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Posts Tagged ‘George W. Bush’

Reflections on the Invasion of Iraq, a Decade Later

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

How does one understand the U.S.-led expeditionary force that attacked Iraq exactly a decade ago, on March 18, 2003?

Saddam Hussein’s regime was one of the most monstrous in human history, enslaving some 20 million people to his cruel and demanding will and, without provocation, attacking several of his neighbors (Iran and Kuwait especially, also Israel and Saudi Arabia). In addition, he aspired to dominate the worldwide oil & gas trade and tried to build nuclear weapons. One can hardly imagine a greater menace to civilized life.

The decade that followed has seen a return to the more mundane awfulness of the Middle East. Communal problems, political turmoil, Islamist growth, poor relations with neighbors, but at least no gassing of one’s own population, invading neighbors, or threats to the world economy. This is all anyone could have expected – except that George W. Bush naïvely convinced himself and others that Iraq could be free and prosperous and even a model for the region. He then led a trillion-dollar effort that cost thousands of lives and came up woefully short.

So, yes, Iraq and the world are better off with Saddam gone. But the high hopes of a rehabilitation by the U.S. government have been disappointed. This should offer a pointed lesson for future temptations to “nation build”: Western powers enjoy overwhelming battlefield superiority but face great difficulty when trying to shape other countries. Don’t try the latter unless the stakes are high enough and the will exists to see it through.

Originally published at Danielpipes.org and The National Review Online, The Corner, as “Reflection on the Invasion of Iraq,” March 18, 2013.

Obama Limiting US-Israel Security Cooperation?

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Shared values and democratic systems count for a lot in the political world — and they can advance military cooperation — but national security interests can evolve without them. No one would mistake Saudi Arabia or Bahrain for a country that shares American values, yet the U.S. Central Command works closely and cooperatively with both.

Israel shares American values in many ways, but a shared security outlook is something else, hinging on threat perceptions that may no longer be coincident.

Vice President Biden took to the stage at AIPAC this week to promote U.S.-Israel security relations. His emphasis on American support for Israel’s missile defense program is the coin of the realm – first because it is true and second because Israel’s enemies have missiles.

But security relations have undergone a subtle, negative change in the past four years.

The Obama administration has been willing to be Israel’s protector, patron to a client, or parent to a child. This patronizing attitude is reflected in the President’s assertion that Israel’s democratically elected leaders “don’t know what’s in their own best interest” and Vice President Biden’s comment that President Obama wants to hear from “regular Israelis” on his upcoming trip, suggesting that what he hears from Prime Minister Netanyahu would be disputed by Israel’s citizenry. The administration is less willing to be Israel’s partner in addressing common threats, including terrorism and the rise of radical Islam. And there has been a limit to consultation and cooperation on Iran. On occasion, the U.S. adds to Israel’s problems by allowing Israel to bear the brunt of the world’s disapprobation at the U.N.

Israel’s first strategic allies were France and Great Britain. The U.S. was sympathetic to Israel’s plight as small and vulnerable to threats from combinations of Arab states, but except for a desire not to have socialist Israel in the pro-Soviet camp and the 1956 Eisenhower outburst, the U.S. was uninvolved in Israeli security. President Johnson declined to be of assistance to Israel in the Six Day War.

Presidents Nixon and Reagan saw Israel in the Cold War context. Nixon stood with Israel as a defensive measure against the Soviet Union in 1973. Reagan opened “strategic cooperation” as a forward step in a plan to defeat the USSR. His idea of ballistic missile defenses was matched by Israeli innovation in the field; the result was tremendous advancement and in-depth cooperation.

At the end of the Cold War, President Clinton called for “capabilities based” defense to cover contingencies rather than specific enemies. Israel was well placed to continue to work with the United States and provide technological capabilities and test beds. Israel established warm relations with some of the newest NATO members, Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as with Bulgaria and Romania.

After 9-11, President Bush’s formulation of a “war against terrorists and the states that harbor and support them” resonated fully with Israel, and there was increased closeness and cooperation on perceived regional threats. But congruity of interests is never total. When American and Israeli positions on Iran diverged (about 2007), President Bush refused Israel weapons that could be used against Iran.

When the Obama Administration redefined the wars in which the United States is engaged, the words “Islamic” or “Muslim” terrorism and radical Islam were shelved in favor of more neutral appellations. In his Cairo address, President Obama sought to establish “mutual respect” between the West and the “Muslim world,” and he accepted the view that policies of the West were partly responsible for the antagonism of Muslims toward the United States. He called Israel’s independence a response to the Holocaust — a charge that fed into the Arab complaint that Israel was foisted on the region by guilty Europeans rather than by being a legitimate and permanent part of the region.

Without commenting on the approach itself, it should be noted that the independence of and continuing support for Israel is, by the definition of its enemies, part of what the West did and does that creates antagonism in the “Muslim world.” And for those who believe, as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has said, that terrorists are created as a reaction to Western provocation, support for Israel is precisely such a provocation.

In terms of military cooperation, then, the President’s formulation reduced the ability of Israel to have equal stature with the United States in a regional mission.

The Iran-North Korea Connection

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Before the North Koreans successfully launched a (non-functioning) satellite into orbit on December 12, 2012 there were reports, notably by space expert and NBC News consultant, James Oberg, that Iranian missile experts had been spotted in North Korea. If true, this would be perfectly consistent with the longstanding and close relationship that North Korea has had with the Islamic Republic of Iran. On February 11, the Pyongyang government exploded what it describes as a ‘miniaturized’ nuclear weapon. This test has dramatically raised tension levels in Northeast Asia. This underground test also raises difficult questions about Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

The nuclear explosion seems to have been more powerful than the previous two, the first of which in 2006 looked like a “fizzle.” No matter what the US intelligence community eventually determines about the exact nature of the February 11th explosion, it is obvious that the North Koreans are getting better at building these weapons. What should also be obvious is that the the information and expertise that the North Koreans are gaining is, in all probability, going to be shared with the Mullah’s regime in Iran.

In 1999 it was evident that Iran and North Korea were cooperating on both long range missiles and nuclear weapons. Back then, Bill Gertz, writing in the Washington Times, reported that “Iranian officials recently traveled to North Korea to discuss missile cooperation.”

Before that, in 1998, “The Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States” chaired by Donald Rumsfeld with members such as Paul Wolfowitz, R. James Woolsey and Richard Garwin, described how, “we traced the development histories of the related programs of North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan and the relationships among them.”

Since 1998, intelligence assessments of these types of programs, especially after the mistakes made in Iraq, have become even more politicized than they were in 1998. Any ambiguities in the information are seized on by intelligence analysts to downplay any danger that these rogue states may “break out” in unexpected ways. The highly controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of Iran’s nuclear program is an example of this problem: the claim that Iran had given up its nuclear weapons program was derided as an apparent effort by the intelligence community to prevent the Bush administration from taking active measures against Iran.

However, the detailed language of the NIE indicates that the intelligence community was hedging its bets. They wrote, “We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.” We certainly do know that in February 2013, Iran’s drive to build up a stockpile of highly enriched uranium, which can be fashioned into a bomb, has accelerated.

In this context, the 2007 NIE makes a point that is all too relevant today:

We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame. (The INR [Intelligence and Research : The State Department's in-house intelligence agency] judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013 because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.) All agencies recognize that this capability may not be achieved until after 2015.

Thus, according to the NEI, we are today right in the middle of the time period that the careful and reputedly dovish analysts of the U.S. intelligence community identified as the moment when Iran would have enough material for a nuclear bomb.

We have been told that there is no evidence that Iran is working on a bomb design, but if the Mullahs can simply buy a usable  and tested bomb design from North Korea, they could transform their status into a nuclear weapons state overnight.

The North Korean government is even more impoverished now than it was in 1999. It is likely that its bomb designs will be for sale at bargain prices. Thanks to the availability of a cheap and tested design, nuclear weapons programs could begin to emerge in previously non-nuclear nations. For example, Arab states that are losing confidence in America’s will to defend them against Tehran, could buy the North Korean warhead plans as easily as their Iranian adversaries.

Obama’s Careful Phrasing Conceals Disasters

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

While President Obama’s State of the Union message was overwhelmingly domestically oriented, the foreign policy sections were most interesting.

The president began in the same neo-patriotic mode used in the second inaugural address, with a special emphasis on thanking U.S. troops. He used the imagery of the end of World War II paralleling the return of troops from Iraq to promote his idea that the American economy must be totally restructured.

Obama defined his main successes—careful to credit the military (whose budget he seeks to cut deeply and whose health benefits he’s already reduced) rather than his usual emphasis on taking the credit for himself—were the following points:

For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.
For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.
Most of Al Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken. And some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.Now there certainly have been accomplishments on these three fronts but these claims are also profoundly misleading and very carefully worded. Let’s take them one at a time.

Iraq Withdrawal. It is true that U.S. forces are largely out of Iraq yet this was inevitable, with one key reservation. There was no likelihood they would be there in a large combat role forever. Whatever one thinks of the invasion of Iraq, the American forces were staying for an interim period until the Iraqi army was ready. Any successor to George W. Bush would have pulled out the combat forces.

The reservation, of course, is that it was the success of the surge—which Obama and his new secretary of defense (yes, he will be confirmed) Chuck Hagel opposed. So he is taking credit for a policy that was inevitable and that was made possible by a success that he was against.

Lest you think that assessment is unfair to Obama consider this: he did absolutely nothing to make this outcome happen. No policy or strategy of his administration made the withdrawal faster or more certain.

Osama Bin Laden. This is a strange phrase: “For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.” It is a new way of putting the “Obama killed Osama” meme while hinting that al-Qaida is not a threat to the United States. Well, as Benghazi shows, al-Qaida is still a threat but wording the sentence the way Obama did implies otherwise without saying so and looking foolish at making an obviously false claim.

Al Qaeda. Notice a very strange and ungrammatical formulation: “Most of Al Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated.” I think this can only be understood as an incomplete change in the traditional slogan that al-Qaida has been defeated. The administration can no longer make this argument so it is looking for something that gets in bin Ladin’s assassination and that of other al-Qaida leaders (al-Qaida has been decapitated) with hinting that al-Qaida has been defeated.

In other words, someone did a bad job of proofreading the speech. Of course, all of this glosses over the fact that al-Qaida hasn’t been defeated. It is on the march in Mali, the Gaza Strip, Somalia, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, and other places.

Incidentally, al-Qaida will always be defeated politically because it has no strong political program or structure. That’s why al-Qaida kills but the Muslim Brotherhood wins. And Obama is helping the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Taliban. As for the Taliban, again there is a cute formulation: its “momentum has been broken.” In other words, the Taliban has survived, it is still launching attacks, and it might even take over large parts of Afghanistan after American troops leave. Momentum has been broken is just a fancy way of saying that its gaining power has been slowed down. Of course, after American troops leave, that momentum will probably speed up again.

In his second mention of foreign affairs, Obama spoke of economic issues, he says:

My message is simple. It is time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America. Send me these tax reforms, and I will sign them right away.In fact, though, businesses are not fleeing the United States because the wages are lower there while the Obama Administration puts into effect increasingly tight and costly regulations and imposes higher costs (including the impact of Obamacare). Moreover, wages are lower overseas.

Jerusalem of Politics

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

It’s election season, so Republicans can’t be blamed for expressing outrage when the political platform at last week’s Democratic National Convention removed support for Jerusalem being the capital of Israel.

Nevertheless, all the political fodder seemed disingenuous. Just a week before, nobody even noticed when the GOP’s own platform dropped its prior call for Jerusalem being Israel’s united capital – by removing the word “undivided.”

For many, support for a political party is eternal, like loyalty to a sports team. So Democrats faithfully recite talking points about President Obama being a great friend of Israel, Republicans pretend the Iraq war was a good idea, and Mets fans continue to watch Jason Bay.

On the surface, it’s good that the biggest immediate challenge to Israel’s status in Jerusalem is a few omitted words in a political platform.

But daunting threats are on the horizon, which will require Jerusalem’s supporters in the United States to do much more than play politics. A principled stance that holds everyone accountable, regardless of party affiliation, will be essential.

It may sound like a cliché, but it’s still true: For 3,000 years, Jerusalem has been the center of the Jewish world. The city was desolate for two millennia, but Jews everywhere prayed, hoped and dreamed to return there. Jerusalem is where the British banned the blowing of the shofar at the Western Wall; where the Jewish Quarter fell in 1948, as Jews were expelled and banned from the Old City for 19 years; where, in what was one of the most dramatic days in modern history, the dreams of Jewish sovereignty over our most treasured places were suddenly realized in June 1967; and where, less than a decade ago, routine bombs on buses, in cafes and in the streets left the center square virtually empty once again.

The dangers of the shofar being banned at the Western Wall, of Jews again losing access to the Old City, or of renewed mass murder in Jerusalem’s streets are real, not mere paranoia.

The world has decided that for the sake of peace, Jerusalem will be divided. But in fact, while it might be possible for Israel to cede sovereignty over outlying Arab neighborhoods added to the city’s municipal boundaries in 1967, the idea of dividing the Old City is delusional at best. Yet due to the egregious concessions offered by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert at the end of their failed prime ministerial tenures – concessions that were soundly rejected by Israelis – the international community assumes the delusional to be inevitable.

This is why both Republican and Democrat support for united Jerusalem has steadily eroded, as reflected in both of their party platforms. Fixing the platforms and having a celebratory l’chaim is not the answer. The platforms are the sounding of an alarm, conveying that something must be done to shift the pendulum back in Jerusalem’s favor.

It’s long past time to return to substance and explain why Jerusalem must remain united. Anybody who has spent time in Jerusalem knows it would be absurd for Jews to expect to enter the State of Palestine at Jaffa Gate, safely walk or drive in Palestine from there to the Western Wall, and then return to the state of Israel in western Jerusalem. Yet this is just what all the so-called peace plans call for – even though polls show that Jerusalem’s Arab residents prefer Israeli control over united Jerusalem to a divided city that could be an even worse place to live than Belfast or Sarajevo.

Those of us who oppose partition of Jerusalem are often derided as opponents of peace. But none other than Yitzhak Rabin, just months before he was murdered by Yigal Amir, understood that dividing Jerusalem was not a path to peace. Leaving no doubt, Rabin emphasized, “if they told us that peace is the price of giving up on a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, my reply would be ‘let’s do without peace.’ ”

When a few weeks after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration indicated it would pressure Israel to accept the division of Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon angrily proclaimed, “Do not try to placate the Arabs at our expense. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia.”

U.S. Presidents And Israel

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Several years ago the Monitor ranked the U.S. presidents (from Truman through Clinton) in terms of their relationship with Israel. Since then, readers occasionally have asked whether time and added perspective have had any effect on the list and where Barack Obama would place on it.

The following is a somewhat updated ranking, subjective and open to argument as such things always are. It goes from worst (12) to best (1) and is based on an overall assessment of a president’s attitude, actions and consistency as well as whether his decisions and policies were a help or hindrance to Israel.

12. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981): He mediated between Egypt and Israel at Camp David, but Anwar Sadat’s initiative had caught him completely by surprise after he’d foolishly agreed to bring the Soviets into Mideast talks. He never hid his intense dislike for Menachem Begin and the Carter foreign policy team was unusually ill disposed toward Israel.

11. Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961): Though the atmosphere improved a bit during Ike’s final three years in office, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel ranged from chilly to lukewarm throughout his tenure.

10. Barack Obama (2009-): Appears to lack any instinctive warmth toward Israel and has had an adversarial relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but he’s maintained strong Israel-U.S. defense and intelligence ties and last year stood against the world at the UN to prevent the unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state.

9. George H.W. Bush (1989-1993): His administration successfully pushed the UN to rescind its 1975 “Zionism equals racism” resolution and rushed anti-missile batteries to Israel during the Gulf War, but his 1991 lectern-pounding attack on pro-Israel lobbyists and the hostility toward Israel exhibited by his secretary of state overshadow any positives.

8. Gerald Ford (1974-1977): The Kissinger-Ford “reassessment’’ of American policy caused a strain for several months, but U.S.-Israel relations remained strong for the duration of Ford’s brief term.

7. John Kennedy (1961-1963): Viewed in his day as friendly toward Israel, his Mideast policy was in fact nearly as “even-handed’’ as Eisenhower’s. Constantly hectored Israel concerning its nuclear program and in 1962 wrote a craven letter to Egypt’s Nasser pleading for friendship and implying that he – Kennedy – had supported Eisenhower’s tough line toward Israel during the 1956 Sinai war.

6. Bill Clinton (1993-2001): After enjoying an excellent relationship with the Rabin-Peres Labor government, he showed a much colder face to Likud prime minister Netanyahu. Showered terror chief Yasir Arafat with respect and affection, inviting him to the White House more often than any other foreign leader.

5. Harry Truman (1945-1953): Supported partition in 1947 and statehood in 1948 but refused to sell arms to Israel and whatever economic aid he extended was belated and miserly. His recognition of Israel would have been meaningless had the Arabs prevailed militarily.

4. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989): Probably felt personally closer to Israel than any other president save George W. Bush, but his administration had a number of serious policy disagreements with various Israeli governments through the 1980s. Nevertheless, U.S.-Israel ties grew immeasurably stronger during his two terms in office.

3. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969): Dramatically increased economic aid and upgraded military sales to Israel. In contrast to Eisenhower in 1956, did not squeeze Israel to unilaterally retreat after the Six-Day War.

2. George W. Bush (2001-2009): Despite being the first U.S. president to call unambiguously for an independent Palestinian state, he had a visceral affection for Israel. Former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill disclosed that just ten days after his inauguration Bush met with his national security team and declared: “We’re going to correct the imbalances of the [Clinton] administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt back towards Israel.”

1. Richard Nixon (1969-1974): His support for Israel was not as sentimental as that of Lyndon Johnson or as heartfelt as that of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, but the bottom line is he saved the state from catastrophe in the 1973 Yom Kippur War with a massive month-long arms airlift in the face of European non-cooperation and a retaliatory oil embargo imposed on the U.S. by Arab states. That alone qualifies him for the number one spot on a list of this kind.

Rubin Reports: Bush and Obama Together At Last – In Misunderstanding the Middle East

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com/2012/05/bush-and-obama-together-at-last-in.html

In one of his first statements since leaving office, former President George W. Bush remarked on Middle East developments in an article, “The Arab Spring and American Ideals,” in the Wall Street Journal, May 18. The former president reflects certain American misconceptions about the Middle East that are starting to blow up big-time in the region.

Bush writes: “We do not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere. We only get to choose what side we are on.”

While one should not overestimate U.S. influence, one should also not underestimate it. Consider:

–In the Gaza Strip, by supporting the inclusion of Hamas in elections for which it was not qualified to run (since it had not accepted the Oslo accords), Bush’s own administration ensured that there would be a radical Islamist revolution in the Gaza Strip. This weakened the already dim prospects for any Israel-Palestinian peace process, has already brought one war, and will certainly bring others.

–In Lebanon, by refusing to give strong support to the moderate forces, the last two presidents ensured that the “freedom revolution” in that country would end in an Iran-Syria-Hizballah takeover.

–In Egypt, by taking the side not only of a total overthrow of the regime and even openly and unilaterally supporting the possibility of a Muslim Brotherhood government, the Obama Administration did help ensure that the fundamental transformation of Egypt began with the inevitable end of an anti-freedom Islamist regime.

–In Iran, by ignoring the upsurge of protest following the stolen election, the Obama Administration ensured that a “freedom revolution” didn’t get started there.

–In Syria, by refusing for all practical purposes to help the rebels, the U.S. government ensured that the “freedom revolution” would be defeated. Equally bad, by giving disproportionate help to the Islamists, the administration made it far more likely that if the rebellion succeeded it wouldn’t be a “freedom revolution.”

–And finally, in Libya, the United States and its European allies determined pretty much everything, overthrowing Muammar Qadhafi and determining who would rule the country.

Thus, a simple claim by Bush, which is also about the closest he and his successor would agree on any issue, is easily and can be demonstrably proven false. One hallmark of those favoring “neoconservative” positions is their lack of knowledge about the actual Middle East.

But that’s not all. The most important point of all is this one: “We only get to choose what side we are on.” The underlying assumption here is that there are two sides: evil dictatorship and noble democracy advocates.

In fact, there are three sides:

–Dictatorships of various levels of repressiveness, some of which are friendly and some that are sworn enemies of the United States.

–Moderate democracy advocates who want freedom in the Western sense of the word.

–Revolutionary Islamists who want a new, and anti-American, dictatorship run by themselves.

During the Cold War, American policymakers were very much aware of this three-part distinction (the third being Communists, in that case). They didn’t always choose correctly but they tried to evaluate each situation seriously. Sometimes they chose the dictators; sometimes they chose the democrats; and sometimes they even helped nudge the dictators (usually military juntas and especially in Latin America) into returning to the barracks and letting democracy resume.

No such careful process goes on now. In fact, the Obama Administration has repeatedly done the opposite of what a proper policy would be.

Bush also reflects Obama in using the be-on-the-right-side-of-history argument, a fatal flaw in a president of the United States who should be making choices based on U.S. interests.

Here is Bush’s argument annotated by me:

“The idea that Arab peoples are somehow content with oppression has been discredited forever.”

Again, the question, sadly, is not necessarily dispensing with oppression altogether but which kind of oppression we’re talking about. They are either willing, or can be forced, into getting rid of the old Arab nationalist oppression and then substituting Islamist oppression for it. Bush argues as if they are going to jump out of the frying pan with no danger of ending up in the fire.

He speaks critically about policymakers who “argue [that America] should be content with supporting the flawed leaders they know in the name of stability.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/rubin-reports-bush-and-obama-together-at-last-in-misunderstanding-the-middle-east/2012/05/29/

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