February 16, 2001

A Foreign Policy of Convenience

It was entirely predictable that Israel’s worshippers would rejoice in Ariel Sharon’s electoral triumph. Even more predictable was that they would hail it as – of all things – a vote for "peace." They did not even bother to trot out the overworked "Nixon goes to China" cliché. Instead, they hailed Sharon as the strongman who would pursue a policy towards the Palestinians so brutal that the inhabitants of the occupied lands would have little choice but either to sue for peace or collapse into demoralized torpor. However, even the most pious of the brethren appear to doubt that this is really possible. In a recent screed in the Weekly Standard, Charles Krauthammer – who spat out the words "appeasement" three times and "concessions" ten times in his furious denunciation of outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak – laments that Israel cannot go back to the "comparative nirvana of the pre-Oslo years – when Arab expectations were kept low, and negotiations were about the margins." Those were the days! Once upon a time Israeli officials could dismiss any talk of Palestinian rights by repeating the mantra "terrorism" and "Soviet threat," and US officials would quickly fall into line. The best one can hope for these is that Israel’s Arab neighbors will be bullied into a temporary abject silence: "For the last quarter-century, the general Arab consensus was that any attack on Israel would render the Arabs worse off. That consensus has dangerously eroded. It is Sharon’s task to restore it."

The next task, presumably, would be to put forward a proposal so absurd the Palestinians are bound to reject it. Then we can have a renewed intifada, which Sharon, unlike the pusillanimous Barak, will put down mercilessly. That’s the view of William Safire. Writing in the New York Times, he declared airily: "For years, on a settlement hilltop, he [Sharon] would hang a map on a fence and show to visitors (including George W. Bush two years ago) his concept of a defensible Israel next to a contiguous state including virtually all the Palestinians on about half the West Bank. Sharon’s potential proposal is not as dreamily self-defeating as the Clinton-Barak bridge to nowhere, but has this practical advantage the other never did: Sharon in power can now deliver what he promises." That is splendid news. The Palestinians had rejected Barak’s idea of returning to them only 95 percent of their own land. Now they can huff and puff and reject 50 percent of their own land! Here is what the 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242 – adherence to which is still allegedly official US policy – states: "the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include…[w]ithdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." Not withdrawal from 50 percent, or 75 percent or 90 percent. And it does not say: "from all territories occupied in the recent conflict with the exception of East Jerusalem because it is universally accepted that Jerusalem is the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel."

That the William Safires, Charles Krauthammers and Martin Peretzes of this world are unable to consider Arabs as anything other than latter-day Nazis, who can only be crushed or appeased is scarcely news. What was interesting about the US response to Sharon’s extraordinary victory was what did not happen. Leave aside for the moment Sharon’s checkered early history. Many Americans remember the bloody carnage of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon – an act of aggression lacking even the remotest justification in international law. Many remember the Israeli bombing of West Beirut. And many remember the scenes of decomposing bodies at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. Sharon had armed and trained the Phalangist militia who carried out those massacres immediately following the assassination of their leader Bashir Gemayel.

An official Israeli Government inquiry declared that Sharon’s "blunders" constituted the "non-fulfillment of a duty with which the Defense Minister was charged." One would have thought "blunders" was a rather mild word to describe Sharon’s at best criminally negligent conduct. Nonetheless, the Kahan Commission insisted that Sharon was not fit to be Defense Minister and demanded his resignation. Sharon refused to go. Eventually he gave way. But he remained in the Cabinet as Minister without Portfolio. The Kahan report is worth quoting at length since, emanating as it did from the President of the Israeli Supreme Court, was essentially an exercise in damage control. Sharon, needless to say, was absolved of any war crimes or even responsibility for the massacres. Yet Sharon’s collusion with the killers is obvious from the following passage:

"It is impossible to justify the Minister of Defense’s disregard of the danger of a massacre…. There was the widespread knowledge regarding the Phalangists’ combat ethics, their feelings of hatred towards the Palestinians, and their leaders’ plans for the future of the Palestinians when said leaders would assume power. Besides this general knowledge, the Defense Minister also had special reports from his not inconsiderable meetings with the Phalangist heads…. In the circumstances that prevailed after [Gemayel’s] assassination, no prophetic powers were required to know that concrete danger of acts of slaughter existed when the Phalangists were moved into the camps without the IDF being with them . . . and without the IDF being able to maintain effective and ongoing supervision of their actions there. The sense of such a danger should have been in the conscience of every knowledgeable person who was close to this subject, and certainly the consciousness of the Defense Minister, who took an active part in everything relating to the war. His involvement in the war was deep, and the connection with the Phalangists was under his constant care. If in fact the Defense Minister, when he decided that the Phalangists would enter the camp without the IDF taking part in the operation, did not think that that decision could bring about the very disaster that in fact occurred, the only possible explanation for this is that he disregarded any apprehensions about what was to be expected…. Responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defense for having disregarded the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed by the Phalangists against the population of the refugee camps, and having failed to take this danger into account when he decided to have the Phalangists enter the camps. In addition, responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defence for not ordering appropriate measures for preventing or reducing the danger of massacre as a condition for the Phalangists’ entry into the camps."

In other words, Sharon knew perfectly well what would happen when he sent the Phalangists into the camps. And that is precisely why he sent them in there. To absolve the Israeli military of responsibility for what happened at Sabra and Shatilla on the grounds that they were carried out by Phalangist Christians and not Israelis is a little like absolving Hitler’s SS of responsibility for genocide since some of the worst atrocities were the work of local auxiliaries established by the SS. Yet not once during the recent Israeli election campaign or in the aftermath did any political figure in the United States declare that Sharon would be "unacceptable" as Israel’s leader. Not once did anyone suggest that he should be arrested and put on trial for war crimes. Not once did the US Government refer to Sharon’s checkered past and deem him a threat to regional stability. There were no threats of sanctions, no threats to withhold economic assistance. Indeed, given the extent of US involvement in Israeli politics, not to mention the economic and military dependence of Israel on the United States, it should have been a relatively straightforward matter for Washington to secure Sharon’s defeat. A Prime Minster of Israel who is unwelcome in Washington – that’s a nonstarter in any election campaign. Affluent Austria can thumb its nose at the world – as it did over Kurt Waldheim and Joerg Haider. Israel is not in the position to do that.

Yet not only did US officials raise no objections whatsoever to the prospect of a Sharon-led Government, they may well have encouraged a Sharon victory by suggesting, at least tacitly, that Barak had made too many concessions to the Arabs. After the failure of the Camp David talks last summer, Clinton blamed Arafat for the debacle. Barak, Clinton explained, had gone the extra mile while Arafat had been unprepared to give an inch. By suggesting that Barak had been making concession after concession without getting anything in return, Clinton made the Israeli Prime Minister look a fool and a weak one at that. Israel’s amen corner, working in tandem with Sharon, pounced. The Palestinian uprising that followed the Camp David collapse – a response to seven years of frustration, not to mention 33 years of military occupation – was interpreted as the act of a bully who smells weakness in an opponent. Barak, the Chamberlain-like appeaser, was getting his nose rubbed in it by Arafat, the ranting demagogue in the Chancellery. Israelis, seeing to their amazement that Washington was raising no objections to Sharon, voted for him. Why would they not do so? If the US Government has no problem about their country being ruled by a man with his appalling record of brutality towards Arabs, why not vote for him? If even the US Government thinks Barak went too far, why bother with concessions?

US equanimity about an Israel led by Ariel Sharon stands in stark contrast to the hysterical vituperations continually directed towards Yugoslavia. There is no daily "Sharon to The Hague" drumbeat livening up the tedious State Department press briefings. To be sure, there is a certain consistency in our inconsistency. Contempt for international law is the one abiding principle the US Government adheres to unflinchingly. The United States has consistently refused to hold its client-sate accountable for continued defiance of innumerable United Nations Resolutions, whether they concern the building of settlements on occupied territories, return of refugees, or military attacks on neighboring countries. US contempt for UN Resolutions is, if anything, even more extreme than that of Israel. Interestingly, while Israelis and Americans are equally contemptuous of the views of the "international community," the Israelis at least are decent enough not to label their view on how the world should work the will of the "international community."

Last year’s bombing of Yugoslavia was, as we all know, a violation of international law. Following the end of the bombing, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1244 arranging for NATO’s seizure of Kosovo. Right from the beginning, the United States had not the slightest intention of abiding by any of its provisions. It began building a massive military facility, Camp Bondsteel, sanctioned neither by UN Resolution nor by permission of the Government of Yugoslavia. There was something in Security Council 1244 about the United Nations merely providing an "interim administration for Kosovo under which the people of Kosovo can enjoy substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." Yet as soon as NATO moved in, it set about creating an "independent" client-state in Kosovo, with its own currency, it own laws, its own administration. Yugoslav state property was simply appropriated lock, stock and barrel by NATO.

Then there was the promise that an "agreed number of Yugoslav and Serbian personnel will be permitted to return" to Kosovo to perform functions like "liaison with the international civil mission and the international security presence"; "maintaining a presence at Serb patrimonial sites; "maintaining a presence at key border crossings." Needless to say, Serbs have not been permitted entry and there is very little likelihood of their ever being permitted entry. The Resolution also states that "the responsibilities of the international security presence to be deployed and acting in Kosovo will include… Ensuring public safety and order until the international civil presence can take responsibility for this task…[and] Conducting border monitoring duties as required."

Now, of course NATO has resolutely refused to carry out any border monitoring duties. This is why today there is a full-scale insurgency in the Presevo Valley in Eastern Serbia. Armaments and men are pouring across the border from Kosovo. The Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac – the KLA by a new name, in other words – is determined to attach the Presevo Valley to an "independent" Kosovo. All this is happening right under the noses of US troops who refuse to do anything about it. Indeed, it is hard to believe that the Albanian terrorists are not being armed and equipped by United States forces, just as they were in the run-up to the 1999 bombing. It is hard also to believe that the United States is not providing the revamped KLA with information about the movement of Serb troops and police.

Moreover, it now appears to be US policy that Yugoslav sovereignty not only does not extend to Kosovo it does not extend to Southern Serbia either. The new rulers in Belgrade, whose attitude seems to be that they need to ask NATO’s permission if they want to use the bathroom, have accepted the idea that the United States should act as an impartial interlocutor between the legitimate, internationally-recognized Government in Belgrade and a bunch of terrorists. Last week, the US supreme commander over NATO forces in Kosovo, Admiral James Ellis, called on the United Nations to appoint a "facilitator" to help resolve the differences between the Serbs and the Albanians in the Presevo Valley. "I think these types of challenges are best dealt with by international agencies that are appropriately configured for the task," Ellis explained, "I would hope that…one would come forward to assume that responsibility." Government and terrorist are on the same level. So much for Serb sovereignty!

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson called on the Belgrade regime to improve the "rights" of ethnic Albanians in the Presevo Valley. "We will continue to take robust action to prevent them from getting the provocation they seek," he blustered. As always, the way to deal with Albanian violence is to hit Belgrade. Here’s Reuters’s take on NATO policy in the Presevo Valley: "According to NATO and EU diplomats, confidence-building measures for the Presevo Valley include removing potentially provocative Serbian security units." The Serb Government, cravenly seeking international approval, recently put forward a plan that involved the integration of the Presevo Valley ethnic Albanians into the local administration and police. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic also suggested a step-by-step demilitarization of the buffer zone by the Kosovo border. He explained that the Belgrade regime wanted to resolve the problems peacefully with representatives of the local Albanian population as well as "the international community." That Serb leaders can today still seriously entertain the notion that the KLA would settle for anything short of an ethnically pure independent state is a measure of the shame that has befallen Serbia – a once proud nation. The "new" KLA predictably rejected the Covic plan: It would be "mercilessly fought against by all means," the organization declared.

Meanwhile, according to Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, he and Secretary of State Colin Powell have an "understanding in general" that independence for Kosovo should be supported. Interestingly, the State Department did not deny Rugova’s assertion, insisting instead that the "independence issue never came up during Powell’s meeting with Rugova." This of course is a lie. But then since almost every single aspect of US foreign policy is shrouded in lies, this little exchange received no attention.

Please Support Antiwar.com

Send contributions to

520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

or Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form

Your Contributions are now Tax-Deductible

Text-only printable version of this article

George Szamuely was born in Budapest, Hungary, educated in England, and has worked as an editorial writer for The Times (London), The Spectator (London), and the Times Literary Supplement (London). In America, he has been equally busy: as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, film critic for Insight, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and as a weekly columnist for the New York Press. Szamuely has contributed to innumerable publications including Commentary, American Spectator, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, American Scholar, Orbis, Daily Telegraph, the Times of London, the Sunday Telegraph, and The New Criterion. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Friday.

Go to George Szamuely's latest column from the New York Press.

Archived Columns by George Szamuely from Antiwar.com

A Foreign Policy of Convenience

A Mockery of Justice

Del Ponte in Belgrade

Immigration and "Toleration" – The Times War on Bigotry

Powell and Rice: Closet Warmongers

Elites At War

Europe Challenges US Hegemony

Bush and Gore – Rotten to the Core

Holiday Cheer – A Vacation From US Hegemony

US Election Crisis: Divine Retribution

Vote Fraud, American-Style

Washington's Nightmare: The Rise of Europe

NATO and the New Europe

George W. – Closet Buchananite

Kostunica's Coup Unravels

Kostunica: The Trickster

Reply to Tom Fleming: Your Reality Check Bounced

Will the US Get Their Money's Worth in Yugo Elections?

Dubya and the War Street Journal

Armchair Warrior

Mexican Merger: United We Fall

The Kursk Affair: When Nations Collide

Republicans, Democrats and the Corruption of Empire

Joe Lieberman and the Gangsta State

Israel & America: Bound at the Hip

Driving an Edsall Through The Truth

EU vs. NATO: Battle of the Acronyms

NATO Preparing New Balkan War

Podhoretz's Paradox

A Franco-American Punch & Judy Show

Beyond Missile Defense: Resentment of America

Bribing Montenegro – It Didn't Work

The Unraveling of Indonesia

Clinton in Europe

Endless Enemies: From Kosovo to Iraq

Holy Toledo: The Canonization of Alejandro Toledo

Into Africa

Vietnam: Lessons Not Learned

A Monster, At Home and Abroad

Embassy Bombing: Accidentally on Purpose

"Anti- Americanism," Pose and Reality

Punch & Judy at The New Republic

The New World Order and You

Baiting the Russian Bear

Forever Munich: The Kagan-Kristol Thesis

The American Conquest of Europe

The Media & Mitrovica: NATO's Handmaidens

The Amazing Colossal Arrogance of Bill Kristol

William Safire: Man With A Mission

Uncle Sam Says: "To Hell With Elections"

The Fatuous Mind of Condolezza Rice

King of the Court Historians

The Podhoretz Treatment

Kofi Annan: Drooling Visionary

If Things Are So Good, Why Are They So Bad?

Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us