Unseemly Competition for Israel’s Blessing

President Obama’s record $38 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel shows neither U.S. major party wants to be “out-Israeled.” The Trump campaign endorses an Israeli claim that Palestinians want to ethnically cleanse Jews, ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

The Republican Party and Republican candidates have been moving over the past few years ever more fully into the embrace of Israel’s right-wing government, even more than American politicians in general do. This trend has been apparent notwithstanding the traditional preference of AIPAC, the core of the Israel lobby, to keep its support bipartisan so that its influence on U.S. policy will not be largely dependent on the success of only one U.S. party.

The de facto alliance between the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu and the 2012 presidential campaign of Mitt Romney can be considered a part of this trend. A more obvious part was the spectacle last year of Congressional Republicans inviting the head of a foreign government — i.e., Netanyahu — to denounce from the podium of the House chamber a major U.S. foreign policy initiative.

For this year’s campaign, the Republican Party platform surrenders all traces of independent thought on issues involving Israel and defers completely to the preferences and themes of Netanyahu’s government. The platform makes no mention whatever of Palestinians, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or of a two-state solution or any other resolution of that conflict.

It explicitly denies that there is any such thing as an Israeli occupation. It calls for outlawing any boycotts or other peaceful measures directed against Israeli policies in Israeli-controlled territories. It speaks of “no daylight between America and Israel.” This section of the platform would read no differently if it had come straight out of a printer in Netanyahu’s office.

Republican canvassers for Donald Trump are showing in another way their attitude toward the occupation by opening offices in settlements in the occupied West Bank to seek votes from U.S. citizens who live there. Those running the operation say their funds are raised locally but they coordinate daily with the Trump campaign. Their operation is based in what, according not only to long-established U.S. policy under multiple administrations but also the position of the international community generally, is an illegal Israeli presence.

Endorsing Netanyahu’s Video

Now the Trump campaign has endorsed a video from Netanyahu asserting that Palestinian leaders call for “ethnic cleansing” of Jews from any future Palestinian state. Such an endorsement is especially significant because the assertion in the video is an especially inapt portrayal of relevant issues.

Any objective and fair-minded observer would conclude, as a matter of accuracy and of propriety, that the video should be roundly criticized. That is what the Obama administration — even though it has no reason to be picking new fights with Netanyahu’s government — has done.

A State Department spokesperson stated, “We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful.”

Netanyahu’s statement in the video that “the Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one precondition: no Jews” is false. The Palestinian leadership has clearly and explicitly stated that Jews and members of any other religious or ethnic groups would be welcome to reside in, and accept citizenship of, a Palestinian state. What the Palestinians have rejected is continuation of Israeli citizens in Israeli settlements as a kind of extra-territorial Israeli presence within a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu appears to have based his assertion on a comment in 2013 by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas that “in a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands.” Netanyahu’s substitution of “Jew” for “Israeli” in his incorrect assertion is the same technique he uses more broadly to wrap everything his government does in the cloak of world Jewry. It is the same false equivalence that underlies the habitual pinning by some of Netanyahu’s defenders of the label anti-Semitism on any and all criticism of his government’s policies.

A Painful History

The whole matter of minorities in states with a Jewish or Arab majority has a relevant and painful history. A continuing characteristic of that history has been one of Arabs having control of less land than the relative sizes of the populations would suggest.

In the United Nations partition plan that in 1947 laid out boundaries for new Jewish and Arab states in what had been the British mandate of Palestine, the Jewish state was allocated 56 percent of the land even though Jews constituted only 33 percent of the population. As a result, while the projected Arab-run state would have had only a tiny (one percent) Jewish minority, the projected Jewish-run state would have had a population that was 45 percent Arab.

What many Arabs considered the injustice of such a division of land underlay the rejection of the U.N. plan by Arab governments and leaders. In the ensuing war of 1948-1949, the Arabs’ military failure left them with only about 22 percent of Palestine. And then Israel’s military conquests in 1967 gave it control of the whole thing.

It is hardly surprising that today, as Palestinians think about a future Palestinian state that would be only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what they consider to have once been theirs, they reject even more inroads, in the form of permanent Israeli settlements, on whatever fraction they would be left with.

The international community has seen things the same way. Every peace plan over the last couple of decades has included the concept that, wherever final boundaries might be drawn, withdrawal of some Israeli settlements would be necessary, partly to make possible the economic viability of a Palestinian state.

Reality Turned Upside-Down

As Matt Duss observes, if the “ethnic cleansing” accusation were to be applied to Palestinian leaders, it also would have to be applied to other international figures who have worked on the problem, including at least the last three U.S. presidents.

In his video, Netanyahu highlights the fact that Israel has a 20 percent Arab population and that this shows Israel’s “diversity” and “openness.” He tries to pair this observation with the issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. The Israeli Arabs are not an obstacle to peace, he says, so why should the settlements be considered illegitimate and an obstacle to peace? Of course, there is really no comparison at all between colonization of conquered territory by the conqueror against the will of — and to the detriment of — the existing inhabitants, and the residence of Arabs within Israel because they and their ancestors had been living there all along.

But another observation to make about Netanyahu’s rhetoric on this subject is how much it contrasts with his insistence at other times that the Palestinians explicitly recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” This precondition has been one of the current impediments to getting any productive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under way.

Palestinian leaders reject that demand not only because it might prejudge resolution of the so-called right of return issue but also because they would be formally endorsing the second-class citizenship of their Arab brethren within Israel. Consistency evidently is not Netanyahu’s objective; indefinitely putting off any peaceful settlement of the conflict, while finding ways to blame Palestinians for the impasse, is.

A major backdrop to the charge about ethnic cleansing, one that liberal voices in Israel have noted, is the forcible replacement of one population with another that actually has occurred in Palestine. The biggest instance was when some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were forced from their homes during the 1948 war in what Arabs call the Nakba or catastrophe. That is a major reason why that 20 percent Arab population that Netanyahu used as a rhetorical prop in his video is not any larger than it is. Currently Netanyahu’s government conducts a more gradual form of forcible replacement of one population with another through, on one hand, continued expansion of Israeli settlements and, on the other hand, the confiscation of land, demolition of homes, erection of economic impediments, lethal force, and other measures that squeeze life out of the Palestinian community in the West Bank. Use of the term ethnic cleansing may be appropriate, but not because of anything that Palestinians are doing or have the ability or opportunity to do.

The Trump campaign’s reaction to all of this, as voiced by Trump’s adviser on U.S.-Israeli relations, is that Netanyahu “makes exactly the right point” and that the Obama administration “should be ashamed of their misguided reaction” to Netanyahu’s video.

Evidently the strategy — notwithstanding Trump briefly making the lobby nervous earlier this year by saying he would be “neutral” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — is an especially uncompromising version of the usual American political strategy of making sure one is not out-Israeled by one’s opponent. And it is not as if Hillary Clinton has given any indication that she will mount a challenge on these issues from the other direction.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

Post-9/11’s Self-Inflicted Wounds

The damage done to U.S. foreign policy in the wake of the 9/11 attacks was largely self-inflicted, a case of wildly overreacting to Al Qaeda’s bloody provocation, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

In thinking about the significance and consequences, a decade and a half later, of the terrorist attacks known as 9/11, it is best to begin with what the attacks did not mean — despite what voluminous commentary ever since the event might lead one to believe.

The attacks did not mark a major change in security threats faced by the United States or anyone else. Americans were not suddenly more in danger on Sept. 12, 2001 than they had been on Sept. 10, even though the reactions of many Americans would suggest that they were.

Nor was one spectacular, lethal and lucky shot to be equated with a larger threat that can be thought of in strategic terms, or with sudden revelation of such a threat. Those whose job was to assess such things, including those in U.S. officialdom, had communicated prior to 9/11 their clear understanding of the strategic threat represented by Bin Laden’s variety of international terrorism.

September 2001 did not mark the advent of a substantially greater vulnerability of the U.S. homeland, and certainly not an existential one. The techniques involved were not at all comparable in that regard to the introduction of the long-range bomber and the intercontinental ballistic missile.

Nor did September 2001 mark the beginning of serious counterterrorist efforts by the United States, notwithstanding the larger amount of resources thrown at the problem in the wake of 9/11. There was a lot of counterterrorism going on before, especially in the 1980s and continuing into the 1990s.

The available tools and elements of counterterrorism have remained essentially unchanged from those earlier periods, apart from a few technological developments such as those involving unmanned aerial vehicles.

The biggest changes brought about by 9/11 instead involved public perceptions and emotions, and consequently the political treatment of subjects that those perceptions and emotions involved. The politics riding on public fears have been far more consequential than any external reality about what terrorist groups are up to. And much of the public perceptions have been inaccurate, as indicated by the way those perceptions about terrorist threats changed from Sept. 10 to Sept. 12.

Even the public perceptions about terrorism have not been a one-way progression. There has been some of the same swinging of the pendulum of public preferences as seen after previous major terrorist incidents. Although the swing after 9/11 was substantially higher than usual, we have already seen some of the pendulum’s return in the opposite direction.

Criminal Behavior

Some measures taken and quietly accepted by Congressional overseers in the name of counterterrorism in the earliest years after 9/11, including bulk collection of electronic data by government agencies and torture of captives, later became subjects of controversy or condemnation.

The shock effect of 9/11 suddenly made the American public much more militant and more willing than before to assume costs and take risks in the name of national security. This was an emotional response, little diverted or contained by more sober calculation of what really would enhance national security, and with little attention to how some could exploit the emotions for other purposes.

The single most consequential result of all of this was the launching in 2003 of the war in Iraq. Although Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, the surge in public militancy made it politically possible for the first time for neoconservatives to implement this longstanding item on their agenda.

The damage, including to matters related to U.S. national security, has been vast, including trillions in expenditures, the igniting of a continuing civil war in a major Middle Eastern state, the stoking of region-wide sectarian conflict, and — as far as terrorism is concerned — giving birth to the group now known as ISIS.

U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan was another legacy of 9/11, of course. Unlike Iraq, it was related to 9/11 with regard to Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan under the Taliban. But years ago, the intervention morphed from a counterterrorism operation into more of a nation-building operation. And now it has become America’s longest war.

Concepts offered by the intelligentsia, and not just emotions felt by the public, have been substantially affected by 9/11. After much groping since the end of the Cold War for ways to characterize, in a satisfyingly simple manner, both an era and a global U.S. mission, the fight against terrorism finally seemed to fill the bill.

The unfortunate “war on terror” metaphor much affected policy discourse and thus policy itself. Counterterrorism came to be thought of in chiefly military terms, and conceiving of a war against a tactic meant a war without either geographic or temporal limits.

The aforementioned responses and effects will have more lasting consequences than the enhanced investigative powers, such as those in the Patriot Act, that have received much attention. There is natural resistance in American tradition and habits of thought to such enhancement. There is not comparable resistance to fighting endlessly a foreign menace, even a menace defined as a tactic.

The main legacy of 9/11 has been less anything that terrorists have done to us than what we have done to ourselves, and to others, in response. On balance the legacy has not been beneficial.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

Billionaires’ Spectacular Stumbles

Many Americans disparage “government” for its stodginess and hail private entrepreneurs for their daring, but the reality often is different, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains in the wake of a rocket explosion.

By Paul R. Pillar

This past week, a Falcon 9 rocket built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company exploded on the launch pad during preparations for a static test prior to the scheduled launch of a communications satellite. The explosion and fire were quite spectacular, although in an unwanted sense, of course.

This was SpaceX’s second catastrophic failure in little more than a year. Last year another Falcon 9 disintegrated two minutes after launch, with the loss of a cargo capsule bringing 4,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to the international space station. Such failures have raised, at least for the moment, the question of whether Musk is unwisely trying in his ventures to push the envelope too far and too fast.

Notwithstanding such incident-stimulated doubts, commentary in recent years about private sector space entrepreneurs such as Musk has been overwhelmingly admiring and laudatory. SpaceX has dazzled people with its feat of bringing expended boosters back to the surface with a soft landing to make them available for reuse.

Just last month a feature story in The Economist gushed about how “new capabilities, new entrepreneurialism and rekindled dreams are making space exciting again.”

Underlying a statement such as that is the ideologically-based belief that nimble and motivated private entrepreneurs inherently can do things better than stodgy government bureaucracies. The same story in The Economist states that Musk “can drive the costs of space travel lower, possibly far lower, than a government bureaucracy can.”

That statement is true only in a broad sense that takes account of the differing goals and demands that are placed on the government bureaucracies involved, in contrast to the objectives from which the private entrepreneurs can pick and choose. If the missions and demands are kept constant, the statement is not true.

Private Insurance vs. Medicare

Look at some task in which both government and the private sector operate, such as health insurance. The government-run program, Medicare, has consistently operated more efficiently than privately-managed health insurance. Bernie Sanders is right that a government-run single-payer program is the way to go if the objectives are not only universal coverage but also the driving down of costs.

Some have asked why NASA did not work earlier on the cost-saving method of recovering unmanned rockets, as SpaceX is now. The answer is that NASA was called on to do other things — very difficult and dangerous things — in which the available resources and engineering talent had to be dedicated to tasks other than down-the-line cost-saving.

The demands that Congress, presidents, and the public placed on NASA involved getting fast, spectacular, even one-time results, such as beating the Soviets to the moon; any future cost-saving did not enter into those demands.

The overall picture of the government and private sector roles in space has been that government has pioneered the technology and the private sector has later exploited it commercially. The main breakthroughs in rocket science have come under a government pedigree than runs from NASA back through the space programs of the U.S. military services and to Wernher von Braun’s team in Germany, which invented the V-2.

Most of the technological pioneering had to be government-run because, although national security or national prestige may have been at a stake, any profit opportunities were too far away to provide sufficient commercial incentive to do the pioneering. Although the current privately run activity involves some engineering refinements such as those involved in the recovery of boosters, this is not a matter of major technological breakthroughs.

Competing Billionaires

The private entrepreneur’s freedom to pick and choose objectives has made much current private sector space activity a contest among billionaires, with egos as well as profit motives involved. Failure means one billionaire thumbing his nose at another.

The satellite that was destroyed in this week’s explosion on the launch pad was one that Facebook had planned to use to bring internet service to remote areas in Africa. Soon after the incident, Mark Zuckerberg expressed on his Facebook page disappointment “that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite.”

The freedom to choose objectives has meant that the private space industry has chosen some objectives far removed from any public interest. This has especially been true of a line of business aimed at lifting a few paying passengers at a time to the edge of the atmosphere and giving them a few minutes to experience weightlessness and see the blackness of space before returning to earth.

More than one firm is developing this line of business, including Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic — which suffered its own major failure two years ago when its prototype craft crashed and killed one of the pilots. The service being developed is a joyride for rich people. It is essentially the same kind of service provided by a thrill ride at an amusement park, except that both the altitudes and the ticket prices are much higher.

One of the reasons that private sector space endeavors enjoy, despite the failures, more of a perception of excitement and success is that the failures are not subject to the same after-the-fact recriminations and scrutiny that failure by a government bureaucracy is.

Failures by NASA have triggered the whole politically satisfying suite of congressional hearings and commission investigations. By contrast, Musk and Branson probably don’t even have to worry much about flak from their own boards of directors. This week’s explosion of the Falcon 9 is not likely to be the subject of congressional inquiry, and that is not just because it involved an unmanned rocket and no human lives were lost.

Future Risks

SpaceX and some other companies do aspire to get directly into manned orbital space flight, and this is where some of their bottom-line-improving techniques may start to bump up against public emotions when human life is endangered. One of the techniques SpaceX has used with the Falcon 9 is additional chilling of the fuel to make it denser and effectively increasing the amount of fuel on board. This means an ability to put heavier loads into orbit (and thus to charge more for the service) and to have enough fuel left over for those cost-saving recoveries of the booster.

Keeping the fuel extremely chilled, however, requires the hazardous procedure of fueling the rocket to take place as little as 30 minutes before launch. In a manned flight the crew already would be on board by then — a more dangerous situation than the usual procedure of completing fueling while the astronauts aren’t anywhere near the launch pad. But so far the brunt of anguish and recrimination when human life has been lost in American space exploration has fallen on a government agency, NASA, rather than on any entrepreneurs.

As for that question of whether Musk is pushing things too far and too fast, for his own good let alone for any larger good, additional evidence comes from Musk’s other major enterprise, Tesla Motors.

Four months ago in Florida a Tesla car in “autopilot” mode was involved in a fatal crash when neither the car’s system nor the driver noticed a truck crossing their path. The incident underscores the question of whether the driving public (or that segment of it that can afford a Tesla) is ready for this kind of semiautomatic operation, and whether such a not-yet-fully-an-autopilot arrangement, in which the natural tendency is to rely more than one should on the car doing its own thing, ought ever to be sold. Certainly sounds like an instance of going too fast in pushing a product out the door.

Meanwhile, it falls to government employees, including local police as well as traffic engineers in state departments of transportation, to try to keep the public safe with machines like that on the road.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

The Scuffle over ‘American Exceptionalism’

Before the American Legion, Hillary Clinton sought to paint herself as the real patriot running for President by invoking “American exceptionalism,” a phrase that has caused much trouble and that Donald Trump disdains, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Hillary Clinton gave a speech this week in which American exceptionalism was a major theme. She obviously chose that theme partly because it would appeal to her specific audience (an American Legion convention) and partly because it would enable her to criticize Donald Trump, who has said he doesn’t like the term “American exceptionalism” because people in other countries don’t like to hear it and feel insulted by it.

Trump is right about that, although in many other respects he shows he doesn’t have qualms about insulting people in other countries, including Mexico, the country he briefly visited on Wednesday and has described as a nation of rapists and drug dealers.

America is indeed exceptional in some obvious respects, and there is nothing wrong with Americans reminding themselves of that, as long as they do not stick the concept in the face of non-Americans. It is some of the corollaries that tend to flow in an unthinking fashion from the concept of American exceptionalism that have caused problems. Several such tendencies in American exceptionalist thinking have contributed to bad policy.

One particular common corollary of the notion of exceptionalism that Clinton emphasized in her speech was that of indispensability.

“We are the indispensable nation,” she said. “So no matter how hard it gets, no matter how great the challenge, America must lead.”

As with exceptionalism itself, it certainly is true that the United States is, or at least has been, indispensable in some respects. An example would be the role of the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency and of U.S. government debt as an instrument in international finance.

The problems come from the tendency — which is implicit in much of the wording of Clinton’s speech — to consider the United States and U.S. leadership as indispensable in addressing all significant problems abroad. But not all problems abroad are U.S. problems, not all such problems are solvable, what solutions there are do not all come from the United States, and in some problems U.S. involvement or leadership is instead counterproductive.

A related and common tendency is to invoke the physical metaphor of a vacuum. “When America fails to lead,” said Clinton, “we leave a vacuum that either causes chaos or other countries or networks rush in to fill the void.”

The vacuum metaphor has several problems when applied to foreign policy. It understates or overlooks altogether whatever was present before any outsiders rushed in. It incorrectly assumes a zero-sum or mutual exclusion relationship between the supposedly indispensable superpower and any other players who may be involved.

Clinton talked about values and about how American exceptionalism includes the idea of “America’s unique and unparalleled ability to be a force for peace and progress, a champion for freedom and opportunity.”

The overlooked question in this kind of rhetoric concerns the conditions in which other nations are, or are not, receptive to the freedom and opportunity being championed. Herewith is an inherent internal tension in American exceptionalist thinking. The more exceptional are the conditions in which American values arose, the less transferable are those values to others. And that is a problem with the corollaries about indispensability and American leadership in addressing problems hither and yon.

Clinton did invoke Abraham Lincoln’s concept of the last best hope of Earth and Ronald Reagan’s image of a shining city on a hill. The idea of making the American republic the best, and the best example, it can possibly be — so that even a Donald Trump can’t wreck it — is a better way to implement ideas of exceptionalism than to act like an indispensable vacuum-filler.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

Israel’s Abnormal ‘Normal’ with its Neighbors

Israel often acts as if a simmering state of war with its Muslim neighbors is the only possible future, while occasionally playing off one nation against another, a “normal” that is not normal, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar

By Paul R. Pillar

It has long been generally regarded, and properly so, to be in everyone’s best interests if Israel had normal relationships with its regional neighbors. Normal relations are a condition for commerce and mutual prosperity. Normal relations are the stuff of peace rather than of the repeated wars that have been fought between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

We rightly applauded Anwar Sadat when he negotiated a peace treaty and established diplomatic relations with Israel, and we rightly criticized other Arab states for ostracizing Egypt itself after Sadat’s initiative. Even small instances of Arab ostracism of Israel get criticized today, as when an Egyptian judo athlete refused to shake his Israeli opponent’s hand after a match at the Olympics.

Israel could have had full and normal relations with its Arab neighbors long ago. Many years have passed since most Arab governments in effect accepted Zionism. A peace initiative by the Arab League, offering full normalization of Arab relations with Israel in return for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee issue, has been on the table since 2002.

The Arab governments later reaffirmed the offer and indicated additional flexibility regarding the acceptability of land swaps when drawing a final boundary between Israel and a Palestinian state. Israeli leaders, despite saying some favorable things about the initiative, have in effect ignored it, preferring to cling to all of the conquered Palestinian territory with a continued occupation.

But although these have been the Israeli priorities, the possibility of full and normal relations with the neighbors has at least been out there as a potential carrot, to add to whatever other incentives there might be for Israel to get off its destructive path of indefinite occupation.

Sunnis vs. Shiites

More recently, as an editorial in the New York Times observes, there has been de facto development of ties, in the absence of full diplomatic relations, between Israel and some Sunni Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. There also has been a warming of relations with Egypt, a relationship that had mostly been a cold peace since Sadat’s time.

As the editorial correctly notes, such developments reflect how the political status of the Palestinians is not a top priority for most Arab governments, and indeed it has long had to compete with more parochial concerns of those governments. But the plight of their Palestinian brethren still is a salient issue for most Arabs, as is the status of holy places that are among the issues that would have to be resolved in any Israeli-Palestinian final agreement.

The principal author of the Arab League peace initiative, the late Saudi King Abdullah, made clear that he was especially interested in the status of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem and was willing to accept whatever resolution of other issues was acceptable to the Palestinians themselves.

The kind of de facto and semi-secret relationships that have been developing are the wrong kind of Israeli-Arab relations. They are not in the best interests of the United States or of anyone else. Far from being a basis for peace and prosperity, they are themselves based on conflict, regional divisions, authoritarianism, and the threat or use of force.

With regard to Egypt, the warming of ties with the regime of strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has to do with el-Sisi’s harsh internal crackdown and especially his bashing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is related to his willingness to cooperate with Israel in bashing the Brotherhood’s Hamas cousins in the Gaza Strip.

With regard to the Gulf Arab monarchies, the dealings with Israel have to do with the determination of those regimes to expand their regional influence and to pursue their rivalry with Iran. That determination has become so strong in the Saudi case that it has led to the reckless aerial assault and consequent humanitarian disaster in Yemen — a situation that has gotten so bad that a bipartisan group of U.S. congressmen is urging the Obama administration to delay a major sale of arms to the Saudis.

More Conflict

In short, the recently developing Israeli ties with these authoritarian Sunni Arab regimes are a matter of more regional conflict and instability, not more peace and prosperity.

Two comments about current Israeli incentives follow. One is that there is even less interest than before (if that is possible) on the part of the Netanyahu government in taking up the Arab League initiative or taking any other steps toward making peace with the Palestinians. If Israel is at least partially shaking off its regional isolation while still clinging to all the occupied territory and not even making a move toward relinquishing it, then the determination of that government to live forever by the sword is only strengthened.

These developments also underscore the Israeli government’s incentive to stoke conflict with, and fear of, Iran as much as possible. It was the Israeli government’s interest in keeping Iran as a perpetual bugbear that underlay its posture toward the nuclear agreement with Iran — a posture that never made sense as far as the nuclear issue itself was concerned, given that the agreement severely restricts and monitors the very nuclear program about which the Israeli government had been sounding so many cries of alarm.

The scaremongering about Iran serves not only as a distraction from Israeli-relevant issues and a rationale for extraordinary U.S.-Israeli ties, but also as the basis for isolation-breaking relations with the Gulf Arabs.

So the prospects for any progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace are as dim as they have been in a good while. The right-wing Israeli government is not feeling pressure to get off its destructive path. On the Palestinian side, it is not a matter of, as the Times editorial incorrectly suggests, the Palestinians having no more “interest in serious peace talks” than Israel does.

Very few Palestinians want to live under the Israeli occupation, and the great majority of Palestinians recognize that serious peace talks are needed for the occupation to end. But the only tolerated Palestinian interlocutor, the Palestinian Authority, has become a sclerotic auxiliary to the occupation and has long passed its “best if used by” date.

Credible secular alternatives languish in Israeli jails. (Marwan Barghouti, call your office, if you can.) The Hamas alternative, which seems poised to win municipal elections in the West Bank in October], will no doubt be the target of the same Israeli rejection of popular sovereignty that it has been when winning free elections in the past.

The gloomy prognosis is not an excuse to avoid the issue. The plight of the Palestinians is partly a matter of denial of basic human and political rights. It also has been, as the editorial correctly notes, “a source of regional tension for decades.”

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

Russia’s Misplayed Hand with Iran

Iran’s annoyance that Russia over-played its hand in going public about its use of an Iranian airbase shows the risk of offending potential allies, a lesson that U.S. officials also need to learn, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Well, that didn’t last long, did it? Barely a week after the announcement that Russian warplanes were using a base in Iran to launch airstrikes in Syria, Iran withdrew its permission to use the base. This development underscores how the Russian use of the base did not indicate some new “alliance”, as much commentary suggested. Iranian officials were not using that term.

As I wrote after the announcement, Russians and Iranians were still not buddies. Use of the base was instead an instance of how two countries that are at least as much adversaries as allies nonetheless can find areas of practical cooperation based on parallel interests.

Mark Katz provides a good summary of the many troubles in the Russian-Iranian relationship that extend from czarist times through the Soviet era to events of this year. The Iranians ended the arrangement because the Russians were bragging about it too much and giving the public impression that Russia had gotten its way with the lesser power to its south.

Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan criticized as “ungentlemanly” the way Russian state-run media were touting the arrangement. “There has been a kind of showing-off and inconsiderate attitude behind the announcement of this news,” said Dehghan. “Naturally, the Russians are keen to show that they are a superpower and an influential country and that they are active in security issues in the region and the world.”

Bad P.R.

So added to the lesson that the Putin government provided of how one can get useful practical cooperation from a non-ally is a further lesson in how such cooperation can be messed up by bungling the public relations in a way that offends the other side’s amour-propre.

The Iranians are at least as sensitive about such things as anyone else, with the pride that comes from being the modern successor to a great ancient empire. But the need to save face is universal. Those who do business with those who need to save face must keep such sensitivities in mind.

One must decide whether getting material cooperation is more important than bragging rights. Sometimes respecting sensitivities means structuring an agreement so that the other side can claim to be more of a winner than a loser. Sometimes it is more a matter of the public relations surrounding an agreement.

Insensitivity to such matters is easy to find. That’s not surprising, given that such insensitivity is in a sense the other side of excessive defensiveness about one’s own amour-propre. Being anxious to portray oneself as a winner sometimes gets into demeaning someone else as a loser.

The United States, or at least many Americans who debate its foreign policy, often display such insensitivity. The Iranian defense minister could have been talking about the United States rather than Russia when he spoke of people “keen to show that they are a superpower and an influential country and that they are active in security issues in the region and the world.”

Americans would be just as quick as anyone to take offense when it is America’s own amour-propre that is at stake. But because the United States really is a superpower, it is more often the offender rather than the offendee in such matters.

Obama’s Approach

Domestic politics tend to exacerbate all of these tendencies. The desire to show domestic audiences that our side got the best of a deal leads to the kind of rhetoric that makes the other side lose face. Something like that is happening with the Obama administration emphasizing how much the Iranian economy is still weakened by sanctions after completion of the agreement that restricts the Iranian nuclear program.

One can understand the domestic U.S. political needs involved, but neither the weakening of the Iranian economy nor any crowing about it serves U.S. interests and instead only weakens Iranian inclinations to stick with the agreement.

The Iranians themselves also have shown this kind of insensitivity; remember, such insensitivity can be the other side of high sensitivity about not losing face oneself. Something like this happened with the recent episode involving restitution of funds for undelivered goods going back to the time of the shah.

The money involved always belonged to Iran, and under a well-established claims process the United States was required to return the money at some point. If the Obama administration was able to manipulate the timing of the payment in a way that increased the incentive for the Iranian regime to free people who never should have been incarcerated, that was deft diplomacy on the administration’s part. Also deft was the administration’s handling of the public relations; the transaction was not kept secret, but it was handled in a quiet and routine manner.

Nonetheless, some in Iran evidently were so concerned about appearing to have made concessions to the United States to get back money that belonged to Iran that they described the payment as “ransom”—thus providing another instance of Iranian hardliners making common cause, while even using similar vocabulary, with hardline American opponents of the U.S. administration.

One conclusion to bear in mind from all of this is that getting real cooperation that serves our interests is more important than bragging rights, or actual bragging. Another is that we should emulate Putin only when he acts wisely (seizing opportunities for cooperation with non-allies) and should not copy his regime’s mistakes (screwing things up with braggadocio).

A third conclusion is suggested by Katz, with specific reference to Iran’s withdrawal of the base access privileges: “The ongoing tension in Russian-Iranian relations that this episode highlights could provide an opportunity for American foreign policy to exploit. But for this to happen, Washington would actually have to recognize that the opportunity exists.”

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)


Trump Hypes a New ‘War on Terror’

Donald Trump has urged a new “war on terror” that brings back torture and seeks revenge on terrorists’ families, but another problem with the Republican nominee’s approach is his exaggeration of the danger, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Much of Donald Trump’s recent speech on terrorism left one to wonder how what he was proposing would differ from current practices he supposedly was criticizing.

Working on counterterrorism with other states including Russia, for example, sounds like what the Obama administration is doing now, including discussing with the Russians ways of combating terrorist groups in Syria. And it is hard to see how Trump’s “extreme vetting” would differ from the existing and already extensive review process for visa applications.

Other parts of what Trump was proposing were just too vague for us to get a good idea of how they would be supposed to work. This is true of his proposal to suspend immigration from unnamed regions that either — depending on which sentence in the speech one looks at — are “some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism” or “where adequate screening cannot take place.”

If any such list of regions were broad enough to stop a terrorist group trying to infiltrate operators into the United States, it would be so broad as to end immigration into the United States altogether.

If there was any one theme that tended to unify what was in the speech about terrorism and that distinguishes it clearly from current policy, it was in explicitly invoking comparisons with the hot and cold wars of the Twentieth Century. In likening current counterterrorism to the Cold War, Trump even added a dose of McCarthyism with his proposal for a “Commission on Radical Islam” that would “expose the networks in our society that support radicalization.”

Setting aside this McCarthyite twist, the overall theme is one that — as with several other aspects of Trump’s candidacy — unfortunately manifests destructive attitudes and habits that go well beyond Trump and his campaign, and that were having debilitating effects on policy debates before his campaign even began.

We have seen this with references to “World War IV” (the idea being that the Cold War was number III) and “Islamofascism”. The same pattern crops up in numerous other ways. The recent memoir of a former deputy director of the CIA (Michael Morell), for example, is grandiosely titled The Great War of Our Time.

Several things are fundamentally wrong with framing counterterrorism this way. One is that this badly misrepresents the nature of the threat from international terrorism in suggesting a foe with a degree of unity and organization comparable to the enemy powers in the Twentieth Century world wars or to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

If terrorism is what we are worried about, then we need to remember that terrorism is not a foe or an organization or an ideology but instead a tactic used by many different perpetrators with many different ideologies. Even focusing just on the radical Islamist variety of terrorism, there is neither this kind of organizational unity (as indicated by several of the very attacks Trump mentions in his speech, in which the perpetrators had no organizational ties to any larger group) or even ideological unity (as reflected in the Sunni-vs.-Shia conflicts that dominate much of the current strife in the Middle East).

The Great War Myth

The framing of current counterterrorism as some kind of great war also grossly overstates the overall seriousness of the threat. Nothing the United States is combating today is comparable to the challenges that were posed by — quoting from the comparison made in Trump’s speech — “Fascism, Nazism, and Communism.”

The Axis powers in World War II not only threatened to, but did, overrun major portions of the globe. The USSR of the Cold War was a superpower. All of this is way out of the league of anything that comes under the label of radical Islam today. Overstating of the threat does a major part of the terrorists’ job for them by making people more scared than they ought to be.

To the extent that there are organizational manifestations of radical Islam in the form of groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, the “great war” kind of framing does another part of the terrorists’ job for them. A grand, religiously defined struggle between a U.S.-led West and a Muslim adversary such as one of those groups is exactly the way such groups want to depict world politics. It elevates their stature beyond what it otherwise would be and enables them to appeal more effectively to a religiously defined constituency that otherwise would have little sympathy for their methods.

The heavy emphasis on a religious definition of the adversary in this postulated “war” makes many members of that constituency more receptive to such appeals and more inclined to see the United States as their enemy. Particularly stupid is the insistence on “naming” Islamic terrorism. Not only President Obama but also President George W. Bush understood that such “naming” has nothing to do with understanding threats and instead only alienates more Muslims.

The Cold War mindset that is involved here wasn’t even an entirely appropriate way of looking at the Cold War itself. It saw global communism as more monolithic than it really was, a misconception that led to such misdirections as the Vietnam War. But at least there really was a USSR, which was a nuclear power and had a global policy of expanding its influence. Applying the mindset to current policy challenges is even less appropriate than it was during the Cold War. And it’s not only Donald Trump we have to blame for corruption of public thinking about such challenges.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

More False Outrage on the Syrian War

Washington’s neocon hypocrisy surfaced again with the furor over Russia using an Iranian base to launch airstrikes against terror groups in Syria, while the U.S. uses other Mideast bases for the same purpose, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

We should reflect on the meaning of Russia’s use of a base in Iran for staging airstrikes in Syria, and about what lessons we could learn from the Russians. The significance does not have to do with any grand realignment in the Middle East or the emergence of a military alliance between Russia and Iran.

Russians and Iranians are not buddies. The development has to do more specifically with the conflict in Syria, and the main advantage for Russia concerns tactical operational considerations involving distances to the battlefield and how much of a bomb load certain types of Russian aircraft can carry.

Nor does the lesson for us involve using more rather than less military force in the region. The United States is conducting airstrikes in Syria, too, and, although it seems to escape our notice sometimes, a limited ground war against ISIS as well.

The United States has more of a military presence in the Middle East, and is doing more with that presence, than anything Russia is doing there. If we are worrying about Russia one-upping us in the Middle East, it is not because the Russians are doing more militarily in the region than we are.

The lesson we should draw from the Putin government’s policy in the region is how an outside power is able to pursue its objectives and interests more fully and freely because it is willing to do business with anyone, not limiting itself to business only with states it considers allies and not letting old animosities or current differences get in the way of diplomatic initiatives and practical cooperation.

Russia’s approach has been apparent as well in its recent dealings with other non-allies in the region, including Israel and especially Turkey. Russians and Turks aren’t buddies either. Turkish interests, especially economic interests, will continue to point more toward the West than toward Russia.

But that reality, the animosities that have underlain multiple Russo-Turkish wars, current differences between Moscow and Ankara that include but are not limited to Syrian issues, and the fact that it is the United States and not Russia that is using an airbase in Turkey have not kept Vladimir Putin from using rapprochement with the Erdogan government to pursue his own country’s interests.

Flexible Diplomacy

In practicing such flexible diplomacy, Putin is operating in the realist tradition. In that respect Russia is indeed one-upping the United States, insofar as the United States follows the non-realist habit of perceiving the world as divided into allies and adversaries, limits efforts at cooperation to the former, and sees the latter as fit only for confrontation, punishment, and isolation.

Such a non-realist approach is a poor way to protect and advance one’s interests. It means associating too closely with misadventures of purported allies (as, for example, the United States is today in supporting the bloody Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen) and missing opportunities to build on the parallel interests that invariably exist even with those states firmly labeled as adversaries.

The United States probably could have made use of that base in Iran, too, although because of other U.S. military assets in the region it may not need such a staging point as much as Russia did. In any event, there exist other parallel or convergent interests between Iran and the United States, including ones related to the restoration of stability in Syria and Iraq, that the United States could profitably build upon (especially in the wake of completing the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program).

But any inclinations of the Obama administration to move in this direction are stymied by the strong political resistance within the United States against thinking of Iran as anything other than a target for punishment and isolation. So the United States misses opportunities while Putin, wiser than us in that regard, seizes them.

A wiser United States would also think of Russia itself, which has the label of adversary firmly affixed to it, in realist terms in which that label would not prevent the United States from exploring and exploiting areas of parallel interests. The Obama administration is trying to do some of this regarding military operations against extremist groups in Syria.

But again the biggest barrier is the Cold War mindset prevalent in much American politics that mistakenly sees a zero-sum situation in which even any activity of Russia in the Middle East, let alone any discernible Russian gains there, is viewed as a setback for the United States.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

Simplistic Second-Guessing on ISIS

Official Washington’s neocons, the mainstream U.S. media and Donald Trump are on the same page at least in blaming President Obama for ISIS, a case of all three parties being wrong, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

A recurring feature in criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy, particularly in referring to strife-torn Syria and Iraq, is the notion that if only the United States had followed some different course, bad things in such overseas places would not be happening.

The dominant variant of such criticism asserts that if only the United States had somehow used more military force in those lands, then somehow the strife there would be less than it is. This variant gets repeated so often that it is already acquiring the status of conventional wisdom.

Even the usually sensible Nicholas Kristof, for example, in a recent column writes that “allowing [sic] Syria’s civil war and suffering to drag on unchallenged” has been Mr. Obama’s “worst mistake”.

Kristof acknowledges that “we don’t know whether the more assertive approaches favored by Hillary Clinton, Gen. David Petraeus and many others would have been more effective” — an admission that should vacate the judgment he had just made about a presidential mistake.

After all, how can we assess whether any given course of action is a mistake if we do not weigh it against the available alternatives? What we are seeing here is a difference between policy-makers who have to come up with real policy that works, and critics who don’t have to come up with anything but criticism.

To the extent that alternatives get assessed at all, a major asymmetry usually makes those assessments faulty. The real policy, warts and all, is put up against reality, with all of the policy’s limitations exposed for us to see. But the hypothetical alternatives are not similarly exposed; whoever suggests an alternative can just assume that the alternative would have worked the way it was intended to work.

Moreover, when facing a genuinely bad situation — such as the deadly imbroglios in Syria and Iraq — there is a natural tendency to think that different courses of action would have yielded a less bad situation. Such a tendency is a psychological frame-of-reference effect, not a product of hard analysis of how specific alternatives would have worked.

Most commentary that tosses up hypothetical alternatives — and sometimes proposes such alternatives as something that could yet be undertaken, not just as an opportunity missed in the past — deals in general concepts and spares us the details. But many devils reside in the details, and may make the proffered alternative worse than the policy it would replace.

We often hear, for example, the concepts of “safe zones” or no-fly zones. We hear hardly at all about the details necessarily associated with any such zones: of who does the fighting to maintain a desired state of control on the ground, the size of the required U.S. force commitment, the prospects for further escalation of the conflict, and so forth.

One Dimensional

Similarly, the suggester of a hypothetical alternative can focus on just a single dimension on which the alternative could reasonably be expected to have worked while leaving unstated all the other dimensions involving costs, risks, and deleterious side-effects. The equivalent approach as applied to an actual policy is what we hear from die-hard defenders of the 2003 invasion of Iraq when they ask, “Is the world better off with or without Saddam Hussein?”

Well, if that were the only question and the question really were that simple, then the answer would be that we are better off without him. But it was all those other costs, risks, and deleterious side-effects that made the policy disastrously bad.

Underlying the defective and asymmetry-laden analysis is the strongly held American exceptionalist tendency to look at problems around the world as America’s problems, to think that the United States ought to be able to solve them, and thus to see any persistence of a problem overseas as due to faulty U.S. policy.

This tendency imposes an unrealistic standard on real policy, because the United States is not actually capable of solving many of those problems overseas. By keeping the hypothetical alternatives vague and uni-dimensional, the alternatives are not held up to the same unrealistic standard.

Regarding Syria, Juan Cole provides a useful corrective to the flawed coulda shoulda criticism with a discussion of what he calls the “top seven reasons the US could not have forestalled the Syrian civil war”. It is even clearer that the Obama administration could not have forestalled the violent conflict we all abhor in Iraq.

The coulda shoulda criticism applied to the administration’s policies on Iraq have always had a strange quality given that the main thing the critics are knocking the administration for is the implementation of a troop withdrawal agreement that had been negotiated by the previous administration. If, as has been charged, the Obama administration did not “try hard enough” to modify that agreement, then this must mean that the Bush administration did not “try hard enough” to get a different agreement in the first place.

The biggest historical fact that is ignored by those who like to fire historical hypotheticals at the Obama administration is that a much more muscular military approach has already been tried in Iraq and failed. U.S. military strength in Iraq peaked at 166,000 troops in October 2007, 4½ years after the initial invasion. If a U.S. force of this size failed to provide lasting security in Iraq, to create an environment in which contending Iraqi factions would reconcile their differences, or to destroy the group we now know as ISIS — and it failed to accomplish any of these things — then why should we expect anything more from the smaller force that is talked about by those who criticize Mr. Obama for implementing the troop withdrawal?

The Maliki Factor

One variant on the line of criticism involved is the idea that former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose authoritarian ways had a lot to do with instability and rancor in Iraqi politics, somehow could have been turned into a different sort of political animal if U.S. troops had been in the vicinity. How exactly was this supposed to work? That GIs would march into his office and give him an ultimatum to be a nicer and more conciliatory guy? Is that the way it worked when we had the 166,000 troops there? No, the problem is rooted in Iraqi political culture and political demography, not the location of U.S. troops.

Other variants focus more on ISIS. Here the central historical fact that too often is left unsaid is that the group came into existence as a direct result of the conflict and disorder that the 2003 invasion ignited and that the group has had, under different names, a continuous existence — including through the U.S. troop “surge” — ever since.

Some military action has hurt ISIS but other military action has had the opposite effect. When group leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006, this made possible the emergence of the more capable Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, under whom the group would make its most dramatic territorial gains.

The criticism that keeps trying to tell us that things in that part of the world would have been better if only President Obama had followed a different course says much less about any mistakes by Mr. Obama than about the badly flawed mode of analysis the critics are using.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

Risks from Trump’s Reckless Invective

Donald Trump’s invective – suggesting a “Second Amendment” remedy to Hillary Clinton’s gun control or calling President Obama the ISIS “founder” – may be how he intends to win but his words carry real danger, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

One of the more pertinent observations about Donald Trump’s comment this week on what gun owners could do about a Hillary Clinton presidency comes from columnist Thomas Friedman, who recalls the assassination in Israel 21 years ago of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The assassination was preceded by a stream of hateful invective with violent overtones directed by elements on the Israeli right against Rabin — for his having taken a step, in the form of the Oslo accords, toward making peace with the Palestinians.

The invective was condoned rather than condemned by prominent political leaders on the right, including current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The inflammatory rhetoric and its widespread toleration helped to convince the assassin that his lethal act would be not only widely accepted but even legitimate. This whole tragic and abominable story is told in detail in Dan Ephron’s gripping book Killing a King, which I reviewed for The National Interest.

The process that took place then in Israel and that Trump’s remark about the Second Amendment increases the risk of taking place in the United States is related to one of his slightly earlier comments: the one about how if he loses in November it will be because the election was “rigged.”

The implied consequences in this instance may be somewhat different from those associated with the comment about guns but the underlying dynamic is basically the same: the inculcating in large parts of the population of the idea that other parts of the population or other leaders are less than legitimate. This in turn bestows a sense of legitimacy on extra-constitutional or even violent actions directed against the despised leaders or sub-populations.

Assassination of a leader is one of the most shocking forms that such action can take. In Israel it took that form with the murder of Rabin. Here in the United States we can hope that the Secret Service is on the case and can prevent a comparable crime.

Violence not against an individual leader but instead against ordinary members of a sub-population is another form such invective-stimulated action can take. Here the Trump rhetoric to worry about is his stream of comments about Muslims and Mexicans. And once again Israel provides an example of the sorts of things that can happen. With even leaders such as the Israeli minister of justice dispensing rhetoric bound to intensify hatred of Palestinian Arabs, the unsurprising result is anti-Arab violence, both official and unofficial, that is so routine and so broadly tolerated that the great majority of it doesn’t even make the news.

Mostly it is the stuff of specialized reporting by human rights organizations. It usually is only when an incident happens to be captured on video that the rest of us view directly the consequences of an entire subjugated population being viewed as illegitimate — as even having less of a right to live than those in the dominant population.

Israel is a disturbing demonstration of how far violent intolerance involving ethnic and religious prejudice can go. Americans should be vigilant regarding any signs of anything like this happening in the United States.

The phenomenon of antagonistic attitudes held by the many lending legitimacy to extreme actions committed by the few can be found elsewhere. It is a factor in anti-U.S. international terrorism. The vast majority of people having anti-U.S. views, even strong ones, do not become terrorists. But they constitute a population from which terrorists emerge.

More to the present point, they provide attitudinal support, wittingly or not, to anti-U.S. terrorists and help to convince the latter that they are acting nobly on behalf of a cause much larger than themselves. All this is why it is a mistake to focus narrowly on those who have already crossed the line into terrorism. It is just as important a part of counterterrorism to pay attention to the attitudes of the larger populations that form the terrorists’ constituency, and to whatever policies and actions of the United States affect those attitudes.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)