Voice

I Wish I Knew How to Quit You

The world is addicted to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But are never-ending negotiations only delaying a day of reckoning?

In an extraordinary editorial last week, the New York Times all but called for the United States to stop wasting its time on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and to just move on. In another world, such advice might be not only emotionally satisfying but quite practical too. Process works better than peace does for both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas; both sides get stuff without having to make real commitments. And John Kerry is the security blanket that makes that possible.

So why not take the blanket away?

From Kerry's perspective, I sort of get why he doesn't want to do that. You can't get to a conflict-ending agreement now -- a judgment I've been making since 2003, to the dismay of many who cannot abide my negative analysis. But through process, you can avoid violence and keep hope alive.

There is yet another reason for the survival of almighty process: America and the world are constitutionally incapable of walking away from it. That was the case in the more than two decades I put into working on Middle East peace, and it's truer now than ever before. There are several reasons why.

Sometimes I get the feeling that the entire world regards the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians as the fulcrum of modern civilization. It's an extraordinary testament to the durability of this issue that, with Egypt in a chronic mess, Syria melting down, Libya in a modified state of failure, Vladimir Putin threatening to gobble up more of Ukraine, and Asia beckoning for more attention too, the peace process continues to exert the pull that it does.

This is, thanks in no small part, due to the veritable peace-process industry that keeps the drums beating. This industry comprises defenders and detractors of the Jewish state, who are intent on keeping the issue relevant for years to come; religious leaders and believers, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian alike; and diplomats from around the world who make their living on the subject (I speak from personal experience). And of course, there is the media, which sees this as a constant source of news -- a story that keeps on giving.

All these actors combined together provide a potent force for a perennial peace process. Even if outcomes never come about, the peace lobby will keep the fire burning.

Kerry is a key member of this lobby. In short, he is addicted to the peace process. I know the feeling. He truly believes that it's in the U.S. national interest not just to keep this thing alive but also to make it work. He believes that this really is the last chance for peace, and he believes that he has the trust of the parties and the will and skill to pull it off. Plus, he believes that an agreement is his ticket into the Secretary of State Hall of Fame.

You cannot just walk away when you believe such things. Kerry couldn't fake being OK with quitting. He just cares too much. And so he is doing everything he can to buy time, hoping that something will happen to rescue the process: for instance, a U.S.-Iran deal on the nuclear issue, or Bibi magically disappearing (the former only a bit more likely than the impossibility of the latter).

To be sure, America has threatened to walk away before. The iconic moment most often cited is James Baker giving the Israelis the White House phone number during congressional testimony in June 1990, saying, "When you are serious about peace, call us."

But today's circumstances are fundamentally different than they were back then. In June 1990, there really wasn't any kind of process from which to walk away. Nor did the Arabs and Israelis have 20 years of negotiating under their belts. In any event, Baker's comments didn't have a notable impact. It wasn't until 18 months later that, in the wake of the Bush administration's victory over Saddam Hussein, the Madrid process got serious. Then, Baker used the threat to walk away again -- and much more effectively. He had something to lose, and so did the parties. They knew it, and he scared them.

Kerry isn't Baker, however; he is too invested to throw up his hands -- which, while certainly risking the entire process, might send something of a wake-up call to the parties that he isn't going to protect them anymore. And the president, I suspect, will not order the secretary of state to do so. The collapse of the process probably scares them both more than it does Bibi and Abbas, which is not a good thing.

It is more than likely, then, that the process will truck on. In the immediate term, either Kerry will try to get an agreement on extending some version of the original deal, or the parties, for their own purposes, will come up with a face-saver to get past the so-called April 29 deadline by which some kind of framework for a permanent status is supposed to be reached.

But even if neither of those things happens and the process does break down, it still would not be dead. The peace lobby is too strong for the process not to live on in some form -- and the Israelis' and Palestinians' lives and futures are too inextricably linked.

If anything could force the two sides to finally bring this conflict to a conclusion, it very well might be the dangers inherent to their proximity to one another. As morally unacceptable and politically incorrect as it is to admit, our efforts to keep the peace process alive, while intended to avert violence, may only be delaying a day of reckoning.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

National Security

These Aren't the Drones You're Looking For

Why the Navy’s betting on the wrong robot airplane for future wars.

The aircraft carrier is perhaps the most powerful symbol of the U.S. military and a formidable weapon for projecting American might abroad, and yet the Navy is about to make a choice that will make it less relevant for future wars.

In just a few days, the Navy will begin specifying requirements for a new unmanned carrier-launched combat aircraft, called UCLASS -- the Navy's first operational program for an unmanned combat aircraft, or "drone," designed and built to operate from an aircraft carrier. The Navy faces a stark choice: procure a non-stealthy loitering drone like the land-based Predator, or a stealthy penetrating drone like the X-47B unmanned carrier demonstrator. If the aircraft carrier is to stay relevant in future conflicts, it will need a stealthy penetrating drone to fly inside advanced enemy air defenses, where non-stealthy aircraft like today's Predator are vulnerable. All indications are that the Navy is set to choose a non-stealthy version, which will severely limit the carrier's usefulness in future conflicts. 

U.S. aircraft carriers can move across the seas today virtually unchallenged by other nations' militaries, but that is changing fast. Anti-ship ballistic missiles like China's DF-21D can threaten U.S. aircraft carriers beyond 800 nautical miles. This is a major problem as the unrefueled range of the carrier's current aircraft is only 500-650 nautical miles, meaning that it would need to expose itself to salvos of ballistic missiles in order to launch its aircraft. This trend will only get worse as anti-ship missiles gain longer range and greater precision, and proliferate in greater numbers.  

Given the value and prestige of aircraft carriers ($11 billion apiece for the next-generation Ford-class), it is doubtful they will be placed in such a position of vulnerability until the threat of anti-ship ballistic missiles has been eliminated through strikes from land-based aircraft or submarines. In practice, this would mean that aircraft carriers would no longer be the central power projection hub of American sea power.

Unmanned aircraft, however, offer a potential solution to this challenge. They can fly farther, up to 1,500 nautical miles, allowing carriers to operate beyond the strike radius of the DF-21D missile and similar systems. Unconstrained by human endurance limits, an unmanned aircraft can refuel and stay aloft much longer than a manned one, enabling persistent reach inside enemy territory. This unmanned aircraft would need to be stealthy, however, in order to survive within enemy airspace.

Given the emerging threat to U.S. aircraft carriers, one would think the Navy would be moving aggressively to introduce stealthy, unmanned systems into its fleet of aircraft. But inexplicably, the Navy is about to sabotage its own future by procuring a non-stealthy UCLASS similar to the hundreds of drones the U.S. military already has.  

Ostensibly, the Navy's rationale for a non-stealthy UCLASS is about cost. Open source estimates vary, but a stealthy version could cost two to three times more per aircraft, not including development costs. Budgets are tight at the Pentagon, and planners must be cost-conscious. A lower-cost version that is useless in future fights, however, is just a waste of money -- and at an estimated $3.7 billion for the entire program, it's a lot of money to waste. The proposed mission of the non-stealthy UCLASS, maritime surveillance, is already met by three other Navy aircraft: the P-8 Poseidon, MQ-4C Triton, and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.

The Navy's public statements on UCLASS suggest they plan to opt for a design that has "growth capability" for more stealth later on. But this is an erroneous argument: Aircraft cannot grow stealth at low cost. Fundamental design choices made now to optimize an aircraft for long-loiter times, like the Predator has, will limit how stealthy it can ever be. Switching to a stealthy version later on would require an entirely new aircraft, which begs the question why the Navy doesn't opt for the stealthy version now. The simple answer is that a stealthy version would compete with manned aircraft for funding, while a non-stealthy aircraft isn't a competitor -- because it won't be useful against sophisticated threats. In order to force a less-capable UCLASS, cost and development timelines for the program have been arbitrarily limited. Despite proving their value in recent conflicts, unmanned aircraft and their advocates still face strong resistance from some pilots who are threatened by technology that would take humans out of planes.

Manned airplanes were also resisted at first, with the Army infamously court-martialing airpower advocate Billy Mitchell. Before that, the Navy initially resisted the transition from sails to steam-powered ships. Change is hard, especially when it threatens a community's core identity. But technology is threatening to transform the battlefield once again, and in dangerous ways.

Anti-ship ballistic missiles will proliferate over time to other nations -- Iran and North Korea are already working on their own. But aircraft carriers purchased today will have a lifespan of 50 years, meaning they must stay relevant until the 2060s, while the threat from anti-ship missiles will only continue to grow as more countries acquire larger numbers of missiles. A long-range stealthy unmanned aircraft is essential if the carrier is to remain useful in future conflicts. 

Strong leadership by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, and congressional leaders must be urgently applied in the coming weeks to ensure the Navy invests in the future of American sea power -- with a new generation of aircraft that will keep U.S. carriers the envy of the world and the deterrent of choice. 

U.S. Air Force photo by Frank Carter/Released, Edited by J. Dana Stuster for FP