Commentary Magazine


Topic: ambassador

Richard Holbrooke’s Legacy

One of Richard Holbrooke’s most significant intellectual contributions to American diplomacy was an address he gave on June 4, 2007, entitled “The Principles of Peacemaking,” at a conference on “Israel’s Right to Secure Borders” held by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

There is no clearer statement of the principles underlying what Holbrooke called “the most important and celebrated Security Council resolution in the history of the UN.” He noted that “every word of [Resolution 242] is significant” and that:

Likewise, an analysis of the original meaning of the resolution, as opposed to its inadvertent or intentional misconstructions by certain people, is essential. This is especially necessary in light of the fact that numerous publications and media outlets have reiterated the misconception that the resolution calls for full withdrawal from all territories.

After analyzing Resolution 242, Holbrooke contrasted it with the Saudi/Arab “peace initiative,” which had a fundamental flaw:

[T]he Saudi peace proposal … often referred to as a conciliatory proposal by the Saudis, mentions Resolution 242, mistakenly claiming that it calls for withdrawal from all occupied territories — it uses the phrase “full withdrawal from all Arab territories.” More importantly, it sets up a sequence that is in direct contradiction to Resolution 242, demanding Israeli compliance with all demands before offering Israel anything, including normal relations. … More significant, what this proposal really does is to lay out as a precondition for the negotiation the very thing being negotiated: this is a fundamental flaw.

Holbrooke noted that many regarded the Saudi proposal as a very important breakthrough, but that “this is clearly a mistake” — not only because of its fundamental flaw but also because the Saudis were themselves unwilling to participate in the necessary negotiations.

Holbrooke recalled Secretary of State Shultz’s 1988 statement that “Israel will never negotiate from, or return to, the lines of partition or to the 1967 borders,” Secretary of State Christopher’s 1997 letter endorsing Israel’s right to “defensible borders,” the April 2004 Bush letter that repeated that commitment, and the unanimous congressional endorsement of the Bush letter. He concluded that the basis for a lasting peace was a correct interpretation of Resolution 242.

Last night, Hillary Clinton released an eloquent tribute to Richard Holbrooke. But in her December 10 speech at the Saban Center, there was no reference to Resolution 242 — or “defensible borders,” or the Christopher or Bush letters, or even the Roadmap (which sets forth Resolution 242 as the basis for Phase III final-status negotiations). Instead, Clinton praised the “vision” of the Arab Peace Initiative, which she called a “landmark proposal” containing a “basic bargain”: peace between Israel and her neighbors “will bring recognition and normalization from all the Arab states.” She urged Israel to “seize the opportunity … while it is still available.”

It is a little hard to seize an opportunity when negotiations are conditioned on acceptance of indefensible borders as the basis of negotiations, contrary to the underlying principle of the basic document governing the peace process. A more lasting tribute to Richard Holbrooke, and to peace, would be an endorsement by the Obama administration of the position the late ambassador took in his 2007 address.

One of Richard Holbrooke’s most significant intellectual contributions to American diplomacy was an address he gave on June 4, 2007, entitled “The Principles of Peacemaking,” at a conference on “Israel’s Right to Secure Borders” held by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

There is no clearer statement of the principles underlying what Holbrooke called “the most important and celebrated Security Council resolution in the history of the UN.” He noted that “every word of [Resolution 242] is significant” and that:

Likewise, an analysis of the original meaning of the resolution, as opposed to its inadvertent or intentional misconstructions by certain people, is essential. This is especially necessary in light of the fact that numerous publications and media outlets have reiterated the misconception that the resolution calls for full withdrawal from all territories.

After analyzing Resolution 242, Holbrooke contrasted it with the Saudi/Arab “peace initiative,” which had a fundamental flaw:

[T]he Saudi peace proposal … often referred to as a conciliatory proposal by the Saudis, mentions Resolution 242, mistakenly claiming that it calls for withdrawal from all occupied territories — it uses the phrase “full withdrawal from all Arab territories.” More importantly, it sets up a sequence that is in direct contradiction to Resolution 242, demanding Israeli compliance with all demands before offering Israel anything, including normal relations. … More significant, what this proposal really does is to lay out as a precondition for the negotiation the very thing being negotiated: this is a fundamental flaw.

Holbrooke noted that many regarded the Saudi proposal as a very important breakthrough, but that “this is clearly a mistake” — not only because of its fundamental flaw but also because the Saudis were themselves unwilling to participate in the necessary negotiations.

Holbrooke recalled Secretary of State Shultz’s 1988 statement that “Israel will never negotiate from, or return to, the lines of partition or to the 1967 borders,” Secretary of State Christopher’s 1997 letter endorsing Israel’s right to “defensible borders,” the April 2004 Bush letter that repeated that commitment, and the unanimous congressional endorsement of the Bush letter. He concluded that the basis for a lasting peace was a correct interpretation of Resolution 242.

Last night, Hillary Clinton released an eloquent tribute to Richard Holbrooke. But in her December 10 speech at the Saban Center, there was no reference to Resolution 242 — or “defensible borders,” or the Christopher or Bush letters, or even the Roadmap (which sets forth Resolution 242 as the basis for Phase III final-status negotiations). Instead, Clinton praised the “vision” of the Arab Peace Initiative, which she called a “landmark proposal” containing a “basic bargain”: peace between Israel and her neighbors “will bring recognition and normalization from all the Arab states.” She urged Israel to “seize the opportunity … while it is still available.”

It is a little hard to seize an opportunity when negotiations are conditioned on acceptance of indefensible borders as the basis of negotiations, contrary to the underlying principle of the basic document governing the peace process. A more lasting tribute to Richard Holbrooke, and to peace, would be an endorsement by the Obama administration of the position the late ambassador took in his 2007 address.

Read Less

Changing of the Ambassadorial Guard

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

Read Less

Gross Diplomatic Malfeasance on Turkey

Halting donations to the JNF undoubtedly ranks high on the list of unhelpful responses to Israel’s Carmel fire. But it pales beside that of Israel’s own prime minister: using the fact that Turkey was one of 18 nations that helped extinguish the blaze as an excuse to “mend relations” with Ankara by apologizing and paying compensation for May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza.

The deal may yet fall through, since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan still insists that Israel “apologize” for the raid, in which nine Turks were killed, while Benjamin Netanyahu wants merely to “regret” the deaths. But Israel has already reportedly agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation to the killed and wounded “activists.”

Netanyahu claims that this will be “humanitarian” compensation, not an admission of fault. That’s tommyrot. When you apologize and pay compensation, you’re admitting fault, whether you say so explicitly or not. That means Israel is tacitly implying either that it was wrong to enforce its naval blockade of Gaza — established to keep Hamas from shipping in boatloads of arms with which to attack it — or that its soldiers were wrong to fire in self-defense when brutally assaulted by the flotilla’s passengers.

Even worse, Israel would thereby absolve the real culprits: the Turkish organization IHH, whose “activists” deliberately laid an ambush, and the Turkish government, which, according to information that emerged after the raid, was involved in the flotilla at the highest levels. None of the numerous other flotillas to Gaza has produced any casualties, because their passengers didn’t attack Israeli soldiers. The Turkish flotilla would have been similarly casualty-free had its “activists” not launched a violent assault.

Indeed, since IHH sent most noncombatants below deck before beginning its assault, the passengers Israel would be compensating were almost certainly active participants in the attack. As Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman correctly said (via his aides), this is “surrendering to terror,” pure and simple.

But it gets even worse — because Israel would also thereby whitewash Turkey’s turn toward Islamic extremism under Erdogan, when it should be leading the effort to get the West to acknowledge this about-face and respond appropriately.

By crawling to Erdogan in this fashion — after six months of correctly insisting that Israel would neither apologize nor pay compensation — Netanyahu implies that Turkey is still a valued ally, both for Israel and, by implication, for other Western countries. Yet in reality, Ankara openly works against Israeli interests in every possible forum (for instance, regarding NATO’s missile defense system); it had halted joint military exercises even before the flotilla; and Jerusalem no longer trusts it not to share Israeli secrets with Iran. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know that even America’s ambassador to Turkey concluded that “Erdogan simply hates Israel.” So what could Israel possibly gain by “mending ties” with it?

Thus, on every possible front, Netanyahu’s overture to Turkey sends exactly the wrong message. This is gross diplomatic malfeasance. And Israel’s friends should make that clear to him before it’s too late.

Halting donations to the JNF undoubtedly ranks high on the list of unhelpful responses to Israel’s Carmel fire. But it pales beside that of Israel’s own prime minister: using the fact that Turkey was one of 18 nations that helped extinguish the blaze as an excuse to “mend relations” with Ankara by apologizing and paying compensation for May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza.

The deal may yet fall through, since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan still insists that Israel “apologize” for the raid, in which nine Turks were killed, while Benjamin Netanyahu wants merely to “regret” the deaths. But Israel has already reportedly agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation to the killed and wounded “activists.”

Netanyahu claims that this will be “humanitarian” compensation, not an admission of fault. That’s tommyrot. When you apologize and pay compensation, you’re admitting fault, whether you say so explicitly or not. That means Israel is tacitly implying either that it was wrong to enforce its naval blockade of Gaza — established to keep Hamas from shipping in boatloads of arms with which to attack it — or that its soldiers were wrong to fire in self-defense when brutally assaulted by the flotilla’s passengers.

Even worse, Israel would thereby absolve the real culprits: the Turkish organization IHH, whose “activists” deliberately laid an ambush, and the Turkish government, which, according to information that emerged after the raid, was involved in the flotilla at the highest levels. None of the numerous other flotillas to Gaza has produced any casualties, because their passengers didn’t attack Israeli soldiers. The Turkish flotilla would have been similarly casualty-free had its “activists” not launched a violent assault.

Indeed, since IHH sent most noncombatants below deck before beginning its assault, the passengers Israel would be compensating were almost certainly active participants in the attack. As Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman correctly said (via his aides), this is “surrendering to terror,” pure and simple.

But it gets even worse — because Israel would also thereby whitewash Turkey’s turn toward Islamic extremism under Erdogan, when it should be leading the effort to get the West to acknowledge this about-face and respond appropriately.

By crawling to Erdogan in this fashion — after six months of correctly insisting that Israel would neither apologize nor pay compensation — Netanyahu implies that Turkey is still a valued ally, both for Israel and, by implication, for other Western countries. Yet in reality, Ankara openly works against Israeli interests in every possible forum (for instance, regarding NATO’s missile defense system); it had halted joint military exercises even before the flotilla; and Jerusalem no longer trusts it not to share Israeli secrets with Iran. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know that even America’s ambassador to Turkey concluded that “Erdogan simply hates Israel.” So what could Israel possibly gain by “mending ties” with it?

Thus, on every possible front, Netanyahu’s overture to Turkey sends exactly the wrong message. This is gross diplomatic malfeasance. And Israel’s friends should make that clear to him before it’s too late.

Read Less

State Sends Ambassador to Terror-Promoting London Mosque

As part of the White House’s public-diplomacy push, we sent Ambassador Louis Susman to an al-Qaeda-supporting mosque a few days ago. CBN’s Erick Stakelbeck has a report on the inspired act of “outreach to the Muslim world,” along with video of East London Mosque and a rundown of some of the radicals it’s hosted. Prominently featured is Anwar al-Awlaki, who couldn’t speak to assembled worshipers last year except by video link, on account of how we’re currently trying to kill him.

This is the same line of reasoning that has State dispatching President Obama to pro-Ahmadinejad mosques, sending pro-Iran apologists to Saudi Arabia, and funding domestic “dialogue” panels run by implacable Israel-haters. Hearts and minds have to be won, after all. And if you can’t do that, then pantomiming “listening” in a particularly obsequious way is apparently the second-best option.

It doesn’t work — in the case of Iran outreach, it’s actually been known to backfire spectacularly — but at least you’re doing something.

On the other hand, you kind of have to sympathize with our public-diplomacy people. They’ve been given the task of boosting our image in the Muslim world by “spreading the truth about American values.” That’s a huge problem if you accept the vaguely neoconservative point that Muslim anti-Western animosity comes not from understanding us too little but from understanding very clearly that we let women vote, Jews worship, gays not be murdered, etc.

And say what you will about that theory, it at least has the benefit of explaining why our public-diplomacy efforts have failed so spectacularly.

On a day-to-day level, there’s also the double bind of having to “speak the language” of audiences soaked in conspiracy theories and anti-Western animus. It’s no wonder that State’s Arab TV outlet, Al Hurra, ended up airing hour-long Nasrallah rants, whitewashing Iran’s Holocaust-denial conference, and accusing Israel of conducting an anti-Palestinian “holocaust.” Or that U.S. director of Near East Public Diplomacy, Alberto Fernandez, went on Al Jazeera and trashed American policy as “arrogant” and “stupid.” Or that Bush public-diplomacy chief Karen Hughes went to Malaysia and denigrated Israel’s efforts to defend itself from jihadists. Persuasion 101, after all, is that you have to connect with your audience.

All of which might be understandable if our outreach efforts weren’t also total failures. But they are.

Getting back to Britain specifically, just think: in a few years time, after Buckingham Palace is transformed into Buckingham Mosque, our diplomats will be able to take care of their ceremonial state duties and their goodwill Muslim outreach in the same place. How convenient will that be? The only catch is that the royal family will probably be disbanded under a Sharia regime, or at the very least evicted from Buckingham, so that might not work.

Although, you never know.

As part of the White House’s public-diplomacy push, we sent Ambassador Louis Susman to an al-Qaeda-supporting mosque a few days ago. CBN’s Erick Stakelbeck has a report on the inspired act of “outreach to the Muslim world,” along with video of East London Mosque and a rundown of some of the radicals it’s hosted. Prominently featured is Anwar al-Awlaki, who couldn’t speak to assembled worshipers last year except by video link, on account of how we’re currently trying to kill him.

This is the same line of reasoning that has State dispatching President Obama to pro-Ahmadinejad mosques, sending pro-Iran apologists to Saudi Arabia, and funding domestic “dialogue” panels run by implacable Israel-haters. Hearts and minds have to be won, after all. And if you can’t do that, then pantomiming “listening” in a particularly obsequious way is apparently the second-best option.

It doesn’t work — in the case of Iran outreach, it’s actually been known to backfire spectacularly — but at least you’re doing something.

On the other hand, you kind of have to sympathize with our public-diplomacy people. They’ve been given the task of boosting our image in the Muslim world by “spreading the truth about American values.” That’s a huge problem if you accept the vaguely neoconservative point that Muslim anti-Western animosity comes not from understanding us too little but from understanding very clearly that we let women vote, Jews worship, gays not be murdered, etc.

And say what you will about that theory, it at least has the benefit of explaining why our public-diplomacy efforts have failed so spectacularly.

On a day-to-day level, there’s also the double bind of having to “speak the language” of audiences soaked in conspiracy theories and anti-Western animus. It’s no wonder that State’s Arab TV outlet, Al Hurra, ended up airing hour-long Nasrallah rants, whitewashing Iran’s Holocaust-denial conference, and accusing Israel of conducting an anti-Palestinian “holocaust.” Or that U.S. director of Near East Public Diplomacy, Alberto Fernandez, went on Al Jazeera and trashed American policy as “arrogant” and “stupid.” Or that Bush public-diplomacy chief Karen Hughes went to Malaysia and denigrated Israel’s efforts to defend itself from jihadists. Persuasion 101, after all, is that you have to connect with your audience.

All of which might be understandable if our outreach efforts weren’t also total failures. But they are.

Getting back to Britain specifically, just think: in a few years time, after Buckingham Palace is transformed into Buckingham Mosque, our diplomats will be able to take care of their ceremonial state duties and their goodwill Muslim outreach in the same place. How convenient will that be? The only catch is that the royal family will probably be disbanded under a Sharia regime, or at the very least evicted from Buckingham, so that might not work.

Although, you never know.

Read Less

Erdogan Threatens to Sue U.S. Diplomats Over WikiLeaks

The WikiLeaks circus has sparked an unexpected sideshow in Turkey, where Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan is livid over leaked cables that highlight his allegedly crooked financial dealings. In the 2004 documents, U.S. diplomats relayed claims that the premier held eight Swiss bank accounts and accepted bribes.

In response to these revelations, Erdogan has announced he will sue the U.S. diplomats for libel:

The Turkish Premier adversely responded to American diplomats’ claims that he has eight accounts at Swiss banks. Erdogan stated that he has not a single cent at Swiss banks and urged the U.S. authorities to hold the diplomats responsible and suggest Turkey’s ruling party intends to sue them.

At its sitting the JDP Executive Board, following Recep Erdogan’s instruction, decided file suits against American diplomats and claim financial compensations from them for insulting Turkish officials. Specifically, the party plans to sue former US Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman, who, in one of his messages, claimed Erdogan had bank accounts in Switzerland, Hurriyet reported on Thursday.

Erdogan has doubled down on his denial, saying that he will resign from office if the allegations are proved accurate. And it looks like his opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, is also on board with the litigation:

“If there is something incorrect in the allegations, then you can prove its falsity and the debate will come to an end. Moreover, you can take legal measures against those who made up false claims. It is so simple,” Republican People’s Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said Thursday in the northwestern province of Bursa. “Instead of attacking us, [Erdogan] should sue the United States. We will lend our support if he does so. …

While a legal fight would certainly be an entertaining spectacle, it sounds like the Turkish government still has some logistics to work out before they can head to court:

Sabah reports that Ankara is considering a number of options. Claims may be lodged with local courts in the U.S. as well as with the World Court in the Hague.

And just in case the legal route proves ineffective for Erdogan, his government is already getting a head start at blaming the whole predicament on the Jews.

The WikiLeaks circus has sparked an unexpected sideshow in Turkey, where Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan is livid over leaked cables that highlight his allegedly crooked financial dealings. In the 2004 documents, U.S. diplomats relayed claims that the premier held eight Swiss bank accounts and accepted bribes.

In response to these revelations, Erdogan has announced he will sue the U.S. diplomats for libel:

The Turkish Premier adversely responded to American diplomats’ claims that he has eight accounts at Swiss banks. Erdogan stated that he has not a single cent at Swiss banks and urged the U.S. authorities to hold the diplomats responsible and suggest Turkey’s ruling party intends to sue them.

At its sitting the JDP Executive Board, following Recep Erdogan’s instruction, decided file suits against American diplomats and claim financial compensations from them for insulting Turkish officials. Specifically, the party plans to sue former US Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman, who, in one of his messages, claimed Erdogan had bank accounts in Switzerland, Hurriyet reported on Thursday.

Erdogan has doubled down on his denial, saying that he will resign from office if the allegations are proved accurate. And it looks like his opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, is also on board with the litigation:

“If there is something incorrect in the allegations, then you can prove its falsity and the debate will come to an end. Moreover, you can take legal measures against those who made up false claims. It is so simple,” Republican People’s Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said Thursday in the northwestern province of Bursa. “Instead of attacking us, [Erdogan] should sue the United States. We will lend our support if he does so. …

While a legal fight would certainly be an entertaining spectacle, it sounds like the Turkish government still has some logistics to work out before they can head to court:

Sabah reports that Ankara is considering a number of options. Claims may be lodged with local courts in the U.S. as well as with the World Court in the Hague.

And just in case the legal route proves ineffective for Erdogan, his government is already getting a head start at blaming the whole predicament on the Jews.

Read Less

America Is Powerful, After All

The headlines claim that China was “scared to death of Nancy Pelosi,” but the real story is far more important:

China was “scared to death” over a visit by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is outspoken on human rights, and rejected her request to visit Tibet, according to files leaked Monday.

A top diplomat at the US embassy in Beijing said he asked Chin to consider letting Pelosi go to Tibet during her May 2009 visit to China, according to a cable obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that China could not arrange the trip due to Pelosi’s “tight schedule,” according to the cable reprinted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan was blunter, telling his US counterpart over an expansive dinner that Beijing was “fearful” over Pelosi’s visit.

The Chinese were not, in fact, fearful of Pelosi. They were fearful of American ideals. This speaks to the enduring power of American condemnation. Onlookers are quick to dismiss the official naming and shaming of human rights abusers as a toothless substitute for “real” policy. That’s because they’ve come to underestimate the damage a little truth and justice can wreak on an abusive, secretive regime. This is why dissidents always push American leaders to talk about human rights abroad. They’ve lived under these regimes and have a feel for their fears and weaknesses. It’s only in free countries that we view public criticism of leaders as a form of impotence.

It’s no small thing to note that in an age when both threats and conciliations get us nowhere, a public embrace of our foundational ideals still sends a potent message. We talk about extending an outstretched hand to theocrats and the theocrats laugh. We talk about crippling sanctions and they laugh harder. To others, we offer aid in exchange for promises of an anti-terrorism crackdown; they collect and then ignore us. For others, we strain our alliances and make demands on our friends; we end up stymied. Still, to others we offer obsequious compromises and fresh starts; they smile kindly and make their own plans.  But we now know the one time in recent memory we had a regime “scared to death” was when it thought we’d mention the sanctity of human rights. Doubtless, this lesson in the fusion of ideals and interests will be lost on the great non-ideological, pragmatic leaders of our time.

The headlines claim that China was “scared to death of Nancy Pelosi,” but the real story is far more important:

China was “scared to death” over a visit by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is outspoken on human rights, and rejected her request to visit Tibet, according to files leaked Monday.

A top diplomat at the US embassy in Beijing said he asked Chin to consider letting Pelosi go to Tibet during her May 2009 visit to China, according to a cable obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that China could not arrange the trip due to Pelosi’s “tight schedule,” according to the cable reprinted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan was blunter, telling his US counterpart over an expansive dinner that Beijing was “fearful” over Pelosi’s visit.

The Chinese were not, in fact, fearful of Pelosi. They were fearful of American ideals. This speaks to the enduring power of American condemnation. Onlookers are quick to dismiss the official naming and shaming of human rights abusers as a toothless substitute for “real” policy. That’s because they’ve come to underestimate the damage a little truth and justice can wreak on an abusive, secretive regime. This is why dissidents always push American leaders to talk about human rights abroad. They’ve lived under these regimes and have a feel for their fears and weaknesses. It’s only in free countries that we view public criticism of leaders as a form of impotence.

It’s no small thing to note that in an age when both threats and conciliations get us nowhere, a public embrace of our foundational ideals still sends a potent message. We talk about extending an outstretched hand to theocrats and the theocrats laugh. We talk about crippling sanctions and they laugh harder. To others, we offer aid in exchange for promises of an anti-terrorism crackdown; they collect and then ignore us. For others, we strain our alliances and make demands on our friends; we end up stymied. Still, to others we offer obsequious compromises and fresh starts; they smile kindly and make their own plans.  But we now know the one time in recent memory we had a regime “scared to death” was when it thought we’d mention the sanctity of human rights. Doubtless, this lesson in the fusion of ideals and interests will be lost on the great non-ideological, pragmatic leaders of our time.

Read Less

When Will Liberals Acknowledge What the Arab World Already Knows?

Based on secret diplomatic cables that were published by the website WikiLeaks, Foreign Policy reports, “In a telling exchange at the end of his meeting with the emir, the Qatari ruler gave [Senator John] Kerry some advice for dealing with the Iranian government. ‘The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100,’ the cable said.”

As has already been noted this morning on CONTENTIONS, this corresponds with what we’ve learned from other Arab leaders. For example, Bahrain’s king warning that the “danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The Saudi king “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the General David Petraeus in April 2008. Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, in warning of the dangers of appeasing Iran, declared, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “sponsors of terrorism.” Mubarak urged the U.S. to be wary of what Iran says, because “they are big, fat liars” and he thinks this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region. But Mubarak also said that “no Arab state will join the U.S. in a defense relationship vis-a-vis Iran out of fear of ‘sabotage and Iranian terrorism.'” Mubarak added that Iran’s support of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.” (For good measure, Mubarak, in speaking on the Middle East peace process, expressed pessimism, saying that “Palestinians are quarreling” and Hamas will reject agreements made by Abu Mazen.)

WikiLeaks’s release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables also reveals that Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents into Lebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and that it has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, including 19 from North Korea, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.

What the most recent batch of WikiLeaks reveals, in other words, is that the Arab world sounds at least as hawkish as anything you will find in the pages of COMMENTARY magazine. The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders are, as Mubarak himself confirmed, playing a disreputable double game — publicly saying one thing (for example, pretending that the source of unrest and anxiety in the Middle East is Israel) while privately saying another (Iran is by far the main danger posed to Arab states and peace in the Middle East).

Julian Assange is himself a despicable and disturbing character who seems to harbor a fierce hatred for America. He and WikiLeaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there is an irony in all this: WikiLeaks is the instrument that most confirms the conservative view of the world (as J.E. Dyer argues here). Now that most of the Arab world has confirmed what neo-conservatives have said about Iran, how long will it be until liberals finally do?

Based on secret diplomatic cables that were published by the website WikiLeaks, Foreign Policy reports, “In a telling exchange at the end of his meeting with the emir, the Qatari ruler gave [Senator John] Kerry some advice for dealing with the Iranian government. ‘The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100,’ the cable said.”

As has already been noted this morning on CONTENTIONS, this corresponds with what we’ve learned from other Arab leaders. For example, Bahrain’s king warning that the “danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The Saudi king “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the General David Petraeus in April 2008. Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, in warning of the dangers of appeasing Iran, declared, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “sponsors of terrorism.” Mubarak urged the U.S. to be wary of what Iran says, because “they are big, fat liars” and he thinks this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region. But Mubarak also said that “no Arab state will join the U.S. in a defense relationship vis-a-vis Iran out of fear of ‘sabotage and Iranian terrorism.'” Mubarak added that Iran’s support of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.” (For good measure, Mubarak, in speaking on the Middle East peace process, expressed pessimism, saying that “Palestinians are quarreling” and Hamas will reject agreements made by Abu Mazen.)

WikiLeaks’s release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables also reveals that Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents into Lebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and that it has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, including 19 from North Korea, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.

What the most recent batch of WikiLeaks reveals, in other words, is that the Arab world sounds at least as hawkish as anything you will find in the pages of COMMENTARY magazine. The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders are, as Mubarak himself confirmed, playing a disreputable double game — publicly saying one thing (for example, pretending that the source of unrest and anxiety in the Middle East is Israel) while privately saying another (Iran is by far the main danger posed to Arab states and peace in the Middle East).

Julian Assange is himself a despicable and disturbing character who seems to harbor a fierce hatred for America. He and WikiLeaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there is an irony in all this: WikiLeaks is the instrument that most confirms the conservative view of the world (as J.E. Dyer argues here). Now that most of the Arab world has confirmed what neo-conservatives have said about Iran, how long will it be until liberals finally do?

Read Less

Liberal Jews for New START

The Obama administration’s struggle to push forward on ratification of New START is becoming more wacky by the day. Now it has roused Jewish groups with a bizarre linkage argument:

While the White House continues to negotiate with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in an attempt to convince him to allow a vote on the New START treaty this year, it is also undertaking a massive effort behind the scenes to rally foreign governments and non-governmental organizations to support the treaty’s ratification and put public pressure on Republicans to yield.

As part of that effort, the White House has been in contact with pro-Israel and pro-Jewish organizations, encouraging them to be vocal about their support for the New START treaty, and warning them that the failure of the treaty could have negative implications for the drive to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

This would make more sense, I suppose, if we hadn’t “paid” for reset in so many other ways (e.g., silence on human rights abuses) or if Russia had been more helpful on Iran (refraining from helping to build and activate the Bushehr plant). But the ever-gullible liberal Jewish groups are more than happy to accommodate: “Over the last three days, three major pro-Israel organizations issued strong statements of support for New START: the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the American Council for World Jewry (ACWJ).”

Who’s missing from this? AIPAC, the largest and most prominent Jewish group when it comes to influencing Congress. AIPAC has wisely decided not to fritter away its credibility on an issue that has nothing to do with Israel. Nor is the Israeli government, already risking its credibility with the planes-for-a-freeze gambit, about to facilitate this maneuver:

“We have no position on the treaty. We are staying above the political discussion in Washington,” one Israeli official told The Cable. The official could not confirm rumors we’ve heard that the administration asked Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to speak out, but that Oren declined. Recently, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been strengthening ties with Russia, even saying in September, “Our views on many challenges of today are close or identical.”

Playing the Jewish card tells us two things. First, most liberal Jews and the organizations that reflect their views are a long way from breaking the “sick addiction” to this president and to the Democratic Party more generally. And second, the Obama administration is frantic to pass the treaty and pass it now. The more it tries, the more the GOP senators with real concerns may wonder: why the rush? Why shouldn’t the new senators get a chance to weigh in?

The Obama administration’s struggle to push forward on ratification of New START is becoming more wacky by the day. Now it has roused Jewish groups with a bizarre linkage argument:

While the White House continues to negotiate with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in an attempt to convince him to allow a vote on the New START treaty this year, it is also undertaking a massive effort behind the scenes to rally foreign governments and non-governmental organizations to support the treaty’s ratification and put public pressure on Republicans to yield.

As part of that effort, the White House has been in contact with pro-Israel and pro-Jewish organizations, encouraging them to be vocal about their support for the New START treaty, and warning them that the failure of the treaty could have negative implications for the drive to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

This would make more sense, I suppose, if we hadn’t “paid” for reset in so many other ways (e.g., silence on human rights abuses) or if Russia had been more helpful on Iran (refraining from helping to build and activate the Bushehr plant). But the ever-gullible liberal Jewish groups are more than happy to accommodate: “Over the last three days, three major pro-Israel organizations issued strong statements of support for New START: the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the American Council for World Jewry (ACWJ).”

Who’s missing from this? AIPAC, the largest and most prominent Jewish group when it comes to influencing Congress. AIPAC has wisely decided not to fritter away its credibility on an issue that has nothing to do with Israel. Nor is the Israeli government, already risking its credibility with the planes-for-a-freeze gambit, about to facilitate this maneuver:

“We have no position on the treaty. We are staying above the political discussion in Washington,” one Israeli official told The Cable. The official could not confirm rumors we’ve heard that the administration asked Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to speak out, but that Oren declined. Recently, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been strengthening ties with Russia, even saying in September, “Our views on many challenges of today are close or identical.”

Playing the Jewish card tells us two things. First, most liberal Jews and the organizations that reflect their views are a long way from breaking the “sick addiction” to this president and to the Democratic Party more generally. And second, the Obama administration is frantic to pass the treaty and pass it now. The more it tries, the more the GOP senators with real concerns may wonder: why the rush? Why shouldn’t the new senators get a chance to weigh in?

Read Less

North Korea Playing the U.S. — Still

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

Read Less

Coming Apart at the Seams

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts. Read More

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts.

You get the picture. So Obama’s gambits become more and more desperate. Hence, the cockeyed attempt to spare himself the collapse of the non-direct, non-peace talks. “National security analysts say the price Obama is willing to pay for another three months of talks is high, in part because he set a one-year timeline for their successful conclusion. Many believe that the deadline, like other of Obama’s foreign policy goals, was overly optimistic.” Well, that’s a generous way of putting it. To be blunt, he’s made hash out of our relationship with Israel, diminished our credibility with every player in the Middle East, and now is panicked that it is all about to come tumbling down around his ears.

Likewise, out of desperation to get a “win,” Obama is trying to force a Senate vote on New START. Saner voices are trying to warn him:

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who held senior foreign-policy positions in both Bush administrations, said “it’s no big deal if gets kicked off until February, March, then passes.”

“You don’t want to bring this to a vote and lose,” Haass said. “You don’t want to have the Senate equivalent of going to Seoul and not getting a trade agreement.”

Funny how each new foreign policy fumble has a precursor. Seoul is like Copenhagen. New START is like the Syrian ambassador’s nomination. The handling of the Honduras “coup” is like pulling the rug out from under our Eastern European allies on missile defense. And on it goes — an endless series of half-baked ideas, offended allies, stalled negotiations, and poorly executed gambits. And we haven’t even gotten to the worst of it: an emboldened Iran racing toward membership in the nuclear power club.

It’s not all a disaster. Obama is showing some recognition that we must remain engaged in Iraq. He’s coming around to erasing the ill-advised Afghanistan deadline. And perhaps, after two years, he’s cluing into the need to get serious about human rights in Egypt and elsewhere. But the continuities with his predecessor (annoyingly accompanied by chest-puffing and refusal to credit President Bush) are outnumbered and overshadowed by the gaffes.

This is not a time for conservatives to cheer. It is deeply troubling that the president has imperiled our standing in the world. Congress is no substitute for a commander in chief, but responsible voices in the House and Senate should work — by resolution, oversight, private conversation, and funding — to guide the administration to more sober policymaking and less erratic execution. Unfortunately, once the credibility of the American president is diminished by hapless moves and unserious rhetoric, it’s hard to get it back.

Read Less

Meanwhile, How’s the Syrian Outreach Going?

In the midst of the non-peace talk debacle, we shouldn’t lose track of another Obama blunder: his Syria policy. As this report explains:

Syria has bounced back from years of international isolation and is wielding its influence in crises around the Middle East, shrugging off US attempts to pull it away from its alliances with Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah.

Damascus played a role in helping Iraq’s fractious politicians agree this month to form a new government after eight months of deadlock. Now with Lebanon’s factions heading for a possible new violent collision, Arabs have had to turn to Syria in hopes of ensuring peace, even as Damascus backs Lebanon’s heaviest armed player, the Shi’ite terrorist group Hizbullah.

It seems all those John Kerry suck-uppery sessions, the attempt to send a new ambassador, the look-the-other way response to violations of the UN resolution prohibiting rearming of Hezbollah, the indifference to Syria’s human-rights record, and our more generic Muslim Outreach plan haven’t done the trick in separating Syria from Iran’s orbit or in curbing Syrian mischief-making. Quite the opposite.

This is yet one more area (others being our relations with Israel and Europe and Obama’s shoddy human-rights record) in which the U.S. is in a much worse position than when Obama assumed office:

Syria’s emergence as a regional heavyweight is a reversal from just a few years ago. Rafik Hariri’s assassination prompted a wave of anti-Syrian protests that forced Damascus to withdraw its military from Lebanon and end its long control there. In 2006, relations with some Arab states took a dive when Assad called Saudi King Abdullah and other Arab leaders “half men” over their disapproval of Hizbullah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid, which sparked a 34-day war between Hizbullah and Israel.

At some point, you would think the Obama team would learn that prostrating ourselves before despots is a losing proposition.

In the midst of the non-peace talk debacle, we shouldn’t lose track of another Obama blunder: his Syria policy. As this report explains:

Syria has bounced back from years of international isolation and is wielding its influence in crises around the Middle East, shrugging off US attempts to pull it away from its alliances with Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah.

Damascus played a role in helping Iraq’s fractious politicians agree this month to form a new government after eight months of deadlock. Now with Lebanon’s factions heading for a possible new violent collision, Arabs have had to turn to Syria in hopes of ensuring peace, even as Damascus backs Lebanon’s heaviest armed player, the Shi’ite terrorist group Hizbullah.

It seems all those John Kerry suck-uppery sessions, the attempt to send a new ambassador, the look-the-other way response to violations of the UN resolution prohibiting rearming of Hezbollah, the indifference to Syria’s human-rights record, and our more generic Muslim Outreach plan haven’t done the trick in separating Syria from Iran’s orbit or in curbing Syrian mischief-making. Quite the opposite.

This is yet one more area (others being our relations with Israel and Europe and Obama’s shoddy human-rights record) in which the U.S. is in a much worse position than when Obama assumed office:

Syria’s emergence as a regional heavyweight is a reversal from just a few years ago. Rafik Hariri’s assassination prompted a wave of anti-Syrian protests that forced Damascus to withdraw its military from Lebanon and end its long control there. In 2006, relations with some Arab states took a dive when Assad called Saudi King Abdullah and other Arab leaders “half men” over their disapproval of Hizbullah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid, which sparked a 34-day war between Hizbullah and Israel.

At some point, you would think the Obama team would learn that prostrating ourselves before despots is a losing proposition.

Read Less

Karzai’s Words, and His Actions

Hamid Karzai has caused considerable consternation with his weekend interview with the Washington Post. He told Post editors and reporters: “The time has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life…. It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly.” He also criticized “night raids”–Special Operations raids that occur at night–as he has in the past.

The Post reports that General Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” as his remarks which seem to fly in the face of NATO’s strategy. Today Karzai’s spokesman was rapidly backtracking, stressing that Karzai’s comments about the desirability of a troop pullout were “conditioned on the ability of the Afghan security forces to take responsibility.” The spokesman made clear that Karzai supports NATO’s goal to begin withdrawing in 2014.

This kerfuffle reminds me of many similar statements made over the years by Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq. As I noted in this 2008 Washington Post op-ed, Maliki, too, has had a history of calling for U.S. troop withdrawals:

In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, “Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.”

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be “only a matter of months” before his security forces could “take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.”

President Bush wisely ignored Maliki. Instead of withdrawing U.S. troops, he sent more. The prime minister wasn’t happy. On Dec. 15, 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn’t want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country, according to U.S. military officials.” When the surge went ahead anyway, Maliki gave it an endorsement described in news accounts as “lukewarm.”

I suggested in the op-ed that it was wise to judge Maliki by what he did, not what he said. For all of his public doubts about the U.S. troop presence he generally supported American actions behind-the-scenes–although often only after considerable arm-twisting from Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Karzai, too, should be judged by his actions, rather than by his occasional expressions of public frustration with the coalition. He has not done anything as dramatic as Maliki, who ordered his security forces to clear Basra and Sadr City of the Sadrist militia, but he has taken some positive steps such as agreeing to the setting up of the Afghan Local Police program to augment the Afghan security forces.

Moreover, some of his criticisms of international forces are on the mark–the U.S. and its allies have done much to fuel corruption in Afghanistan, as he complains, and their employment of local security forces has often been a contributor to instability. Yet at the end of the day Afghanistan would be far more insecure without an America troop presence, and that is something I suspect Karzai, for all his misguided public statements, actually realizes.

Hamid Karzai has caused considerable consternation with his weekend interview with the Washington Post. He told Post editors and reporters: “The time has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life…. It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly.” He also criticized “night raids”–Special Operations raids that occur at night–as he has in the past.

The Post reports that General Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” as his remarks which seem to fly in the face of NATO’s strategy. Today Karzai’s spokesman was rapidly backtracking, stressing that Karzai’s comments about the desirability of a troop pullout were “conditioned on the ability of the Afghan security forces to take responsibility.” The spokesman made clear that Karzai supports NATO’s goal to begin withdrawing in 2014.

This kerfuffle reminds me of many similar statements made over the years by Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq. As I noted in this 2008 Washington Post op-ed, Maliki, too, has had a history of calling for U.S. troop withdrawals:

In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, “Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.”

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be “only a matter of months” before his security forces could “take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.”

President Bush wisely ignored Maliki. Instead of withdrawing U.S. troops, he sent more. The prime minister wasn’t happy. On Dec. 15, 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn’t want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country, according to U.S. military officials.” When the surge went ahead anyway, Maliki gave it an endorsement described in news accounts as “lukewarm.”

I suggested in the op-ed that it was wise to judge Maliki by what he did, not what he said. For all of his public doubts about the U.S. troop presence he generally supported American actions behind-the-scenes–although often only after considerable arm-twisting from Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Karzai, too, should be judged by his actions, rather than by his occasional expressions of public frustration with the coalition. He has not done anything as dramatic as Maliki, who ordered his security forces to clear Basra and Sadr City of the Sadrist militia, but he has taken some positive steps such as agreeing to the setting up of the Afghan Local Police program to augment the Afghan security forces.

Moreover, some of his criticisms of international forces are on the mark–the U.S. and its allies have done much to fuel corruption in Afghanistan, as he complains, and their employment of local security forces has often been a contributor to instability. Yet at the end of the day Afghanistan would be far more insecure without an America troop presence, and that is something I suspect Karzai, for all his misguided public statements, actually realizes.

Read Less

A Coalition Government Is Formed in Iraq

So it appears that a government is finally going to be formed in Iraq, after eight agonizing months of politicking.

As usual, Iraqi politicos waited until the 11th hour and a bit beyond to reach a deal, but that they finally managed to bridge their differences is a hopeful sign for that troubled country’s future as an emerging democracy.

It’s hard to know what took so long, since the deal that has finally been reached is not too different from what was envisioned in the beginning: Nouri al-Maliki remains as prime minister, but Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which won the most votes, will get the speakership of parliament along with the leadership of a new committee that will oversee national security policy. The Kurds, meanwhile, retain the symbolic presidency, which will continue to be held by Jalal Talabani. There are more details to be ironed out, of course, including the exact distribution of cabinet seats; it will be important that the Sadrists be kept out of positions of responsibility.

However the posts are distributed, this will be an unwieldy coalition government that will hardly be a model of efficiency. But that’s preferable to the alternative. The wounds of civil war in Iraq are still too raw to risk having Allawi’s bloc go into opposition, as surely would have happened in a more mature parliamentary democracy. In Iraq, that would have risked giving Sunnis a feeling of disenfranchisement, which might have led them to take up arms again.

Painful as this government-formation process was, the good news is that Iraq hasn’t gone to pieces. There have been occasional, horrific terrorist acts, but overall violence has remained low. Economic development has continued, with the Wall Street Journal reporting today on how Basra has become an oil boomtown. Expect even greater oil riches to be tapped once the new government takes office and ensures some political stability.

That Iraq has continued to inch forward despite the paralysis of its politicos is a tribute to the good sense of the Iraqi people and to the growing competency of the Iraqi security forces — supported, lest we forget, by 50,000 U.S. troops who still remain. The Obama administration also deserves some props for finally getting down to business in Baghdad with a new ambassador focused on forming a government, eschewing the more hands-off posture of his predecessor.

The first order of business now is to ensure that the gains Iraq has made don’t evaporate in the future. That means negotiating a new U.S.-Iraqi security accord that will allow U.S. troops to remain post-2011 to train the Iraqi security forces and to act implicitly as a peacekeeping force to ensure that tensions don’t boil over into renewed violence.

So it appears that a government is finally going to be formed in Iraq, after eight agonizing months of politicking.

As usual, Iraqi politicos waited until the 11th hour and a bit beyond to reach a deal, but that they finally managed to bridge their differences is a hopeful sign for that troubled country’s future as an emerging democracy.

It’s hard to know what took so long, since the deal that has finally been reached is not too different from what was envisioned in the beginning: Nouri al-Maliki remains as prime minister, but Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which won the most votes, will get the speakership of parliament along with the leadership of a new committee that will oversee national security policy. The Kurds, meanwhile, retain the symbolic presidency, which will continue to be held by Jalal Talabani. There are more details to be ironed out, of course, including the exact distribution of cabinet seats; it will be important that the Sadrists be kept out of positions of responsibility.

However the posts are distributed, this will be an unwieldy coalition government that will hardly be a model of efficiency. But that’s preferable to the alternative. The wounds of civil war in Iraq are still too raw to risk having Allawi’s bloc go into opposition, as surely would have happened in a more mature parliamentary democracy. In Iraq, that would have risked giving Sunnis a feeling of disenfranchisement, which might have led them to take up arms again.

Painful as this government-formation process was, the good news is that Iraq hasn’t gone to pieces. There have been occasional, horrific terrorist acts, but overall violence has remained low. Economic development has continued, with the Wall Street Journal reporting today on how Basra has become an oil boomtown. Expect even greater oil riches to be tapped once the new government takes office and ensures some political stability.

That Iraq has continued to inch forward despite the paralysis of its politicos is a tribute to the good sense of the Iraqi people and to the growing competency of the Iraqi security forces — supported, lest we forget, by 50,000 U.S. troops who still remain. The Obama administration also deserves some props for finally getting down to business in Baghdad with a new ambassador focused on forming a government, eschewing the more hands-off posture of his predecessor.

The first order of business now is to ensure that the gains Iraq has made don’t evaporate in the future. That means negotiating a new U.S.-Iraqi security accord that will allow U.S. troops to remain post-2011 to train the Iraqi security forces and to act implicitly as a peacekeeping force to ensure that tensions don’t boil over into renewed violence.

Read Less

Fighting Corruption in Afghanistan

Just as important as the battle against Taliban militants is the struggle against corrupt officials in the Afghan government, who undermine public confidence and drive Afghans into the arms of the Taliban. U.S. forces know how to carry out security operations. Cleaning up corruption is much harder. How is that struggle going?

The short answer is that it’s too early to tell. There are some positive signs, to be sure, including the fact that General Petraeus has appointed H.R. McMaster — one of the brightest general officers in the entire Army — to run an anti-corruption task force. And today comes word, as noted in this Wall Street Journal article, that “Afghan prosecutors are planning to indict nearly two dozen current and former senior officials — the current mining minister among them — on allegations of taking bribes and stealing government funds.” Those prosecutions are certainly welcome, although it is unclear what impact they will have, since most of the targets are former, not current, officials, and thus by definition hardly members of President Karzai’s inner circle.

It is a small step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. For an indication of what’s needed, think back to 2004, when Karzai, with the strong aid and encouragement of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, succeeded in forcing warlord Ismail Khan out of his fiefdom in Herat. This was one of the bravest and most impressive challenges that Karzai has ever mounted against the power brokers and warlords who exercise such a baleful influence on events in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in recent years Karzai has been more focused on making common cause with abusive politicians than confronting them. This is due in part to his own weakness, and in part to the lack of support from the United States. Khalilzad was a friend of Karzai’s — someone Karzai felt he could count on. Karzai hasn’t had a similar relationship with any ambassador since; his relationship with Karl Eikenberry, the current ambassador, is said to be particularly tense. Karzai has faced public sniping from the Obama administration, which (however justified) has led to a loss of confidence on his part and a tendency to reach accommodation with some of the most corrupt characters in Afghanistan.

To deal corruption a real blow, Karzai will need to remove a major power broker, such as his own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai. That doesn’t necessarily mean criminal prosecution; Ahmed Wali could simply be sent as ambassador to the Seychelles.

But for something dramatic like that to happen, Karzai will need to have more support from, and more confidence in, the U.S. government than he currently does. And the U.S. government, in turn, will have to make a common determination that fighting corruption is actually a real priority. At the moment, too many officials regard it as more important to reach a modus vivendi with the powers that be. There are always practical, short-term arguments for such dealmaking, but the long-run consequence is to squander the trust of the Afghan people, which is our most important asset in the war against the Taliban.

Just as important as the battle against Taliban militants is the struggle against corrupt officials in the Afghan government, who undermine public confidence and drive Afghans into the arms of the Taliban. U.S. forces know how to carry out security operations. Cleaning up corruption is much harder. How is that struggle going?

The short answer is that it’s too early to tell. There are some positive signs, to be sure, including the fact that General Petraeus has appointed H.R. McMaster — one of the brightest general officers in the entire Army — to run an anti-corruption task force. And today comes word, as noted in this Wall Street Journal article, that “Afghan prosecutors are planning to indict nearly two dozen current and former senior officials — the current mining minister among them — on allegations of taking bribes and stealing government funds.” Those prosecutions are certainly welcome, although it is unclear what impact they will have, since most of the targets are former, not current, officials, and thus by definition hardly members of President Karzai’s inner circle.

It is a small step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. For an indication of what’s needed, think back to 2004, when Karzai, with the strong aid and encouragement of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, succeeded in forcing warlord Ismail Khan out of his fiefdom in Herat. This was one of the bravest and most impressive challenges that Karzai has ever mounted against the power brokers and warlords who exercise such a baleful influence on events in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in recent years Karzai has been more focused on making common cause with abusive politicians than confronting them. This is due in part to his own weakness, and in part to the lack of support from the United States. Khalilzad was a friend of Karzai’s — someone Karzai felt he could count on. Karzai hasn’t had a similar relationship with any ambassador since; his relationship with Karl Eikenberry, the current ambassador, is said to be particularly tense. Karzai has faced public sniping from the Obama administration, which (however justified) has led to a loss of confidence on his part and a tendency to reach accommodation with some of the most corrupt characters in Afghanistan.

To deal corruption a real blow, Karzai will need to remove a major power broker, such as his own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai. That doesn’t necessarily mean criminal prosecution; Ahmed Wali could simply be sent as ambassador to the Seychelles.

But for something dramatic like that to happen, Karzai will need to have more support from, and more confidence in, the U.S. government than he currently does. And the U.S. government, in turn, will have to make a common determination that fighting corruption is actually a real priority. At the moment, too many officials regard it as more important to reach a modus vivendi with the powers that be. There are always practical, short-term arguments for such dealmaking, but the long-run consequence is to squander the trust of the Afghan people, which is our most important asset in the war against the Taliban.

Read Less

Middle East Chaos

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

Read Less

A Counter View to Fouad Ajami’s Skepticism Regarding Afghanistan

Fouad Ajami is one of the world’s most respected and influential analysts of the Middle East — and for good reason. He has consistently spoken hard truths about the Arab world that few of his colleagues in academia dare broach. And he has been a staunch supporter of the war effort in Iraq even through its darkest of days — a deeply unfashionable view that speaks to his intellectual fearlessness and iconoclasm. So when he expresses deep doubts about the viability of the American mission in Afghanistan, it is well worth paying attention — even if you don’t necessarily agree with hm.

In the Wall Street Journal, Ajami castigates President Hamid Karzai for showing “little, if any, regard” for the “sacrifices” made by Americans to protect his country from the Taliban. He lashes at Karzai accepting cash from Iran — “He has been brazen to the point of vulgarity,” Ajami writes — and for his accusations that Americans are supporting private security companies that are killing Afghans, adding, “It is fully understood that Mr. Karzai and his clan want the business of the contractors for themselves.” Ajami endorses the publicly leaked 2009 cable from Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, which read: “Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.” In disgust, he concludes, “Unlike the Third world clients of old, this one does not even bother to pay us the tribute of double-speak and hypocrisy.” This causes Ajami to doubt the entire mission:

The idealism has drained out of this project. Say what you will about the Iraq war — and there was disappointment and heartbreak aplenty — there always ran through that war the promise of a decent outcome: deliverance for the Kurds, an Iraqi democratic example in the heart of a despotic Arab world, the promise of a decent Shiite alternative in the holy city of Najaf that would compete with the influence of Qom. No such nobility, no such illusions now attend our war in Afghanistan.

As I suggested before, I respect Ajami’s views but in this case I do not agree with him. I believe there is just as much nobility to the war in Afghanistan as to the one in Iraq. We are, after all, fighting to make good on our post-9/11 promises to drive the Taliban out of power and establish a representative government in Afghanistan that will not sponsor terrorism or abuse its own people. The Taliban are as cruel as they come and sparing the people of Afghanistan from their misrule is a noble cause. So too is honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.

Read More

Fouad Ajami is one of the world’s most respected and influential analysts of the Middle East — and for good reason. He has consistently spoken hard truths about the Arab world that few of his colleagues in academia dare broach. And he has been a staunch supporter of the war effort in Iraq even through its darkest of days — a deeply unfashionable view that speaks to his intellectual fearlessness and iconoclasm. So when he expresses deep doubts about the viability of the American mission in Afghanistan, it is well worth paying attention — even if you don’t necessarily agree with hm.

In the Wall Street Journal, Ajami castigates President Hamid Karzai for showing “little, if any, regard” for the “sacrifices” made by Americans to protect his country from the Taliban. He lashes at Karzai accepting cash from Iran — “He has been brazen to the point of vulgarity,” Ajami writes — and for his accusations that Americans are supporting private security companies that are killing Afghans, adding, “It is fully understood that Mr. Karzai and his clan want the business of the contractors for themselves.” Ajami endorses the publicly leaked 2009 cable from Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, which read: “Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.” In disgust, he concludes, “Unlike the Third world clients of old, this one does not even bother to pay us the tribute of double-speak and hypocrisy.” This causes Ajami to doubt the entire mission:

The idealism has drained out of this project. Say what you will about the Iraq war — and there was disappointment and heartbreak aplenty — there always ran through that war the promise of a decent outcome: deliverance for the Kurds, an Iraqi democratic example in the heart of a despotic Arab world, the promise of a decent Shiite alternative in the holy city of Najaf that would compete with the influence of Qom. No such nobility, no such illusions now attend our war in Afghanistan.

As I suggested before, I respect Ajami’s views but in this case I do not agree with him. I believe there is just as much nobility to the war in Afghanistan as to the one in Iraq. We are, after all, fighting to make good on our post-9/11 promises to drive the Taliban out of power and establish a representative government in Afghanistan that will not sponsor terrorism or abuse its own people. The Taliban are as cruel as they come and sparing the people of Afghanistan from their misrule is a noble cause. So too is honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.

The problem is that in carrying out this mission we must work with wholly imperfect allies. Karzai is no angel. But then neither is Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq — a leader whom Ajami presciently championed even when others scoffed at his potential to rise above his sectarian roots. In many ways, Maliki has been an even more troubling ally than Karzai. For all his faults, Karzai is not known to be personally sympathetic to the Taliban, who killed his father. By contrast, Maliki had a lot of sympathy for Shiite sectarianism. He has been surrounded by Iranian agents and Shiite extremists, who were deeply implicated in the work of the death squads that were killing hundreds of Sunnis every night in 2006-2007. It may be discouraging to hear that Karzai accepts a couple of million dollars in cash from Iran but is there any doubt that Maliki has taken far more money from Tehran? And not just money. As this article noted, Iran actually provided Maliki with his presidential jet, complete with Iranian pilots. Say what you will about Karzai, but at least he doesn’t routinely entrust his life to an Iranian aircraft.

Moreover, Maliki has been as notorious as Karzai for showing a lack of gratitude toward American efforts to save his county. As I noted in this 2008 op-ed, Maliki has had a pattern of dismissing the American contribution to Iraqi security, saying, for instance, in May 2006, that “[Iraqi] forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.” Maliki opposed the surge, which saved his country in 2007 and even when it succeeded refused to give us credit. As I noted:

In the famous interview with Der Spiegel last weekend, he was asked why Iraq has become more peaceful. He mentioned “many factors,” including “the political rapprochement we have managed to achieve,” “the progress being made by our security forces,” “the deep sense of abhorrence with which the population has reacted to the atrocities of al-Qaida and the militias,” and “the economic recovery.” No mention of the surge.

Yet for all of Maliki’s maddening imperfections — which stand in high relief now as he ruthlessly maneuvers for another term — he showed ability to rise above his sectarian origins. He displayed real political courage in ordering his forces to attack the Sadrists in Basra and Sadr City in 2008. Now, of course, he is cutting deals with those same Sadrists. That, alas, is how the political game is played in unstable countries like Iraq — or Afghanistan. That should not cause us to despair of either country’s future.

If we could work with Maliki, we can certainly work with Karzai. The former, after all, does not speak English and spent years of exile living in Syria and Iran, two of the most anti-American states in the world. Karzai, by contrast, is a fluent English-speaker with several brothers who have lived in the U.S. for years and even hold U.S. citizenship. He is, in many ways, a more natural fit as an ally than Maliki. There is little doubt that he and his brothers are implicated in the corruption of Afghani politics, but at least, unlike Maliki, they are not cozying up to Iranian-backed death squads. To the extent that Karzai has cozied up to Ahmadinejad and the mullahs, it has been as a hedge against a precipitous American pullout. But Karzai also knows that the Iranians are double-dealing — they are supporting the Taliban too — which can give Karzai little confidence that Iran would be a reliable ally. At the end of the day, Karzai knows that his future and his country’s rests with the United States and NATO; that we are all that is keeping him from death or exile.

It would be nice if Karzai showed more political courage in working with us and refrained from denouncing us, but some of his denunciations have, alas, the ring of truth — and some of his actions are actually well intentioned. Take his attempts to close down private security companies that are terrorizing ordinary Afghanis and driving them into the arms of the Taliban. Most of these companies are, in fact, directly or indirectly, funded by American taxpayers — just as Karzai alleges. Many of them are also run by Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, and by others linked to the Karzai clan. (See this report from the Institute for the Study of War for details.) So by closing down these firms, Karzai seems to be moving against his family’s economic interests. If he were simply interested in continuing to exploit this lucrative economic niche, he would leave the existing situation alone.

I don’t know what motivates Karzai but I suspect that, like most people, he is moved by a combination of noble and ignoble impulses — idealism and selfishness, self-interest and the public interest. He is no Adenaeur or De Gaulle or Ataturk or Washington — but then neither is Maliki. He is deeply imperfect, but he is the president of Afghanistan, and I do believe it is possible to work with him. Luckily, we have in Kabul the same general — David Petraeus — who skillfully worked with Maliki at a time when many Americans wrote him off as incorrigible. Already Petreaus has shown a similar ability to get useful concessions out of Karzai, for instance winning the president’s approval for setting up the Afghan Local Police, an initiative to supplement the Afghan Security Forces, which Karzai initially opposed.

Running through Ajami’s article is a deep skepticism not only about Karzai but also about Barack Obama. He criticizes Obama, rightly, for displaying irresolution. I too have been dismayed by the deadline Obama laid out for our withdrawal from Afghanistan — but I have been cheered to see, as I have noted in previous posts, that Obama is backing off that deadline. What foes for Karzai also goes for Obama: you go to war with the leaders you have — not the ones you would like to have. But I don’t believe that either Karzai or Obama is so flawed that it is impossible to prevail in Afghanistan — especially not when we have so many outstanding troops on the ground led by our greatest general.

Read Less

Tea Leaves and the Taliban

In the New York Times report that NATO has escorted Taliban leaders to talks in Kabul, there is a slight but eye-catching overemphasis on the importance of withholding the names of the Taliban. The Times cites a request from U.S. and Afghan officials that the names be withheld for fear of retaliation against the Taliban delegates by Pakistani intelligence or other Taliban. But a moment’s reflection informs us that the Taliban leaders’ associates know exactly who they are — and there are plenty of cell phones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It cannot be a secret for long who went to Kabul.

Strictly necessary or not, the security warning to the Times appears oddly pointed, fingering the Pakistani intelligence agency with an uncharacteristic lack of dissimulation about Pakistan’s quality as an antiterrorism ally. It is attributed to an Afghan official, but it comes across as representative of general concerns held also by the U.S. There seems to have been no attempt by Obama’s officials to leave a different impression. Intentionally or by default, the security warning serves as the rhetorical cutting of a tether: the end of a politically unifying narrative about the Afghan conflict and the beginning of something else. What that something else will be is not clear, but the central role of the Taliban in this strategic hinge point is informative.

The Times and others have picked up on the fact that the “discussions [in Kabul] appear to be unfolding without the approval of Pakistan’s leaders … The Afghan government seems to be trying to seek a reconciliation agreement that does not directly involve Pakistan.” If the U.S. is backing this play — and our concern about secrecy for the Taliban negotiators suggests we are – that’s a major development in our policy. Revealing such developments obliquely through oracles and signs is becoming a tiresome pattern with the Obama administration. It certainly doesn’t burnish our image of integrity as a global power. And as the Times points out, with masterly understatement, this particular policy shift “could backfire by provoking the Pakistanis.”

I agree with Max Boot that the military situation in Afghanistan is not such as to force the Taliban to negotiate. But the apparent import of the outreach to the Taliban is divorced from that consideration. This looks like evidence of an emerging policy initiative to exclude Pakistani influence from the reconciliation talks, independent of security conditions in Afghanistan.

If that is a misperception, it’s an awfully big and significant one to leave uncorrected. The U.S. headlines have been full of Pakistani perfidy for weeks now; my impression from the Obama administration’s effective silence has been that it has no interest in counteracting the animus that naturally arises in the American public in the face of such themes. In a rare editorial last week, Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, was moved to defend the difficult situation of the Pakistani government, urging the U.S. administration not to turn its back on partnership with the struggling democracy. He appears to be swimming against the tide of headlines and administration policy.

Something that requires no divination to understand is the goal of the Taliban. Long War Journal’s Threat Matrix blog reports that the Taliban website, Voice of Jihad, has posted a demand that the U.S. guarantee in writing to withdraw its troops on a specified timeline (i.e., July 2011), as a good-faith gesture toward reconciliation talks. It’s hard to ignore the uncanny similarity of this demand to Hezbollah’s demand for the same guarantee from a prospective Maliki government in Iraq. Maliki’s Hezbollah-backed coalition with the radical Shia cleric al-Sadr is emerging as a fait accompli in Baghdad, in spite of U.S. opposition; the Taliban cannot be pessimistic about their own chances with reconciliation talks and a withdrawal timeline.

In the New York Times report that NATO has escorted Taliban leaders to talks in Kabul, there is a slight but eye-catching overemphasis on the importance of withholding the names of the Taliban. The Times cites a request from U.S. and Afghan officials that the names be withheld for fear of retaliation against the Taliban delegates by Pakistani intelligence or other Taliban. But a moment’s reflection informs us that the Taliban leaders’ associates know exactly who they are — and there are plenty of cell phones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It cannot be a secret for long who went to Kabul.

Strictly necessary or not, the security warning to the Times appears oddly pointed, fingering the Pakistani intelligence agency with an uncharacteristic lack of dissimulation about Pakistan’s quality as an antiterrorism ally. It is attributed to an Afghan official, but it comes across as representative of general concerns held also by the U.S. There seems to have been no attempt by Obama’s officials to leave a different impression. Intentionally or by default, the security warning serves as the rhetorical cutting of a tether: the end of a politically unifying narrative about the Afghan conflict and the beginning of something else. What that something else will be is not clear, but the central role of the Taliban in this strategic hinge point is informative.

The Times and others have picked up on the fact that the “discussions [in Kabul] appear to be unfolding without the approval of Pakistan’s leaders … The Afghan government seems to be trying to seek a reconciliation agreement that does not directly involve Pakistan.” If the U.S. is backing this play — and our concern about secrecy for the Taliban negotiators suggests we are – that’s a major development in our policy. Revealing such developments obliquely through oracles and signs is becoming a tiresome pattern with the Obama administration. It certainly doesn’t burnish our image of integrity as a global power. And as the Times points out, with masterly understatement, this particular policy shift “could backfire by provoking the Pakistanis.”

I agree with Max Boot that the military situation in Afghanistan is not such as to force the Taliban to negotiate. But the apparent import of the outreach to the Taliban is divorced from that consideration. This looks like evidence of an emerging policy initiative to exclude Pakistani influence from the reconciliation talks, independent of security conditions in Afghanistan.

If that is a misperception, it’s an awfully big and significant one to leave uncorrected. The U.S. headlines have been full of Pakistani perfidy for weeks now; my impression from the Obama administration’s effective silence has been that it has no interest in counteracting the animus that naturally arises in the American public in the face of such themes. In a rare editorial last week, Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, was moved to defend the difficult situation of the Pakistani government, urging the U.S. administration not to turn its back on partnership with the struggling democracy. He appears to be swimming against the tide of headlines and administration policy.

Something that requires no divination to understand is the goal of the Taliban. Long War Journal’s Threat Matrix blog reports that the Taliban website, Voice of Jihad, has posted a demand that the U.S. guarantee in writing to withdraw its troops on a specified timeline (i.e., July 2011), as a good-faith gesture toward reconciliation talks. It’s hard to ignore the uncanny similarity of this demand to Hezbollah’s demand for the same guarantee from a prospective Maliki government in Iraq. Maliki’s Hezbollah-backed coalition with the radical Shia cleric al-Sadr is emerging as a fait accompli in Baghdad, in spite of U.S. opposition; the Taliban cannot be pessimistic about their own chances with reconciliation talks and a withdrawal timeline.

Read Less

What to Do About Pakistan?

In the New York Times, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Kabul and Baghdad, suggests getting “tough” with Pakistan. Good idea, but how? He writes: “The United States should demand that Pakistan shut down all sanctuaries and military support programs for insurgents or else we will carry out operations against those insurgent havens, with or without Pakistani consent.”

That is, in fact, pretty much what the U.S. has been threatening since 2001. By now such threats ring hollow because we haven’t carried them out — and for good reason. How are we to suppose to clear out “insurgent havens” without Pakistani consent? Are we going to send tens of thousands of troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Not likely. Maybe step up drone strikes? That we can do, but Predators would hardly clear out the terrorists. And in return for violating Pakistani sovereignty, we would be vulnerable to Pakistani counter-pressure, from closing the supply routes for U.S. forces in Afghanistan to ending cooperation with the drone strikes against al-Qaeda.

Khalilzad proposes sweeteners for the Pakistanis, such as providing “long-term assistance to Pakistan, focused on developing not only its security apparatus, but also its civil society, economy, and democratic institutions” and facilitating “a major diplomatic effort … to improve relations between India and Pakistan.” Again, been there and done that.

Last year Congress approved a five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. Now the Obama administration is asking for $2 billion more in military aid. That’s a lot of money in a place like Pakistan, and yet there is no sign that it has done or will do much good. Given how U.S. foreign aid is routinely stolen or used for inappropriate projects (Afghanistan and Iraq are both textbook examples), we can have little confidence that all this money is going to lead to a fundamental reorientation of Pakistani foreign policy. Nor will U.S. efforts to mediate between Pakistan and India — something we’ve done before — affect the fundamental calculations of Pakistan’s army, which views the Taliban and Haqqani Network as instruments of Pakistani statecraft in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how to reorient Pakistani policy; I don’t think anyone does. It would help, however, if President Obama made it clear that we’re not leaving Afghanistan next July. As Khalilzad rightly notes, “Pakistani military leaders believe that our current surge will be the last push before we begin a face-saving troop drawdown next July. They are confident that if they continue to frustrate our military and political strategy — even actively impede reconciliation between Kabul and Taliban groups willing to make peace — pro-Pakistani forces will have the upper hand in Afghanistan after the United States departs.”

In the New York Times, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Kabul and Baghdad, suggests getting “tough” with Pakistan. Good idea, but how? He writes: “The United States should demand that Pakistan shut down all sanctuaries and military support programs for insurgents or else we will carry out operations against those insurgent havens, with or without Pakistani consent.”

That is, in fact, pretty much what the U.S. has been threatening since 2001. By now such threats ring hollow because we haven’t carried them out — and for good reason. How are we to suppose to clear out “insurgent havens” without Pakistani consent? Are we going to send tens of thousands of troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Not likely. Maybe step up drone strikes? That we can do, but Predators would hardly clear out the terrorists. And in return for violating Pakistani sovereignty, we would be vulnerable to Pakistani counter-pressure, from closing the supply routes for U.S. forces in Afghanistan to ending cooperation with the drone strikes against al-Qaeda.

Khalilzad proposes sweeteners for the Pakistanis, such as providing “long-term assistance to Pakistan, focused on developing not only its security apparatus, but also its civil society, economy, and democratic institutions” and facilitating “a major diplomatic effort … to improve relations between India and Pakistan.” Again, been there and done that.

Last year Congress approved a five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. Now the Obama administration is asking for $2 billion more in military aid. That’s a lot of money in a place like Pakistan, and yet there is no sign that it has done or will do much good. Given how U.S. foreign aid is routinely stolen or used for inappropriate projects (Afghanistan and Iraq are both textbook examples), we can have little confidence that all this money is going to lead to a fundamental reorientation of Pakistani foreign policy. Nor will U.S. efforts to mediate between Pakistan and India — something we’ve done before — affect the fundamental calculations of Pakistan’s army, which views the Taliban and Haqqani Network as instruments of Pakistani statecraft in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how to reorient Pakistani policy; I don’t think anyone does. It would help, however, if President Obama made it clear that we’re not leaving Afghanistan next July. As Khalilzad rightly notes, “Pakistani military leaders believe that our current surge will be the last push before we begin a face-saving troop drawdown next July. They are confident that if they continue to frustrate our military and political strategy — even actively impede reconciliation between Kabul and Taliban groups willing to make peace — pro-Pakistani forces will have the upper hand in Afghanistan after the United States departs.”

Read Less

Extending the Settlement Freeze Would Undermine a Vital Israeli Security Interest

Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that Israel should extend its freeze on settlement construction because when a key ally like America “asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security … there is only one right answer: ‘Yes.’” Friedman is, of course, correct that countries should help allies anytime they can do so without great cost to themselves. Where he’s wrong is in saying that no vital Israeli security interest is at stake.

It’s true that Israel has no real security interest in a few more houses here or there. But it does have a vital security interest in ultimately securing defensible borders, which can’t be done without retaining some territory on the other side of the Green Line under any deal. And continuing the settlement freeze would undermine Israel’s negotiating position on this issue.

Israel’s need for defensible borders was first recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is still considered the basis for resolving the conflict: this resolution deliberately demanded an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” captured in 1967 rather than from “all the territories,” as the Arabs had wanted, to enable Israel to retain some of this land.

As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted it, later said, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” Similarly, America’s then-ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, said the resolution’s goal was to secure “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces … inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

Many settlements were subsequently built for precisely this purpose: to thicken Israel’s narrow pre-1967 waist and create a buffer around its major population center (the greater Tel Aviv area), its capital (Jerusalem), and its only international airport (Ben-Gurion).

Israel’s experience with previous withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza — which, as Friedman admitted, gained it nothing but rocket fire in return — has only made this more important. Even with the new Iron Dome anti-rocket system, a territorial buffer is essential to protect these vital areas from short-range rockets: not only can the system not stop weapons launched from less than 4.5 kilometers away, but it’s economically prohibitive against anything beyond very occasional fire.

Thus Israel has a valid security-based claim to these areas, and a onetime, temporary building moratorium as a goodwill gesture to promote peace, like the one Israel instituted last November, doesn’t undermine it. But extending the freeze would, because that implies the moratorium isn’t a onetime goodwill gesture on Israel’s part, but — as most of the world indeed claims — a necessary condition for progress, since this land a priori belongs to the Palestinians, and Israel has no right to it.

Israel can’t stop other countries from rejecting its claim to this land. But for Jerusalem to itself denigrate this claim by extending the freeze would undermine its negotiating position on a vital security issue: defensible borders. And that is something no country with any vestige of a survival instinct should agree to do.

Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that Israel should extend its freeze on settlement construction because when a key ally like America “asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security … there is only one right answer: ‘Yes.’” Friedman is, of course, correct that countries should help allies anytime they can do so without great cost to themselves. Where he’s wrong is in saying that no vital Israeli security interest is at stake.

It’s true that Israel has no real security interest in a few more houses here or there. But it does have a vital security interest in ultimately securing defensible borders, which can’t be done without retaining some territory on the other side of the Green Line under any deal. And continuing the settlement freeze would undermine Israel’s negotiating position on this issue.

Israel’s need for defensible borders was first recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is still considered the basis for resolving the conflict: this resolution deliberately demanded an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” captured in 1967 rather than from “all the territories,” as the Arabs had wanted, to enable Israel to retain some of this land.

As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted it, later said, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” Similarly, America’s then-ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, said the resolution’s goal was to secure “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces … inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

Many settlements were subsequently built for precisely this purpose: to thicken Israel’s narrow pre-1967 waist and create a buffer around its major population center (the greater Tel Aviv area), its capital (Jerusalem), and its only international airport (Ben-Gurion).

Israel’s experience with previous withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza — which, as Friedman admitted, gained it nothing but rocket fire in return — has only made this more important. Even with the new Iron Dome anti-rocket system, a territorial buffer is essential to protect these vital areas from short-range rockets: not only can the system not stop weapons launched from less than 4.5 kilometers away, but it’s economically prohibitive against anything beyond very occasional fire.

Thus Israel has a valid security-based claim to these areas, and a onetime, temporary building moratorium as a goodwill gesture to promote peace, like the one Israel instituted last November, doesn’t undermine it. But extending the freeze would, because that implies the moratorium isn’t a onetime goodwill gesture on Israel’s part, but — as most of the world indeed claims — a necessary condition for progress, since this land a priori belongs to the Palestinians, and Israel has no right to it.

Israel can’t stop other countries from rejecting its claim to this land. But for Jerusalem to itself denigrate this claim by extending the freeze would undermine its negotiating position on a vital security issue: defensible borders. And that is something no country with any vestige of a survival instinct should agree to do.

Read Less

New Challenges for Pro-Israel Activists

Former UN ambassador John Bolton, as he is wont to do, sounds a warning:

Once past Nov. 2 and faced with the impending and embarrassing collapse of direct talks, President Obama may well be moved to punish Israel or at least fashion a teachable moment out of his diplomatic failure.

The Obama administration has a jaundiced view of Israel, but actual U.S. recognition of “Palestine” seems a remote prospect in the near term. The domestic political firestorm for the president—already likely to be badly wounded in midterm elections and deeply concerned about his own prospects in two years—would simply be too much.

A more indirect but still effective course is to let statehood emerge through a Security Council resolution. Prior U.S. administrations would unquestionably have voted “no,” thus vetoing such a proposal, but Mr. Obama’s penchant for publicly pressuring Israel is a foreshadow that Washington may decide not to play its traditional role. While even Mr. Obama is unlikely to instruct a “yes” vote on a Security Council resolution affirming a Palestinian state and subsequent U.N. membership, one could readily envision the administration abstaining. That would allow a near-certain majority, perhaps 14-0, to adopt the resolution.

In any other administration, this would be inconceivable; however, this administration is like no other. Yes, this would be a major step forward for the delegitimizers. (“By defining ‘Palestine’ to include territory Israel considers its own, such a resolution would delegitimize both Israel’s authority and settlements beyond the 1967 lines, and its goal of an undivided Jerusalem as its capital.”) Yes, it would be politically unpopular, given the country’s pro-Israel orientation. And yes, it would send a dangerous signal to Iran that Israel’s fate is not tied to our own, and that Israel’s existential threat is Israel’s problem alone.

But the possibility is real given Obama’s track record, the leaks about an imposed peace deal, and the president’s own rhetoric. (“In his September 2009 speech at the U.N., for example, he supported a Palestinian state ‘with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967.'”) So what should pro-Israel groups and lawmakers do?

Well, come January, one or both houses of Congress will be in GOP hands. It is time to start using the power of the bully pulpit (in the form of resolutions) and the purse (to defund the UN Human Rights Council, for example) to push back on the Obama assault on Israel.  A shot across the bow of the White House — a resolution condemning any effort to impose a deal or divide territory that does not arise from direct negotiations — would be a good start.

But as frightening a prospect as all this is, it pales in comparison to the threat to which Obama turns a blind eye: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. This is quite a bit more difficult. The Congress can’t order a military strike if needed. But here, too, pro-Israel advocates and lawmakers should not dally. A declaration of support for Israel, oversight hearings on the paltry results from sanctions, and a robust effort to inform and rally the American people are all needed. Mainstream Jewish pro-Israel groups have been befuddled by the administration, falling prey to the same non-direct, non-peace-talk obsession that has snared the Obami. They should reorient themselves to dual missions: heading off any scheme to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state and encouraging the administration to stand by its declaration that a nuclear-armed Iran is truly “unacceptable.”

Former UN ambassador John Bolton, as he is wont to do, sounds a warning:

Once past Nov. 2 and faced with the impending and embarrassing collapse of direct talks, President Obama may well be moved to punish Israel or at least fashion a teachable moment out of his diplomatic failure.

The Obama administration has a jaundiced view of Israel, but actual U.S. recognition of “Palestine” seems a remote prospect in the near term. The domestic political firestorm for the president—already likely to be badly wounded in midterm elections and deeply concerned about his own prospects in two years—would simply be too much.

A more indirect but still effective course is to let statehood emerge through a Security Council resolution. Prior U.S. administrations would unquestionably have voted “no,” thus vetoing such a proposal, but Mr. Obama’s penchant for publicly pressuring Israel is a foreshadow that Washington may decide not to play its traditional role. While even Mr. Obama is unlikely to instruct a “yes” vote on a Security Council resolution affirming a Palestinian state and subsequent U.N. membership, one could readily envision the administration abstaining. That would allow a near-certain majority, perhaps 14-0, to adopt the resolution.

In any other administration, this would be inconceivable; however, this administration is like no other. Yes, this would be a major step forward for the delegitimizers. (“By defining ‘Palestine’ to include territory Israel considers its own, such a resolution would delegitimize both Israel’s authority and settlements beyond the 1967 lines, and its goal of an undivided Jerusalem as its capital.”) Yes, it would be politically unpopular, given the country’s pro-Israel orientation. And yes, it would send a dangerous signal to Iran that Israel’s fate is not tied to our own, and that Israel’s existential threat is Israel’s problem alone.

But the possibility is real given Obama’s track record, the leaks about an imposed peace deal, and the president’s own rhetoric. (“In his September 2009 speech at the U.N., for example, he supported a Palestinian state ‘with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967.'”) So what should pro-Israel groups and lawmakers do?

Well, come January, one or both houses of Congress will be in GOP hands. It is time to start using the power of the bully pulpit (in the form of resolutions) and the purse (to defund the UN Human Rights Council, for example) to push back on the Obama assault on Israel.  A shot across the bow of the White House — a resolution condemning any effort to impose a deal or divide territory that does not arise from direct negotiations — would be a good start.

But as frightening a prospect as all this is, it pales in comparison to the threat to which Obama turns a blind eye: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. This is quite a bit more difficult. The Congress can’t order a military strike if needed. But here, too, pro-Israel advocates and lawmakers should not dally. A declaration of support for Israel, oversight hearings on the paltry results from sanctions, and a robust effort to inform and rally the American people are all needed. Mainstream Jewish pro-Israel groups have been befuddled by the administration, falling prey to the same non-direct, non-peace-talk obsession that has snared the Obami. They should reorient themselves to dual missions: heading off any scheme to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state and encouraging the administration to stand by its declaration that a nuclear-armed Iran is truly “unacceptable.”

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.