Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Who Do You Love?

This is why we can't have nice things
Despite efforts to play it down, a primary - though certainly not the only - driver of conflict in the middle east and North Africa is sectarian in nature. Specifically the overarching Sunni-Shi'ite conflict that has been simmering for centuries, and was essentially released to metastasize by the desperately ill-advised US invasion and occupation of Iraq. So now it's important for the US to have some consistency in her responses, and to speak with a single voice to the parties in conflict. That seems like something that shouldn't be difficult, but it is turning out to be far beyond the capacity of the Obama administration to construct a foreign policy that lays out a coherent position. Of course, the US should be neutral on theology even as it is partisan on ideology, but in reality those lines are difficult, perhaps even impossible to draw. Let's think about three conflicts.

The US invasion in 2003 overthrew the Sunni leadership under their strongman Saddam Hussein, and the rush to something that looked like 'democracy' led to elections without any other established democratic institutions, resulting in the expected 'tyranny of the majority', and the inevitable Shi'ite state. This allowed a sudden sea change, the theocratic and political alignment of longtime enemies Iran and Iraq. With Iraq's infrastructure destroyed by years of war, their economy in tatters and their society fragmented, it was left for Iran to step in and provide assistance and guidance to the allied Shi'ite Iraqi leadership in Baghdad.

The US Response:
The US claims that Iran is a key adversary and one of the greatest threats to peace and security in the region, while their major regional ally, Iraq, is a US ally. That creates the situation where the US is allied with Shi'a Iraq (but not with their benefactor, Shi'a Iran) against Sunni IS, and is therefore tacitly allied with Iran in the war against Islamic State.

Syria's leadership is Alawite, which is a branch of Shi'a Islam, and their primary opposition is, predictably enough, Sunni. IS, al Quaeda and even the Free Syrian Army, to whatever extent that was ever a real organization, all were Sunni groups arrayed against the Alawite leadership. A leadership supported, predictably, by Iran, and opposed, every bit as predictably, by Saudi Arabia.

The US Response:
The US is opposed to the al-Assad regime, and has aligned itself against the Damascus/Tehran alliance that, with Russian support, has kept the regime in power, albeit with a dramatically reduced territorial footprint. Therefore, in the Syrian conflict, the US is supporting the Sunni insurgents in the battle against the regime loyalists. At the same time, when the US flies airstrikes against IS positions in Syria, they are tacitly supporting the Shi'ites in power ind Damascus, despite rhetoric claiming exactly the opposite. This kind of supporting-both-sides tactical incoherence serves only to extend the conflict.

Houthis, a Shi'ite splinter similar to the Syrian Alawites, overthrew the Sunni government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in Yemen, bringing them into conflict with Sunni extremist fighters in and creating another potential Syrian style conflict, where the sectarian divide becomes inextricably tied to the political, and there is no path to solve the disagreements but an endless fight to the death.

The US Response:
The US has been actively fighting to support President Hadi, a Sunni, in his fight to survive the Houthi insurgency, with the full spectrum of drones, SpecOps, weapons and training. Now that the Houthis have succeeded in deposing the Hadi government, the Houthis are working to consolidate their power, while the opposition Sunnis, led by al Quaeda fighters resist them from their enclave in Aden. Yemen is on the brink of civil war, and the problem for the Houthis is that long border with Saudi Arabia. If the Saudis decide to actively support the Sunni resistance - which is highly likely - they will be working to hand Sana'a over to what would essentially be an al-Quaeda (or IS) led government. US troops and drones have been withdrawn for now - will the US support the Houthis on the Saudi border or will they continue to support Hadi's fight to retake the Presidency, despite the fact that his primary fighting force is composed of al-Quaeda jihadists? Judging from history, the US will claim to be supporting some kind of moderate, inclusive government based on some kind of nonexistent moderate Sunni power structure. Meanwhile, the Sunni resistance will become exclusively jihadist in its makeup and it will become impossible for the West to support.

What Now?
None of the forgoing should suggest that any of this is easy. Regional political and diplomatic goals often find different champions, and the nature of the risk should define the nature of the response. But that's precisely where the US is so wrong-headed about the current sectarian conflicts throughout the region. There is nothing inherent in either side - Sunni or Shi'ite - that could convince the American leadership to focus its support on one or the  other. They are both violent, bigoted, misogynist, 7th century throwbacks that do not seem to be able to live together in peace, or even provide for their own people. As long as the arguments can't be worked out by systemic political and territorial compromise, as long as they are at least partially premised on events of over a thousand years ago - events that may or may not have even happened - as long as someone's family name or method of worship marks them for summary execution, there are no 'good guys' and there is no faction worthy of external support.

The US should be entirely neutral in these conflicts. We should offer to mediate, and even provide troops and resources to implement and support a peace agreement. But the American leadership should be very clear that until the shooting stops we will not be a party to what is essentially a sectarian conflict. That American blood and treasure should be spent over ancient mythological hatreds is bad enough, but to support both sides almost at random only guarantees that the conflict cannot end. Endless war should not be an American foreign policy goal.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Iranian Nuclear Talks - It's the EU, Stupid

Apparently, the US Senate doesn't realize they're involved
The rabid fanatical ideologues of the American Political Right have accomplished much in the last 20 years. They have divided the country, destroyed its ability to govern effectively, permanently damaged the economy by delivering all economic gains to the top 10% and created a toxic dialog where anyone not sufficiently fascist is anti-American, a 'socialist' or worse. And now they have topped themselves by inserting their fever dreams and racist hatreds into a sensitive negotiation the American leadership is having alongside her international partners over the Iranian nuclear program.

Setting aside for now the specific question of why it is only Iran, an NPT signatory in full compliance, that finds itself subject to these kinds of sanctions and demands, today I'm merely noting that the right wing ideologues, in the guise of the United States Senate, have effectively interfered with the American ability to conduct American foreign policy. This has large ramifications for the future of American governance, but in the case of the Iranian negotiations seems to utterly fail to notice that the US and Iran are far from being the only players involved.

You see, there are two kinds of sanctions. Sanctions imposed by UN Resolution, which are upheld by all UN member states by treaty obligation, and sanctions imposed unilaterally by a nation's government. The second kind are voluntary - there is no legal obligation for any other nation to implement them. The US has often compelled international support for unilateral sanctions by using her enormous global economic clout to further sanction any company or institution, even those in friendly nations, if they violate sanctions imposed solely by the US Congress. This is analagous to a man holding a crowd at bay with a revolver - nobody wants to be one of the six people he can shoot, but if the crowd is sufficiently motivated they will accept the cost and overwhelm the man when he runs out of bullets. In the same way, if the EU comes to perceive the US as the primary obstruction to a nuclear deal with Iran, they will simply bypass the US, forge an agreement with Tehran and eliminate the sanctions as long as Iran is compliant. The US might continue to impose unilateral sanctions, but they would be perceived as pointless punishment, while the rest of the world happily welcomed Iran back as a trading partner.

It is worth mentioning that France could be problematic in this scenario. They have, in recent years, chosen to align themselves quite closely with Saudi Arabia, and are therefore quite hawkish on Iran, both on the nuclear issue and in more general terms. If the negotiating bloc fragments too thoroughly, the agreements will not be strong enough to change the status quo. But France has much closer ties to the UK and Germany than the US, so it would be surprising if they ultimately blew up a deal.

There is a point where America's inability to govern itself effectively will have a powerful impact on her broader place in the world. If the US Senate wants to suggest that they could unilaterally break an agreement signed by seven nations, those nations will feel they have no choice but recognize that constitutes a rogue, pariah nation that cannot be trusted to live up to its most basic agreements.  And when the US congress itself denies the legitimacy of the US President, that President's credibility and authority is weakened all around the globe. The damage that America's radical shift to the extreme right has already done, economically, socially and politically is profound. As the partisan ideological divide becomes deeper and more acrimonious, the wreckage will continue to pile up.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Women in Combat - Case Closed

Yeah, that's a silver star.
You got one of those?
I didn't think so...
Throughout history, women have often been in combat. From Stalingrad to the Golan, even in the 20th century reality has provided an answer to the question we for some reason continue to ask. Can women serve effectively in combat? Absolutely. SHOULD women serve in combat? To whatever extent that anyone should, gender is no better reason to exclude someone from  a given role than race was before it. But the doubters have one thing right. Not everyone can do it. Oh, the Army can designate anybody 11 Bravo, hand them a rifle, and ship them to a combat zone. But we're supposed to be smarter than that now, and we certainly aren't desperately fighting for our very existence, despite the rhetoric you might here on cable teevee. Just as there are men who are physically, mentally and emotionally incapable of serving in combat effectively, there are women who can dominate contested dirt. The problem is nobody ever came up with a set of metrics that can determine which is which.

Let me introduce you to Leigh Ann Hester. You've never heard of her, because our wars are illegal, pointless attacks on weak countries, and pride in our warriors is limited to jingoistic hate peddlers. But where a war against a weak opponent has a foregone conclusion, any given small-unit battle within that war can go massively pear-shaped no matter how much firepower and combat power a modern, wealthy, technologically advanced army can bring to bear. And when it all comes down to the bloody work of killing at eyeball range, fighting for a meter or two of ground, and trying to keep your fellow soldiers from getting overrun and dying hard, you'd be surprised - though you shouldn't be - by who can win the day.

It's March of 2005 and a thirty truck supply convoy is on the road outside of Salman Park, Iraq. The escort is Raven 42, a ten man squad in three Humvees, except two of the men are women, and one of them is the formidable Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester of the Kentucky Army National Guard, 617th Military Police Company. As the convoy is passing through some orchards, it is ambushed by at least 50 Iraqis. They've arranged parked cars to keep the trucks from turning away, and they open fire from the irrigation ditches with machine guns and RPGs.

Sgt. Hester immediately realized that they couldn't pull back, and if they tried to fight from where they were they'd be shot to pieces. So she unhesitatingly led the team straight through the ambush kill zone, the last thing the Iraqis would have expected. As she cleared the kill zone, she curled into a flanking position and assaulted the trenchline with her M203 grenade launcher, driving back the attackers. But she wasn't done. Alongside the squad leader, Sgt. Tim Nein, she jumped into the trench and cleared it, killing at least three Iraqi soldiers at eyeball range. In the course of the 25 minute firefight, she assaulted and cleared a second trench, driving the Iraqis back away from the convoy. In the end, 27 Iraqis were dead and 6 were wounded. As a result of the speed and ferocity of the American's counter-ambush assault, only 3 US troops were wounded.

Hester and Nein were both awarded the Silver Star for their actions on March 5th, along with their Platoon Medic Jason Mike, who notably (I think he might have seen too many Schwarzenegger movies) fired an M4 carbine and a SAW light machine gun simultaneously, laying down a deadly base of fire for the assault on the trench.

There can be no doubt that women, just like men, when sufficiently trained and motivated, can serve successfully and even brilliantly in combat. It's not something everybody can do, or do well, but the traits and characteristics that make up a warrior are not so simple to identify as stature or gender. People will become what is in their hearts to be.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

On Cybersecurity

I've got you now, my pretty

What the hell?

Target, Best Buy, Anthem, Sony, Uber. It seems that hackers can pretty much penetrate any organization they want and steal whatever they can find. And yeah, if it seems that way, it's because that's exactly the way it is. The bad guys are winning. These are no longer the hackers of yore, although people have been slow to update their vision of the cyber world. These are professional organizations, well funded, staffed with some of the best programmers, psychologists and engineers in the world. They are for-profit businesses, operating in loosely coupled networks where they sell each other access to specific exploits, huge botnets and compromised servers on a per-hour basis. They make millions of dollars every week, and are immune to legal consequence due to both their geographic locations, and their operational security - everyone that has to know who and where they are is compensated out of the huge profits they generate, and no one has any incentive to shut them down.

Jeez, mikey, why can't we just prevent these breaches?

You have to understand the way this is done. Using some combination of malware and social engineering, the attackers work on specific individuals at a given targeted organization until they can successfully co-opt that user's network credentials. Now they can log on to the network, but they aren't some unknown alien entity, they appear to be the employee or contractor whose credentials they are using. Now, with access to the network, it becomes a matter of working horizontally, increasing access entitlements, elevating permissions, co opting more user and service accounts. At no time are they doing anything that would draw notice - they appear as employees or contractors doing their everyday work, or even worse, as automated systems that don't even have a human associated with them. The Target breach is a perfect example. The hackers got access to the network through the account of their HVAC contractor, and from there were able to install the malware on the POS systems, stage the credit card data on a database server they set up in Target's own data center, and periodically upload huge batches of stolen data to their own servers in Eastern Europe.

Is technology the answer?

It is an infuriatingly common trope that technology by itself can't save us from these unrelenting attacks. And of course, it's ultimately true. Like all complex problems, the solution requires a holistic approach, with training, policy, investigation, enforcement, regulation, compliance and widespread participation within the organization. That said, it's bullshit. A large scale modern network is generating hundreds of millions of events and transactions per second. There IS no non-technology solution, because the problem exceeds human capacity. Just as it takes a bulldozer to move a giant boulder, it takes very smart software on very powerful computers to monitor modern networks and figure out what is happening in real time, and what might be worth investigating.

OK, but what do you do when you find something bad?

That's something we're still struggling with. Obviously, the first step is to keep the data from being exfiltrated out of the organization, and to close the holes the attackers have drilled into the network, but while that protects the organization under attack, it doesn't do anything to protect the rest of the world from those attackers. There are those who are in favor of offensive cyber attacks as a response, but this is something you want to think very carefully about. Remember these attackers are as smart, as well organized and as well funded as anything arrayed against them, including most nation states. If you want to raise the stakes from an economic battle to a war, make sure you have the wherewithal to win. And right now there is no reason to believe that we have that ability. The US already has the responsibility of being the nation that first unleashed kinetic, destructive cyber war with the Stuxnet attacks against Iran. It's very much a "be careful what you ask for" situation.

I keep hearing that we are vulnerable to a "Cyber Pearl Harbor".

Like so many things we hear about today, it's a scary phrase, but there's a reason why nobody ever drills down into it. What would comprise this devastating surprise attack in cyberspace? While it's certainly true that various installations in the electric grid, municipal water supplies and major chemical plants and refineries are vulnerable to destructive cyber attack, it's hard to see how simultaneous successful attacks could be coordinated and carried out against hundreds of different installations. While one can easily envision an electrical blackout in a major metropolitan area, or a major fire at a chemical plant that releases a toxic plume, the question of whether those kinds of attacks rise to the level of a "cyber Pearly Harbor" is entirely subjective and difficult to conclude.

So what happens next?

We're still in the arms race stage. And, of course, in addition to the organizations launching the attacks - organized crime stealing money and nation states stealing knowledge - we now know, thanks ironically to cyber criminal Edward Snowden, that global intelligence agencies are actively working to keep weaknesses and vulnerabilities in place. And everything they can exploit can also be exploited by the criminals. So you have this tension where industry is struggling to harden their network security even as their own governments are working even harder to weaken it. The battle over SSL/TLS and access to encryption keys is one worth watching, because governments are perfectly willing to commit crimes, even work with the criminals, while industry is dead set on making it much harder for them to either steal information or demand it through legal channels.

But one can imagine a time - still years in the future, but on this side of the horizon - where the internet and the enterprise network are mostly secure. Think of banks - they can still be robbed, but there's really not much of a living to be made doing so. When the revenue stream that can be generated by hacking networks becomes a trickle, the criminal organizations will move on to another, more lucrative area, and the nation states will return to more traditional methods of espionage. But for now, expect to have your data stolen on a semi-regular basis.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Making Stuff Up - The Toxicity of Spin

Why is Obama's interpretation superior to hers?
President Obama held a summit on violent extremism (seriously - since we're going to be talking about words here, think about those. And think about who didn't go to Paris after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.) over the weekend, and in it he went through some pretty amazing verbal gymnastics to try to take the position that the actions of the 'Islamic State' actually had nothing to do with Islam. Stop laughing. I'm not making this up. "We are not at war with Islam" the President said. "We are at war with the people who have perverted Islam". This, coupled with his somewhat infamous recalling of Christian atrocities in the Crusades and the Inquisition seem to be his primary message. And yeah, you can see why he's doing it.

He wants to isolate the killers from their natural constituency, and he wants to try to push back against the rising tide of ethnic and sectarian hatred, particularly against Muslims and Jews. So he attempts to separate the criminals from their proximate motivations. Even as the right wing purveyors of tribal and sectarian hate attempt to coerce the President to use particular words in order to better inflame a sense of otherness, a time honored way to define and even dehumanize 'the enemy' so as to better facilitate industrial scale killing. A refusal to pander to their base desires is probably an honorable thing, even if it is not particularly pragmatic.

But one has to ask oneself: in major conflicts from Kashmir to Quetta, from Afghanistan to Jerusalem, from Syria to Mali, from Iraq to Nigeria, what is the overarching commonality? Why it is clearly the invocation of Islam as the reason, the justification, the agenda and the goal. People both within the Muslim faith and from outside can insist as stridently as they wish that this is not Islam, that it is, in the President's words, a 'perversion' of those scriptures, but this is meaningless, a distinction without a difference. There is no methodology for defining the validity of a set of religious beliefs. What the worshipers believe is THEIR true faith, and to attempt to insist that these Jihadis do not represent a true and pure expression of their faith would be as if to refuse to accept that abortion clinic bombers were motivated by their Christian dogma as interpreted from their holy scriptures.

The Muslim world is in upheaval, and we can learn from the events of the now defunct "Arab Spring". The people had genuine grievances, from poverty to a lack of opportunity to dysfunctional kleptolcratic authoritarian governance, but it turned out that those seeking a modern democratic political solution were both outnumbered and outgunned by those who had been indoctrinated to seek a medieval theocratic government structure with all its taboos, fears and hatreds in full deployment. Poverty and lack of opportunity are problems, but if you want people to go to war for you you need to give them more. Religious indoctrination has been known to be a powerful tool when raising an army for millennia, and it's especially helpful if it makes your young cannon fodder fear death just that much less.

Of course, in the end, knowing that the primary problem is Islam does not bring us closer to a solution. But there is no 'solution' that can be provided or imposed on the Muslim world by the more prosperous west. They will have to decide what's important, and build their communities based on those priorities. The first step is to recognize that, to a very large degree, these are not American problems. Using American military power against them just reinforces the sense that they are at war with the US, while it solves no real problem. America has been bombing and invading the middle east for a quarter century - can anyone point to a single positive outcome of all that bloodletting? There is none. As long as external forces keep coming into the fight on one side or another the fight cannot end - it can only continue or escalate. There are natural tensions - Sunni/Shiite, Arab/Persian, Modernist/Fundamentalist, Secular/Theocratic and Authoritarian/Socialist/Democratic that will have to work themselves out - there is nothing an external party can do to drive that process.

So the words we use are important - but only to a certain point. You can no more control the human being's impulse to hate by not using certain words than you can understand a conflict by pretending that one of the key drivers of conflict does not exist. The 'Islamic State' is Islamic - one might even say VERY Islamic. Publicly acknowledging that basic and undeniable fact should not be a point of debate - better we should think very much harder about the blind assumption that we have no alternative but to go there and fight them.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ukraine Think About It, But Don't Do It

War always ends up looking the same
A few thoughts about Ukraine. The status quo is not stable, and it is clearly not sustainable. Therefore, the Minsk II ceasefire agreement is almost certain to collapse. The largest question is if it will hold at all, and if so, for how long. The rebels don't have what they want, the Ukrainians don't have what they want, and while the Russians most likely wouldn't mind seeing things settle down, they also know they have very little else to lose if things stay hot.

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The immediate source of extreme tension in the runup to the ceasefire - scheduled for midnight Sunday Local - about a half an hour from now as I write this - is a couple of good-sized Ukrainian towns. The first major issue is the primary rail hub of Debaltseve, northeast of Donetsk proper. In what has come to be known as the Debaltseve pocket, 8000 Ukrainian soldiers are trapped, entirely encircled by separatist rebels supported by Russian armor and artillery, and covered by Russian air defense batteries. The rebel leaders have been defiant - the ceasefire agreement, they say, does not include Debaltseve, and the Ukrainian soldiers trapped there must either surrender or die. The fighting is fierce, with small unit action on the perimeter and ferocious artillery duels vying for control of the roads in and out.  It's hard to imagine the general ceasefire holding while the Debaltseve pocket is locked in a battle for its very life.

The second is the seaport city of Mariupol, a city of half a million on the north coast of the Sea of Azov. The ethnic Russian separatists trying to carve the Donetsk People's Republic out of Eastern Ukraine desperately need access to a blue water port, and Mariupol would give them that. At this point, the Ukrainian military, fighting alongside a number of different militias of various ideologies have been able to hold a perimeter north of the city, but the fighting and shelling has been occasionally intense, and it is very hard to believe that the rebels would accept a long-term agreement that did not include Mariupol as part of their territory.

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No, it's not the Soviet Union Redux. It's a regional issue and the border is the problem. Americans like to believe that the fighting in Ukraine is evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to rebuild something on the order of the Soviet Union, expanding back into Eastern Europe. The reality is more prosaic, if no less troubling. Russia is merely doing what all powerful nations do. The same thing the US has done for centuries, the UK before that - exercising their regional dominance. Powerful nations insist on controlling their 'near abroad', and most of all those nations with whom they share a border. So while Russian aggression is just as bad as any other aggression, the fact that they share a border with Ukraine makes it far easier to understand, and to know what it is is to see what it is not. The interesting thing is the lack of any military pushback from the US or the EU, or even NATO, has made Putin aware of a critical dynamic that we can expect to see exploited in the future. The Russians are willing to use military force, albeit of a transparently dishonest 'deniable' sort, and the Europeans are not willing to risk escalation to a major war over those small eastern nations.

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Which brings us to what the West might do as the conflict drags on, and the Ukrainians find it harder to stand against an internal enemy supported by a much larger, more powerful nation. There's more sanctions, but with the European nations struggling with a stagnant, crippled, deflationary economy and facing a series of political crises centered on the Euro and the role of the EU in member states' economies, Brussels is likely to be extremely reticent to pile on more sanctions. In addition, sanctions bite until they don't - the only reason the current sanctions on Russia had any bite at all is the unexpected collapse of crude oil prices. It's hard to see what effect further sanctions might have, and if Europe pushes hard enough Russia can turn off their natural gas supply - an extreme response with huge consequences, but if you push hard enough you can get there.

There is talk of arming the Ukrainians, but I don't see how a lack of armaments is the reason Ukraine is losing this fight. This is not a modern war, this is a war being fought on the ground with infantry, tanks and artillery. It's World War II without airplanes. And no matter what kind of gear NATO might ship into Ukraine from depots all over the world, it's a simple matter for Russia to push more and better gear a few kilometers across the border. It's a logistics battle the west is guaranteed to lose. And, of course, there is no real military option. Putin has made it clear he has a greater stomach for a new European war than any EU leader. Meanwhile, the west has indicated that he has a free hand to operate militarily in his 'near abroad'. There will be no escalation, and no risk of a nuclear exchange, over the likes of Ukraine. Estonia, Latvia, even Poland are taking note.

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The next few days are going to be critical. If the cease fire doesn't hold, Poroshenko will declare Martial Law and things could get much more violent. And if there's a massacre in Debaltseve then all bets are off. If the ceasefire holds, even for a brief time, expect to see the rebel's demands grow more and more audacious and arbitrary, almost to the point where the Kiev government will be forced to reject them. Either way, this thing is far from over, and there's a lot of blood still to be spilled on Ukraine's ancient soil.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Boehner's Boner and Bibi's Moment of Stark Clarity

Not a bit of daylight between them
It was supposed to be a triumph. Boehner, working directly with Israeli Ambassador Dermer, bypassed both the White House and the State Department to invite Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of congress. The topic? Finding ways that the American legislators can scuttle any negotiated agreement with the Iranians regarding their nuclear program. It's important to understand that the Israeli Ambassador, Ron Dermer, was an American citizen until 2005, when he took the role of Israeli Economic Envoy to the US, which required he give up his US citizenship and become an Israeli citizen. And before 2005, what was Ron Dermer's job? Why, he worked as an adviser to the RNC, working with Frank Luntz (yep - THAT Frank Luntz) to develop Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America". For the last five years he has been Netanyahu's closest and most trusted adviser.

Why does it matter? Consider the violations of basic political, international and diplomatic norms:

First, there is the upcoming Israeli election. Using a speech before a joint session of the US Congress as part of political campaign is not considered particularly democratic - he is essentially taking advantage of his power of office, an option not available to his political opposition.

Second, he will be the head of state of a friendly foreign power coming to speak to congress specifically to criticize the President's foreign policy. That is simply utterly unheard of.

Third, Boehner worked through Dermer to make the invitation directly to the Prime Minister's office, bypassing normal political and diplomatic protocols. This was so shocking and so outside the realm of basic democratic order that even Fox news called foul.

Fourth, here is a friendly foreign power explicitly making relations with America a partisan issue. America's relationship with Israel has long been a relationship with no wiggle room. From left to right, there it was never permitted to allow any political consideration to come between the US and Israel. Indeed, before Boehner's speech gambit, it was very likely that there were enough Democratic votes to override Obama's veto of another Iran sanctions bill. That is certainly not the case now. Nice move, Bibi.

Netanyahu's loathing for Obama has impeded progress on many issues. But when he openly supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 election cycle, he changed the very nature of the relations between the two countries. The alignment is shifting from a more normal state to state relationship between Tel Aviv and Washington to a much more political relationship between Likud and the Republican Party. That's bad for Israel, and it calls into question how America will deal with its international partners and adversaries in the future.

At first, Democrats were unsure how to respond. They felt the sting of the slap to Obama's face, sure, but all's fair in love, war and Israel, right? Not so fast. As the magnitude of the insult began to sink in, and the Republican gloating over the poke in the President's eye became public, the reaction came. Democratic legislators began talking openly about boycotting the speech. Netanyahu and Dermer scrambled to try to bring them into the fold. Then the White House announced that Joe Biden would not be able to attend the speech. So Netanyahu did what any craven politician would do - he threw Boehner under the bus.

"It appears that the speaker of Congress made a move, in which we trusted, but which it ultimately became clear was a one sided move and not a move by both sides," Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told 102 FM Tel Aviv Radio on Friday.
 The interviewer asked if that meant Netanyahu had been "misled" into believing Boehner's invitation was bipartisan, a characterization Hanegbi did not contest.

In the end, they're all getting what they deserve. With a month to go before the speech, Boehner is going to have to wear this entire debacle like a bad suit. Netanyahu has already cost himself the one thing he wanted to accomplish - derailing the negotiations with Iran. There will be no sanctions bill, and even if there is, there will be no veto override. Republican political operative turned diplomat Dermer will find most doors closed to him in Washington - oh, the Republicans in Congress will continue to lavish him with love and money for his extreme far-right, racist views - but with two more years with the American executive branch under the Obama administration, he and his boss can expect very little in the way of maneuvering room - assuming they can even survive and win re-election.

Some of the worse losses in history have been self-inflicted wounds, and this one is epic.