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:
Originally published at Rubin Reports.
Reality, especially in 2012, is very hard to face. So many hopes dashed; so many bad things happening. So people can be forgiven for taking refuge in wishful thinking. Sometimes, not telling the truth has its value in public affairs, especially when you are looking at a president with four more years in office and no elections ahead of him.
Such is the story now gaining currency in some quarters that President Barack Obama has changed his view of Israel, now wants to get along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the two are closely cooperating. If you want to believe that idea it probably does no harm and makes you feel better. Maintaining this fiction may also encourage Obama supporters to think more kindly of Israel.
There is another factor here that should be mentioned. Many people overstated Obama’s active antagonism toward Israel as if he wanted to wipe it out or hurt it in any way possible. Obama dislikes Israel, disregards its strategic interests, and despises Netanyahu. That doesn’t mean, however, that he’s motivated to do much about it.
If, however, you are interested in the actual situation, I would ask this question: What evidence is there of any change at all of Obama’s policy toward Israel?
Beyond wishful thinking. Basically two things have happened.
–The U.S. government issued routine statements of support for Israel’s battle in Gaza while apparently urging it not go on too long and not include a ground attack. It didn’t go out of its way much on the issue, however, for example not rethinking the president’s love affair with the Turkish Islamist regime despite the fact that its prime minister froths at the mouth with hatred of Israel.
–The U.S. government opposed as it always has the UN’s upgrading the PA’s status. The American government realizes that such behavior is a torpedoing of the Oslo accords and peace process of which is was a guarantor. But at the same time:
(a) It certainly didn’t seem to put any real pressure on European allies who supposedly adore Obama and would be willing to listen to him to vote against the proposal; and (b) There are stories which are not completely confirmed but seem authentic that the White House urged European countries and Canada to give Israel a hard time over the new construction. American officials certainly didn’t assert the absurdity of a situation in which the Palestinian Authority can reject a two-state solution repeatedly and break all of its commitments but Israel is said to destroy peace because of approving some future apartment construction.
I am not suggesting that the Obama Administration wanted the General Assembly to give Palestine non-member state status, but Obama’s great support of Israel consisted mostly of not attacking Israel verbally and maintaining routine administration positions.
It is so hard to get people to step back and apply the same logic they would have used a few years ago! But open your mind for a moment and ask this question:
How is it possible when U.S. policy not only loses the backing of every single European ally on an issue but on an issue of importance to the president and in which they don’t have urgent interests involved? In any other case and with any other president, the mass media and debate would be setting off alarm bells about the tremendous defeat, speaking of incompetence and a terribly weak American position.
After all, America’s allies just threw out twenty-years of a diplomatic process sponsored by the United States.
What’s important about Obama being personally popular with Europeans when he can’t get them to go along with his goals? Ah, yes, he is in large part personally popular with Europeans because they know he’ll let them do what they want. The two biggest examples supposedly to the contrary in the Middle East—overthrowing Qadhafi in Libya and increasing sanctions on Iran—proved the exact opposite because these were issues where the key European states were demonstrably more hawkish than Obama. He followed them as much or more than their following him.
At present and concerning Israel, there are additional points that could be mentioned as showing the lack of Obama’s support, such as his opposing more sanctions on Iran and taking no action toward the Brotherhood’s increasing dictatorship in Egypt. There is not the slightest hint that the administration realizes that its pro-Islamist strategy was a huge mistake. At least these argue against a case for Obama changing course.
So where’s the change? I think the specter of a second-term Obama undeterred by a future election is so scary that the flattery is being stepped up. Well, ok, I won’t make any problems. I’ll go along with this and pretend all will be okay except in private conversations like this one in order to brief my readers accurately.
Most obviously, Obama is not pressuring Israel to make more concessions to the Palestinians. As I pointed out two years ago—and as the president clearly stated in 2010, he had concluded that he wasn’t going to make Israel-Palestinian peace. It is the only international issue on which this administration seems to have learned anything.
But with all of the other pressing issues in the region plus the intransigence of the PA, which is still treated as a favored pet by Obama, plus the unwillingness of Arab governments to help him, why should Obama find time for the Israel-Palestinian issue? With all the other stuff going on, to argue that advancing toward a comprehensive peace agreement would solve all the other regional problems has become too ludicrous even for the current administration to have as its policy.
What is pro-Israel are events in the region and decisions taken by Israeli leaders. Israel just gave Hamas a beating, intensified despite the terrorist group’s bragging by the utter lack of regional (especially Egyptian) material help. A lot of Egyptians aren’t quietly accepting Islamist dictatorship; the Egyptian regime is still weak and needs stability to get foreign aid; Syria is still weakened by its civil war; Hizballah is in trouble because of its backing of the Syrian regime and facing increasing opposition within Lebanon; the Sunni Muslim Arabs don’t want Iranian influence (though Hamas is happy to take its weapons to shoot at Israel); and Hamas and the PA can never make up.
Yet a president who helps to empower Israel’s worst enemies—who also happens to be America’s worst enemies—cannot be said to be a friend except in the limited areas of continued nice words, especially at pro-Israel events; maintaining aid levels; and ongoing intelligence cooperation.
Perhaps the idea that Obama is now backing Israel is what American Jewish voters who supported him desperately need to believe and those who pursue that line will be richly rewarded.
Or perhaps if we pretend Obama is friendly to Israel now in his second term he and his colleagues will come to believe that themselves. Or perhaps they will reward us by not getting angry and trying to punish Israel. Okay, so let’s go along with this story for a while. But my job is to let you in on what’s really happening. Ssh!
Originally published at Rubin Reports.
Originally published at Rubin Reports.
For all practical purposes, President Barack Obama has now recognized the Syrian opposition group as the government of Syria. Specifically, he called them the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.” The European Union did the same a few days earlier. While this has move little immediate, practical effect, it is enormously interesting for understanding this issue. And it is also yet another signal that the civil war in Syria is moving into the end-game.
First, the implications include the following:
–Thank goodness that only happened after the U.S. government switched its allegiance from the Syrian National Council (SNC). That group, basically created by U.S. initiative (implemented by the Islamist Turkish government) was about 100 percent controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. The new group which Obama recognized, the Syrian Opposition Council, is “only” about 40 percent controlled by the Brotherhood. That means there is at least hope of a non-Islamist regime in Syria (see below). [See note at end of article for an example of how U.S. policy gave behind-the-scenes support to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.]
–Let’s take a moment to remember that despite all the talk about the problems of backing dictatorships, the Obama Administration did back the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria. It then easily changed sides to back the opposition. In Egypt, too, Obama switched sides to support the opposition.
There are two lessons here. First, you can support a dictatorship and then back the opposition if a big challenge happens to take place. Second, what’s most important for U.S. interests is not whether the Americans want to befriend an opposition but whether the opposition once in power wants to befriend the Americans. If they are Islamists, abandon hope of that happening.
–Ironically, of course, the group recognized as being the true representatives of the Syrian people was largely created due to U.S. and Western patronage and power. While the new Council did arise from discussions among Syrians, of course, this decision shows that as in the nineteenth century the West—Obama Progressives as much as Victorian era imperialist–still tries to control who gets into power in Third World countries. Power politics is still the name of the game; the question is whether that game is well-played.
In the American presidential campaign, Mitt Romney made the little-noted assertion that the United States should put the emphasis on ensuring that moderates win in Syria. That notion is totally alien to the Obama Administration.
–The Syrian Opposition Council does not really represent Syrians, not only because those within the country haven’t voted but also because this is an external organization with little or no influence inside the country. It also doesn’t have the guns. What it will have is control over Western economic aid in future but this Council cannot be expected to be the basis for a post-civil war government.
–In sharp contrast to Libya, we know a lot about the Syrian opposition groups and their leading personalities. The problem, however, is to determine the relative military strength of each group. No doubt, the CIA has a project to analyze the situation in every province and city. I wish we could see their data but since we can’t we have to try to figure out the balance of forces.
This situation is made even more complex because so many groups exist and ideology is cut across by the existence of five different ethnic-religious sectors: Sunni Arab Muslims (about 60 percent), Christians and Alawites (about 12-14 percent each); Kurds and Druze.
Will Alawites end up being cut out entirely because that group formed the basis for the Assad regime? Probably.
Will Christians end up being cut out almost entirely because that group backed the Assad regime due to fear of the Islamists who now will probably try to cut them out? Probably.
Will there be massacres of Alawites and Christians by a victorious opposition, accompanied by tens or even hundreds of thousands of cross-border refugees? Very possibly, yes.
Will the Kurds gain autonomy for their home region in the northeast, an autonomy they are ready to defend using armed militias? Very possibly yes. (Incidentally, it is fascinating to consider how the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria have succeeded on the ground with the opposite strategy from that of the Palestinians. The Kurds have focused on practical measures and on getting a really functioning Kurdish entity; the Palestinians have put the priority on symbolism and total victory.)
Iran is building nuclear weapons, Syria is slaughtering its citizens, Libya is being taken over by al-Qaeda, Egypt is threatened with another Pharaoh, Turkey is working toward rebuilding the Ottoman Empire, and Christians are being massacred in Egypt, Nigeria and Mali (among other countries). But last Thursday, the European Commission summoned the Israeli Ambassador to the European Union (EU) over Israel’s plan to build 3,000 new homes in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem.
The Israeli plans were a response to the United Nations’ decision on 29 November to grant the Palestinian Authority the status of a UN non-member observer state, in direct violation of the UN’s own Resolutions 242, 338, and 1850 — an overruling the UN Charter specifically forbids.
The Palestinian move was also in direct violation of its bilateral September 28, 1995, Oslo II agreements, in which the both the Palestinians and the Israelis, in Article 31, consented that “nether side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the Permanent Status negotiations.”
Why should any country sign an agreement if it will just be invalidated a few years later?
Canada, in response to the Palestinian Authority’s illegal behavior, immediately recalled its diplomats assigned to the West Bank; however, the same illegal behavior was lavishly rewarded shortly thereafter by several European countries who summoned Israel’s ambassadors — a precedent that can only be understood to signal that, as so often at the UN, illegal behavior — as in oil for food, or sex for food — will be rewarded — or at least not reprimanded — in the future.
Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, emphasized that it is very exceptional for the Commission, the executive body of the EU, to summon an ambassador.
The Israeli ambassador met Ashton’s deputy Pierre Vimont, who expressed the EU’s concern about the Israeli building plans. The EU wants the project annulled: it is said to be “an obstacle to peace.” Not the PLO or Hamas Charters, which call for Israel’s destruction, or the hundreds of rockets fired into at Israel over the last month, or Iran’s continual and illegal — under both the UN’s own Charter and the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide — calls for genocide in “wiping Israel…”
No, no, no these are not threats to peace worth mentioning or bothering about. The Czech Republic was the only one of the 27 EU member states to join the US, Canada, Israel, Panama and four Micronesian island states in voting against the UN resolution to upgrade the status of the PA within the UN. Twelve EU members, including Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and all the EU states from Eastern Europe, were among the 41 UN members who abstained. The remaining fourteen EU members, consisting of the entire Latin and Mediterranean bloc and the Scandinavians, were among the 138 nations that voted in favor of the Palestinian Authority.
There is also some good news, however. In Italy, one of the countries which backed the recognition of the PA as a UN non-member observer state, one hundred members of the Italian Parliament protested the decision of the government to do so. The parliamentarians belong to the PdL party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which withdrew its support of the Italian government last week. In Belgium, another country which supported the enhanced status of the PA within the UN, the decision led to a rift within the governing center-right MR party. Half the MR senators oppose the government’s pro-Palestinian line.
Nevertheless, it is striking to see that within the EU there is but one country courageous enough to stand with Israel: the Czech Republic. Most EU members backed the Palestinian claims. The governments that took a neutral position by abstaining can only be found in the countries that suffered under Communist dictatorship, in Germany (previously, partly under Communist rule), Britain and the Netherlands.
The Scandinavians and the Irish traditionally pursue leftist international policies which are by definition critical of Israel; the Mediterranean rim together with Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria, have since the 1970s and 80s conducted a foreign policy that aims to appease North Africa and the Arab world.
The dependency on Arab oil and the fact that millions of immigrants from North Africa have settled within the borders of these EU states explain this appeasement policy.
Apart from the European Commission, several EU governments bilaterally expressed their dissatisfaction with the Israeli building plans. As 14 of the 27 EU members took a pro-Palestinian position in the UN while thirteen did not, it is unlikely that the EU will impose trade sanctions over the construction plans. A vocal critical stance will, however, be taken, also by the twelve EU members that abstained in the UN.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her dissatisfaction in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The United Kingdom followed the French, Spanish, Danish and Swedish example of summoning the Israeli ambassador over the housing projects. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that, although there did not appear to be any “enthusiasm” in the EU for a move to impose economic sanctions on Israel, “if there is no reversal [of the Israeli decision] we will want to consider what further steps European countries should take.”
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told the Dutch media that the Netherlands will raise pressure on Israel to stop its building projects. It is unlikely that Timmermans will follow the example of his predecessor Uri Rosenthal, who last year vetoed a critical EU report on the Israeli settlements. The Dutch ambassador to Tel Aviv urged the Israeli government to stop the building project.
Meanwhile, the civil servants of the European Commission are pursuing their anti-Israeli policies. The Commission recently sponsored a workshop to investigate how to label goods made in the Israeli “settlements” and prevent them from being sold in Europe. Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN high commissioner for Human Rights, and Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland and Nobel peace prize winner, are patrons of a movement to boycott such Israeli products. EU officials want the products labeled so that they can be differentiated from other Israeli products. As the EU does not recognize that Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem are part of Israel, products from these areas would be subject to EU import duties.
Last August, the European Commission issued a ruling ordering EU customs authorities to check the origin of Israeli products in order to exclude “settlement goods from preferential treatment.” The Commission made a list of so-called “non-eligible locations” – Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria – which are to be targeted. “Operators are advised to consult the list before lodging a customs declaration for releasing goods for free circulation,” the EU document states. The communities on the EU blacklist are non-eligible for duty-free status under the EU-Israel Free Trade Agreement.
The EU blacklist is a violation of international free trade; it is also reminiscent of the 1933 Nazi boycott of Jewish products.
Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.
Inevitably, Iran and Syria are gaming international maritime communications. Both nations are under sanctions. Both appear to be faking registry in Tanzania. And Iran is transmitting false signals to hide the operations of Syrian cargo ships.
The fakery by the two countries’ merchant fleets has Tanzania in common –apparently as a victim – but it also has Libya. Twenty years of peace dividends for the West, combined with the Arab Spring of 2011, have changed the security picture on Africa’s perimeter, and the direction in some segments of it is backward, to an age of little surveillance and expanding lawlessness. Libya’s coast is one such segment. Even if the surveillance forces of NATO are watching in the central Mediterranean, it’s not clear that the focus is there to ensure useful intelligence collection, or that there’s an organized will to do much about tankers or cargo vessels that head, on the sly, into and out of Libya.
And so, this fall, Iranian ships have been transmitting fake signals that make it appear as if they are operating in both the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, to cover the tracks of Syrian ships going back and forth between Syria and Libya. In a tracking system, this looks like an error of some kind. The ship in the Mediterranean is actually the Syrian ship, but in global tracking systems, there is no record of the Syrian ship making the voyage.
Meanwhile, actual Iranian tankers are shutting off their automated reporting systems as they approach Libya, and leaving them off until they have departed Libyan ports. Peripheral evidence of this has been noted by journalists like Claudia Rosett (I wrote about it here), but the analysis reported by Reuters on 7 December provides the first specific confirmation that Iranian ships are shutting their Automated Information Systems (AIS) off to avoid being tracked into and out of Libyan ports.
The likelihood that arms have been shipped from Libya to Syria by this method is high enough to be considered a certainty – and, of course, the arms would have gone to Bashar al-Assad. He is Iran’s protégé, and Iranian solicitude for Syrian shipping is devoted to bolstering his chances. The irony here is obvious, as there have also been plenty of reports of arms shipments from Libya to the Syrian rebels, some of which may have been facilitated by the US mission in Benghazi. The possibility that arms for Libya also got packed off to Assad himself cannot be discounted.
Beyond the arms route to Syria, however, the behavior of the Iranian ships is worth highlighting. As discussed in October, several Iranian ships have made a habit for some months now of lingering off Libya’s coast. (My own searches on ship-tracking websites show that they have been there since at least April 2012, and probably longer.) The ships’ tracks don’t show visits to Libyan ports, but as the Reuters report indicates, the ships are making such visits. They simply aren’t letting the visits be recorded via their AIS.
Given the arms-intensive nature of the cargo flow through Benghazi, in particular, we should keep in mind that there’s more than one way to deliver arms – and more than one customer to deliver them to. Coastal freighters, yachts, and other small ships do cargo business at sea with larger ships the world over. Egypt, Libya, and Algeria have long coastlines and poorly funded maritime security forces. A ship could prowl one of their coasts for a long time, loading and offloading small cargo at sea.
This kind of primitive, under-the-radar method might not be the most effective way to arm Assad, but Iran has other clients, and Hezbollah is the one that would most obviously benefit from operating this way. When the Israelis get wind of a big shipment to Lebanon, they interdict it. But, operating with a very low profile, Hezbollah could get cargo piecemeal into Beirut.
The Mediterranean is not constantly patrolled by NATO anymore. Even if it were, the will to lock it down may not be there. Sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq gave the world a good example of how these things go when the Western nations don’t perceive an immediate threat to themselves. Sanctions are put in place, and there is some effort made to enforce them, but little is done about the ingenious methods of sanctions evasion that promptly spring up.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he would not object to the nomination of Susan Rice, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, as secretary of state.
Lieberman’s apparent endorsement of Rice on Tuesday is largely symbolic; he is retiring as senator and likely will not be serving by the time Hillary Rodham Clinton, the current secretary of state, steps down, a move anticipated early next year.
However, Lieberman’s statement this week after meeting with Rice that she was telling “the whole truth” about why she initially depicted the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya as a spontaneous eruption and not as a planned terrorist attack undercuts criticism of Rice as unreliable by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Lieberman has throughout much of his career joined with McCain and Graham as a foreign policy hawk; his dissent, now that he is free from such alliances, could be used by Democrats to depict GOP attacks on Rice as political and not substantive.
The Benghazi attack is believed to have been the work of Al Qaida-affiliated terrorists, intelligence Rice says was not made available to her in the days after the attack, when she was the Obama administration’s point person in explaining U.S. reaction.
Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed in the attack.
President Obama has not said he would nominate Rice to the post, but also has said he would not be deterred from doing so by McCain and Graham.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/lieberman-approves-rice-nomination-but-wont-partake-in-vote/2012/11/29/
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