Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 19, 2011

There Was Plenty That Was New About Israel In Obama’s Speech

Jeffrey Goldberg is expressing himself underwhelmed by the President’s call for Israel to revert to the 1948 armistice lines plus land swaps, stating that there’s “nothing new” in the the policy for either the administration or the United States. On the former issue he links to a 2009 statement by Secretary of State Clinton, and on the latter he gestures toward White House positions going back “at least 12 years.” Skepticism over whether the President’s position on borders represent anything new is certainly not limited to the center-left, but Goldberg’s post is admirably explicit and precise in laying out the issues.

The two issues – continuity going back to previous administrations and continuity with Obama administration policy – should be taken on their own. But just preliminarily, it’s worth noting that they very clearly can’t both be true. It’s one or the other or neither, but not both. The entire point of Obama’s 2009 diplomatic offensive against Israel, the one being described by Secretary Clinton, the one that involved abandoning previous U.S. assurances on “defensible borders,” was that it was a radical break from previous American diplomacy. For the first time ever there was going to be daylight between the United States and Israel. Disagreements would be aired in public. It was a “sea change.”

So — and not to belabor the point — the President’s position today was either a return to the policies of previous administrations (it wasn’t) or it was a continuation of this White House’s approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking (yes). Read More

Jeffrey Goldberg is expressing himself underwhelmed by the President’s call for Israel to revert to the 1948 armistice lines plus land swaps, stating that there’s “nothing new” in the the policy for either the administration or the United States. On the former issue he links to a 2009 statement by Secretary of State Clinton, and on the latter he gestures toward White House positions going back “at least 12 years.” Skepticism over whether the President’s position on borders represent anything new is certainly not limited to the center-left, but Goldberg’s post is admirably explicit and precise in laying out the issues.

The two issues – continuity going back to previous administrations and continuity with Obama administration policy – should be taken on their own. But just preliminarily, it’s worth noting that they very clearly can’t both be true. It’s one or the other or neither, but not both. The entire point of Obama’s 2009 diplomatic offensive against Israel, the one being described by Secretary Clinton, the one that involved abandoning previous U.S. assurances on “defensible borders,” was that it was a radical break from previous American diplomacy. For the first time ever there was going to be daylight between the United States and Israel. Disagreements would be aired in public. It was a “sea change.”

So — and not to belabor the point — the President’s position today was either a return to the policies of previous administrations (it wasn’t) or it was a continuation of this White House’s approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking (yes).


Taking the two issues separately:

(1) On the question of whether the President’s call reflects policy stretching back two administrations, what’s lacking is context. Presidents Bush and Clinton certainly envisioned a final status agreement somehow involving the 1949 lines, but their versions also included a bevy of other security and diplomatic arrangements. The newness of Obama’s policy lies in taking the part of the equation that deprives Israel of strategic depth and then subtracting all the guarantees. Perhaps this is what Goldberg was getting at — from a certain angle his post could certainly be read that way, dealing as it does with Obama’s demand that Israel abandon the Jordan Valley — but if so then it’s misleading to imply that Obama’s speech was anything but a departure from previous U.S. diplomacy in the region.

There’s a reason why Prime Minister Netanyahu is at this very moment calling on the Obama administration to live up to the 2004 Bush letter of assurance, as if the Israelis can’t quite believe that the President would abandon decades of assurances and then offer up new assurances in the same breath.

Given the break with the past that the President’s position represents, we should also probably be more generous to those expressing a bit of surprise. An American President who has credibility in living up to U.S. security assurances, and who then calls on Jerusalem to take U.S.-backed risks for peace, is unremarkable. An American President who abandons decades of assurances on core issues, and who then calls for a final status agreement that would codify the maximum public demands of the Palestinian authority, is at the very least going out on a limb. Even if it is just a reiteration of his administration’s past policies.

(2) Which brings up the degree to which today’s positions line up with existing Obama administration policy, and Goldberg is right to point out that they’re thoroughly consistent. The question here is why?

The administration’s multiple diplomatic offensives against Israel have been widely acknowledged as failures. Secretary of State Clinton predicted that it would lead to “the resumption of the negotiation track,” which it didn’t. Palestinian President Abbas admitted that Obama’s fixation on settlements was a White House-driven initiative that made it impossible for the Palestinians to come to the table. All of that is broadly acknowledged, even in the White House itself.

So while it should be acknowledged that the President stuck to a policy running from 2009 to today – in contrast to the policies in comparison to which they were a “sea change,” the policies of previous administrations – the question is why. It’s not a strategy that had traditionally paid dividends.

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The History of the Perp Walk

It’s one of those cases that no novelist could ever have dreamed up. The managing director of the International Monetary Fund and a leading candidate for president of the French Republic spent last Friday night in a $3000-a-night hotel suite before being yanked out of the first-class section of an Air France flight to Paris and arrested for sex crimes that could get him many years in jail. He now sits in New York’s Rikers Island Prison, among a wide assortment of New York lowlifes, only a few miles but a world away from the Sofitel Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Dominique Strauss-Kahn has now resigned from his position at the IMF in order to devote full time to his defense and he vigorously asserts his innocence. Regardless of the eventual outcome, his political ambitions are surely at an end.

Needless to say, this how-the-mighty-are-fallen story has been a media sensation both here and in France, and will continue to be for months. Not surprisingly, reactions in France have been somewhat different than here and one major difference has been to the “perp walk,” where Strauss-Kahn was shown in handcuffs being led into court. The pictures were on the front page of papers around the world. In the United States, the perp walk is standard practice for prominent people accused of serious crimes. In France it’s illegal to print such pictures.

The perp walk has a long history in this country, going back at least to the 1930′s. Sometimes it has been a bow to intense public interest, such as with Lee Harvey Oswald after the assassination of President Kennedy, a perp walk that resulted in Oswald’s murder by Jack Ruby. But often it has been for the benefit of the prosecutor’s political ambitions. Thomas E. Dewey, when he was Manhattan District Attorney, alerted the media and then personally arrested Richard Whitney, former president of the New York Stock Exchange, for embezzlement, a case quite as sensational in 1938 as Strauss-Kahn’s has been today. And that year Dewey made his first run for governor of New York, losing only narrowly to Herbert Lehman, the popular incumbent.

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It’s one of those cases that no novelist could ever have dreamed up. The managing director of the International Monetary Fund and a leading candidate for president of the French Republic spent last Friday night in a $3000-a-night hotel suite before being yanked out of the first-class section of an Air France flight to Paris and arrested for sex crimes that could get him many years in jail. He now sits in New York’s Rikers Island Prison, among a wide assortment of New York lowlifes, only a few miles but a world away from the Sofitel Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Dominique Strauss-Kahn has now resigned from his position at the IMF in order to devote full time to his defense and he vigorously asserts his innocence. Regardless of the eventual outcome, his political ambitions are surely at an end.

Needless to say, this how-the-mighty-are-fallen story has been a media sensation both here and in France, and will continue to be for months. Not surprisingly, reactions in France have been somewhat different than here and one major difference has been to the “perp walk,” where Strauss-Kahn was shown in handcuffs being led into court. The pictures were on the front page of papers around the world. In the United States, the perp walk is standard practice for prominent people accused of serious crimes. In France it’s illegal to print such pictures.

The perp walk has a long history in this country, going back at least to the 1930′s. Sometimes it has been a bow to intense public interest, such as with Lee Harvey Oswald after the assassination of President Kennedy, a perp walk that resulted in Oswald’s murder by Jack Ruby. But often it has been for the benefit of the prosecutor’s political ambitions. Thomas E. Dewey, when he was Manhattan District Attorney, alerted the media and then personally arrested Richard Whitney, former president of the New York Stock Exchange, for embezzlement, a case quite as sensational in 1938 as Strauss-Kahn’s has been today. And that year Dewey made his first run for governor of New York, losing only narrowly to Herbert Lehman, the popular incumbent.

At least Richard Whitney was guilty (he pled guilty and served three years in Sing-Sing—6,000 people turned out in Grand Central to watch Whitney board the train to prison). But Rudy Giuliani, as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, had Richard Wigton a stock trader at Kidder Peabody & Co. arrested in his office for insider trading and paraded through the company’s trading floor with Wigton in tears. He was never even brought to trial as charges were dropped. Giuliani had several principles of the Princeton/Newport firm arrested in the same fashion, but their convictions were overturned on appeal when the appellate court ruled that what they were accused of were not crimes at all. Of course, the arrests received far more press attention than did the eventual outcomes.

In short, the perp walk is hardly American justice at its best. It serves not the interests of justice but the interests of the media and ambitious politicians, while often damaging permanently the reputations of innocent people. In the age of the Internet, those photographs never go away.

The end of the perp walk would be at least one good outcome from this case.


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Daniels May Have His Own Health Care Problem

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have already been blasted for their support of the individual mandate. But now Mitch Daniels, the candidate that many fiscal conservatives have been holding out for, might have a similar issue to contend with. At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein points out that Daniels supported the individual mandate way back in 2003:

The candidate said he favors a universal health care system that would move away from employee-based health policies and make it mandatory for all Americans to have health insurance.

Daniels envisioned one scenario in which residents could certify their coverage when paying income taxes and receive a tax exemption that would cover the cost.

“We really have to have universal coverage,” Daniels said.

Under his plan, Daniels said, the nation could get away from the inefficient and unfair way in which health care is provided to those who are uninsured, many of whom end up in emergency rooms or “at clinics like this one.”

His statement is a problem, especially for those who are hoping that he’ll be the strong candidate on health care. But on the other hand, the comment was made years ago, and there are no indications that he still holds these views.

In 2006, the Indiana governor even worked with the same consulting firm that crafted RomneyCare, and the plan that he eventually implemented was far less sweeping than the one in Massachusetts, and didn’t include an individual mandate. So as long as there’s no pattern of these comments, this shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem for him with fiscal conservatives.

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have already been blasted for their support of the individual mandate. But now Mitch Daniels, the candidate that many fiscal conservatives have been holding out for, might have a similar issue to contend with. At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein points out that Daniels supported the individual mandate way back in 2003:

The candidate said he favors a universal health care system that would move away from employee-based health policies and make it mandatory for all Americans to have health insurance.

Daniels envisioned one scenario in which residents could certify their coverage when paying income taxes and receive a tax exemption that would cover the cost.

“We really have to have universal coverage,” Daniels said.

Under his plan, Daniels said, the nation could get away from the inefficient and unfair way in which health care is provided to those who are uninsured, many of whom end up in emergency rooms or “at clinics like this one.”

His statement is a problem, especially for those who are hoping that he’ll be the strong candidate on health care. But on the other hand, the comment was made years ago, and there are no indications that he still holds these views.

In 2006, the Indiana governor even worked with the same consulting firm that crafted RomneyCare, and the plan that he eventually implemented was far less sweeping than the one in Massachusetts, and didn’t include an individual mandate. So as long as there’s no pattern of these comments, this shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem for him with fiscal conservatives.

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Did Obama Think He Was Giving a Pro-Israel Speech?

I expect the president is going to be flabbergasted at the angry response to his speech today from friends of Israel. I think he thought he had given the most pro-Israel speech of his life.

Why? Because of this line: “Too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people’s grievances elsewhere. The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism. Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression.” This acknowledgment of the use of Israel as a two-minute-hate object for the Arab street by the region’s dictators was surprising and remarkable.

And this passage: “For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist. As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums.” This is the promise of a veto at the UN in the future, which for him, is like promising to undergo a root canal.”

And this: “Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them—not by the United States; not by anybody else.” By saying he would not “impose a peace” on them, he might have believed he was doing Israel a huge favor.

And this: “The recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.” Since he didn’t pose a comparable “question” for Israel, Obama might have thought he was being rhetorically generous.

Given what he probably truly believes of Israel in his heart, his acknowledgment of its utility as a scapegoat, its security concerns, its right to determine its own future, and the problems raised by the Fatah-Hamas agreement surely seemed like the height of generous good feeling. And you should expect that interpretation any minute now from his Jewish apologists.

I expect the president is going to be flabbergasted at the angry response to his speech today from friends of Israel. I think he thought he had given the most pro-Israel speech of his life.

Why? Because of this line: “Too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people’s grievances elsewhere. The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism. Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression.” This acknowledgment of the use of Israel as a two-minute-hate object for the Arab street by the region’s dictators was surprising and remarkable.

And this passage: “For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist. As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums.” This is the promise of a veto at the UN in the future, which for him, is like promising to undergo a root canal.”

And this: “Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them—not by the United States; not by anybody else.” By saying he would not “impose a peace” on them, he might have believed he was doing Israel a huge favor.

And this: “The recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.” Since he didn’t pose a comparable “question” for Israel, Obama might have thought he was being rhetorically generous.

Given what he probably truly believes of Israel in his heart, his acknowledgment of its utility as a scapegoat, its security concerns, its right to determine its own future, and the problems raised by the Fatah-Hamas agreement surely seemed like the height of generous good feeling. And you should expect that interpretation any minute now from his Jewish apologists.

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Will Obama Always Wind Up In the Right Place?

Citing Winston Churchill’s famous observation that America always does the right thing after exhausting all other options, Max Boot wrote yesterday that President Obama’s foreign policy could be described similarly: “Obama usually winds up in the right place . . . [but] only after a long period of hesitation and study. . . . He is the commander-in-chief as professor, always eager to immerse himself in the details, to study every option, to avoid action until it is absolutely unavoidable.” According to this theory, Obama painfully dithered—but he dumped Mubarak; intervened in Libya; surged in Afghanistan; and sanctioned Assad.

We will need a little more time to determine if precipitously dumping Mubarak was “wind[ing] up in the right place.” It is not clear the front-loaded, time-limited, buck-passing kinetic military action in Libya will be studied in the future as an example of a right-place ending either. The time-limited three-quarters surge in Afghanistan (with Obama approving 30,000 of the 40,000 troops requested, coupled with a specified date for them to start coming home) is not yet a success. And the sanctions on Assad, like those on Iran, may not be as “crippling” as initially advertised.

In other words, the stories in Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran are still in progress, and it is a little early to declare that Professor Obama has passed the test in any of them. We do know, however, that Obama today failed the test Max set forth in his post:

Now the key test will be his speech tomorrow at the State Department. Will he give up one of his major remaining illusions—that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is of central importance in the region and can only be solved by American pressure on Israel?

Last year, the Palestinians walked away from negotiations (having been dragged to them after ignoring the Israeli settlement construction moratorium); ignored Obama’s personal demand they not go to the UN regarding settlements; entered into a reconciliation agreement with Hamas; and now plan to go back to the UN again, in direct violation of their obligation to settle all final status issues in negotiations rather than unilateral acts. Obama just responded by endorsing one of the key Palestinian demands regarding borders, instead of leaving the issue to negotiations.

Churchill had a word for this.

Citing Winston Churchill’s famous observation that America always does the right thing after exhausting all other options, Max Boot wrote yesterday that President Obama’s foreign policy could be described similarly: “Obama usually winds up in the right place . . . [but] only after a long period of hesitation and study. . . . He is the commander-in-chief as professor, always eager to immerse himself in the details, to study every option, to avoid action until it is absolutely unavoidable.” According to this theory, Obama painfully dithered—but he dumped Mubarak; intervened in Libya; surged in Afghanistan; and sanctioned Assad.

We will need a little more time to determine if precipitously dumping Mubarak was “wind[ing] up in the right place.” It is not clear the front-loaded, time-limited, buck-passing kinetic military action in Libya will be studied in the future as an example of a right-place ending either. The time-limited three-quarters surge in Afghanistan (with Obama approving 30,000 of the 40,000 troops requested, coupled with a specified date for them to start coming home) is not yet a success. And the sanctions on Assad, like those on Iran, may not be as “crippling” as initially advertised.

In other words, the stories in Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran are still in progress, and it is a little early to declare that Professor Obama has passed the test in any of them. We do know, however, that Obama today failed the test Max set forth in his post:

Now the key test will be his speech tomorrow at the State Department. Will he give up one of his major remaining illusions—that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is of central importance in the region and can only be solved by American pressure on Israel?

Last year, the Palestinians walked away from negotiations (having been dragged to them after ignoring the Israeli settlement construction moratorium); ignored Obama’s personal demand they not go to the UN regarding settlements; entered into a reconciliation agreement with Hamas; and now plan to go back to the UN again, in direct violation of their obligation to settle all final status issues in negotiations rather than unilateral acts. Obama just responded by endorsing one of the key Palestinian demands regarding borders, instead of leaving the issue to negotiations.

Churchill had a word for this.

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Obama Abandons Decades of U.S.-Israeli Diplomacy

Putting aside talk of how President Obama outsourced portions of today’s Middle East address to the speechwriters behind George W. Bush’s Second Inaugural, the President’s diplomatic stance toward Israel was deeply corrosive to the peace process and the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Obama extended and institutionalized a position that Rick Richman has been hammering for years here on Contentions, one which shrugs off multiple binding letters of assurance that commit the United States to ensuring “defensible borders” for Israel at the conclusion of any peace process. Having abandoned past U.S. assurances on this overarching core issue, the President is now asking the Israelis to take enormous risks—in the aftermath of a Fatah-Hamas merger, no less—based on future U.S. assurances. This frankly bizarre diplomatic and rhetorical strategy seems unlikely to succeed.

The commitment to “defensible borders” was dealt with in letters provided to Jerusalem in 1997 by Secretary of State Warren Christopher and in 2004 by President Bush, written in exchange for Israeli withdrawals from Hebron and the Gaza Strip. In the former case Israel gave up a core claim to ancient Jewish heritage. In the latter case it risked and eventually saw an Iranian proxy occupying Israel’s southern border. Those territorial concessions are functionally irreversible, which is why the US had to provide ironclad assurances in the first place.

The Obama administration, upon taking office, immediately and with public relish unburdened itself of the Bush assurances. On the issue of borders, the White House refused to commit to ensuring “defensible borders,” instead reverting to vague “secure and recognized borders.” The President’s speech this morning continued in that vein, speaking only of “secure and recognized borders . . . for both states.” The gestures that he did make toward Israeli self-defense were untethered from discussions of borders, again—and very pointedly—despite previous American assurances.

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Putting aside talk of how President Obama outsourced portions of today’s Middle East address to the speechwriters behind George W. Bush’s Second Inaugural, the President’s diplomatic stance toward Israel was deeply corrosive to the peace process and the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Obama extended and institutionalized a position that Rick Richman has been hammering for years here on Contentions, one which shrugs off multiple binding letters of assurance that commit the United States to ensuring “defensible borders” for Israel at the conclusion of any peace process. Having abandoned past U.S. assurances on this overarching core issue, the President is now asking the Israelis to take enormous risks—in the aftermath of a Fatah-Hamas merger, no less—based on future U.S. assurances. This frankly bizarre diplomatic and rhetorical strategy seems unlikely to succeed.

The commitment to “defensible borders” was dealt with in letters provided to Jerusalem in 1997 by Secretary of State Warren Christopher and in 2004 by President Bush, written in exchange for Israeli withdrawals from Hebron and the Gaza Strip. In the former case Israel gave up a core claim to ancient Jewish heritage. In the latter case it risked and eventually saw an Iranian proxy occupying Israel’s southern border. Those territorial concessions are functionally irreversible, which is why the US had to provide ironclad assurances in the first place.

The Obama administration, upon taking office, immediately and with public relish unburdened itself of the Bush assurances. On the issue of borders, the White House refused to commit to ensuring “defensible borders,” instead reverting to vague “secure and recognized borders.” The President’s speech this morning continued in that vein, speaking only of “secure and recognized borders . . . for both states.” The gestures that he did make toward Israeli self-defense were untethered from discussions of borders, again—and very pointedly—despite previous American assurances.

“Secure and recognized” borders is an empty phrase grounded in UNSC Resolution 242, where it was used as an placeholder for Israel’s eventual borders. If the phrase had any substantive meaning it was as a rejection of the 1948 armistice lines, but it was left intentionally vague so that the resolution could avoid veto. It’s a diplomatic tautology to support “secure and recognized” borders for Israel. The question is over what the final “secure and recognized” borders will be.

The Israeli answer is that the Jewish State must retain “defensible borders,” a legal, strategic, and diplomatic term of art encompassing a broad range of very explicit Israeli requirements. The phrase encapsulates and describes the specific borders that the Israelis would like to have as their final “secure and recognized” borders, as opposed to other borders. Those are the specific guidelines for which Jerusalem, in exchange for decades of territorial concessions, secured U.S. commitments from Democratic and Republican administrations. Israel gave up Hebron and the Gaza Strip, in other words, so that the U.S. would support these precise “defensible borders” as Israel’s “secure and recognized” borders.

The Obama administration’s continued rhetoric of “secure and recognized” borders opens up a question that was previously settled. It resets negotiations, except now Israel is starting out without the territory it has already abandoned. In addition to betraying an ally and signaling to the world that U.S. assurances are worthless, this approach is poisonous to the peace process.

The diplomatic crisis triggered in 2009 was not just about the White House’s specific demands regarding settlements and borders. It was about the broader spectacle of binding U.S. assurances that—in the style of a banana republic—evaporate from one government to the next. An Israeli diplomat at the time noted angrily that Israel had negotiated an agreement with the United States of America, not with the Bush Administration.

The legacy of the White House’s diplomatic offensive continues to hover over the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Last November the Obama administration made a last-ditch push to secure an extension of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s settlement freeze, Palestinian President Abbas having run out the clock over the previous ten months. The efforts collapsed after Israeli diplomats, fresh off 18 months of watching in amazement as the administration casually discarded previous agreements, demanded that American commitments be put in writing. The White House refused, and the deal collapsed, a victim of distrust sown by the administration’s past actions.

Now the President is asking the Israelis to believe that, should they make further concessions, the U.S. ensure a demilitarized Palestinian state and will provide them with diplomatic cover during self-defense operations. It would be interesting to know on what, exactly, he expects the Israelis to base their faith.

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Bibi Responds to Obama’s Speech

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued a tough response to President Obama’s speech, indicating that his Washington visit next week could get interesting. While Netanyahu said he “appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace,” he added that he “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both House of Congress.”

The first of these commitments is “Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines.” Obama left some wiggle room on that issue today, saying that a two-state deal would have to be based on the 1967 lines “with land swaps.” Since Obama’s statement has been interpreted in many different ways, Netanyahu is rightly demanding that the president clarify his position.

The prime minister added that Obama needs to assert that “Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel,” and state explicitly that Palestinians must “recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.”

Obama will have a perfect venue to reaffirm these commitments during his speech to AIPAC on Sunday morning. And if he neglects to do so, Netanyahu will then have an excellent forum to respond when he speaks before a joint session of congress next week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued a tough response to President Obama’s speech, indicating that his Washington visit next week could get interesting. While Netanyahu said he “appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace,” he added that he “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both House of Congress.”

The first of these commitments is “Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines.” Obama left some wiggle room on that issue today, saying that a two-state deal would have to be based on the 1967 lines “with land swaps.” Since Obama’s statement has been interpreted in many different ways, Netanyahu is rightly demanding that the president clarify his position.

The prime minister added that Obama needs to assert that “Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel,” and state explicitly that Palestinians must “recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.”

Obama will have a perfect venue to reaffirm these commitments during his speech to AIPAC on Sunday morning. And if he neglects to do so, Netanyahu will then have an excellent forum to respond when he speaks before a joint session of congress next week.

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Obama’s Radical Shift in U.S. Policy

President Obama hadn’t yet finished his Middle East policy speech this afternoon before his Democratic supporters had begun describing it as not only highly supportive of Israel but consistent with the policies enunciated by President George W. Bush.

Bush became the first U.S. president to endorse a Palestinian state, but he coupled his endorsement with demands that any Palestinian state must eschew terrorism and embrace democracy. He also formally declared in a 2004 letter to then prime minister Ariel Sharon that any peace agreement must take into account the changes on the ground that had taken place since June 1967 when Israel came into possession of the West Bank and unified Jerusalem during the course of a defensive war. That letter was recognition of the fact that Israel would never retreat from Jerusalem or from the major settlement blocs where most of the Jewish population in the territories lived. In return, Sharon moved to withdraw completely from Gaza and some parts of the West Bank.

Democrats and other Obama supporters are interpreting Obama’s decision to state explicitly that any future peace agreement must be based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed territorial swaps as being largely equivalent to Bush’s pledge. But that is a complete misreading of the president’s speech.

What Bush did was to put the Palestinians and the rest of the world on notice that the United States would back Israel’s desire to hold onto Jerusalem and the settlements in the context of real peace. This strengthened Israel’s negotiating position as it made it clear that any demands for a compete surrender of the West Bank and Jerusalem were off the table.

What Obama has done is something radically different.

Establishing the 1967 lines as the near-sacred starting point for negotiations means that rather than Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and in parts of the territories being treated as a given, the Jewish state will have to fight for this land in the context of peace talks where its presence there has already been branded as illegitimate. Just like his previous demands for unilateral Israeli concessions such as the settlement freeze, Obama’s endorsement of the 1967 lines means no Palestinian negotiator will ever agree to Israel holding onto an inch of land in Jerusalem or the West Bank. Obama’s embrace of the 1967 borders will also make it easier, not harder, to win United Nations approval of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state without peace talks or recognition of Israel. Even worse, his statement will buttress the efforts of those who will argue after such a resolution is passed that Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the territories is illegal.

Although no American government has ever formally recognized Israel’s right to hold onto territory won in June 1967, Obama’s embrace of the ’67 lines (like the his previous condemnation of Jewish building in Jerusalem as illegal) is unprecedented. It tilts the diplomatic playing field even further in the direction of the Palestinians. Though he, and his supporters, insist that his speech will help Israel and ensure its future, he has done nothing of the kind.

President Obama hadn’t yet finished his Middle East policy speech this afternoon before his Democratic supporters had begun describing it as not only highly supportive of Israel but consistent with the policies enunciated by President George W. Bush.

Bush became the first U.S. president to endorse a Palestinian state, but he coupled his endorsement with demands that any Palestinian state must eschew terrorism and embrace democracy. He also formally declared in a 2004 letter to then prime minister Ariel Sharon that any peace agreement must take into account the changes on the ground that had taken place since June 1967 when Israel came into possession of the West Bank and unified Jerusalem during the course of a defensive war. That letter was recognition of the fact that Israel would never retreat from Jerusalem or from the major settlement blocs where most of the Jewish population in the territories lived. In return, Sharon moved to withdraw completely from Gaza and some parts of the West Bank.

Democrats and other Obama supporters are interpreting Obama’s decision to state explicitly that any future peace agreement must be based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed territorial swaps as being largely equivalent to Bush’s pledge. But that is a complete misreading of the president’s speech.

What Bush did was to put the Palestinians and the rest of the world on notice that the United States would back Israel’s desire to hold onto Jerusalem and the settlements in the context of real peace. This strengthened Israel’s negotiating position as it made it clear that any demands for a compete surrender of the West Bank and Jerusalem were off the table.

What Obama has done is something radically different.

Establishing the 1967 lines as the near-sacred starting point for negotiations means that rather than Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and in parts of the territories being treated as a given, the Jewish state will have to fight for this land in the context of peace talks where its presence there has already been branded as illegitimate. Just like his previous demands for unilateral Israeli concessions such as the settlement freeze, Obama’s endorsement of the 1967 lines means no Palestinian negotiator will ever agree to Israel holding onto an inch of land in Jerusalem or the West Bank. Obama’s embrace of the 1967 borders will also make it easier, not harder, to win United Nations approval of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state without peace talks or recognition of Israel. Even worse, his statement will buttress the efforts of those who will argue after such a resolution is passed that Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the territories is illegal.

Although no American government has ever formally recognized Israel’s right to hold onto territory won in June 1967, Obama’s embrace of the ’67 lines (like the his previous condemnation of Jewish building in Jerusalem as illegal) is unprecedented. It tilts the diplomatic playing field even further in the direction of the Palestinians. Though he, and his supporters, insist that his speech will help Israel and ensure its future, he has done nothing of the kind.

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Netanyahu’s Dilemma: Resist Pressure While Keeping Cool

By stating that America expected any future Middle East peace accord to be based on the 1967 borders, President Barack Obama has placed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the most difficult of positions. Although he couched this demand in a context of support for Israeli security and opposition to Palestinian efforts to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state, Obama has profoundly undermined Netanyahu’s negotiating position. Netanyahu’s dilemma is how to resist an American dictat without allowing this dispute to escalate into a public spat that would further distance the Israelis from their only ally. The answer is that Netanyahu must stick to his principles and his insistence on defending Israel’s rights and security while not allowing himself to be baited into an angry exchange with Obama.

In his first term as prime minister in the 1990s, the frosty relations between Netanyahu and President Clinton got so bad that it not only hurt the alliance between the two countries but also undermined the Israeli’s political support at home. Given a second chance with his 2009 election victory, Netanyahu has been determined not to repeat that mistake. In the past two years, Netanyahu responded to angry attacks that both Obama and Secretary of State Clinton with forbearance. Though he dug in his heels on the question of Jerusalem, he refused to respond angrily to the administration’s determination to distance itself from Israel.

Though the situation is, if anything, even more parlous this week as he arrives in Washington for meetings with Obama and a speech to the AIPAC conference (which Obama will also address), Netanyahu must adopt the same rope-a-dope tactics that allowed him to withstand brutal pressure from the administration in the past. He must, as he has already, thank Obama for his dedication to peace and public support for Israel and repeat that Israel is willing to negotiate without preconditions at any time.

Although Obama seems to think that Israel has no choice but to bend to his will, Netanyahu knows that in the long run, this latest proposal will come to nothing. Though it has damaged his negotiating position with the Palestinians who will now simply demand a unilateral retreat to the 1967 borders without giving up anything in return, there is little danger that the Fatah-Hamas coalition running the Palestinian Authority will ever agree to recognize Israel’s legitimacy no matter where its borders are drawn. Indeed, far from enticing the Palestinians to return to negotiations, Obama will soon discover that his speech will merely encourage them to stick to their plan to try to get the United Nations to endorse a Palestinian state without any recognition of Israel or agreeing to end the conflict.

Obama seems to be seeking an open spat with Israel’s government, but Netanyahu must not give him the satisfaction. As was the case when he previously outmaneuvered Obama, the prime minister must avoid public argument while restating his refusal to abandon Jerusalem. In the end, Obama’s speech will turn out to be just one more American peace plan, albeit one that is even more damaging to Israel than its predecessors.


By stating that America expected any future Middle East peace accord to be based on the 1967 borders, President Barack Obama has placed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the most difficult of positions. Although he couched this demand in a context of support for Israeli security and opposition to Palestinian efforts to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state, Obama has profoundly undermined Netanyahu’s negotiating position. Netanyahu’s dilemma is how to resist an American dictat without allowing this dispute to escalate into a public spat that would further distance the Israelis from their only ally. The answer is that Netanyahu must stick to his principles and his insistence on defending Israel’s rights and security while not allowing himself to be baited into an angry exchange with Obama.

In his first term as prime minister in the 1990s, the frosty relations between Netanyahu and President Clinton got so bad that it not only hurt the alliance between the two countries but also undermined the Israeli’s political support at home. Given a second chance with his 2009 election victory, Netanyahu has been determined not to repeat that mistake. In the past two years, Netanyahu responded to angry attacks that both Obama and Secretary of State Clinton with forbearance. Though he dug in his heels on the question of Jerusalem, he refused to respond angrily to the administration’s determination to distance itself from Israel.

Though the situation is, if anything, even more parlous this week as he arrives in Washington for meetings with Obama and a speech to the AIPAC conference (which Obama will also address), Netanyahu must adopt the same rope-a-dope tactics that allowed him to withstand brutal pressure from the administration in the past. He must, as he has already, thank Obama for his dedication to peace and public support for Israel and repeat that Israel is willing to negotiate without preconditions at any time.

Although Obama seems to think that Israel has no choice but to bend to his will, Netanyahu knows that in the long run, this latest proposal will come to nothing. Though it has damaged his negotiating position with the Palestinians who will now simply demand a unilateral retreat to the 1967 borders without giving up anything in return, there is little danger that the Fatah-Hamas coalition running the Palestinian Authority will ever agree to recognize Israel’s legitimacy no matter where its borders are drawn. Indeed, far from enticing the Palestinians to return to negotiations, Obama will soon discover that his speech will merely encourage them to stick to their plan to try to get the United Nations to endorse a Palestinian state without any recognition of Israel or agreeing to end the conflict.

Obama seems to be seeking an open spat with Israel’s government, but Netanyahu must not give him the satisfaction. As was the case when he previously outmaneuvered Obama, the prime minister must avoid public argument while restating his refusal to abandon Jerusalem. In the end, Obama’s speech will turn out to be just one more American peace plan, albeit one that is even more damaging to Israel than its predecessors.


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No Rush to Aid Tunisia, Egypt

During his speech, President Obama promised, in the words of CNN, a “Reset 2.0” for the Middle East. Amid the Arab uprisings, the President announced aid for Tunisia and Egypt, which have overthrown their corrupt, dictatorial regimes. Specifically, he promised $1 billion in debt relief to help the post-Mubarak government off its feet.

This might be a good idea, but the timing is wrong. Egypt will have elections in September. In the aftermath of those elections, we will have very contentious negotiations and diplomacy with the new Egyptian government, especially if the fiercely anti-Western Muslim Brotherhood takes over. Why then give aid to Egypt right now?

Likewise, because Egyptians associated privatization with the ruling elites in the previous government selling off state-owned enterprises at bargain basement prices to their sons and family members, most Egyptians associate privatization and serious economic reform with corruption and so have swung the pendulum back full circle to the point where they advocate a state-centered economic model that would make East Germany proud.

What is clear is that the toughest diplomacy lies ahead. Only the Obama administration, however, would sacrifice all of America’s leverage before the negotiations even begin. It’s important to support democratic forces in the Middle East, but perhaps the administration ought to wait and make sure that democratic forces are really in control before billions of hard-earned tax dollars are transferred to the former dictatorships. Foreign aid should not be charity; it should be given only when it will support of American national security interests.

During his speech, President Obama promised, in the words of CNN, a “Reset 2.0” for the Middle East. Amid the Arab uprisings, the President announced aid for Tunisia and Egypt, which have overthrown their corrupt, dictatorial regimes. Specifically, he promised $1 billion in debt relief to help the post-Mubarak government off its feet.

This might be a good idea, but the timing is wrong. Egypt will have elections in September. In the aftermath of those elections, we will have very contentious negotiations and diplomacy with the new Egyptian government, especially if the fiercely anti-Western Muslim Brotherhood takes over. Why then give aid to Egypt right now?

Likewise, because Egyptians associated privatization with the ruling elites in the previous government selling off state-owned enterprises at bargain basement prices to their sons and family members, most Egyptians associate privatization and serious economic reform with corruption and so have swung the pendulum back full circle to the point where they advocate a state-centered economic model that would make East Germany proud.

What is clear is that the toughest diplomacy lies ahead. Only the Obama administration, however, would sacrifice all of America’s leverage before the negotiations even begin. It’s important to support democratic forces in the Middle East, but perhaps the administration ought to wait and make sure that democratic forces are really in control before billions of hard-earned tax dollars are transferred to the former dictatorships. Foreign aid should not be charity; it should be given only when it will support of American national security interests.

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White House Trying to Kill Romney with Compliments

It begins. President Obama heaped praise on Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care reform at a Boston fundraiser last night, which Byron York observes is just a “brief preview of what will come in the general election”:

“With a little assist from the former governor of Massachusetts, we said that health care should no longer be a privilege in this country,” Obama said.  “It should be affordable and available for every American.” A short time later, at a smaller fundraiser in a private home in Brookline, Obama said, “Our work isn’t done.  Yes, we passed health care, with an assist from a former Massachusetts governor.”  The crowd, which had paid $35,800 per couple to attend, broke into laughter and applause.  “Great idea,” Obama added.  “But we still have to implement it.”

Obama’s comments were aimed at disheartening the GOP and dampening enthusiasm for Romney, who was cited as leading the GOP field in the latest Rasmussen poll. Romney’s problem is that this is a tough attack to counter. It’s hard to go on the defensive against a compliment. And so far he’s been unable to sum up the difference between RomneyCare and Obamacare in a quick soundbite.

But every time Republicans hear this attack, they will grow more panicked about the prospects of Romney winning the nomination. If Romney wants any chance of succeeding, he needs to come up with a response that will placate conservatives, and he needs to do it soon.

It begins. President Obama heaped praise on Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care reform at a Boston fundraiser last night, which Byron York observes is just a “brief preview of what will come in the general election”:

“With a little assist from the former governor of Massachusetts, we said that health care should no longer be a privilege in this country,” Obama said.  “It should be affordable and available for every American.” A short time later, at a smaller fundraiser in a private home in Brookline, Obama said, “Our work isn’t done.  Yes, we passed health care, with an assist from a former Massachusetts governor.”  The crowd, which had paid $35,800 per couple to attend, broke into laughter and applause.  “Great idea,” Obama added.  “But we still have to implement it.”

Obama’s comments were aimed at disheartening the GOP and dampening enthusiasm for Romney, who was cited as leading the GOP field in the latest Rasmussen poll. Romney’s problem is that this is a tough attack to counter. It’s hard to go on the defensive against a compliment. And so far he’s been unable to sum up the difference between RomneyCare and Obamacare in a quick soundbite.

But every time Republicans hear this attack, they will grow more panicked about the prospects of Romney winning the nomination. If Romney wants any chance of succeeding, he needs to come up with a response that will placate conservatives, and he needs to do it soon.

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Summing Up Obama’s Speech: Making Israel Pay for the “Reset”

President Obama’s paean to democracy in the Arab world was neoconservative in tone and strongly rooted in an American freedom promotion agenda that the president had derided when running for president as well as in his first years in office. The president’s appeal for human rights and proposals for economic development in the region linked to peaceful change from tyranny to freedom was well said and an entirely proper policy pronouncement. But by linking this appeal to a move that will undermine Israel’s negotiating position, Obama has demonstrated that he has little faith that an American freedom agenda is enough to win over the Arab world.

Contrary to reports that said that Obama had decided to pass on enunciating his idea of a framework for Arab-Israeli peace in the wake of the unity pact between Fatah and Hamas, the president nevertheless proceeded to do just that. Though Obama paid due deference to Israel’s security needs and stated his opposition to Palestinian attempts to delegitimize and isolate Israel, by stating that a framework of peace must be based on the pre-1967 borders, he has dealt the Jewish state a telling diplomatic blow.

Rather than helping to head off a United Nations vote to recognize a Palestinian state without benefit of a peace agreement this fall, Obama’s speech will actually strengthen the Arab argument in favor of such a measure. Their goal is international recognition of a Palestinian state in every inch of the territories without an agreement that will force either Fatah or Hamas to recognize Israel. Obama’s endorsement of the 1967 borders — without any reciprocal measure from a Palestinian Authority that has not only refused to negotiate with Israel but has now allied itself with the Hamas terrorists — will be seen as implicit support for their refusal to talk until Israel concedes everything in advance. Though it was couched in neutral terms laden with rhetoric designed to please friends of Israel, the ultimate impact of this speech damages Israel’s negotiating position and weakens its ability to stave off efforts designed to further isolate it.

But, as even the president seemed to acknowledge, the chances that his formula will actually lead to peace are not great. Why then devote so much attention to this hopeless quest when the real challenge in the region is how Arab societies can transition to freedom from tyranny?

The first reason is that Obama has never wavered from his obsessive belief that Israeli concessions will magically create peace.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, by putting Israel in a corner Obama hopes to score points with the Arab world. Perhaps rightly, the president seems to have concluded that American economic aid to the region and our halting and inconsistent support for freedom isn’t likely to win many Arab hearts and minds. But helping to tilt the diplomatic battlefield even further in favor of Israel’s Palestinian foes may do the trick.

The problem with this strategy is that even this unprecedented move won’t convince those who hate Israel to love America. And by damaging Israel’s diplomatic position and making its isolation more likely, he has also undermined U.S. interests.

President Obama’s paean to democracy in the Arab world was neoconservative in tone and strongly rooted in an American freedom promotion agenda that the president had derided when running for president as well as in his first years in office. The president’s appeal for human rights and proposals for economic development in the region linked to peaceful change from tyranny to freedom was well said and an entirely proper policy pronouncement. But by linking this appeal to a move that will undermine Israel’s negotiating position, Obama has demonstrated that he has little faith that an American freedom agenda is enough to win over the Arab world.

Contrary to reports that said that Obama had decided to pass on enunciating his idea of a framework for Arab-Israeli peace in the wake of the unity pact between Fatah and Hamas, the president nevertheless proceeded to do just that. Though Obama paid due deference to Israel’s security needs and stated his opposition to Palestinian attempts to delegitimize and isolate Israel, by stating that a framework of peace must be based on the pre-1967 borders, he has dealt the Jewish state a telling diplomatic blow.

Rather than helping to head off a United Nations vote to recognize a Palestinian state without benefit of a peace agreement this fall, Obama’s speech will actually strengthen the Arab argument in favor of such a measure. Their goal is international recognition of a Palestinian state in every inch of the territories without an agreement that will force either Fatah or Hamas to recognize Israel. Obama’s endorsement of the 1967 borders — without any reciprocal measure from a Palestinian Authority that has not only refused to negotiate with Israel but has now allied itself with the Hamas terrorists — will be seen as implicit support for their refusal to talk until Israel concedes everything in advance. Though it was couched in neutral terms laden with rhetoric designed to please friends of Israel, the ultimate impact of this speech damages Israel’s negotiating position and weakens its ability to stave off efforts designed to further isolate it.

But, as even the president seemed to acknowledge, the chances that his formula will actually lead to peace are not great. Why then devote so much attention to this hopeless quest when the real challenge in the region is how Arab societies can transition to freedom from tyranny?

The first reason is that Obama has never wavered from his obsessive belief that Israeli concessions will magically create peace.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, by putting Israel in a corner Obama hopes to score points with the Arab world. Perhaps rightly, the president seems to have concluded that American economic aid to the region and our halting and inconsistent support for freedom isn’t likely to win many Arab hearts and minds. But helping to tilt the diplomatic battlefield even further in favor of Israel’s Palestinian foes may do the trick.

The problem with this strategy is that even this unprecedented move won’t convince those who hate Israel to love America. And by damaging Israel’s diplomatic position and making its isolation more likely, he has also undermined U.S. interests.

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No, Of Course Palestinian Protests Aren’t Part of the Arab Spring

Anti-Israel analysts spent decades peddling the myth of linkage. According to that very convenient canard, the Arab-Israeli conflict was the root cause of Middle East pathologies, rather than Middle East pathologies—especially Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism, and the refusal to accept a Jewish presence in the region—being the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It followed not only that a peace deal built on Israeli concessions would engender positive regional change, but that the deal was a vital prerequisite to that change.

Then Wikileaks came along and showed that foreign policy experts were 100% backward when it came to the priorities of Arab leaders. Analysts, including and especially those echoed by the White House, had insisted that mobilizing regional action against Iran was impossible because Arab leaders were too fixated on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Leaked diplomatic cables illustrated that exactly the opposite was the case. Arab leaders were beside themselves with frustration because the administration was obsessing over Israel even as Iran gobbled up more and more of the Middle East. Linkage advocates had been substituting their own wishful thinking, and their own hostility towards Israel, for reporting and analysis.

So a new pretext had to be found. Linkage 2.0 was that, while Arab leaders didn’t much care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Arab Street was stuck on it. “Don’t focus on the opaque inside baseball that we’ve been parsing for years in order to build our ethos and push an anti-Israel line,” ran the argument from self-styled experts, “focus instead on how the average Arab citizen can’t get past the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Then the Arab Spring came along and showed that the average Arab citizen had other things on his or her mind.

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Anti-Israel analysts spent decades peddling the myth of linkage. According to that very convenient canard, the Arab-Israeli conflict was the root cause of Middle East pathologies, rather than Middle East pathologies—especially Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism, and the refusal to accept a Jewish presence in the region—being the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It followed not only that a peace deal built on Israeli concessions would engender positive regional change, but that the deal was a vital prerequisite to that change.

Then Wikileaks came along and showed that foreign policy experts were 100% backward when it came to the priorities of Arab leaders. Analysts, including and especially those echoed by the White House, had insisted that mobilizing regional action against Iran was impossible because Arab leaders were too fixated on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Leaked diplomatic cables illustrated that exactly the opposite was the case. Arab leaders were beside themselves with frustration because the administration was obsessing over Israel even as Iran gobbled up more and more of the Middle East. Linkage advocates had been substituting their own wishful thinking, and their own hostility towards Israel, for reporting and analysis.

So a new pretext had to be found. Linkage 2.0 was that, while Arab leaders didn’t much care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Arab Street was stuck on it. “Don’t focus on the opaque inside baseball that we’ve been parsing for years in order to build our ethos and push an anti-Israel line,” ran the argument from self-styled experts, “focus instead on how the average Arab citizen can’t get past the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Then the Arab Spring came along and showed that the average Arab citizen had other things on his or her mind.

Some brave souls are still trying to cling to the old line. Yesterday J Street’s anti-Zionist co-founder Daniel Levy flatly asserted that “it is clear that Palestinian statelessness is a defining issue and key prism through which America is viewed.” He invoked General Petraeus’s Congressional statement about Afghanistan, in which the General ostensibly testified that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem endangers US troops abroad. That’s not what Petraeus said, of course, but it’s convenient for the anti-Israel left to pretend that it is, so they do. The implication is that uneducated Afghan cave dwellers who’ve never seen a globe care desperately about whether Gilo gets new gas stations, and that’s kind of absurd, but the argument means that Israel is again to blame for Middle East violence, so why not?

Still, for less committed partisans than Levy, in the aftermath of Wikileaks and the Arab Spring, linkage is now trotted out only ruefully, as a kind of pro-forma gesture to the expectations of the audience. A new justification for obsessively focusing on Israel had to be found: “The Arab Spring has come to Israel.” It’s the world’s most predictable game of Mad Libs. Something is happening in the Middle East, so take that and put “. . . Israel” at the end.

The theory is—on its face, by definition, as a matter of what words mean—fairly silly. The Nakba Day mobs were organized by the Assad regime in Syria and by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Syrian regime’s thugs are currently mowing down hundreds of pro-democracy protesters. Hezbollah is a Lebanese proxy of the Iranian government, is responsible for the murder and suppression of the pro-democracy March 14 movement, and has provoked a democratic crisis so deep that Lebanon hasn’t had a government for the last four months. Syria and Hezbollah are at the precise opposite poll of the Arab Spring. Yet somehow their stage-managed stunts are extensions of pro-democracy sentiment, which also conveniently means that Israel has to desperately appease Palestinian leaders with territorial concessions.

More broadly, with the President about to embrace the Arab Spring, it’s helpful for anti-Israel partisans if “Arab Spring” became synonymous with “pressure on Israel.” So they’ll pretend that it does, until they can’t credibly pretend any more, because that’s how Middle East analysis proceeds. There are few consequence for being wrong, provided that one is toeing the proper anti-Israel ideological line, and so casual and exquisitely timed anti-Israel themes can be invented, trotted out, and then discarded as political expediency demands.

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Bracing for the Goodwin Liu Confirmation Fight

The Senate will vote today on whether to confirm President’s controversial pick for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Professor Goodwin Liu. But according to Fox News, it looks as if the Republicans may have the votes to sustain a filibuster:

In a most ominous sign, former GOP members of the so-called “Gang of 14,” who narrowly averted a judicial crisis back in 2005 that nearly shut down the Senate, are lining up against Liu, as well. The somewhat undefined threshold developed by the bipartisan group back then stated that a nominee should be filibustered only under “extraordinary circumstances.”

Sen. John McCain, a leader in the Gang of 14, has already announced that he will support a filibuster. Fox News also reports that the Obama administration has failed to reach out to the more centrist GOP senators needed to pass the confirmation. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins both said that the administration hasn’t contacted them. And in another bad sign for the Democrats, Sen. John Thune, who typically opposes filibusters, hinted that he might back this one. “Doesn’t this fit the ‘extreme circumstances’ definition?” he told Fox.

The Senate Republican leadership also came out swinging on this issue. The communications office sent out a statement last night reiterating some of Liu’s most controversial statements and positions. He has been an outspoken supporter of left-wing judicial activism, saying after Obama’s election that “we have the opportunity to actually get our ideas and the progressive vision of the Constitution and of law and policy into practice.”

Liu has dismissed “free enterprise” “private ownership of property” and “limited government” as “code words for an ideological agenda hostile to environmental, workplace, and consumer protections.” And he has complained that the U.S. judicial system has shown a “resistance” to using foreign authority to shape American constitutional law.

The problem is that Liu, only 40, is young and considered a rising star in the progressive activist world. He’s up for a lifetime appointment, which many see as a grooming period for an eventual Supreme Court nomination.

Which is why it’s important for conservatives to clip him before he can make that ascent. It’s by no means clear what will happen when the Senate votes this afternoon, and there are still numerous senators who haven’t announced a decision on the issue. But at the moment, it looks like the GOP is in good shape to block the nomination.

The Senate will vote today on whether to confirm President’s controversial pick for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Professor Goodwin Liu. But according to Fox News, it looks as if the Republicans may have the votes to sustain a filibuster:

In a most ominous sign, former GOP members of the so-called “Gang of 14,” who narrowly averted a judicial crisis back in 2005 that nearly shut down the Senate, are lining up against Liu, as well. The somewhat undefined threshold developed by the bipartisan group back then stated that a nominee should be filibustered only under “extraordinary circumstances.”

Sen. John McCain, a leader in the Gang of 14, has already announced that he will support a filibuster. Fox News also reports that the Obama administration has failed to reach out to the more centrist GOP senators needed to pass the confirmation. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins both said that the administration hasn’t contacted them. And in another bad sign for the Democrats, Sen. John Thune, who typically opposes filibusters, hinted that he might back this one. “Doesn’t this fit the ‘extreme circumstances’ definition?” he told Fox.

The Senate Republican leadership also came out swinging on this issue. The communications office sent out a statement last night reiterating some of Liu’s most controversial statements and positions. He has been an outspoken supporter of left-wing judicial activism, saying after Obama’s election that “we have the opportunity to actually get our ideas and the progressive vision of the Constitution and of law and policy into practice.”

Liu has dismissed “free enterprise” “private ownership of property” and “limited government” as “code words for an ideological agenda hostile to environmental, workplace, and consumer protections.” And he has complained that the U.S. judicial system has shown a “resistance” to using foreign authority to shape American constitutional law.

The problem is that Liu, only 40, is young and considered a rising star in the progressive activist world. He’s up for a lifetime appointment, which many see as a grooming period for an eventual Supreme Court nomination.

Which is why it’s important for conservatives to clip him before he can make that ascent. It’s by no means clear what will happen when the Senate votes this afternoon, and there are still numerous senators who haven’t announced a decision on the issue. But at the moment, it looks like the GOP is in good shape to block the nomination.

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Obama Has Been Mugged by Events

As John and Jonathan have already noted, today’s speech at the State Department marks Barack Obama’s emergence as a full-fledged, born-again neocon firmly in the George W. Bush mold.

Bush, recall, was no “neocon” when he entered office—he promised to pursue a narrow, interests-based foreign policy and avoid adventures in nation building. The fact that he came to be seen as an arch neocon—meaning a policymaker who put ideals at the center of his foreign policy—was ironic and unexpected. His numerous critics, including Senator Obama and many of his supporters, rushed to explain his transformation by pointing to the supposed work of a cabal of shadowy neocons such as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith.

All this was, of course, nonsense; second-tier officials like Wolfowitz and Feith did not determine Bush’s foreign policy. What made the difference was simply the march of events—9/11 above all—which showed the severe limitations of the previous American policy in the region which had put stability above all other concerns and which had countenanced countless deals with dictators as long as they provided oil or military cooperation.

Now, after slightly more than two years in office, Obama has made the same transformation. And, again, it was not some shadowy cabal that made the difference; claims today that an “estrogen” brigade of Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power have transformed Obama are just as nonsensical as the claims that were once made about the Bush administration. Obama, like Bush, is a neocon because he has been mugged by events—in his case by the Arab Spring which has exposed the fragility of dictatorships that he once thought, in the fashion of his predecessor’s father, George H.W. Bush, he could make deals with.

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As John and Jonathan have already noted, today’s speech at the State Department marks Barack Obama’s emergence as a full-fledged, born-again neocon firmly in the George W. Bush mold.

Bush, recall, was no “neocon” when he entered office—he promised to pursue a narrow, interests-based foreign policy and avoid adventures in nation building. The fact that he came to be seen as an arch neocon—meaning a policymaker who put ideals at the center of his foreign policy—was ironic and unexpected. His numerous critics, including Senator Obama and many of his supporters, rushed to explain his transformation by pointing to the supposed work of a cabal of shadowy neocons such as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith.

All this was, of course, nonsense; second-tier officials like Wolfowitz and Feith did not determine Bush’s foreign policy. What made the difference was simply the march of events—9/11 above all—which showed the severe limitations of the previous American policy in the region which had put stability above all other concerns and which had countenanced countless deals with dictators as long as they provided oil or military cooperation.

Now, after slightly more than two years in office, Obama has made the same transformation. And, again, it was not some shadowy cabal that made the difference; claims today that an “estrogen” brigade of Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power have transformed Obama are just as nonsensical as the claims that were once made about the Bush administration. Obama, like Bush, is a neocon because he has been mugged by events—in his case by the Arab Spring which has exposed the fragility of dictatorships that he once thought, in the fashion of his predecessor’s father, George H.W. Bush, he could make deals with.

Gone now is the apologetic tone of Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo, where he denied that America was “ at war with Islam”; proclaimed, in light of Iraq, that “no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other”; and even tried to make amends for the U.S. role in the overthrow of the Mossadeq government in Iran in 1953.

Instead today at the State Department he spoke from a position of moral authority, telling Middle Eastern dictators that the U.S. will no longer tolerate a situation where “in too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of the few.” He even specifically repudiated the Realpolitik policy he had once favored, saying that “we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals.” From now on, he announced, “it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.”

Also of great symbolic importance was the fact that Obama relegated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—once the centerpiece of his Middle Eastern policy—to the last part of his speech. This, too, is reflective of the same shift that Bush made before him, and for much the same reason: Once in office a president quickly finds that obsessive interest in brokering an Israeli-Palestinian deal (the mania of the foreign policy establishment) is not only unproductive but counterproductive because it serves as a distraction from broader challenges across the region.

But while Obama’s transformation is to be applauded, the import of this shift should be not exaggerated. Recall that Bush, under the influence of Secretary of State Condolleeza Rice and the State Department, took a more Realpolitik turn in his second term and even in his first term his rhetoric always exceeded his actions. The challenge going forward will be to see how Obama  implements the lofty rhetoric we heard today.

Given that the State Department and military bureaucracies both reflexively favor the status quo ante, pushing them in a different direction will require a monumental commitment on the commander-in-chief’s part. In short, it will take more than one speech. But if there has been a problem with the Obama approach, especially on Afghanistan, it is that too often  he has not shown the sustained commitment to sell his own policies to a skeptical public. That will have to change if he is to avoid some of the frustrations of Bush’s second term.

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Live Blog: What About Saudi Women’s Rights?

President Obama is certainly right to highlight freedom for women as a key American interest in the Middle East. Throughout the region, women are fighting for rights they never had.  The big exception, of course, is Iran where women are fighting for rights which were taken away from them.  But Obama is going to lose credibility if he talks the feminist talk but refuses to walks the feminist walk.  When it comes to feminism, Saudi Arabia is public enemy number one.  It’s time Obama and Secretary of State Clinton call for real rights for Saudi women, and not compromise these fundamental rights because of the need for Saudi cooperation on other issues.  After all, Saudi Arabia has been as destructive an influence on the Middle East as Iran has been, and it’s about time we recognize that.

President Obama is certainly right to highlight freedom for women as a key American interest in the Middle East. Throughout the region, women are fighting for rights they never had.  The big exception, of course, is Iran where women are fighting for rights which were taken away from them.  But Obama is going to lose credibility if he talks the feminist talk but refuses to walks the feminist walk.  When it comes to feminism, Saudi Arabia is public enemy number one.  It’s time Obama and Secretary of State Clinton call for real rights for Saudi women, and not compromise these fundamental rights because of the need for Saudi cooperation on other issues.  After all, Saudi Arabia has been as destructive an influence on the Middle East as Iran has been, and it’s about time we recognize that.

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Live Blog: The Role of 67 Borders in the Reset

The decision to inject a passage detailing what Obama’s vision for an Arab-Israeli peace agreement into this speech makes no sense if it is seen as an actual blueprint for a resolution of that conflict. The circumstances are such that his ideas have no more chance of being accomplished than any past American plan. The reason for throwing it in is a way to appease the Arab world so as to help “reset” U.S. relations with the Islamic world. Israel is being asked to pay the price for Obama’s popularity in the region.

The decision to inject a passage detailing what Obama’s vision for an Arab-Israeli peace agreement into this speech makes no sense if it is seen as an actual blueprint for a resolution of that conflict. The circumstances are such that his ideas have no more chance of being accomplished than any past American plan. The reason for throwing it in is a way to appease the Arab world so as to help “reset” U.S. relations with the Islamic world. Israel is being asked to pay the price for Obama’s popularity in the region.

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Live Blog: Time to Restructure Our Embassies

President Obama’s speech is his neoconservative moment. While the President’s arrogance prevents him from acknowledging his predecessor in any honest way and his understanding of history—and Saddam’s extreme violence toward the Iraqi people—falls short, he is correct that it’s time to dispense with dictatorships and reach out to ordinary people.  Why then are American diplomats concentrated in embassies just in capitals or, in rare occasions, in one or two other consulates.  If the president and Secretary Clinton are serious about new diplomacy, it’s time for a fundamental reorganization: No longer should embassies be staffed with administrators and bureaucrats who seldom leave the embassy or the social circle of the expatriate community.  Some diplomats shine, but many other have grown complacent.  Rather, we should revert to the British model of decades past: If we want to understand a society, every town or city with more than 250,000 should have an American diplomatic presence. No need for cooks or administrative layers: Diplomats should purchase their own food—and meet the fruit vendors and butchers and ordinary people.  Diplomats will, of course, need security, but this is possible. They do, after all, live in apartments buildings in Cairo and among the public in Bahrain. Perhaps they will need security guards.  That’s fine: Divert money from the swimming-pool fund or save money by downsizing support staff.  The age of the typewriter is over.  If an ambassador or DCM doesn’t know how to use a word processor, they shouldn’t be representing the United States in the 21st century.  Certainly, reform and restructuring is a tough subject and will take much study and debate, but there’s no time like now to begin that debate.

President Obama’s speech is his neoconservative moment. While the President’s arrogance prevents him from acknowledging his predecessor in any honest way and his understanding of history—and Saddam’s extreme violence toward the Iraqi people—falls short, he is correct that it’s time to dispense with dictatorships and reach out to ordinary people.  Why then are American diplomats concentrated in embassies just in capitals or, in rare occasions, in one or two other consulates.  If the president and Secretary Clinton are serious about new diplomacy, it’s time for a fundamental reorganization: No longer should embassies be staffed with administrators and bureaucrats who seldom leave the embassy or the social circle of the expatriate community.  Some diplomats shine, but many other have grown complacent.  Rather, we should revert to the British model of decades past: If we want to understand a society, every town or city with more than 250,000 should have an American diplomatic presence. No need for cooks or administrative layers: Diplomats should purchase their own food—and meet the fruit vendors and butchers and ordinary people.  Diplomats will, of course, need security, but this is possible. They do, after all, live in apartments buildings in Cairo and among the public in Bahrain. Perhaps they will need security guards.  That’s fine: Divert money from the swimming-pool fund or save money by downsizing support staff.  The age of the typewriter is over.  If an ambassador or DCM doesn’t know how to use a word processor, they shouldn’t be representing the United States in the 21st century.  Certainly, reform and restructuring is a tough subject and will take much study and debate, but there’s no time like now to begin that debate.

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Live Blog: Not Easy to Go Back to the Table

Obama on the Fatah-Hamas pact: “How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?” Good question. But any honest answer to that question shows the futility of more pressure on Israel on borders when the Palestinians have just illustrated that they will never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where Obama draws its borders.

Obama on the Fatah-Hamas pact: “How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?” Good question. But any honest answer to that question shows the futility of more pressure on Israel on borders when the Palestinians have just illustrated that they will never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where Obama draws its borders.

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Live Blog: 1967 Borders With Swaps

He just said the magic words: 1967 borders with mutually agreed upon territorial swaps. Palestinians will get a sovereign non-militarized state with Israel having the right to defend itself.

He just said the magic words: 1967 borders with mutually agreed upon territorial swaps. Palestinians will get a sovereign non-militarized state with Israel having the right to defend itself.

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