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:
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:
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.”
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.
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.”
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared May “Jewish American Heritage Month”.
In a ceremony kicking off the month, the president praised Jewish Americans for bearing “hardship and hostility” with the “deep conviction that a better future was within their reach”.
He also noted the achievements and national contribution of Jewish Americans such as Supreme Court Jusice Louis Brandeis, physicist Albert Einstein, and writer and art collector Gertrude Stein.
“Our country is stronger for their contributions, and this month we commemorate the myriad ways they have enriched the American experience,” Obama said.
The first Jewish American Heritage Month occurred during the presidential term of George W. Bush. It was introduced by Jewish Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D- FL) and passed in December 2005.
In Washington DC, events for Jewish American Heritage Month will take place at the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Gallery of Art, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Events will also take place in various locations throughout the United States.
In honor of the annual White House Hanukkah celebration, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Director of American Friends of Lubavitch, kashered the White House kitchen. Shemtov – with the help of the White House kitchen staff and Chef Tommy Kurpradit, prepared the White House to host 550 guests for the annual celebration.
The first conducted by President George W. Bush in 2001.
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, members of the House of Representantives and Senate, Supreme Court Justices, rabbis, artists, astronauts, members of the military, Democratic activists and donors gathered in anticipation of Hanukkah at the White House on December 8, enjoying traditional foods such as latkes, jelly doughnuts and smoked salmon as well as new Jewish favorites such as sushi.
Guests were treated to a jazz rendition of “Rock of Ages” and a musical tribute to Jewish-American Composers by the U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra and lit a Chanukah menorah – a little early – which had been salvaged from a synagogue ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
President Jimmy Carter was the first to recognize Hanukkah, when he lit the National Menorah in Lafayette Park erected by Chabad-Lubavitch. The first Hanukkah lighting ceremony at the White House was conducted by President William J. Clinton.
At 7:30am Baghdad time, the final convoy of US troops left Iraq, ending an almost nine-year military operation which began with the toppling of Dictator Saddam Hussein.
Since the first missile strikes of the $806 billion mission were launched under US President George W. Bush in March 2003, almost 4,459 Americans have been killed in Iraq, with 32,200 troops and staff wounded in action.
Military personnel and equipment rolled across the Iraq-Kuwait border just ahead of the December 31 deadline in a highly-organized exit which was planned over several months. Air Force para-rescue forces remained on alert in case the 500-man convoy faced a critical emergency, yet the withdrawal remained low-key. At its peak, US forces numbered over 170,000 at more than 500 bases.
On Thursday, US troops conducted a formal ceremony ending Operation Iraqi Freedom in Baghdad, though a US diplomatic mission will remain on hand as a presence in Iraq, also overseeing military and equipment sales.
The withdrawal was a key component of US President Barack Obama’s election campaign. As part of its effort to depart Iraq uneventfully, US forces paid $100,000 to tribal sheikhs to ensure their safety on highways toward Kuwait, according to Reuters news agency.
Though it seems the mission succeeded in thwarting attacks in the United States, it appears to have done little for Iraqi stability. Major sectarian violence led to thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths over the years, with a complex and fragile governmental coalition of Shi’ite, Sunni, and Kurdish parties threatening to collapse, persistent insurgent attacks against government officials, and looming regional power wielders such as Iran and terror group Al-Qaida poised to take control.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/us-troops-leave-iraq-as-operation-iraqi-freedom-ends/2011/12/18/
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