Those who comment in international relations ought to begin with an admission that they know only part of what transpires.
Much is secret. Issues are argued, decided, and implemented in heavy secrecy by one or more agencies of one or more governments. What gets into the public sector is likely to be, at least partly, disinformation, meant to tilt the public discussion in one way or another.
Historians may know more, but they are limited by problematic written records, faulty and self-serving memories of those who participated in key events, as well as contrasting interpretations of what was said or done, or not said and not done.
Now to several of the best recent illustrations of those problems.
Israel''s seizing of a ship on the high seas, carrying sophisticated and powerful munitions from Syria, through Iran, with the apparent initiative of Iran, for one or several of the groups in Gaza committed to Israel''s destruction.
The broadcasting of the event, if not the action itself, was timed partly for the Prime Minister''s trip throughout the United States. It contributed to his repeated insistence that Iran is not to be trusted with anything like nuclear activities, no matter how wide the smiles of their spokesmen or what they claim about peaceful intentions.
The Ha''aretz cartoon published in the midst of Israel''s media blitz portrayed various units of the IDF that participated in the raid positioning themselves for inclusion in the pictures. The participants are calling, "wait for me," "you are in my way," and "make room for me,"
One can view the event as likely to enhance Netanyahu''s campaign against the White House''s insistence on a political solution where none seems likely to be reliable. However, that interpretation is confused by American claims that the US government participated in the intelligence gathering, and agreed with Israel that the IDF would do the work of seizing the ship
Part of the puzzle is that such a claim of US participation, heard from the US ambassador to Israel, comes up against Israeli sources that deny any significant American involvement in the intelligence, or an agreement that it would be Israel to perform the deed.
Any American involvement might point to a problem within the US administration, with some cooperating with Israel meant to portray Iran as the Great Satan behind terror, and generally unreliable for anything to do with nuclear weapons, while the President seems to be pursuing a policy directly in opposition to such a message.
Confusion of aims among American government bodies is not beyond the range of the possible, or even what is likely. The US government is nothing if not big, with enough room in its millions of personnel for contrary perspectives and actions meant to foil rivals, even those who may be very close to the top of the theoretical hierarchy, if not at the very top. It would not be the first lie in international politics, or the first time ranking officials were not speaking all of the truth.
Was or was there not American involvement? And if so, with what intentions with respect to Iran and ongoing negotiations about its nuclear program?We can also consider the Ukraine. Israel''s Russian speaking Foreign Minister isn’t saying much in public. His ministry has indicated Israel''s desire for a peaceful resolution of all problems. Americans appear to be divided, with some at the top, or close to it, in their usual moralistic overdrive, very much opposed to Russian occupation, while others urge recognition, perhaps quietly, of Russia’s claim to a sphere of influence.
Some may be thinking of that ancient thing called the Monroe Doctrine, proclaimed when the United States was not able to control its own territory, never mind anything across its boundaries. The White House has promised a dollop of conscience money ($ 1b according to one report) on the way to Kiev with America’s best wishes.
There is talk of sanctions, but recognition that Europeans would not be happy threatening the economy of the country that supplies almost all of their natural gas.
International lawyers are busy parsing the action of the Crimean Parliament, voting to join Russia, and scheduling a referendum that it expects to confirm the decision.
Ukrainians are saying that such action is illegal, insofar as it violates the territorial integrity of the Ukraine. President Obama has made his own pronouncement about international law, but us skeptics view that whole body of doctrines as mushy in the extreme. Among other problems facing this particular crisis, the coupling of "integrity" with the politics and government of the Ukraine, sounds more like an oxymoron than anything to bring before an unbiased international court, assuming that it is possible for find such a thing.
And finally--for today--the peace process, currently stuck close to an April deadline that earlier was scheduled to end it with something to be signed and applauded, Palestinians are demanding more goodies for continuing discussions, which virtually everyone except John Kerry describes as having gone nowhere. Israelis are saying that the bank is closed. There will be no more settlement freezes or prisoner releases without something from the Palestinians.
Recent Palestinian comments against Netanyahu''s demand for their recognition of Israel as Jewish state say that such recognition would foreclose the holy and hoary issue of refugees. If Palestinians are frozen on that thanks to six decades of promises that cannot be honored, we seem destined for yet additional decades of who knows what.
So we see once again the prominence of blah blah in international relations. The challenge is to find statements, decisions, or actions significant enough to change things.