Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 27, 2014

The Kidnapping, the Settlements, and History

As the second week of the ordeal of the three Israeli teens kidnapped by Hamas terrorists begins, there were few signs, other than yesterday’s announcement of the names of two suspects, of progress in the search. But the indifference of much of the world to the abduction stems from the fact that the yeshiva to which the trio was hitchhiking is located in the West Bank settlement of Kfar Etzion. But, as historian Benny Morris noted this week in Tablet, the notion that a resident of this community is an “illegal settler” contradicts history.

Read More

As the second week of the ordeal of the three Israeli teens kidnapped by Hamas terrorists begins, there were few signs, other than yesterday’s announcement of the names of two suspects, of progress in the search. But the indifference of much of the world to the abduction stems from the fact that the yeshiva to which the trio was hitchhiking is located in the West Bank settlement of Kfar Etzion. But, as historian Benny Morris noted this week in Tablet, the notion that a resident of this community is an “illegal settler” contradicts history.

To most Westerners, the “West Bank” is a place where illegal Israeli colonies have been planted among Palestinians in order to rule over them. That this territory is the heart of the historic Jewish homeland to which Jews have legal, religious, and moral claims is something that is almost never discussed. But even if you wish to ignore the fact that the West Bank is merely disputed territory where both Jews and Arabs have valid claims rather than “occupied Palestinian land,” it is not possible to classify Kfar Etzion in that manner.

As Morris writes, the existence of what is known as the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements south of Jerusalem on the road between Bethlehem and Hebron predates Israel’s War of Independence. When war broke out in 1947 after the Arabs rejected the United Nations partition of the country into Jewish and Arab states, the Etzion bloc came under siege from Arab gangs and eventually the Arab Legion, the Transjordan army  commanded by British officers.

Though the leaders of the Jewish state sought to reinforce the bloc, the settlements succumbed to Arab attack in the days before Israel declared independence. The battle cost the lives of 151 Jewish fighters (27 of them women), most of which, as Morris writes, were killed while surrendering or after they had surrendered. Both local Arab fighters and British-led Legionnaires carried out the massacre of the Jews.

While Palestinian Arabs have burnished the memory of the towns and villages they abandoned when their war of aggression against the Jews failed, they and their foreign cheerleaders have conveniently forgotten the fact that in some cases, it was the Jews who lost their homes. As with the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, which was similarly besieged and eventually fell, the survivors of Kfar Etzion were driven from their homes. But in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel came into possession of all of the Jewish heartland, the first request of many Israelis was to see the Etzion bloc rebuilt.

As such, the communities of Gush Etzion were Israel’s first West Bank settlement. But the notion that the people who live there on Jewish-owned land and in homes that were built on the ashes of those torched by the vandals who destroyed the place and killed its inhabitants in an orgy of anti-Semitic blood lust are “illegal settlers” is a hard sell even among left-leaning Israelis. When Israelis speak of retaining settlement blocs close to the 1967 lines they are speaking primarily of the 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods that were built in Jerusalem and its environs after the war where hundreds of thousands now live. But they are also speaking of Gush Etzion, which came to symbolize both the heroism of the Jewish nation and its indomitable will to survive on its own land.

For Palestinians, the presence of any Jew in the West Bank (if not inside the 1967 lines) is both an intolerable insult to their national pride and an indicator of the theft of what they believe to be their country. That is why the majority of Palestinians has not only condoned terrorism against Israelis, but have cheered the abduction of the three boys. To them, the mere fact that they were studying in the Etzion bloc is a crime that renders violence against them an act that can be rationalized if not treated as a heroic endeavor. This is an expression not merely of Palestinian nationalism but of intolerance. But though violence against all West Bank Jews cannot be defended, the notion of treating the inhabitants of the Etzion Bloc as “illegal settlers” is particularly objectionable.

If the Palestinians wish to live in peace with Israelis, they must come to terms with the permanent nature of the Jewish return to the country and give up fantasies of Israel’s elimination. Even more to the point, if they wish Israelis to come to terms with the reality of Palestinian nationality, the abduction of the Etzion yeshiva students is a good occasion for them to stop ignoring or denying Jewish history.

Read Less

The Left’s War on Moderate Muslims

After years of effort to promote the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against American Muslims, the left is breaking some new ground in the debate about terror. Instead of merely trying to make Americans feel guilty about defending themselves against radical Islamists, they have a new goal: banning the use of the term “moderate Muslim.”

Read More

After years of effort to promote the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against American Muslims, the left is breaking some new ground in the debate about terror. Instead of merely trying to make Americans feel guilty about defending themselves against radical Islamists, they have a new goal: banning the use of the term “moderate Muslim.”

That’s the conceit of a piece in the New Republic by Georgetown University’s Nathan Lean in which he argues that to attempt to differentiate between Islamists who seek to pursue a war on the West and those Muslims who wish to live in peace with non-Muslims is itself an act of prejudice. For Lean, any effort to ascertain whether Muslims are supportive of the radical ideologues that have supported not only al-Qaeda but also other Islamist terror movements is wrong because it feeds the “Islamophobia” which he believes is at the core of all Western attitudes toward Muslims. In doing so, he is attempting not only to discourage efforts to combat the radicals but to delegitimize those Muslims who choose to speak up against the Islamists.

Lean’s problem with the term stems from the criteria that he thinks are used to ascertain whether a Muslim is one of the many millions who support radical terror groups or subscribe to an ideology of perpetual war on the West whether or not they personally pursue violence. According to Lean, the best way to win the title of “moderate” is:

By supporting Western foreign policies in the Middle East, cheering continued military aid to Israel, and even rejecting certain Islamic tenets.

That definition tells us more about Lean’s belief that the U.S. shouldn’t be waging a pro-active effort to fight Islamist terrorists abroad and his animus for Israel than anything about Muslims. But by seeking to discredit the attempt, as he put it, to divide the Muslim world into “good” and “bad” types, he is attempting to both deny that there is a large segment of that population that support the radicals while simultaneously treating their beliefs as normative and inoffensive.

This is, of course, ludicrous. Violent Islamism is not the figment of a paranoid Western imagination or the preserve of an infinitesimal minority. It is backed, whether actively or passively, by huge segments of the Muslim population in the Middle East and Africa. It is manifest not only in the work of al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers but also in other terror groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Taliban as well as movements that have attempted to straddle the divide between terror and politics such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. It is also the ideology of governments such as that of Iran and Sudan and is supported by huge segments of the population and even ruling elites in nations such as Pakistan. Even in the West, where genuine moderates prevail, the network of Islamist mosques provide a breeding ground for home-grown terrorists as well as those willing to engage in fundraising or moral support for foreign radicals.

In other words, Islamism is a genuine threat and can count on a huge base of support around the globe. Lean’s farcical attempt to argue that just because the tens, if not hundreds of millions of Islamist supporters don’t personally engage in terror attacks on the West means that there is no such thing as a moderate/radical divide is the height of illogic as well as an insult to the intelligence of his readers.

Lean has an uphill battle in his campaign to convince even Americans who are weary of foreign wars that there aren’t a lot of radical Muslims abroad who support violence against the U.S. and its allies. But his goal is to alter the terms of the debate about this threat so as to intellectually disarm Americans to cause them to think there is no real threat.

Integral to this effort is the attempt to label the act of speaking up against Islamists as inherently prejudicial. An example of this kind of argument came earlier this month when the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank embarrassed himself by writing an account of a Heritage Foundation event that made false accusations about the panelists and audience taunting a Muslim woman. As it turned out the tape of the incident showed that while the speakers had some tough words about radical Islamists and those Muslims who don’t actively oppose them, the woman who spoke up in opposition to the prevailing view of the audience was actually treated respectfully. Both liberals and conservatives called out Milbank for this act of journalistic malpractice, with even Politico’s media columnist Dylan Byers describing his article as a “disaster” in which he “misrepresented” the views of the panelists.

But Lean takes Milbank’s false account as the starting point for his piece because it backs up the false narrative that he is promoting about anti-Islamism being a thin cover for anti-Muslim views.

This is, of course, somewhat odd. Since most of those who speak out against the rise of Islamism are always at pains to point out that the majority of Muslims, especially those in the United States, don’t support the radicals, it is curious that Lean is especially offended by the use of the term “moderate.” His argument is not to deny the existence of moderates but rather to pretend that there are no violent radicals, or at least not enough to care about.

Were several major Muslim countries not in the grips of the radicals or if there had been no 9/11, Benghazi, or a campaign of terror waged around the globe in countless places, he might have a point. Were radical mosques not filled with imams and congregants espousing support for these attacks and the movements that spawn them, it would also make sense not to differentiate between moderates and radicals. But, sadly, that is not the case.

To claim, as he does, that we don’t use the terms to describe Jews and Christians actually makes the opposite point from the one he intends to support. Were there a critical mass of violent radicals at war with the West within Christianity or Judaism, it would also be appropriate to split those groups up into radicals and moderates. But, again, that is not a reflection of reality.

But even if we ignore Lean’s more foolish arguments along these lines, the problem with this debate lies in one of the statements made by one of Heritage’s speakers that he found so offensive. At the event author and speaker Brigitte Gabriel said that it didn’t make a difference that the majority of peaceful Muslims were irrelevant to the discussion of 9/11 in the same way that peaceful Germans were irrelevant during the Holocaust.

Holocaust comparisons are almost always a mistake and the analogy probably confuses more than it illuminates. But at the root of this comment is the plain fact that if Muslims are not willing to speak out against those who wage war on the West in the name of their religion, they are allowing the radicals to define their faith. We don’t need “moderate” Muslims because of a compulsion to divide or categorize non-Western faiths or peoples. We need them because in their absence, the Islamists are allowed, as they have been in many places around the world, to define what it is to be a Muslim.

The West doesn’t need to be at war with Islam but it must be aware of the fact that Islamists are at war with the West and that it must, whenever possible, ally itself with moderates who oppose the impulse to legitimize jihad against non-Muslims. Contrary to Lean’s thesis, we aren’t trying to make Muslims fit into our notion of acceptable behavior but to embrace those who reject the seductive call of the Islamists.

Islamist terror is real but so is the existence of a large body of moderate Muslims who are often, even in this country, cowed into silence by the radicals. The real myth here is not the one about moderate Islam but the attempt by many on the left to promote the idea that awareness of the threat from radicals is something they call Islamophobia. Smearing those who attempt to remind us that the Islamists are still at war with the West is the objective of this line of argument. That the New Republic, which was once a bulwark of support for the defense of the West against Islamism, should become the soapbox for such dangerous idiocy as that of Lean is a disgrace.

Read Less

Is Hillary Ashamed of Her Vast Wealth?

In Hillary Clinton’s recent interview with the Guardian, she gave an interesting answer when pressed on whether her exceedingly rich lifestyle is in conflict at all with her party’s class warfare. “But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” she said, “because we pay ordinary income tax.”

Read More

In Hillary Clinton’s recent interview with the Guardian, she gave an interesting answer when pressed on whether her exceedingly rich lifestyle is in conflict at all with her party’s class warfare. “But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” she said, “because we pay ordinary income tax.”

Such is the mind of the leftist: good works are done through the government. She didn’t say she’s a good example of the deserving rich because she gives charity. She said she pays her taxes. She surrenders enough of her money to the government, and therefore she gets to keep the rest, no complaints. It’s a bit of a non sequitur: if the concern is income inequality, paying your taxes doesn’t exactly get at the root of the issue, does it?

But then Clinton protested too much: “and we’ve done it through dint of hard work,” she continued. No one really doubts Clinton herself earned her salary as secretary of state, but that’s not where most of the family wealth comes from. It comes from, instead, wealthy donors shoveling money at the Clintons, often through speaking fees. Paying Bill Clinton millions of dollars to talk about himself is honest work, sure–but it’s doubtful the public thinks the Clintons had it tough.

That’s the upshot of the Washington Post’s story laying out just how the Clintons amassed all this post-presidential wealth:

Bill Clinton has been paid $104.9 million for 542 speeches around the world between January 2001, when he left the White House, and January 2013, when Hillary stepped down as secretary of state, according to a Washington Post review of the family’s federal financial disclosures.

Although slightly more than half of his appearances were in the United States, the majority of his speaking income, $56.3 million, came from foreign speeches, many of them in China, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom, the Post review found.

The financial industry has been Clinton’s most frequent sponsor. The Post review showed that Wall Street banks and other financial services firms have hired Clinton for at least 102 appearances and paid him a total of $19.6 million.

Since leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton has followed her husband and a roster of recent presidents and secretaries of state in this profitable line of work, addressing dozens of industry groups, banks and other organizations for pay. Records of her earnings are not publicly available, but executives familiar with the engagements said her standard fee is $200,000 and up, and that she has been in higher demand than her husband.

Here’s the thing: It’s actually OK that the Clintons are filthy rich–at least it’s OK with conservatives. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that the Clintons are rolling in money basically handed to them by the lords of American finance and Wall Street’s heavy hitters. That’s because contrary to the left’s hysterical propaganda, the financial industry is not evil; it in fact creates wealth and jobs, not to mention keeps New York humming along.

It’s perfectly fine if the Clintons go home to a giant vat of cash from Goldman Sachs and swim around in it, Scrooge McDuck-style. It’s good exercise! And there’s nothing criminal about being paid to hang out at fancy resorts and make jokes and hobnob in return for gobs and gobs of money. But the Clintons leave the impression that something’s not quite right by the way they try to spin their fees. For example:

The Clintons also sometimes request that sponsors pay their fee as a donation to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the family’s nonprofit group that leads global philanthropic initiatives. Hillary Clinton is doing this with her $225,000 fee for a speech this fall at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, according to her office.

Oh come on. The American people don’t enjoy having their intelligence insulted so brazenly. And again, there’s really no reason to be rude: the Clintons did not steal their fabulous wealth. They were paid more money than most Americans can even imagine to show up, say a few words, and maybe take some pictures. They can be proud of the lives they’ve made for themselves. The Clintons are very, very rich–completely out of the orbit of most of the country, to say nothing of the planet.

Sure, it’s not as though–like, say, Mitt Romney–the Clintons were creating jobs or helping businesses adapt to new climates, or turning around failed ventures. And it’s also true that the Clintons are generally paid tons of money just because they’re the Clintons. But trading on celebrity isn’t illegal.

Now, of course it’s possible that voters won’t love the fact that the Clintons essentially used their political power and connections, not to mention the fact that many donors believe Hillary will be the next president, to convince the wealthy to give them lots of money. But what’s the alternative? That the Clintons would get private-sector employment creating wealth, learning skills, helping local communities, and making sure workers have jobs and benefits? Liberals treated the last guy who tried that like he was the spawn of Satan. The Clintons are acting this way because they hope to capture the Democratic Party nomination, and they know their audience.

Read Less

The Walker Smear Collapses

Last week I wrote about the way the liberal mainstream media was trumpeting the rather slender evidence that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was in trouble over campaign fundraising. But yesterday, the story collapsed when the prosecutor cited in the original story denied the governor was in any legal peril. Predictably, the same outlets that promoted the first story are now burying the sequel.

Read More

Last week I wrote about the way the liberal mainstream media was trumpeting the rather slender evidence that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was in trouble over campaign fundraising. But yesterday, the story collapsed when the prosecutor cited in the original story denied the governor was in any legal peril. Predictably, the same outlets that promoted the first story are now burying the sequel.

The original accusations that Walker was at the center of an investigation of a criminal probe of violations of Wisconsin’s arcane campaign finance laws was treated as a very big deal by liberal outlets hungry for material to use to discredit the governor. The words “criminal scheme” to describe his actions echoed around the Internet and liberal shows on MSNBC and CNN. As I noted then, the New York Times had the story at the top of its home page when it broke and then plastered it on the front page of their print edition the next day. In the original version of the piece, the paper discussed the allegations in detail but only mentioned the fact that two separate judges—one state and one federal—had already dismissed the charges and halted the investigation in the case.

But the flimsy nature of the story didn’t stop most liberal print and broadcast outlets from treating this as proof that Walker had been discredited as a national political figure. The actions that were alleged to be illegal are, in fact, legal just about everywhere but Wisconsin. Moreover, a Walker email discussing one of his campaign consultants that had been made public was widely discussed as somehow an admission of guilt on the governor’s part even though it was nothing of the kind. While most of those who wrote about the case admitted that it was doubtful that Walker would ever be charged with anything, they gleefully noted that, as TIME’s Michael Scherer wrote, “from a distance” it would look bad.

Walker’s Democratic opponent in his reelection race this year certainly thought so. Mary Burke has already been airing commercials highlighting the accusations in the hope that the charge would turn the tide in what was already a close contest.

But yesterday those counting on this so-called scandal putting an end to Walker’s career got some disappointing news. The lawyer representing the special prosecutors that had been running the now curtailed investigation announced that, despite the misleading headlines, the governor was not the object of any criminal probe. Despite the broad conclusions drawn from the documents uncovered last week, the lawyer said that “no conclusions” had been reached in the effort that has already been dismissed by judges as a politicized fishing expedition.

But don’t expect any apologies from the liberals who were burying Walker and speaking of him as a criminal. Needless to say, the same outlets that were screaming bloody murder about Walker’s guilt last week haven’t much to say about this development. The Times buried a story about it inside the paper in contrast to the front-page treatment it accorded the original allegation.

This case was just the latest example of liberal attempts to take out a man whom they fear. Walker was the most successful of all the Republican governors elected in 2010. He achieved groundbreaking reforms that freed his state of the tyranny of state worker unions and their contracts that were burying Wisconsin (and many other states) in debt. That put him in the cross hairs of Democrats and their thuggish union allies that employed intimidation tactics to thwart the state legislature’s ability to function. When that failed they attempted to use a recall vote to throw Walker out of office that was no more successful than earlier efforts.

Liberal hate transformed Walker from a little known county executive four years ago into a conservative folk hero with a legitimate shot at a 2016 presidential run. Thus it was hardly surprising that many of the same people who have been denouncing his reformist policies were quick to seize on anything that would besmirch his reputation. But while liberals had high hopes for this story a week ago, it seems now they can only console themselves with the thought that the endless repetition of the word “criminal” in the same sentence with Walker’s name will have done enough damage to even the odds in the Wisconsin gubernatorial race. It remains to be seen whether the debunking of this “scandal” will undo the harm that the initial reports caused.

Like previous efforts to knock off Walker, this story flopped. Though he’s in for a tough fight to win reelection, liberals have been writing his political obituary almost continuously since he first took office in 2011. It may be that by overreaching in this manner, the left has once again handed Walker a stick with which to beat them. Just as the recall effort drew more attention to the dictatorial hold on the state treasury that unions were seeking to defend than any of Walker’s shortcomings, it may be that this “scandal” may have just served as a reminder to voters of media bias rather than any fault on the part of the governor.

Read Less

Iraq’s Lessons for the Jordan Valley

If Israeli-Palestinian peace talks weren’t already dead, the Iraqi army’s collapse in the face of the radical Sunni group ISIS might well have killed them. After all, one of the key disagreements that emerged during the nine months of talks was over Israel’s military presence in the Jordan Valley, which Israel insisted on retaining and the Palestinians adamantly opposed.

Read More

If Israeli-Palestinian peace talks weren’t already dead, the Iraqi army’s collapse in the face of the radical Sunni group ISIS might well have killed them. After all, one of the key disagreements that emerged during the nine months of talks was over Israel’s military presence in the Jordan Valley, which Israel insisted on retaining and the Palestinians adamantly opposed.

The Obama administration’s proposed solution was to let Israeli troops remain for a few years and then replace them with U.S.-trained Palestinian forces, perhaps bolstered by international troops. But as Israeli officials bluntly told officials in Washington earlier this week, if U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers weren’t willing to fight ISIS to protect their own country, why should anyone think U.S.-trained Palestinian soldiers in the Jordan Valley would be willing to fight fellow Arabs to protect Israel? And with a well-armed, well-funded jihadist army having taken over large swathes of Syria and Iraq and now even threatening Jordan (ISIS seized the main Iraq-Jordan border crossing just this week), how can anyone confidently assert such fighting won’t be necessary?

U.S. officials responded by setting up a straw man: They passionately defended General John Allen, the man responsible for both security training in Iraq and drafting U.S. security proposals for Israeli-Palestinian talks, as if Israel’s main concern were Allen’s competence. But Allen’s competence is irrelevant. The real issue is that no matter how competent the trainer is, no amount of training can produce a functional army if soldiers lack the will to fight. U.S.-trained Iraqi Sunnis aren’t willing to fight ISIS to protect their Shi’ite-dominated government. U.S.-trained Palestinian Authority forces weren’t willing to fight Hamas to retain control of Gaza in 2007. And international troops have repeatedly proven unwilling to fight to protect anyone else’s country.

This isn’t exactly news. Prior to the 1967 Six-Day War, when Egypt demanded that UN peacekeepers leave Sinai so Egyptian troops could mass on Israel’s border unimpeded, the UN tamely complied. UN peacekeepers stationed in south Lebanon since 1978 have never lifted a finger to stop Hezbollah’s cross-border attacks. Nor is this problem unique to Israel. As the Washington Post reported in January, the UN has sent record numbers of peacekeepers to Africa in recent years, and African regional groups have contributed additional thousands, yet these troops “have failed to prevent fresh spasms of violence.” Indeed, they are frequently ordered explicitly not to fight unless they themselves are attacked–rendering them useless at protecting the people they’re ostensibly there to protect.

But even without such orders, how many soldiers really want to die in a far-off country in a quarrel that isn’t theirs? I can’t blame a Fijian for being unwilling to die to prevent rocket fire from Lebanon on Kiryat Shmona; why should he consider that worth his life? And for the same reason, it’s hard to imagine any non-Israeli force in the Jordan Valley thinking it’s worth their lives to stop, say, ISIS from marching on Tel Aviv. Only Israeli troops would consider that worth fighting and dying for. And that’s without even considering the fact that ISIS already has a Palestinian contingent, so any attempt to attack Israel through the territory of a Palestinian state could count on enthusiastic local support.

As even left-wing Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit admitted this week, it was one thing to propose leaving the Jordan Valley back when the eastern front appeared to pose no threat. But it’s quite another now, when ISIS poses a serious threat.

In a region as volatile as the Middle East is today, the idea that Israel should abandon defensible borders in exchange for “peace” with a state that could collapse as suddenly as Syria and Iraq both have is folly. And anyone who thinks U.S.-trained or international forces can replace defensible borders should take a long, hard look at the Iraqi army’s collapse.

Read Less

The Talking Secretary of State

Secretary of State John Kerry works hard, that’s for sure. He seems to spend more hours in the air—shuttling backwards and forwards between D.C. and the troubled parts of the world—than he does on the ground. One round of talks is rapidly followed by another. Keeping up to date with the issues of the day and the demands of the myriad diplomats that Secretary Kerry has to deal with is no doubt an impressive feat. There is just one small catch. At best, the most that Kerry ever has to show for his pains is an extension in the talks. Meanwhile the situation on the ground grows invariably worse.

Read More

Secretary of State John Kerry works hard, that’s for sure. He seems to spend more hours in the air—shuttling backwards and forwards between D.C. and the troubled parts of the world—than he does on the ground. One round of talks is rapidly followed by another. Keeping up to date with the issues of the day and the demands of the myriad diplomats that Secretary Kerry has to deal with is no doubt an impressive feat. There is just one small catch. At best, the most that Kerry ever has to show for his pains is an extension in the talks. Meanwhile the situation on the ground grows invariably worse.

Most recently Kerry has been doing the rounds in Iraq and Egypt—two countries beset by turmoil and the strife stirred up by Islamic fanaticism. In neither case does the Obama administration have the faintest idea as to what to do and in both cases mixed signals and a complete weakness of resolve from Washington has only exacerbated existing problems. Particularly abysmal were Kerry’s ventures in Iraq. There he met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday to discuss the possibility of the formation of a national unity government that would bring more Sunnis into his cabinet, although—given that Maliki’s pro-Shia factionalism has in no small part contributed to driving Iraq to its present position, teetering on the edge of a cataclysm—perhaps a resignation would be more in order.

Kerry should have had some leverage here. Mr. Maliki no longer controls most of his own country. The Kurds have significantly increased the chunk of Iraq that they control while ISIS have captured huge swaths of the northwest and are steadily moving toward Baghdad where at one point it looked as if Maliki would soon find himself under siege. Only a few days ago the Iraqi government was pleading for American assistance, but given that the Obama administration is unlikely to offer any more than its beloved drones, and that Iran is now stepping up its offers of support, Maliki suddenly finds that he is not so beholden to Kerry’s demands after all. Unsurprisingly then, Kerry and his requests were promptly dismissed.

On Sunday Kerry had been in Egypt, and in return for the significant financial and military aid that the U.S. is providing Egypt’s military government with, Kerry was to ask the generals if they wouldn’t mind laying off on the human-rights abuses a bit. The Egyptians took about as much notice of Kerry as the Iraqis. By Monday Kerry had his answer when Egyptian courts sentenced three foreign journalists to prison, with the government refusing to bow to outside pressure to intervene.

And this pattern of simply ignoring American begging has been repeated throughout the region, and indeed the world at large. Kerry’s strategy of talking has failed to yield results with the Assad regime in Syria, with the Israelis and Palestinians in the course of those ill-fated negotiations (that against all advice Kerry insisted upon wasting so much time, energy, and air miles on), with Putin over the Crimea, and now with Iran and the negotiations over its illegal nuclear enrichment program. There has been much talk of these latest negotiations being extended, although by all accounts a draft of an agreement with the Iranians is now being pieced together. But many are convinced that the deal will be a bad one and Iran’s neighbors are getting nervous. So they should be: Russia is currently in talks with the Iranians about assisting with the construction of a vast network of nuclear reactors.

Obama and his government washed-up at the White House with all kinds of grandiose ideas about the efficacy of soft power. Influence, it has been said, is simply so much more interesting than power. Well, the Middle East is certainly looking more interesting than it has in a long time, just not in a good way. The truth is that time and again America—the world’s only hyperpower when Obama took office—now has almost no influence at all, even over parties as weak as the Palestinian Authority. But then that’s the thing about soft power, in the end it is just soft. Kerry talks and talks, and initiates one round of fruitless negotiations after another. Yet those he is talking to are quite right in their assessment that they need only nod and smile politely and then not listen to a word the secretary of state has to say. When America is too timid to back up its words with any concrete actions, who needs to worry about what the United States thinks about anything anymore?

Read Less

Peace Process Gets a Boost: Indyk Quits

Years ago while planning out a story on Israel’s Labor Party, I called a former Clinton administration official who had been part of the White House’s Mideast diplomatic team. He declined to comment, saying he simply doesn’t talk about Israeli domestic politics. I was surprised but understood. Yet I couldn’t figure out quite why I was surprised until I saw a different U.S. official, Martin Indyk, talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Read More

Years ago while planning out a story on Israel’s Labor Party, I called a former Clinton administration official who had been part of the White House’s Mideast diplomatic team. He declined to comment, saying he simply doesn’t talk about Israeli domestic politics. I was surprised but understood. Yet I couldn’t figure out quite why I was surprised until I saw a different U.S. official, Martin Indyk, talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Indyk, who the AP reports is now resigning from President Obama’s Mideast team, had the opposite policy of the official I had called seeking comment. Indyk never hesitated to prattle on about Israeli domestic politics to any reporter who would listen. I was reminded of this when Indyk was universally identified as the source for bitter complaints about Israel to the Israeli press after Indyk failed miserably as the Obama administration’s peace envoy. As Elder of Ziyon noted, Indyk’s meddling in domestic Israeli politics while working for Bill Clinton was so egregious and out of control that Knesset member Uzi Landau lodged an official complaint with Clinton over it in 2000, writing:

In addition to his remarks concerning Jerusalem, Ambassador Indyk offered his views regarding secular-religious tensions in Israel and the role of the Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism. He also intimated his tacit support for Prime Minister Barak’s so-called secular revolution. As a commentator in the liberal daily Ha’aretz noted, “readers are urged to imagine what the Americans would say if the Israeli ambassador to Washington were to come to a local religious institution and say such things.”

As a veteran Knesset member who has consistently supported closer ties between our two nations, I wish to strongly protest Ambassador Indyk’s blatant interference in Israel’s internal affairs and democratic process. I am sure you would agree that it is simply unacceptable for a foreign diplomat to involve himself so provocatively in the most sensitive affairs of the country to which he is posted. If a foreign ambassador stationed in the United States were to involve himself in a domestic American policy debate regarding race relations or abortion, the subsequent outcry would not be long in coming.

Ambassador Indyk’s remarks about Jerusalem are an affront to Israel, particularly since he made them in the heart of the city that he aspires to divide. By needlessly raising Arab expectations on the Jerusalem issue, rather than moderating them, Ambassador Indyk has caused inestimable damage to the peace process. It is likewise inexplicable that Ambassador Indyk would choose to interject his private religious preferences into the debate over secular-religious tensions in Israel.

Indyk’s dislike of much of the Israeli public led to his infamous refusal to acquaint himself with the reality of Israeli life and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Thus as our Rick Richman wrote in May, even while Indyk was in Israel he had his facts backwards. At a Washington Institute for Near East Policy event, Indyk took questions from the institute’s director, Robert Satloff. One question was about settlements: Indyk had blamed Benjamin Netanyahu for “rampant settlement activity,” but of course this was not true. Netanyahu has quietly reined in the settlements. Richman quotes Indyk’s response:

I’ve not heard of this second account — it doesn’t make any sense to me — and I honestly don’t understand what it means. Maybe someone else can explain it to me.

Not only did Indyk not know the basic truth about Israeli policy, but he admitted he couldn’t even understand it. When the facts conflicted with his prejudiced preconceptions, he couldn’t process the information.

Which explains why he used his time as peace envoy to mount a disinformation campaign against the democratically elected Israeli government. The Washington Free Beacon had reported back in May that Indyk was at the center of an Obama administration media campaign against Israel during the negotiations. Such behavior is almost guaranteed to make Israelis suspicious of Indyk and encourage Palestinians to believe they don’t have to make concessions because the Obama administration will simply keep pressuring Israel no matter what.

In other words, Indyk’s behavior was the surest path to failure. Which is precisely what happened. Just as it is precisely what happened the last time he was tasked with representing the White House in the Middle East. Indyk stepping down may be a result of the breakdown of the peace process, but it is its own silver lining: with Indyk back home, the prospects for peace automatically get just a bit brighter.

Read Less

Obama’s Syria Shift

President Obama’s decision to provide $500 million to train and equip the Syrian opposition, like his decision to send 300 Special Operations soldiers to Iraq, can best be understood as a halting half-step away from his preferred policy on non-involvement in the Middle East.

Read More

President Obama’s decision to provide $500 million to train and equip the Syrian opposition, like his decision to send 300 Special Operations soldiers to Iraq, can best be understood as a halting half-step away from his preferred policy on non-involvement in the Middle East.

If only he had acted sooner. The Syrian civil war began in March 2011. At one time it looked as if Bashar Assad would fall as quickly and easily as Muammar Gaddafi or Hosni Mubarak. Obama was so certain of this that in August 2011 he declared, “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

That time quickly passed, however, because Obama refused to do much to bring Assad down, treating his demise as a historical inevitability. Not even when Assad brazenly violated Obama’s “red line” on the use of chemical weapons did the U.S. ramp up its efforts to topple him.

U.S. inaction, which held back American allies as well, allowed Assad to recover from his early stumbles. With the aid of the Iranian Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah, he launched a murderous counterattack that resulted in the deaths of over 150,000 Syrians and that produced a stalemate which endures to this day. Out of this hellish civil war have arisen extremists on both sides–the Quds Force/Hezbollah on the pro-government side and the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria on the rebel side. The Free Syrian Army, the military arm of the more moderate nationalist opposition, has gotten weaker and weaker. In fact it’s not clear if they have sufficient strength left to benefit from Obama’s delayed offer of aid.

Meanwhile the extremists have gotten so strong that ISIS has surged across the border to take most of the Sunni Triangle in Iraq, from Fallujah and Al Qaim in the west to Mosul in the north.

At this point it is far from clear that extra U.S. aid and training will be sufficient to turn the tide. American airpower and raids by the US Special Operations Command seem to be called for as well before the divisions of Iraq and Syria harden into the permanent establishment of Shiite and Sunni terrorist states. But that would require an even greater acknowledgement on Obama’s part that the “tide of war” is not “receding” and that the U.S. does not have the luxury of “pivoting” away from the Middle East. The best that can be said for his small, half-hearted moves in Syria and Iraq are that they may be the prelude to a wider reconsideration of his disastrous policy in the Middle East.

Or at least so we can hope. Obviously no one wants to get more deeply enmeshed in the region’s violent politics, but the only thing worse than American involvement, we are now learning, is American non-involvement.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.