Trump and North Korea Rebuff Bolton’s ‘Libya Model’

John Bolton, the national security adviser, says the dismantling of Libya’s nuclear weapons program provides a playbook for North Korean denuclearization. The idea is provoking a lot of resistance and confusion.

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Nonfiction: When to Wage War, and How to Win: A Guide

Gaddis writes as he presumably teaches, informally mixing literary and historical analyses with the observations of his students, reminiscing in a personal voice about long-ago conversations or sharing conclusions that came to him over the years of the seminar. The book is as much personal remembrance as strategic reflection, and is chock-full of aphorisms and enigmatic adages.

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Niccolò Machiavelli Credit Palazzo Della Signoria, via Getty Images

Gaddis believes the best way to hone strategic thinking is not just by mastering the advice of Machiavelli or Clausewitz (who both figure prominently in the class), much less contemporary high-tech wizardry, but also by understanding the interplay of history, literature and philosophy over 2,500 years of Western civilization — with occasional insights from Sun Tzu and other non-Western thinkers. In some sense “On Grand Strategy” is a traditional argument for the value of classical education in the broadest sense.

The student of strategy learns to balance a grasp of detail with proper humility: It is, of course, wise to have a plan and contingencies. But how will these prompt rival counter-responses? Do such agendas have the means adequate for their ends? Or are they more dreams, warped by ego and emotion (“And the heat of emotions requires only an instant to melt abstractions drawn from years of cool reflection. Decades devoid of reflection may follow”)? The better way is to be Isaiah Berlin’s versatile fox, not a single-minded obsessed hedgehog, or to embrace Machiavelli’s virtues of imitation, adaptation and approximation.

A recurrent theme is the danger of omnipresent hubris. Even a great power cannot master the unexpected and uncontrollable — from the great plague at Athens, to the harsh Russian winter, to I.E.D.s and tribal factionalism in Iraq. Why in the world, during a breathing spell in their war against Sparta, did democratic Athenians attack neutral and democratic Syracuse, 500 miles away? The answer is the same blinkered arrogance that sent Philip II’s huge but poorly led Spanish Armada into the British northern seas. Understanding the underappreciated role of irony is essential for a leader, and might have prevented the disasters of both 415 B.C. and 1588. Tolstoy and Clausewitz appreciated that bad things can come from good intentions and vice versa. The best generals live with and react to paradoxes, Gaddis argues. The worst ignore or seek to undo them.

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Carl von Clausewitz Credit

Gaddis sees these more successful global strategists as rope-a-dope pragmatists who remain elastic and patient enough to capitalize on events and opportunities as they unfold, rather than forcing them to fit preconceived schemes. Caesar tries to force a Roman republic into a global hegemony without full cognizance of the inevitable blowback from centuries of republican government, and so predictably is assassinated by a dying generation of dreamy senators. His savvier adopted son, Augustus, like the later Otto von Bismarck, builds coalitions, finds pre-existing seams to exploit at home and abroad, and waits to take advantage when enemies — or friends — stumble. Stalin’s prewar Bolshevik nightmare was responsible for 20 million dead, but apparently was not so loathsome that the Soviet Union could not prove temporarily useful for Churchill and Roosevelt in bleeding out the Nazi Wehrmacht.

Morality matters, if defined less as self-righteous ardor and more as self-awareness of a leader’s effect on those around him and an appreciation of paradox. A pragmatic St. Augustine has no problem with war — if it is a last resort to save civilization, without which there can be neither calm nor organized religion.

Still, courting calculated risk is essential. The gambler Winston Churchill took chances in 1940, albeit rational ones backed by educated guesses that, for all Hitler’s bluster, the Third Reich had neither the air nor sea power to destroy the Anglosphere. Risk is not always risk when it is the natural expression of national advantages and a mixture of caution and audacity.

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Sun Tzu Credit Alamy

Gaddis’s American heroes are Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, who he thinks “rescued democracy and capitalism.” Roosevelt somehow was cognizant early on of how the singular military and economic potential of America might save Europe and Asia, but only if he first prepared reluctant Americans materially and psychologically for the inevitable war to come. Woodrow Wilson, among others, was not so successful in creating a postwar peace because he forced conditions to preconceived realities that bore little resemblance to emerging ironies at Versailles — and was without a sellable idea of an American role after World War I.

Gaddis concludes with an invaluable warning that true morality embraces neither messianic interventionism nor the quest for utopianism — indeed that is how millions become deluded, endangered or doomed. Instead, ethical leadership pursues the art of the possible for the greater (not the greatest) good. Augustine did not demand the city of God absolutely over the city of man. Augustus did not self-righteously return the Principate to the strife of the late republic. Lincoln did not start the Civil War as a crusade to eradicate slavery everywhere.

With regard to the American 21st century, Gaddis’s favorite novelists and philosophers perhaps argue against both optional intercessions abroad and moralistic lead-from-behind recessionals. The better course is to marshal American power to prepare for the often unavoidable existential crises on the horizon, with the full expectation that we do not have to be perfect to be good.

“On Grand Strategy” is many things — a thoughtful validation of the liberal arts, an argument for literature over social science, an engaging reflection on university education and some timely advice to Americans that lasting victory comes from winning what you can rather than all that you want.

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300 Meters in Gaza: Snipers, Burning Tires and a Contested Fence

A fence that divides Israel and Gaza has become the latest flashpoint in the decades-old conflict, with Israeli soldiers unleashing lethal force against mostly unarmed Arab protesters who have been demonstrating every Friday for the past several weeks.

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A protest in Khan Younis on March 30. The photographer, Yasser Murtaja, was killed in a protest in the same location the following week. Source: Yasser Murtaja, Ain Media

The image above shows how each side is arrayed in Khan Younis, one of five demonstration sites where 35 Palestinians have been killed since the protests began nearly three weeks ago.

The protests resumed on Friday, and the Palestinians plan to keep the weekly protests going with large turnouts until May 15, when many plan to try to cross the fence en masse. The Gazans are protesting Israel’s blockade, which has been choking off the impoverished coastal strip for more than 10 years. They also want to reassert the rights of refugees and their descendants to reclaim their ancestral lands in Israel, 70 years after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced.

In Israel’s view, there is nothing benign about the Palestinian claim of a right of return. It would amount to the destruction of Israel by demographic means. And they see the protests as providing cover for violent attacks.

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Palestinian protesters stood in front of an Israeli tank during a protest in Khan Younis on April 3, 2018. Khalil Hamra/Associated Press

The fence that separates Gaza’s 2 million people from Israel is not the sturdiest of barriers. To penetrate Israel, a Gazan would have to get past a crude barbed-wire barrier and cross a short distance, then get over or through a 10-foot-high “smart fence” packed with sensors to detect infiltrators. If a crowd of thousands surged toward the fence, it would take about 30 seconds to cross, the contractor who built it told Bloomberg News.

“We don’t want to be in a position where we have to handle hundreds or thousands of people inside Israel,” Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former head of Israel’s National Security Council, said recently. “This is something we would not be able to contain. So the right way is to make sure nothing happens to the fence.”

That means stopping people from touching it, even with deadly force. Though the protests were initially billed as nonviolent, the Israelis say they have repeatedly discovered grenades and other explosives along the fence, and that Palestinians have sometimes thrown firebombs at their soldiers, not just rocks. Israeli forces have responded lethally.

Few Israelis believe Hamas, the militant Islamic group that rules Gaza and is running the protests, is capable of peaceful protest.

The closer to the fence protesters move, the more perilous it becomes for them. The Israelis have made clear that people they believe are “instigators” are fair game to be targeted. Videos have surfaced of people being shot with their backs turned to the fence, while praying, or with nothing in their hands.

A protester gestures at Israeli soldiers. Source: Yasser Murtaja, Ain Media

The latest rules of engagement, according to one Israeli report, permit soldiers to shoot armed Palestinians within 300 yards of the fence, and unarmed people within 100 yards of it. The Israelis’ use of live ammunition has prompted demands for an investigation into possible war crimes.

Israeli snipers have positioned themselves atop large sand berms that military engineers are continually reconfiguring with tanks positioned nearby. After protesters burned tires to obscure the soldiers’ view and rolled them toward the fence, the Israelis brought in giant industrial fans to disperse the thick black smoke and powerful water cannons to douse the fires. Soldiers have fired countless volleys of tear gas to try to push back crowds of demonstrators.

The military insists that its soldiers are instructed to shoot to warn, then shoot to wound, before shooting to kill. But the defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said: “Anyone who approaches the fence endangers his life.”

The Conflict Zone

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An injured Palestinian protester being carried by fellow demonstrators during clashes with Israeli security forces near the frontier with Israel, east of Khan Younis, last week. Said Khatib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Some of the protesters sit, while others dart around, taunting Israeli sharpshooters. And some risk their lives by trying to get up to the fence.

Among the Palestinians, approaching the fence makes a powerful statement of defiance, bravery and national pride. A Palestinian photographer has even begun giving wounded protesters framed photos taken of them shortly before they were shot. And the Hamas political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a speech this week that the demonstrators had “taught the world how to be men.”

The Palestinians have much to be angry about. A collapsing economy and a worsening public health crisis along with the 11-year blockade of the tiny, jam-packed territory makes it almost impossible to leave. But the effort is billed as the Great Return March for a reason: Most Gazans are Palestinian refugees or their descendants, and marching on the fence highlights their desire to reclaim the lands and homes from which they were displaced 70 years ago in the war surrounding Israel’s creation.

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Nurses at a medical tent near the border with Israel, east of Khan Younis. Wissam Nassar for The New York Times

When a demonstrator is shot, others rush to him and quickly carry him off the field to waiting ambulances or to tents that triage and give first aid to the injured. Farthest from the fence, along a road leading to central Khan Younis, is a field hospital with doctors and enough equipment to perform procedures short of major surgery. Other medical tents are staffed mainly by volunteer nursing-school graduates.

As of Friday, 34 people had been killed, three of them under 18 years old, and more than 3,000 had been injured in the demonstrations, according to Gaza health officials. More than 1,000 have been hit by live fire; nearly 1,000 have suffered from gas inhalation; 300 from being hit by rubber bullets and eight people lost fingers or feet.

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Palestinian men praying during a tent city protest along the Israel border east of Khan Younis. Wissam Nassar for The New York Times

Entire tent villages have been set up to meet the basic needs of demonstrators, and then some. Vendors sell falafel, nuts, sweets and lemonade from ramshackle huts. Once a day or so, a delivery arrives with free slices of pizza or cakes. Large dedicated prayer areas accommodate the faithful. Gaza journalists and radio hosts occupy other tents.

The tents nearest the fence, still not safe from Israeli snipers, house young men, some of them just groups of friends, others organized for various task such as providing tires to burn.

Farther back, many Gaza clans have pitched more elaborate tents with blankets and gas stoves inside, creating the feeling of an offbeat family reunion across much of the protest grounds. At the entrance to one tent, women baked saj, a round bread, over a wood fire on Thursday to hand out to demonstrators. Another tent, with coffee and comfortable sofas inside, was reserved for religious officials.

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An aerial view of tents at Khan Younis on Wednesday. Wissam Nassar for The New York Times

The organizers have created a festival-like atmosphere, with a robust schedule of daily events: Volleyball and soccer games played by amputees, poetry readings, musical performances, even horse races. The sudden crackle of gunfire and wail of sirens are at times the only giveaways to what is happening a short distance beyond the tents to the east.

The Israeli Side

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Agricultural fields at the Nir Oz kibbutz near Gaza on the Israeli side. Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times

Avocados, carrots and an abundance of other crops grow along the Gaza border on the Israeli side. Hundreds of Israeli citizens live within a mortar shell’s range of Gaza territory in small communities of farmers such as Nir Oz and Kisufim. The army says its fierce defense of the fence is protecting those citizens — and stopping infiltrators from kidnapping a soldier or two — a longstanding Hamas tactic.

In the Israeli community of Nahal Oz near Gaza on April 6, a group of young people climbed an old watchtower along the community’s western edge, looking out on the disturbances as if they were sitting in the nosebleed seats at a baseball game.

Parking lots full of tanks tucked away behind berms make up only part of the military’s presence along the Gaza border. A $2 billion underground wall project is under way to prevent Hamas from digging any more tunnels into Israel used by attackers. And Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile batteries protect southern cities such as Sderot from Gaza rockets — though its sensors are so easily triggered that air-raid alarms have been set off in the area by gunfire alone.

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The U.S. Has Troops in Syria. So Do the Russians and Iranians. Here’s Where.

President Trump is threatening to launch missile strikes against Syria to punish President Bashar al-Assad’s government for a suspected April 7 chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb.

But Mr. Trump’s pick of targets is complicated by the presence of Russian troops and Iranian militias, who are supporting Mr. Assad’s forces in Syria’s seven-year civil war.

Where America, Russia and Iran Have Military Positions in Syria

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American forces in Syria have focused mainly on fighting the Islamic State in the country’s northeast.

More than 40 people were killed and dozens more sickened in the suspected attacks on the Damascus suburb of Douma over the weekend. Ever since, Mr. Trump has repeatedly promised to strike Syria — as he did last year following a deadly chemical attack in Idlib Province — and potentially pull the United States into the wider conflict.

American troops landed in the ground war in Syria in late 2015 with a small contingent of Special Operations forces, hoping to forge an alliance with local militias and rebel groups that could fight the Islamic State.

In the months that followed, the number of American troops grew. Their Kurdish and Arab allies, later known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, started ground assaults that would eventually lead to the loss of Islamic State strongholds in the northern cities of Manbij and their de facto capital in Raqqa.

There are currently an estimated 2,000 American troops in Syria, according to the Pentagon. The influx of forces transformed what had been an initial band of commandos in armored pickups into a scaled-down version of the sprawling military presence in neighboring Iraq.

They are spread across hundreds of miles of Syrian territory – contending with a potential Turkish offensive into Kurdish areas in Manbij, and into the middle Euphrates River Valley, where the remnants of the Islamic State are still holding out in the country’s east.

The Pentagon has said it is focused on eradicating the Islamic State extremists, and is fighting in areas that are uncomfortably near Syrian troops and Iranian forces. The United States military has had to deconflict airspace with Russian fighter jets in Syria. And American troops have crossed paths with Russian mercenaries and Iranian-backed militias, including a pitched battle in February and on the Iraqi border last spring. And in June, a United States military jet shot down a Syrian warplane that was trying to bomb American-backed fighters on the ground.

As a result, the combination of foreign actors, militants and local allies have vexed American commanders who are trying to keep their troops out of harm’s way without setting off an international confrontation.

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U.S. special forces soldiers scan the area at a front line outpost outside the northern Syrian city of Manbij. Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Beyond the contingent of Special Operations forces, the American presence in Syria includes conventional troops tasked with securing rural outposts, engineers for base construction, airmen for flight operations and trainers for the Syrian Democratic Forces, according to defense officials.

When American troops first arrived in Syria, their primary goal was ensuring that local forces fighting the Islamic State were well-trained, equipped and could attack with the necessary amount of air support backing them up. But as the campaign has crept on, American troops have needed an upgraded logistics system and a constellation of outposts to support the fighting.

In early 2016, an improved helicopter pad appeared in Syria’s northeast, near Hasaka. Months later, British Special Operations forces were pictured at a base near the border intersection of Syria, Jordan and Iraq farther to the south. The outpost, known as al-Tanf, would later turn into a key hub for American forces and allied Syrian rebels as they turned their assault toward the Euphrates River Valley.

That spring, American troops and Kurdish and Arab forces pushed toward the city of Manbij. Western forces — including a number of attack and transport helicopters — started appearing in satellite photos at a cement plant located between Manbij and Raqqa.

By the end of summer 2016, the American-led coalition and local forces had recaptured Manbij from the Islamic State, and the Pentagon had increased the number of United States troops in Syria to 500.

Last June, as the Syrian Democratic Forces pushed to seize Raqqa, video footage taken by CBS surfaced of an American airbase just south of the town of Kobani on the Turkish border. The base, capable of landing large American cargo aircraft, was complete with a working runway and tents for the troops flowing into the country.

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Roger Fenton: the First Great War Photographer

Robert Capa, the archetypical modern war photographer, once famously declared, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Good advice, though it didn’t apply to Roger Fenton, the godfather of the genre, who documented the Crimean War in 1855. That’s not just because he had to haul large cameras and unwieldy glass plate negatives (since fast Leica rangefinders had yet to be invented), but also because he shied away from photographing subjects that are now common: As a proper English gentleman, he wouldn’t photograph the corpses of soldiers, because doing so was unseemly.

Relying on long exposures made it impossible for Mr. Fenton to stop action and capture actual battles. But he did give the British public a view of the war by portraying the lives of British enlisted men and officers, as well as showing the armaments, supply routes and the many, many horses that were the critical military transportation technology of the day. He lived among the troops and traveled in a photo truck that doubled as his darkroom while photographing Russia’s defeat by an alliance that included Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire.

Three hundred and fifty of his images are now collected in “Shadows of War: Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea, 1855” by Sophie Gordon with contributions by Louise Pearson. The volume offers a more comprehensive view of his work beyond the dozen or so images familiar to the public.

Before the war, Mr. Fenton, a lawyer from a well-to-do family, was already renowned for his technical abilities and his close association with the royal family, which resulted in several historic portraits. A co-founder of the Royal British Photographic Society, he was also an accomplished landscape photographer, a skill he employed often in Crimea.

The book notes that Mr. Fenton covered the war thanks to a commission by the publisher Thomas Agnew and Sons to photograph as many of the officers as possible so that Thomas Barker could use the images as the basis for paintings. Other sources have suggested he was more motivated by the Duke of New Castle, Prince Albert, and other patrons who wanted photographs that could help shape British public opinion about the war. The conflict with Russia was already well-chronicled in words, including Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 1854 poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

Mr. Fenton reportedly broke several ribs in a fall and contracted cholera while in Crimea but he still managed to make about 360 useable photographs. Like almost all of the conflict photographers who have followed, he documented from just one side of the battlefield.

And like with modern-day conflict photography, the relationship between aesthetics and truth is an issue. Mr. Fenton’s image “Valley of the Shadow of Death” (after the Tennyson poem) (Slide 12) was the first iconic war photograph — and it is believed to have been staged.

He took two photographs of the scene — one with cannonballs littering the road and the other with the cannonballs by the roadside. Writers and scholars remain uncertain as to which was taken first, but either way someone moved the cannonballs between exposures. If it was the photographer, then the image would also be the first — of many — staged war photo.

He brought the plates back to England and as many as two million people, most paying an admission of one shilling saw the subsequent exhibits throughout Britain, according to the author. They were a critical and popular success, but Mr. Fenton apparently made little money from the enterprise. While he continued to photograph for several years, including sittings with the royal family, he became disillusioned with the commercialization of photography and sold his camera equipment in 1863 and returned to practicing law.

Like many later war photographers Mr. Fenton left the battlefield affected by the deaths he had witnessed. He might have been the first war photographer who turned his back on the craft, but he was certainly not the last.

Follow @JamesEstrin and @nytimesphoto on Twitter. James Estrin is also on Instagram. You can also find Lens on Facebook and Instagram.

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China Cancels Military Meeting With Vietnam Over Territorial Dispute

The public sign of discord is highly unusual for the two Communist neighbors, and it comes as Beijing seeks to expand its influence in the South China Sea.

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