Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 16, 2010

Is General Petraeus Behind Obama’s Dressing Down of Israel?

What’s behind the administration’s new get-tough policy with Israel? If you believe Mark Perry, a former Arafat adviser and author of Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with Its Enemies, it’s the doing of General David Petraeus. In a rather imaginative post at Foreign Policy’s web site, he claims that on Jan. 16,

a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”

According to Perry, the briefing “hit the White House like a bombshell,” because in effect the U.S. military was placing itself in opposition to the “powerful … Israeli lobby” by announcing that “America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.”

That didn’t ring true to me, so I asked a military officer who is familiar with the briefing in question and with Petraeus’s thinking on the issue to clarify matters. He told me that Perry’s item was “incorrect.” In the first place, Petraeus never recommended shifting the Palestinian territories to Centcom’s purview from European Command, as claimed by Perry. Nor did Petraeus belittle George Mitchell, whom he holds in high regard. All that happened, this officer told me, is that there was a “staff-officer briefing … on the situation in the West Bank, because that situation is a concern that Centcom hears in the Arab world all the time. Nothing more than that.”

I further queried this officer as to whether he had ever heard Petraeus express the view imputed to him by Mark Perry — namely that Israel’s West Bank settlements are the biggest obstacle to a peace accord and that the lack of a peace accord is responsible for killing American soldiers. This officer told me that he had heard Petraeus say “the lack of progress in the Peace Process, for whatever reason, creates challenges in Centcom’s AOR [Area of Responsibility], especially for the more moderate governmental leaders,” and that’s a concern — one of many — but he did not suggest that Petraeus was mainly blaming Israel and its settlements for the lack of progress. They are, he said, “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

That’s about what I expected: Petraeus holds a much more realistic and nuanced view than the one attributed to him by terrorist groupie Mark Perry. (For more on Petraeus’s view, see this report, which notes that Mulllen was not “stunned” by the briefing he received.) In other words, the current crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations cannot be laid at the American military’s door.

What’s behind the administration’s new get-tough policy with Israel? If you believe Mark Perry, a former Arafat adviser and author of Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with Its Enemies, it’s the doing of General David Petraeus. In a rather imaginative post at Foreign Policy’s web site, he claims that on Jan. 16,

a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”

According to Perry, the briefing “hit the White House like a bombshell,” because in effect the U.S. military was placing itself in opposition to the “powerful … Israeli lobby” by announcing that “America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.”

That didn’t ring true to me, so I asked a military officer who is familiar with the briefing in question and with Petraeus’s thinking on the issue to clarify matters. He told me that Perry’s item was “incorrect.” In the first place, Petraeus never recommended shifting the Palestinian territories to Centcom’s purview from European Command, as claimed by Perry. Nor did Petraeus belittle George Mitchell, whom he holds in high regard. All that happened, this officer told me, is that there was a “staff-officer briefing … on the situation in the West Bank, because that situation is a concern that Centcom hears in the Arab world all the time. Nothing more than that.”

I further queried this officer as to whether he had ever heard Petraeus express the view imputed to him by Mark Perry — namely that Israel’s West Bank settlements are the biggest obstacle to a peace accord and that the lack of a peace accord is responsible for killing American soldiers. This officer told me that he had heard Petraeus say “the lack of progress in the Peace Process, for whatever reason, creates challenges in Centcom’s AOR [Area of Responsibility], especially for the more moderate governmental leaders,” and that’s a concern — one of many — but he did not suggest that Petraeus was mainly blaming Israel and its settlements for the lack of progress. They are, he said, “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

That’s about what I expected: Petraeus holds a much more realistic and nuanced view than the one attributed to him by terrorist groupie Mark Perry. (For more on Petraeus’s view, see this report, which notes that Mulllen was not “stunned” by the briefing he received.) In other words, the current crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations cannot be laid at the American military’s door.

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Obama Officials: Relax, We’re Just Trying to Break up Bibi’s Coalition

Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with White House officials today and posted this report.

So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset…

Obama knows that this sort of stable, centrist coalition is the key to success. He would rather, I understand, not have to deal with Netanyahu at all — people near the President say that, for one thing, Obama doesn’t think that Netanyahu is very bright, and there is no chemistry at all between the two men — but he’d rather have a Netanyahu who is being pressured from his left than a Netanyahu who is being pressured from the right.

So here we have on record the Obama administration saying 1) that it is trying to topple the government of a democratic ally (if only we could try this in Tehran!) 2) that it believes it has such mastery of Israeli politics that publicly bludgeoning Bibi will result in such a shakeup, and that 3) even if the hoped-for new government is formed, the White House thinks it’s a good idea to go on record stating that the Prime Minister they will have to deal with is stupid.

This is pretty amazing. And it’s more evidence that not only is Obama ignorant of how Israel and the Middle East work, but that he refuses to do any on-the-job learning. He is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer. He appears to be unconcerned with the importance to the Israeli public of his reversal on the terms of the settlement freeze, which the White House was praising just a few months ago. He clearly does not understand one of the basic lessons they teach in Peace Process 101 — that Israel does not take risks for peace when it feels threatened, especially not when it feels threatened by the United States. Obama clearly doesn’t understand this, although I remain skeptical that all of this is really about the peace process.

So, Obama has made new, unrealistic demands; Netanyahu has rejected them; and now the world waits to see what Obama is going to do in response. Meanwhile, he has chased the Arabs even further up a tree, encouraging them to raise their demands while undermining Mahmoud Abbas’s ability to join talks. Lesson definitely not learned from the previous go-round.

And it’s particularly rich that Obama’s people told Goldberg that they think Bibi isn’t very smart. Remember what the president himself admitted to Joe Klein a few months ago about his management of the peace process?

This is just really hard. … I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.

He’s still not anticipating.

Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with White House officials today and posted this report.

So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset…

Obama knows that this sort of stable, centrist coalition is the key to success. He would rather, I understand, not have to deal with Netanyahu at all — people near the President say that, for one thing, Obama doesn’t think that Netanyahu is very bright, and there is no chemistry at all between the two men — but he’d rather have a Netanyahu who is being pressured from his left than a Netanyahu who is being pressured from the right.

So here we have on record the Obama administration saying 1) that it is trying to topple the government of a democratic ally (if only we could try this in Tehran!) 2) that it believes it has such mastery of Israeli politics that publicly bludgeoning Bibi will result in such a shakeup, and that 3) even if the hoped-for new government is formed, the White House thinks it’s a good idea to go on record stating that the Prime Minister they will have to deal with is stupid.

This is pretty amazing. And it’s more evidence that not only is Obama ignorant of how Israel and the Middle East work, but that he refuses to do any on-the-job learning. He is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer. He appears to be unconcerned with the importance to the Israeli public of his reversal on the terms of the settlement freeze, which the White House was praising just a few months ago. He clearly does not understand one of the basic lessons they teach in Peace Process 101 — that Israel does not take risks for peace when it feels threatened, especially not when it feels threatened by the United States. Obama clearly doesn’t understand this, although I remain skeptical that all of this is really about the peace process.

So, Obama has made new, unrealistic demands; Netanyahu has rejected them; and now the world waits to see what Obama is going to do in response. Meanwhile, he has chased the Arabs even further up a tree, encouraging them to raise their demands while undermining Mahmoud Abbas’s ability to join talks. Lesson definitely not learned from the previous go-round.

And it’s particularly rich that Obama’s people told Goldberg that they think Bibi isn’t very smart. Remember what the president himself admitted to Joe Klein a few months ago about his management of the peace process?

This is just really hard. … I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.

He’s still not anticipating.

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Lost Shakespeare Found, Mistaken for Real Final Episode of “Seinfeld”

In our March issue, John Gross examines the phenomenon of “Denying Shakespeare,” a condition in which the afflicted insist that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare but that, in fact, only Shakespeare was.

Everybody got that?

Now we find that Shakespeare (no not himhim!) may have written a play heretofore lost to civilization but recently found. It’s called Double Falsehood, or the Distressed Lovers and sounds awful. (But then again, I once said, “Who wants to watch some stupid musical based on ABBA songs?”)

The play was first staged in London in 1727 — more than 100 years after Shakespeare’s death — by the scholar Lewis Theobald. Theobald claimed that he wrote the play, basing it on a long-lost work by Shakespeare. Few of his contemporaries believed him.

The theater establishment “rubbished it, discredited it, poured scorn on it,” according to Brean Hammond, an English professor at University of Nottingham. “People tended to regard it as a hoax or a forgery.”

But Professor Hammond has spent ten years researching “Double Falsehood” and found evidence linking it to “Cardenio,” a lost play that scholars know the Bard wrote in collaboration with a colleague, John Fletcher, though no one has ever seen a copy of it.

A play that no one had ever seen staged a hundred years after the putative playwright’s death and supposedly based on another play also lost to the world.

An airtight case if ever there was one.

In any event, I’m sure we’re all eager to watch a production at the Public here in New York or on PBS or in 3D with everyone all blued-up. You know, for the kids…

In our March issue, John Gross examines the phenomenon of “Denying Shakespeare,” a condition in which the afflicted insist that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare but that, in fact, only Shakespeare was.

Everybody got that?

Now we find that Shakespeare (no not himhim!) may have written a play heretofore lost to civilization but recently found. It’s called Double Falsehood, or the Distressed Lovers and sounds awful. (But then again, I once said, “Who wants to watch some stupid musical based on ABBA songs?”)

The play was first staged in London in 1727 — more than 100 years after Shakespeare’s death — by the scholar Lewis Theobald. Theobald claimed that he wrote the play, basing it on a long-lost work by Shakespeare. Few of his contemporaries believed him.

The theater establishment “rubbished it, discredited it, poured scorn on it,” according to Brean Hammond, an English professor at University of Nottingham. “People tended to regard it as a hoax or a forgery.”

But Professor Hammond has spent ten years researching “Double Falsehood” and found evidence linking it to “Cardenio,” a lost play that scholars know the Bard wrote in collaboration with a colleague, John Fletcher, though no one has ever seen a copy of it.

A play that no one had ever seen staged a hundred years after the putative playwright’s death and supposedly based on another play also lost to the world.

An airtight case if ever there was one.

In any event, I’m sure we’re all eager to watch a production at the Public here in New York or on PBS or in 3D with everyone all blued-up. You know, for the kids…

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False Charges of Israeli Racism Are No Defense of Obama’s Bias

Roger Cohen’s decision to join the crowd piling on Israel with a column that seeks to fan the flames of anger at Israel over the building of Jewish homes in Jerusalem was to be expected. Just about everything the Times columnist has written in the last year, including his shameful apologia for Iran’s dictators, has been related to his animus for Israel. Cohen’s bile is nothing new. Nor is his absurd characterization of a housing project in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem as an example of “the steady Israeli appropriation of the physical space for Palestine” or the “cynical scattering of the Palestinian people into enclaves that make a farce of statehood.” If the Palestinians wanted their own sovereign state with its capital in part of Jerusalem, they could have had it in 2000 or in 2008 when the Israelis offered it to them. They don’t, but rather than focus on the fact that the conflict isn’t about borders or settlements but about Israel’s existence, Israel-bashers like Cohen pretend that it’s all the fault of the Jews for insisting on their right to live in Jerusalem.

But Cohen’s column concludes with a new slur: the idea that the hostility with which most Israelis view Barack Obama is the result of racism. He writes that a cartoon in Ma’ariv depicts “Obama cooking Netanyahu in a pot.” But this is, he helpfully points out, not a symbol of an American trying to put an Israeli politician in hot water but “the image — a black man cooking a white man over an open fire — also said something about the way Israel views its critics.”

Israel’s liberal critics in this country are flummoxed by the fact that Obama is the least-liked American president by Israelis since Jimmy Carter. But rather than admit that this is the result of the administration’s conscious decision to distance itself from the Jewish state, writers like Cohen spin this understandable antagonism as being somehow the result of an Israeli character flaw. This is not the first time that the notion of Israeli racism has been claimed as the source of Obama’s unpopularity. On March 8, on MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews and New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner made the same claim when they discussed Obama’s low standing in Israel, though Bronner tried to put in some sort of context:

MATTHEWS: OK, that tells you a lot. So tell me why the president of the United States is so far at the bottom? Is it his middle name, Hussein?

BRONNER: I would say that there is some level of prejudice about the fact that he had some Islamic background through his stepfather. But I think it has to do more with the fact that when he came into office a year ago, he wanted to recalibrate the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. And the easiest and clearest way of doing that was to put some distance between the United States and Israel, and he did that. And that made people nervous. I think there‘s also some sense here that—some degree of racism, to be perfectly honest.

MATTHEWS: Yes. They—because they see it as a black man—you know.

But had Barack Hussein Obama come into office ready to make good on his campaign pledges of support for Israel and not chosen to pick pointless fights with Israel’s government or downplay the threat from Iran, his poll numbers would be very different. George W. Bush also came into office with low Israeli popularity ratings, but he proved his friendship for the Jewish state with actions that eventually overshadowed the hostility most Jews felt for his father. Had Obama not sought to downgrade the alliance with Jerusalem, no one would be talking about the color of his skin having any impact on the way Israelis think of him. The attempt to blame the justified skepticism of Israelis about Obama’s intentions toward their country on Jewish racism is nothing but a contemptible slur.

Roger Cohen’s decision to join the crowd piling on Israel with a column that seeks to fan the flames of anger at Israel over the building of Jewish homes in Jerusalem was to be expected. Just about everything the Times columnist has written in the last year, including his shameful apologia for Iran’s dictators, has been related to his animus for Israel. Cohen’s bile is nothing new. Nor is his absurd characterization of a housing project in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem as an example of “the steady Israeli appropriation of the physical space for Palestine” or the “cynical scattering of the Palestinian people into enclaves that make a farce of statehood.” If the Palestinians wanted their own sovereign state with its capital in part of Jerusalem, they could have had it in 2000 or in 2008 when the Israelis offered it to them. They don’t, but rather than focus on the fact that the conflict isn’t about borders or settlements but about Israel’s existence, Israel-bashers like Cohen pretend that it’s all the fault of the Jews for insisting on their right to live in Jerusalem.

But Cohen’s column concludes with a new slur: the idea that the hostility with which most Israelis view Barack Obama is the result of racism. He writes that a cartoon in Ma’ariv depicts “Obama cooking Netanyahu in a pot.” But this is, he helpfully points out, not a symbol of an American trying to put an Israeli politician in hot water but “the image — a black man cooking a white man over an open fire — also said something about the way Israel views its critics.”

Israel’s liberal critics in this country are flummoxed by the fact that Obama is the least-liked American president by Israelis since Jimmy Carter. But rather than admit that this is the result of the administration’s conscious decision to distance itself from the Jewish state, writers like Cohen spin this understandable antagonism as being somehow the result of an Israeli character flaw. This is not the first time that the notion of Israeli racism has been claimed as the source of Obama’s unpopularity. On March 8, on MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews and New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner made the same claim when they discussed Obama’s low standing in Israel, though Bronner tried to put in some sort of context:

MATTHEWS: OK, that tells you a lot. So tell me why the president of the United States is so far at the bottom? Is it his middle name, Hussein?

BRONNER: I would say that there is some level of prejudice about the fact that he had some Islamic background through his stepfather. But I think it has to do more with the fact that when he came into office a year ago, he wanted to recalibrate the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. And the easiest and clearest way of doing that was to put some distance between the United States and Israel, and he did that. And that made people nervous. I think there‘s also some sense here that—some degree of racism, to be perfectly honest.

MATTHEWS: Yes. They—because they see it as a black man—you know.

But had Barack Hussein Obama come into office ready to make good on his campaign pledges of support for Israel and not chosen to pick pointless fights with Israel’s government or downplay the threat from Iran, his poll numbers would be very different. George W. Bush also came into office with low Israeli popularity ratings, but he proved his friendship for the Jewish state with actions that eventually overshadowed the hostility most Jews felt for his father. Had Obama not sought to downgrade the alliance with Jerusalem, no one would be talking about the color of his skin having any impact on the way Israelis think of him. The attempt to blame the justified skepticism of Israelis about Obama’s intentions toward their country on Jewish racism is nothing but a contemptible slur.

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A Clarification and Apology

I received a note from a reader in the context of my exchange with Tom Ricks. He is someone who reads me fairly regularly and said this:

I thought you were being way too hard on the guy before, and was saddened to see you double down on it today.

In my experience, lots of people use that kind of “lesser of evils” locution (“x is wrong, but not-x is even more wrong!”), and pretty much never do they therefore mean “so I condemn x.”  While that may not be the most perspicuous language (though some serious philosophers and theologians would argue otherwise — didn’t Reinhold Niebuhr, e.g.), holding Ricks to that philosophically high of a standard is unfairly tough, especially when he clearly all things considered meant in effect the opposite of what your most prominent excerpt implied.

So nail him on his verbal failure or conceptual gaffe, if you want — but make sure it’s clear that that is a philosophical critique, not a policy criticism. It’s easy for me to see why he would be outraged at that partial quotation, and I’d guess many of your most faithful readers shared my shock when reading his whole quote. (I should have written to you then — seriously considered it, but life is busy, and I’m not even nearly as efficient with my time as God calls me to be….)

The reason I found Ricks’s initial quote quite bothersome has to do with the locution he used. “I think staying in Iraq is immoral,” Ricks said. “Immoral” has a particular meaning: transgressing accepted moral rules, corrupt, unscrupulous, or unethical. The rest of Ricks’s statement, “but I think leaving Iraq is even more immoral,” struck me as relevant only if I were to use Ricks’s quote to argue about his position as it relates to pulling troops out of Iraq today. That actually wasn’t my point. It was that despite the enormous sacrifice this country is making for Iraq and the good that has come of it, Ricks still sees it fit to characterize our presence as “immoral.” That troubled me then, and it troubles me now.

At the same time, I can certainly understand why the way I used the quote would lead one to believe that Ricks favors a withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. He doesn’t, and the way I framed his quote obviously (and understandably) led some people to believe he did. So I owe Ricks and my readers an apology. He, and they, hereby have it.

I received a note from a reader in the context of my exchange with Tom Ricks. He is someone who reads me fairly regularly and said this:

I thought you were being way too hard on the guy before, and was saddened to see you double down on it today.

In my experience, lots of people use that kind of “lesser of evils” locution (“x is wrong, but not-x is even more wrong!”), and pretty much never do they therefore mean “so I condemn x.”  While that may not be the most perspicuous language (though some serious philosophers and theologians would argue otherwise — didn’t Reinhold Niebuhr, e.g.), holding Ricks to that philosophically high of a standard is unfairly tough, especially when he clearly all things considered meant in effect the opposite of what your most prominent excerpt implied.

So nail him on his verbal failure or conceptual gaffe, if you want — but make sure it’s clear that that is a philosophical critique, not a policy criticism. It’s easy for me to see why he would be outraged at that partial quotation, and I’d guess many of your most faithful readers shared my shock when reading his whole quote. (I should have written to you then — seriously considered it, but life is busy, and I’m not even nearly as efficient with my time as God calls me to be….)

The reason I found Ricks’s initial quote quite bothersome has to do with the locution he used. “I think staying in Iraq is immoral,” Ricks said. “Immoral” has a particular meaning: transgressing accepted moral rules, corrupt, unscrupulous, or unethical. The rest of Ricks’s statement, “but I think leaving Iraq is even more immoral,” struck me as relevant only if I were to use Ricks’s quote to argue about his position as it relates to pulling troops out of Iraq today. That actually wasn’t my point. It was that despite the enormous sacrifice this country is making for Iraq and the good that has come of it, Ricks still sees it fit to characterize our presence as “immoral.” That troubled me then, and it troubles me now.

At the same time, I can certainly understand why the way I used the quote would lead one to believe that Ricks favors a withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. He doesn’t, and the way I framed his quote obviously (and understandably) led some people to believe he did. So I owe Ricks and my readers an apology. He, and they, hereby have it.

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Sound Advice for the President

David Rothkopf:

“Tough on your friends, weak with your enemies” is neither a common trait among great leaders nor is it a particularly good campaign bumper sticker.

David Rothkopf:

“Tough on your friends, weak with your enemies” is neither a common trait among great leaders nor is it a particularly good campaign bumper sticker.

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Not Getting Anywhere

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations joins other prominent Jewish organizations in blasting the administration, declaring in a lengthy statement that, “the unusually harsh comments made since then by members of the Administration have resulted in increased tensions. The interests of all concerned would best be served by a prompt commencement of the proximity talks that had been previously agreed to by all parties, and all parties should act in a manner that does not undercut such talks.” But it is the Presidents’ remarks on the Obami’s cough-up-more-concessions gambit that are most noteworthy in that they directly confront the premise of the Obami’s tactics:

Israel has consistently stated that it is prepared to return to direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions, and recently has agreed to enter into proximity talks that would lead to face-to-face discussions. The Palestinians also had agreed to such proximity talks. Notwithstanding that apparent sign of progress, the Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab League have repeatedly looked for ways to avoid discussions that might lead to a peace agreement and have imposed conditions never demanded of previous Israeli governments. Despite this, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have declared an unprecedented settlement freeze in the West Bank and have taken important steps to remove roadblocks and to otherwise promote conditions to improve life in the Palestinian territories. This conduct by Israel, supported by the United States, together with action undertaken by the Palestinian Authority, has resulted in tangible improvement for those living under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The United States of America should capitalize on these improved conditions and insist that the Palestinians operate in good faith and live up to their commitment to begin new talks.

The recent disclosure by Israel of its intention to build additional housing units in eastern Jerusalem at a future date does not contradict its announced commitment to freeze settlement building for a limited period, and a cessation to building in Jerusalem was never a condition of the proximity talks. Israel has always claimed a right to build in its capital city. The apparent refusal by the Palestinian Authority to avoid discussions now until the plans regarding the 1600 future units are withdrawn is yet another instance of the Palestinians missing an opportunity to move toward a resolution of the conflict. The true test of peaceful intentions is the willingness to engage in negotiations.

Israel’s commitment to participate in proximity talks is in sharp distinction to the continued incitement by the Palestinian Authority and its public relations organs which have consistently acted in violation of its agreements with Israel. Only last week, coincident with the visit of Vice President Biden to the region, the Palestinians went ahead with the dedication of a public square in honor of  Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who was responsible for the massacre of 37 Israelis and American photographer Gail Rubin in 1978. It is such conduct which merits the attention and condemnation of those who seek to achieve peace.

It took a while, but Jewish organizations — the ADL, AIPAC, AJC, and now the Conference — have recoiled against Obama’s notion that the problem in the “peace process” is Israel and that the solution is to extract more concessions to toss to the Palestinians. The Obami’s take on the situation is not grounded in fact. (Which party has been making steps toward peace and which has been naming squares after terrorists?) As we’ve seen for over a year, it is also bad bargaining. Now we see it’s bad politics.

And the Israeli government? For now, Bibi Netanyahu is thanking Hillary Clinton for her last round of platitudinous comments. (“The State of Israel appreciates and respects the warm words said by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the deep bond between the U.S. and Israel, and on the U.S.’ commitment to Israel’s security.” But how bonded and  committed is the administration to pick a fight, risk emboldening Palestinians bent on terror, and signal to the region that Obama is not on the same page with the Israeli government?) However, on the substance of the Obami’s demands, Netanyahu isn’t buying the Obama narrative either:

“With regard to commitments to peace, the government of Israel has proven over the last year that it is commitment to peace, both in words and actions,” said the statement. …

The statement cited as examples Netanyahu’s inaugural foreign policy speech made at Bar Ilan University, the removal of hundreds of roadblocks across the West Bank, and its decision to freeze temporarily construction in West Bank settlements. The latter, said the statement, was even called by Clinton an “unprecedented” move.

The Israeli government reiterated its call for the Palestinians “to enter the tent of peace without preconditions, because that is the only way to reach a settlement that will ensure peace, security and prosperity for both nations.”

So let’s take stock: no mainstream Jewish organization supports the Obami’s gambit, neither does any elected official who has publicly spoken up. The Israeli government is not persuaded to make any more moves. The Palestinians are calling for “rage” over the restoration of a synagogue in Jerusalem. In short, Obama’s Middle East policy is a complete flop, both domestically and internationally. Whoever thought up this latest move — Axelrod? Emanuel? — might want to consider going back to making hash out of health care.

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations joins other prominent Jewish organizations in blasting the administration, declaring in a lengthy statement that, “the unusually harsh comments made since then by members of the Administration have resulted in increased tensions. The interests of all concerned would best be served by a prompt commencement of the proximity talks that had been previously agreed to by all parties, and all parties should act in a manner that does not undercut such talks.” But it is the Presidents’ remarks on the Obami’s cough-up-more-concessions gambit that are most noteworthy in that they directly confront the premise of the Obami’s tactics:

Israel has consistently stated that it is prepared to return to direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions, and recently has agreed to enter into proximity talks that would lead to face-to-face discussions. The Palestinians also had agreed to such proximity talks. Notwithstanding that apparent sign of progress, the Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab League have repeatedly looked for ways to avoid discussions that might lead to a peace agreement and have imposed conditions never demanded of previous Israeli governments. Despite this, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have declared an unprecedented settlement freeze in the West Bank and have taken important steps to remove roadblocks and to otherwise promote conditions to improve life in the Palestinian territories. This conduct by Israel, supported by the United States, together with action undertaken by the Palestinian Authority, has resulted in tangible improvement for those living under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The United States of America should capitalize on these improved conditions and insist that the Palestinians operate in good faith and live up to their commitment to begin new talks.

The recent disclosure by Israel of its intention to build additional housing units in eastern Jerusalem at a future date does not contradict its announced commitment to freeze settlement building for a limited period, and a cessation to building in Jerusalem was never a condition of the proximity talks. Israel has always claimed a right to build in its capital city. The apparent refusal by the Palestinian Authority to avoid discussions now until the plans regarding the 1600 future units are withdrawn is yet another instance of the Palestinians missing an opportunity to move toward a resolution of the conflict. The true test of peaceful intentions is the willingness to engage in negotiations.

Israel’s commitment to participate in proximity talks is in sharp distinction to the continued incitement by the Palestinian Authority and its public relations organs which have consistently acted in violation of its agreements with Israel. Only last week, coincident with the visit of Vice President Biden to the region, the Palestinians went ahead with the dedication of a public square in honor of  Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who was responsible for the massacre of 37 Israelis and American photographer Gail Rubin in 1978. It is such conduct which merits the attention and condemnation of those who seek to achieve peace.

It took a while, but Jewish organizations — the ADL, AIPAC, AJC, and now the Conference — have recoiled against Obama’s notion that the problem in the “peace process” is Israel and that the solution is to extract more concessions to toss to the Palestinians. The Obami’s take on the situation is not grounded in fact. (Which party has been making steps toward peace and which has been naming squares after terrorists?) As we’ve seen for over a year, it is also bad bargaining. Now we see it’s bad politics.

And the Israeli government? For now, Bibi Netanyahu is thanking Hillary Clinton for her last round of platitudinous comments. (“The State of Israel appreciates and respects the warm words said by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the deep bond between the U.S. and Israel, and on the U.S.’ commitment to Israel’s security.” But how bonded and  committed is the administration to pick a fight, risk emboldening Palestinians bent on terror, and signal to the region that Obama is not on the same page with the Israeli government?) However, on the substance of the Obami’s demands, Netanyahu isn’t buying the Obama narrative either:

“With regard to commitments to peace, the government of Israel has proven over the last year that it is commitment to peace, both in words and actions,” said the statement. …

The statement cited as examples Netanyahu’s inaugural foreign policy speech made at Bar Ilan University, the removal of hundreds of roadblocks across the West Bank, and its decision to freeze temporarily construction in West Bank settlements. The latter, said the statement, was even called by Clinton an “unprecedented” move.

The Israeli government reiterated its call for the Palestinians “to enter the tent of peace without preconditions, because that is the only way to reach a settlement that will ensure peace, security and prosperity for both nations.”

So let’s take stock: no mainstream Jewish organization supports the Obami’s gambit, neither does any elected official who has publicly spoken up. The Israeli government is not persuaded to make any more moves. The Palestinians are calling for “rage” over the restoration of a synagogue in Jerusalem. In short, Obama’s Middle East policy is a complete flop, both domestically and internationally. Whoever thought up this latest move — Axelrod? Emanuel? — might want to consider going back to making hash out of health care.

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How Many Lives Is Biden’s Pride Worth?

What prompted this morning’s violence in Jerusalem’s Old City? Though the stone-throwing and disruptions resulted in only eight Israeli security personnel being wounded and a similar number of Palestinian casualties, the context of the American diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state must be seen as an incentive for the Palestinians to do their own part to ratchet up the pressure. While the Obama administration is using its hurt feelings about the announcement of building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to put the screws to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have their own game to play here. And since Washington has decided to go all out to falsely portray the Israelis as the primary obstacle to peace, it should be expected that the supposed victims of the new housing — Palestinians who are in no way harmed by the building of new apartments — will seek to keep events churning.

The rumors filtering through the Islamic world about supposed “threats” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount are clearly efforts to foment violence — reminiscent of the bloody 1929 riots which led to Arab pogroms against Jews living in Jerusalem and Hebron and of the fake controversy over Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount, which Yasir Arafat used as cover for launching the second intifada. The Jerusalem Post reports that busloads of Arabs are heading to the capital to “protect” the Temple Mount against mythical Jewish attempts to undermine the mosque’s foundations. They appear to be referring to this week’s rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose destruction by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948 was a symbol of the expulsion of Jews from the Old City. The mere act of reasserting the Jewish presence there is viewed as an affront by a Muslim world that still refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy.

The point here is that while the Obama administration’s huffing and puffing about the insult given by Vice President Joe Biden last week may be about an effort to undermine the Netanyahu government, their decision to brand all Jewish building in the city as illegal and as reason for American rage means something very different to the Palestinians. The ultimatum delivered to Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, in which she demanded that the housing plan be rescinded, is viewed by many Palestinians as American support — not only for their ambitions for a redivided city but also for the expulsion of the Jews from all of East Jerusalem.

Even more to the point, the attacks on Israel emanating from Washington in both on- and off-the-record interviews with administration officials, may be tempting the Palestinians to do more than throw stones. An isolated Israel looks like a vulnerable Israel to the Palestinians, and that has always served as an incentive to further violence. And since neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any intention of following up Clinton’s demands by actually negotiating for peace in good faith, they may decide that now is the perfect moment to exploit Obama’s rage by raising the stakes with a mini intifada or with acts of terrorism, since they may think Washington will now oppose any Israeli counterattack or retaliation.

Biden may have had a genuine beef with Netanyahu for the blunder over the timing of the announcement but does this man, who has always touted himself as “Israel’s best friend in the Senate,” really want an argument over his injured pride to serve as the excuse for a new round of bloodshed? Do those left-wing American Jews, like the J Street lobby, who are now calling for more pressure on Jerusalem understand the possible cost of their signal to the Palestinians that Israel’s democratically elected government has lost its only ally? Those Americans who are heedlessly stoking the fires of resentment against Israel may soon have more to answer for than merely prejudicial attacks against Netanyahu.

What prompted this morning’s violence in Jerusalem’s Old City? Though the stone-throwing and disruptions resulted in only eight Israeli security personnel being wounded and a similar number of Palestinian casualties, the context of the American diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state must be seen as an incentive for the Palestinians to do their own part to ratchet up the pressure. While the Obama administration is using its hurt feelings about the announcement of building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to put the screws to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have their own game to play here. And since Washington has decided to go all out to falsely portray the Israelis as the primary obstacle to peace, it should be expected that the supposed victims of the new housing — Palestinians who are in no way harmed by the building of new apartments — will seek to keep events churning.

The rumors filtering through the Islamic world about supposed “threats” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount are clearly efforts to foment violence — reminiscent of the bloody 1929 riots which led to Arab pogroms against Jews living in Jerusalem and Hebron and of the fake controversy over Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount, which Yasir Arafat used as cover for launching the second intifada. The Jerusalem Post reports that busloads of Arabs are heading to the capital to “protect” the Temple Mount against mythical Jewish attempts to undermine the mosque’s foundations. They appear to be referring to this week’s rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose destruction by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948 was a symbol of the expulsion of Jews from the Old City. The mere act of reasserting the Jewish presence there is viewed as an affront by a Muslim world that still refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy.

The point here is that while the Obama administration’s huffing and puffing about the insult given by Vice President Joe Biden last week may be about an effort to undermine the Netanyahu government, their decision to brand all Jewish building in the city as illegal and as reason for American rage means something very different to the Palestinians. The ultimatum delivered to Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, in which she demanded that the housing plan be rescinded, is viewed by many Palestinians as American support — not only for their ambitions for a redivided city but also for the expulsion of the Jews from all of East Jerusalem.

Even more to the point, the attacks on Israel emanating from Washington in both on- and off-the-record interviews with administration officials, may be tempting the Palestinians to do more than throw stones. An isolated Israel looks like a vulnerable Israel to the Palestinians, and that has always served as an incentive to further violence. And since neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any intention of following up Clinton’s demands by actually negotiating for peace in good faith, they may decide that now is the perfect moment to exploit Obama’s rage by raising the stakes with a mini intifada or with acts of terrorism, since they may think Washington will now oppose any Israeli counterattack or retaliation.

Biden may have had a genuine beef with Netanyahu for the blunder over the timing of the announcement but does this man, who has always touted himself as “Israel’s best friend in the Senate,” really want an argument over his injured pride to serve as the excuse for a new round of bloodshed? Do those left-wing American Jews, like the J Street lobby, who are now calling for more pressure on Jerusalem understand the possible cost of their signal to the Palestinians that Israel’s democratically elected government has lost its only ally? Those Americans who are heedlessly stoking the fires of resentment against Israel may soon have more to answer for than merely prejudicial attacks against Netanyahu.

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Obama Isolated

More and more Democrats are stepping forward to slap down the Obami. Among the more terse was from Rep. Anthony Weiner: “The appropriate response was a shake of the head — not a temper tantrum. Israel is a sovereign nation and an ally, not a punching bag. Enough already.” Among the more eloquent was Rep. Eliot Engel from the House floor:

We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.

The relationship remains rock solid. The Obama administration and the administration of Prime Minister Netanyahu have been cooperating on a number of things: containing Iran, the Goldstone Report, and making sure that Israel retains its qualitative military edge in the region. And there has been good cooperation between our two administrations, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu administration. But to seem to question the very nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship and to put it in personal terms in a very public way will not contribute to peace in the Middle East. Rather, it’s the contrary. It will cause the Palestinians to dig in their heels, thinking that the Americans can just deliver the Israelis.

Last year, when there was public pressure being put on Israel not to expand settlements, there was no simultaneous public pressure being put on the Palestinians, and we saw that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just sat back, didn’t make any concessions, didn’t say that he would do anything positively to further peace talks, and just thought that the United States would wring concessions out of Israel.

The fact of the matter is that the Israelis have been welcoming peace talks with the Palestinians. The Israelis have said they would sit down and have face-to-face talks for peace with the Palestinians. That’s what you do when you have peace. Instead, the Palestinians have refused to sit with the Israelis, and Senator Mitchell is proposing to shuttle back and forth between the Palestinian side and the Israeli side to have negotiations, but not direct negotiations.

We need to be careful. If we criticize Israel for doing what we think was wrong, then we need to also criticize the Palestinians when they do things wrong. Just recently, the Palestinians named a square in Ramallah for a terrorist who killed 30-some-odd Israelis. I didn’t hear any criticism of the Palestinian side. When the Palestinians dig in their heels and say they won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state, I didn’t hear any criticism of Palestinians.

Let me say that harsh words are never a replacement for working together, but I think that harsh words can sometimes make us understand that only by working together can we confront the things that we both know need to be confronted–the scourge of terrorism, the thing that all nations understand emanates in the Middle East from radical forces, and those are the kinds of fights that Israel has every single day fighting terrorism. We learned about terrorism on this soil on 9/11. Israel has to deal with it every day.

So all I am saying, Madam Speaker, is that we need to not only reaffirm the strength of our ties between our two countries, but we also need to understand that in a relationship between friends, as in family, there will be some disagreements. We need to be careful about how we voice those disagreements in public.

Let’s put it another way: not a single Republican or Democratic official has come forward to defend the administration. J Street cheers them on, as one can imagine from the never-enough-venom-directed-to-Israel lobby. The National Jewish Democratic Council is hiding under the bed. But actual elected leaders? Not one of them. On this the administration is totally isolated.

More and more Democrats are stepping forward to slap down the Obami. Among the more terse was from Rep. Anthony Weiner: “The appropriate response was a shake of the head — not a temper tantrum. Israel is a sovereign nation and an ally, not a punching bag. Enough already.” Among the more eloquent was Rep. Eliot Engel from the House floor:

We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.

The relationship remains rock solid. The Obama administration and the administration of Prime Minister Netanyahu have been cooperating on a number of things: containing Iran, the Goldstone Report, and making sure that Israel retains its qualitative military edge in the region. And there has been good cooperation between our two administrations, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu administration. But to seem to question the very nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship and to put it in personal terms in a very public way will not contribute to peace in the Middle East. Rather, it’s the contrary. It will cause the Palestinians to dig in their heels, thinking that the Americans can just deliver the Israelis.

Last year, when there was public pressure being put on Israel not to expand settlements, there was no simultaneous public pressure being put on the Palestinians, and we saw that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just sat back, didn’t make any concessions, didn’t say that he would do anything positively to further peace talks, and just thought that the United States would wring concessions out of Israel.

The fact of the matter is that the Israelis have been welcoming peace talks with the Palestinians. The Israelis have said they would sit down and have face-to-face talks for peace with the Palestinians. That’s what you do when you have peace. Instead, the Palestinians have refused to sit with the Israelis, and Senator Mitchell is proposing to shuttle back and forth between the Palestinian side and the Israeli side to have negotiations, but not direct negotiations.

We need to be careful. If we criticize Israel for doing what we think was wrong, then we need to also criticize the Palestinians when they do things wrong. Just recently, the Palestinians named a square in Ramallah for a terrorist who killed 30-some-odd Israelis. I didn’t hear any criticism of the Palestinian side. When the Palestinians dig in their heels and say they won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state, I didn’t hear any criticism of Palestinians.

Let me say that harsh words are never a replacement for working together, but I think that harsh words can sometimes make us understand that only by working together can we confront the things that we both know need to be confronted–the scourge of terrorism, the thing that all nations understand emanates in the Middle East from radical forces, and those are the kinds of fights that Israel has every single day fighting terrorism. We learned about terrorism on this soil on 9/11. Israel has to deal with it every day.

So all I am saying, Madam Speaker, is that we need to not only reaffirm the strength of our ties between our two countries, but we also need to understand that in a relationship between friends, as in family, there will be some disagreements. We need to be careful about how we voice those disagreements in public.

Let’s put it another way: not a single Republican or Democratic official has come forward to defend the administration. J Street cheers them on, as one can imagine from the never-enough-venom-directed-to-Israel lobby. The National Jewish Democratic Council is hiding under the bed. But actual elected leaders? Not one of them. On this the administration is totally isolated.

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There Are a Lot of Angry Evangelicals

Christians United for Israel has swung into action; an alert went out to its very large mailing list (which includes pastors who in turn contact their church members). Spokesman Ari Morgenstern tells me: “The strong response of the Christian Zionist community on this issue reflects their steadfast commitment to standing with Israel.  Christian friends of Israel are capable of distinguishing between temporary disputes between friends, and the deeper ties that bind our two countries.” What kind of response did they get? “Just 90 minutes after CUFI’s action alert was distributed, more than 5,000 of our members sent e-mails to the White House asking the president to ‘end this unnecessary crisis, return to a more productive approach, and stand with our ally Israel.’ As of last count we are averaging an e-mail every second, and I see no indication that this will slow down anytime soon.”

Many liberal, largely secular American Jews have been wary of, if not downright hostile to, evangelical support for Israel. Perhaps they should reconsider and figure out who the friends of Israel really are. They’re the ones sending, not receiving the e-mails.

Christians United for Israel has swung into action; an alert went out to its very large mailing list (which includes pastors who in turn contact their church members). Spokesman Ari Morgenstern tells me: “The strong response of the Christian Zionist community on this issue reflects their steadfast commitment to standing with Israel.  Christian friends of Israel are capable of distinguishing between temporary disputes between friends, and the deeper ties that bind our two countries.” What kind of response did they get? “Just 90 minutes after CUFI’s action alert was distributed, more than 5,000 of our members sent e-mails to the White House asking the president to ‘end this unnecessary crisis, return to a more productive approach, and stand with our ally Israel.’ As of last count we are averaging an e-mail every second, and I see no indication that this will slow down anytime soon.”

Many liberal, largely secular American Jews have been wary of, if not downright hostile to, evangelical support for Israel. Perhaps they should reconsider and figure out who the friends of Israel really are. They’re the ones sending, not receiving the e-mails.

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A 2012 Preview

Obama’s assault on Israel is drawing fire from potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates. Sarah Palin (who, as I’ve written quite a bit about, had a rocky start with American Jews) is out with a lengthly statement, pointing out the contrast between Obama’s outreach to despotic regimes and our treatment of Israel, which reads, in part:

Last October, Secretary of State Clinton recognized Israel’s desire for peace in the Middle East and praised Israel’s “unprecedented” concessions for agreeing to halt settlement construction in the West Bank, a concession that did NOT include halting construction of apartments for Jews in Jerusalem. Even last week after planned construction was announced, Vice President Biden still expressed “appreciation” for the “significant” steps taken by the Israeli government to address this minor issue. Now, however, we see the Obama Administration has decided to escalate, make unilateral demands of Israel, and threaten the very foundation of the US-Israel relationship. This is quickly leading to the worst crisis in US-Israel relations in decades, and yet this did not have to happen. More importantly, it needs to stop before it spirals out of control. Vice President Biden should rein in the overheated Obama Administration rhetoric and chill the political spin masters’ fire as they visit the Sunday media shows to criticize Israel.

Mitt Romney’s spokesman e-mails me: “Governor Romney believes that President Obama spends way too much time placating our enemies while undermining our friends. Israel is one of our greatest allies, and has made many concessions for peace over the years, yet the Obama administration exerts pressure on Israel to stop its settlements while putting almost no pressure on the Palestinians.”

It is, as the two Republicans point out, all of a piece. The Obami have, as Palin puts it, reached out “to some of the world’s worst regimes in the name of their engagement policy,” and averted their eyes to violations of UN agreements and to gross human-rights abuses. It took days for Obama to speak out in the wake of the June 12 Iranian election, and even then only in tepid terms. Yet, with the announcement of a housing complex in Jerusalem, all guns are blazing from the West Wing. We can expect to hear more from those Republicans eyeing 2012 on this subject. It is frankly both good policy and good politics to take on the Obama foreign-policy trainwreck.

Obama’s assault on Israel is drawing fire from potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates. Sarah Palin (who, as I’ve written quite a bit about, had a rocky start with American Jews) is out with a lengthly statement, pointing out the contrast between Obama’s outreach to despotic regimes and our treatment of Israel, which reads, in part:

Last October, Secretary of State Clinton recognized Israel’s desire for peace in the Middle East and praised Israel’s “unprecedented” concessions for agreeing to halt settlement construction in the West Bank, a concession that did NOT include halting construction of apartments for Jews in Jerusalem. Even last week after planned construction was announced, Vice President Biden still expressed “appreciation” for the “significant” steps taken by the Israeli government to address this minor issue. Now, however, we see the Obama Administration has decided to escalate, make unilateral demands of Israel, and threaten the very foundation of the US-Israel relationship. This is quickly leading to the worst crisis in US-Israel relations in decades, and yet this did not have to happen. More importantly, it needs to stop before it spirals out of control. Vice President Biden should rein in the overheated Obama Administration rhetoric and chill the political spin masters’ fire as they visit the Sunday media shows to criticize Israel.

Mitt Romney’s spokesman e-mails me: “Governor Romney believes that President Obama spends way too much time placating our enemies while undermining our friends. Israel is one of our greatest allies, and has made many concessions for peace over the years, yet the Obama administration exerts pressure on Israel to stop its settlements while putting almost no pressure on the Palestinians.”

It is, as the two Republicans point out, all of a piece. The Obami have, as Palin puts it, reached out “to some of the world’s worst regimes in the name of their engagement policy,” and averted their eyes to violations of UN agreements and to gross human-rights abuses. It took days for Obama to speak out in the wake of the June 12 Iranian election, and even then only in tepid terms. Yet, with the announcement of a housing complex in Jerusalem, all guns are blazing from the West Wing. We can expect to hear more from those Republicans eyeing 2012 on this subject. It is frankly both good policy and good politics to take on the Obama foreign-policy trainwreck.

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Re Re: Obama and Israel: Not Smart

A plugged-in friend emails:

I think the Obama administration’s blow-up wasn’t about the “insult” at all. That was just a convenient excuse. The issue is that Obama has zero to show for his first year in office in the foreign policy realm. His one arguable success is the proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority  (even if I’d call it a self-inflicted failure created by his outrageous public scolding of Israel in May 2009 on a total settlement freeze that limited PA chief Mahmoud Abbas’ ability to maneuver). The Palestinians are constantly — and tactically — looking for any excuse to walk away from  negotiations to cause Israel to better its offer. When the housing announcement was made during the Biden visit last week, the Arab League jumped all over the State Department and the Obama people saw the entire Mitchell “proximity talks” project as being at risk.  The wild overreaction was a deliberate effort to shock the Israelis to make more concessions, of course, but more so to impress upon the Arab League that it should not withdraw its support for the proximity talks. A tactically foolish approach, as it will hurt, not help, forward movement on the talks — which will go nowhere soon anyway. But not just a fit of pique.

A plugged-in friend emails:

I think the Obama administration’s blow-up wasn’t about the “insult” at all. That was just a convenient excuse. The issue is that Obama has zero to show for his first year in office in the foreign policy realm. His one arguable success is the proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority  (even if I’d call it a self-inflicted failure created by his outrageous public scolding of Israel in May 2009 on a total settlement freeze that limited PA chief Mahmoud Abbas’ ability to maneuver). The Palestinians are constantly — and tactically — looking for any excuse to walk away from  negotiations to cause Israel to better its offer. When the housing announcement was made during the Biden visit last week, the Arab League jumped all over the State Department and the Obama people saw the entire Mitchell “proximity talks” project as being at risk.  The wild overreaction was a deliberate effort to shock the Israelis to make more concessions, of course, but more so to impress upon the Arab League that it should not withdraw its support for the proximity talks. A tactically foolish approach, as it will hurt, not help, forward movement on the talks — which will go nowhere soon anyway. But not just a fit of pique.

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What Do the “Yes” Votes Get?

Mark Hemingway’s headline reads: “Obama says he won’t campaign for Dems who vote no on healthcare.” Yes, many of us are tempted to ask why the poor lackeys who vote “yes” don’t get the same promise. Obama has been chasing off local lawmakers of late when he appears in swing states. Creigh Deeds tried to keep his distance, but Bob McDonnell still won in Virginia, running against Obamaism. Chris Christie and Scott Brown didn’t mind Obama coming to their states — it seemed to juice up the Tea Party crowd as well as the traditional conservatives and independents.

Obama-Reid-Pelosi have many weapons in their arsenal. But the president’s popularity isn’t one of them these days. Remember, we are down to the final dozen or so votes. These are lawmakers who already realize that they may be dragged down by the Obama ship. The question now is not whether Obama can save them but whether they can save themselves by voting against ObamaCare. Oh, excuse me — that would be “deeming not hereby ruled” the monstrous bill, which requires such parliamentary gymnastics to pass. (Can we say “pass”?)

Mark Hemingway’s headline reads: “Obama says he won’t campaign for Dems who vote no on healthcare.” Yes, many of us are tempted to ask why the poor lackeys who vote “yes” don’t get the same promise. Obama has been chasing off local lawmakers of late when he appears in swing states. Creigh Deeds tried to keep his distance, but Bob McDonnell still won in Virginia, running against Obamaism. Chris Christie and Scott Brown didn’t mind Obama coming to their states — it seemed to juice up the Tea Party crowd as well as the traditional conservatives and independents.

Obama-Reid-Pelosi have many weapons in their arsenal. But the president’s popularity isn’t one of them these days. Remember, we are down to the final dozen or so votes. These are lawmakers who already realize that they may be dragged down by the Obama ship. The question now is not whether Obama can save them but whether they can save themselves by voting against ObamaCare. Oh, excuse me — that would be “deeming not hereby ruled” the monstrous bill, which requires such parliamentary gymnastics to pass. (Can we say “pass”?)

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RE: Opposition to Obama’s Tactics Builds

The Obami’s decision to go after Israel in harsh terms, so unbecoming toward an ally, is bringing in a storm of criticism. As I and others are reporting, the criticism is proving to be bipartisan. Pennsylvania Rep. Christopher Carney, a Democrat, and Illinois Republican Rep. Mark Kirk are sending a joint letter to Obama telling him to recommit to a number of principles, including “the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, [under which] official United States policy recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel.” Rep. Eliot Engel added his voice to those pro-Israel Democrats. (“We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.”) And Minority Whip Eric Cantor called Rahm Emanuel. Politico reports:

While he declined to quote Emanuel’s response, Cantor said he now believes the administration is capitalizing on a relatively minor diplomatic affront to redefine U.S. policy and force Israel to make new concessions about where it will build.
U.S. officials lambasted Israel for announcing the new construction of apartments for Jews in Jerusalem — without any warning — while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel last week.

Israel apologized for the break in protocol but not for building. The White House has asked Israel to stop building in disputed East Jerusalem — a request that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected on Tuesday.

Cantor called the White House reaction a “disproportionate response” and said its call for a halt to the construction in East Jerusalem appears to be an “opportunistic move by an administration that wants to impose its view … onto our ally.”

These voices are welcome to those who wish to repair the U.S.-Israel relationship. But the problem is not simply the tone or the public nature of the criticism launched by the Obami. Former New York City Mayor and devout friend of Israel Ed Koch e-mails me: “It is very serious.  I hope all Jews understand the unforgivable pressures being brought on Israel.” And let’s hope all Americans do as well. The problem here is not simply the uncivil tone and bullying techniques but also the entire mindset and policy that seek to extract the most concessions possible from the Israeli government — or even topple it — as a negotiaiting gambit. It is of course a 180-degree reversal from the rather successful policy under George W. Bush, who correctly appreciated the fact that a close and fulsome U.S.-Israel relationship was essential to the “peace process.” And of course it is in keeping with our own national-security interests and our historic ties to the Jewish state.

If the Obami are surprised by the push back, that is only one more indication as to how out of touch they are — with the American people, with the realities of the Middle East, and with the impact that all of this will have on relations with other nations. In an administration with plenty of them, this ranks among the worst foreign-policy debacles.

The Obami’s decision to go after Israel in harsh terms, so unbecoming toward an ally, is bringing in a storm of criticism. As I and others are reporting, the criticism is proving to be bipartisan. Pennsylvania Rep. Christopher Carney, a Democrat, and Illinois Republican Rep. Mark Kirk are sending a joint letter to Obama telling him to recommit to a number of principles, including “the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, [under which] official United States policy recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel.” Rep. Eliot Engel added his voice to those pro-Israel Democrats. (“We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.”) And Minority Whip Eric Cantor called Rahm Emanuel. Politico reports:

While he declined to quote Emanuel’s response, Cantor said he now believes the administration is capitalizing on a relatively minor diplomatic affront to redefine U.S. policy and force Israel to make new concessions about where it will build.
U.S. officials lambasted Israel for announcing the new construction of apartments for Jews in Jerusalem — without any warning — while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel last week.

Israel apologized for the break in protocol but not for building. The White House has asked Israel to stop building in disputed East Jerusalem — a request that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected on Tuesday.

Cantor called the White House reaction a “disproportionate response” and said its call for a halt to the construction in East Jerusalem appears to be an “opportunistic move by an administration that wants to impose its view … onto our ally.”

These voices are welcome to those who wish to repair the U.S.-Israel relationship. But the problem is not simply the tone or the public nature of the criticism launched by the Obami. Former New York City Mayor and devout friend of Israel Ed Koch e-mails me: “It is very serious.  I hope all Jews understand the unforgivable pressures being brought on Israel.” And let’s hope all Americans do as well. The problem here is not simply the uncivil tone and bullying techniques but also the entire mindset and policy that seek to extract the most concessions possible from the Israeli government — or even topple it — as a negotiaiting gambit. It is of course a 180-degree reversal from the rather successful policy under George W. Bush, who correctly appreciated the fact that a close and fulsome U.S.-Israel relationship was essential to the “peace process.” And of course it is in keeping with our own national-security interests and our historic ties to the Jewish state.

If the Obami are surprised by the push back, that is only one more indication as to how out of touch they are — with the American people, with the realities of the Middle East, and with the impact that all of this will have on relations with other nations. In an administration with plenty of them, this ranks among the worst foreign-policy debacles.

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Obama’s Strategy Is to Weaken or Remove Bibi

The Obama administration seeks to recover from the stagnation it imposed on the peace process a year ago by doubling down on its strategy of making impossible demands on the Israelis, hoping that this time they will cave.

The administration thought it had discovered a way forward in the form of proximity talks, in which the U.S. would serve as mediator in indirect negotiations between the two sides, being that the Palestinians are refusing direct talks (this ongoing Palestinian refusal, of course, earns zero criticism from the White House).

But now the administration is attaching new demands to the commencement of the talks:

to reverse last week’s approval of 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem, make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, and publicly declare that all of the “core issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, be included in upcoming talks.

It should be obvious, at this point, that Obama is trying to manufacture an immense political dilemma for Netanyahu by forcing him to choose between two crises — one with the United States should he accept the demands, the other with his coalition partners and the Israeli public should he reject them. For Netanyahu, this is a no-win situation. The only choice is between less damaging options.

Netanyahu should reject the new demands, because they are not made in good faith, they are a reversal of previous Obama commitments, and, most important, the proximity talks themselves are a trap.

Obama has demonstrated very clearly that he is not an “honest broker” — he is instead behaving as a lawyer for the Palestinians. The danger of proximity talks in which all the “core issues” of the conflict would be on the table is that the U.S. would act not as mediator but in tandem with the Palestinians to pressure Israel into making dangerous and unprecedented concessions. As Haaretz reported two weeks ago,

According to a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, the Obama administration has promised Abbas that if either side fails to live up to expectations, the United States will not conceal its disappointment, nor will it hesitate to take steps to remove the obstacle. In addition, the PA was promised that the United States would not be satisfied with playing the role of messenger. According to what the official read to me, the Obama administration will present its own proposals in an effort to bridge the gaps.

Obama has shown very clearly that, as on health care, he is personally passionate, emotionally invested, and possessed of the belief that he has the power to push through sweeping changes. The proximity talks would give Obama just the opening he needs to subject Netanyahu to an escalating series of demands and punishments — confronting him with the same dilemma he faces right now, only even more severe. Danger lies ahead.

The Obama administration seeks to recover from the stagnation it imposed on the peace process a year ago by doubling down on its strategy of making impossible demands on the Israelis, hoping that this time they will cave.

The administration thought it had discovered a way forward in the form of proximity talks, in which the U.S. would serve as mediator in indirect negotiations between the two sides, being that the Palestinians are refusing direct talks (this ongoing Palestinian refusal, of course, earns zero criticism from the White House).

But now the administration is attaching new demands to the commencement of the talks:

to reverse last week’s approval of 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem, make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, and publicly declare that all of the “core issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, be included in upcoming talks.

It should be obvious, at this point, that Obama is trying to manufacture an immense political dilemma for Netanyahu by forcing him to choose between two crises — one with the United States should he accept the demands, the other with his coalition partners and the Israeli public should he reject them. For Netanyahu, this is a no-win situation. The only choice is between less damaging options.

Netanyahu should reject the new demands, because they are not made in good faith, they are a reversal of previous Obama commitments, and, most important, the proximity talks themselves are a trap.

Obama has demonstrated very clearly that he is not an “honest broker” — he is instead behaving as a lawyer for the Palestinians. The danger of proximity talks in which all the “core issues” of the conflict would be on the table is that the U.S. would act not as mediator but in tandem with the Palestinians to pressure Israel into making dangerous and unprecedented concessions. As Haaretz reported two weeks ago,

According to a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, the Obama administration has promised Abbas that if either side fails to live up to expectations, the United States will not conceal its disappointment, nor will it hesitate to take steps to remove the obstacle. In addition, the PA was promised that the United States would not be satisfied with playing the role of messenger. According to what the official read to me, the Obama administration will present its own proposals in an effort to bridge the gaps.

Obama has shown very clearly that, as on health care, he is personally passionate, emotionally invested, and possessed of the belief that he has the power to push through sweeping changes. The proximity talks would give Obama just the opening he needs to subject Netanyahu to an escalating series of demands and punishments — confronting him with the same dilemma he faces right now, only even more severe. Danger lies ahead.

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How a Bill Becomes Law in Three Minutes—and How a Party Becomes Toast in Six Months

Americans, it is said, don’t care about political procedure — how the House and Senate do things. That’s true. But they’re about to. If, indeed, Nancy Pelosi and Louise Slaughter and the Democrats actually attempt to declare the health-care bill law without its having been voted on, there is going to be a massive populist revolt. That’s not because Republicans will gin one up. It’s because there’s a cultural provenance here.

Everyone between the ages of 35 and 50 in this country probably saw, as a kid, this – I’m Just a Bill — a three-minute-long Saturday-morning cartoon that ran on ABC intermittently for several years. And everybody over the age of 50 probably has an atavistic memory of some “How a Bill Becomes Law” moment in a civics class (they don’t teach such irrelevant matters any longer, I gather). The single thing nonpolitical people may know about legislation is that Congress has to vote on it before the president signs it. The fundamental breach that is under discussion right now, even if it’s been done in minor ways before, is exactly the sort of political action that can explode outward in a million ways, and I suspect that even Nancy Pelosi is aware of the kind of damage she is going to inflict on herself and her own party if she attempts it. Which is why she is going to spend the rest of the week strong-arming Democratic House members any way she can, as Yuval Levin explores here. That, too, presents its own kind of peril, because there is no way the deals she has struck will remain hidden from view, and every one of them will be used as a weapon against her, the Democrat who was bribed, and the party as a whole.

There will be a lull right after President Obama signs it, as the media drop consideration of the controversy to discuss just how historic the historic nature of the historic legislation is, historically speaking, in historic terms … and then Congress will return home for the Easter recess on March 26, and all hell will break loose.

Americans, it is said, don’t care about political procedure — how the House and Senate do things. That’s true. But they’re about to. If, indeed, Nancy Pelosi and Louise Slaughter and the Democrats actually attempt to declare the health-care bill law without its having been voted on, there is going to be a massive populist revolt. That’s not because Republicans will gin one up. It’s because there’s a cultural provenance here.

Everyone between the ages of 35 and 50 in this country probably saw, as a kid, this – I’m Just a Bill — a three-minute-long Saturday-morning cartoon that ran on ABC intermittently for several years. And everybody over the age of 50 probably has an atavistic memory of some “How a Bill Becomes Law” moment in a civics class (they don’t teach such irrelevant matters any longer, I gather). The single thing nonpolitical people may know about legislation is that Congress has to vote on it before the president signs it. The fundamental breach that is under discussion right now, even if it’s been done in minor ways before, is exactly the sort of political action that can explode outward in a million ways, and I suspect that even Nancy Pelosi is aware of the kind of damage she is going to inflict on herself and her own party if she attempts it. Which is why she is going to spend the rest of the week strong-arming Democratic House members any way she can, as Yuval Levin explores here. That, too, presents its own kind of peril, because there is no way the deals she has struck will remain hidden from view, and every one of them will be used as a weapon against her, the Democrat who was bribed, and the party as a whole.

There will be a lull right after President Obama signs it, as the media drop consideration of the controversy to discuss just how historic the historic nature of the historic legislation is, historically speaking, in historic terms … and then Congress will return home for the Easter recess on March 26, and all hell will break loose.

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RE: Obama and Israel: Not Smart

The Obama administration’s dramatic escalation of tensions with Israel, in the aftermath of Israel’s decision to begin new housing in East Jerusalem, is both puzzling and disturbing. John provides excellent background and analysis of the unfolding events here.

I would add to what he wrote by saying that this may be the latest manifestation of something we have seen before: the president’s tendency to treat our allies (such as Israel, Honduras, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Colombia) in a manner that strains relations while treating our adversaries (such as Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and China) in a way that that radiates irresolution.

Compare the Obama administration’s heated response to Israel, our best ally in the Middle East and one of our best friends in the world, with how Obama has treated Iran, a repressive regime that has a burning hatred for America (and Israel), actively supports terrorism, is trying to destabilize Iraq, is in breach of international laws, and is accelerating it nuclear enrichment program in order to build a nuclear weapon.

One would think it would be obvious where our loyalties should lie. Yet the Obama administration uses its most provocative and incendiary language against Israel. The U.S. “condemned” the announcement of the construction of new housing that is still years away. As Elliott Abrams put it, “The verb  ‘condemn’ is customarily reserved by U.S. officials for acts of murder and terrorism — not acts of housing.” Things have now traversed from rhetorical blasts to symbolic acts against the Jewish state, with the administration postponing Middle East envoy George Mitchell’s trip to the region. This step, in the words of the Associated Press, “appeared… to deepen one of the worst U.S.-Israeli feuds in memory.”

Toward Iran, on the other hand, Obama and his administration seem deferential, cautious, and hesitant, parsing every word in order not to offend — so much so that Obama was reluctant to speak out against the brutal crackdown we saw there in the aftermath of the fraudulent June 12 elections. He clearly wanted to maintain a dialogue with Iran’s theocratic dictatorship even at the expense of expressing solidarity with the freedom movement there.

It is as if Obama viewed Israel as a punching bag and Iran as a delicate porcelain doll.

What motivates such conduct is hard to determine. It is probably of a piece with Obama’s worldwide American apology tour, where he engaged in serial apologies for America for wrongs past and present, large and small, real and fictional. President Obama has repeatedly gone out of his way to disparage the nation he was elected to lead in the hopes of improving America’s image abroad. His effort has been an utter failure. Increasingly we are seen as a superpower that can be pushed around.

We saw in the Carter administration this pattern of undermining our allies and placating our adversaries. It didn’t work then; and it won’t work now.

The Obama administration’s dramatic escalation of tensions with Israel, in the aftermath of Israel’s decision to begin new housing in East Jerusalem, is both puzzling and disturbing. John provides excellent background and analysis of the unfolding events here.

I would add to what he wrote by saying that this may be the latest manifestation of something we have seen before: the president’s tendency to treat our allies (such as Israel, Honduras, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Colombia) in a manner that strains relations while treating our adversaries (such as Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and China) in a way that that radiates irresolution.

Compare the Obama administration’s heated response to Israel, our best ally in the Middle East and one of our best friends in the world, with how Obama has treated Iran, a repressive regime that has a burning hatred for America (and Israel), actively supports terrorism, is trying to destabilize Iraq, is in breach of international laws, and is accelerating it nuclear enrichment program in order to build a nuclear weapon.

One would think it would be obvious where our loyalties should lie. Yet the Obama administration uses its most provocative and incendiary language against Israel. The U.S. “condemned” the announcement of the construction of new housing that is still years away. As Elliott Abrams put it, “The verb  ‘condemn’ is customarily reserved by U.S. officials for acts of murder and terrorism — not acts of housing.” Things have now traversed from rhetorical blasts to symbolic acts against the Jewish state, with the administration postponing Middle East envoy George Mitchell’s trip to the region. This step, in the words of the Associated Press, “appeared… to deepen one of the worst U.S.-Israeli feuds in memory.”

Toward Iran, on the other hand, Obama and his administration seem deferential, cautious, and hesitant, parsing every word in order not to offend — so much so that Obama was reluctant to speak out against the brutal crackdown we saw there in the aftermath of the fraudulent June 12 elections. He clearly wanted to maintain a dialogue with Iran’s theocratic dictatorship even at the expense of expressing solidarity with the freedom movement there.

It is as if Obama viewed Israel as a punching bag and Iran as a delicate porcelain doll.

What motivates such conduct is hard to determine. It is probably of a piece with Obama’s worldwide American apology tour, where he engaged in serial apologies for America for wrongs past and present, large and small, real and fictional. President Obama has repeatedly gone out of his way to disparage the nation he was elected to lead in the hopes of improving America’s image abroad. His effort has been an utter failure. Increasingly we are seen as a superpower that can be pushed around.

We saw in the Carter administration this pattern of undermining our allies and placating our adversaries. It didn’t work then; and it won’t work now.

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RE: Tom Ricks’s Quote

Peter Wehner quotes Tom Ricks as writing that the liberation of Iraq was “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” and Joe Klein as writing that it was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history.”

Well, they’re journalists, not historians, but really. How about:

1) The Embargo Act of 1807 that forbade foreign trade. In order to teach the high-handed British and French a lesson, we went to war with ourselves and blockaded our own ports. New England, deeply dependent on trade and shipping (we had the second largest merchant fleet in the world after Britain at that time) was economically devastated. Smuggling over the Canadian border became so commonplace that northern New England was declared to be in a state of insurrection. The British and French just laughed at us. When Napoleon seized American ships in French ports he said he was just helping enforce the embargo act.

2) In 1811 Congress killed the Bank of the United States, the prime borrowing mechanism of the federal government. The next year it declared war on the only power on earth capable of attacking the United States, Great Britain, raised soldiers’ pay and enlistment bonuses, and adjourned without figuring out how to pay for the war. By March 1813, there was not enough money in the treasury to pay government salaries, let alone fight a war, and only when the Secretary of the Treasury went hat in hand to Stephen Girard, the richest man in the country, to beg him to take most of a bond issue, did we raise enough money to carry on. In 1814 the British occupied and burned the nation’s capital.

3) In 1861, an American naval captain seized two Confederate agents off a British-flagged vessel. It was only when Prince Albert — already dying, it was his last good deed — cooled down Lord Palmerston and provided the means for a diplomatic climb down by the U.S. (which Lincoln gratefully grasped — “one war at a time,” he explained) did we avoid a war with Great Britain when we were already fighting for the life of the Union.

4) After World War I, with Europe devastated and the United States by far the strongest economic and financial power in the world, we withdrew and refused to take on the world leadership that only we could provide. But we insisted that the European powers pay back the money they had borrowed, which they could only do by extracting reparations from an already broken Germany. The Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II were the result.

Peter Wehner quotes Tom Ricks as writing that the liberation of Iraq was “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” and Joe Klein as writing that it was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history.”

Well, they’re journalists, not historians, but really. How about:

1) The Embargo Act of 1807 that forbade foreign trade. In order to teach the high-handed British and French a lesson, we went to war with ourselves and blockaded our own ports. New England, deeply dependent on trade and shipping (we had the second largest merchant fleet in the world after Britain at that time) was economically devastated. Smuggling over the Canadian border became so commonplace that northern New England was declared to be in a state of insurrection. The British and French just laughed at us. When Napoleon seized American ships in French ports he said he was just helping enforce the embargo act.

2) In 1811 Congress killed the Bank of the United States, the prime borrowing mechanism of the federal government. The next year it declared war on the only power on earth capable of attacking the United States, Great Britain, raised soldiers’ pay and enlistment bonuses, and adjourned without figuring out how to pay for the war. By March 1813, there was not enough money in the treasury to pay government salaries, let alone fight a war, and only when the Secretary of the Treasury went hat in hand to Stephen Girard, the richest man in the country, to beg him to take most of a bond issue, did we raise enough money to carry on. In 1814 the British occupied and burned the nation’s capital.

3) In 1861, an American naval captain seized two Confederate agents off a British-flagged vessel. It was only when Prince Albert — already dying, it was his last good deed — cooled down Lord Palmerston and provided the means for a diplomatic climb down by the U.S. (which Lincoln gratefully grasped — “one war at a time,” he explained) did we avoid a war with Great Britain when we were already fighting for the life of the Union.

4) After World War I, with Europe devastated and the United States by far the strongest economic and financial power in the world, we withdrew and refused to take on the world leadership that only we could provide. But we insisted that the European powers pay back the money they had borrowed, which they could only do by extracting reparations from an already broken Germany. The Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II were the result.

Read Less

Another Cairo Speech

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

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Opposition to Obama’s Tactics Builds

Christians United for Israel is not usually in the business of issuing press releases. But these are no ordinary times. In a written statement, the group declares that it is “deeply concerned about the Obama Administration’s escalating rhetoric,” and continues:

CUFI concurs with statements made by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak and other Israeli leaders that this announcement was ill-timed.  And CUFI notes repeated press reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu neither knew about this announcement in advance nor hesitated to apologize for it after the fact.

We are therefore surprised that the Administration has chosen to continue to escalate a conflict with one of our closest allies that could have been quickly resolved.

Timing aside, the fact remains that the Israeli policy behind this announcement — to continue building in existing Jewish neighborhoods throughout Jerusalem — is not new.  When it comes to Israel’s bargaining position, nothing has changed.  It is therefore difficult to understand why this long-standing disagreement over policy — which has never been a barrier to negotiations with the Palestinians– is now the source of such tension with the US.

We remind the Administration that Israel has been a committed partner for peace and has taken repeated risks for peace in recent years.  We further note that the Netanyahu government has made important gestures to the Palestinians, including an unprecedented 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement construction and repeated calls for the resumption of direct negotiations.  The Palestinians, on the other hand, continue to refuse direct negotiations.

So the  ADL and CUFI, Steve Israel and Eric Cantor, and a host of other organizations and politicians along the political spectrum are telling the Obami: bullying Israel will garner no support and quite a lot of domestic opposition. The administration may not be pro-Israel in any meaningful way, but clearly Americans are.

Christians United for Israel is not usually in the business of issuing press releases. But these are no ordinary times. In a written statement, the group declares that it is “deeply concerned about the Obama Administration’s escalating rhetoric,” and continues:

CUFI concurs with statements made by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak and other Israeli leaders that this announcement was ill-timed.  And CUFI notes repeated press reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu neither knew about this announcement in advance nor hesitated to apologize for it after the fact.

We are therefore surprised that the Administration has chosen to continue to escalate a conflict with one of our closest allies that could have been quickly resolved.

Timing aside, the fact remains that the Israeli policy behind this announcement — to continue building in existing Jewish neighborhoods throughout Jerusalem — is not new.  When it comes to Israel’s bargaining position, nothing has changed.  It is therefore difficult to understand why this long-standing disagreement over policy — which has never been a barrier to negotiations with the Palestinians– is now the source of such tension with the US.

We remind the Administration that Israel has been a committed partner for peace and has taken repeated risks for peace in recent years.  We further note that the Netanyahu government has made important gestures to the Palestinians, including an unprecedented 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement construction and repeated calls for the resumption of direct negotiations.  The Palestinians, on the other hand, continue to refuse direct negotiations.

So the  ADL and CUFI, Steve Israel and Eric Cantor, and a host of other organizations and politicians along the political spectrum are telling the Obami: bullying Israel will garner no support and quite a lot of domestic opposition. The administration may not be pro-Israel in any meaningful way, but clearly Americans are.

Read Less




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