Gaza: What is Victory?

Scroll down to see earlier posts in this series, beginning January 14th.

On November 11, 1918, the last day of World War I, there were higher than usual casualties, because General John J. Pershing—“Black Jack Pershing” as his men often called him—resented the Armistice. He insisted on hurting the Germans further, at high cost to his own troops, and continuing, to the last minute—the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month—to inflict German losses. He reportedly said: “They never knew they were beaten in Berlin. It will have to be done all over again.” *

A myth arose. The German generals spread the word that their army was “undefeated in the field” but was “stabbed in the back” by politicians bent on surrender. Actually, their defeat in the field was staggering. After four years of what was mostly standoff, a million Americans arrived and, with their reinvigorated allies, swept across German-occupied France and Belgium in three months. The allies occupied a small part of western Germany for a while before they went home. But in Berlin, they never knew they were beaten. Pershing, alas, had to observe in his later years the rearming of Germany and the second world war he had predicted, with all its dreadful costs. His warnings, like Churchill’s in Britain, were ignored.

After that second war, they knew they were beaten in Berlin, and they knew they were beaten in Tokyo too, because the US and its allies took the war into those capitals and insisted on unconditional surrender. Although greatly complicated by the division of Germany and the Soviet role, the US (along with the UK and France) transitioned from military control, including denazification, dissolution of the German army, and occupiers’ rule of law, through municipal elections, to the buildup of a democratic state, officially declared four years after the war. The US State Department explicitly decreed that this governance “does not effect the annexation of Germany.” West Germany regained “near-sovereignty” in 1955, but it remained nominally occupied until 1991, after re-unification.

In the case of Japan, US military control (under General Douglas MacArthur) was complete, with the goals of, first, “to ensure that Japan could never threaten others again,” as well as “demilitarization, democratization, and economic revitalization.” The constitution was recast and the Emperor renounced his divinity and his sovereignty, explicitly replaced by the sovereignty of the people. Women’s suffrage was established and free elections took place. In 1951, when disagreements with President Truman over the Korean War forced MacArthur to leave, two million people came out to wish him well. The occupation officially ended in 1952, at which time the democratically elected Prime Minister sent MacArthur a telegram reading in part, “My heart and the hearts of all Japanese turn to you in boundless gratitude.”

There are still some US troops in both countries, for purposes of alliance, not occupation. Both are today among the world’s strongest democracies and among the most loyal of US allies. None of this would have been possible without unconditional surrender.

You’re guessing that I see some relevance here to what might happen in Gaza? Right. Both of these were model occupations with model outcomes; the US occupation of Iraq, not so much. It lasted one year, from 2003 to 2004. The US occupying authority dissolved not just the army but almost the whole civil service and vowed to rebuild it from scratch. In one year? Really? There was no gradual transition and millions of newly unemployed men fed insurgency and civil war. Outside interference by Iran (something with no equivalent in Germany or Japan) exacerbated the conflict. Democracy in Iraq was doomed. A large US troop presence had no authority and a years-long war of attrition cost thousands of American lives.

True, Iraq was far less developed than Germany or Japan, and Gaza is much more like Iraq. In a crowning irony, the same Iran will be trying to destabilize post-war Gaza and prevent the emergence of democratic institutions there. And Israel’s army will not want to control Gaza for the time it takes (four years in Germany, seven in Japan) to even begin to grow democratic institutions. Unless some international army comes in (extremely unlikely) Israel will be forced to keep the peace while the US and its Arab allies painstakingly build a demilitarized Gazan democracy.

Yes, all involved will be seen as “riding in on Israeli tanks,” but that’s how it is. Unless US and Arab armies suddenly decide to replace it, a reluctant Israel will have to keep the peace while the world steps up with the funding, the reeducation, and the moral and political support that a nascent Gazan democracy will need. They’d better step up, and for much more than a year. But first, Hamas and Gaza have to know that they are beaten.

*Persico, Joseph, 2007. Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day 1918 (New York, Random House), p. 276.

Gaza, Israel, and the United Notions

I was born in August 1946; the first UN meetings were held in London in January that year. So the UN and I are the same age—you might say, nonidentical twins. I have followed it from an early age, and I am glad to report that—despite the small scale and limitations of my lifetime efforts—I have done better with my challenges than my twin has in its equal lifetime.

Per the UN itself, the genocides in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s proved “in the worst possible way” that the UN repeatedly failed to prevent this horror, despite being able to do so. It failed to stop and even to recognize earlier genocides in Indonesia (1960s) and Cambodia (1970s) and much more recent ones in Darfur, Iraq and Syria (against the Yazidis), and Myanmar (the Rohingya). The UN rights council refused to discuss China’s ongoing genocide of Uighur Muslims.

The UN’s failure to prevent small wars—more than 200 in its lifetime and mine—speaks for itself; advocates argue that it has prevented World War III, but that is conjectural. Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning its Ukraine invasion, although the General Assembly passed it overwhelmingly. The UN has done good work against hunger and slavery and promoting sustainable development, but has consistently fallen short of its own stated goals. More than 780 million people (and rising) face hunger, and there are more slaves in the world today than ever before in human history.

Continue reading

Gaza Plus

From the moment it moved its first aircraft carrier into the eastern Mediterranean, the US has adamantly said and said again that it wants to avoid a regional war. Despite that reluctance, regional war is here.

In a sense it has been from the start, since Iran (a non-Arab, often anti-Arab country) is on the east of the region, but its empire of vassals and proxies control Lebanon, Gaza, and Yemen as well as infiltrating Iraq and Syria with its own soldiers (the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC) and arming Hamas in the occupied West Bank.

After the US accepted more than 160 attacks on its limited forces and facilities in Iraq and Syria, three US soldiers (two women and a man) were killed about two weeks ago, and the US vowed retaliation. Heavy strikes directed at key targets in Syria and Iraq occurred last Friday night, with more to come.

The Houthis, the terrorist group controlling Yemen, has for months attacked merchant ships in the Red Sea, impeding twenty percent of world commerce and decimating Suez Canal traffic. The group also attacks US naval vessels. Continue reading

Concerning the War in Gaza

After focusing on the Gaza war since 7:30 am on October 7th, I’ve finally decided to begin writing about it. People ask for my opinion and I will now refer them here. If you read on, that is what you will get. I will not keep saying, “In my opinion” again and again, so please assume it. Today I will give my overview, which may be followed by other, future entries.


Israel is at war with the empire of Iran, which includes the failed state of Lebanon, the territory of Gaza, and the faltering state of Yemen. Iran rules these entities through the terror groups Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis respectively. Like Iran, they are sworn to eliminate Israel. Through these and other proxies, Iran also controls parts of Syria and Iraq and has significantly infiltrated the West Bank. Since Iran is not an Arab country, this is larger than the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The question of whether Iran gives directives to these proxies on a day to day basis is irrelevant. It nurtures, trains, arms, consults, and plans with them and has done so for many years. They don’t do anything without Iran’s approval before and after the fact. Meanwhile Iran progresses steadily toward a nuclear arsenal (which Israel already has). Continue reading

Bibi, Obama, and the Incendiary Summer

This is a pivotal moment for Israel.

The cool breeze of the Arab Spring, about which many of us were hopeful but skeptical, is now an Incendiary Summer. This ominous anger over a trashy film has caused riots and replaced the Stars and Stripes with Islamist flags in many places. Our embassies are threatened in at least twelve Muslim capitals. In addition, a planned terrorist attack killed a U.S. ambassador and other Americans in Libya.

The eruption come against the background of Bibi Netanyahu turning up the rhetoric Continue reading