William Pfaff is the author of The Irony of Manifest Destiny, published in June 2010 by Walker and Company (New York) -- his tenth and culminating work on international politics and the American destiny. He describes the neglected sources and unforeseen consequences of the tragedy towards which the nation's current effort to remake the world to fit America's measure is leading. His previous books and his articles in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and his syndicated newspaper column, featured for a quarter century in the globally read International Herald Tribune, have made him one of America's most respected and internationally influential interpreters of world affairs.   [Read more...]
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Columns : Understanding the Gaza Tragedy
on 2014/7/16 15:00:00 (1757 reads)

Paris, July 16, 2014 – The refusal of Hamas in Gaza to accept the peace talks proposed Monday by the Egyptian government, briefly accepted by the Netanyahu government in Israel, is -- in the minds of the Hamas leadership -- a victory over their enemy.

The Israeli bombardment of the Palestinians has proven a policy failure, demonstrated by the Israeli government’s resumption of bombing. The Israelis tried to get an agreement, but failed.

Forty thousand Israeli military reservists have been alerted in recent days, meant as a threat of ground invasion of Gaza, but have yet to attack. Reports say the military command opposes new ground operations because of the damage suffered from guerrilla harassment in withdrawing from the Cast Lead operation in 2008-2009, as well as the casualties suffered in Lebanon during Israel’s 1982 invasion and long occupation of Hezbollah-controlled South Lebanon, eventually causing Israeli popular opinion to demand withdrawal.

An Israeli officer is quoted as saying that the problem posed by a ground attack into Gaza today is not the attack and operations inside Gaza, but in getting out.

The rockets from Gaza have not ceased, but the international political costs to Israel of the bombing campaign and of the gross disproportion of military means employed, have proven to be considerable, even in the United States, where government and public are both disposed to support whatever Israel chooses to do to the Palestinians, and certainly in most if not all of Western Europe.

Columns : How Not to Make Democracy
on 2014/7/9 16:40:00 (800 reads)

Paris, July 9, 2014 -- Barring the increasingly influential Isolationist/Tea Party wing of the American electorate, opinion is and always has been that the United States is the messenger of democracy to a world that usually hasn’t earned it and probably doesn’t deserve it.

The Obama administration today includes two camps officially committed to the promulgation of democracy, one of them located in the State Department, CIA and Pentagon, willing to employ subversion, invasion, and fire and brimstone to accomplish regime change in politically backward nations in order to bestow upon them a better life, such as the United States knows.

Associated chiefly but not at all exclusively with the Republican Party and Republican presidencies, it has been responsible since the first Gulf War for American-led mayhem in the Middle East and West Asian Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition, its enduring commitment in Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals has been to establish the primacy of NATO and indirect reign of the United States up to, or beyond, the frontiers of a weakened Russia.

With the election of Barack Obama this policy group was expected to lose influence, but this was a temporary phenomenon as the present internal struggle between east and west in Ukraine demonstrates, and the mounting pressure in Washington for American intervention in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic Caliphate that has been proclaimed to exist, straddling territories taken from both those countries. To this must be added alarm over China and the steady augmentation of the American military presence in Africa, in search of new democracy-building tasks — of which there are many.

Columns : Lessons from History
on 2014/7/2 14:50:00 (940 reads)

July 1, 2014, Paris – The weekend past saw the centenary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, with as consequence the First World War. The sequence of the events by which this happened has often been analyzed in the search for an answer to a much deeper question: what was behind it all? What was the ultimate mover of that war which cut a profound fissure into the history of western civilization, generally taken as responsible for the Second World War as well, and starting point for the world in which we now live.

The schoolroom explanation for war itself among the earliest human societies is rivalry over territory, resources and women. This is plausible but unproven, although the earliest legendary, literary and historical chronicles of our civilization are of wars conducted by recognizably modern men motivated by aggrandizement or greed or ego (and include the chronicle of Helen of Troy).

This would seem to have eventually evolved into the monarchical, feudal and dynastic systems of early and medieval Europe, their conflicts, the wars with Islam (both territorial and religious), and the Reformation-inspired religious wars in Europe that finally ended in the peace of Westphalia, the beginning of the modern European state system.

Long as this process took, from the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, Persian and Roman empires (leaving Asia aside) to Westphalia and the Congress of Vienna, the motivations of peoples gathered into nations seem to have been recognizably modern. Then history speeded up.

The revolutionary passions generated in dynastic Europe culminated after 1789 in the guillotine, and then in the Napoleonic Wars, attempting and failing to impose the modern state, eventually finding their resolution at the Congress of Vienna, which ended with monarchical restoration in France, and implicit confirmation of monarchical rule in Hapsburg Austria, Romanoff Russia, Prussia and the German states.

Columns : It's too late!
on 2014/6/25 14:30:00 (1629 reads)

Paris, June 25, 2014 – Secretary of State John Kerry thinks Iraq can be saved with a new prime minister to take the place of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The new one would make friends with the alienated and hostile Sunni citizens that make up some 40 percent of the country’s population, who in the past dictatorially ruled it, and were forced out of power and precedence by the ascendant Shia majority. They can be convinced to forget all that, Mr. Kerry presumes. Those who are not already members of the ISIS army.

One must tell Mr. Kerry that it’s too late. (He’s the man who told us that he was going to fix up a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians by next month.) Lots of other people in Washington have told the press about their equally unrealizable schemes for saving Iraq today: a new leadership, national reconciliation, appointment of Shia, Druze and Turkman officials, a new parliament, a new and well-trained army, a national campaign drafted by the best American public relations agencies to convince Iraqis to love one another and look at their future with optimism. Or they want another American invasion.

The exhortations in Washington that Barack Obama “do something” about the crises in the Middle East rest on the illusion that the United States already possesses the powers to which the Pentagon has aspired in its program to create a global system of regional commands that already cover Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Central Asia, the Pacific, and now finishing off with “Africa Command” – all with the means to deploy American strategic ascendancy in every corner of the world.

Ready to be deployed to do what? Rescue the schoolgirls being kidnapped in Nigeria? Stamp out jihadism? Build a modern state for the separatist Touareg people of the Sahara? Recover the flood of modern weapons looted from Libya by tribal and jihadist groups after the U.S. joined France, Britain and Qatar in liberating Libya from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi? That was at the behest of the French “philosopher” and self-publicist Bernard Henri Levi, who convinced his pal Nicolas Sarkozy that the people of Benghazi were at risk of a “holocaust” in 2011 if France did not get NATO to save them. Americans are not the only people who formulate their foreign policy on what fools and fantasists think.

Columns : The real "New" Middle East
on 2014/6/18 17:20:00 (1482 reads)

Paris, June 18, 2014 – The Marines – 250 of them, together with carrier air support and Marine Corps Osprey support craft – have been dispatched to save the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the “biggest in the world,” “the size of the Vatican City,” with its swimming pools and skating rinks, from the menace of the offensive directed at Baghdad by the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – the new Islamic Caliphate sought by the religiously rigorous Sunni counter-crusade.

ISIS already has taken Mosul and a large chunk of northeastern Iraq, and is aimed now at the Shia shrine city of Samarra and Baghdad itself. Some of us who witnessed the announcement and ambitions of that embassy when it was built had the premonitory thought that it might eventually end as the capitol of that Muslim Caliphate which the ISIS fanatics now have proclaimed, and which, in Washington, only the paranoid imagined.

The Baghdad Embassy was intended to become the proconsular headquarters of an American-Israeli-conceived new western empire that was announced in Israel in June 2006 jointly by the American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Its announcement coincided with an Israeli attack on Lebanon, foreseen as becoming the western Mediterranean access to what the two officials announced would become a “New Middle East” extending from Mediterranean Lebanon and Syria, through a federal Iraq of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish statelets, proceeding through a conquered Iran in Central Asia, to a “Free Baluchistan,” a NATO-ized Afghanistan, and an allied Pakistan, to the approaches of the Himalayas, and beyond them, to the rising counter-empire of the Chinese.

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