22 thoughts on “My comprehensive plan for US policy on the Middle East …

  1. Sorry to appear dense, Prof, but I can’t find your Middle East policy on Crooked Timber or “over the fold”.



  2. Rats! After two failed attempts at finding the policy, I realized the point. I excitedly scrolled down to be the first to announce I had got the point of the post… only to find J.Q. had already let the cat out of the bag. The giveaway was J.Q.’s satiric adoption of a Dunnings-Kruger stance. Clever, because the “giveaway” or “tell” actually is a better policy than all existing policies.

  3. (Previously posted at Crooked Timber in 2011)

    Also previously posted here in 2011:

    (When I saw the repost at Crooked Timber, I was sure I’d seen it earlier, but back in 2011 I wasn’t regularly reading Crooked Timber, so I checked and found that I definitely had read the earlier post here, as confirmed by the existence of a comment from me.)

    (Ah, how young I was in 2011. No, not really, even back then I wasn’t young.)

  4. Yep, and 2011 Ikonoclast said it all:

    “The Israel Question is a “wicked problem”, a “super wicked problem” or “social mess”.


    Just looking at some basic facts, Israel’s position is untenable without massive external support. Israel’s GDP was about $213 billion in US$ in 2010 according to the IMF. To put this into perspective, Greece’s 2010 GDP was about $305 billion. Israel’s population is about 7.75 million people and Greece’s population is about 10.78 million people. Despite these numbers, Israel maintains an airforce as large as Germany’s and significantly larger than those of the UK or France. Israel has 1,680 main battle tanks which is more than twice as large as Germany’s force. (Strangely enough, Greece is listed as having 1,268 main battle tanks, however I shudder to think what vintage they might be and how many would actually be operational.) In addition, Israel is thought to have 200 to 400 thermonuclear warheads capable of being delivered by ballistic missile, fighter-bomber, or submarine, in some cases to targets anywhere in the world.

    Thus, while Israel’s position is “untenable without massive external support” (financial and military) it is also untenable now for key allies like the US to deny Israel this support. If Israel is existentially threatened it will unleash all its nuclear weapons and not just in the M.E. area. Israel has threatened to use the “Sampson option” in extremis. This means provoking a world wide total nuclear war if Israel’s existence is threatened.”

    I see no reason to change anything I wrote at that time. I feel too lazy to update the economic and military stats. What’s the point? It’s the same intractable super-wicked problem it was in 2011.

  5. wicked problem?

    i know one or two people who basically demand that i choose sides.

    they’ve got Buckleys.

    every time i read or see something about this part of the world,from whatever era,it is a description of trouble.

    trouble that ripples out. (again)

    there must be some benefit some where ,but for who and how, no actual overall research is done.

    who benefits?

  6. @Ikon Interestingly, I’m now lecturing my Politics, Philosophy and Econ students on superwicked problems with climate change as an example.

  7. Perhaps this may be applied. A superwicked tipping point univversal finding mechanism.

    “Mathematicians find core mechanism to calculate tipping points

    “Climate change, a pandemic or the coordinated activity of neurons in the brain: …  discovered a universal mathematical structure at these so-called tipping points. It creates the basis for a better understanding of the behavior of networked systems.

    “All critical changes in networked systems have one thing in common: a tipping point where the system makes a transition from a base state to a new state.”…

    “In these examples and many other cases, we have seen that we can go from a continuous to a discontinuous transition or vice versa.”

    “Kühn and Dr. Christian Bick of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam studied existing models from various disciplines that were created to understand certain systems. “We found it remarkable that so many mathematical structures related to the tipping point looked very similar in those models,” says Bick. “By reducing the problem to the most basic possible equation, we were able to identify a universal mechanism that decides on the type of tipping point and is valid for the greatest possible number of models.”

    “Universal mathematical tool
    The scientists have thus described a new core mechanism that makes it possible to calculate whether a networked system will have a continuous or discontinuous transition. “We provide a mathematical tool that can be applied universally—in other words, in theoretical physics, the climate sciences and in neurobiology and other disciplines—and works independently of the specific case at hand,” says Kühn.

    Christian Kuehn et al,
    A universal route to explosive phenomena, 
    Science Advances (2021). 
    DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe3824


  8. I present the following as a reductio ad absurdum and to firm up what understanding the problems needs, definitely not as a real recommendation.

    Lots of things would “work” for certain definitions of “work”, e.g. “kill them all and let the Lord sort them out”. But even those dodge the issue of implementation and the direct cost (let alone on costs) of that. The most practical way of doing that – in the sense of physically doable, not ethical or Overton Window – ties back into the idea of reverting to wilderness canvassed in other posts: “just” patrol enough to halt economic activity and blockade outside contact, say doing it from the air, i.e. “take away the water, the fish die”. That still leaves issues of time and cost, and of how if at all to rescue, remove and compensate those affected.

  9. A huge part of the problem in Israel/Palestine is that the political leadership on both sides is fractured and dysfunctional, and heavily influenced by ultra-nationalists and religious fundamentalists. Until that changes, there is little that external parties can contribute to a solution.

  10. The plan doesn’t work.The status quo is massive, one-sided and barely critical US support for Israel. Switching to indifference would be a massive policy shift, and the US government would own the consequences. There is no escape.

  11. China (or more correctly the Chinese Communist Party) loves the fact that the USA is once again distracted by the Israel issue. The more the USA takes its eye off China, the more China continues its “strategic creep”. China’s mission is to creep strategically towards its objectives. Every great power does this when confronted by containment by peer powers.


    Now that China has absorbed Tibet, Xinjiang, much of the South China Sea and also reabsorbed Hong Kong they will continue salami slicing the rest of the South China Sea and taking slices of the Line of Actual Control with India. The real build-up at this stage is to a full-scale attack on Taiwan.

    China’s economy has already surpassed that of the USA. In PPP terms China’s economy is already much larger than the USA’s and is now racing ahead as the USA stagantes.


    In terms of real infrastructure building and manufacture China’s economy is equal to the rest of the world’s economy in key areas.

    “The biggest steel producing country is currently China, which accounted for 53.3% of world steel production in 2019.” – Wikipedia.

    “China currently produces over half of the world’s cement.” – Statista

    Overall, China is the world’s manufacturing superpower. China possessed 28.7% of the world’s manufacturing capacity in 2019. (Output measured on a value added basis in current US dollars. Source United Nations Statistics Bivision. By comparison, the US possessed 16.8% of the world’s manufacturing capacity in 2019. We can be almost certain that the Covid-19 pandemic, very conveniently for China, has reduced the USA to about 15% and pushed China to about 30%. In other word’s China is now very likely to be double the size of the USA in manufacturing capacity. China is two USAs in manufacturing capacity and 4.3 USAs demographically. China is also winning the technology race. It’s already ahead so far as we can ascertain.

    It is no longer a contest if the USA is considered on its own. On these numbers, China has won. the USA has lost. It is as simple as that. Economic and technological victory precedes strategic and military victory. Pay no attention to the USA’s advantage in imperialist rentier income. This will prove worthless by rapidly plumetting when the **** hits the fan. However, other numbers do matter. Although China has already strategically defeated the USA in economic terms, it has not yet strategically defeated the rest of the world in economic terms. Also, climate change will defeat every nation anyway. How the balance of collapsing nations trends is anybody’s guess.

  12. James, just out of curiosity, do you think anything good would come from such a shift? I rather don’t. I can wonder whether Israel is bombing too hard at the same time as I blame Hamas for starting the new fighting. (Not that I don’t sympathize with them too.) And regular Gazans to me seem like hostages. It is all just awful.

    Being generally ignorant though, I wonder could Nato troops do any good in Jerusalem? Maybe they could just keep the sides apart. Maybe that is the best that can be done? I don’t know that Israelis would ever agree anyway.

    So … I don’t suppose you know of any reasonably factual books about the late 40s in that area? (I really like my David Fromkin book but iirc it was focused on the earlier decades. I will get it out again.) What I want is more of an overview.

  13. The plan doesn’t work

    It would work at least as well as any other option for US policy, and better than some.

  14. J-D Agreed. James, you haven’t made your argument clear. Currently, the US owns all the consequences in the Middle East (not just Israel-Palestine). If they pulled out, they would cease to own them after a few years. Does anybody still blame Britain for what happens “East of Suez” ?

  15. Interestingly, the comment above turns out be wrong.

    No, I think you were right the first time:

    Does anybody still blame Britain for what happens “East of Suez” ?

    I took that as a rhetorical question, meaning ‘Nobody still blames Britain for what happens ‘East of Suez’, and I think you’re right about that.

    Boris Johnson thinks the decision to withdraw was wrong, and the UK has re-established some bases.

    Boris Johnson thinks? Are you sure? I’d like some evidence of that.

    Well, I suppose he must think sometimes, at least a bit. But I wouldn’t take his utterances (in speech or in writing) as a reliable guide to the content (such as it is) of his thought.

    But that’s all by the by. My real point is that if we look at the content of the cited speech (regardless of the extent, if any, to which it reflects Boris Johnson’s thought), it doesn’t directly contradict your position. The speech does not assert that people blame Britain for anything happening east of Suez. Insofar (and it’s not very far) as the speech contains any connected line of reasoning in favour of Britain having bases east of Suez, it’s not based on the idea that the absence of British bases results in Britain attracting blame for events, but rather on the idea that the present of British bases will result in Britain attracting credit. To a sensible person, the suggestion that your presence will win you credit for things going well suggests that you should at least consider the possibility that your presence runs the risk of your being blamed if things should happen to go badly, but since the speech describes a course of action with which Boris Johnson is associating himself, it’s not to be expected that the possibility of things going badly will be registered. That’s fairly clearly not the way he thinks (when he does); the fact that the possiblity would occur to a sensible person is not a reason to expect it would occur to Boris.

    The speech also seems to be suggesting, roughly, that military bases are a good way of building friendships: it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Boris has odd ideas on the subject of building friendships. It’s not a subject on which I’d take his advice; not that there is any subject on which I’d take his advice.

    Anyway, Boris Johnson (or Boris Johnson’s speech) disagrees with you about whether it was a good decision for Britain to disestablish bases ‘east of Suez’, but there’s agreement that military bases mean ownership of consequences, just disagreement about the value (negative or positive) of owning consequences.

    That brings us back to US policy in the Middle East, which also is based on the supposition that US involvement means ownership of consequences (and therefore, by implication, that US disengagement means avoiding ownership of consequences) and also on the more doubtful supposition that the US has the power (if only it can just figure out how) to produce good consequences (and so own them). It’s the doubtfulness of this latter supposition which leads to the idea that it might be worth considering the option of not being involved.

  16. No one blames the British? Hmm. I’m not sure I agree with that. Nor do I think the US “owns” all the consequences. We don’t have nearly that much power.

    I guess people don’t want to talk about this. I understand.

  17. No one blames the British? Hmm. I’m not sure I agree with that.

    Why not?

    I expect people do attach historical blame to historical British policies for current problems ‘east of Suez’ (meaning, in those places where Britain used to have military bases but disestablished them as a result of the change of policy in the late 1960s). My point was that nobody blames current British policy for problems in those parts of the world, and you haven’t given any examples of that happening.

    Nor do I think the US “owns” all the consequences.

    You are denying something which nobody asserted; nobody asserted that the US has sole ownership of consequences.

    I guess people don’t want to talk about this. I understand.

    No, that is the opposite of the truth. To observe people discussing something and to conclude that they don’t want to discuss it is poor guessing and a sign of lack of understanding.

    (It is true that you received no response from James to the specific questions you directed at him, if that’s all you meant.)

  18. Hi J-D –

    it’s odd bc I saw this quote above – “Currently, the US owns all the consequences in the Middle East (not just Israel-Palestine).” That does not mean “sole?”

    And when I put a comment and no one says anything … I figure, it means they aren’t interested … in *talking* about it. (It would not mean they didn’t care…)

    I had meant to reply to JQ’s comment though – not yours. Perhaps that is the root of the confusion?

    But let’s leave it – no offense but it is too hard to tell if people here are kidding, or what. I try to be polite online – that’s all I can do.

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