In response to months of sustained Hamas rocket attacks, the IDF kicked off its Gaza military operation this morning by dropping a missile onto Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari’s car. From the Israel Defense Forces Twitter feed, a fair warning to any of the late Jabari’s comrades who may have been thinking about taking a drive later today:
We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012
President Obama held a press conference this afternoon, and both the questions and the answers about the Benghazi consulate attack and the scandal surrounding David Petraeus were revelatory in their omission of one aspect of the story. Obama offered a tetchy response to a question about UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who was tasked with selling the administration’s line that it was an anti-Islam filmmaker who was responsible for the events that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others that night. The president’s defense of Rice was another salvo in the ongoing fight over whether she should even be nominated to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. (Obama’s defiant air seemed to suggest he does plan to submit that nomination.)
And the Petraeus affair is sordid and steamy–a combination we simply cannot expect the press corps to ignore. But the events of the last week have made clear that Clinton is off the hook for what may have been the most consequential mistake of anyone in this episode. Yes, the CIA seems to have made mistakes in Benghazi, and yes, Susan Rice misled the American people (on the administration’s orders, we can presume). But the State Department was responsible for handling the diplomatic mission’s request for more security–a request they denied. Yet no one is suggesting Clinton should tender her own resignation.
For days, southern Israel was pounded by close to 200 rockets fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza. This morning, the Islamist terrorist group got its answer when the Israel Defense Forces launched a series of retaliatory strikes on its military leadership. Ahmed al-Jabari, the group’s top commander, was killed in an airstrike on his car as it drove down a Gaza street. The killing of al-Jabari was just one of 20 different attacks on Hamas operatives in an effort intended to both decapitate its terrorist hierarchy as well as to send a message to the Gaza regime that if it thinks it can rain down missiles on Israel with impunity, it has made a terrible miscalculation.
The Israeli counter-attack after the days of Hamas missile fire is clearly an attempt by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to halt the assaults on his country without having to resort to an invasion of Gaza. While Israel can expect the world to condemn its measures of self-defense, Netanyahu cannot allow a return to the situation prior to the last IDF offensive into Gaza four years ago, when Hamas acted as if it thought there was no way for Israel to stop the missile fire on its borders. It remains to be seen whether, after another surge of rocket fire today following al-Jabari’s death, Hamas will take the hint and stand down.
But either way, these events effectively debunk the idea that Hamas has embraced non-violence and that the United States should reach out to it to join peace negotiations. That’s a narrative that was increasingly being promoted by those who sought to use the Obama administration’s decision to treat the new Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt with kid gloves. The decision over the past weekend by the Brotherhood’s Hamas allies to set in motion the events that threaten to plunge the region into a new round of deadly violence is also a reminder to Washington that it should be paying more attention to the security needs of its Israeli ally and less to what its new friends in Cairo are saying.
The pictures from New Orleans after Katrina were iconic. Stories breathlessly filed from the Superdome warned of rampant crimes, inadequate access to basic sanitation, even babies getting raped (which was later proven to be a rumor). CNN’s Anderson Cooper berated Senator Mary Landrieu on air about the government’s response to the storm. Spike Lee made an entire documentary about the impact the hurricane had on the city and its residents. Famously, during a telethon for Katrina’s victims, rapper Kanye West told viewers, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
The week before the election, Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast, bringing unprecedented destruction to the seaside communities in the tri-state area. Parts of New York City went dark, as sections of the city were completely submerged in flood waters for the first time in modern history. Seaside towns across the Jersey Shore lost their famous boardwalks in an instant, and in Seaside Heights, parts of a roller coaster ended up sucked into the ocean.
On Monday, Hillary Clinton issued a press release stating that the U.S. is “pleased” at its election to a second term on the notorious UN Human Rights Council. Like the winner of an academy award, she said she wanted to “thank the countries that voted for us in what was a highly competitive race” among “several qualified Western candidates.” Susan Rice held her own briefing the same day to say how “pleased and proud” the U.S. is, and to “thank all four of our highly qualified competitor countries for what was a very spirited campaign.”
All 192 members of the UN vote on each UNHRC candidate, but membership is limited by region. The U.S., Germany, and Ireland beat out Greece and Sweden for the three available Western spots. Fifteen states from other regions were also elected on Monday, including seven countries that (according to Freedom House) “clearly fail to meet the Council’s criteria for membership” (since they do not “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”): Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. All seven got substantially more votes than the U.S. did.
It is hard to know what to make of FBI agents hauling a computer and crates of documents out of Paula Broadwell’s house as if she were a mafia don or a terrorist kingpin. That the bureau is devoting these kinds of resources to this case suggests that there must not be a lot of crime or terrorism to deal with anymore. What’s going on? My theory: The FBI is on a fishing expedition to justify what looks to be its increasingly untenable decision to treat a few annoying emails, sent by Paula Broadwell to Jill Kelley, as quite literally a federal case.
As the Washington Post notes: “The surprise move by the FBI follows assertions by U.S. officials that the investigation had turned up no evidence of a security breach — a factor that was cited as a reason the Justice Department did not notify the White House before last week that the CIA director had been ensnared in an e-mail inquiry.”
It is easy to lose sight of it amid the breathless, National Enquirer-style reporting on David Petraeus, John Allen, and their communications with various women, but there are other important things happening in the world. Among those events is France’s decision to recognize the new Syrian opposition council, National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as the country’s rightful government. This is an important step marking the first time that another state has extended official recognition to the Syrian rebels who have just organized, under much external prodding, this new coalition led by Sheik Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the widely respected former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. France has also said it would consider providing arms to the rebel forces.
Once again, as in Libya last year, this places France—this time under President Francois Hollande, rather than Nicolas Sarkozy—at the forefront of important events in the Middle East. President Obama and the U.S. continue to lag behind in trying to influence events in another important country, in spite of the major role played by American diplomats in helping to organize the Syrian National Coalition. That is a major problem, because there is only so much France—or other states such as Qatar and Turkey, which are eager to topple Bashar Assad—can do.
If Washington is serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program, the report it really ought to pay attention to isn’t the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest, important though its information on Iran’s progress is. Rather, it’s the one issued last week by Iran’s own Intelligence Ministry, which advocates diplomatic negotiations to avert the threat of a “Zionist” attack.
As Haaretz Arab affairs analyst Zvi Bar’el wrote, this report is noteworthy for several reasons. One is that Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi is close to Iran’s supreme leader and decision-maker, Ali Khamenei, who even forced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to retain Moslehi when the president wanted to fire him last year. Another is that Khamenei posted the report on his own website and has shown it to Western leaders. In other words, there’s good reason to think this report reflects Khamenei’s own thinking.
According to ABC News, the FBI is currently investigating Paula Broadwell for possessing classified information in her home and on her computer:
A source familiar with the case also told ABC News that Broadwell admitted to the FBI she took documents from secure government buildings. The government demanded that they all be given back, and when federal agents descended on her North Carolina home on Monday night it was a pre-arranged meeting.
Prosecutors are now determining whether to charge Broadwell with a crime, and this morning the FBI and military are pouring over the material. The 40-year-old author, who wrote the biography on Gen. Petraeus “All In,” is cooperating and the case, which is complicated by the fact that as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Military Reserve she had security clearance to review the documents.
The FBI found classified material on a computer voluntarily handed over by Broadwell earlier in the investigation. Prosecutors will now have to determine how important the classified material is before making a final decision. Authorities could decide to seek disciplinary action against her rather than pursue charges.
I agree with Max about the government’s tendency to overclassify. For all we know, the information Broadwell had could have been completely mundane. There are conflicting stories about whether she had a security clearance, but given her military and intelligence background, it’s seems likely she did. In that case, she would have been allowed access to classified information on her own, regardless of her relationship with Petraeus.
As Congress reconvenes, Democrats are insisting that President Obama’s re-election means that House Republicans are going to have to give in to his demands for tax increases on the wealthy. While this will do very little to actually solve the impending budget crisis, the president’s supporters have a point when they claim that his victory means a majority of Americans supported his rhetoric about backing a balanced approach that would involve spending cuts in equal proportion to revenue increases. But as James Pethokoukis writes at AEI Ideas, a close look at what the president is asking for throws any notion of balance out the window.
It may be, as Bill Kristol pointed out on Fox News the other day, that it makes no sense for the GOP to “fall on its sword for a bunch of millionaires.” Speaker John Boehner’s initial offer to raise revenue by eliminating tax deductions for the wealthy was an indication that Republicans are prepared to start bargaining. And as Kristol said, there is an argument to be made that if the House leadership bargains the tax increase cutoff up, it may be good politics. But there should be no illusions that what the president is offering is a balanced plan in any sense of the word.
Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkley lost a close election for Senate last week. Although it was a Senate campaign, Berkley was coming from the House, which meant her opponent, Dean Heller, had had an easy weapon to deploy against her: Nancy Pelosi. Tying candidates like this to Pelosi has been a favorite tactic of congressional Republicans and their supporters. When Fred Barnes profiled Harry Reid in September, he asked GOP operatives why Pelosi was constantly invoked but Reid wasn’t.
Pelosi is “toxic” with voters, he found; Republican strategists described her as “the gift that keeps on giving.” Barnes continued: “In focus groups conducted by Republicans, swing voters respond negatively to any mention of Pelosi. It’s clear she’s a drag on Democrats. But when Reid is raised, the reaction is weak.” And so it is that Pelosi compounds the Democrats’ “Obama problem,” so to speak: the punishment voters have meted out to Democrats, especially in the House and in gubernatorial elections, for the array of unpopular big-government excesses of the Obama administration. House candidates are particularly susceptible to the mood swings of the electorate, so you would think Pelosi would step down as House minority leader and give the Democrats a fighting chance as they head into the often-difficult second-term midterm elections. But you would be wrong.
The theory that David Petraeus was pushed out at the CIA because someone didn’t want him testifying at this week’s Senate hearing never made much sense. He was going to have to testify eventually anyway, whether voluntarily or dragged there by a subpoena. And as we saw from his resignation last week, Petraeus seems like someone who prefers taking preemptive action rather than waiting for the hatchet to fall:
Former CIA Director David Petraeus has agreed to testify about the Libya terror attack before the House and Senate intelligence committees, Fox News has learned. …
The logistics of Petraeus’ appearance are still being worked out. But a source close to Petraeus said the former four-star general has contacted the CIA, as well as committees in both the House and Senate, to offer his testimony as the former CIA director.
Fox News has learned he is expected to speak off-site to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday about his Libya report.
The House side is still being worked out.
I, for one, am beginning to long for the days when people, including generals and other public officials, were allowed to conduct their indiscretions discreetly.
I just don’t think I can stand to hear another word about David Petraeus’s embarrassing mid-life crisis. Or about a hot mama (Jill Kelley) getting harassing notes from a not-quite-as-hot mama (Paula Broadwell) about a man neither of them had any business being proprietary about.
The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s nuclear program is due out on Friday, but the contents are already being discussed in the international press. One source has already told Agence France Presse that it will detail the fact that the installation of 2,700 centrifuges at the mountain bunker facility at Fordow is now complete. The expectation is that enrichment of uranium that can be used to produce a nuclear weapon at this site will increase in the coming months, bringing Tehran much closer to being capable of producing a weapon. That leaves the Obama administration with a dilemma.
Though the economic sanctions that President Obama belatedly embraced last year have inflicted pain on the Iranian economy, as the IAEA report makes clear, they have done nothing to halt their nuclear progress. While the president has reportedly assigned Valerie Jarrett, a close personal confidante, the task of carrying out secret talks with representatives of the ayatollah, there is little reason to believe they are interested in accepting the terms of a possible deal that Obama laid out during the third presidential debate, in which he said they would not be permitted to retain a nuclear program. If that is the president’s goal, he ought to embrace a plan for new and tougher economic sanctions that might actually have a chance to force the Iranians to reconsider their defiance. Yet a report published yesterday in Congressional Quarterly indicates that the administration plans to oppose the scheme.
At Tablet, Lee Smith explains what the Petraeus affair could mean for U.S. Iran policy:
According to former Petraeus aides, leading military officials, policymakers, and analysts close to the four-star general that I spoke to this week, Petraeus understood, more than anyone else in our national-security apparatus, that the Islamic Republic is at war with the United States. By Petraeus’ reckoning, they said, it’s not possible to strike a grand bargain with Iran over its nuclear weapons program because the larger problem is the regime itself, whose endgame is to drive the United States from the region. And no arm of the regime is more dangerous than its external operations unit, the Qods Force, whose mastermind, Qassem Suleimani, is considered by Petraeus to be a personal enemy.
In seeing Iran as a threat to vital U.S. interests, Petraeus bucked the mainstream of more than 30 years of U.S. foreign policy. Presidents and legislators from both parties, as well as military and civilian officials, have tended to downplay the Iranian threat, seeking engagement with Tehran in the vague hopes of reaching a deal that might lead the regime to finally call off its dogs and leave us in peace. Petraeus, on the other hand, fought the Iranians.
As Smith goes on to explain, that fight was literal; while leading U.S. Central Command, Petraeus battled Iranian proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan. “During the course of almost a decade, Petraeus became Washington’s institutional memory of all of Iran’s activities directed against the United States and its allies,” writes Smith.