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Posts For: October 4, 2013

Kofi Annan’s Ludicrous Syria Spin

The National Journal story today seeking to blame President Obama for missing an opportunity to end the bloodshed in Syria in 2012 is getting a lot of attention, but it does not deliver on its promise. The conceit of the piece is that the initial Geneva conference last summer, brokered by Kofi Annan (the reader’s first warning to have several grains of salt nearby), was close to a deal that would have ushered Bashar al-Assad out of power.

But the presidential election season was heating up and Obama felt cornered by Mitt Romney’s accusations that the president was not tough enough on the international stage. This, according to the sources for the story, prompted the Obama administration to call for Assad’s ouster publicly and keep military action on the table as a last resort. This angered Annan, who had somehow convinced himself he was more than a pawn in Assad’s play for time, and he quit. In an attempt to salvage their boss’s reputation, Annan’s former staffers give National Journal Annan’s version of events:

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The National Journal story today seeking to blame President Obama for missing an opportunity to end the bloodshed in Syria in 2012 is getting a lot of attention, but it does not deliver on its promise. The conceit of the piece is that the initial Geneva conference last summer, brokered by Kofi Annan (the reader’s first warning to have several grains of salt nearby), was close to a deal that would have ushered Bashar al-Assad out of power.

But the presidential election season was heating up and Obama felt cornered by Mitt Romney’s accusations that the president was not tough enough on the international stage. This, according to the sources for the story, prompted the Obama administration to call for Assad’s ouster publicly and keep military action on the table as a last resort. This angered Annan, who had somehow convinced himself he was more than a pawn in Assad’s play for time, and he quit. In an attempt to salvage their boss’s reputation, Annan’s former staffers give National Journal Annan’s version of events:

Former members of Annan’s negotiating team say that after then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on June 30, 2012, jointly signed a communique drafted by Annan, which called for a political “transition” in Syria, there was as much momentum for a deal then as Kerry achieved a year later on chemical weapons. Afterward, Annan flew from Geneva to Moscow and gained what he believed to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s consent to begin to quietly push Assad out. But suddenly both the U.S. and Britain issued public calls for Assad’s ouster, and Annan felt blindsided. Immediately afterward, against his advice, then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice offered up a “Chapter 7” resolution opening the door to force against Assad, which Annan felt was premature.

Annan resigned a month later.

The story refers to a joint communiqué signed on June 30, 2012 but as Laura Rozen reported on June 29, Annan had personally drafted a “non-paper” a couple days earlier that was to serve as a proposal for that political transition in Syria. And Annan’s own proposal excluded Bashar al-Assad from the new government that this diplomatic process would seek to establish. As Rozen wrote:

The national unity government “could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups,” the non-paper says, “but would exclude from government those whose continued presence and participation would undermine of [sic] the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation”–namely, Bashar al-Assad.

All the relevant parties clearly understood that at the time. Indeed, it was that demand that Assad personally be excluded from any “national unity government” after the “transition” that made the Russians hesitant to keep cooperating. Rozen followed up with a report on July 1:

Russia continued to oppose language in the statement calling for a political transition under which Bashar al-Assad would be required to leave power. But [Hillary] Clinton insisted the edits agreed on at the meeting convened by UN Syria envoy Kofi Annan Saturday did not alter that key demand.

That’s when Clinton said Assad had to go–the remark that supposedly angered Annan enough to quit. But the language of the dispute gives it away: the Russians “continued to oppose” the Syria working group’s demand for Assad’s ouster, which means both Annan and the U.S. were working under the assumption Assad would have to leave office–and willing to say so.

That means that according to the documentation released at the time, Annan was taking a hard line on Assad and the Russians got cold feet–presumably because Assad had told his Russian patrons the deal was a nonstarter. Even the National Journal story alludes to this; the report quotes Frederic Hof saying that the process was an uphill battle in part because “Assad had no interest whatever in being ‘transitioned.’ He was able to read the text of the Geneva agreement quite accurately.”

What exactly was Annan’s end game here? That he would pass a resolution vague enough to trick Assad into leaving office without realizing it? What kind of fantasy world was he living in? The Syria diplomacy was not derailed by President Obama trying to look tough to voters–who, by the way, do not want to go to war in Syria. There were three major states driving this process: the U.S., Russia, and Syria. Annan does not seem to have understood the political atmosphere in any of the three states, so it’s no wonder his efforts failed to achieve anything. But that failure is his, and he should stop blaming others.

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Ted Cruz v. The Reality Caucus

According to Politico:

Ted Cruz faced a barrage of hostile questions Wednesday from angry GOP senators, who lashed the Texas tea party freshman for helping prompt a government shutdown crisis without a strategy to end it.

At a closed-door lunch meeting in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, Republican after Republican pressed Cruz to explain how he would propose to end the bitter budget impasse with Democrats, according to senators who attended the meeting. A defensive Cruz had no clear plan to force an end to the shutdown — or explain how he would defund Obamacare, as he has demanded all along, sources said.

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According to Politico:

Ted Cruz faced a barrage of hostile questions Wednesday from angry GOP senators, who lashed the Texas tea party freshman for helping prompt a government shutdown crisis without a strategy to end it.

At a closed-door lunch meeting in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, Republican after Republican pressed Cruz to explain how he would propose to end the bitter budget impasse with Democrats, according to senators who attended the meeting. A defensive Cruz had no clear plan to force an end to the shutdown — or explain how he would defund Obamacare, as he has demanded all along, sources said.

The story added this:

“It was very evident to everyone in the room that Cruz doesn’t have a strategy – he never had a strategy, and could never answer a question about what the end-game was,” said one senator who attended the meeting. “I just wish the 35 House members that have bought the snake oil that was sold could witness what was witnessed today at lunch.”

The reason Senator Cruz couldn’t answer a question about what his end-game strategy was is that he never had one. That was obvious right from the outset. His whole plan was based on an illusion, which is that Republicans had it within their power to defund the Affordable Care Act. That was never possible, even as Mr. Cruz insisted it was. Which is why it was a very bad idea.

All of this is worth keeping in mind the next time the junior senator from Texas decides he’s the True Conservative in American politics and those who disagree with him are part of the “surrender caucus.” It turns out his critics were part of the Reality Caucus, which is a far better one to have membership in.

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Representing Those Who Care

Kudos to the ADL’s Abe Foxman for having the guts to say the obvious. After a Pew Research poll released earlier this week found that only 38 percent of American Jews think Israel “is making a sincere effort to establish peace with the Palestinians,” the Jewish Daily Forward concluded that American Jewish organizations have a problem: Since “American Jews are far more critical of Israel than the Jewish establishment,” shouldn’t the establishment change its positions to better reflect those of its constituency?

Most Jewish leaders the Forward interviewed rejected that position. But Foxman demolished it in two short sentences. “You know who the Jewish establishment represents?” he said. “Those who care.”

Foxman, of course, is exactly right. The 38 percent who believe in Israel’s peacemaking bona fides is statistically indistinguishable (since the poll’s margin of error is 3 percent in either direction) from the 43 percent who deem “caring about Israel” an “essential part of what being Jewish means to them,” and actually exceeds the mere 28 percent who consider “being part of a Jewish community” essential to their Jewish identity.  Belonging to a Jewish community, incidentally, was outranked in American Jews’ list of Jewish essentials not only by “remembering Holocaust” (the chart-topper at 73 percent), “leading ethical/moral life” (69 percent) or “working for justice/equality” (56 percent), but even by “having good sense of humor” (42 percent) and “being intellectually curious” (49 percent). Only “observing Jewish law” and “eating traditional Jewish foods” came in lower.

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Kudos to the ADL’s Abe Foxman for having the guts to say the obvious. After a Pew Research poll released earlier this week found that only 38 percent of American Jews think Israel “is making a sincere effort to establish peace with the Palestinians,” the Jewish Daily Forward concluded that American Jewish organizations have a problem: Since “American Jews are far more critical of Israel than the Jewish establishment,” shouldn’t the establishment change its positions to better reflect those of its constituency?

Most Jewish leaders the Forward interviewed rejected that position. But Foxman demolished it in two short sentences. “You know who the Jewish establishment represents?” he said. “Those who care.”

Foxman, of course, is exactly right. The 38 percent who believe in Israel’s peacemaking bona fides is statistically indistinguishable (since the poll’s margin of error is 3 percent in either direction) from the 43 percent who deem “caring about Israel” an “essential part of what being Jewish means to them,” and actually exceeds the mere 28 percent who consider “being part of a Jewish community” essential to their Jewish identity.  Belonging to a Jewish community, incidentally, was outranked in American Jews’ list of Jewish essentials not only by “remembering Holocaust” (the chart-topper at 73 percent), “leading ethical/moral life” (69 percent) or “working for justice/equality” (56 percent), but even by “having good sense of humor” (42 percent) and “being intellectually curious” (49 percent). Only “observing Jewish law” and “eating traditional Jewish foods” came in lower.

But organized Jewry can’t plausibly represent people with good senses of humor or intellectual curiosity, or who “work for justice/equality,” since the vast majority of Americans in these categories aren’t Jews. Indeed, no organization can claim to represent anyone who has no interest in belonging to an organized community. Hence the only people Jewish organizations can reasonably claim to represent are that alarmingly small minority who care about “being part of a Jewish community.” They are the people who provide these organizations with the cash and volunteer hours needed to run them, and they are the people whose views these organizations exist to represent.

But they are also the people most likely to care about Israel, and as the American Jewish Committee’s Steve Bayme noted, they “are also [the] most knowledgeable” about it. Thus they are less likely to believe simplistic narratives of the conflict such as that settlements are the main obstacle to peace. Indeed, even the Forward’s reporter admitted that the 22 percent of self-identified Jews who said they had “no religion”–who are far less Jewishly committed than other Jews by every criterion Pew measured, including such basics as raising Jewish children–are also “far less likely to believe that the Israelis are sincere in their peace efforts than those who said that their religion is Judaism.”

Left-wing critics of Israel like Peter Beinart have recently been pushing the narrative that Israel’s behavior, and the Jewish establishment’s failure to criticize it sufficiently, are driving young Jews away from Jewish life. That was the implicit point of the Forward article as well. But what the Pew poll shows is that the opposite is true: The problem isn’t that Israel is driving Jews away from Jewish life; it’s that Jews for whom “being Jewish” means nothing but the Holocaust and a sense of humor are inevitably less pro-Israel. In contrast, those who care about Jewish communal life are far more supportive. And as Foxman said, Jewish organizations represent the latter group–“those who care.”

Thus contrary to Beinart, J Street, and their ilk, the problem committed American Jews ought to be losing sleep over isn’t how to increase pressure on Israel. Rather, it’s how to produce more Jews who actually care about being part of the Jewish community.

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