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June 24, 2016 / 18 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘George W. Bush’

GW Bush Fundraising for Proselytizers of Jews in America and Israel

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Former President George W. Bush will headline a fundraiser in Texas for a group that seeks to convert Jews to Christianity, JTA reported.

Dubya follows in the footsteps of Glenn Beck, who was the star of the group’s fundraiser last year at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Bush is scheduled to appear Nov. 14 in suburban Dallas to raise funds for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a Texas-based group that says its mission is “to bring Jewish people into a personal relationship of faith with Yeshua the Messiah, knowing their acceptance will eventually mean life from the dead.”

Tickets for the event at the Irving Convention Center start at $250 and rise to as high as $100,000.

According to Mother Jones, which first reported the fundraiser, the $100,000 tickets include a VIP reception with Bush and a tour of Israel guided by the institute’s president, Wayne Wilks.

The MJBI mission is “to boldly proclaim Yeshua as Messiah, train leaders for Jewish ministry around the world, and educate the Church on God’s heart for the Jewish people, as it eagerly awaits the promise of Romans 11:15 that the acceptance of the Jewish people will mean ‘life from the dead.’”

The Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI) was formed in 1995 and launched in 1996, through the cooperative efforts of both Messianic Jewish and Gentile Christian leaders, according to the group’s website. After initially targeting Jews in Russia and eastern Europe, in 2002 the MJBI began to sponsor banquets, events, and training sessions in the United States for the purpose of proselytizing Jews there and in Israel.

In 2006, the group’s co-founder Dan Juster immigrated to Israel, where he oversees the MJBI programs directed at Israeli Jews. Their major emphases are producing teaching materials in Hebrew, a two-year bible school program intended to establish a Christian Ethiopian Israeli “leadership,” and seminars for messianic leaders.

Mother Jones reminded its readers that “last year, Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, told Politico that former Sen. Rick Santorum’s appearance at an event hosted by another Messianic Jewish organization, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, was ‘insensitive and offensive.'”

Reform Rabbi (nebech) David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, told Mother Jones about the Bush appearance: “It’s disappointing that he would give his stamp of approval to a group whose program is an express effort to convert Jews and not to accept the validity of the Jewish covenant.”

At last year’s MJBI fundraiser, Glenn Beck received a “Defender of Israel” award. On his now defunct FOX News show, Beck once said: “One of the reasons why I love Israel so much is I’m a guy who’s for the underdog. I’m a Mormon, which is kind of the Jew of the Christian world.”

Now, that’s a disheartening thought…

According to Mother Jones, Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas, which Beck attends, introduced Beck as a “prophet” at the event. Morris told the crowd that his church has supported MJBI because “when we do this, the Bible tells us, it’s going to change the whole world. That it’s going to hasten the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it’s going to bring about worldwide revival.”

A spokesman for Bush and a spokeswoman for the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum did not respond to requests for comment.

Yori Yanover

Obama’s Foreign Fiasco

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Originally published at Daniel Pipes.

It’s a privilege to be an American who works on foreign policy, as I have done since the late 1970s, participating in a small way in the grand project of finding my country’s place in the world. But now, under Barack Obama, decisions made in Washington have dramatically shrunk in importance. It’s unsettling and dismaying. And no longer a privilege.

Whether during the structured Cold War or the chaotic two decades that followed, America’s economic size, technological edge, military prowess, and basic decency meant that even in its inactivity, the U.S. government counted as much or more in world developments than any other state. Sniffles in Washington translated into influenza elsewhere.

Weak and largely indifferent presidents like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton mattered despite themselves, for example in the Iranian revolution of 1978-79 or the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 1990s. Strong and active presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had greater impact yet, speeding up the Soviet collapse or invading Afghanistan and Iraq.

But now, with Barack Obama, the United States has slid into shocking irrelevance in the Middle East, the world’s most turbulent region. Inconstancy, incompetence, and inaction have rendered the Obama administration impotent. In the foreign policy arena, Obama acts as though he would rather be the prime minister of Belgium, a small country that usually copies the decisions of its larger neighbors when casting votes at the United Nations or preening morally about distant troubles. Belgians naturally “lead from behind,” to use the famed phrase emanating from Obama’s White House.

Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo was a very long time ago.

Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo was a very long time ago.

Qatar (with a national population of 225,000) has an arguably greater impact on current events than the 1,400-times-larger United States (population: 314 million). Note how Obama these days takes a back seat to the emirs of Doha: They take the lead supplying arms to the Libyan rebels, he follows. They actively help the rebels in Syria, he dithers. They provide billions to the new leadership in Egypt, he stumbles over himself. They unreservedly back Hamas in Gaza, he pursues delusions of an Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Toward this end, the U.S. secretary of state made six trips in four months to Israel and the Palestinian territories in pursuit of a diplomatic initiative that almost no one believes will end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Doha, now more influential than Washington in the Middle East.

Doha, now more influential than Washington in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the U.S. secretary of defense called Egyptian leader Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi 17 times in conversations lasting 60-90 minutes, yet failed in his pleas that Sisi desist from using force against the Muslim Brotherhood. More striking yet, Sisi apparently refused to take a phone call from Obama. The $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt suddenly looks paltry in comparison to the $12 billion from three Persian Gulf countries, with promises to make up for any Western cuts in aid. Both sides in Egypt’s deep political divide accuse Obama of favoring the other and execrate his name. As dozens of Coptic churches burned, he played six rounds of golf. Ironically, Egypt is where, four long years ago, Obama delivered a major speech repudiating George W. Bush policies with seeming triumph.

Obama’s ambitions lie elsewhere – in augmenting the role of government within the United States, as epitomized by Obamacare. Accordingly, he treats foreign policy as an afterthought, an unwelcome burden, and something to dispatch before returning to juicier matters. He oversees withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan with little concern for what follows. His unique foreign policy accomplishment, trumpeted ad nauseam, was the execution of Osama bin Laden.

So far, the price to American interests for Obama’s ineptitude has not been high. But that could change quickly. Most worrisome, Iran could soon achieve nuclear breakout and start to throw its newfound weight around, if not to deploy its brand-new weapons. The new regime in Egypt could revert to its earlier anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism; already, important elements in Egypt are calling for rejection of U.S. aid and termination of the peace treaty with Israel.

As an American who sees his country as a force for good, these developments are painful and scary. The world needs an active, thoughtful, and assertive United States. The historian Walter A. McDougall rightly states that “The creation of the United States of America is the central event of the past four hundred years” and its civilization “perturbs the trajectories of all other civilizations just by existing.” Well not so much perturbation these days; may the dismal present be brief in duration.

Daniel Pipes

Angry Liberals in America

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell is staring at me with the uncontrolled intensity usually reserved for serial killers and time-share salesmen. “We know how to get the country back to work. The government needs to lead the way.”

He folds a napkin in what looks like some expensive oyster bar, but is probably just a television studio backdrop. “The government has to get us back to work.”

O’Donnell already has a job. His job is to yell angry things on MSNBC. Most of his listeners also have jobs or at least they have parents.

MSNBC is not a news network for the unemployed. It is a news network for aging liberals still addicted to listening to angry liberals yell about George W Bush.

On the television, O’Donnell, doing his best imitation of a strangler, wrings his hands and leans into the camera. Lean Forward, the ad, sandwiched between a drug ad that features smiling families at a picnic while the announcer soothingly tells you all the ways it can kill you and that multiracial Cheerios ad that General Mills hopes to use convince a new generation of consumers that racial progress is more important than good taste, tells me.

The ads are more soothing than the angry MSNBC segments that they bookend. And soothing is code for upscale. Even Lawrence O’Donnell angrily leaning forward in his imaginary upscale oyster bar where there are no other people smells of that same soothing patina of a moneyed world where nothing can go wrong except minor servant problems.
Strip down MSNBC to its skivvies and you find an angry NPR. It’s as if all the NPR people have given up speaking in their supercilious voices and after a few drinks at a cocktail party began holding forth on everything wrong with the canapés.
MSNBC is chock full of anger, but like Lawrence O’Donnell choking down his fury in an imaginary oyster bar over the inability of some people to understand that the government has to get us back to work in the fifth year of a liberal administration that promised to do just that, it’s an anger that makes no sense.
Liberals like to mock conservatives as a bunch of angry white men, but there are more angry white men yelling at the camera in two hours of MSNBC than in two days of FOX News.
It’s not the kind of yelling that unemployed men do when they get a call from the bank telling them that there will be no loan modification. It’s the prissy raised voices you hear at Starbucks when the Chris Hayes lookalike is shocked to be told that the java isn’t locally sourced and that if he doesn’t like that he can take his MacBook Air and finish his Great Unamerican Novel in some other coffee shop with free Wi-Fi.
MSNBCers don’t quite yell. Instead they tighten up, grind their teeth and treat viewers like the waiters in their oyster bar who got their order wrong. They aren’t going to yell, but they make it clear that they are furious and the only thing keeping them from turning red and breaking down in a screaming fit over nothing is that they suspect deep inside that the only response to their innermost volcanic venting will be a shrug. What angry leftists who grew up convinced of their snowflake specialness fear is that their anger will not change the world. That like a squalling infant in his third rate news network crib, no one will even care.
That is liberal anger, the privileged wheeze of entitled brats who do for politics exactly what their younger counterparts do for music with Pitchfork Magazine. It’s not righteous anger, but snob rage, the frustrated fury of the aesthetes of the Hill who hate what is on your iPod, your Kindle and your news feed.
“Republicans,” they spit with the venom of a Mohammedan rug merchant matching wits and saliva with his camel on a hot desert day.
“Tea Party. Ted Cruz. John Boehner.” These are the dread curses of the MSNBC set and are spoken like obscenities over an overturned car, like a starving urchin cursing the thief who stole his last loaf of bread, like a man sitting in an empty oyster bar speaking the name of the waiter who took his order an hour ago and then never came back.
These are the tales of the tribe that leans forward cupping hands around the smartphones that tell them who their enemies are and how they wronged them in the days of Nixon, the great betrayal of Bush v. Gore and the latest horrible plot just uncovered by the intrepid fabricators at Media Matters.
The tribe has few identities. It isn’t big on religions and nations. The borders of the United States are an outdated detail to them and the only ancestry that interests them is the stark divide between white and official minority. What they have are tastes. Their tastes in music, movies, food and politics are more than interest or enjoyment… these things are their identity. The things that they love in a way that they could never love people… give them meaning.
The left is a creature of trends, it pops up in trendy places as the alternative and it is always changing and spawning alternatives to itself. It is always trying to be edgy as it can before it settles down to the pudgy displays of choked down anger of the man who does not quite dare to yell at a waiter on display nightly on MSNBC.
There is a lot of anger on MSNBC, but it is mostly misdirected anger. It is the anger of men who want to yell at their wives and sons but instead gibber at viewers in empty oyster bars that are as fake as their economics. It is the petty anger of men who have put so much of themselves into their hobbies because their shallow egotism permits them no more human a connection and tolerates not even the slightest slights against the objects of their impeccable tastes. It is the anger of an old elite that has become foolish and deranged and does not really know why it is angry anymore… except perhaps because it is dying.
Liberalism in those northeastern circles used to be a matter of good taste. There is nothing good about it anymore. It has become a suicide pact for angry lonely men who wait in imaginary oyster bars for a waiter who will never come, for an Age of Aquarius that will never be born and a transcendence of government that will never arrive no matter how they twist their hands, tug at their red napkins and lean forward.

Liberalism has become sick with its own disease. It is as dogma-ridden as any Red drinking sour beer in 1920s Chicago. It has nothing to offer to anyone except the ideological denunciation of thought crimes and the attendant superiority of being on the right side of the guillotine. And it has the misplaced self-righteousness of those who are busy pretending that they are angry about what is being done to other people, rather than their own egotistical anger with which they confront their sense of futility.

Liberalism, like all trends, seeks novelty, it burns brightest among the young, it plots to escape from history through the engine of progress only to discover that the mortality that is the greatest fear of the intellectual mayfly outlives the schemes of men.
The left personifies vanity. Its activists and advocates envision an escape from time only to drown it. Anger is their engine of change, but their anger makes only a little light and a little heat before it burns out leaving them alone in a cold dark oyster bar with history behind them, leaning forward into oblivion.
Daniel Greenfield

Obama’s Head-in-the-Sand Speech About Terror

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

President Barack Obama’s speech at the National Defense University, “The Future of Our Fight against Terrorism” is a remarkable exercise in wishful thinking and denial. Here is basically what he says: the only strategic threat to the United States is posed by terrorists carrying out terrorist attacks.

In the 6400 words used by Obama, Islam only constitutes three of them and most interestingly in all three the word is used to deny that the United States is at war with Islam. In fact, that is what President George Bush said precisely almost a dozen years ago, after September 11. Yet why have not hundreds of such denials had the least bit of effect on the course of that war?

In fact, to prove that the United States is not at war with Islam, the Obama Administration has sided with political Islam throughout the Middle East, to the extent that some Muslims think Obama is doing damage to Islam, their kind of non-revolutionary Islam.

And how has the fight against al-Qaeda resulted in a policy that has, however inadvertently, armed al-Qaeda, as in Libya and Syria?

Once again, I will try to explain the essence of Obama strategy, a simple point that many people seem unable to grasp:

Obama views al-Qaeda as a threat because it wants to attack America directly with terrorism. But all other Islamist groups are not a threat. In fact, they can be used to stop al-Qaeda.

This is an abandonment of a strategic perspective. The word Islamism or political Islam or any other version of that word do not appear even once. Yet this is the foremost revolutionary movement of this era, the main threat in the world to U.S. interests and even to Western civilization.

If one wanted to come up with a slogan for the Obama Administration it would be that to win the war on terrorism one must lose the war on revolutionary Islamism because only by showing that America is the Islamists’ friend will it take away the incentive to join up with al-Qaeda and attack the United States.

Please take the two sections in bold above very seriously if you want to understand U.S. Middle East policy.

According to Obama:

If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Egypt that is not a strategic threat but a positive advantage because it is the best organization able to curb al-Qaeda. And that policy proves that the United States is not at war with Islam.

If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Tunisia that is not a strategic threat but a positive advantage because it is the best organization able to curb al-Qaeda. And that policy proves that the United States is not at war with Islam.

If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Syria that is not a strategic threat but a positive advantage because it is the best organization able to curb al-Qaeda. And that policy proves that the United States is not at war with Islam.

If a regime whose viewpoint is basically equivalent to the Muslim Brotherhood—albeit far more subtle and culture—dominates Turkey that is not a strategic threat but a positive advantage because it is the best organization able to curb al-Qaeda. And that policy proves that the United States is not at war with Islam.

These and other strategic defeats do not matter, says Obama in effect:

After I took office, we stepped up the war against al Qaeda, but also sought to change its course. We relentlessly targeted al Qaeda’s leadership. We ended the war in Iraq, and brought nearly 150,000 troops home. We pursued a new strategy in Afghanistan, and increased our training of Afghan forces. We unequivocally banned torture, affirmed our commitment to civilian courts, worked to align our policies with the rule of law, and expanded our consultations with Congress.

And yet the Taliban is arguably close to taking over Afghanistan in future. The group has spread to Pakistan. The rule of law in Afghanistan is a joke and soldiers there know that the Afghan government still uses torture.

Today, Osama bin Laden is dead, and so are most of his top lieutenants. There have been no large-scale attacks on the United States, and our homeland is more secure. Fewer of our troops are in harm’s way, and over the next 19 months they will continue to come home. Our alliances are strong, and so is our standing in the world. In sum, we are safer because of our efforts.

Well, it is quite true that security measures within the United States have been largely successful at stopping attacks. But the frequency of attempted attacks has been extensive, some of which were blocked by luck and the expenditure of one trillion dollars. Country after country has been taken over by radical Islamists who can be expected to fight against American interests in future. Obama continues:

So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us…

But he never actually defines it except to suggest that (1) al-Qaeda has spread to other countries (which does not sound like a victory for the United States) and (2) That its affiliates and imitators are more amateurish than those who pulled off the September 11, 2001 attack. Yet they got away with the September 11, 2012 attack.

Barry Rubin

Restoring the Image of George W. Bush

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

The American people honored the formal opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas last Thursday. It will house a library which will serve as the government repository for the historical documents of the Bush presidency combined with an institute dedicated to promoting the vision and values of President Bush and the first lady Laura Bush..

This historic moment is an important transition to a possibility continually suggested throughout the two presidential terms of George W. Bush: that history would validate and look positively on his global and national service.  This analysis examines some important positive corrections to the memory and future understanding of President Bush.

Correction #1:   President Bush was an impressive presidential leader who returned civility for incivility

President Bush endured a now four decade long tradition of demonizing Republican presidents since Richard Nixon.  The overriding bias of academics, journalists and Hollywood producers consistently suggests to the general public that these public servants from this political party are unusually unethical, deceptive, ignorant, and harmful to the nation.  President Bush endured a high watermark of our intellectual communities’ tradition of demonizing a president.  President Bush remains one of the most unpopular political figures of modern times.

Despite this long tradition, the president continually displays a positive attitude toward the nation, his critics and even the current president who replaced him.  President Bush does not participate in the partisan attacks that dominant the current American civic practice.  His restraint and civility remain a model for good leadership and a path back to a better form of politics.

Correction #2:  President Bush was a great military leader who defeated Osama Bin Laden’s rival vision of America the “paper tiger”

Without question, the events of September 11, 2001 set the rhetorical frame from which one begins to understand the Bush presidency.  Envisioned by terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden, the grand attack on U.S. soil was the culmination of a growing program of terror.  Designed to demonstrate to the world Bin Laden’s view that the United States was a paper tiger — as demonstrated on the streets of Mogadishu and the nation’s general reticence for war – 9/11 was a capstone symbolic humiliation of the United States. Bin Laden believed that all people would follow his model of the “strong horse.”  Bin Laden’s increasingly brazen attacks were designed to attract admirers and future participants in his holy war.

President Bush set aside promises to not engage in “nation building,” issued in the presidential debates of 2000, to strategically restore America’s image as an active military power.  Combat operations around the world but principally expressed in Afghanistan and Iraq, brought to a decisive end the cowering legacy of Vietnam.  America was willing to deploy hundreds of thousands of its precious men and women to fight on the ground with the barbaric cruelty of Islamic supremacists bent on terrifying the world into submissive silence.  A predictable pattern of limited American casualties forming the understood calculation for expelling American military force was brought to an end as thousands of our soldiers died in foreign lands.

Instead of withdrawing in shame from Iraq in 2007, President Bush surged and restored order to the country in direct defiance to an anti-American war movement that had historically dictated U.S. military deployment to the satisfaction of dictators abroad. In 2013, the risk of U.S. military intervention remains more robust than anytime since Vietnam and America appears as the global “strong horse.”  In his two terms, there were no major terror attacks on the United States.

Correction #3:  President Bush was a prudent and effective leader in fiscal and economic policy

The rapid decline and collapse of the American economy in the latter half of 2008 has perpetuated a notion that President Bush can and should be blamed for all economic ills.  Taking note of where the nation left the fiscal and economic tracks is easy to do.  In January of 2007, the nation strongly ushered the Democratic Party into congressional dominance.  Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid took emphatic control of American fiscal policy and leaders like Barney Frank took the reins of congressional oversight for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac– the nation’s largest holder of mortgages.  In 2007, the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent.  The annual deficit had fallen from a high of half a trillion dollars in 2005 to less than 170 billion dollars.  The declining deficit was a function of growing revenues and a growing economy.  2007 stands as the final year of unblemished American prosperity, the clear departure point where American fiscal and economic policy left the tracks.

Ben Voth

Obama’s Flawed Advice To Israel (First of Two Parts)

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

It’s farewell to the drawing-room’s civilized cry, the professor’s sensible whereto and why, The frock-coated diplomat’s social aplomb, Now matters are settled with gas and with bomb.

W.H. Auden, Danse Macabre One must presume that President Obama’s most recent calls for Israeli cooperation in the Middle East peace process are balanced, fair, and well-intentioned. Why not? At the same time, unsurprisingly, these all-too-familiar calls are manifestly thin, in the sense that they lack any genuine intellectual content.

At best reminiscent of former president Bill Clinton’s inept and unforgivable orchestrations of Oslo, they are merely the latest unimaginative representation of “old wine in new bottles.” At worst, and once again evocative of Clinton’s long reach of incapacity, they exhibit a conspicuously shallow compilation of empty witticisms. For Obama, as for Clinton before him, advising Israel always entails inevitable diplomatic default: a visceral capitulation to comforting banalities, and convenient half-truths.

In any event, one analytic conclusion is abundantly clear and incontestable. Mr. Obama’s core argument is founded upon thoroughly incorrect strategic and jurisprudential assumptions. Intellectually, this argument is an unwitting self-parody.

The key problem is not, as the president still seems to think, Israel’s unwillingness to compromise more fully. It’s not that Israel is unwilling to make more “painful sacrifices for peace.” It is, rather, the plainly asymmetrical commitment to peace that continues to exist between the Palestinian side(s) and the Israeli side.

It makes no real sense to ask that Israel undertake increasing and incremental surrenders to a bifurcated enemy (Fatah and Hamas) that can still gleefully share at least one overriding commitment – that is, a relentless and generally unhidden dedication to Israel’s “liquidation.”

Let Obama finally take note. From the beginning, the only Israeli compromise that could have satisfied both Fatah and Hamas would have been a perversely codified Israeli commitment to self-destruction and national disappearance. Should Israel now be expected to be complicit in its own genocide?

International law is not a suicide pact. Why hasn’t Obama even looked at the unambiguous historical record? Even before formal conferral statehood in 1948, Israel had sought, courageously and reasonably, to negotiate with its many unheroic and unreasonable enemies. Always, in these efforts, Jerusalem had preferred peace to war.

Nonetheless, challenged by insistent and interminable Arab aggressions, diplomacy has insistently failed Israel. Even the most visible example of any alleged diplomatic “success,” the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979, is apt to fail calamitously sometime in the post-Mubarak/Muslim Brotherhood era. It’s only a matter of time.

Whatever the neatly fashioned expectations demanded from Washington, Prime Minister Netanyahu is first obligated to inquire: What real chance exists that, somehow, this time and also for the future, diplomacy might actually be purposeful?

From Oslo to the present “Road Map,” diplomacy over Israel’s rights and obligations has always been a blatantly one-sided process.

Ironically, Israel’s principal enemies remain thoroughly candid. On some things they do not lie. When it comes to their unceasing intention to annihilate the “Zionist entity” they are seemingly sworn to truth.

The principal disputing Palestinian factions (Fatah or Hamas, it makes little difference) will never accept anything less than Israel’s complete removal. This is already obvious to anyone who cares to pay attention to what is actually said. Moreover, in a clearly corroborating bit of explicit cartography, every PA and Hamas map already incorporates all of Israel within “Palestine.”

Toward the end of his tenure, former prime minister Ehud Olmert released several hundred Palestinian terrorists as a “goodwill gesture.” Together with then-president George W. Bush, he had decided to aid Fatah against Hamas with outright transfers of weapons and information. Soon after, the American and Israeli guns were turned (predictably) against Israel.

As for Olmert’s graciously extended “goodwill,” it only served to elicit the next multiple rounds of murderous rocket fire. Matters were not helped at all by the Bush administration’s corollary support for a Palestinian state, a thoroughly misconceived support now being more or less viscerally extended by Barack Obama.

…Continued Next Week

Louis Rene Beres

Elliott Abrams on Sharon’s English, Saudi Suspicions, and Mideast Peace

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

The world of politics is divided between insiders and outsiders – those who know and those who don’t, those who make policy and those who react to it, those who observe directly and those who peer from beyond a curtain.

From December 2002 to January 2009, Elliott Abrams was an insider. As deputy assistant to the president and later deputy national security adviser – with the Middle East as his focus – Abrams interacted daily with such figures as President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

In his new book, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Cambridge University Press), Abrams shares his insider vantage point. Educated at Harvard University and the London School of Economics, Abrams also served as assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration and today is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Jewish Press: You begin Tested by Zion with Bill Clinton warning Bush about Yasir Arafat. Can you elaborate?

Abrams: Every new presidential administration starts off with the old president and new president meeting in the Oval Office for a kind of handshake before everybody goes up to Capitol Hill for the inauguration. It’s just a formality. But on January 20, 2001, when Clinton handed over to Bush, it was not a formality. Clinton had a message he wanted to deliver, which was basically, “Don’t trust Arafat” – and he said it repeatedly. “He lied to me, he’ll lie to you. Don’t trust him.”

The Bush administration, as you write, eventually adopted this position, but then decided to invest its efforts in Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) – a man who spent 40 years in Arafat’s PLO and argued in his Ph.D. thesis that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was inflated by Zionists for their own ends. Why would the Bush administration trust someone like him?

In June 2003, Abbas did exactly what we hoped he would do. He met with Ariel Sharon in Aqaba, Jordan and said the armed intifada is over. He said there’s no justification for using violence against Israelis anywhere. That made a big impression on Bush. We saw no evidence – ever – in eight years that Abbas was involved in terrorism.

But even today you read occasional media reports of Abbas attending ceremonies at which Palestinian schools or streets are named after notorious terrorists.

This is a terrible problem. There is a culture of violence there, and one of Abbas’s weaknesses is that he’s not a violent person. He’s never held a gun, and he’s never been to an Israeli prison. The guys who are viewed as heroes by the Palestinians are people who have committed acts of violence.

Now, what do you do about that? What you ought to do is try to change the culture. Instead, what Fatah and Abbas have done is feed it – by glorifying the mothers of terrorists, glorifying terrorists themselves, and naming schools, streets, or squares after them.

We in the U.S. have never taken this seriously enough, and frankly, neither have the Israelis. We all say, “Oh, you should stop doing this,” but we never insist on it. No one has ever said, for example, “U.S. support for the PA is going to stop on the first of the month unless that kind of stuff is eliminated.”

And yet, the Bush administration – particularly Condoleezza Rice, as your book makes clear – pushed Israel to sign some sort of peace deal with Abbas. Why?

Condi thought a comprehensive peace agreement was possible. She, and Olmert, thought that if offered a sufficiently generous package by Israel, Abbas would sign.

I thought it was impossible – first, because the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians are very deep – just think of Jerusalem, for example – and second, because I never thought Abbas had the courage to sign an agreement since he would be immediately accused of treason [by many of his own people].

Did Condoleezza Rice and President Bush know your views on the matter?

They both knew. In fact, whenever I would go to Israel – which was very frequently – I would come back and the president would say, “What’s up? Olmert is very optimistic,” and I would say to the president, “Well, I know Olmert tells you he’s optimistic, but I’m telling you there’s never going to be a deal here.”

So the president knew, and he would say to people, “Condi’s optimistic, Olmert’s optimistic, but Elliott’s not optimistic.”

How often would you speak with the president about the Middle East?

If we were both in Washington, probably on average twice a week.

Were these five-minute conversations? Half-hour conversations?

It would vary. I mean sometimes it was because a foreign leader was visiting the president, so if you count the time I spent briefing the president, the actual meeting, and then the discussion afterwards – that would be a couple of hours.

Sometimes it would be for a phone call. Let’s say he was calling Sharon or Mubarak. So that would be more like 45 minutes. And sometimes it would just be a question. That would be 15 minutes.

Why would you be present during a phone call between Bush and a foreign leader?

The way business was done was… let’s say we scheduled a call at 7:00 in the morning with the president of Egypt. I would go in about 10 minutes before and we would talk about why we were doing the call. I would also tell the president anything new that had happened in the last, let’s say, 12 hours that might be important for the call.

For instance, if it was Mubarak’s birthday, I would say, “You should wish him a happy birthday.” It was a kind of an update briefing. Then we would do the call – I would be in the room listening – and then at the end of the call we would chat about it and discuss the follow-up. [The president might say something like], “That was interesting, but I need to talk to the Saudis now” or “I need to talk to Sharon now.”

Many of Bush’s critics portray him as something of a bumbling Texas idiot. You make it clear in the book that you disagree.

He was very smart. I mean, all you had to do was be in a meeting with him to see how smart he was – both about the issues and about the people.

He paid very close attention to his personal relations with foreign leaders. In this he was very much like Clinton, and not at all like Obama who seems to dislike spending time with foreign leaders. Bush liked it and thought it was important. He thought that if a relationship of confidence was established you could get more from these guys.

You write that Bush’s Texas English threw foreign leaders off sometimes.

Bush talked in one way to everybody – to his wife, to you and me, to the American people, and to foreign leaders. He had one way of speaking, which I would call “Texan.” And it was funny because very often there were foreigners who didn’t really follow completely. Ariel Sharon was one of them. Sometimes he would get lost in a meeting, and he would turn to his chief of staff, Dubi Weissglass, and say, “Mah?”

The president would use lots of colloquial expressions. For example, if he was asking someone whether he was going to join the United States in some action, he might say, “You know, the question is whether you’re going to saddle up with us.” Now, if you haven’t watched a lot of Westerns and you’re not an American, you don’t know what that means.

Talking about Sharon, you quote Condoleezza Rice as saying: “[H]e’s one of the very few people I know who spoke English better than he understood it.”

She was right. Sharon seemed to have better English than he did because on most subjects you might want to talk to him about – Egypt, Syria, settlements, the IDF, Iran – he kind of had talking points in his head. He had the words ready. He used them a thousand times. But that didn’t mean his comprehension was great. So often he would lose track of what was being said to him.

Of all the major figures in the White House during your tenure, who would you say was the most sympathetic to Israel?

I would say the president, first of all, and Cheney. They had a really deep appreciation for Israel, which I think was a great surprise for a lot of Israelis, particularly about Cheney because he had worked in the Arab world for so long. I would say Rumsfeld was also a very strong supporter of Israel. Bob Gates, his successor, was not.

I think Condi was very sympathetic in the first term. After the Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, though, she was less sympathetic. I think she felt the Israelis had lost their way – that they had made a mistake in that war and had prosecuted it poorly – and that she was now going to have to take a much stronger hand in pushing them into an agreement with the Palestinians. She lost faith in Olmert, but also in the IDF.

How about Powell?

I think Powell was not sympathetic right from the start. Powell adopted, what I would call, the State Department view of Israel, which is basically that Israel is making trouble for us in the Middle East with our Arab friends and that it ought to be pressured harder. This is the traditional State Department view, and I think Powell had that view right from the beginning.

In the book you refer to “the apparent American obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Why is the U.S. government generally so obsessed? Why doesn’t it take a more hands-off policy (as it arguably is doing now)?

I think it’s partly because there is a mistaken view – and this has been held at the State Department for a very long time – that the central issue in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and if you were able to solve that conflict, all of our other problems would go away or be much easier to resolve. If you believe that, you’re going to spend a lot of time on this issue.

I think it’s ridiculous, though. Do you think that if you resolved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran would stop trying to get a nuclear weapon? Do you think the Syrians would stop killing each other? Do you think Egypt or Libya would become stable all of a sudden?

Did you ever get a sense while working in the White House that you were suspected as taking a more pro-Israel stance because you’re a Jew?

Not from the president or the vice president or anybody else in the administration. Not from most of the Arabs either. I would say the exception was the Saudis, where I did have the feeling that they believed I was a kind of Israeli agent – that I was not working for the interests of the United States but for the interests of Israel.

Elliot Resnick

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