Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 13, 2012

Palestinians Short of Ideas, Not Guns

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is complaining that Israel is making it difficult for his security forces to obtain weapons. As the New York Times reports, Abbas claimed yesterday in a meeting with members of the left-wing J Street group that the problems his police have been encountering recently is due to their difficulty importing arms. He also dismissed the letter Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent him imploring the Palestinian to return to direct peace talks without preconditions.

However, the claim that any holdup in arms shipments is making it impossible for the PA to fulfill its commitments to keep the peace is absurd. As a senior Israeli source told the Times, there is no shortage of guns or ammunition in the West Bank. The various PA security forces are all armed to the teeth. The material Abbas wants to import from Russia and Egypt is not police equipment but armaments that would transform the PA’s forces into the sort of army the Oslo peace accords specifically forbid. Moreover, because the PA is making an alliance with the radical Islamists of Hamas rather than fighting them, what possible purpose would Abbas have for heavy weapons?

Abbas has a sympathetic audience in J Street. It has supported his effort to evade blame for refusing to talk peace in order to justify its opposition to Israel’s government. Such a stance treats the Palestinians as being without any responsibility for their actions. The PA has long tried to claim it was powerless, but this latest rejection of peace talks demonstrates anew that what they are short of is ideas, not guns.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is complaining that Israel is making it difficult for his security forces to obtain weapons. As the New York Times reports, Abbas claimed yesterday in a meeting with members of the left-wing J Street group that the problems his police have been encountering recently is due to their difficulty importing arms. He also dismissed the letter Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent him imploring the Palestinian to return to direct peace talks without preconditions.

However, the claim that any holdup in arms shipments is making it impossible for the PA to fulfill its commitments to keep the peace is absurd. As a senior Israeli source told the Times, there is no shortage of guns or ammunition in the West Bank. The various PA security forces are all armed to the teeth. The material Abbas wants to import from Russia and Egypt is not police equipment but armaments that would transform the PA’s forces into the sort of army the Oslo peace accords specifically forbid. Moreover, because the PA is making an alliance with the radical Islamists of Hamas rather than fighting them, what possible purpose would Abbas have for heavy weapons?

Abbas has a sympathetic audience in J Street. It has supported his effort to evade blame for refusing to talk peace in order to justify its opposition to Israel’s government. Such a stance treats the Palestinians as being without any responsibility for their actions. The PA has long tried to claim it was powerless, but this latest rejection of peace talks demonstrates anew that what they are short of is ideas, not guns.

The PA leader is still under the mistaken impression that he needn’t talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He believes President Obama, left-wing Jews like J Street and an international community deeply hostile to the Jewish state will eventually bludgeon Israel into granting his demands that it surrender on every point of contention before negotiations even begin. But as his failed attempt to get the United Nations to recognize Palestinian independence — the diplomatic “tsunami” that was supposed to overwhelm Israel but instead merely demonstrated that the world had little interest in the Palestinians — without the PA first making peace with Israel should have taught him this strategy is not going to work. Nor should he hold his breath waiting for President Obama to risk the ire of Americans voters by picking another fight with Israel this year.

It is unfortunate that groups like J Street feed into his delusions about the world’s interest in forcing Israel into granting his desires. Abbas may harbor hopes a re-elected Obama will return to the pattern of his first three years in office and again seek to pressure Netanyahu to give in to Palestinian demands. But even if that comes to pass, there is only so much his foreign friends can do for him if he isn’t willing to talk to the Israelis. Abbas has demonstrated time and again that he isn’t willing or capable of signing a peace agreement that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Rather than whining to groups that aren’t willing to hold him responsible for his inability to import Russia munitions, what Abbas needs to do is to signal his willingness to make peace on realistic terms. Until that happens, neither Netanyahu — who enjoys the support of the vast majority of Israelis — or even a re-elected Obama are going to pay much attention to his complaints.

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It’s Not Maliki Pushing Iraq into Civil War

Max Boot pushes back on my post and suggests that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s recent actions consolidating power risk are pushing Iraq into a civil war. I certainly worry about instability in Iraq, but it is wrong to suggest that Maliki’s attempts to govern would be the cause.

First, it’s important to define where we agree: Both of us see the U.S. withdrawal as costly. It undercut U.S. leverage, and privileged Iran. Both of us are deeply suspicious of Iran. I make no secret of my belief that the United States should do nothing that throws a lifeline to Tehran and, indeed, should do everything possible to undermine the Iranian regime. That said, while I understand that Max’s view is conventional wisdom in many U.S. military circles, I am as unconvinced about Max’s argument as he is about mine.

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Max Boot pushes back on my post and suggests that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s recent actions consolidating power risk are pushing Iraq into a civil war. I certainly worry about instability in Iraq, but it is wrong to suggest that Maliki’s attempts to govern would be the cause.

First, it’s important to define where we agree: Both of us see the U.S. withdrawal as costly. It undercut U.S. leverage, and privileged Iran. Both of us are deeply suspicious of Iran. I make no secret of my belief that the United States should do nothing that throws a lifeline to Tehran and, indeed, should do everything possible to undermine the Iranian regime. That said, while I understand that Max’s view is conventional wisdom in many U.S. military circles, I am as unconvinced about Max’s argument as he is about mine.

Max sees sectarian motives underlying Maliki’s actions against both Tariq al-Hashimi and Saleh Mutlaq; I see merit behind the charges on Hashimi, against whom INTERPOL recently issued a “red notice” at the Iraqi government’s request. Mutlaq is more sympathetic to Baathism—and Sunni Arab supremicism—and laments that the privileges Sunni Arabs assumed in the years before 2003 are gone, and would not think twice about a coup in Iraq if he could. To force Maliki to embrace Mutlaq would be akin to demanding Obama make room for David Duke.

Max suggests that selectively pursuing charges against Hashimi but not against Shi’ite firebrand Moqtada al Sadr exposes the sectarian nature of the charges. I would note, however, that Sadr hardly remains on Maliki’s side and, indeed, represents one of the Shi’ite factions which Maliki also battles. Indeed, one of the unanswered questions regarding Operation Iraqi Freedom is who in the Bush administration made the decision to shield Sadr from the justice which U.S. forces were prepared to serve.

With regard to Ali Mussa Daqduq, a Shi’ite who was responsible for the murder of five U.S. soldiers in 2007, Max and I agree he should not go free. A few points, however: While the article Max cites says he is not yet released from prison, there is an open question about whether the United States turned over the evidence the Iraqi court required. If, by ignoring the Iraqi court’s request, we made it easy for the court to release him on a technicality, then heads should roll in the White House, at Langley, or in the Pentagon. Regardless, it is inane that we released such a man from our custody in the first place. We should not be surprised that Iraqi courts are more likely to prioritize cases involving Iraqi victims than U.S. soldiers. If there was ever a case, however, for extraordinary rendition—or targeted assassination—Daqduq is it. If the Iraqi government releases Daqduq, it would be unfortunate if he takes more than a dozen steps before he is enveloped by pink mist.

There is a tendency among Hashimi, Mutlaq, and others to warn darkly of a return to civil war if their demands are not met. Legitimizing such blackmail will only lead to more violence. If Hashimi and Mutlaq’s forces wished, they could urge votes of no confidence in the government as Mutlaq himself has threatened. It is far easier to win a vote of no confidence under the Iraqi system than form a government, but Ayad Allawi, Hashimi’s supporters, and Mutlaq know they cannot do either, and so they threaten violence and come crying to the Saudis, Jordanians, and Americans. Suggesting that Maliki is pursuing a sectarian agenda but that Hashimi and Mutlaq’s actions are somehow noble is backward.

Undo sympathy toward Hashimi and Mutlaq replicates the mistakes of 2004, when General Petraeus sought not only to forcibly integrate but also empower unrepentant Baathists and Sunni Islamists in Mosul, only to have them betray U.S. forces and the Iraqi government and cast their lot with the insurgency. Validating men like Hashimi and Mutlaq will do more to undercut reconciliation and set Iraq down the path toward civil war than anything Maliki has done. I have yet to meet a politician from al-Anbar who will not quietly argue that there should be some sort of “do over” and that empowering a Sunni Iraqi general “without blood on his hands” is the best way forward. None has ever been able to name such a general from outside their immediate family or clan, however. Max points out that regional Arab papers publishing articles such as this shape perceptions, but the Saudis, Emiratis, Kuwaitis, and Qataris are unapologetic about their sectarian perspective and work overtime to delegitimize the Iraqi government on purely sectarian grounds. Nothing Maliki can do will change their perspective, and he is correct to understand that making undo concessions to Saudi Arabia is never wise.

The Shi’ites are the majority in Iraq; it is not sectarian for one Shi’ite or another to run Iraq. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the Iraqi Shi’ites are necessarily pro-Iranian. After all, during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, it wasn’t the privileged sons of Tikrit who manned the trenches against the Iranian army, but rather the Iraqi Shi’ite conscripts. They hated Saddam, but fought for Iraq against the Iranian hordes. When I was last in Najaf about a year and a half ago, I was fortunate to have separate audiences with three of the Grand Ayatollahs resident there. Each made reference to the elder Bush administration’s 1991 “abandonment” of the Iraqi Shi’ite uprising and how the United States appeared to be replicating those mistakes. When we empower Baathists or abandon the Shi’ites, we simply drive them into Iran’s embrace. Indeed, this is the tragedy of President Obama’s abandonment of Iraq: Maliki preserved independence of action by complaining to the Iranians about American red lines and vice versa. By leaving Iraq completely, Obama has undercut Maliki’s ability to resist Iranian pressure.

So where should we go from here? Rather than handicap Maliki’s ability to govern, we should focus U.S. policy on ensuring that his government holds itself accountable to the Iraqi electorate in 2014, as scheduled. Perhaps if Allawi and Mutlaq spent more time campaigning inside Iraq as they do in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, London, and on K Street, Iraqis would view them a bit more sympathetically.

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Could Gay Marriage Mean No Second Term?

President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage this past week brought with it a variety of benefits to his re-election effort. It energized his base and may well be a spur to more fundraising success, especially in Hollywood. Just as important, it engendered a chorus of unadulterated praise from the mainstream media that fits in well with the attempt to recapture the luster of his “hope and change” campaign in 2008 that hinged on the historic nature of his candidacy. The only question was whether it would cost him more votes from those who disagree than it would cause pro-gay rights voters to become supporters.

On the surface, a new Gallup poll conducted in the aftermath of the announcement seems to reassure the president’s camp that there was no danger of it harming his chances. The survey reports a clear majority of Americans — 51-45 percent — agree with him. Even more reassuring is that the decision won’t affect the votes of the vast majority, as 60 percent say it will make no difference and 13 percent assert it will make them more likely to vote for his re-election. Only 26 percent claim this will make them less likely to vote for him. But within these figures is still some very bad news for the president. The numbers show far more votes will be lost as a result of his stand than gained, especially in the center where the election will probably be decided.

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President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage this past week brought with it a variety of benefits to his re-election effort. It energized his base and may well be a spur to more fundraising success, especially in Hollywood. Just as important, it engendered a chorus of unadulterated praise from the mainstream media that fits in well with the attempt to recapture the luster of his “hope and change” campaign in 2008 that hinged on the historic nature of his candidacy. The only question was whether it would cost him more votes from those who disagree than it would cause pro-gay rights voters to become supporters.

On the surface, a new Gallup poll conducted in the aftermath of the announcement seems to reassure the president’s camp that there was no danger of it harming his chances. The survey reports a clear majority of Americans — 51-45 percent — agree with him. Even more reassuring is that the decision won’t affect the votes of the vast majority, as 60 percent say it will make no difference and 13 percent assert it will make them more likely to vote for his re-election. Only 26 percent claim this will make them less likely to vote for him. But within these figures is still some very bad news for the president. The numbers show far more votes will be lost as a result of his stand than gained, especially in the center where the election will probably be decided.

Though the headline may say most votes won’t be affected by gay marriage, one needn’t go too deep into the results to figure out that this means  twice as many voters could be lost to Obama on this issue than he would win. Even more depressing for Democrats is that independents are the most affected by the issue, with 23 percent registering less interest in voting for the president and only 11 percent with more support.

As Gallup’s own analysis concludes:

Those figures suggest Obama’s gay marriage position is likely to cost him more independent and Democratic votes than he would gain in independent and Republican votes, clearly indicating that his new position is more of a net minus than a net plus for him.

There is little doubt that Obama’s flip-flop on gay marriage (he supported it as an Illinois state senator, prudently opposed it when running for the U.S. Senate and for the presidency but now endorses it) is because he believes it is vital to energize the Democrats’ base. Neither Obama nor Romney can hope to win without the enthusiasm of their party’s core, but in an election that tracking polls tell us is a virtual dead heat, any issue that has the potential to lose twice as many vital independents as it can win is a possible death blow.

As the results in the North Carolina referendum this week showed, as much as there has been a sea change in American culture on gays, there is still stiff resistance to tinkering with the traditional definition of marriage. That is especially true in swing states that Obama won in 2008 such as North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio but which are up for grabs this year.

Thus, while the president is reaping the hosannas of the mainstream liberal media and possibly raking in even more Hollywood donations, his “evolution” on the issue may wind up costing him states he can’t afford to lose in November.

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