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Posts Tagged ‘us foreign policy’

The Useful Myth that Obama Now Likes Israel

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

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.

Mr. President, What Are You Thinking?

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

This isn’t just about finding someone who has a more balanced view of Middle Eastern politics. This is about the most insidious type of anti-Semitism. The kind that is so subtle that there are actually Jewish organizations that defend him. Like J-Street recently did.

Chuck Hagel was a senator from Nebraska from 1996 to 2008. He is also a Vietnam War veteran who earned several medals during his service there. I used to admire him before I found out how he thinks. How can you not admire someone who puts his life on the line and serves his country with valor? His more or less conservative political views also had some appeal to me as a right leaning political moderate.

But then he started making comments like “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” That makes Professors John Mearshiemer and Stephan Walt look like members of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). For those who don’t recall, those two academicians wrote a book about how much the Zionist lobby has too much influence on US foreign policy.

As Brett Stevens points out in his excellent Wall Street Journal analysis, Mearsheimer and Walt understand that the Israeli lobby is not a solely a Jewish lobby. A lot of support for the policies of say AIPAC comes from Christian Zionists. If AIPAC only represented Jews it would have no influence at all. We are less than 2% of the population and an insignificant factor politically. And many do not even subscribe to the policies of AIPAC. Ask J-Street.

When I started hearing statements like this from Mr. Hagel, I knew that his antipathy was not reserved for those who support the state of Israel. It was reserved for us. The Jews. This is how anti-Semitism in Europe flourished. Nazism didn’t start in one day. It built up over time as we gained more wealth and influence there. By the time Germany was in enough dire straits to elect a Hitler, the Jewish people were ripe for becoming the scapegoat of choice. All that subtle prejudice turned into an eventual Holocaust aided and abetted by a willing populations in countries like Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine.

How many times do we have to hear statements like “The Jews have too much Power” before we realize that the people saying it are anti- Semites?!

Of course Chuck Hagel will, I’m sure, deny that he is a anti-Semite. I’ll bet that he can even point to things that will “prove” it. I’m sure that he will say something like “Some of my best friends are Jewish”! Don’t believe it. I don’t buy that kind of “friendship” for a minute.

I for one was glad that he retired from the Senate. One less anti-Semite to worry about. A dangerous one who was a war hero. His political views with respect to Israel are not at all unlike those of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Recall that Wright too served the military with distinction. He was chosen as part of a medical team charged with the care of then President Lyndon Johnson. And was thanked for that in a personal letter by an Admiral on behalf of the President.

The only difference between Hegel and Wright is the level of subtlety. Wright does not mince words. Hegel tires to come off as a courageous public servant who refuses to be influenced by powerful lobbies. Like the Jewish one.

I bring all of this up because Hagel’s name has surfaced as President Obama’s possible choice to replace Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense – probably the second most powerful cabinet position. One one that has a direct impact on Israel. The most powerful cabinet position is Secretary of State. The leading contender for that is John Kerry. Not too thrilled about that choice either. I would have preferred Susan Rice. But Kerry is gold compared to Hagel. I cannot imagine too many people who would be a worse choice for such a powerful position. Maybe Jeremiah Wright.

I somehow can’t believe that the President doesn’t know about Mr. Hagel’s antipathy towards Israel. It is surprising that he is being considered at all, let alone that he is apparently the front runner.

I know the President is not an anti- Semite. I also know that he supports the State of Israel (despite the insistence by many who say he doesn’t). He has proven to me that he does. That he has differences with them over some polices does not make him anti Israel. Nor do I feel that way even though I disagree with him on some of those policies.

In describing the “ripe” odor of Hagel’s prejudice based on the word “intimdates” in the quote above – here is a particularly trenchant excerpt from Steven’s WSJ article:

Ripe, finally, because Mr. Hagel’s Jewish lobby remark was well in keeping with the broader pattern of his thinking. “I’m a United States Senator, not an Israeli Senator,” Mr. Hagel told retired US diplomat Aaron David Miller in 2006. “I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Not to a president. Not a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.”

Read these staccato utterances again to better appreciate their insipid and insinuating qualities, all combining to cast the usual slur on Jewish-Americans: Dual loyalty. Nobody questions Mr. Hagel’s loyalty. He is only making those assertions to question the loyalty of others.

Still, Mr. Hagel managed to say “I support Israel.” This is the sort of thing one often hears from people who treat Israel as the Mideast equivalent of a neighborhood drunk who, for his own good, needs to be put in the clink to sober him up.

All this points to why the possible choice of Chuck Hegel for Secretary of Defense is so troubling. Can you imagine what this guy would do if Israel’s security depended on some additional US help – whether military or financial?

He would very likely lobby hard against it to the President – arguing that Israel should not be America’s concern; that we have already helped them too much; and have already spent too much of the American tax-payer’s money on them in. Especially in the financially strapped economy we are in!

I hope and pray that this does not come to fruition. It could mean disaster for Israel – and ultimately for world peace.

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You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Oppose Hagel for Defense

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

The rightosphere has come out swinging against retired Senator Chuck Hagel’s potential nomination for secretary of defense.  If you didn’t know better, you’d think Hagel was a Democrat.  (He represented Nebraska as a Republican from 1997 to 2009.)  But the leftosphere is in the game too – and if you didn’t know better, you’d think opposing Hagel for the post was a “Jewish” thing.

Hagel’s record on US policy towards Israel is indeed a poor one.  Hagel publicly urged President Bush in 2006 to get Israel to simply cease her counterattack on Hezbollah – unilaterally, and with no assurances or even security goals obtained – when the terrorist group had attacked Israeli civilians and abducted two of her soldiers.  Hagel also declined that year to endorse designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.  He later opposed designating the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, in spite of its Qods Force’s involvement in terrorist attacks in the Middle East, and its support of and close relationship with Hezbollah and Hamas.

It’s one thing to recognize the truth about the terrorists and yet disagree with a particular administration’s policy.  It’s another thing, however, to pretend that the terrorists aren’t terrorists.  This latter thing is a disqualifier for the post of secretary of defense.

Chuck Hagel writes his own narrative, in which threats aren’t really threats and policies that actually work are just horrible, and that is the basic reason why he would make a very bad secretary of defense.  He doesn’t just disagree with sensible people on what our policy should be; he disagrees on what’s going on.  He characterizes the situation unrealistically.

His unrealism is captured well in an interview he did for the Financial Times in August 2011.  Hagel is comically vague in the first part of the interview, never answering the interviewer’s question (about Assad and Syria in the wake of the Arab Spring).  His comments are a masterpiece of bromide-filled evasion.

As the exchange unfolds, Hagel praises the assassination of Osama bin Ladin:

…a masterful job, a spectacular job, and a job that all Americans can be proud of, on how it was carried out, and the process and every aspect, step along the way.  Professionalism.

He has very different words for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, characterizing it as follows:

It was a terrible mistake that’s cost us in terrible ways.  The consequences are going to flow out of that mistake for many years.

Considered together, these are really idiotic comments from a potential secretary of defense.  Regrettably, there is no other way to put it.  Hagel’s evaluations are emotional, and bear no relation to the actual value of the national-security operations in the two cases.

The US military did a fantastic job, and bin Ladin is finally dead. But Al Qaeda isn’t – nor, more importantly, is Salafism, or radical Islamism in any form.  Except for the sense of justice for Americans, the death of bin Ladin was meaningless.  It had no national-security import at all.  Al Qaeda is operating robustly today in Syria and Libya.  When we drive it out of the Horn of Africa and Yemen, it goes elsewhere, as it did when we drove it out of central Iraq in the surge in 2007.

Far from a defeated entity, Al Qaeda is gaining purpose and momentum with the Arab Spring, especially in Syria and Libya.  Its purpose has shifted somewhat, away from attacking the US and toward guerrilla operations in the Middle East.  This is part of a larger, more fundamental trend unleashed by the Arab Spring: a pitched battle for the character of the Arab world.  And, in fact, state-Islamism is a far more important emerging trend than Salafi terrorism, because leaders of nations have all the resources of a nation at their disposal, including armed forces.

Iran has been the chief example of state-Islamism for thirty years, and the pattern is alarming.  Arab nations will do things somewhat differently because of their different culture, but Mohammed Morsi has already made his radicalism clear in Egypt, and we can be sure that state-Islamism in Arab nations will be no more pacific than it is in Iran.  The outcomes in Syria and Libya are still uncertain, but in Syria, at least, the prospects for the future are increasingly grim.

Who’s Being ‘Provocative’?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Israel is now “provocative” in a ratching up from State:-

In unusually rare and blunt criticism* of its top Mideast ally, the Obama administration on Tuesday slammed Israel for continuing to announce new settlement construction on land claimed by the Palestinians.

The State Department accused Israel of engaging in a “pattern of provocative action” that calls into question statements from Israeli leaders that they are committed to peace.

Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said settlement activity only puts the goal of peace “further at risk” and urged both Israel and the Palestinians to halt all provocations and take steps to revive long-stalled peace talks.

“We are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action,” Nuland told reporters. “These repeated announcements and plans of new construction run counter to the cause of peace. Israel’s leaders continually say that they support a path towards a two-state solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk.”

I guess that since Arabs never build “settlements”, they aren’t ‘provocative’?

Note, on the Turkey blockade run, she avoids the term ‘provocation’:-

QUESTION: Okay. Well, one of the things that the Secretary said yesterday in – when – in her comments to this was that attempts to go into Israeli waters were provocative and irresponsible. And it’s my understanding that the flotilla organizers do not intend to go into Israeli waters but in – they will stay in international waters. Is that your understanding or is that not your understanding per what the Secretary said yesterday?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the intentions of those involved in the flotilla. I think the Secretary was clear it was in response to a question yesterday –
QUESTION: Correct.
MS. NULAND: – as you remember, so that also speaks to the fact that publicly this issue is out there, that we do not want to see the bad situation of last year repeated. We do believe that channels exist for providing humanitarian aid to Gaza in a safe and secure way and that that situation is improving. And we urge all NGOs who want to participate in that to use those channels.
QUESTION: But does a flotilla sitting in international waters off the Gaza – off the coast of Gaza, is that a problem for the U.S.?
MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t want to get into the Law of the Sea issues here. I simply want to say that we don’t want to see a conflict at sea, on land. We want to see appropriate legitimate channels used for the –
QUESTION: I understand, but in the briefing that just preceded this –
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: – you talked about wanting to – in another instance, in the South China Sea, the U.S. has been very concerned about the freedom of navigation.

But later used it:

MS. NULAND: Well, thank you for that, Arshad. We are quite concerned, as I said yesterday. We are talking to both the Israelis and the Turks. We are urging both sides to refrain from rhetoric or actions that could be provocative, that could contribute to tensions.

Hillary Clinton used it in connection  with North Korea:

We all agree that North Korea’s provocative and belligerent behavior jeopardizes peace and stability in Asia. We are deeply concerned by its unprovoked attack on the island of Yeonpyeong, resulting in the loss of South Korean lives.  On behalf of the American people, I would like to convey our sympathies to the victims and their families.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you.  We want the people of South Korea to know that we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you, and we are deeply committed to your defense.The minister and I share the view that the attack by the North Koreans violates the Armistice Agreement of 1953; that North Korea’s provocative and belligerent behavior threatens us all, and that it will be met with solidarity from all three countries.

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