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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘us foreign policy’

Don’t Push Too Hard Against Hagel Nomination

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

A final note about the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. I have pointed out in two separate posts that his nomination for this position is troubling. That said I would urge the Jewish community to not make Hagel’s comment about the “Jewish Lobby intimidating a lot of people up here” a self fulfilling prophecy.

It’s one thing to express our opinions publicly about the man, pro or con. But it is another to try and flex any muscle over it. Not that we have any real muscle in Washington. But that is the perception. While it is the right of every American to lobby congress for their legitimate needs, I think our case has already been well made.

In fact, I’m not even sure we had to make our case here. Hagel made it for us. There is sufficient concern among members of Congress from both parties to vet Hagel very carefully before voting for him. Some have already said that they will not support him.

As I have said I hope he won’t be confirmed but I believe he will be. He will give ‘all the right answers’ to questions asked of him.

And although I strongly suspect that he is not a friend of the Jewish people and harbors the kind of soft anti Jewish bigotry that James Baker and Pat Buchanan have, he will not completely abandon Israel’s needs as long as the President continues his present policies with respect to those issues. One can agree or disagree with some of the President’s policies, but over-all they favor Israel’s survival as a Jewish State. Hagel is enough of a patriot to understand that he serves at the pleasure of the President. He may voice disagreement with him, but he knows who is charge.

At this point I think we ought to let Congress do its job. I am very pleased with what I have heard so far from many members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle who were interviewed about him. Putting any more pressure on Congress would in my view be counter-productive along the lines of Hagel’s accusations.

On that level, I applaud the ADL’s approach. Here is what their national director, Abe Foxman said about it in an official statement:

Senator Hagel would not have been my first choice, but I respect the President’s prerogative.

I trust that the confirmation process will provide an opportunity for Senator Hagel to address concerns about his positions, which seem so out of sync with President Obama’s clear commitment on issues like Iran sanctions, isolating Hamas and Hezbollah and the president’s strong support for a deepening of U.S. Israel strategic cooperation.

I particularly hope Senator Hagel will clarify and explain his comments about the “Jewish Lobby” that were hurtful to many in the Jewish Community.

I am not always in agreement with Mr. Foxman. But I think he got it exactly right this time.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Cold War Tactics to Stop Iran

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

As Americans seek to find an alternative to the stark and unappetizing choice of accepting Iran’s rabid leadership having nuclear weapons or pre-emptively bombing its nuclear facilities, one analyst offers a credible third path. Interestingly, it’s inspired by a long-ago policy toward a different foe – the Reagan administration’s ways of handling the Soviet Union – yet this unlikely model offers a useful prototype.

Abraham D. Sofaer, a former U.S. district judge and legal adviser to the State Department, now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, argues in Taking On Iran: Strength, Diplomacy and the Iranian Threat (Hoover Institution, 2013) that since the fall of the shah during the Carter administration, Washington “has responded to Iranian aggression with ineffective sanctions and empty warnings and condemnations.”

Not since 1988, he notes, has the U.S. government focused on the Iranian military force that specifically protects the country’s Islamic order and most often attacks abroad, variously called the Pasdaran or Sepah in Persian and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps or IRGC in English. This roughly 125,000-strong elite force, created in 1980, has an outsized role in Iran’s political and economic life. It possesses its own army, navy, and air force units, it controls ballistic missile programs, and it shares control over the country’s nuclear program. It runs the Basij, which enforces strict Islamic mores on the Iranian public. Its military forces are more important than the regular armed forces. Its Quds Force of about 15,000 agents spreads the Khomeini revolution abroad via infiltration and assassination. Its graduates staff key positions in the Iranian government.

The IRGC has played a lead role attacking Americans, their allies, and their interests, especially when one includes the IRGC’s many documented surrogates and partners, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muqtada al-Sadr movement, even the Taliban and al-Qaeda. IRGC accomplishments include the 1983 Marine barracks and U.S. Embassy bombings in Lebanon, the 1992 and 1994 bombings of Jewish targets in Argentina, the 1996 Khobar barracks bombing in Saudi Arabia, the 2011 attempt to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, and provisioning Hamas with missiles for its 2012 war with Israel (which are already being re-provisioned).

In all, IRGC attacks have caused the deaths of more than 1,000 American soldiers, and many more members of other armed forces and non-combatants. The U.S. government has condemned the IRGC as a state sponsor of terrorism and designated it as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.

Sofaer advocates a supple two-pronged approach to Tehran: “confront IRGC aggression directly and negotiate with Iran.”

Confrontation means Washington exploits “the full range of options available to curb the IRGC short of preventive attacks on nuclear sites.” He argues that U.S. forces have the right to and should target factories and storage facilities for arms, facilities associated with the IRGC (bases, ports, trucks, planes, ships), arms shipments about to be exported, and IRGC units. Sofaer’s goal is not just to to curb IRGC violence but also to “undermine IRGC credibility and influence, and help convince Iran to negotiate in earnest” over its nuclear weapon program.

Negotiations means talking to Tehran about outstanding issues, rather than trying to punish it with aloofness. Sofaer quotes James Dobbins, a former special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, as expressing this view: “It is time to apply to Iran the policies which won the Cold War, liberated the Warsaw Pact, and reunited Europe: détente and containment, communication whenever possible, and confrontation whenever necessary. We spoke to Stalin’s Russia. We spoke to Mao’s China. In both cases, greater mutual exposure changed their system, not ours. It’s time to speak to Iran, unconditionally, and comprehensively.” More broadly, along with Chester A. Crocker, another former American diplomat, Sofaer sees diplomacy as “the engine that converts raw energy and tangible power into meaningful political results.”

Confronting and negotiating in tandem, Sofaer expects, will put great pressure on Tehran to improve its behavior generally (e.g., regarding terrorism) and possibly lead it to shut down the nuclear program, while leaving available a preemptive strike on the table “if all else fails.”

Former secretary of state George P. Shultz, in his foreword to Taking on Iran, calls Sofaer’s idea “an alternative that should have been implemented long ago.” Indeed, the time is well overdue to respond to IRGC atrocities with the language of force that Iranian leaders only understand – and which has the additional benefit of possibly avoiding greater hostilities.

Outside the Territory of Reason

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

As the edge of the fiscal cliff approaches and then recedes, like an imagined desert isle appearing and disappearing admit the waves, the process that has brought America into the tyranny of debt goes on. The national debt, like our annual deficits, is a symptom of the true problem.

Irresponsible behavior is a symptom of irresponsible thinking. Bad choices come from the failure to understand consequences. Power is not just an aphrodisiac, it numbs one to the understanding that there even are consequences.

The centers of people in a nation are the last to feel the cold and their decisions are insulated from their consequences by power and comfort. Even as they warn about the danger, they are too far away from it to truly feel it. It is a shadow to them. An idea. Not a reality.

To the powerful, power is the only reality. And the limits of their own power are unknown to them. The possession of power is a constraint that prevents the possessor from seeing its limits.

We live in a world that has lost touch with the very idea of hard choices. That even in the richest and most prosperous country in the world, you still have to choose one or the other. That you can’t have you cake and eat it too. But as the hard edges of reason have blurred into the haze of wishful thinking, the idea of mutually incompatible choices also fades away. Soon there are no choices, only options.

Our government has vanished into that haze. A haze in which our leaders actually believe that we can be tough and kind, strong and beloved and spending as much as we want without worrying about where it’s coming from. The haze extends to our policies which assume that we can win wars without offending anyone, and spend as much money as we want without recouping it in some way. In a system built on two party stalemates usually broken by compromises, it’s all too easy to believe that you can give and take, without ever having to choose. One or the other.

A country whose leadership does not understand the concept of mutually incompatible choices is doomed to have its political structure decay into tyranny and its economy stagnate and finally collapse. Without the understanding that some choices are hard and fast things, success becomes impossible. When you think that you can do everything, you end up being unable to do anything. When every option is on the table, then no option is on the table. And if the political leadership cannot make those choices, then it will be replaced by another form of leadership that will solve the problem with tyranny. This has happened before. And it will happen again.

The Middle East presents us with the troubling sight of an entire region run by people who are unable to make such absolute distinctions. Princes, sheiks and prime ministers pursue mutually incompatible policies at the same time, make contradictory assertions and often remain unaware that their actions are contradictory. In a region that is outside the territory of reason, everything is always on the table. There is no truth, only layers of lies. Push far enough down and you come away with nothing but hot air. The popularity of Islam as a political solution is due in part to the perception that it represents an absolute certainty. An anchor in a turbulent sandy sea. Not an intellectual anchor of reason, but of fanatical force. The comfort of the thoughtless tyranny of power.

But the West has been headed out of the territory of reason for some time now. Its truths have become ideological beliefs. Its goals have become the self-worship of its own symbols, size for the sake of size, and centralization for the sake of centralization. There is a mingled horror and longing for the savage and the barbaric, as civilization appears to have lost its meaning. The leadership cries “Onward to a united world” on the one hand, and “Back to the caves” on the other. That confused melange boils down to a cultural intelligence which has lost the awareness of its own contradictions. High tech environmentalism, soft wars and valueless money are all symptoms of that same intellectual degeneracy.

How to Use American Influence

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Colonial powers – France, Britain, Belgium and Russia, in particular – believed there was no substitute for their own armies and officials to ensure that their colonies stayed in line. Instead of colonial occupation forces, the US takes its money, arms, training and agenda abroad. It is a specifically American conceit that people in other countries and other societies want our social and governmental blueprint as well as our money, medicine and weapons.

As the Syrian civil war expands, a U.N. Commission of Inquiry finally determined that, “The conflict has been overtly sectarian… government forces and its militias, dominated by Alawites, have been attacking Sunnis — who are “broadly (but not uniformly)” backing the armed groups opposing President Bashar al-Assad’s government. And anti-government armed groups have been targeting Alawites.”

This is not news. It has, however, prompted another spasm of the belief that US support for this side or that, this person or that, could have or would have produced in Syria a secular, moderate and tolerant revolution, led by those who would be America’s friends. The estimable Barry Rubin blames “the deliberate decisions of President Barack Obama and other Western leaders. Even if one rationalizes the Islamist takeover in Egypt as due to internal events, this one is US-made.”

It is hard to see the difference between the “internal events” in Egypt that made the Brotherhood victory “inevitable,” and “internal events” in Syria that could have produced a different outcome. In both countries, the Brotherhood had been repressed and suppressed in the most brutal ways. Hafez Assad killed an estimated 20,000 people in the Brotherhood stronghold of Hama in just a few weeks in 1982; Junior has a long way to go. In neither country did the supporters of Muslim Brotherhood go away or lose their fervor – the opposite. And in both places, lifting the lid brought the Muslim Brotherhood back from underground.

Rubin adds, “Obama and others believe that they can moderate the Muslim Brotherhood and this will tame the Salafists… This is going to be the biggest foreign policy blunder of the last century.” It may be a blunder, but it would be the same one Rubin makes in the other direction. Both believe American military, economic and political support can moderate or redirect longstanding ethnic and religious beliefs and hatreds. They both believe American “influence” can create moderate, tolerant governments in the Middle East, North Africa and Southwest Asia.

The counter-argument is the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Libya.

The Oslo Accords were predicated on the mistaken belief that international economic support would create a moderate, liberal Palestinian state living peaceably next to Israel. The US also believed that with American training and financial support, Palestinian “police” would “dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.” Palestinians are the world’s largest per capita recipients of international assistance. The US has spent nearly $500 million a year on the Palestinian Authority, including $100 million each year for “security forces” under the tutelage of an American three-star General. Separately, the US is the largest single donor to UNRWA; $2.2 billion in its first 50 years (1950-1999) and $2.18 billion in the last 13 years (2000-2012). In 2012, the US contribution will be $249 million.

What have we achieved? After a Palestinian war against Israel in 2000 (with terrorists using our training) and a civil war, the PA is corrupt, bankrupt and no closer to democracy or accepting Israel as a permanent part of the region than it was before the application of our money or our “influence.” The “armed struggle” promoted by Hamas is finding ever more favor with Palestinians as PA President Mahmoud Abbas seeks “unity” with his erstwhile enemies. Abbas openly defied President Obama on negotiations, UN recognition and the internationalization of the conflict. He threatens “retaliation” against Israel if its citizens choose Netanyahu in the upcoming election. PA-Israeli security cooperation has been faltering and there are open clashes between Palestinians and the IDF.

But if the US got nothing for millions to the Palestinians, it is currently getting nothing for billions in military and economic aid to Egypt. The aid was to have ensured a pro-American military, adherence to the Israel-Egypt peace treaty and security in Sinai. Since 1987, the U.S. has spent about $1.25 billion annually for arms plus about $250 million in economic support. Additional millions were spent on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) between to help Egypt create civil society organizations to provide wider space for political parties and media.

US Mideast Paradox: My Friend who Acts Like an Enemy is my Enemy

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

The expression, “With friends like you who needs enemies?” is an apt summary of a major problem for U.S. foreign policy during Obama’s second term.

Here’s the issue: a number of supposed allies of the United States don’t act as friends. In fact, they are major headaches, often subverting U.S. goals and interests. But to avoid conflict and, for Obama, to look successful to the domestic audience, Washington pretends that everything is fine.

Consider, for example, Pakistan. The United States has given billions of dollars to that country in exchange for supposedly helping keeping the lid on Afghanistan—and especially to ensure the Taliban does not return to power—and to fight terrorism, especially al-Qaida.

In reality, Pakistan supports the Taliban, wages a terrorist war on India, and hasn’t been all that helpful in fighting al-Qaida. It would be interesting to see the U.S. intelligence document evaluating how high up in Pakistan’s government was their knowledge that Usama bin Ladin was “hiding out” a few blocks from a Pakistani military complex. The fact that Pakistan threw into prison a local doctor whose work helped find bin Ladin indicates which side that regime is on.

Moreover, Pakistan’s regime is ferociously oppressing the Christian minority, becoming more Islamist, and giving women the usual treatment existing in such societies. Obama claims to be protecting women and religious minorities yet lifts not a finger in Pakistan. And rather than be a force against terrorism, the Pakistani government has been sponsoring a terrorist war against India.

After the horrible massacre of civilians in Mumbai, it became clear that the attack was sponsored and planned by Pakistan using terrorists trained and enjoying safe haven in Pakistan. India was left helpless as Pakistan simply refused to cooperate with the investigation or to turn over terrorists from the group responsible. In short, the United States is massively subsidizing a major sponsor of international terrorism.

Yet for the U.S. government to admit that the Pakistani government is more enemy than friend would make it even more uncooperative and might lead to attacks on the U.S. embassy and diplomats. Pretending that a regime like Pakistan’s is helpful–and continuing to fork over U.S. taxpayer money to it–is a huge temptation. Only if the regime in question does something obviously horrible, and even the bin Ladin case wasn’t sufficient to sour the White House on Pakistan, will the situation change.

Of course, some measures have been taken but basically Pakistan isn’t paying for its behavior. Consequently, it will continue acting in a hostile way, subsidized by the United States to do so.

The scope of this problem becomes clearly visible if you add to this list such places as Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey, Venezuela, Bolivia, and several other countries being in a similar situation.

Take Egypt for example. The country is now governed by a radical, anti-American, antisemitic government dedicated to spreading jihad, imposing Sharia law, and driving U.S. influence from the region. It could be argued that a mix of carrots and sticks from the United States would moderate the regime’s behavior. But what if that doesn’t work? The temptation is to continue with the carrots and forget about the sticks.

Obama says that the “red lines” are that the Cairo regime must adhere to the peace treaty with Israel; treat women and religious minorities (that is, Christians) well; and help fight terrorism. But what if it doesn’t? Suppose the Salafist burn down churches and massacre Christians and the government does not protect the minority? Suppose a Sharia regime reduces women’s rights to a minimum? Suppose Egypt declares itself no longer bound by the peace treaty with Israel or pretty openly arms Hamas in the Gaza Strip for an attack on Israel?

Will Obama be prepared for a conflict, even a confrontation, with the Arabic-speaking world’s largest country? Would even a President Mitt Romney do so?

In other words, the argument would be made that it is better to keep giving money, selling weapons, and shutting up about criticism than to make a break. Moreover, the president who did so could be accused of getting the United States into an unnecessary battle and making more enemies. To some extent, that’s what happened with President George W. Bush.

The First Plane Out of Benghazi

Monday, December 31st, 2012

It took some 22 hours for American help to arrive in Benghazi after all the t’s had been crossed and the i’s had been dotted and the body of America’s ambassador to Libya had been dragged through the streets by “rescuers” stopping along the way to pose for cell phone pictures with his corpse.

By way of comparison it takes about 16 hours for a boatload of Libyan illegal immigrants to row to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Support for the Americans under fire in Libya would have arrived sooner if a few former members of the Harvard Rowing Team had gotten in one the many rowboats beached on the shores of Lampedusa and pushed the oars all the way to Benghazi.

It says something about the current state of asymmetrical warfare that not only can Al Qaeda throw together a coordinated string of attacks on American embassies around the region without anyone  being the wiser for it, but boatloads of migrants from Libya can reach Europe faster on muscle power than American forces can reach a mission under attack while equipped with jet power.

For that matter, less time passed between the ubiquitous campaign fundraising emails that every American with internet access was barraged by no less than three times a day, than between the Benghazi’s mission first call for help and the arrival of American support. But that night, Obama’s priority was to get to a Vegas fundraiser, not to get American support to two former SEALS fighting and dying in a hellish mess created by his policies.

Obama Inc. blamed the second set of September 11 attacks on a movie, which was giving Al Qaeda credit for not only orchestrating worldwide attacks on American embassies and consulates, but doing it in a matter of days based on nothing more than a YouTube trailer. That would make Al Qaeda one of the more impressive organizations around, but the administration of the perpetual campaign found it easier to give Al Qaeda credit that the terrorist group didn’t deserve rather than accept the blame that it did deserve.

When madmen in America shoot up schools or movie theaters, Obama blames the weapons they used and calls for gun control. When madmen in the Middle East shoot up American consulates and embassies, he blames movies and calls for film control.

The filmmaker was locked up because he was one of those non-union types and none of Obama’s Hollywood friends would complain about a scab that wasn’t in the Producers Guild of America, whose director was not in the DGA and whose writers were not in the WGA being thrown in the slammer for making an offensive movie.

In another time and place, a place called America, an attack on an American diplomatic mission would have been considered an act of war, but the United States had just gotten over fighting a war in Libya, despite denying that any such thing was going no matter how many bombs were being dropped, and that war had led to Benghazi being run by Al Qaeda militias.

Obama assured the nation that the “folks” from the militant militias of Mayberry, Libya  responsible would be brought to justice. After three weeks of trying to get through Libyan immigration and dealing with concerns about conducting a criminal investigation in a war zone, the FBI finally made it to Benghazi, strolled around the compound for a few hours, took some pictures and then went home without interviewing any persons of interest.

An independent commission chaired by an Iranian lobbyist whose members were handpicked by Hillary Clinton conducted a review of what went wrong and found that the State Department probably should not have relied on an Islamist militia affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood for security, especially considering that its members had been going on strike for pay raises.

Four State Department officials resigned voluntarily, which in government lingo means that three of them took administrative leave and the fourth resigned one of his portfolios while keeping the rest. And the media declared that Benghazigate was over at last. Time for everyone to move on and close the book on another one of those Obama success that up close look a lot like failures.

Biblical Lessons on Foreign Policy and Statism

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Whatever your view of religion, the Bible is a terrific source for history and political analysis, often in the passages least quoted today. Here are two examples.

1. Statism

When the Israelites asked to have a king, the prophet Samuel (Chapter 8) told them, at divine direction, that a king would make their sons:

“Plow his fields, reap his harvest, and make his weapons and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters as perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He will seize your choice fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his courtiers [crony capitalism!]. He will take a tenth part of your grain and vintage [far lower taxes than today!] and give it to his eunuchs and courtiers [entitlements? Crony capitalism?].” In short, he would make the people

“work for him…and you shall become his slaves. The day will come when you cry out because of the king whom you yourselves have chosen [elections!]; and the Lord will not answer you on that day.” Was that day November 6, 2012? Seriously, though, the idea that excessive statism is extremely dangerous is hardly a new one, especially in a country that was born by rebelling against a king against whom similar complaints were lodged. Of course, the end of the Book of Judges has some remarkable stories that tell of the dire effects of anarchy with the repeated phrase, there was no king in those days so everyone did what they wanted to do. Finding a balance between too much anarchy and too much statism has been the challenge ever since.

2. Foreign Policy

The basic principles of statecraft aren’t new. You can learn from the Bible that people understood four thousand years ago about things that America’s current leaders have forgotten today.

When the two Israelite spies sent to assess Jericho’s defenses, spoke to their informant, Rahab, she told them how Israelite strength, determination, and thus credibility–the people of Jericho had heard how God favored the Israelites–had already determined the outcome of the battle. I know you shall win, she explained, “Because dread of you has fallen upon us, and all the inhabitants of the land are quaking before you” (Joshua 2).

But after the great Israelite victory at Jericho, Joshua became over-confident and so accepted bad intelligence that only a small force would be needed to take the city of Ai. He sent just one-tenth of his troops. But as a result the Israelites lost that battle. Even though our casualties were only 36 men out of 3000, the troops panicked and ran. It was a self-inflicted defeat.

Joshua understood the danger in this event:

“O Lord, what can I say after Israel has turned tail before its enemies? When the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land hear of this, they will turn upon us and wipe out our very name from the earth.” (Joshua 7:8-9). But rather than take responsibility for his error, Joshua or others in the leadership concluded that a man had stolen three items from the looting of Jericho that were supposed to be consecrated for God. That was the equivalent in that time of making a video that insulted a religion. The thief and all of his family were stoned to death.

Well about four thousand years later what do Americans expect is going to happen with incidents like Benghazi, not to mention enthroning America’s enemies in Egypt, Tunisia, and perhaps Syria? As everyone in the Middle East understands, shows of weakness—and even worse of self-flagellation, of apology and the loss of self-confidence—only persuade your enemies to hit you harder.

In the Biblical case, the war went much better after the scapegoat was purged. Perhaps having found an explanation for the defeat restored morale. And renewed victories—starting with the conquest of Ai by the entire Israelite army—rebuilt credibility with the enemy and demoralized them.

The United States faces the problem of credibility but it isn’t going to solve the issue by stoning a video-maker but by having a leader who understands the nature of the enemy, that leadership trumps apology, and that America’s enemies may be quaking but mainly with laughter.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/biblical-lessons-on-foreign-policy-and-statism/2012/12/31/

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