George Mitchell has been serving this administration as Special Envoy to the Middle East, but his mission shows no sign of any success, and so he has resigned. His departure demonstrates the frustration and near impossibility of fixing a problem caused by more than two antagonists.
With a political system that tolerates the views of everyone, even the most radical, Israel's government is a potpourri of policy alternatives, the sum of which is inertia. It is widely understood that Israeli settlements on the West Bank are an impediment to resolution of the conflict, and yet the government is evidently powerless to prevent them.
Similarly, the Palestinians are intransigent, and they are fractured, poorly led and bellicose. Fatah never did represent all Palestinians, and now the truth of divided loyalty is manifested in a rump Gaza that has a separate administration unalterably opposed to the existence of Israel.
Mitchell has been at this business for a long time, and the fact that he's had enough is adequate proof that, while the United States can act as a catalyst, this dangerous problem will not yield to our exertions as long as the leaders in the region lack the will to stare down their own extremists. And so there will be war.
Guantanamo is in the news again, as it is sporadically. We may remember that Candidate Obama promised to close the prison there, and then the new President Obama tried to move the detainees to the United States and try them here, but there seemed to be very little interest in that around the country. The Congress, through the appropriations process, demonstrated its political dominance and refused to support it financially. The prison at Guantanamo, confining 172 detainees, remains in operation.
Now there is circulating the rumor that the Department of Defense may allow family members to visit the detainees. The Defense Department has had no comment on this, but it seems likely that, eventually, some but not all of the remaining detainees will have visitors. This will include very costly logistical, tansportation and security procedures at which many will balk, but Congress will yield in the end.
About 50 detainees are likely to be released shortly, just as soon as enough countries agree to take them. Many observers argue that these are people who should not have been arrested in the first place, but it is interesting to note that a number of those who were previously released were later killed or captured on the battlefield. In any case, there will eventually be fewer than one hundred hard-core prisoners in the facility, and some will probably be given the oppportunity to meet with relatives from time to time. Who won't? Very high-value characters like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed won't be receiving any friends.
There remains the awkward issue of where to keep the detainees. Washington can direct that they be incarcerated in any federal prison, but the objection of a senator of the state proposed to receive them will prevail. And although journalists and others who find the arrangement distasteful will occasionally air their views in opposition, the structure and operation of American government will keep the detainees in Cuba for a long time.
Osama bin Laden's lair in Pakistan has yielded a treasure of raw information. It still needs to be processed, but one thing is clear from the haul: there are quite a few people, including some Pakistani officials, who are squirming, because it is impossible that bin Laden lived there without official knowledge and complicity.
Our relationship with Pakistan is complex, difficult, dangerous and very strained. That country is the source of funds and training for terrorists; it is the origin of nuclear technology used by North Korea and Iran; and it is a fractured mess with nuclear weapons.
But there is some hope, and it will take a great deal of American diplomatic skill to take advantage of it. In Pakistan, there are clearly some officials who understand how important it is to destroy terrorists and the means they use to prey on innocent people everywhere. Consider the raid in Abbotabad. As soon as the raid began---with helicopters, multiple explosions and gunfire---it could not have excaped anyone's attention that the bin Laden compound was the site of a military operation. And yet, our troops were able to complete the 44-minute mission without Pakistani interference.
How was that possible? Only with tacit Pakistani cooperation. Now, we did not tell Islamabad in advance, but we almost undoubtedly called the instant our troops were on the objective and told the government to stay out of it. The call probably included a pledge to leave behind some intelligence information and one or more of the occupants, so that the Pakistanis could use the resources. And the call may have included veiled or actual threats. In any case, had the Pakistanis interfered, the result could have been a deadly firefight and a failed mission, and our success indicates the presence of some intelligent life at the other end of the telephone.