Monthly Archives: December 2014

Settlements sabotaged talks, not Palestinians

Settlements sabotaged talks, not Palestinians

For both politicians and commentators, spin is an occupational hazard. Politicians cannot function without “spinning” realities to suit their purposes thereby putting the most favourable possible interpretation on events for their own interests. Commentators may be tempted to do the same, but their proper role is to react to political spin coming at them from officials, candidates and activists.

The duty of analysts, at least theoretically, is to guide their readers towards a balanced interpretation of reality, as best they understand it. Sometimes, though, even experienced veterans can let their guard down and find themselves totally suspending disbelief and presenting spin in an uncritical manner, especially if they think it’s all in a good cause.

Roger Cohen of The New York Times seems to have fallen into precisely this trap in his most recent op-ed, in which he essentially serves as the stenographer for Israel’s former negotiator Tzipi Livni.

Ms Livni has joined forces with Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog in an effort to unseat the incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The bulk of Mr Cohen’s article is given over to Ms Livni’s account of how and why the American-brokered negotiations with the Palestinians collapsed earlier this year.

It’s no surprise that Ms Livni places the blame squarely on Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Indeed, her account, as recounted by Mr Cohen, draws heavily on the liberal Israeli mantra that the lack of peace is best explained by the Palestinians’ inexplicable refusal to “miss any opportunity to miss an opportunity,” which dates back to the era of Israeli diplomat and politician Abba Eban. He first made the comment after the December 1973 Geneva peace talks.

According to Ms Livni, Mr Abbas essentially turned down a constructive and far-reaching American proposal presented on March 17, and refined on April 1. All of a sudden, Ms Livni claims, she watched Mr Abbas on television signing papers to join a number of multilateral agencies, which she says almost killed the talks. The coup de grace, she insists, actually came when Mr Abbas’s Fatah party announced an agreement with Hamas on April 23.

“A long season of negotiation gave way to recrimination,” Mr Cohen writes, “and, soon enough, the Gaza war.” He adds that thus, “another opportunity in the Holy Land has been lost. The waste is unconscionable, tragedy indeed”. By this point in the narrative it’s not clear whose voice – Mr Cohen’s or Ms Livni’s – is channelling the spirit of Mr Eban. Not only is this heavy duty Israeli political spin, it is designed to counter not a Palestinian, but an American, understanding of the primary causes for the breakdown of the talks.

In testimony before the US Senate on April 7, secretary of state John Kerry clearly stated that two Israeli actions – the failure to release Palestinian prisoners on schedule and the announcement of 700 new settlement housing units – crashed down on the process: “And poof! That was sort of the moment.” The moment, of course, in which the talks became non-viable. A state department spokesperson later clarified that Mr Kerry thinks there are faults on both sides and isn’t playing “the blame game.”

This American account was subsequently confirmed by two unnamed senior Obama administration officials. One, generally assumed to be the outgoing Middle East special envoy Martin Indyk, told veteran Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea on May 2, “the primary sabotage came from the settlements.”

He explained that, “continuing construction allowed ministers in his [Mr Netanyahu’s] government to very effectively sabotage the success of the talks”. He added that “the claim on your side that Abbas was avoiding making decisions is not true,” and listed a series of Palestinian concessions on demilitarisation, land swaps, security and, crucially, refugees.

On May 15, The New York Times quoted another senior American official as saying, “At every juncture, there was a settlement announcement. It was the thing that kept throwing a wrench in the gears”.

Indeed, last May, Ms Livni told Israel’s Army Radio that the settlers “are preventing us from reaching a resolution” and that “settlement construction makes it impossible to defend Israel around the world.”

It’s perfectly obvious why, in the midst of a heated election campaign, Ms Livni feels the urgent need to provide a self-serving narrative about the breakdown of her negotiations with the Palestinians. And it’s also easy to understand why Mr Cohen, an avowed supporter of peace, would want to give her a platform. Presumably, it’s to help unseat Mr Netanyahu in favour of a more constructive Israeli government led by the Livni-Herzog coalition. It’s fair to say that most people interested in peace would welcome such an electoral outcome.

But the path to peace isn’t laid by narratives aimed at blaming the other side when all parties have their fair share of responsibility for the continuing conflict. And Mr Cohen did his readers a disservice by not even mentioning the well-established and almost certainly accurate American account, cited above, that Ms Livni is challenging.

This spin might be good Israeli electoral politics, but it’s very bad diplomacy and even worse journalism. And, given the facts painstakingly related not by Palestinian but by American officials, it’s totally unconvincing.

Nida Tunis may face lose-lose scenarios in victory, Ennahda win-win in defeat

A press conference on December 22, 2014 in Tunis to announce that anti-Islamist politician Beji Caid Essebsi (R on the screen) won Tunisia

Beji Caid Essebsi, leader of the non-Islamist Nida Tunis coalition, which he founded in 2012 as an umbrella for secular groups who had previously been splintered into over a dozen formations, has been decisively elected Tunisia’s next president in the country’s first free and open presidential election. His margin over incumbent Moncef Marzouki is huge: almost 11%. If that isn’t a landslide, it’s very close. The usual threshold for a landslide is calculated at about 15 percentage points, but the American magazine Politico calculates it at 10 points. Either way, Essebsi’s victory is dramatic and unmistakable. But his problems begin now.

For the Islamist Ennahda party, Marzouki’s defeat comes as another bitter blow. They had supported the incumbent because he wasn’t Essebsi, and because they thought he would cooperate with them. Ennahda, early on, had pledged not to run a candidate or officially support anyone standing for president. They stuck with that pledge, perhaps learning a lesson from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which reneged on a similar promise regarding the presidency in that country. And officially they didn’t support anyone. But unofficially there was no doubt they were pushing strongly for Marzouki, and, just as in the recent parliamentary elections in which they were soundly defeated by Nida Tunis, the ability of Ennahda to command majorities or bring out massive numbers of votes is again called into question.

But having lost the parliamentary election, perhaps it’s counterintuitively better for Ennahda that their preferred candidate didn’t win the presidency. Tunisia faces an enormous, perhaps overwhelming, set of challenges. The economy continues to struggle. And there is a serious and growing problem with extremist violence. No country provides more foreign fighters to the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria than Tunisia does. And the country faces a more local, homegrown, radical terrorist movement in Ansar al-Sharia, which operates regionally in the hinterlands of Libya, Algeria and other areas in the Sahara and Sahel.

Having won both the biggest number of seats in parliament and the presidency, Nida Tunis now faces the daunting prospect of being responsible for dealing with all of this, and more. The situation has developed in such a way that Nida Tunis probably needs a coalition with Ennahda more than Ennahda does.

The Islamist group now faces a win-win scenario in defeat. If it is brought into government in a coalition with Nida Tunis, it will have demonstrated that even though it loses elections, its constituency is so powerful and important that it cannot wisely or practicably be excluded from government. It will remain close to the levers of power and important and influential. On the other hand, if Nida Tunis forms a coalition without Ennahda, all the Islamists have to do is kick back and criticize the government’s performance, with increasing vehemence over time, as the loyal opposition.

There wouldn’t even be a need for Ennahda to sabotage the new government’s policies on crucial and perhaps irresolvable challenges such as the economy and security. A rising chorus of criticism would probably be sufficient to set the stage for a major comeback for Ennahda in future parliamentary and presidential elections. Indeed, if it were seen as acting as a kind of disloyal opposition or obstructionist group, that could, and probably would, backfire. Much wiser, therefore, for Ennahda, if it finds itself out of government in the coming months, to strike a pose as cooperative and sincere, but increasingly disappointed on behalf of the whole country with the administration’s failures on economic and security matters, and possibly more.

As for Essebsi, he faces not only a daunting series of policy challenges, but also a new situation for his Nida Tunis coalition. Since it was founded in 2012, Nida Tunis has been a motley and incongruous assemblage of political forces, entities and personalities that share little in common except one thing: they are either non- or anti-Islamist. They came together to push back the wave of support that brought Ennahda to power in the parliamentary elections following the overthrow of former dictator Ben Ali.

The groups that came together in the Nida Tunis coalition realized that, even in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the dictatorship, Ennahda was not a majority party. It gained power, instead, because non-Islamist or secular groups were so numerous, contentious and badly divided. The non-Islamist majority existed, but it had no ability to govern or form coherent coalitions, because it was so fractured. This delivered power to a coherent, united and large Islamist minority.

The challenge became increasingly urgent as Ennahda’s performance in government in the troika coalition it led was increasingly vulnerable to severe criticism on both security and the economy. Moreover, two crucial developments in constitutional negotiations opened the door for Nida Tunis’ bid for power even further.

First, the defeat of the political exclusion initiative demonstrated that experience in governance under the former dictatorship, which in the immediate aftermath of the uprising was seen as a taint or black mark against politicians and technocrats, was now being re-conceptualized by the Tunisian public as potentially desirable. Experience and technical ability were not necessarily bad things, and not everyone associated with the former regime could be reasonably seen as a remnant of the dictatorship. Indeed, technical competence was now increasingly seen as desirable, especially given the failures of the inexperienced troika coalition, and the relatively better performance of the technocratic interim administration over the past year or so.

Second, given that Ennahda was forced to compromise on the nature of the emerging Tunisian political system, accepting a major role for the presidency, Nida Tunis was given another major national power. Ennahda naturally strongly favored a parliamentary system, given that they could rely on their base to produce something between at least 20-30% of any given national vote. So they were poised to always be a significant, if not dominant, force in parliament. But that same base would require a great deal of external support to secure the presidency, particularly in a one-on-one runoff against a powerful and popular non-Islamist candidate who could call on the secular majority.

In the event, Ennahda had to accept a mixed system in the new constitution, allocating major powers to parliament on domestic issues, but establishing a strong presidency on national security and defense matters. The powerful chief executive position was almost tailor-made for Nida Tunis in general and Essebsi in particular. Even though Tunisia’s new president is 88 years old, and served in the government of former dictatorships before breaking with them many years ago, he does seem to have galvanized strong support among the national non-Islamist majority.

But now that Essebsi and Nida Tunis have won both the parliamentary and presidential elections, they will find that being exclusively responsible for Tunisia’s challenges may be a crown of thorns. They won’t regret their victory. But, if they exclude Ennahda from the next coalition in parliament, they may find themselves facing an increasingly powerful and popular opposition as Tunisia’s problems fester (which seems very likely, no matter what policies are adopted by whatever government). Ennahda has avoided the trap that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood fell into of overreaching. In so doing, they have retained their political viability and the potential for a major comeback.

So, ironically, in victory Nida Tunis is looking at a lose-lose scenario, while Ennahda in defeat faces a win-win one. It would probably be better for the country, and for Nida Tunis, if they invite Ennahda into the parliamentary coalition and the Islamists accept. But there are arguments against taking that step, and Nida Tunis doesn’t seem keen on embracing their Islamist rivals. It’s likely that they will avoid including Ennahda in the next government if they can. But if they do, they may be setting Ennahda up for a major comeback in a few years, particularly if the Islamists create the impression of being loyal, cooperative and sincere, even in opposition.

Agreement on UN text is in everyone’s interest

Agreement on UN text is in everyone’s interest


Palestinians have let it be known that they are open to negotiation on a proposed UN Security Council resolution that imposes a deadline for ending the Israeli occupation. They are right to seek further talks. It has been suggested that the US will threaten to veto the existing draft, as submitted by Jordan on behalf of the Palestinians. Such an eventuality wouldn’t benefit either side or the cause of peace. But a compromise is also strongly in the interests of the Americans.

In the absence of a viable political or diplomatic process for resolving the conflict and ending the occupation, the Palestinians are quite naturally frustrated. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA), in particular, need to find a way to demonstrate to their domestic constituency that their non-violent, diplomacy-led approach provides a viable framework for national liberation.

With the collapse of the peace talks earlier this year, and with Hamas having taken the battle to Israel last summer, the PA leadership is hard-pressed to demonstrate that its commitment to seeking a negotiated peace agreement with Israel remains viable. Hamas’s actions meant devastating results for Gaza but gave the undeniable impression of initiative.

The Palestinians have no doubt concluded that there is nothing left to lose in a return to the United Nations. The West and the United States cannot punish them by withdrawing from a helpful diplomatic process, because there isn’t one in place. And they may have calculated that the ability of the West and Israel to further constrict the PA budget in retaliation for UN initiatives can’t be taken very far. That would mortally hurt the PA and only benefit Hamas.

But they shouldn’t be overconfident. There is still a potentially serious price to be paid, even as there is a psychological and political benefit from driving the agenda at the UN.

The Palestinians have an unusual opportunity to negotiate something meaningful with the Americans, who are clearly exasperated with Israel over its intransigence on the peace process in general and settlement activity in particular. Some key Arab states have been counselling caution, for good reason. Brinkmanship that leads to a positive agreement with the Americans on language would be useful, but will require great skill.

The UN, after all, has been the scene of several recent quixotic diplomatic charges by the Palestinians, which have done more harm than good. Strained relations between Washington and Ramallah date back to a UN Security Council draft resolution on settlements in February 2011. Even though the language of that resolution was drawn largely from disparate statements made by Obama administration officials, and previous administrations, the US wasn’t willing to back the use of the word “illegal” to describe the status of Israeli settlement activity under international law. This was an accurate description but the US was only prepared to accept the term “illegitimate.” When the Palestinians insisted that settlement activity be deemed illegal, the American veto was used, to the great annoyance of both sides.

Relations were not improved with the subsequent Palestinian statehood initiatives, first at the UN Security Council at the end of 2011, and then at the General Assembly in 2012. The first was mitigated by the fact that it was a failure, and the Palestinians could not even muster sufficient Security Council votes to require the US to cast its veto. But the second initiative, at the General Assembly for upgraded status for the PLO mission to that of “non-member observer state,” produced a significant financial and diplomatic backlash.

The western and Israeli retaliation affected the PA’s budget and greatly disrupted governance in the occupied West Bank, ultimately leading to the ousting of former prime minister Salam Fayyad.

Fatah cadres at home put him under tremendous pressure to go, while US secretary of state John Kerry wanted him to stay in office. So when he finally resigned, there was a powerful sense in same quarters both in the US and Israel that a terrible mistake had been made. It had. But it was too late.

Since Mr Fayyad’s departure, the crucial state and institution building project that he led has atrophied, and the reforms he championed have, in several important sectors, frayed.

The experience has been extremely damaging for Palestinians, for American policy towards Israel and the Palestinians, and for US-Palestinian relations. Any repetition of such a mutually damaging confrontation isn’t in the interests of either party now.

It’s clear that an early UN vote on the draft Palestinian resolution isn’t likely in the coming days, and that the process will be drawn out at least until January.

All parties have a clear interest in reaching an agreement over a text that can advance the prospects for peace, and reiterate the international community’s commitment to a two-state outcome between Israel and the Palestinians, but without further pointless damage to US-Palestinian relations. It’s never too late to begin to learn the lessons of history.

Unreadable Egypt

The Mubarak acquittal illustrates how murky Egypt’s political scene has become


On Saturday, an Egyptian judge dismissed all remaining charges against former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, his two sons and a wealthy associate. Although he was sentenced to three years in prison on corruption charges last May, his erstwhile imprisonment all counts as time served, and Mubarak is, for the time being anyway, at least theoretically (he seems almost permanently stuck to a stretcher and has been in hospital for most of his confinement) a free man.

The Mubarak acquittal, and all of the murky questions that surround it, is a perfect barometer of how opaque contemporary Egypt has become.

The court’s ruling is, without doubt, fundamentally an appalling betrayal of the uprising that unseated the 30-year dictator in early 2011. Mubarak sought to use the power of the state to crush the popular rebellion, until finally the Army refused to turn on the public and insisted the president had to go. In the process, well over 800 people were killed, the overwhelming majority of them precisely because Mubarak refused to succumb to popular pressure and go.

The charges against him were narrowly drawn and limited to the events of the rebellion itself. This is frequently interpreted as reflecting an unwillingness to interrogate his entire 30 years in power, and the police brutality and state security repression, with no accountability, that characterized it. These charges allowed Mubarak to be tried, along with a small group of others, but they also served to protect large numbers of other officials, and the system itself, from his decades of misrule from being put in the dock alongside the former president.

But it’s precisely those limited, narrowly-drawn charges that are now directly in question. The court did not rule on the merits of the indictment. Instead, it acquitted Mubarak on a technicality involving the process by which the charges were brought against him (as admirably explained by Hossam Bahgat). The court, many observers who are well informed about Egyptian criminal law suggest, may actually have been on fairly solid procedural grounds.

But, as Bahgat notes, “The public prosecutor can, and most likely will, appeal today’s verdict before the Court of Cassation.” And if that court overturns the acquittal, it will preside over a retrial, which would be final.

The vanishing crowd

Naturally the acquittal outraged many Egyptians, especially those who had been at the progressive cutting-edge of the original Tahrir Square protests that led to Mubarak’s ouster three years ago. They took to the streets, with two protesters being killed by security forces, 15 injured, and about 80 arrested, of whom four are reportedly still in custody.

The government claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood had “infiltrated” the protests, and were attempting to use them for their own purposes. The authorities claim that the protests were peaceful until the Brotherhood intervened at about 6 PM and instigated stone-throwing and rioting.

For many, the acquittal carries with it the worst specters of the bad old days: impunity and lack of accountability for officials, a judicial system rigged in favor of power, and the sense that the remnants of the old regime are becoming much bolder in reasserting their authority and rolling back the “revolution.” It is as if, these voices say, the Arab Spring had never happened at all.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights summed up such sentiments in their reaction, saying that the verdict “further reinforces concerns about the alarmingly selective justice system in Egypt, which appears more intent on settling political scores and punishing dissent than establishing justice.” Amr Ali, of the April 6 movement, completed the thought by noting: “This verdict confirms that Mr Sisi is part of Mr Mubarak’s regime.” This view is not exclusive to many Egyptian activists, rights groups, progressives and dissidents; it’s also the way these developments will be generally viewed in Washington and other key Western capitals.

But it’s noteworthy that the demonstrations following Mubarak’s acquittal were tiny compared to those calling for his ouster three years ago, and even smaller still than the overwhelming demonstrations in the summer of 2013 demanding an end to the Muslim Brotherhood presidency of Mohamed Morsi. Estimates generally range in the 1,000-3,000-person tally, with most closer to the lower figure, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands and even millions who took to the streets against Mubarak in 2011 and Morsi in 2013.

It’s very hard to read this reality. Are Egyptians exhausted and, after years of protesting, simply unable to muster yet another street-level rebellion? Are they apathetic and cynical, their once incandescent idealism having dwindled into a faint spark because they’ve seen their efforts time and again result in failure?

Or are Egyptians, instead, largely either supportive of, or neutral about, the new government and disinclined to disrupt it? Is President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi still enjoying that much of a honeymoon, with people yearning for stability and looking to the government to provide economic improvements and law and order? Is the general public in Egypt according the separation of powers a much greater credibility than the protesters, and therefore declining to blame the entire system or the presidency for the actions of one court? Or are they looking forward rather than backward, and so aren’t particularly worked up about the fate of this decrepit, ailing, 86-year-old former dictator, and are focused instead on what lies ahead for the country?

For many observers outside Egypt, the questions laid out in the previous paragraph sound ridiculous. But it’s clear that a significant constituency inside the country would identify with some sentiments along those lines. It’s impossible to tell precisely how large a group that is. But some combination of factors has to explain why a people that have shown themselves perfectly ready to take to the streets to express their outrage in 2011 and again in 2013 would not have responded to the latest calls en masse, but instead allowed the protests against the Mubarak acquittal to be so relatively small.

Is it the economy, stupid?

One reason Egyptians might be defying local and international expectations with their apparent patience for the government, even given actions such as the acquittal of Mubarak which in the past would undoubtedly have been received as an unbearable provocation, is the growing sense that the Egyptian economy is on a sudden and unexpected uptick.

The 2011 rebellion and its aftermath sent the Egyptian economy into a terrifying tailspin and many of the fundamentals remain deeply worrying. Foreign currency reserves are grossly depleted. Budget deficits and national debt are still out of control. Fuel and food subsidies are dragging the economy down at the national level, and chronic unemployment is wrecking the finances of many at the family level. Many observers were on record as doubting that Egypt could possibly move forward at all economically given these challenges, let alone resolve what Stephen Cook in April aptly described as a full-blown “solvency crisis.”

By late October, however, CNBC and other financial news outlets were able to begin seriously and soberly writing about “a surprisingly quick—and in the West, largely unnoticed—recovery.” Sectors such as energy, healthcare, infrastructure and high-tech were all experiencing unexpected expansions. In an astonishing demonstration of investor confidence, patriotic solidarity and social commitment, the Egyptian government was able to finance its $8.5 billion Suez canal expansion project in a mere eight days, mainly through the sale of non-tradable five-year certificates sold to Egyptian citizens at a 12% interest rate.

Moreover, the Sisi-led government is using its ongoing honeymoon to take what would otherwise be politically-risky but economically-necessary actions. In June it cut energy subsidies — a long-standing proverbial third rail in Egyptian politics — by one third. The central bank raised interest rates in July in order to curb inflation after the fuel subsidy cuts sent prices soaring. The government has also moved to raise taxes in certain sectors.

Although Egypt’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been decidedly rocky in recent years, relations are at last being restored, and in November the Fund finally completed an evaluation of the Egyptian economy, including a visit to the country by a high-level delegation. The IMF generally approved the Egyptian government’s economic approach, predicting a fairly robust 3.8% growth rate in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

IMF delegation chief Chris Jarvis said that the Egyptian government has “set appropriate economic objectives” for the country’s recovery. The IMF added that “they have begun bold subsidy and tax reforms, are pursuing a disciplined monetary policy, expanding social policies, and have initiated wide-ranging regulatory and administrative reform efforts to improve the business environment and boost investment.”

There are a couple of key caveats, however, to bear in mind with regard to this apparent economic recovery.

The first is that it could simply prove to be a dreadful bubble. A series of factors including an infusion of capital from supportive Gulf states, an economic dimension to the sense of national urgency prompting patriotic but risky private investments in public schemes, and other forces might be pushing the economy forward in a palpable but unsustainable way. Indeed, dependency on the Gulf could reach $9 billion for the second half of 2014 alone. The bottom line is that the fundamentals of Egypt’s economy are still the cause for serious concern.

Second, the Egyptian economic recovery — such as it is — is closely linked to investor confidence, both domestic and international, which in turn is closely linked to the security situation in the country. The Egyptian public seems largely united in the battle against what is undoubtedly a real terrorist threat, particularly in Sinai and remote and border areas, including increasingly on the Libyan border. The government maintains that it is making significant progress in fighting extremists.

However, critics note that the scale and intensity of terrorist violence, primarily aimed at Egyptian troops in remote areas, has only been increasing. It’s very difficult to assess counterfactual arguments such as the idea that the problem would have been even worse if the government hadn’t pursued its war on terrorism as it has. It’s plausible to argue that instability in border regions is more closely linked to events on the other side of those borders, such as in Gaza or in Libya. Or that the policies of groups like Hamas and Ansar al-Sharia or Ansar Beit al-Maqdis are more decisive in shaping unrest in those border areas than in Egyptian government policies.

However, it’s also plausible to argue that Egypt’s current approach — particularly its wholesale crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood along with various aspects of its military counterterrorism strategy — has actually exacerbated rather than ameliorated the terrorist threat from violent extremists. As long as there is a domestic and international sense that Egypt is moving effectively to secure law and order, particularly in its cities and with regard to key infrastructure, investor confidence is likely to remain strong. Certainly the lack of major unrest as a consequence of the Mubarak verdict will be taken as an indicator that calm is being restored to a society that, in recent years, has been prone to bouts of chronic unrest. However, should that sense of confidence, whether justified or unjustified, begin to atrophy, it could undermine the influx and movement of capital that is underwriting Egypt’s current spurt of economic growth.

Moreover, what happens when the social and political honeymoon for the new government — which cannot go on forever — finally really is over? Might Egypt be sitting on top of a powder keg of its own making with the long and slow fuse inexorably getting shorter and shorter as the spark relentlessly burns its way towards an explosion of some sort? Or is the country defying all regional and international expectations and coming together to move forward, however slowly? Even if, eventually, the tensions, heavy handedness and populist authoritarianism of the current political atmosphere in Egypt proves to be the price of stability and economic progress — assuming neither of those prove to be illusory — the difficult and painful question will almost certainly be: was it worth this? The answer, either way, won’t be simple or obvious.