Back on March 13, terrorist groupie Mark Perry — a former Arafat aide who now pals around with Hamas and Hezbollah — posted an article on Foreign Policy’s website, claiming that General David Petraeus was behind the administration’s policy of getting tough with Israel. He attributed to Petraeus the view that “Israel’s intransigence” — meaning its unwillingness to give up every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem tomorrow — “could cost American lives.” His item received wide circulation though it may be doubted whether, as he now says, “It changed the way people think about the conflict.”
I tried to set the record straight with two Commentary items (see here and here) in which I suggested, based on talking to an officer familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, that Perry’s item was a gross distortion —in fact a fraud. I noted that in Petraeus’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was only one factor among many affecting U.S. interests in the region and that Israeli settlements were far from the only, or even the main, obstacle to peace. I even suggested — again, based on inside information — that the 56-page posture statement that Central Command had submitted to Congress, which stated that the Arab-Israeli conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” was not the best indicator of his thinking. Better to look at what he actually told Congress — in a hearing he barely mentioned Israel (until prompted to do so) and never talked about settlements at all.
This brought hoots of derision from commentators on both the Left and the Right, who claimed that I was putting words into Petraeus’s mouth — that I was, in Joe Klein’s phrase, taking a “flying leap.” Predictably piling on were Andrew Sullivan, who said I was “glossing over” what Petraeus said, and Robert Wright, who claimed that, “by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel.” Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”
So who was off-base here: those of us who tried to explain the nuances of General Petraeus’s thinking or those bloggers and commentators who tried to suggest that he is a strident critic of Israel?
The answer has now been publicly provided by Petraeus himself in a speech in New Hampshire. Watch it for yourself. A good summary is provided by the American Spectator’s Philip Klein, who was present at the event and asked Petraeus to clarify his thinking.
The general said that it was “unhelpful” that “bloggers” had “picked … up” what he had said and “spun it.” He noted that, aside from Israel’s actions, there are many other important factors standing in the way of peace, including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place. So again we have all these factors in there. This [Israel] is just one.”
What about Perry’s claim that American support for Israel puts our soldiers at risk? Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”
He concluded by noting that he had sent to General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the “blog by Max Boot” which, he said, had “picked apart this whole thing, as he typically does, pretty astutely.”
I hope Petraeus’s comments will put an end to this whole weird episode. Those who are either happy or unhappy about the administration’s approach to Israel should lodge their compliments or complaints where they belong — at the White House, not at Central Command.