North Korea is headed for a showdown, the Palestinians for an end to the “peace process” — but what about the U.S. in Afghanistan?
The competition between nations, religions, and cultures results in what we call history. History’s course is often changed by nations and non-state actors who run out of options.
The North Koreans’ latest missile launch and the effect on the Palestinians of the rumored plan to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — reportedly to be announced this week — have run both out of options. The fact that we think we’re out of options in Afghanistan is demonstrated by the bizarre statements by U.S. General John Nicholson and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about President Trump’s obviously failing strategy there.
Last week’s launch of a Hwasong-15 missile proved that the weapon could reach an altitude of almost 3,000 miles which, on a flatter trajectory, would give it a range of about 8,000 miles, bringing the entire continental United States in lethal range.
Later reports said that the payload broke up on re-entry, raising doubts that the North Koreans could yet actually deliver a nuclear weapon on U.S. ground. (They have previously placed satellites in polar orbit, already proving their ability to deliver a catastrophic electromagnetic pulse — EMP — attack on us.)
The North Koreans took great pains to launch the missile on a course that wouldn’t generate a U.S. military response. Which brings us to the most important fact about the launch.
The North Koreans have constantly increased the bellicosity of their words and the danger level of their provocations. Missiles have been test-fired to prove their increasing range. Nuclear weapons have been tested in increasing strengths, including a recent detonation that the Norks claimed was the test of a hydrogen bomb.
There is little or nothing that the Norks can do to raise the threat level. They’ve done just about everything they can short of actually igniting a war. That will be a very dangerous conclusion for them to reach.
Kim might test a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere, creating a dangerous radioactive cloud over the Pacific, drifting toward us. He might, as he has previously threatened, rain missiles around Guam. The latter would produce a U.S. response he isn’t likely to survive.
Or he could mount an attack on South Korea, igniting a war of which he and his regime wouldn’t survive the first day.
Kim isn’t going to live with the status quo, which is proved by his continuing alliance with Iran.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy recently announced that U.S. intelligence has detected high-level meetings in both countries that “might” indicate cooperation between them in developing nuclear weapons and missiles. That is very old news.
I’ve been writing about that cooperation for more than a year since reports surfaced of a train that runs from Pyongyang to Tehran. The Iranian-North Korean axis is now so obvious that it’s being publicly debated. But nothing is being done to stop it. Short of war, there’s probably nothing we can do about it.
During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump often promised to move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Reports in U.S. and Israeli newspapers indicate that the move will be announced this week. The president faces a legal deadline to either announce moving the embassy or waive the law to keep it in Tel Aviv. If the announcement is made, the effect on the Palestinian Authority will be devastating.
The Palestinians have always denied the historic Jewish presence in Jerusalem. The First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was built in the time of King Solomon, roughly 1000 BC, almost two thousand years before Islam was born. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians but the Second Temple was built around 560 BC and lasted until about the year 70.
Israel took East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 war when the Arab nations tried to destroy the Jewish state. Ever since, the Palestinians have demanded that an undivided Jerusalem be their capital. Mr. Trump’s move of the embassy would recognize that, to the contrary, Jerusalem was legitimately the Israeli capital.
Just as importantly, moving our embassy to Jerusalem would signal that America has given up on previous “peace processes” that have all led to failure because of Palestinian rejections.
In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to a deal that would have given the Palestinians a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. They walked away. In 2006, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew Israeli settlements in Gaza and pulled Israeli forces back across the pre-1967 borders. The Palestinians rained missiles on Israel in response. In 2008, Ehud Olmert again offered a deal that would have given the Palestinians all of the West Bank, Gaza and a divided Jerusalem. Again, they walked away.
When Obama tried to force a deal requiring Israel to do all three of those things, he failed.
The Palestinians have no means to stop us from moving our embassy. The U.S. and international media will condemn Trump’s action, saying that he has damaged any chance for peace. The precise opposite is true.
Taking away the Palestinians’ claim to Jerusalem leaves them without one of their key demands. It will limit their options to the only real means to make peace with Israel which have become more limited by reality. Since 2008, Israel has correctly decided that pulling back across the pre-1967 borders would leave it indefensible. The Palestinians can only make peace — if, as history demonstrates, they really don’t want — on a basis less favorable than they’ve already been offered.
If President Trump moves our embassy to Jerusalem, he will delegitimize the Palestinians’ demands and, implicitly, most of their other demands including the so-called “right of return” by which the Palestinians insist that all six million of the descendants of the Arabs who left Israel during the 1948 Israeli war of independence — about 700,000 — would return to Israel, itself a nation of about six million including many Arab citizens, turning it into an Arab-majority state.
The Palestinians won’t quit. They will increase the terrorist attacks, but will also find themselves without many of the Arab allies they’ve always had. Several, including Saudi Arabia, are threatened by the cooperation between Hamas — the Palestinian terrorist group that governs Gaza — and Iran. When a Hamas delegation attended the August inauguration of Iranian President Rouhani, the Saudis declared the entire Palestinian movement to be terrorists.
American aid to the Palestinian Authority continues at the rate of about a half billion dollars annually. Many European countries also fund the PA, as does Russia. Trump should also cancel the US aid.
The Palestinians’ funding by Europe, Russia, and other nations won’t end. But the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ cause will be greatly diminished by the embassy move. Their only option — increased terrorist attacks on Israel — will only diminish it further. Almost to the point that our strategy in Afghanistan has dissolved.
Our lack of options in Afghanistan was made clear by the announcements about our strategy there.
The announcement by U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, that we have “turned a corner” in Afghanistan is repetitive of several such announcements we’ve heard in the past. We’ve “turned a corner” before: President Bush said it in 2004; in 2010, Gen. McCrystal said it; in 2011, President Obama said it and in 2012 then-defense secretary Leon Panetta said it.
We’ve “turned the corner” so many times in Afghanistan, it’s clear we’ve been going in circles for sixteen years. That’s not enough to prove Trump’s strategy in Afghanistan is failing, but the statements last week by Gen. Nicholson, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joe Dunford and Secretary of State Tillerson do.
In separate statements, Nicholson and Tillerson indicated that we should be partnering with Russia in Afghanistan. Dunford has reportedly raised the issue with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Vasily Gerasimov, about a dozen times over the past year.
That’s a perfectly risible idea. Russia has been supplying the Taliban with arms and possibly funding for years. Even without any agreement to cooperate with the Russians, raising the prospect of it with the Russians is a confession of failure.
Flailing at cooperation with Russia, which is supplying our enemy and has no reason to stop, is as clear an indication as can be imagined that our strategy there — Mr. Trump’s is not new, despite his proclamation to the contrary — continues to fail.
The president and his generals obviously believe we are out of options in Afghanistan. All they are left with is an endless war that will take American lives without reaching any goal that can benefit us.
The North Koreans won’t live with the status quo for long. They will cooperate with the Iranians until both have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them worldwide. They will continue to provoke us until we have to respond with military force.
The Palestinians won’t accept their status quo either. Iran is already entrenched in Syria, close to the Israeli Golan Heights. The Palestinians will strengthen their alliance with Iran to the point that Israel will have to go to war with both.
Our war in Afghanistan is a failure, but the president seems blissfully unaware, content to rely on a military that has failed but unwilling to withdraw our forces.
It is a fact that these problems were not of Mr. Trump’s making. Every president since Clinton ignored or appeased the North Koreans. Every president since Reagan has played along with the idea of a Palestinian peace with Israel. Both Bush 43 and Obama failed in Afghanistan.
But the fact that Trump inherited these problems doesn’t relieve him of the responsibility to solve them. He needs a new national security team capable of new thinking, but he seems incapable of replacing those around him. Rumors that Tillerson is about to be fired, which the White House vehemently denies is about to occur, do not touch people such as Nicholson, McMaster, Dunford, or Mattis.
He’s stuck, and so is the world, in situations too dangerous to tolerate. All or some — and ones we haven’t mentioned — will blow up next year.
Gideon Tsang/Flickr-Creative Commons