North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Measuring the cost and value of an Individual

Two events this past week emphasized the impact of individuals. One was the release of a young Israeli soldier by Hamas, which had been holding him as prisoner for the past 5 years. In a controversial move, the Israeli government in exchange released over 1000 Palestinian prisoners, including some of the perpetrators of deadly terrorist attacks committed in Israel over the past dozen years.

The other event was the killing of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. One account totaled the US dollar involvement as totaling $1 billion dollars, "Call him the billion-dollar man. One billion for one dictator" (By National Journal Fri, Oct 21, 2011). the article went on ..."According to the Pentagon, that was the cost to U.S. taxpayers for Muammar el-Qaddafi's head: $1.1 billion through September, the latest figure just out of the Defense Department. And that's just for the Americans. The final totals will take some time to add up, and still do not include the State Department, CIA, and other agencies involved or other NATO and participating countries. Vice President Joe Biden said that the U.S. 'spent $2 billion total and didn't lose a single life.'"

To measure lives by the dollars spent to kill them, or by the numbers of prisoners needed to be released in exchange, is of course, strange, and probably not a measurement of anything. The costs as described, do however, emphasize some calculation of human interests.

In the case of Galit Shalid, who at the age of 19 had been captured by Hamas in 2006 along the Gaza-Israel border, there was strong public support for his return, even at the cost of releasing individuals from Israeli prisons who were likely to return to violence. Israelis also had to accept the great celebrations that the prisoner releases brought about in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as one political calculation that predicted Hamas and its violent hardline stance had won at the expense of Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas' more moderate approach to negotiating peace with Israel.

Galit Shalid, back home after 5 years

So the young soldier is back home with his family. So too, soon will be hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Click on picture for full image
Bus's delivering the first round of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in the exchange.

Among the prisoners to be released are:
*Alham Tamimi, who disguised herself as a Jewish tourist as she delivered a suicide bomber to a busy pizzeria in central Jerusalem. Sixteen people, ranging in age from 63 to two years old, were killed in the Aug. 9, 2001 bombing. Two were U.S. citizens. Tamimi has declared herself to be unrepentant.

The aftermath of a 2001 suicide bomber, who was provided transportation to the site by Alham Tamimi

*Nasser Iteima, was responsible for the suicide bombing of a Netanya hotel during a Passover seder in 2002. Thirty people, most of them elderly, were killed in that attack.

*Walid Anajas, was serving 36 life sentences for deaths resulting from two suicide bombings in 2002 – one at a restaurant very close to the prime minister’s residence.

*Ibrahim Younis, planner of a 2003 suicide bombing in a Jerusalem coffee shop. The seven victims included a doctor and his 20 year-old daughter, celebrating her wedding the following day. The cafĂ©’s 22 year-old security guard, who tried to prevent the suicide bomber from entering, was also killed.

All in all, 280 Palestinians with convictions of crimes so serious they were given life sentences were freed. The deal has been analyzed all throughout the region and West - why now, what are the risks, the gains, the losses. In any regard, the action has been taken. Will it lead to further peaceful or violent interactions?


After a popular uprising against this dictator began in early 2011, it found itself in a bloody stalemate when Gadaffi chose to fight rather than flee. Operation Unified Protector stepped in March, with bombs dropped from B-2 stealth planes flown from the USS Missouri and roughly 200 cruise missiles launched from submarines in the Mediterranean. After the U.S. military ramped up the operation, other NATO countries then shouldered most of the air burden. Americans took a supporting role: aerial refueling tankers, electronic jamming, and surveillance.

Now in October, the dictator, after having moved from one stronghold to another, ran out of options. Trying to flee the lone remaining stronghold of his hometown Sirte, his convoy was bombed by French fighter planes, and he fled to a drainage pipe. After being captured, he was roughly treated, and ultimately killed by TNC fighters on the spot.

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Drainage pipes from which Gadaffi was finally captured

This action was greeted with various degrees of elation and consternation around the world as well. No trial meant some possibly embarrassing revelations about Gadaffi's long reign and Western agreements would not come out, yet at the same time, no chance for loose ends to be revealed (such as the Lockerbie bombing over Scotland which had Libyan fingerprints on it), nor a sense of how a Libyan legal system might build status for itself in handling such a trial. In any regard, the action has been taken.

A rather poignant comment came through the first reports of Gadaffi's death on the BBC. "I would say congratulations to NTC and all Libyans. But just to add a perspective. Our dear leaders in Africa, including NTC, please avoid clinging to power. Serve the people and when your time is up, give the button to the next person. This is how we shall avoid bloodshed in Africa. Leadership shouldn't always lead to death."

The destruction of Sirte, a testament to the cost of Gadaffi's clinging to power.

With the Libyan transitional government now in control of Sirte, Adm. James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander in charge of the NATO campaign, said the alliance is likely to bring the operation to a halt in a matter of days. President Obama, echoing VP Biden's happy calculations, noted in remarks in the Rose Garden on Thursday. "Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives and our NATO mission will soon come to an end."

So, a momentous week - dollars and prisoners calculated in exchange for two individuals. Neither seems very appropriate, though not totally un-removed, for addressing values such as freedom, oppression, and security. (So what will be the measurements to be used for the troubles in Yemen, Syria, Iran, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Somalia?)

1 comment:

Sarah said...

So interesting to see a few of the prisoners released from Israel. I heard an interview with the man who helped negotiate this and he said that Hamas was told that they HAD to take off a large number of names right off the bat before any negotiation could even happen because those people had committed crimes so violent there was no way they could seriously expect a negotiation. So, eventually, Hamas did take those names off the list. I thought - well that's good. At least they were trying to be realistic in their expectations. BUT, to see the people that WERE released?! First, I shudder to think what the first list looked like and, second, I'm appalled that Hamas gets any support at all.

As for the US involvement with's so hypocritical on so many levels. What about the other countries struggling with dictators (again, do we come back to oil?? In Spite of Obama's "commitment" to alternative energy sources)? What about the total money spent In Spite of our debts? What about the election campaign about getting our troops and military out of places around the world? blah blah blah...