than Labor, if Shas stayed out of government for long, they would cease to exist. Could they bend enough to let Tommy declare victory and sit beside them?
This coalition game is getting interesting.
Rod Dreher has a good "preview" of an important upcoming piece in print about Uganda's remarkably successful fight against HIV infection and AIDS, a fight that has featured abstinence and fidelity as primary strategies.
There was a good piece about this in The New Republic several months ago
The near-total collapse of Yisrael B'Aliyah continues to depress me. I sincerely hope that efforts to rebuild and to broaden the appeal of the party are successful. Yisrael B'Aliyah should be to Likud what the Free Democrats are to the CDU: a Liberal (European sense) party of ideas that is the natural coalition partner for the Center-Right party of government. I hope that by the next election, voters who are pulling the lever for Shinui and National Union will seriously consider a party that represents the best ideas of both without their worst features.
A very smart and knowledgeable friend thinks I've got the whole Lapid story wrong. He was right once before, predicting the night the plug was pulled on the PM by the court that this was the "Wellstone Funeral" moment that would lead Likud to a landslide victory. Now he predicts that Lapid will join the government to serve as Justice Minister (which he has said is the post he wants if he joins).
Could be. So here's an alternative scenario for the game Tommy is playing: he's trying to eliminate the Labor party.
Look, the country wants a government of national unity with Sharon at its head. Every poll says so. Only two people ran explicitly on that platform in the election: Sharon and Lapid. If Lapid manages to get Labor to join a secular coalition government (presumably with the National Religious Party as the Zionist representative of the religious, a party Lapid has no problem with), then he has delivered to the voters what the voters most want. And if that happens, why would anyone to the right of Meretz vote Labor in the next election?
Lapid can put Labor in an untenable position. By refusing to join a government without both Labor and Likud, and with Likud willing to accept Labor, Lapid gives Labor two choices. They can refuse to accept the results of this election, remain in opposition, and risk Sharon calling new elections. This could not possibly be good for Labor. Or, they can reverse their core position of the campaign: no coalition with Sharon at its head. And they will have done so at Lapid's behest. In which case, why should any voter bother voting Labor next time?
Lapid can also put Sharon in a tough box, if he convinces Labor to change its position from "no unity government under Sharon" to "no unity government with either Shas or National Union." This would force Sharon either to snub Shas - something electorally perilous - or to refuse an offer for national unity, and form the right-wing government he wants to avoid. (Or call new elections, which would be disastrous under the circumstances.)
I still think the right thing is to say: it's not about which parties I sit with; it's about the coalition guidelines. Lapid should say: I am willing to join Sharon's government, with or without Labor, provided that government will end draft exemptions for yeshivah students and provided that the government will agree to negotiations under whatever framework emerges from the Quartet. I think that would be better for Israel's political culture, which is descending into a second-grade classroom of who won't sit next to whom. And I think it would just as decisively weaken the Labor party, which would have little explanation for why it refused to join a government with such congenial guidelines. (It wouldn't, of course, be threatening at all to Sharon or Likud, which is probably a reason why I think it's a better idea.)
In any event, I wish I were a fly on the wall for these conversations. Can't be fun for Mitzna.
Nice contrast of headlines from today's Jerusalem Post:
Britain calls up reservists for possible Iraq war
France, Syria coordinate efforts to avert Iraq war
And that letter from Havel, Blair, and the rest of the European periphery was pretty compelling. The EU project is coming apart. The core - France, Germany, the BeNeLux - wants to balance the U.S. as a rival power. The periphery - Britain, Spain, Italy, the ex-Eastern Bloc countries - wants a strong relationship with the U.S., primarily in order to balance Franco-Germany!
The main question is: what happens to this pattern after the next German elections? France is the mirror image of Britain. In Britain, a leader from the Left is governing from the Center, and the Center supports a strong alliance with the U.S. If the Tories ever revived, you'd expect an even warmer alliance, and a cooler relationship between Britain and Europe. In France, meanwhile, a leader from the Right is governing from the Center, and the Center thinks that France is best served by balancing the U.S., not allying with it. A Socialist President would only be worse, not better. Now what about Germany? Schroeder had been something of a Centrist, someone the U.S. felt comfortable working with. Fischer, the Green Foreign Minister, was downright friendly, talking about the U.S. as a model for Europe and so forth. But he took a sharp turn to the anti-American Left, and it helped him win an election he emphatically deserved to lose. Does that tell us where the German "Center" is? Will the CDU, after they win the next elections, also choose the historic Franco-German alliance over the historic American-German alliance?
Wednesday, January 29, 2003
Well, pretty much as I predicted, Tommy Lapid has begun to make it clear that he prefers perpetual opposition to the responsibilities of governing. First, he declared that he would not sit with the Haredi parties. Not that he had minimum conditions for coalition guidelines (e.g.: drafting yeshivah students), but that under no circumstances would he sit with them. Then, he said he would not sit in a pure left-wing government with Labor and Meretz. Again: not minimum guidelines (e.g.: no negotiations under fire), but that under no circumstances would he join such a coalition. Now, he has said that "certainly" Shinui will not sit in a right-wing coalition. Sharon himself has said that he will not put together a narrow right-wing coalition. But Lapid goes further: he won't be the most left-wing party in a coalition. And although he has not said so, I assume he would not "count" One Nation as a left-wing party. So even if Sharon put together a coalition without National Union, without Shas, but also without Shinui, Lapid would not join the government.
I understand why, of course. Shinui has prospered in the opposition. And Lapid is aware of the precedent of Tsomet, a secularist-hawkish party that roe through the 1980s, won 8 seats in 1992 and then merged with Likud. Shinui intends to be a major party, not to vanish. But excuse me for asking: isn't a political party of this size supposed to care a bit about the national interest? Couldn't Shinui reasonably say: these are our non-negotiables (draft yeshivah students, negotiate under the Quartet framework, whatever) and negotiate in good faith on that basis? And doesn't the refusal tell you something about what this party really stands for?
Bottom line: Shinui will not join a government. Any government. He wants cover on the left, right and center, and no one he disagrees with in the government before he will join. You can add their 15 seats to the 9 seats for the Arab parties that can never be included in any coalition. 20% of the Knesset will now vote "no" to everything. Heck, if National Union persists in its habit of destroying right-wing governments, you can say more than 25% of the Knesset is off-limits. Which means any government must have truly overwhelming dominance - a greater than 2:1 advantage among "in-play" seats - to even come into existence. That's what the country has come to. Any surprise Sharon is already talking about calling new elections?
It's a shame, really, because there is a man and a party who has proposed real solutions to Israel's endemic problems. His party has a real platform on political reform and economic liberalization, two things Shinui supposedly cares about. He has actually fought with Shas, over religious interference in immigration law, not just railed against it. He has profound personal bonifides as a democrat, not just the prejudices of his class and culture. His name is Natan Sharansky, and his party collapsed to only 2 seats, leading to his resignation from the Knesset. This is the saddest thing, to me, about the election: that rather than vote for a party with real ideas for change, Israelis voted for the slogan, "change," and for a posturing, ridiculous man who has no intention of lifting a finger to help his country.
Okay, we now have the almost-final tallies. Sharon has made it clear that he will not form a right-wing government; that he would rather go for new elections instead. Which strikes some people as odd. But it shouldn't be. After all, Sharon could theoretically have formed a right-wing government before these elections. Here's what it would have looked like:
Yisrael B'Aliyah: 4
Center Party: 3
United Torah Judaism: 5
National Religious Party: 5
National Union: 7
TOTAL: 64 seats out of 120
Since Sharon would not form this coalition before the election, why would he do so now after going through the election?
Moreover, a roughly similar coalition would not look much bigger today:
Yisrael B'Aliyah: 2
United Torah Judaism: 5
National Religious Party: 5
National Union: 7
TOTAL: 67 seats out of 120
A three-seat gain doesn't look like such a landslide for the Right.
Of the various coalitions Sharon could have formed after Labor walked out, the right-wing coalition was the only one pre-election that would have had a majority. Now, Sharon has three possible coalitions without Labor: a coalition with Shinui and the far-right without the Haredi parties; a right-religious coalition; and a coalition with Shinui and various small parties of Left, Right and Center but without National Union.
If we look at how the right-of-Likud parties did, moreover, it's even clearer that this election was about many things, but not a vindication of the far-right. I think you could count 5 parties as arguably to the right of Likud: Yisrael B'Aliyah, Shas, National Religious, National Union, and Herut. Here's how this coalition fared:
Yisrael B'Aliyah --------- was: 4 --- now: 2 --- change: loss of 2 seats
Shas ------------------------ was: 17 --- now: 11 --- change: loss of 6 seats
National Religious ------ was: 5 --- now: 5 --- change: none
National Union ----------- was: 7 --- now: 7 --- change: none
Herut ------------------------ was: 1 --- now: 0 --- change: loss of 1 seat
TOTAL ---------------------- was: 34 --- now: 25 --- change: loss of 9 seats
Of course, the Zionist Left also suffered a dramatic drop, going from 37 seats (25 for Labor, 10 for Meretz, 2 for Democratic Choice) to 25 seats (19 for Labor, 6 for Meretz), a loss of 12. But this is a long-term, secular trend that has been going on all through the 1990s.
People think the 1999 elections were about the triumph of Labor. But Labor lost seats in that election, going from 34 to 26 mandates. The basic Likud coalition, meanwhile, barely lost seats. As noted, a right-wing government would have had a majority in the 15th Knesset, which was the Knesset elected in 1999. But this coalition had been SMALLER in 1996, after Netanyahu's victory:
Likud alignment: 32 (includes Tsomet and Gesher)
National Religious Party: 9
Yisrael B'Aliyah: 7
United Torah Judaism: 4
TOTAL: 62 seats
Throw Moledet in for another 2 and you have no change in the size of the right-religious coalition from the heights of 1996 to the lows of 1999. And only small gains from the lows of 1999 to the heights of 2003. You can even go back further; in 1992, the right-religious coalition of parties won 59 seats out of 120. In the year of the Left's triumphant return to power, a coalition of right-leaning parties was 2 seats short of a majority.
Of course, parties in what I'm calling the right-wing coalition have been willing to join in coalition with Labor. The Haredi parties want to be a part of every government. (The National Religious Party used to as well, before it moved rightward.) Yisrael B'Aliyah is a mostly centrist party that has gotten more right-wing on security and settlements; Shas used to be mildly dovish and focused exclusively on religious and social welfare matters. When the Labor Party has won the biggest share of seats, it has been able to pull together a coalition by including some elements of what I'm calling the right-wing coalition, and that's not surprising. But the basic point stands: there is a basic right-wing coalition of parties that has had a majority or barely short of a majority of MKs since 1977. And this coalition has had a larger number of MKs than the Zionist left for the same period, or possibly longer.
Likud expands and contracts at the expense of its partners in the right-religious camp. The camp itself has been increasing, slowly, even when Likud has fallen back. Labor, meanwhile, has been undergoing a progressive collapse: from 44 seats in 1992, to 34 in 1996, to 26 in 1999, to 19 in 2003. When you combine them with Meretz, the collapse since 1992 is even more dramatic: 56 to 43 to 36 to 25. The Zionist left, the parties associated with Oslo, have lost more than half their seats since 1992. And they've been losing them steadily, in every election.
The ultimate "meaning" of this election depends on what Shinui turns out to be. It attracted centrists who oppose the division of Jerusalem, oppose negotiation under fire, and support a tough line on terrorism - but who would be open to unilateral moves to end the conflict or a negotiated creation of a Palestinian state under the right circumstances. Whether it pulls a substantial number of left-leaning voters into a center-right position, or whether it migrates to the left to keep these voters - whether it becomes a partner for Likud to replace Shas, or the voice of the Ashkenazi middle class to replace Labor, or whether it fizzles like many protest parties before it - will determine whether this election really was a sea change, or just another reshuffling of what has been basically the same deck.
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Brief update on election results: possible coalitions.
If Sharon convinces Labor to join a unity government, then many coalitions are possible. So assume he doesn't.
Sharon could form either of two large, stable coalitions without Labor:
(1) A secular-right coalition of Likud, Yisrael B'Aliyah, Shinui, the National Religious Party, and National Union. This coalition is projected at 67 seats.
(2) A religious-right coalition of Likud, Yisrael B'Aliyah, Shas, United Torah Judaism, the National Religious Party, and National Union. This coalition is projected at 66 seats.
Both of these coalitions have been viable all through the campaign - meaning that in all polls, including when Likud was at its lowest showing, they had a majority of seats. However, Sharon has never wanted either coalition, because either coalition would mortgage his government to Avigdor Lieberman of National Union, the most far-right party in the Knesset (unless Herut gets in).
The surprisingly strong showing for Likud, however, makes 2 other coalitions plausible. Neither coalition has polled a majority since December, but both poll a majority now. They are:
(1) A narrow Shinui-based coalition of Likud, Yisrael B'Aliyah, Shinui, the National Religious Party and One Nation. This coalition is projected at 62 seats.
(2) A narrow Shas-based coalition of Likud, Yisrael B'Aliyah, Shas, United Torah Judaism, the National Religious Party, and One Nation. This coalition is projected at 61 seats.
These coalitions are the same as the right-wing coalitions, but without National Union and with the One Nation party tied to the Histadrut Labor Federation.
One Nation is left-wing on economic matters, as would would expect of a union-dominated party. They favor greater welfare payments, required union approval for privatizations, raising the minimum wage, etc. But they have no official position on security matters and no official position on religious matters. They are a narrow interest-group party, and one that the country as a whole is not furious at. In other words, whatever they mean for the national interest, they are a very attractive coalition partner for Sharon, who has no interest in or understanding of economics but wants to assemble a centrist coalition on security matters.
Sharon has made it clear that he is much more comfortable sitting in government with the NRP than with National Union. Assuming he can't get Labor, he has to choose between Shinui and Shas. But whichever way he turns, he can't avoid National Union without getting both the NRP and One Nation on board.
This suggests two things. One, Amir Peretz, the head of One Nation, may be receiving an early call from Sharon. Two, that economic reform is going to go about as far in the next Knesset as it did in the last. That is to say: nowhere.
It's going to be a busy week this week, so blog will be a little light. But the Israeli exit polls are in, and I have to comment.
* The late surge for Yisrael B'Aliyah in the wake of the Jerusalem Post endorsement was a phantom. I wanted to believe in it, because I like the party and its leader. But it wasn't real. All three exit polls give them 3 seats, same as where they were polling before the endorsement.
* Meretz polled much lower than expected - something that didn't show up at all in polls before the election. If anything, pre-election polls showed Meretz gaining at the expense of Labor. But Labor didn't win these votes back. Which means that a critical mass of Meretz voters voted for . . .
* Shinui. Their success is a bigger story than Likud's rebound. Projections have them potentially winning as many seats as Labor, though likely they'll fall short by 2 seats. Lapid surely knows that what gave him the last 3 or so seats was defections from Meretz. He will want to keep those voters. Therefore, he will stick to his guns on not sitting in a right-wing government and not sitting with Shas.
* Nonetheless, I still think Sharon has got to approach Shinui first, because with Shinui he can form a narrow majority government without National Union, Labor, Shas or UTJ. Based on the exit polls, the coalition of Likud, Yisrael B'Aliyah, One Nation, Shinui and the National Religious Party will have between 60 and 62 seats. This has not been a majority coalition in polling since the end of December, and I believe it is Sharon's second-preferred coalition, after a Likud-Labor unity government. Against such a coalition, Labor could not vote no-confidence, and they would come under considerable pressure to join. Once the basic coalition guidelines are formed with Shinui, Sharon can open the door to everyone to join a government of national unity.
* The Arab vote was supposedly down from historic levels. But the Arab parties are projected to do quite well, with a total of 10 seats. Similarly, low voter turnout was expected to be a problem for Likud (small-party voters tend to be more determined) and for Shinui (their voters were the most undecided). But these parties did better than expected; the big losers, relative to pre-election projections, were Shas and Meretz, whose voters were presumed to be highly motivated. This suggests that some tweaking needs to be done to polling methods.
* Unless you count Shinui as part of the Left (which is a problematic identification; would you have called Tsomet part of the Left?), the collapse of the Left was profound. In Barak's 1999 landslide, One Israel (the combined Labor-Gesher-Meimad list) won 26 seats. The projections from the exit polls for the entire Zionist left - Labor-Meimad plus Meretz - are for more than 26 seats; the Channel 1 projection is for 24 seats. Depending on how you count, there are more seats to the right of Likud in the new Knesset than there are on the Zionist left (Yisrael B'Aliyah + Shas + National Religious + National Union + Herut = between 26 and 28 seats; I count Shas as to the right of Likud because Shas took a strongly pro-settler position in the most recent election campaign, including having Rav Ovadiah rescind his famous ruling that land could be traded to save Jewish lives).
* Finally, to my great relief, the Green Leaf marijuana legalization party did not embarrass the country by gaining representation in the Knesset at this time. When peace and prosperity are restored, let a thousand silly parties bloom. But not now.
Friday, January 24, 2003
Note to readers: upon reflection, I believe there was material included in my post about Andrew Sullivan and the "bug-chasing" article that was inappropriate to air. I brought up matters that were never brought into the public domain by Sullivan, and, in fairness, that should never have been. I've now removed the post. Gossip is a serious sin, and I am genuinely sorry to be guilty of it. I beg his forgiveness.
This'll teach me to self-edit before posting a little better.
To Rod Dreher: I want to apologize for bringing this to your attention in its original form.
Now that's a movie review!
Ha'aretz has a little graph (scroll down) that they have updated with each poll that shows the relative strength of the "Left" and "Right" blocs in the polls for the upcoming Israeli election. Following the graph, it appears that the Left gained dramatically from Dec 12 through Jan 8, nearly pulling into the lead of the elections. Then the trend reversed, and the Right recovered.
Those who have been following this blog's reports on the election know that this is not what is happening. As defined in the graph, the "Left" includes both Shinui - a centrist party focused on secularism, economic liberalization, and a tough-on-terror security policy (though flexible on the ultimate nature of a settlement), and which has refused to sit in an left-wing government (but not a right-wing one) - and the Arab parties, which are avowedly not patriotic (Azmi Bishara, in defending himself and his Balad party from charges of disloyalty, said, "I am an Israeli citizen . . . but I am not an Israeli patriot"). In fact, from Dec 12 through its highest poll showing on Jan 8, the Left - Labor, Meretz, and the Arab parties - gained only 3 seats, while Likud lost 14. The other 11 seats lost by Likud went to the center-secular Shinui (5), the ultra-Orthodox Shas (4), and the Far-Right National Union (2). By contrast, since Jan 8 the Left bloc has lost 4 seats (Labor lost 6, Meretz gained 1 and the Arab parties gained 1) while the Likud-led center-right bloc (Likud plus Yisrael B'Aliyah) has gained 5 (Shinui also lost 1 seat, while Shas and National Union stayed constant). There has been no shift from right to left since the beginning of this election campaign; if anything, there has been a continued shift to the right, but to a right that is much more fragmented in the wake of the horrible Likud corruption scandals.
But I've made this point before. Something I have not stressed before is: the role of the Arab parties in the crisis of the Left.
Only twice in Israel's history has the government been dependent on the votes of the Arab parties for survival: the Rabin government that brought us Oslo and the Barak government. Nothing excuses the evil murder of Yitzhak Rabin. But that evil should not obscure the fact that the Rabin government, by making existential decisions without majority support of loyal Israelis, brought the country to the point of crisis. (Barak's reliance on Arab votes was more complicated; he was directly elected by a landslide, but his party representation actually dropped; by the time of the Camp David talks, Barak had only about a third of the Knesset still sitting in government, but parties like Shas that had left the government nonetheless refused to vote no-confidence because they thought new elections would reduce their representation.) Left-wingers who think the Sharon government is headed towards disaster must reckon with this fact: their program has *never* garnered the support of a majority of loyal MKs.
I want to stress: I am not raising the old question of a "Jewish majority." Arabs are equal citizens and have equal right to decide the fate of the nation. Arabs vote for Labor and Meretz - and even Likud - as well as for the Arab parties. But the Arab parties - not the Arab citizenry - are not loyal. They are avowedly opposed to the interests of the State of Israel. They say this openly. They speak about themselves as if they are the "peace camp" of the enemy - as if they represent the faction of Palestinian Arabs willing to negotiate and make peace with Israel. I don't think that disloyalty makes them "illegal;" I think the attempt to ban Balad, Bishara's party, was ridiuclous and counter-productive. But I do think it makes them illegitimate as coalition partners. And if they are illegitimate as coalition partners, then equally so no Israeli government can depend on their votes without inviting civil war.
This is what the Left will not recognize about their predicament. In the past 20 years, the best showing for the Zionist left was in 1992, when Labor and Meretz together won 56 seats. In that election, the Arab parties won only 5 seats. This strong showing was still a minority in the Knesset; indeed, it was smaller than the Rightist and ultra-Orthodox bloc, which together won 59 seats. With only half the nation behind him, and depending on the votes of disloyal parties to remain in power, Rabin recognized the PLO and initiated a process to give Yasser Arafat a state in the disputed territories of Gaza, Judea and Samaria. The result was disaster.
In 1999, the year of Barak's massive landslide and the collapse of Likud, the election that brought a government to power that made concessions far beyond any anticipated before, including of the Rabin government of 1992 - that election gave parties of the Right 50 seats (Likud, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu, Yahdut Ha-Torah and the National Religious Party), and parties of the Center (Shinui, Yisrael B'Aliyah, Center) 18 seats. And the Arab parties won 12 seats that year, which was a historic high-point for Arab participation in Israeli elections. The Zionist Left - Labor and Meretz - won only 36 seats - 30% of the Knesset - in this year of supposed triumph. And on the strength of this "victory" Barak sought to divide Jerusalem and even give land within the pre-67 borders away to a new Palestinian State. The result, again, was disaster.
Does anyone think the Left will get any closer to a majority in the future? Based on the most recent polls, Labor and Meretz are expected to take only 27 seats between them - less than half their 1992 showing. But the Arab parties - who are less convincingly loyal than they were in 1992 - could take as many as 10 seats. Things could go badly for the next government; there could be a massive terrorist attack, the economy could slide further into the abyss, there could be a dramatic confrontation with settlers or ultra-Orthodox that splits the government. Labor could regroup and "win" the next election. But without a massive re-alignment, governing will mean coalition with the Center-Right or dependence on the Arab parties.
For its own sake, if it is to regenerate in opposition, Labor needs to make a public declaration: we will not form a government dependent on disloyal votes. We will campaign for Arab votes. We will put Arab citizens in realistic slots on our Knesset lists. We will consider coalition with an Arab-dominated party that is self-professedly loyal to the State of Israel. But if our government ceases to command a majority of loyal MKs, we will call new elections. This declaration - not a refusal to serve in a Likud-led government - is the precondition to regaining the trust of the Israeli people.
The Jerusalem Post endorses Natan Sharansky for Prime Minister of Israel, and urges Israelis to vote for his party, Yisrael B'Aliyah. From their mouths (pens?) to G-d's ear!
Thursday, January 23, 2003
I had a very interesting exchange with a friend yesterday who is a conservative skeptic on Iraq. His basic take is that the Iraq campaign is a distraction from the war on al Qaeda, and is actually undermining the latter war: by raising the American profile in the region, the Iraq war is directly provoking additional terrorism and making it more difficult for our allies to help us fight terrorism. It may even undermine regimes - like Pakistan's - that we desperately need to keep out of the enemy camp. Rather than take on Iraq - much less take a stronger line on North Korea - he would pretty much ignore the "rogue state" problem and focus on wiping out al Qaeda.
It's a defensible position. It's pretty much the position of Brent Scowcroft, pretty much the position outlined by Al Gore in his famous speech on Iraq. I myself agree with certain parts of the argument. I worry enormously about the potential negative fallout from an Iraq campaign, particularly in Pakistan. I worry about American resources being stretched thin. I worry that nation-building in Iraq - which will be necessary, just as it is in Afghanistan, even if we find it distasteful - will be extraordinarily difficult, expensive, and possibly hopeless (as it appears to have been in Bosnia).
But what we've got to do is weigh costs against each other: the costs of action and the costs of inaction. And it seems to me that the anti-war position on Iraq seriously downplays the costs of inaction. It does so because it rests on three assumptions that I reject:
(1) Pessimism about the possibility of preventing nuclear proliferation. My interlocutor correctly points out that nuclear technology is not so hard to acquire and getting easier every day. Eventually, if a state wants the weapons badly enough, it will get them. He's probably right. But if he's right that states will inevitably go nuclear, it's probably also true that terrorist groups will inevitably go nuclear. I'm not prepared to resign myself to the inevitability of that world. Moreover, I am unconvinced that it is impossible to prevent nuclear proliferation. We have never tried very hard to prevent it, never raised the costs of acquisition of nuclear weapons to particularly high levels. Indeed, the coming war with Iraq is the first serious action ever taken to prevent nuclear proliferation; that's one of the most important reasons to support the war. Nonetheless, softer carrot-based diplomacy induced countries like Brazil, South Africa, Taiwan, Argentina, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to all credibly renounce (or never seriously contemplate) nuclear ambitions. Why give up without trying?
(2) Optimism about nuclear deterrence. Given that he feels nuclear proliferation is inevitable, my interlocutor falls back on a reliance on nuclear deterrence to deal with nuclear-armed rogue states that will inevitably arise. He comforts himself with the success of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about nuclear deterrence out there. Nuclear deterrence is no different from other deterrence. You deter someone from taking an action by credibly threatening a response that makes that action a losing proposition. The clearest-cut way of doing that is for the response to effectively deny the enemy victory; if the enemy cannot achieve his objectives by war, why launch, or threaten, war? But for the threat to be credible, the response must not be a losing proposition for the responder. Most nuclear threats fail this test. Specifically, threatening to destroy the world in response to a limited attack is never credible. If we ever had launched a full-scale nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, for instance, they would have responded in kind and, to a first approximation, every American citizen would die. So we would never do that. And threatening to do that in response to, say, a Soviet invasion of Western Europe would never be credible. What we in fact threatened in response to a Soviet invasion was to destroy the invading army with nuclear weapons. This was far more credible; if, after all, the Soviets took the additional step of launching a massive nuclear retaliatory strike on American cities, we would respond in kind and everyone would die. Game over. Nuclear sabre-rattling is therefore a game of chicken: whoever is more willing to risk annihilation wins. If we go toe to toe with a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Il, we will lose, because if the odds get high enough that Los Angeles gets nuked, we will simply fold. Even if we threaten total annihilation of the enemy, they can call our bluff. Why would we risk losing Los Angeles for limited objectives? I believe that this view of nuclear deterrence is born out by the history of the Cold War. We were losing the Cold War all through the 1960s and 1970s, which were the years of Mutually-Assured Destruction. Why? Because the Soviets were the more aggressive and radical power, more willing to risk annihiliation to win a small advantage. America was more effectively deterred than they were. Only in the 1980s did the tide begin to turn, and a major reason was a shift in American doctrine from deterrence to nuclear warfighting. We put the Pershings in Europe, put neutron bombs in Lancer missiles, built the MX and launched the effort to build a strategic missile defense. None of this was intended to insure a second-strike capability; sub-launched missiles already credibly provided that. It was intended to make it possible to fight and win a nuclear war. That, in turn, made threats of limited use of American force more credible, and allowed a generally more assertive foreign policy profile. Suddenly, they were more deterred than we. The Soviets, of course, were a relatively conservative power, for all their aggression. They had a lot to lose. Rogue states have much less to lose; they are risk-seeking, because instability is more likely to give them opportunities to increase their power, and they need to increase their power before their existing power drains away. (See here for a fuller discussion of risk-seeking and risk-averse powers. It's embedded in some other discussion, but scroll down; there's good stuff there, if I say so myself.) Because they are risk-seeking, nuclear deterrence will work even less well against them than against the Soviets. In any event, because I am very pessimistic about nuclear deterrence generally, and specifically about the application of nuclear deterrence to a standoff between America and a rogue state, I cannot accept the idea of a nuclear-armed Iraq. We've already got some rollback to accomplish on this front, dealing with North Korea and Pakistan. We certainly don't need more, worse problems.
(3) Optimism about the application of the Westphalian system of international relations to rogue states. Briefly, my interlocutor is very concerned that we are cavalierly violating the sovereignty of states we decide are dangerous, and betraying a willingness to "play God" with the nations of the world. I think two concerns get conflated here. One is the concern that our actions will inflame the hostility of the Arab world specifically because they already think we are terribly arrogant, and this impression will be massively confirmed by war with Iraq. This is a legitimate fear, but it's just as legitimate to suppose that what generates resentment is weakness coupled with assertiveness; if we carry our war through to completion, there may be less resentment, not more, and if we hesitate there may be more, not less. But be that as it may, the second concern is that we are shredding the structure of international relations by violating state sovereignty. And this I think is specious. The Westphalian system was designed for a world of kings, where legitimate power was clearly identifiable. The Barbary pirates were never considered sovereign, because their power was illegitimate. Today, guys like Saddam Hussein have all the trappings of legitimate authority. But they are not legitimate. A monarchy like Saudi Arabia's or Morocco's can plausibly claim to have the tacit consent of its people. Even a revolutionary regime like China's, Egypt's or, in earlier years, Iran's could plausibly claim this. But North Korea? Iraq? These prison states are in no sense sovereign nations. Their governments are illegitimate. And if they are illegitimate, they cannot claim the privileges and immunities of sovereignty. Ahmad Chalabi has a better claim to being the head of the legitimate government of Iraq than does Saddam Hussein. We could justify war on that grounds alone. Now, admittedly, the devil is in the details here. How a regime is deprived of legitimacy, in a way that is credible to the world at large, is a very important question. But it's a moral evasion, I think, not to grapple with the question at all and grant the enormous privileges of sovereignty to every armed gang that takes over a government.
If I'm right about these three points, then the case for war is clear, as I believe it has been for years. Iraq is testing the will of the international community, led by the United States, as usual, to collectively defend itself. If we fail this test, collective security is dead. If we pass it, we have a template for dealing with much thornier military/diplomatic problems - like North Korea. It's not a distraction from the war on al Qaeda. Just another front.
William Safire has a really good column today about Franco-Germany's position on Iraq and the coming changes in governance of the European Union.
There are a bunch of foreign-policy topics on which I am a heretic from the conservative consensus. One of the biggies is: I am very strongly against EU enlargement. Some conservatives want to keep Britain out of the EU. I want to keep Britain, Poland, Czechia, Turkey, Switzerland - if I could achieve it, I would limit the EU to France, Germany and the BeNeLux.
Why? The usual conservative argument for EU expansion is twofold: first, expansion will make it more unwieldy and ineffective, which is deemed a good thing; second, getting more pro-American countries into the EU will tilt it more in an American direction.
The second argument I think is badly wrong. The EU will necessarily tilt against America. The purpose of NATO was once described by a Brit as: keep the Russians out, the Germans down and the Americans in. The EU was designed by Charles de Gaul to give the French the bridle, the Germans the bit and the Yanks the boot. The whole idea of the EU is to create a counterweight to America.
Moreover, the center of gravity in the EU will always be the core region of France, Germany and the BeNeLux. Everyone else basically gets paid off in subsidies to support the Franco-German hegemony. The notion that the French and Germans would let the Czechs tell them what to do is laughable. The Czechs will simply be ordered to change their foreign policy to comply with dictates from Brussels (in fact, they already have when they demonstrated too much sympathy for Israel), and if their feelings are hurt they will be tossed some farm subsidies as consolation. If we let pro-American nations get swallowed up by the EU, we will simply lose those friends, not gain in influence.
As for the making the EU ineffective: why is this a good thing? Our prosperity is tied to European prosperity. Our ability to defend our mutual interests is hamstrung by Continental refusal to shoulder their share of the defense burden. And moreover, the weakness of our allies is a major irritant to them, a source of ressentiment that drives them in an anti-American direction.
But most importantly: a weak, sprawling, bureaucratic EU is credibly presenting itself to the world as an alterantive model for planetary governance to national sovereignty. This is very dangerous to America. By contrast, a compact EU would very clearly be nothing more than a new country in the making. It might be friendly or hostile to America, but it would not be by its very nature a threat to the international order.
And relatedly: a sprawling, ineffective EU will be of necessity undemocratic. Power is already increasingly flowing to unaccountable bureaucrats and away from elected bodies. The bigger the EU gets, the more that process will accelerate. But if the EU were compact and manageable, then the demand would be for an effective - and democratic - federalism, and therefore for power in the EU to be vested in a directly elected Europe-wide parliament. And if we believe all this talk we spew about how democracies don't naturally fight each other, then we should care whether the EU evolves in a liberal-democratic or an authoritarian-bureaucratic direction.
Prior to this last round of Franco-German deal-cutting, there was a real dispute between the two European powers about the future of the EU. The German vision was of a federal structure modelled on Germany, where the individual states retained considerable power and independence, but where Europe got a real national government, its power concentrated in a parliament that was directly elected. This served German interests; Germany will always have some difficulty throwing its weight around as Germany because of its . . . delicate history. But Germans, as equal European citizens, could certainly dominate a democratic Europe, much as California and Texas have enormous influence over American politics and cultural development. France, by contrast, favored a Europe of states, but one where the leading states would exercise direct power over the smaller states of Europe through a strong Presidency. This model favors French interests, because France would inevitably be the leading state to exercise this power, more powerful than any rival but Germany or Britain, and less likely to offend small-state sensibility than either of these. (France, moreover, has a stronger national identity than Germany, and would be less willing to give it up to a European identity - something that Italians, for example, have positively welcomed.)
Now it seems that Germany is backing France's vision, and making it clear that they will not be shy about throwing their weight around within Europe. What possible reason, then, is there for America to support the emergence of this new European nation? It is increasingly clear that it will not be a democracy as we understand such things. Its reason for being will be to thwart America. And it threatens to gobble up all the states who are inclined in a friendly direction. Why is EU expansion a good thing for the U.S.?
The only benefit the EU brings to the U.S. is that it makes it ever less plausible that France and Germany will ever go to war again. But if the price of continental peace is looming conflict with America, is it worth it?
Better we should drive a stake into this vampire before it's too late. Expand NAFTA across the Atlantic: invite Britain, Turkey, Poland, Czechia, anyone else we like to join. Upgrade our bilateral defense relationships with these same countries. Deny the EU access to NATO troops or NATO support for any defense infrastructure they undertake to build. Declare that any EU seat at the international table - at the U.N., for instance - comes at the expense of seats for member states.
No reason, of course, to specifically try to antagonize Franco-Germany. Our interests coincide in most ways. We have a lot of culture in common. Our economies are deeply intertwined. If they were more successful, they would probably resent us less, and be more useful allies. But let's not bet our security on it.
A good bit of additional analysis on the Israeli elections from Bret Stephens at the Jerusalem Post.
[Mitzna's] approach seems rooted not just in certitude, but in the certitude of his contempt. Sharon, by contrast, seems, if belatedly, to have acquired a quality lost since the days of Ben-Gurion: unconditional love of the Jewish people. Haredi and secular. Ashkenazi and Sephardi. Settlers and Tel Avivians. He sat comfortably with Peres and Lieberman around the cabinet table. He would gladly do so again with Mitzna and Eli Yishai.
This is the essential quality Israel requires of its leaders if it is going to resolve its most basic existential dilemmas. Next to it, formulas regarding what percentage of the territories Israel will hand over, timetables for the transition and all the rest - these are matters for bureaucrats and surveyors. That Sharon recognizes the difference is what marks him, for all his faults, as the man of the hour. As for Mitzna - well, as Elizabeth Bishop put it, so filled is he with the intent to be lost that his loss is no disaster.
I don't think Sharon is the only Israeli leader to manifest this quality. I think Natan Sharansky has it. I think, for that matter, that Yossi Sarid, leader of Meretz, has it. Beni Begin has it, as does Dan Meridor, though neither of them are tempermentally fit for national leadership. Even Peres, who is a decidedly cold fish, has a little bit of it, as does Barak; Barak's problem wasn't lack of love but utter incompetence. And certainly Rabin had it in spades, even though he was horribly wrong about Oslo; he loved his people even though he had lost faith in them, and his lack of faith led to tragedy. But the bulk of the next generation of Labor leadership - not only Mitzna but Ramon, Burg, Beilin (okay, now he's with Meretz) - none of them has a natural bond with the nation. Of none of them would one say: he loves the Jewish people - all of it - unconditionally.
It's not just Labor, though, that fails on this score. I'll ignore the sectarian parties because, of their nature, you wouldn't expect them to produce national leaders. But two other major figures in mainstream parties conspicuously lack this quality of love of the whole people: Tommy Lapid of Shinui and Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud. For both of these men - as for Mitzna - only part of the nation is deserving of love, is deserving of even being considered legitimate. And that is why they cannot be allowed to sit in the Prime Minister's seat.
Another update on the Israeli elections. Here is the latest Ha'aretz poll, and here is an analysis of that poll from Ha'aretz.
(Aside: I've been asked why I focus on Ha'aretz polls. First, because I know where they are on the web in English. Second, because while they are accused of under-counting the right-wing vote, they tend to be more stable than other polls.)
According to my calculations, the left wing is now at its lowest ebb since mid-December, and is also fragmenting, with Meretz and the Arab parties rising as Labor falls. The right, however, also remains highly fragmented. It is entirely plausible that Shinui (the secular centrist party of protest) will be the second-largest party in the next Knesset. Even so, a Likud-Shinui coalition would not command a majority. Neither would a Likud-Labor coalition, but that is academic anyhow because Labor is not going to depose Mitzna and Mitzna is not going to join a Sharon government.
Sharon, therefore, will have to form either a right-wing coalition with the religious parties, or form an agreement with Shinui immediately after the election and then reach out to all other parties to form a national unity government on the basis of the Likud-Shinui coalition guidelines. I think the latter would be a much smarter move, provided that those guidelines do not rule out allowing religious parties into the coalition. The message should not be to delegitimate one or another sector of Israeli society but to set policies and ask that sector to assent or remain in opposition.
Assuming the final results look something like the most recent poll, here are the big political decisions that each major player will have to make post-election:
* Sharon will have to decide who to reach out to first. I think that the answer should be Shinui. A Likud-Yisrael B'Aliyah-Shinui coalition would clear 50 seats. They can agree on guidelines for security policy, a Palestinian state, reform of the religious establishment, government reform, economic matters and so forth. They would plausibly be a "national unity" government even without Labor. They can then open their arms to Labor, the far-right, and the religious parties, and see who is willing to stay out of government. My prediction: Labor would split in half and one half would join the government, along with One Nation and the National Religious Party. Alternatively, Sharon could reach out to Labor first, but as I am sure he would be rebuffed by Mitzna, we then move on to his second choice, and we're back to the original decision. I think his position approaching Labor is stronger if he already has Shinui on board. If, on the other hand, Sharon reaches out to Avigdor Liberman of National Union first, he can forget about coalition with Labor, and will likely wind up in a government without either Labor or Shinui. And that in turn would mean that the far-right and religious parties would effectively control the government, and they have been willing to topple right-wing governments before when they weren't satisfied. The downside to approaching Shinui is: would it permanently drive Sephardi voters away from Likud, crippling it in future elections? My guess is not - in fact, I suspect it would bring them home to Likud because Shas cannot protect their interests from the opposition. But it is a real risk, and one Sharon will not take lightly.
* Lapid (head of Shinui) will have to decide whether he wants to govern or sit in opposition. Shinui's credibility stems from its willingness to sit in opposition rather than compromise, and its determination to oppose the religious parties. Lapid has also said that he will not sit in a left-wing government and that he wants to be in a national unity government with Likud and Labor. If Shinui is approached by Sharon per my suggestion above, does Lapid grasp Sharon's hand, or demand that Labor be brought in first? I think the latter choice would be a disastrous mistake for Lapid. The only thing worse would be if he joined a right-wing coalition that already included the religious parties, but I don't think Lapid will do that. By contrast, I do think Lapid could agree to sit with Shas or UTJ assuming that the coalition guidelines already included Shinui's demands for religious reform. And it's not completely inconceivable that Shas would accept these guidelines; they would, after all, have already lost, so why not retain some influence? I admit, it's unlikely; but it's not impossible. All that said, I think Lapid will fail this test of leadership, and if Sharon reaches out to him I think he will beg off until Labor is brought in, and will refuse to sit in anything but a Labor-Likud secular unity government. That's just my take on his personality.
* Ben Eliezer (former head of Labor) will have to decide whether to leave the Labor party. Mitzna will refuse to join a Sharon-led government under any circumstances. And he will not be deposed; Labor voters gave him a clear mandate and they knew what they were doing. The bulk of the party wants to go into opposition and regroup. But a substantial minority wants to be a part of government, is not so horribly opposed to Sharon or his policies, and is more afraid of a narrow right-wing government and what it will do to the country than of destroying Labor. Ben Eliezer could lead them, if briefly. And he hates Mitzna enough that he just might do it. It's happened many times before; right-wing factions have been peeling off from Labor since Moshe Dayan's day. They never last long on their own. But they frequently have a big influence on the shape of governments and policy while they last.
* Mitzna (head of Labor) will have to decide whether to embrace Yossi Beilin and form a new Social Democratic party by merging with Meretz. Mitzna's views and Yossi Sarid's (head of Meretz) are not so far apart. And if the right wing of Labor bolts, there will be no logical reason for the remaining Labor and Meretz to exist as separate parties. This election has already been characterized by rivalry between Meretz and Labor, but unlike the rivalry between, say, Likud and Shas, this is not about a sectarian minority jockeying for position and influence; it's about who leads the left. The National Union has a logical reason to exist because it fundamentally differs from Likud, and sits to its right. It is not clear that Meretz and Mitzna's Labor disagree about anything substantive. Mitzna has shown some willingness to entertain the idea in the past, arguing only that there was no enough time to effect the merger before the election. After this election, the calculation might be different.
I'm not predicting what will happen. But it could happen that after the election, Sharon, Sharansky (of Yisrael B'Aliyah) and Lapid (of Shinui) form a core coalition of the center-right with a commitment to reform in a host of areas: economic policy, religious policy, government structure, etc. Ben Eliezer could then lead a faction of 6 or 7 MKs out of Labor into a new party to join the coalition, which would be pushed over 60 MKs by the addition of either a couple of small parties, or the agreement of the ultra-Orthodox to accept the government guidelines on religion, or by the agreement of National Union to accept the government guidelines with respect to the Palestinians. The remains of Labor could then join with Meretz to form a new Social Democrat party that would sit in opposition.
If that happened, Likud would become the governing party, replacing Labor for the next generation. I don't think Likud has shown itself to be ready for that responsibility. So I hope it grows up real, real fast. Because the alternative is the continuing decomposition of Israeli democracy, with potentially disastrous consequences.
Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Why is this man - who wants to implant chips in people so the government can keep track of them - considered a conservative? Remind me?
This piece is the most moving, and persuasive, bit of Roe anniversary lamentation I've read yet. Nothing new, but very well put.
Tuesday, January 21, 2003
George Weigel has a good article in the latest First Things about the Just War tradition: what it means, why it's bad that contemporary clergy so frequently get it wrong (or reject it outright), and how it needs to be updated. According to his synopsis: the just war tradition begins with the understanding that "rightly constituted public authority is under a strict moral obligation to defend the security of those for whom it has assumed responsibility, even if this puts the magistrate's own life in jeopardy." There is no presumption for or against war, therefore. The questions to ask before undertaking war are: Do we have the authority to go to war? Do we have a good reason to go to war (just ends)? Do we have a reasonable prospect of victory (prudence)? Will we conduct the war justly (proportionality in violence and efforts to avoid harm to noncombatants)? And are there any alternatives to war that have not yet been exhausted (last resort)?
Since his discussion focuses on preventing or defeating obvious evil, Weigel is implicitly assuming that the first question is already answered in the affirmative and that the affirmative answer to the second question is what prompts the discussion of resort to war. This ordering subordinates questions of just war to questions about political authority. It is not an accident that serious pacifists (such as the Amish) tend also to be serious anarchists; denying the state the power to wage war is part and parcel of denying the authority of the state at all (as a moral matter; as a practical matter, they may recognize that the state exists and must be reckoned with, but they do not recognize that it is their moral creation or that it has any just authority). Even non-serious pacifists and miscellaneous anti-war hangers-on (including many clergy) fundamentally doubt that the state is in any way a moral actor - or, at least they deny that our state is a moral actor. So I'm not sure precisely who he's arguing with; people who accept that the state has moral authority, if they at all intelligent, surely understand the police and defense functions of the state and accept them as legitimate, in which case they surely see some wars as just. Now we get to debate what constitutes prudence and what the parameters of just ends and just means are.
Weigel identifies the 1983 bishops' pastoral letter against nuclear weapons as a key document in the falling-off from the just war tradition. But I'm not sure he's got as good a case as he thinks. The fact is that mutually-assured destruction was a profoundly immoral doctrine. To understand why, think about it: if America were attacked with thousands of strategic nuclear weapons, the population of America would essentially be eliminated, and our continent rendered largely uninhabitable. If the Soviet Union had launched such a first-strike, what would the justification be for retaliation in kind? Retaliation would save no lives, would avert no evil, would serve no American interest (we would have no interests left). It would be an act of pure vengeance, which is an illegitimate moral basis for action in war. (The distinction Weigel draws between duellum and bellum is precisely on point.) If such retaliation would necessarily be immoral, then to threaten such retaliation must also be immoral - or imprudent, since an opponent might suspect that an immoral order would never be carried out.
It was precisely the recognition of the essential immorality of MAD that led President Reagan to propose a national missile defense. The same, correct moral conviction underlay the bishops' argument against nuclear weapons per se. Reagan placed more faith in an accountable, free, national government - that of the United States - than he did in paper agreements with the Soviets or international organizations. The bishops took the opposite view. I agree with Reagan, but this sounds like an argument about which course is more prudent, not about just ends or means.
This is the same question on which Weigel and critics of the Iraq war differ, only now Weigel is on the other side, sort of. Iraq, being an irrational actor, cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons because it will not be deterred from using them; mere possession is a sufficient threat to peace that it justifies preemptive war. I'm with him on this one - don't get me wrong - but it seems to me this is pretty much the case against nuclear weapons generally. The difference is that Weigel believes that some states - he doesn't identify precisely which - can be trusted with nuclear weapons, while the anti-nuclear bishops believed that none could be. That may be a disagreement about just authority. But once again it may be a difference about prudence.
Weigel identifies three areas where just war theory needs development. They are: (1) The delineation of just cause, (2) the identification of competent authority, and (3) the determination of last resort.
Traditionally, he says, just cause was understood as defense against aggression, recovery of something wrongfully taken, or the punishment of evil. Today, he says, we're pretty much limited to aggression. I'm not sure why he thinks that is the case. The Kossovo war was justified as punishment of evil. The Falklands war was as plausibly about recovery of something wrongfully taken as about defense against aggression (the former sounds like a subset of the latter in any case). But in any case, Weigel's point is that aggression needs to be defined differently because of the prospect of weapons of mass-destruction in the hands of radically evil states and non-state actors like terrorist groups. The potential damage from a WMD attack is too great to wait for one to happen to act. Therefore, we need to expand the doctrine of preemption to include a specific category of preventative war: war to prevent certain kinds of weapons from falling into certain hands.
This is entirely reasonable - so long as we can agree on whose hands we're talking about. Iraq is the easy case in this regard; the U.N. has already branded it a criminal state, so the only debate is whether the U.N. will do its job or not. But what about North Korea? Or Pakistan? Or Iran? Or Egypt? Or Lybia, new head of the U.N. Commission on Civil Rights? You could argue that, really, this is something for every state to decide; if we think something is too dangerous to be allowed, and we act to prevent it, we are behaving justly. But as the ultimate aim of this whole intellectual exercise is to teach statesmen how to preserve peace and order - and Weigel agrees that this is the key aim - then it matters whether American actions appear lawful and just in the eyes of the world, and not only whether they do so to us. It is significant, I think, that the Kossovo war was conducted not by any power acting along, nor by the U.N., but by NATO, a defensive alliance suddenly transformed into a regional Ordnungsmacht. Any expansion in the right to preemptive self-defense, it seems to me, needs similarly to be institutionally reified, something that will not happen through the U.N. by that body's very nature.
In other words: prudentially, Weigel's expansion of the notion of just cause requires a contraction of the definition of a competent authority. A single power may be sufficient to act in its own self-defense against clearly established enemies in defense of clear interests. But a single power cannot roam the globe in search of monsters to destroy - even if doing so is necessary and just - without causing considerable collateral damage to international order.
As for "last resort," this is one area where I think the modern anti-war crowd simply misunderstands a very plain concept. Last resort cannot mean that every means of redress short of war has been exhaustively tried in a literal sense. One can, after all, always continue talking, even after the door has been firmly slammed in one's face. Diplomacy is not an end in itself, but by its nature it does not have an end of itself; diplomats are supposed to keep talking until they are recalled, just as soldiers are supposed to keep fighting until told to cease. To try diplomatic resolution means to have some metric for determining whether diplomacy has failed. In the case of Iraq, any reasonable metric, I think, would read "failure" and has read so for years. If there is just cause for war with Iraq - as I strongly believe there is - and if war is prudent and could be conducted proportionately - as I certainly think it could be - then a "last cause" objection seems entirely specious.
What is disappointing about Weigel's piece is that he doesn't reckon with the most interesting problem of our current war: the question of "regime change." If you accept the neo-conservative argument (as I do and as Weigel seems to) that the internal character of a regime determines its foreign policy to a large extent (and, specifically, that certain kinds of radical authoritarian or "totalitarian" regimes need to be aggressive externally or they collapse internally), then maintaining public order means actively seeking to overthrow these regimes. But, as the saying goes, if you break it, you bought it. Israel's strike on the Osirak reactor was a clear example of Weigel's preemptive self-defense where the claim was that the mere potential acquisition of a weapon was sufficiently aggressive to justify military action. Well and good, and this should prove that this concept is not so novel as many think. But regardless, that won't do for our current war with Iraq; we're not preparing to invade in order to get rid of a particular weapon capability but in order to replace an entire political system and remake the country, to permanently remove it as a threat to peace. By what authority do we prepare to do this? Is this something that can be done unilaterally? If not, what kind of collective structure does it require? And once done, what are our responsibilities towards the occupied country? These, it seems to me, are the real new questions in just war theory, and questions that, if the theory is to be useful to statesmen, need badly to be addressed.
Monday, January 20, 2003
Happy MLK Day, everybody! Thanks to the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Wall Streeters like myself get the day off. Now that’s a shakedown I can get behind!
Seriously, though, today will see a lot of “tributes” to King that are really hijackings: arguments that, were he alive today, he’d be on one or another side of a contested issue. Liberals and conservatives will both claim King’s legacy for their positions on affirmative action, for example. Here’s the New York Sun doing just that for the conservative side of the argument – and throwing in the brewing war with Iraq for good measure.
You can find quotes from King to support either position on affirmative action. Liberals will point out that King favored affirmative action in his lifetime. Conservatives will argue that (a) things are very different now, and (b) affirmative action is inconsistent with King’s professed ideals. Liberals will rejoinder that (a) things are different now in large part because of affirmative action, and (b) if it is so inconsistent, how could King have supported race-conscious policies in his lifetime?
I think the liberals get the better part of this argument. It’s overwhelmingly likely that King would be a strong supporter of affirmative action were he alive today. But this is really a silly argument. Who cares what King would have thought? The whole exercise seems a bit like those Lubavitcher Hasidim who still consult with their departed Rebbe on what to do about this or that life decision – job, marriage, etc. They ask the question, then open a book of his letters at random and look for the answer to their question in the letter thus revealed. If we all profess King’s ideals, then we have a common ground for argument about what they mean, and can legitimately disagree about that without using his ghost as an arbiter.
Jews do the same thing. King was famously anti-anti-Semitic and friendly to Israel. Some of his closest allies were Jews, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Does that mean, as any number of emails have assured me today, that King would be a supporter of Israel’s current government and policies? Or does King’s strong support of anti-colonial movements mean that he would be a partisan of the Palestinian cause? Again, I think it’s overwhelmingly likely that, as a professor of the creed of non-violence, King would line up with the Peace Now, New Israel Fund and Meretz crowd: in favor of a Palestinian state, against the settlements, against the Sharon government, etc. I don’t think he’d be hanging out with the crowd at A.N.S.W.E.R. any more than during his lifetime he associated with the Black Muslims. But he would not be providing useful soundbites for AIPAC.
There is a tendency to treat King as a saint, because of his martyrdom, and so asserting what he would say about x or y today amounts to arguing that his asserted position is unassailably right. But if he were alive today, he would have had to live through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. And his response to the moral and practical challenges thrown up in those decades would determine who he was by the year 2003 – and what we think of him. Assuming that he didn’t decline into talking-head banality, and remained morally engaged for another 35 years, those 35 years would have thrown up two moral challenges of interest. I’m not sure how he would have responded, but his responses would have shaped his ultimate historical significance, and potentially would have changed history. They are: the renewal of anti-Communism in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the rise of the anti-abortion movement in the 1980s and 1990s.
King was a pacifist, a Socialist and an opponent of the Vietnam War in his time. He was supported by Communists and Communist front groups, knew it, and didn’t consider the fact terribly significant. He clearly felt that the moral struggle against segregation was more important than the moral struggle against Communism. I suspect he didn’t really give a second thought to the latter or have much interest in what Communism really meant (he was a committed Christian, after all), or the extent of its crimes.
But it is not obvious to me that King could have maintained that position through the 1980s. Anti-Communism in the late-1970s and 1980s took on a very different cast than it had had in the 1950s. Jews who would normally have been counted as part of the Left – like Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach – were activists in the fight to free Soviet Jews. Liberal dissidents like Vaclav Havel could not be so easily dismissed by Western liberals as a Romantic nationalist like Solzhenitzyn. And, indeed, the 1970s was a time when a division appeared in the ranks of the Western Left, with some members moving sharply Right, and ultimately joining the ranks of the neo-conservatives, out of belated recognition that the Soviet regime was, well, evil.
Would King have been among them? Would he have counted Natan Sharansky and Vaclav Havel among his allies? Or we he have remained comfortably uninvolved in this emerging moral drama? One of his close allies in life, Bayard Rustin, took the former course. He was a former Communist who had abandoned Communism by the 1940s, and who supported LBJ in 1964. He was outspoken against Soviet oppression of Jews – and Russians – and held up the banner of the anti-Communist left when fewer and fewer saw the need to hoist it. He never became a right-winger; he was a Socialist to his dying day. But he was an anti-Communist. Had King joined him, he would have made a far more significant impact on the moral credibility of the Left, and perhaps saved more of it from the creeping ’68-ism that has done so much damage. Had he, rather, joined his protégé Jesse Jackson and ignored the evils of Communism, he would have made the triumph of the Reagan revolution that much more difficult, and racial reconciliation in its wake that much more implausible.
Abortion is an even more interesting question to contemplate. King was a committed Christian, someone who truly believed that G-d had chosen him – to a great extent against his will – to fulfill a divine mission on Earth. Would he have been swayed by allies such as Father (then Reverend) John Neuhaus to the position that the radical liberalization of abortion law, and the explosion in the number of abortions in this country and throughout the Western world, was a great evil? Or would he have preferred the comfortable alliances with liberal groups strongly supportive of that liberalization, groups more likely to support his crusades to increase spending on the poor, rein in capitalism, and redistribute wealth on racial lines?
The crimes of Communism took place overseas; as a pacifist, it would not have been hard for King to simply say that his problem was the moral condition of America, not Russia. He could not say that with respect to abortion. Would King have added the fight against abortion to his list of causes, as he did fights against poverty, for organized labor and so forth? If he did, he would potentially have changed the politics of the 1990s significantly. In the 1990s, abortion became the primary organizing issue of the Democratic Party, and the key to unlocking its fundraising base. But the demographic cornerstone of the Democratic Party is its 90% support among black voters. If King broke ranks with his liberal allies over abortion, what would the implications have been for the Democratic Party? By contrast, if King embraced his liberal allies and rejected the Christian opponents of abortion, what would the impact have been upon those opponents’ attempts to advance their cause in Christian circles?
Unlike the debate over what King would say today about affirmative action or about Israel, these questions - anti-Communism and abortion - are not attempts to rope King into present-day debates (and thereby shut the debate down) but to ponder the influence of a single man upon the world. If King remained embalmed in his views of 1968, and had had nothing to say about the events of the past 35 years, then today he would be irrelevant. His name would be conjured with far less than it is now. But had he lived, and engaged with the moral issues of the day over the past 35 years, he would have, by his responses to those issues, either expanded his legacy or contracted it. And either way, he would have continued to change the world.
Thursday, January 16, 2003
Bloomie is making more and more fierce noises about dealing with the catastrophe that is NYC public education. Here is the New York Sun's take on his proposals. I'm less worried than they about too much standardization, but equally worried about the lack of competition. It isn't either/or, it's both/and. Every great organization succeeds in part through standardization, and schools are no different. But you need competition because (a) one standard doesn't fit all; (b) that's the only way to keep standards up. McDonalds and Burger King are both highly standardized and have high standards. They wouldn't succeed without them. But without competition, even if they were standardized, the standards would be consistently low.
Anyway, we'll see if tough talk is matched by tough action - and real savings. There's a whole lot of fat in schools administration. And the city is going on a diet. If Mayor Mike can get results by taking on the principals, the custodians, the administrators, and so on, he'll be in a much better position to deal with the UFT in the final round.
Meanwhile, three other points:
(1) Ending bi-lingual ed and reforming special education are absolutely critical to making meaningful progress in improving school performance. They are also absolutely essential to realizing cost savings. But both areas are substantially out of city control and under the control of the courts. Here is an excellent recent book about how the courts have managed to destroy public policy in areas like public education. If the GOP is serious about having an urban agenda, fighting "democracy by decree" has got to be high on the list of priorities. And this has to be handled on the Federal level, because it's Federal courts that are in the way.
(2) Relentless focus on lousy schools means ignoring the problems that can develop at - and destroy - even excellent schools. Check out this article from the NY Times about how a lousy principal at Brooklyn Tech, one of the city's selective high schools (meaning you need to take a test to get in) is ravaging that school. Something similar may be happening at the Bronx HS of Science, an even brighter jewel in the city's crown. The Sun meanwhile, ran an article a few weeks ago (I can't find it on line) about a top-performing chess team at a school with an "underprivileged" student population that is being destroyed, along with the school, because, while performance is improving and is better than comparable schools, it is still below the city average. That's the problem with Klein's current metric: if you grade schools against each other only on student scores, you wind up rewarding lousy schools with good kids (and good parents) and punishing schools that may be doing everything right with a difficult population. Of course, with robust competition, you wouldn't have to guess which schools were doing well; they'd be the ones gaining students.
(3) We want to open up the schools to new blood and get rid of lousy teachers (and especially lousy principals). That much is clear. But we don't want to burn out a bunch of idealistic but unprepared kids in their first year up against the reality of inner-city public schools. The current system is a maelstrom that rewards cynics and cowards more than anyone. And this is what happens when you throw in an idealistic young thing with no practical preparation for the reality of the system. Heartbreaking, really.
Wow! Tough talk from the Washington Post on Hans Blix. Can the Administration really survive backing down, like John Derbyshire thinks they are going to do?
I don't see it. I think we're waiting now to see if last-ditch efforts by various Arab countries to get Saddam Hussein to flee to some palace in exile bear fruit. That end-game would be a win in some ways, a lose in others. A win because fewer people would die, and also because Saddam would be totally discredited; if he went down fighting, he might yet become a martyr. It would also show that the Arabs can "take care" of one of their own. But it would be a loss because American might and resolve would not be demonstrated, because our ability to operate freely in Iraq and foster a more friendly and, ultimately, democratic regime there would be limited, and because we would be left in a weak position to demand cooperation from our Arab "allies" - rather, they would be in a position to make demands of us, having "solved" the Saddam problem for us. But if such efforts are underway (and they appear to be) it's hard for me to see how we could ignore them. Hence the current calm before the storm.
Or maybe I'm just whistling past the graveyard. But it does seem to me that when the voice of the establishment says enough is enough, President Bush would have a very hard time giving Hans Blix more time.
The full Ha'aretz poll results are now posted. My previous explanation for the move - that we were seeing a continuing fragmentation, with a very small move to the right - looks correct. The fringe parties - UTJ (Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox), National Union (far Right), and Meretz (far Left) all gained seats. Shinui (Centrist secular) and Shas (Sephardi ultra-Orthodox) lost three seats between them; these account fully for the three seat rise of Likud. So: Labor down 4, Shas and Shinui down 3, Likud up 3, National Union, Meretz and UTJ up 1 each - that adds up to a 2 seat move to the Right, hardly the earthquake suggested by the headline of the Likud-Labor edge going from 3 seats to 10.
But it also leaves 2 seats missing. Where did they go? They went to the Green Leaf Party. You are thinking: that's pathetic - the major parties are splintering so bad that a Green party is getting seats? But you are wrong. It's more pathetic than that. The major parties are splintering so bad that a single-issue marijuana legalization party is getting seats.
Okay, Dems, the gauntlet has been thrown down, and in the Boston Globe Ed page, no less! Will Al Sharpton, the nation's leading racial arsonist and elected representative of exactly nobody, be treated better than non-violent segregation-nostalgist and duly elected Senator from Mississippi Trent Lott? I think we all know the answer to that one.
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
The other good WSJ ed page piece today is their lead editorial: Bush's Labor Buddy, about this Administration's budding relationship with the unsavory boss of the carpenters' union. The New Republic ran a hard-hitting piece about this a few weeks ago. So now it seems Eugene Scalia has resigned from the Labor Department in protest of Secretary Chao's plans to support this corrupt labor boss in his court fight to keep control of his union. Good for him. It looks like a straightforward quid-pro-quo: we help you stay in office; you help us stay in office. It stinks to high heaven, and I don't care how corrupt the other side is: when you play the game the same way, you deserve the same abuse. Right now, this looks like as wrong a call as the steel tariffs, and more evidence that this Administration's domestic policies are far too driven by electoral considerations. It is encouraging, though, to see a high-profile, conservative appointee quit over Chao's decision. Not that he'll get any credit from the other side for it.
Today's WSJ editorial page was particularly excellent. Ralph Peters has a piece about Pakistan called Hamlet of the Indus that is one of the more fair-mindedly pessimistic pieces on the country and our relations with it that I have read. His bottom line: Pakistan is not a country, not a nation, and barely a state. Musharraf is minimally useful to us because while he is a genuine patriot he is in an untenable position. In fact, all of Pakistan is in a psychologically untenable position, unable to pursue the national interest because the national identity is bound up in a dispute about Kashmir whose only end can be devastating war with a stronger neighbor. However, because Musharraf is a genuine patriot, and does not want conflict with the U.S., he's the least bad of a series of bad alternatives. Therefore we should work with him, but expect little of him, and not depend on him at all. And we should absolutely not let ourselves get dragged into mediating the dispute over Kashmir, since mediation is impossible and will only alienate both sides.
That sounds right to me. But I wonder if we have the luxury of our current cautious policy. Pakistan is a problem similar in many ways to North Korea. They've got nukes, and there is too great a risk that, from them, hard-core evildoers who would blow one up in an American city will get nukes. So what do we do? The diplomatic and geostrategic problem of Pakistan is even tougher than North Korea because Pakistan has done nothing to provoke conflict with the United States, because Pakistan is definitively a nuclear power (North Korea has not yet performed a nuclear test, the only definitive proof), and because events in Pakistan will have a spillover effect not only on India but across the Muslim world. Pakistan is a very bad accident waiting to happen, and I don't know what we can do about it.
More on the Israeli elections: a new Ha'aretz poll shows Likud up to 30 seats again (from 27) and Labor down to 20 (from 24). They haven't released the whole poll yet, but the summary does say that Shinui was down 2 seats (to 15) and Shas down 1 seat (to 12). This move is described as a "surge" for Likud and the "collapse" of Labor, as the spread between the two went from 3 seats to 10.
But without looking at the full poll, it's impossible to tell what's going on. From Jan 2 to Jan 9, the Center-Right bloc of Likud-Yisrael B'Aliyah dropped 5 seats while the Center-Left bloc of Labor-Meretz gained only 1 seat. The other 4 seats went to Shinui, Shas and National Union. In other words, what was going on was not a surge to the Left but the crack-up of the Center-Right into its factional constituents.
So what is happening now? 3 seats have come out of Shinui/Shas and 4 seats have come out of Labor. But Likud is only up 3 seats. Where are the other seats?
We'll find out when we see the full poll. But my suspicion is that the polls will show an up-tick for Meretz and/or the Arab parties. Why? Because the only plausible explanation for Mitzna's recent antics - categorically refusing to join a Sharon-led government, no matter what the coalition terms - is that internal polls by Labor showed Labor support slipping to Meretz or that Labor was not getting enough Arab votes. If Mitzna believed that he was losing votes to the Far Left because voters assumed that Labor would join a unity government after losing the election, then it would make sense to appeal for those votes by declaring that Labor would never do so. Even if the Left bloc in total didn't grow, if Labor thereby managed to edge out Likud in total number of seats, Sharon would probably be deposed and Labor would probably get to pick the Prime Minister - or at least rotate the PM job - in a National Unity government. (Mitzna said he would not join a government headed by Sharon, not that he would never form a government with Likud.)
So I suspect this is what the full poll will show: an uptick in Meretz and/or the Arabs, and therefore a very modest decline in the Left Bloc as a whole (1 or 2 seats), a pickup of a couple of seats in UTJ and National Union, and possibly a 1 seat pickup by YBA. Then the next round of polls will show how well Mitzna's tactic worked in pulling the Left back together.
Labor is very, very weak. But Likud is not strong. There is no Likud "surge" - this poll doesn't even put Likud back to where it was on Jan 2. Back on December 12, when Likud was polling 41 seats, Likud could have formed any of a number of narrow coalitions: they could have played Shinui off against the Haredim; they could have divided the Far Right by trying to detach the NRP as it did in the last government; they could have reached out to Labor and formed a National Unity government without *any* small parties. They have nowhere near that kind of projected strength today.
The Likud is suffering badly from the public perception - a rightful one - of serious rot and structural weakness. And Israeli democracy itself continues to show its profound structural weakness.
Monday, January 13, 2003
Update on my last post: for those who are interested, the platform of the party of my favorite Israeli politician - Natan Sharansky, head of Yisrael B'Aliyah - is located here. I particularly direct readers' attention to the section on Democracy, Accountability and the Rule of Law. Israel would be very well-served by adopting this program in full. My own general thoughts on how Israel's democracy should be reformed can be found here.
John Derbyshire thinks that Israeli politics is a hopeless tangle, and that I'm not doing enough to dis-entangle it. He suggests laying all the parties out on a left-center-right line. One problem with doing this is that there are at least 3 axes on which to divide Israeli politics: security and the territories; economics; and religion. Moreover, parties can officially have a platform at one end but policies that are more equivocal or even opposite. This is particularly true for economic policy; the Likud, for example, is supposed to be a Liberal (in European terms) party, but its policies are rarely so, and are frequently indistinguishable for more left-wing parties. Ha'aretz has tried to lay the parties out on such a line, and do a decent job, but necessarily run over many of the important nuances. Here as well is their guide to how the system works. Bear in mind that Ha'aretz, in terms of relative quality, relative political positioning, and relative influence is the rough equivalent to The New York Times in America.
For what it's worth, here's my rough guide to the Israeli political scene:
Labor: The old establishment, center-left party. Center-left used to mean "tough on security but not extremist about the sanctity of the Land of Israel, and Socialist on the British Labor party model in domestic policy." Sharon used to be a member of a Labor faction before he entered politics, and when he first entered politics in the 1970s it was as the head of his own splinter party, not as a member of Likud. (His economic views are still decidedly statist.) Since 1967, the major political divide between left- and right- has been over the status of the territories rather than economics. Nonetheless, this divide was to the right of contemporary politics; Labor used to be opposed to a Palestinian State, opposed to recognizing the PLO, and to favor a vigorous response to terrorism while favoring negotiations with neighboring Arab States on the basis of land-for-normalization. The Right, back then, believed that negotiations with the Arabs were futile and that the entirety of the Land of Israel belonged to the Jewish people. Nowadays, Labor continues to support the welfare state but has moved to the right on economic matters (as Clinton and Blair did) and to the left on cultural matters (ditto), while becoming decidedly more dovish. Labor favors a Palestinian State and a withdrawal from the territories, but is divided over whether unilateral withdrawal is a good or a bad idea and whether negotiations under fire are a good or a bad idea. "Fuad" Ben-Eliezer is at the right edge of Labor, favoring an ultimate settlement along the lines of what Barak offered, but no resumption of negotiations under fire. Chaim Ramon is an advocate of unilateral withdrawal. The winner of the Labor primary, Amram Mitzna, favors negotiations with Arafat while terrorism continues and, if nothing useful transpires as a result of this, a unilateral withdrawal to more defensible borders (the latter not being the same as the pre-1967 borders; Israel would retain the Jordan Valley, the Etzion bloc, etc.). He's therefore pretty much on the left-wing edge of Labor. Demographically, Labor is identified with the old Ashkenazi elite, the Jews who came before the founding of the State and who built it.
Likud ("Union"): A coalition of right-wing factions that united under Menachem Begin, Likud is a center-right party in transition. Historically, it stood for the old politics of Jabotinsky - no concessions to the Arabs, Jewish rights to the entirety of the Land of Israel - while domestically they behaved as both a Liberal (in the European sense) and Populist party. They advocated greater democracy, freeing up the economy, and the interests of the "out" groups in Israeli society - particularly Jews from Arab lands and religious Jews. More recently, the Likud has abandoned classic Jabotinsky-style Revisionist Zionism - specifically, Likud has clearly signed on to the notion of surrendering land if that is in Israel's national interest. The change began when Begin gave up the Sinai, but accelerated when Shamir agreed to peace talks in Madrid after the Gulf War and Netanyahu accepted the Wye River Accords in 1996. The result has been the rise of more extreme parties to Likud's right as well as an ongoing civil war within Likud between ultras and moderates. Likud has also lost most of its Liberal credentials and has become more purely a Populist party, though Netanyahu seems more interested in salvaging this part of the Likud legacy. More generally, the party has had a problem coming to grips with the idea of being a majority party, and has remained troubled by criminality, abuses of power, and other classic defects of populist parties. (The Labor party has also been plagued by corruption, of the classic kind associated with establishment parties like Japan's LDP, as well as more serious abuses per the Ginossar affair.)
MAJOR MINOR PARTIES (roughly from right to left):
National Union: The merger of a handful of far-right parties, including the immigrant-oriented Yisrael Beiteinu, National Union favors the renunciation of the Oslo Accords, the expulsion of Arafat, the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, and the rejection of any Palestinian State west of the Jordan. They are iffy on their commitment to democracy, in particular with respect to the status of Arab citizens of Israel. Put simply, they are very "Russian" in their outlook on the world. They are a serious factor because they have been known to bring down right-wing governments viewed as being insufficiently faithful to right-wing positions (e.g. Netanyahu's government).
Shas (an acronym related to the completion of a cycle of Talmud study): A religious party identified with Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews from Arab lands. Shas was the big electoral story of the 1990s in Israel, going from 4 seats to 17 (out of 120 in the Knesset). Shas is pretty similar to Islamic-oriented parties in Muslim countries except that it has no association with violence or terrorism (admittedly a very big difference). They run a vast social-welfare and educational apparatus that, in many cases, is more responsive than the government-run welfare state. This, plus the continued feelings of alienation from mainstream Israel on the part of Sephardi Jews, has led them to electoral success far beyond their core demographic (a majority of their voters are not strictly Orthodox). Shas "takes care of their own" as a primary strategy, and as such has been willing to join pretty much any government. Their ultimate aim, officially, is to establish Jewish religious law as the law of the land in Israel. They were once known to be "pragmatic" on security matters, but have taken a decided turn to the right in the late 1990s, and particularly in this election campaign.
Shinui ("Change"): If Shas was the big story of the last 10 years, Shinui, the secular reaction to Shas, is the big story of the moment. Shinui used to be a faction of Meretz, the left-wing Social Democratic party, and was associated with civil liberties issues. Tommy Lapid, a Holocaust survivor and popular radio talk-show host, took over the party a few years ago, removed it from Meretz, and turned it into a single-issue party focused on breaking the back of the religious parties. More broadly, Shinui has positioned itself as the voice of the put-upon Ashkenazi population - the most productive citizens who feel they are carrying religious shirkers and Sephardi welfare-cases on their backs. Lapid is comparable in different ways to Pym Fortuyn, Ross Perot and George Wallace. The party has very little in the way of a platform. And one of the funny things about them is that a major source of credibility comes from their refusal to serve in various governments. Their status as perpetual opposition supposedly shows that they are truly principled. (Of course, what it really shows is that they still think of theselves as a protest movement, and don't want the responsibilities of governing.) Their policy positions, apart from opposition to the religious parties, is center-center: tough on security but flexible on giving up territory, in favor of economic relief for the middle class and less spending on welfare but not reliably Liberal (again, in the European sense).
Meretz (I believe the name is an acronym derived from the constituent factions): This is the major far-left-wing party in Israel, dedicated to secularism and the cultural-left, to the expansion of the welfare state, and to a very dovish line with respect to the Palestinians, including unilaterally ending settlement construction and negotiations continuing from where Barak left off. It is, however, a Zionist party (barely). Meretz voters serve in the armed forces and would not accept an Arab "right to return" to Israel proper. They are also equivocal on the utility of negotiating directly with Arafat, though they would probably embrace him enthusiastically if he gave them a fig leaf of cover. (Meretz propaganda tends to lump Arafat and Sharon together as comparably evil - that's a big step better from how European media portray them, but still pretty darned generous to Arafat.) Mitzna, the Labor candidate for Prime Minister, is sometimes described as to the Left of Meretz in his clear willingness to negotiate with Arafat, but I'm not sure that's fair. The major distinction on security matters between Labor and Meretz is that Meretz has articulated a moral case for withdrawal from the territories, whereas Labor has classically put its positions in terms of Israeli national interest, and Mitzna has been consistent with Labor tradition in this regard.
OTHER MINOR PARTIES OF NOTE (also roughly from right to left):
Moledet ("Homeland"): An extreme far-right party, the only one to openly advocate "transfer" of the Palestinian population out of the territories; they typically get one or two seats, and have failed to unite with larger far-right parties. The existence of Moledet, like Kach before it (the defunct party of Meir Kahane) is a major boon for fundraising for left-wing parties.
National Religious Party: The NRP's mission has changed over the decades. Originally, the party represented the Orthodox Jewish population. Later, they represented the "Modern Orthodox" as opposed to the "ultra-Orthodox" as the latter migrated to Haredi parties specifically oriented in their direction (and as the latter increased in number dramatically). The basis for the split was twofold: that the Haredim do not, ultimately, recognize the legitimacy of secular authority, while other Orthodox Jews do (the Haredim do pragmatically recognize the power of secular authority, but that's different) and that the Religious Zionists attributed religious significance to the sovereign Jewish state where the ultra-Orthodox considered it purely instrumental. After 1967, the NRP and Religious Zionism began to change further, and became increasingly identified with the settler movement in the territories - that is to say, with those who believe that the founding of Israel has messianic significance, and that therefore parts of the Land of Israel can never be traded away for fear of frustrating the Divine Will. The NRP has also gotten progressively less "modern" in the sense that rabbis have increasing influence over party policy, a cultural characteristic more common among the Haredim. A splinter party - Meimad - broke away from the NRP in the 1990s in protest of these developments, and took a decidedly more pragmatic line on both secular-religious matters and territorial issues. Meimad is now strongly identified with the Labor party, though it has not been absorbed into it and at one time was flirting with the now-defunct Center Party. The NRP is now led by a very right-wing former general, Effie Eitam, and is undergoing something of an identity crisis, not knowing whether to join a larger far-right bloc (as Eitam favors) or try to woo Meimad voters back by being more moderate (the preferred strategy of long-time party activists).
United Torah Judaism: The merger of two ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi parties. UTJ is less influential than Shas, and draws more exclusively from its core demographic. It is also arguably both more and less flexible, taking a hard line on religious questions but caring less about non-religious questions. UTJ's representation has grown with that sector of the population, and has not been as volatile as Shas. The two Haredi parties tend to move in and out of government together.
Yisrael B'Aliyah ("Israel on the Ascent" or "Israel in Immigration"): This is Natan Sharansky's party, originally organized in the early 1990s to appeal to Russian immigrants and now trying to broaden its appeal to other immigrants, especially those from English- and Spanish-speaking countries. The party is generally identified as Centrist, but I think this is a mis-characterization, and that YBA's political orientation is quite similar to Likud, sometimes to its Right and sometimes to its Left, and particularly so since YBA's two most prominent leftists jumped ship to form their own party, which has now merged with Meretz. They take a fairly hard line on security matters, but they do not take an inflexible position on Jewish rights to the entirety of the Land of Israel the way National Union does. YBA has a flexible attitude on religious-secular issues; while they have clashed with Shas in the past, they are in no way a radical secular party, though they do favor adjustments to the religious status quo. Sharansky also appears genuinely to agree with the Bush Administration's official position that a Palestinian State is feasible and ultimately a good thing, but can only be established after democratic habits and structures are put in place. YBA has a better claim to being a Liberal party than any other Israeli party. YBA is also something of a right-wing goo-goo party, with serious platform positions on things like electoral reform. In many ways, YBA suffers from being a minor party with a major-party outlook; they are insufficiently sectarian to get the full-throated support of a single narrow segment, but too small to make a bid to be a major-minor party, much less a major party. I think Sharansky has what it takes to be Prime Minister some day, but only if he merges YBA into Likud or Shinui, neither of which is likely. Which I think is a pity, because Sharansky is my favorite political leader on the Israeli scene today.
Gesher ("Bridge"): A nearly defunct Sephardi ethnic party that predates Shas and is basically the creature of David Levy, Gesher was once strongly identified with Likud, jumped from Netanyahu's ship to join Barak's government, and has now jumped back. They have no definable platform and will probably vanish after this election.
One Nation: A splinter party affiliated with the major Israeli labor union federation, they favor tough but pragmatic security policies and are therefore considered a "centrist" party, but basically they are a party of the reactionary Left, as you would expect from a labor union-controlled party.
Democratic Choice: A splinter party of left-wingers that broke away from Yisrael B'Aliyah and is now part of Meretz.
Hadash ("New"): Israel's Communist party, Hadash has historically been Jewish-led but got the vast majority of its votes from Arabs. Typically gets 2 to 5 seats and is classed as part of the Arab bloc. Hadash is an explicitly anti-Zionist party, as you would expect of a Communist party. The rest of the Arab bloc - the United Arab List, Balad, Taal, and so forth - is either Arab Nationalist or Islamist in orientation. Goals of the Arab parties (not every party includes each goal) include recognition of Arab autonomy within Israel, anti-discrimination law, ending land seizures, ending the status of Israel as a Jewish state, increasing state funding to the Arab sector, and unilateral withdrawal to the pre-1967 boundary and recognition of an Arab state with its capital in Jerusalem. The Islamist parties also ultimately envision establishing an Islamic static in place of Israel. Several Arab party leaders have been accused of collaborating with Israel's enemies in the P.A. and in Syria, and there have been recent attempts to bar some individuals and parties from running for election on those grounds. (To my knowledge, the only party banned by Israel to date was Kahane's Kach ("Thus") party, which advocated the forcible removal of the ARabs from both Israel and the territories, and which was banned for being racist.) Together, the bloc typically gets 8 to 10 seats. They have never been part of a government but both Rabin's and Barak's government depended on the Arab parties to survive (the Arab parties have historically voted with no-confidence motions against right-wing governments and against no-confidence motions aimed at left-wing governments). This dependence on "disloyal" parties was a major factor in radicalizing public opposition to these left-wing governments.
It's also worth pointing out that small parties in Israel come and go with great frequency. The 1990s saw the rise and fall of Tsomet (very right-wing on security matters but very anti-religious), the Third Way (a party of former generals who favored concessions to the Palestinians but a hard-line on Syria), Herut (a breakaway faction of Likud run by Menachem Begin's son Benny, who folded the party after winning only one seat), Center (a pary of disgruntled centrist politicos from both Labor and Likud who looked like they might take the Premiership in 1999 and then collapsed to only 6 seats); and so forth. When Israel went to direct election of the Prime Minister in 1996, this process accelerated, as the system now structurally encouraged voters to vote for a major-party candidate for PM and a sectarian party for the Knesset. Israeli politics is very fractious but no party has yet replaced Likud or Labor or has seriously presented a third-party alternative to lead the nation. In practice, therefore, to prognosticate on Israeli elections you have to ask first, whether Likud or Labor will pick the Prime Minister, and second, what kind of crazy coalition will they need to build to form a reasonably stable government.
Proportional rep is such a *wonderful* system . . .