Commentary Magazine


Topic: American administration

Go Read Kirkpatrick. Again.

Now more than ever, Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorships & Double Standards” essay deserves to be read and pondered. If this isn’t the greatest essay COMMENTARY has ever published, it’s certainly the most influential.

Amb. Kirkpatrick doesn’t tell us “what we should do” about Egypt, and it’s impossible to summarize such a brilliant piece. But she does make three relevant points: about freedom, revolution, and the American administration. First, as Peter has implied and as Abe has written, “The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings”; in other words, if we want to encourage autocracies to move towards democracy, it cannot be a crisis response.

Second, in foreign policy as elsewhere, the best is often the enemy of the good — or at least the marginally tolerable. John Steele Gordon says that this may be 1848 in the Arab World, and he might be right. But that is an invidious comparison, for in the one country that really mattered on the continent — Germany — 1848 turned out in retrospect to mark liberalism’s decisive defeat. In light of 1914, never mind 1939, it might have been better if 1848 had never happened.

It would be nice if, as Peter says, “the driving force of events in Egypt [is] tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression.” But as my colleague Jim Phillips points out, this is far from a sure bet, and the poisonous legacy of the Egyptian educational system that Alana refers to sure doesn’t help matters.

Third, and finally, there is the contrast between the president’s claim as of last Tuesday that “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored” and Iran, where this administration sat on its hands as a viciously anti-American regime with a nuclear-weapons program slaughtered and raped protesters at will. And Honduras, where it moved heaven and earth to reinstate a pro-Chavez dictator in the making. And Egypt, where it is mincing about reform partnerships with Mubarak and the Egyptian people, a partnership that exists nowhere except in the Obama administration’s fevered desire to catch up with events that have relentlessly outpaced it.

So yes, as Kirkpatrick said of Carter, Obama is “especially vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.” Yes indeed.

Now more than ever, Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorships & Double Standards” essay deserves to be read and pondered. If this isn’t the greatest essay COMMENTARY has ever published, it’s certainly the most influential.

Amb. Kirkpatrick doesn’t tell us “what we should do” about Egypt, and it’s impossible to summarize such a brilliant piece. But she does make three relevant points: about freedom, revolution, and the American administration. First, as Peter has implied and as Abe has written, “The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings”; in other words, if we want to encourage autocracies to move towards democracy, it cannot be a crisis response.

Second, in foreign policy as elsewhere, the best is often the enemy of the good — or at least the marginally tolerable. John Steele Gordon says that this may be 1848 in the Arab World, and he might be right. But that is an invidious comparison, for in the one country that really mattered on the continent — Germany — 1848 turned out in retrospect to mark liberalism’s decisive defeat. In light of 1914, never mind 1939, it might have been better if 1848 had never happened.

It would be nice if, as Peter says, “the driving force of events in Egypt [is] tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression.” But as my colleague Jim Phillips points out, this is far from a sure bet, and the poisonous legacy of the Egyptian educational system that Alana refers to sure doesn’t help matters.

Third, and finally, there is the contrast between the president’s claim as of last Tuesday that “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored” and Iran, where this administration sat on its hands as a viciously anti-American regime with a nuclear-weapons program slaughtered and raped protesters at will. And Honduras, where it moved heaven and earth to reinstate a pro-Chavez dictator in the making. And Egypt, where it is mincing about reform partnerships with Mubarak and the Egyptian people, a partnership that exists nowhere except in the Obama administration’s fevered desire to catch up with events that have relentlessly outpaced it.

So yes, as Kirkpatrick said of Carter, Obama is “especially vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.” Yes indeed.

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Outreach to Egypt?

The Obami, sensitive to accusations that they have been slothful on human rights, recently held a meeting with activists and foreign policy gurus on how they might promote democracy in Egypt. (Perhaps not giving the regime $1.5B free and clear would be a start.) But while the Obama team is having meetings, the Mubarak government is continuing its thuggish tactics:

Egypt’s parliamentary elections Sunday have been ushered in by one of the most sweeping campaigns to silence critics since President Hosni Mubarak came to power nearly 30 years ago, with the government seemingly determined to shut out its top rival, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, police and armed gangs have broken up campaign events by Brotherhood candidates – even attacking the movement’s top member in parliament in his car. More than 1,000 Brotherhood supporters have been arrested during the election campaign.

The measures have been so dramatic that a judge in an administrative court in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria late on Wednesday ordered elections to be halted in at least 10 out of 11 city districts because so many candidates, particularly from the Brotherhood, had been disqualified by authorities.

This, quite plainly, is yet another snub of Obama personally. Just as the North Koreans see no downside to attacking its neighbor, Mubarak expects no adverse consequences from snubbing the U.S. president. Eli Lake observes:

Cairo’s snubbing of Mr. Obama follows the U.S. president’s run of hard luck in general on Middle East diplomacy. This month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani rejected Mr. Obama’s personal request to relinquish the presidency. In 2009, the Iranian government rejected multiple offers from Mr. Obama to resume direct negotiations.

The mood from official Cairo was captured in a front-page editorial this week in the state-run and -funded newspaper, Al-Ahram, which often serves as a weather vane for the thinking inside the Mubarak regime.

“America and its experts should know and realize the Egyptian leadership role,” al-Ahram’s editor, Osama Saraya, said in the editorial. “Egypt has played and plays an important role in matters of regional peace and security … and is capable of bringing regional stability to all the areas that are regressing due to wrong U.S. policies in Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. … The United States is the one that ought to listen to Egypt, and not the other way around.”

In other words, the least-effective human rights policy in decades has contributed to the most egregious human right violations in decades and exposed our lack of influence in the region. We should not be surprised nor should we underestimate the degree to which Obama’s policy is both morally feckless and strategically flawed. Egypt is a tinderbox, increasingly polarized between an authoritarian government and the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Egyptian democracy activists are disillusioned by the American administration.

We might try some real Muslim Outreach — a policy of increased support for democratizers, financial support for Egypt conditioned on progress on human rights, and forceful public rhetoric (rather than the mute routine Hillary put on during the foreign minister’s recent visit). The problem with Muslim Outreach is not that we are doing it but that we are doing it so badly. And in the process, we’re proving that America is declining in influence in the region.

The Obami, sensitive to accusations that they have been slothful on human rights, recently held a meeting with activists and foreign policy gurus on how they might promote democracy in Egypt. (Perhaps not giving the regime $1.5B free and clear would be a start.) But while the Obama team is having meetings, the Mubarak government is continuing its thuggish tactics:

Egypt’s parliamentary elections Sunday have been ushered in by one of the most sweeping campaigns to silence critics since President Hosni Mubarak came to power nearly 30 years ago, with the government seemingly determined to shut out its top rival, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, police and armed gangs have broken up campaign events by Brotherhood candidates – even attacking the movement’s top member in parliament in his car. More than 1,000 Brotherhood supporters have been arrested during the election campaign.

The measures have been so dramatic that a judge in an administrative court in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria late on Wednesday ordered elections to be halted in at least 10 out of 11 city districts because so many candidates, particularly from the Brotherhood, had been disqualified by authorities.

This, quite plainly, is yet another snub of Obama personally. Just as the North Koreans see no downside to attacking its neighbor, Mubarak expects no adverse consequences from snubbing the U.S. president. Eli Lake observes:

Cairo’s snubbing of Mr. Obama follows the U.S. president’s run of hard luck in general on Middle East diplomacy. This month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani rejected Mr. Obama’s personal request to relinquish the presidency. In 2009, the Iranian government rejected multiple offers from Mr. Obama to resume direct negotiations.

The mood from official Cairo was captured in a front-page editorial this week in the state-run and -funded newspaper, Al-Ahram, which often serves as a weather vane for the thinking inside the Mubarak regime.

“America and its experts should know and realize the Egyptian leadership role,” al-Ahram’s editor, Osama Saraya, said in the editorial. “Egypt has played and plays an important role in matters of regional peace and security … and is capable of bringing regional stability to all the areas that are regressing due to wrong U.S. policies in Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. … The United States is the one that ought to listen to Egypt, and not the other way around.”

In other words, the least-effective human rights policy in decades has contributed to the most egregious human right violations in decades and exposed our lack of influence in the region. We should not be surprised nor should we underestimate the degree to which Obama’s policy is both morally feckless and strategically flawed. Egypt is a tinderbox, increasingly polarized between an authoritarian government and the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Egyptian democracy activists are disillusioned by the American administration.

We might try some real Muslim Outreach — a policy of increased support for democratizers, financial support for Egypt conditioned on progress on human rights, and forceful public rhetoric (rather than the mute routine Hillary put on during the foreign minister’s recent visit). The problem with Muslim Outreach is not that we are doing it but that we are doing it so badly. And in the process, we’re proving that America is declining in influence in the region.

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Ben Smith Spills the Beans: Obama’s Middle East Policy Is a Disaster

Ben Smith reveals what nearly every serious Middle East observer already knows: Obama has made things worse, not better, in that volatile region. He reports:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape. …

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence – a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Obama naturally blames everyone else. But the criticism is biting and personal: it is Obama and his misguided ideology that are at the root of the problem: Read More

Ben Smith reveals what nearly every serious Middle East observer already knows: Obama has made things worse, not better, in that volatile region. He reports:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape. …

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence – a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Obama naturally blames everyone else. But the criticism is biting and personal: it is Obama and his misguided ideology that are at the root of the problem:

[T]he American president has been diminished, even in an era without active hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. His demands on the parties appear to shrink each month, with the path to a grand peace settlement narrowing to the vanishing point. The lack of Israeli faith in him and his process has them using the talks to extract more tangible security assurances – the jets. And though America remains beloved, Obama is about as popular here as he is in Oklahoma. A Jerusalem Post poll in May found 9 percent of Israelis consider Obama “pro-Israel,” while 48 percent say he’s “pro-Palestinian.” …

“Israelis really hate Obama’s guts,” said Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for two leading Israeli newspapers. “We used to trust Americans to act like Americans, and this guy is like a European leader.”

Many senior Israeli leaders have concluded that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were right about Obama’s naivete and inexperience.

“The naïve liberals who are at the heart of the administration really believe in all the misconceptions the Palestinians and all their friends all over the world are trying to place,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, a former high-ranking military intelligence officer who is now deputy director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.

But in some sense, Ben Smith’s account is too generous. It is not merely that Obama has made hash out of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; it is that he has undermined American stature more broadly in the Middle East. Yes, the Israelis and the PA regard him as foolish, but what’s even more important is that so do the Syrians, Saudis, and Iranians. He has wasted time on the non-peace process and in fact exacerbated tensions as the other nations looked on. The aging Sunni leaders regard him with alarm: has he no idea what to do about Iran? The mullahs regard him with contempt: he has already told them that they need not worry about military action.

Obama is right — there is such a thing as linkage, but not in the way he imagined. The progress of the Middle East non-peace talks is irrelevant to the threat of an Iranian nuclear power. But what is highly relevant, and deeply troubling, is the perception of an American administration in over its head, disloyal to friends, and anxious to make a deal at any cost to preserve the patina of competency it is struggling to maintain. And to make matters worse, it’s fair to conclude that beyond the Middle East — in China, Russia, and North Korea — they are learning the same lesson.

One final note. The well-sourced and dead-on report comes from Ben Smith, not the nominal foreign affairs reporter for Politico. This is because the latter, a former Journo-list member, is among the worse and least-informative foreign affairs “reporters” out there. In fact, she’s no more than a scribe for the Obami and the J Street crowd. And that explains why none of the material, widely available to followers of the mainstream media, was ever reported by her. Maybe it’s time to get a full-time person on the foreign affairs beat who actually reports rather than regurgitates the left’s take on American foreign policy.

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Sniffing Out What “Pro-Israel” Means (Updated)

In the last week or so, the Emergency Committee for Israel has come out with ads on the anti-Israel records of Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy, Glenn Nye, and Jim Himes, specifically calling attention to their signatures on the Gaza 54 letter.

Dave Weigel, now writing for Slate (whose editors, unlike the Washington Post’s management, knew his political leanings before hiring him) observes:

“While it’s true that signing the J Street letter was a cause for concern,” said one official with a pro-Israel group, “and remains so, it’s also a fact that Congressman Himes has a consistently pro-Israel voting record and strong friends in the mainstream pro-Israel community.”

There was no such pushback when the Committee went after Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.), now running for the Senate. But the aftermath of that attack — Sestak trying to get the ad pulled, and failing — ensures much more of this.

As an aside, this speaks volumes about Joe Sestak. To my knowledge, not a single pro-Israel group — no, J Street certainly doesn’t count on this one — rushed to his defense, either on or off the record. But CAIR did. (And with a record like this, don’t expect them to rush to Mary Jo Kilroy’s defense either.)

But I think there is good reason why Himes’s record should be scrutinized and why he is being funded by the Israel-bashers at J Street. He signed the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter. What was that about? This report explains:

The letter urged Obama to become intimately involved in forcing talks between Israel and the PA, and said the creation of a Palestinian state must precede transparency of the PA government, control over security, or a stable economy.

An official with a real pro-Israel organization (that defends Israel’s right of self-defense and everything) explains:

Coming in the run up to the first ever meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, just weeks before the speech in Cairo, the clear intent of that letter was to call on the President to impose a solution, something Israel and every previous American administration has rejected as a failed strategy.  More over, the letter totally ignores the history of the conflict, implying that the failure of the Arabs and the Palestinians to make peace is Israel’s fault as much as the Arabs, and that is simply as ignorant as it is offensive.

As the viciously anti-Israel M.J. Rosenberg noted at the time, the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter was the left’s alternative to an AIPAC letter (which the overwhemlming number of House members signed onto):

The AIPAC letter sounds like it is calling for a Palestinian state to be worked out by the two sides. But its authors know full-well that no Israeli government (even a peace government) is going to risk enraging the right by agreeing to a Palestinian state unless it is the United States that is insisting upon it. The AIPAC letter does not envision a Palestinian State. Quite the contrary, its intent is to delay that state until there is no possibility of it ever being established.

It argues that America’s job is to serve as “trusted mediator and devoted friend of Israel.” It concedes that “no doubt our two governments [sic] will agree on many issues and disagree on others. The proven best way forward is to work closely and privately together both on areas of agreement and especially on areas of disagreement.”

That is what Himes wouldn’t sign.

So I’d be very curious to know just what “pro-Israel” group thinks Himes has been consistently pro-Israel. This, it should be noted, is precisely why ECI is needed. It is about time we start to parse what “pro-Israel” really means. It’s not signing the Gaza-54 letter or the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter.

CORRECTION: Himes inexplicably signed both the AIPAC and the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letters. The latter explicitly declared that the U.S. should intervene because the parties could not reach agreement (i.e., back an imposed peace plan) and cheered the Arab Initiative, which would impose on Israel pre-1967 borders and re-divide Jerusalem. Perhaps Himes’s defense will be that he didn’t read what he signed, but those positions are not embraced by the vast majority of American Jews  – or even by the Obama administration (at least not yet).

In the last week or so, the Emergency Committee for Israel has come out with ads on the anti-Israel records of Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy, Glenn Nye, and Jim Himes, specifically calling attention to their signatures on the Gaza 54 letter.

Dave Weigel, now writing for Slate (whose editors, unlike the Washington Post’s management, knew his political leanings before hiring him) observes:

“While it’s true that signing the J Street letter was a cause for concern,” said one official with a pro-Israel group, “and remains so, it’s also a fact that Congressman Himes has a consistently pro-Israel voting record and strong friends in the mainstream pro-Israel community.”

There was no such pushback when the Committee went after Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.), now running for the Senate. But the aftermath of that attack — Sestak trying to get the ad pulled, and failing — ensures much more of this.

As an aside, this speaks volumes about Joe Sestak. To my knowledge, not a single pro-Israel group — no, J Street certainly doesn’t count on this one — rushed to his defense, either on or off the record. But CAIR did. (And with a record like this, don’t expect them to rush to Mary Jo Kilroy’s defense either.)

But I think there is good reason why Himes’s record should be scrutinized and why he is being funded by the Israel-bashers at J Street. He signed the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter. What was that about? This report explains:

The letter urged Obama to become intimately involved in forcing talks between Israel and the PA, and said the creation of a Palestinian state must precede transparency of the PA government, control over security, or a stable economy.

An official with a real pro-Israel organization (that defends Israel’s right of self-defense and everything) explains:

Coming in the run up to the first ever meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, just weeks before the speech in Cairo, the clear intent of that letter was to call on the President to impose a solution, something Israel and every previous American administration has rejected as a failed strategy.  More over, the letter totally ignores the history of the conflict, implying that the failure of the Arabs and the Palestinians to make peace is Israel’s fault as much as the Arabs, and that is simply as ignorant as it is offensive.

As the viciously anti-Israel M.J. Rosenberg noted at the time, the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter was the left’s alternative to an AIPAC letter (which the overwhemlming number of House members signed onto):

The AIPAC letter sounds like it is calling for a Palestinian state to be worked out by the two sides. But its authors know full-well that no Israeli government (even a peace government) is going to risk enraging the right by agreeing to a Palestinian state unless it is the United States that is insisting upon it. The AIPAC letter does not envision a Palestinian State. Quite the contrary, its intent is to delay that state until there is no possibility of it ever being established.

It argues that America’s job is to serve as “trusted mediator and devoted friend of Israel.” It concedes that “no doubt our two governments [sic] will agree on many issues and disagree on others. The proven best way forward is to work closely and privately together both on areas of agreement and especially on areas of disagreement.”

That is what Himes wouldn’t sign.

So I’d be very curious to know just what “pro-Israel” group thinks Himes has been consistently pro-Israel. This, it should be noted, is precisely why ECI is needed. It is about time we start to parse what “pro-Israel” really means. It’s not signing the Gaza-54 letter or the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter.

CORRECTION: Himes inexplicably signed both the AIPAC and the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letters. The latter explicitly declared that the U.S. should intervene because the parties could not reach agreement (i.e., back an imposed peace plan) and cheered the Arab Initiative, which would impose on Israel pre-1967 borders and re-divide Jerusalem. Perhaps Himes’s defense will be that he didn’t read what he signed, but those positions are not embraced by the vast majority of American Jews  – or even by the Obama administration (at least not yet).

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Obama’s Mishandling of Karzai Is Bearing Bitter Fruit

What accounts for President Hamid Karzai’s bizarre decision to fire two of the most effective members of his government — Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and intelligence director Amrullah Saleh? The supposed cause was their failure to prevent a Taliban attack on a recent peace jirga, even though the incident was a relatively minor one and did not result in many casualties. It is said that there are deeper disputes beneath the surface, including Saleh’s opposition to large-scale releases of Taliban detainees — something that Karzai favors even though the Taliban has not offered any comparable concessions. But Ali Jalali, an esteemed former Afghan interior minister who now teaches at National Defense University in Washington, thinks there is something else going on as well. The New York Times quotes him as follows:

“The root of this is the perception that President Karzai got last year from the kind of cold reception that he got from the American administration, and that made him feel insecure,” said Ahmed Ali Jalali, who was Afghanistan’s interior minister from 2003 to 2005. He now teaches at the National Defense University in Washington.

The insecurity has left Mr. Karzai alternately lashing out in anger and searching for new allies, turning to Iran and elements within the Taliban. Both are antagonistic to American interests.

“He is trying to create new networks, new allies and contacts both inside the country and outside the country in case there’s a premature withdrawal, so a lot of this is more of a survival gesture,” Mr. Jalali said.

That certainly accords with my own analysis of Karzai: like most politicians, he is primarily interested in personal survival, and if the U.S. does not commit itself to helping him, he will look for allies in all the wrong places — among warlords and drug traffickers, for a start, but also among the Taliban and even in Iran. In other words, the Obama administration’s get-tough approach with Karzai has backfired, precisely as I and many other analysts warned it would.

The administration has since tried to reverse course; it hosted Karzai for a gala state visit in Washington, for instance. But such gestures, while welcome, cannot instantly dispel more than a year of distrust. Moreover, Obama’s deadline for starting to withdraw from Afghanistan (July 2011) causes Karzai to doubt that the U.S. will be around long term and only reinforces his desire to ingratiate himself with other powerful actors — to the detriment of the goals we seek to accomplish in Afghanistan.

I don’t want to let Karzai off the hook. He is erratic, moody, and deeply flawed. He is certainly no great leader. But his flaws have only been exacerbated by the Obama administration’s mishandling.

What accounts for President Hamid Karzai’s bizarre decision to fire two of the most effective members of his government — Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and intelligence director Amrullah Saleh? The supposed cause was their failure to prevent a Taliban attack on a recent peace jirga, even though the incident was a relatively minor one and did not result in many casualties. It is said that there are deeper disputes beneath the surface, including Saleh’s opposition to large-scale releases of Taliban detainees — something that Karzai favors even though the Taliban has not offered any comparable concessions. But Ali Jalali, an esteemed former Afghan interior minister who now teaches at National Defense University in Washington, thinks there is something else going on as well. The New York Times quotes him as follows:

“The root of this is the perception that President Karzai got last year from the kind of cold reception that he got from the American administration, and that made him feel insecure,” said Ahmed Ali Jalali, who was Afghanistan’s interior minister from 2003 to 2005. He now teaches at the National Defense University in Washington.

The insecurity has left Mr. Karzai alternately lashing out in anger and searching for new allies, turning to Iran and elements within the Taliban. Both are antagonistic to American interests.

“He is trying to create new networks, new allies and contacts both inside the country and outside the country in case there’s a premature withdrawal, so a lot of this is more of a survival gesture,” Mr. Jalali said.

That certainly accords with my own analysis of Karzai: like most politicians, he is primarily interested in personal survival, and if the U.S. does not commit itself to helping him, he will look for allies in all the wrong places — among warlords and drug traffickers, for a start, but also among the Taliban and even in Iran. In other words, the Obama administration’s get-tough approach with Karzai has backfired, precisely as I and many other analysts warned it would.

The administration has since tried to reverse course; it hosted Karzai for a gala state visit in Washington, for instance. But such gestures, while welcome, cannot instantly dispel more than a year of distrust. Moreover, Obama’s deadline for starting to withdraw from Afghanistan (July 2011) causes Karzai to doubt that the U.S. will be around long term and only reinforces his desire to ingratiate himself with other powerful actors — to the detriment of the goals we seek to accomplish in Afghanistan.

I don’t want to let Karzai off the hook. He is erratic, moody, and deeply flawed. He is certainly no great leader. But his flaws have only been exacerbated by the Obama administration’s mishandling.

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Obama’s Sudan Engagement

Our Sudan policy is a shanda. Activists on both sides of the aisle deplore the unctuous behavior of our special envoy, retired Major General Scott Gration. We have done nothing about its abysmal human-rights record, most recently documented by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics following the fraudulent reelection of Omar Hassan al-Bashir:

The election was widely acknowledged to be a fraud. Mr. Bashir’s principal opponents boycotted the race, and the vote was riddled with what the White House called “serious irregularities.”

Still, the reaction from the Obama administration and other Western governments was muted. Before the election, U.S. special envoy Scott Gration offered a low standard, declaring that the vote would be “as free and fair as possible.” The reasons for that temperance could be read in Mr. Bashir’s victory speech. After claiming his mandate, the strongman promptly promised to “complete the peace process in Darfur,” the western region where his regime waged a campaign of genocide; and also to “go ahead . . . on time” with a planned referendum in January that will determine whether southern Sudan becomes an independent country.

But nothing — not fraud, not documented religious atrocities — will knock the Obami off their predetermined course, the very same “engagement” strategy which has led to equally dismal results with Syria and Iran. The Obami imagine that they can do business with despots, and Bashir is no different:

The quid pro quo that Mr. Bashir is offering is clear: Accept him as a legitimate president and set aside the war crimes indictment, and he will allow southern Sudan to go peacefully and will preserve the fragile peace in Darfur. For the pragmatic Obama administration, which hasn’t hesitated to subordinate human rights principles in other parts of the world, it’s a tempting offer. After all, the alternative to a settlement in southern Sudan is another terrible war, like the one that killed 5 million in the two decades before 2005. And if Mr. Bashir can somehow strike a deal with Darfur’s myriad rebel groups — he has a preliminary pact with one — that could end the region’s humanitarian crisis.

Bashir certainly knows his audience. This sort of bargain with the devil is right up Obama’s alley. But alas, by demonstrating our willingness in Sudan and around the world to avert our eyes and fork over unilateral concessions, there is little incentive for Bashir to change his stripes and to play a constructive role in averting still more mass killings in Darfur.

Our reaction to provocation — be it stolen elections in Iran or Sudan or missile deliveries to Hezbollah — is to double-down on engagement, assure our foes that military force isn’t at play, and rush forth to explain that further engagement isn’t really a sign of weakness. But of course it is. And the world’s despots have pretty much figured out how to play the Obama team. Brutalize your people, crush opposition, and respond with a mix of threats and frothy promises. It seems to be a winning formula with this American administration. And, indeed, the despots are having a field day of late. Maybe it’s time for hope and change.

Our Sudan policy is a shanda. Activists on both sides of the aisle deplore the unctuous behavior of our special envoy, retired Major General Scott Gration. We have done nothing about its abysmal human-rights record, most recently documented by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics following the fraudulent reelection of Omar Hassan al-Bashir:

The election was widely acknowledged to be a fraud. Mr. Bashir’s principal opponents boycotted the race, and the vote was riddled with what the White House called “serious irregularities.”

Still, the reaction from the Obama administration and other Western governments was muted. Before the election, U.S. special envoy Scott Gration offered a low standard, declaring that the vote would be “as free and fair as possible.” The reasons for that temperance could be read in Mr. Bashir’s victory speech. After claiming his mandate, the strongman promptly promised to “complete the peace process in Darfur,” the western region where his regime waged a campaign of genocide; and also to “go ahead . . . on time” with a planned referendum in January that will determine whether southern Sudan becomes an independent country.

But nothing — not fraud, not documented religious atrocities — will knock the Obami off their predetermined course, the very same “engagement” strategy which has led to equally dismal results with Syria and Iran. The Obami imagine that they can do business with despots, and Bashir is no different:

The quid pro quo that Mr. Bashir is offering is clear: Accept him as a legitimate president and set aside the war crimes indictment, and he will allow southern Sudan to go peacefully and will preserve the fragile peace in Darfur. For the pragmatic Obama administration, which hasn’t hesitated to subordinate human rights principles in other parts of the world, it’s a tempting offer. After all, the alternative to a settlement in southern Sudan is another terrible war, like the one that killed 5 million in the two decades before 2005. And if Mr. Bashir can somehow strike a deal with Darfur’s myriad rebel groups — he has a preliminary pact with one — that could end the region’s humanitarian crisis.

Bashir certainly knows his audience. This sort of bargain with the devil is right up Obama’s alley. But alas, by demonstrating our willingness in Sudan and around the world to avert our eyes and fork over unilateral concessions, there is little incentive for Bashir to change his stripes and to play a constructive role in averting still more mass killings in Darfur.

Our reaction to provocation — be it stolen elections in Iran or Sudan or missile deliveries to Hezbollah — is to double-down on engagement, assure our foes that military force isn’t at play, and rush forth to explain that further engagement isn’t really a sign of weakness. But of course it is. And the world’s despots have pretty much figured out how to play the Obama team. Brutalize your people, crush opposition, and respond with a mix of threats and frothy promises. It seems to be a winning formula with this American administration. And, indeed, the despots are having a field day of late. Maybe it’s time for hope and change.

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How About a Proximity Speech?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — currently in the 64th month of his 48-month term; unable since 2007 to set foot in half his putative state; rejecting in 2008 an offer of a state from the most pliant prime minister in Israeli history; unwilling throughout 2009 to consider negotiations without a pre-negotiation concession he knew no Israeli government could accept; currently considering a proposal for “proximity talks” (better described as nearby non-talks) to obviate the need to talk to Israelis — will be coming to the White House. He will probably get a better reception than Gordon Brown, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Dalai Lama.

Yesterday Abbas gave a speech that undoubtedly previews the message he will bring:

“Mr. President (Barack Obama) and members of the American administration, since you believe in this (an independent Palestinian state), it is your duty to take steps toward a solution and to impose this solution,” Abbas said in a speech. …

“We’ve asked them (the Obama administration) more than once: ‘Impose a solution’,” Abbas said.

Jerusalem Post editor in chief David Horovitz has a more modest suggestion, writing that Abbas should give a speech comparable to the “two-state” address Netanyahu made last year — one that would indicate a Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state:

Let Abbas speak in Arabic, to his own people — with his leadership colleagues on hand to publicly support and applaud him — and let him tell them that the Jews, too, have historic rights to Palestine. … Let him recall that the international community, in partitioning British mandatory Palestine, provided for a Jewish and an Arab entity side by side – that, in other words,  the provision for revived Jewish sovereignty was integral to the right the Palestinians seek to realize for their own historically unprecedented independence. And let him declare, therefore, that he recognizes that the demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians to what is now Israel is a dream that must be abandoned, for the Jewish nation has the right to that small sliver of sovereign land of its own.

Memo to the Obama administration: before trying to impose a peace plan, try imposing that. Call it a confidence-building gesture.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — currently in the 64th month of his 48-month term; unable since 2007 to set foot in half his putative state; rejecting in 2008 an offer of a state from the most pliant prime minister in Israeli history; unwilling throughout 2009 to consider negotiations without a pre-negotiation concession he knew no Israeli government could accept; currently considering a proposal for “proximity talks” (better described as nearby non-talks) to obviate the need to talk to Israelis — will be coming to the White House. He will probably get a better reception than Gordon Brown, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Dalai Lama.

Yesterday Abbas gave a speech that undoubtedly previews the message he will bring:

“Mr. President (Barack Obama) and members of the American administration, since you believe in this (an independent Palestinian state), it is your duty to take steps toward a solution and to impose this solution,” Abbas said in a speech. …

“We’ve asked them (the Obama administration) more than once: ‘Impose a solution’,” Abbas said.

Jerusalem Post editor in chief David Horovitz has a more modest suggestion, writing that Abbas should give a speech comparable to the “two-state” address Netanyahu made last year — one that would indicate a Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state:

Let Abbas speak in Arabic, to his own people — with his leadership colleagues on hand to publicly support and applaud him — and let him tell them that the Jews, too, have historic rights to Palestine. … Let him recall that the international community, in partitioning British mandatory Palestine, provided for a Jewish and an Arab entity side by side – that, in other words,  the provision for revived Jewish sovereignty was integral to the right the Palestinians seek to realize for their own historically unprecedented independence. And let him declare, therefore, that he recognizes that the demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians to what is now Israel is a dream that must be abandoned, for the Jewish nation has the right to that small sliver of sovereign land of its own.

Memo to the Obama administration: before trying to impose a peace plan, try imposing that. Call it a confidence-building gesture.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Patty Murray may be in trouble, especially if Dino Rossi gets into the Washington senate race.

At least one pro-Israel group is going after the Obami: “Activists for the Zionist Organization of America lobbied Congress to consider military action against Iran. In more than 100 meetings with members of Congress on Wednesday, the ZOA said hundreds of its activists also asked the lawmakers to defund the Palestinian Authority, press the U.S. embassy issue and enshrine anti-Jewish discrimination safeguards in education legislation.”

Read all of P.J. O’Rourke’s latest. A sample: “The secret to the Obama annoyance is snotty lecturing. His tone of voice sends us back to the worst place in college. . . . America has made the mistake of letting the A student run things. It was A students who briefly took over the business world during the period of derivatives, credit swaps, and collateralized debt obligations. We’re still reeling from the effects. This is why good businessmen have always adhered to the maxim: ‘A students work for B students.’”

No surprise from Mahmoud Abbas: “Mr. President (Barack Obama) and members of the American administration, since you believe in this (an independent Palestinian state), it is your duty to take steps toward a solution and to impose this solution.” After all, Abbas has no incentive to do anything else.

Douglas Schoen keeps trying to save Democrats from themselves. Forget cap-and-trade and immigration reform, he says: “Instead, what the Democrats should be doing is taking up the issue of jobs, then jobs and then jobs once again. With the unemployment rate still hovering perilously close to 10 percent, the only way congressional Democrats and the administration can improve their eroding political position is by taking on the jobs issue systematically — not sporadically and spasmodically. Every approach should be put on the table: tax incentives for job creation, a payroll tax holiday and even infrastructure investment — if only to demonstrate the party’s commitment to doing everything possible to stimulate employment.”

Works for me: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Saturday that he will be ‘unable to move forward’ with the upcoming climate and energy bill he’s crafting if Democratic leaders push ahead with plans to move immigration legislation. Graham’s declaration could halt or unravel the months-long effort to craft a compromise climate measure he has undertaken with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). The measure is slated to be unveiled Monday.”

Dana Milbank is whining about Republican “leaders,” claiming that Charlie Crist is being drummed out of the party. Nonsense. Voters don’t like him and he’s losing. He’s threatening to bolt to keep his pathetic senate race alive. (By the way, you’ll recall Joe Lieberman never got a single mainstream column pleading for the Democrats’ sanity when he ran as an independent.)

Alan Dershowitz pushes J Street: “Do you believe that if America fails to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and if the Israeli government makes a considered decision that it must use military action, as a last resort, to prevent Iran from being able to deploy nuclear weapons, that Israel would have the right to engage in preventive self defense by attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities? I am not asking whether Israel should or should not consider such attack, since I lack the military expertise to make that decision, as do you. I am asking whether Israel should have the right to make that decision. And I’m asking whether you believe the United States should seek to prevent Israel from acting on that decision as an absolute last resort?” More important, what does Obama think?

Patty Murray may be in trouble, especially if Dino Rossi gets into the Washington senate race.

At least one pro-Israel group is going after the Obami: “Activists for the Zionist Organization of America lobbied Congress to consider military action against Iran. In more than 100 meetings with members of Congress on Wednesday, the ZOA said hundreds of its activists also asked the lawmakers to defund the Palestinian Authority, press the U.S. embassy issue and enshrine anti-Jewish discrimination safeguards in education legislation.”

Read all of P.J. O’Rourke’s latest. A sample: “The secret to the Obama annoyance is snotty lecturing. His tone of voice sends us back to the worst place in college. . . . America has made the mistake of letting the A student run things. It was A students who briefly took over the business world during the period of derivatives, credit swaps, and collateralized debt obligations. We’re still reeling from the effects. This is why good businessmen have always adhered to the maxim: ‘A students work for B students.’”

No surprise from Mahmoud Abbas: “Mr. President (Barack Obama) and members of the American administration, since you believe in this (an independent Palestinian state), it is your duty to take steps toward a solution and to impose this solution.” After all, Abbas has no incentive to do anything else.

Douglas Schoen keeps trying to save Democrats from themselves. Forget cap-and-trade and immigration reform, he says: “Instead, what the Democrats should be doing is taking up the issue of jobs, then jobs and then jobs once again. With the unemployment rate still hovering perilously close to 10 percent, the only way congressional Democrats and the administration can improve their eroding political position is by taking on the jobs issue systematically — not sporadically and spasmodically. Every approach should be put on the table: tax incentives for job creation, a payroll tax holiday and even infrastructure investment — if only to demonstrate the party’s commitment to doing everything possible to stimulate employment.”

Works for me: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Saturday that he will be ‘unable to move forward’ with the upcoming climate and energy bill he’s crafting if Democratic leaders push ahead with plans to move immigration legislation. Graham’s declaration could halt or unravel the months-long effort to craft a compromise climate measure he has undertaken with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). The measure is slated to be unveiled Monday.”

Dana Milbank is whining about Republican “leaders,” claiming that Charlie Crist is being drummed out of the party. Nonsense. Voters don’t like him and he’s losing. He’s threatening to bolt to keep his pathetic senate race alive. (By the way, you’ll recall Joe Lieberman never got a single mainstream column pleading for the Democrats’ sanity when he ran as an independent.)

Alan Dershowitz pushes J Street: “Do you believe that if America fails to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and if the Israeli government makes a considered decision that it must use military action, as a last resort, to prevent Iran from being able to deploy nuclear weapons, that Israel would have the right to engage in preventive self defense by attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities? I am not asking whether Israel should or should not consider such attack, since I lack the military expertise to make that decision, as do you. I am asking whether Israel should have the right to make that decision. And I’m asking whether you believe the United States should seek to prevent Israel from acting on that decision as an absolute last resort?” More important, what does Obama think?

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Ya’alon Unloads on Obami

The entire interview with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon should be read in full here. But a few of the Q&As are certainly of particular note. On the American administration’s amnesia:

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept Ehud Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since ’67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

On the issue of settlements:

Israel’s critics say enlarging settlements helps Palestinian extremists and ruins any efforts to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to be here.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

And on the American role in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven’t seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don’t think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

There is much more of interest, including his take on the potential for an  imposed settlement. (“If someone really thinks they can impose peace just like that, then they are detached from reality.”) What is most noteworthy is the candor with which the disdain for the American administration comes through. It seems the Israelis have at least adopted one of Obama’s suggestions — be more “honest” in public and in private.

It’s incumbent on the American Jewish community now to do likewise. It is a time to make clear whether it intends to shuffle along, meekly accepting the administration’s inertness on Iran and its ferocity toward our democratic ally.

The entire interview with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon should be read in full here. But a few of the Q&As are certainly of particular note. On the American administration’s amnesia:

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept Ehud Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since ’67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

On the issue of settlements:

Israel’s critics say enlarging settlements helps Palestinian extremists and ruins any efforts to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to be here.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

And on the American role in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven’t seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don’t think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

There is much more of interest, including his take on the potential for an  imposed settlement. (“If someone really thinks they can impose peace just like that, then they are detached from reality.”) What is most noteworthy is the candor with which the disdain for the American administration comes through. It seems the Israelis have at least adopted one of Obama’s suggestions — be more “honest” in public and in private.

It’s incumbent on the American Jewish community now to do likewise. It is a time to make clear whether it intends to shuffle along, meekly accepting the administration’s inertness on Iran and its ferocity toward our democratic ally.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

In case you thought Obama’s anti-Israel bent has gone unnoticed, Elliott Abrams reminds us: “My judgment is that most American Jews at this point think the Obama administration is simply unsympathetic to Israel, the president is unsympathetic to Israel. This has been a kind of sentiment in the community over the past year, though nobody wants to say much about it in public, partly because most Jews are Democrats. … The administration chose to make this a crisis. And the moment you see that is the use of the word condemn. We use condemn in diplomatic parlance almost exclusively for acts of murder and terror. We do not use it for acts of city planning.”

In case you thought the Orthodox Union didn’t have a sense of humor: “[W]e have to wonder — when we all are at Passover Seder Monday, and loudly declare: ‘NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM,’ will we all be subject to censure by the Administration? By the EU? By the UN? And what will they say at The White House seder? ‘Next year in a yet-to-be-negotiated part of Jerusalem?’ We think we should all say ‘next year in Jerusalem’ with a little more intent and oomph this year … and listen for the echoes.” Indeed.

In case you thought only Jews were fed up with Obama’s Jerusalem gambit, Quin Hillyer: “If the Jewish state can’t allow free people to build housing in Jerusalem, then the Irish state may as well not let Irish build in Dublin. And if the American administration tries to tell the Jewish state that it is wrong to merely advance by one mid-range step along a multi-step process towards permitting those buildings, then the Jewish PM has every right to tell the American administration the same thing Dick Cheney told the execrable Patrick Leahy.”

In case you had any doubt, Nick Gillespie shows why ObamaCare isn’t going to cut the deficit.

In case you thought health-care costs would go down, Verizon is already warning its employees to look out for the increase coming their way.

In case you doubted there was a fix for ObamaCare in sight in 2010: “A potential Republican majority may not be able to repeal healthcare reform, but they’d probably refuse to fund it, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said today. … ‘It’s going to take appropriated funds to actually come through the process to fund the hiring of new employees to create these new bureaucracies,’ Boehner said. ‘I can’t imagine that a Republican Congress is going to give this president the money to begin this process.’”

In case you thought Obama won the battle for public opinion on health care: “A CBS News poll released Wednesday finds that nearly two in three Americans want Republicans in Congress to continue to challenge parts of the health care reform bill.”

In case you thought emptying Guantanamo was going to make us safer: “A former Guantanamo detainee transferred from the detention facility to Afghanistan on Dec. 19, 2009, has already returned to the Taliban’s ranks. … Despite the fact that Hafiz was implicated in the murder of an [International Red Cross] worker, and alleged to have substantial ties to senior Taliban officials, he was transferred to Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, Hafiz rejoined the Taliban.”

In case you imagined the Obami anti-terror policies were inspiring confidence: “Confidence that America is winning the war on terror is down slightly this month, and belief that the United States is safer today than it was before 9/11 has hit its lowest level ever. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 35% of voters think America is safer now than it was before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.”

In case you thought Obama’s anti-Israel bent has gone unnoticed, Elliott Abrams reminds us: “My judgment is that most American Jews at this point think the Obama administration is simply unsympathetic to Israel, the president is unsympathetic to Israel. This has been a kind of sentiment in the community over the past year, though nobody wants to say much about it in public, partly because most Jews are Democrats. … The administration chose to make this a crisis. And the moment you see that is the use of the word condemn. We use condemn in diplomatic parlance almost exclusively for acts of murder and terror. We do not use it for acts of city planning.”

In case you thought the Orthodox Union didn’t have a sense of humor: “[W]e have to wonder — when we all are at Passover Seder Monday, and loudly declare: ‘NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM,’ will we all be subject to censure by the Administration? By the EU? By the UN? And what will they say at The White House seder? ‘Next year in a yet-to-be-negotiated part of Jerusalem?’ We think we should all say ‘next year in Jerusalem’ with a little more intent and oomph this year … and listen for the echoes.” Indeed.

In case you thought only Jews were fed up with Obama’s Jerusalem gambit, Quin Hillyer: “If the Jewish state can’t allow free people to build housing in Jerusalem, then the Irish state may as well not let Irish build in Dublin. And if the American administration tries to tell the Jewish state that it is wrong to merely advance by one mid-range step along a multi-step process towards permitting those buildings, then the Jewish PM has every right to tell the American administration the same thing Dick Cheney told the execrable Patrick Leahy.”

In case you had any doubt, Nick Gillespie shows why ObamaCare isn’t going to cut the deficit.

In case you thought health-care costs would go down, Verizon is already warning its employees to look out for the increase coming their way.

In case you doubted there was a fix for ObamaCare in sight in 2010: “A potential Republican majority may not be able to repeal healthcare reform, but they’d probably refuse to fund it, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said today. … ‘It’s going to take appropriated funds to actually come through the process to fund the hiring of new employees to create these new bureaucracies,’ Boehner said. ‘I can’t imagine that a Republican Congress is going to give this president the money to begin this process.’”

In case you thought Obama won the battle for public opinion on health care: “A CBS News poll released Wednesday finds that nearly two in three Americans want Republicans in Congress to continue to challenge parts of the health care reform bill.”

In case you thought emptying Guantanamo was going to make us safer: “A former Guantanamo detainee transferred from the detention facility to Afghanistan on Dec. 19, 2009, has already returned to the Taliban’s ranks. … Despite the fact that Hafiz was implicated in the murder of an [International Red Cross] worker, and alleged to have substantial ties to senior Taliban officials, he was transferred to Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, Hafiz rejoined the Taliban.”

In case you imagined the Obami anti-terror policies were inspiring confidence: “Confidence that America is winning the war on terror is down slightly this month, and belief that the United States is safer today than it was before 9/11 has hit its lowest level ever. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 35% of voters think America is safer now than it was before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.”

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Fomenting a Crisis Was Obama’s Choice, Not Israel’s

You can’t get any more establishment than Leslie Gelb. The former New York Times columnist worked in the Johnson and Carter administrations and is now the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Yet having a lifetime of heavy-duty policy experience is not the same thing as actually understanding what’s going on. The reaction of this quintessential foreign-policy “wise man” to the current dustup between Israel and the United States betrays his confusion.

In his Daily Beast column, Gelb bemoans the loss of American prestige because of the perceived insult to Vice President Biden via an ill-timed announcement of a Jerusalem housing project. In doing so, he foolishly buys into the notion that the publicity given the incident will undermine the ability of the United States to exercise influence over other potential crises.

But the world is not going berserk over this confrontation because of its intrinsic importance. The administration had already accepted, albeit reluctantly, the fact that no building freeze would be accepted by Israel inside its own capital. Indeed, no previous American administration has ever made an issue about building in the existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This dispute was not the result of worry about the loss of U.S. influence but a conscious decision by the Obama administration to pick a fight with the Israeli government.

Moreover, Gelb’s assertion that these Jerusalem apartments are a deliberate attempt by Israeli right-wingers to sabotage peace talks with the Palestinians is a joke. Those talks, in which the Palestinians wouldn’t even deign to sit next to their Israeli counterparts, never had a chance of success. Having rejected Israel’s offer of an independent state in the West Bank, as well as a share of Jerusalem in 2008 (as they had previously rejected one in 2000), the Palestinian Authority is no more likely to sign on to any deal today, no matter where Israel’s borders are placed or how many concessions are forced upon the Israelis by Obama.

Even more delusional is Gelb’s idea that Israel’s actions, and its rightful refusal to rescind the housing project and thus accept the principle that Jews may not build in Jerusalem, will harm America’s efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The truth is quite the opposite. The Obama administration’s decision to blow a minor event into a major international incident is evidence of their desire to shift the world’s focus away from Iran and onto the Netanyahu government. As his year of failed engagement showed, Obama never had any real interest in taking action on Iran, and there is little chance that Washington’s lukewarm push for sanctions on Tehran will ever succeed. Hyping Israel’s insult into a watershed moment not only shifted the conversation from Iran’s Islamist regime onto Netanyahu, it gives Obama a ready excuse for his failure to make good on a promise to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear status.

Contrary to Gelb, the dangerous decisions that may well determine the course of American foreign policy in the coming decade are not being made by obstreperous Israelis, who are, he claims, blind to their country’s best interest. Instead, the great foreign-policy blunder of 2010 — the decision to employ American pressure against Israel instead of Iran  — is the result of a deliberate choice by the Obama administration. It’s too bad that a “wise man” like Gelb is encouraging the fools in Washington rather than alerting them to their folly.

You can’t get any more establishment than Leslie Gelb. The former New York Times columnist worked in the Johnson and Carter administrations and is now the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Yet having a lifetime of heavy-duty policy experience is not the same thing as actually understanding what’s going on. The reaction of this quintessential foreign-policy “wise man” to the current dustup between Israel and the United States betrays his confusion.

In his Daily Beast column, Gelb bemoans the loss of American prestige because of the perceived insult to Vice President Biden via an ill-timed announcement of a Jerusalem housing project. In doing so, he foolishly buys into the notion that the publicity given the incident will undermine the ability of the United States to exercise influence over other potential crises.

But the world is not going berserk over this confrontation because of its intrinsic importance. The administration had already accepted, albeit reluctantly, the fact that no building freeze would be accepted by Israel inside its own capital. Indeed, no previous American administration has ever made an issue about building in the existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This dispute was not the result of worry about the loss of U.S. influence but a conscious decision by the Obama administration to pick a fight with the Israeli government.

Moreover, Gelb’s assertion that these Jerusalem apartments are a deliberate attempt by Israeli right-wingers to sabotage peace talks with the Palestinians is a joke. Those talks, in which the Palestinians wouldn’t even deign to sit next to their Israeli counterparts, never had a chance of success. Having rejected Israel’s offer of an independent state in the West Bank, as well as a share of Jerusalem in 2008 (as they had previously rejected one in 2000), the Palestinian Authority is no more likely to sign on to any deal today, no matter where Israel’s borders are placed or how many concessions are forced upon the Israelis by Obama.

Even more delusional is Gelb’s idea that Israel’s actions, and its rightful refusal to rescind the housing project and thus accept the principle that Jews may not build in Jerusalem, will harm America’s efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The truth is quite the opposite. The Obama administration’s decision to blow a minor event into a major international incident is evidence of their desire to shift the world’s focus away from Iran and onto the Netanyahu government. As his year of failed engagement showed, Obama never had any real interest in taking action on Iran, and there is little chance that Washington’s lukewarm push for sanctions on Tehran will ever succeed. Hyping Israel’s insult into a watershed moment not only shifted the conversation from Iran’s Islamist regime onto Netanyahu, it gives Obama a ready excuse for his failure to make good on a promise to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear status.

Contrary to Gelb, the dangerous decisions that may well determine the course of American foreign policy in the coming decade are not being made by obstreperous Israelis, who are, he claims, blind to their country’s best interest. Instead, the great foreign-policy blunder of 2010 — the decision to employ American pressure against Israel instead of Iran  — is the result of a deliberate choice by the Obama administration. It’s too bad that a “wise man” like Gelb is encouraging the fools in Washington rather than alerting them to their folly.

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Bibi’s Real Mistake

The Israelis’ error was not in announcing a housing-complex addition, writes John Bolton. It was in trying to play ball with an American administration that seeks to dictate negotiations with intransigent Palestinians and has little interest in stopping the mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons. Bolton explains:

Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to avoid open disputes with Washington have not won him White House plaudits. Mr. Obama almost certainly believes the real obstacle to peace is not new housing or unfortunate timing but so-called Israeli intransigence.

On Iran, Mr. Netanyahu has faithfully supported Mr. Obama’s diplomacy, hoping to build credibility with the president against the day when Israel might have to strike Iran’s weapons program preemptively. . . As time passes, Israel’s military option grows more difficult and the chances for success shrink as Iran seeks new air-defense systems and further buries and hardens nuclear facilities.

Mr. Netanyahu’s mistake has been to assume that Mr. Obama basically agrees that we must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But the White House likely believes that a nuclear Iran, though undesirable, can be contained and will therefore not support using military force to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The rub will come, as Bolton notes, when Israel determines that it must take military action and when the Obami do all they can to prevent the Jewish state’s preemptive strike, or to punish it after the fact (“if Israel bombs Iranian nuclear facilities, the president will likely withhold critical replenishments of destroyed Israeli aircraft and other weapons systems”). Bolton’s advice to Bibi is to stop trying to gain chits with Obama and strike while it is still possible. He argues:

The prime minister should recalibrate his approach, and soon. Israel’s deference on Palestinian issues will not help it with Mr. Obama after a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program. It would be a mistake to think that further delays in such a strike will materially change the toxic political response Israel can expect from the White House. Israel’s support will come from Congress and the American people, as opinion polls show, not from the president.

It is quite a dilemma, unlike nearly any an Israeli prime minister has faced so far. But that is because we have never had a president quite so openly dismissive of Israel’s interests. The Obami keep repeating mantras that sound increasingly insincere. There is no space between us on national security. The Americans understand the existential threat to Israel. Our bond with Israel is unshakable. But none of it rings true judging by the behavior and tactics of the Obami. Bully-boy tactics on peace talks and foot-dragging on the Iranian nuclear threat say just the opposite.

Bolton is right that Israel’s greatest aid in this remains Congress and the American public. But let’s not kid ourselves. The president matters and is indispensible both in his prerogative to cooperate or not with an Israeli strike and to react rhetorically and otherwise after the fact. Counting on Congress to check the poor instincts of a commander in chief who lacks any visceral connection to the Jewish state (and, indeed, sees it as a provocateur) is dicey at best. There simply isn’t any substitute for a president who sees American interests aligned with Israel’s and correctly perceives which parties are the problem. Unfortunately, we don’t have such a president right now.

The Israelis’ error was not in announcing a housing-complex addition, writes John Bolton. It was in trying to play ball with an American administration that seeks to dictate negotiations with intransigent Palestinians and has little interest in stopping the mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons. Bolton explains:

Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to avoid open disputes with Washington have not won him White House plaudits. Mr. Obama almost certainly believes the real obstacle to peace is not new housing or unfortunate timing but so-called Israeli intransigence.

On Iran, Mr. Netanyahu has faithfully supported Mr. Obama’s diplomacy, hoping to build credibility with the president against the day when Israel might have to strike Iran’s weapons program preemptively. . . As time passes, Israel’s military option grows more difficult and the chances for success shrink as Iran seeks new air-defense systems and further buries and hardens nuclear facilities.

Mr. Netanyahu’s mistake has been to assume that Mr. Obama basically agrees that we must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But the White House likely believes that a nuclear Iran, though undesirable, can be contained and will therefore not support using military force to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The rub will come, as Bolton notes, when Israel determines that it must take military action and when the Obami do all they can to prevent the Jewish state’s preemptive strike, or to punish it after the fact (“if Israel bombs Iranian nuclear facilities, the president will likely withhold critical replenishments of destroyed Israeli aircraft and other weapons systems”). Bolton’s advice to Bibi is to stop trying to gain chits with Obama and strike while it is still possible. He argues:

The prime minister should recalibrate his approach, and soon. Israel’s deference on Palestinian issues will not help it with Mr. Obama after a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program. It would be a mistake to think that further delays in such a strike will materially change the toxic political response Israel can expect from the White House. Israel’s support will come from Congress and the American people, as opinion polls show, not from the president.

It is quite a dilemma, unlike nearly any an Israeli prime minister has faced so far. But that is because we have never had a president quite so openly dismissive of Israel’s interests. The Obami keep repeating mantras that sound increasingly insincere. There is no space between us on national security. The Americans understand the existential threat to Israel. Our bond with Israel is unshakable. But none of it rings true judging by the behavior and tactics of the Obami. Bully-boy tactics on peace talks and foot-dragging on the Iranian nuclear threat say just the opposite.

Bolton is right that Israel’s greatest aid in this remains Congress and the American public. But let’s not kid ourselves. The president matters and is indispensible both in his prerogative to cooperate or not with an Israeli strike and to react rhetorically and otherwise after the fact. Counting on Congress to check the poor instincts of a commander in chief who lacks any visceral connection to the Jewish state (and, indeed, sees it as a provocateur) is dicey at best. There simply isn’t any substitute for a president who sees American interests aligned with Israel’s and correctly perceives which parties are the problem. Unfortunately, we don’t have such a president right now.

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AIPAC Blasts Obama Administration

As unusual as it is for the ADL to weigh in on a controversial foreign-policy matter and blast an American administration, it is nearly unprecedented for AIPAC to do so. (Well, come to think of it, AIPAC blasted the Obami when they bestowed the Medal of Freedom on Mary Robinson, so perhaps we’ve reached a watershed with this administration, which seems bent on thumbing its nose at allies both domestic and international.) In a remarkable statement, AIPAC declared:

The Obama Administration’s recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish State. Israel is America’s closest ally in the Middle East. The foundation of the U.S-Israel relationship is rooted in America’s fundamental strategic interest, shared democratic values, and a long-time commitment to peace in the region. Those strategic interests, which we share with Israel, extend to every facet of American life and our relationship with the Jewish State, which enjoys vast bipartisan support in Congress and among the American people.

The Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests. The escalated rhetoric of recent days only serves as a distraction from the substantive work that needs to be done with regard to the urgent issue of Iran’s rapid pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and all her Arab neighbors.

We strongly urge the Administration to work closely and privately with our partner Israel, in a manner befitting strategic allies, to address any issues between the two governments.

As Vice President Biden said last week in Israel, “Progress in the Middle East occurs when there is no daylight between the United States and Israel.”

(A subsequent version of the statement, emphasizing that the Obami’s current temper tantrum is not consistent with the administration’s stated objectives, recited back Biden’s words, including his admonition during his visit: ”Bibi, you heard me say before, progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the United States and Israel. There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.”)

Translation: What are you people up to? To its credit, AIPAC took this unusual step because the administration seems blinded by its own peevishness and is no longer, frankly, acting in a rational matter. (To have remained silent would have signaled agreement by American pro-Israel voices with the administration’s gambit.) What is to be gained by the anti-Israel hectoring? Do the Obami think there’s domestic support for its war of words against Israel? The administration seems indifferent to these concerns and oblivious to the real damage it’s doing to both its relationship with Israel and with the American Jewish community, which seems finally to have reached its tolerance limit with the Obami. The latter largely have gotten a free pass from the American Jewish community for over a year and despite the administration’s unseriousness with regard to the looming Iranian nuclear threat and its declared effort to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel, in no small part because Jews have been the most loyal Obama supporters (and can therefore be taken for granted, one supposes). Let’s hope that this is a reminder that relationships cannot be taken for granted — either here or abroad.

As unusual as it is for the ADL to weigh in on a controversial foreign-policy matter and blast an American administration, it is nearly unprecedented for AIPAC to do so. (Well, come to think of it, AIPAC blasted the Obami when they bestowed the Medal of Freedom on Mary Robinson, so perhaps we’ve reached a watershed with this administration, which seems bent on thumbing its nose at allies both domestic and international.) In a remarkable statement, AIPAC declared:

The Obama Administration’s recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish State. Israel is America’s closest ally in the Middle East. The foundation of the U.S-Israel relationship is rooted in America’s fundamental strategic interest, shared democratic values, and a long-time commitment to peace in the region. Those strategic interests, which we share with Israel, extend to every facet of American life and our relationship with the Jewish State, which enjoys vast bipartisan support in Congress and among the American people.

The Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests. The escalated rhetoric of recent days only serves as a distraction from the substantive work that needs to be done with regard to the urgent issue of Iran’s rapid pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and all her Arab neighbors.

We strongly urge the Administration to work closely and privately with our partner Israel, in a manner befitting strategic allies, to address any issues between the two governments.

As Vice President Biden said last week in Israel, “Progress in the Middle East occurs when there is no daylight between the United States and Israel.”

(A subsequent version of the statement, emphasizing that the Obami’s current temper tantrum is not consistent with the administration’s stated objectives, recited back Biden’s words, including his admonition during his visit: ”Bibi, you heard me say before, progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the United States and Israel. There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.”)

Translation: What are you people up to? To its credit, AIPAC took this unusual step because the administration seems blinded by its own peevishness and is no longer, frankly, acting in a rational matter. (To have remained silent would have signaled agreement by American pro-Israel voices with the administration’s gambit.) What is to be gained by the anti-Israel hectoring? Do the Obami think there’s domestic support for its war of words against Israel? The administration seems indifferent to these concerns and oblivious to the real damage it’s doing to both its relationship with Israel and with the American Jewish community, which seems finally to have reached its tolerance limit with the Obami. The latter largely have gotten a free pass from the American Jewish community for over a year and despite the administration’s unseriousness with regard to the looming Iranian nuclear threat and its declared effort to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel, in no small part because Jews have been the most loyal Obama supporters (and can therefore be taken for granted, one supposes). Let’s hope that this is a reminder that relationships cannot be taken for granted — either here or abroad.

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It Gets Worse

The White House is, as this report suggests, upping the ante with continued criticism of Israel. Taking to the morning talk shows, David Axelrod — a political operative who now seems at the center of foreign-policy formulation (more on this later) — went on the Fox, ABC, and NBC Sunday talk shows to repeat how insulted the Obami were over Israeli building in Jerusalem and what an affront this was to them. And what is the affront? Well, for some context, this report is enlightening:

The Likud Party’s Danny Dadon, deputy speaker of the Knesset, called Clinton’s “meddling in internal Israeli decisions regarding the development” of Jerusalem “uninvited and unhelpful. In fact it is sheer chutzpah.”

“I cannot remember another time that a senior American official deemed it ‘insulting’ when a sovereign nation announced urban zoning decisions regarding its primary city,” Dadon said.

In the past, U.S. administrations have tended to more gently chide Israel on construction in Jerusalem that is over the “Green Line” boundary from the 1967 war, in areas where the Palestinians hope to build a capital as part of a future peace deal. More often, U.S. officials would call such construction “unhelpful,” and note that the future of Jerusalem is an issue to be decided in final status negotiations between the parties.

The reaction of the Obami is even more startling considering the location and strategic importance of Ramat Shlomo. But this administration doesn’t make such fine distinctions and is not like past ones, we are learning. It might have something to do with the fact that Axelrod and the Chicago pols are running foreign policy. It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic (even the Supreme Court Chief Justice). It’s about bullying and discrediting, trying to force the opponent into a corner. And in this case, their opponent is plainly the Israeli government. For that is the party the Obami is now demanding make further concessions to… well, to what end is not clear. Perhaps we are back to regime change — an effort to topple the duly elected government of Israel to obtain a negotiating partner more willing to yield to American bullying.

The language the Obami employ – ”personal,” “insulting,” and “affront” – suggests an unusual degree of personal peevishness and hostility toward an ally. That, I suppose, is the mentality of Chicago pols and of those who regard Israel not as a valued friend but as an irritant. And it is the language not of negotiators but of intimidators.

Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk, now a Senate candidate, issued this statement as the mess unfolded last week:

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, making it official United States policy that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel,” Congressman Kirk said.  “As a staff member, I helped draft this historic legislation; as a Congressman I continue to urge its enforcement.  History teaches us that a divided Jerusalem leads to conflict while a unified Jerusalem protects the rights of all faiths.  I urge the Administration to spend more time working to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs and less time concerned with zoning issues in Jerusalem.  As Iran accelerates its uranium enrichment, we should not be condemning one of America’s strongest democratic allies in the Middle East.

And that really sums it up: what end is served by this conflagration with an ally, and what does it say about the administration’s priorities? The Obami seem to have a strange notion about what motivates our foes and what the key threats to American security are. This exchange with Jake Tapper is telling — both for how extraordinarily irrational and how ill-formulated the administration’s rhetoric has become:

TAPPER:  All right, last question.  Vice President Biden went to Israel this week and he was greeted by a slap in the face, the announcement by the Israeli government of the approval of new housing units in an Arab section of Jerusalem.  President Obama was said to be very upset about it.  Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton made very strong comments about it.  Will there be any consequences, tangible consequences beyond the tough talk?  And does Israel’s intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?

AXELROD:  Well, look, what happened there was an affront.  It was an insult, but that’s not the most important thing.  What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process.  We’ve just gotten proximity, so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was — that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace — and security in the region.

Israel is a strong and special ally.  The bonds run deep.  But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave.  That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president.  I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we’ve had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward.

TAPPER:  I hate to say this, but yes or no, David, does the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue, yes or no, does it put U.S. troops lives at risk?

AXELROD:  I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I’m not going to put it in those terms.  But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.

A squirrely response at the end, revealing that much of what the administration says is irrational and, upon any reflection, ridiculous. It is disturbing indeed to hear an American administration adopt the Arab rhetorical line — Israel’s settlements endanger Americans. Which president has ever given voice to such rubbish? There is, regrettably, a first for everything.

The White House is, as this report suggests, upping the ante with continued criticism of Israel. Taking to the morning talk shows, David Axelrod — a political operative who now seems at the center of foreign-policy formulation (more on this later) — went on the Fox, ABC, and NBC Sunday talk shows to repeat how insulted the Obami were over Israeli building in Jerusalem and what an affront this was to them. And what is the affront? Well, for some context, this report is enlightening:

The Likud Party’s Danny Dadon, deputy speaker of the Knesset, called Clinton’s “meddling in internal Israeli decisions regarding the development” of Jerusalem “uninvited and unhelpful. In fact it is sheer chutzpah.”

“I cannot remember another time that a senior American official deemed it ‘insulting’ when a sovereign nation announced urban zoning decisions regarding its primary city,” Dadon said.

In the past, U.S. administrations have tended to more gently chide Israel on construction in Jerusalem that is over the “Green Line” boundary from the 1967 war, in areas where the Palestinians hope to build a capital as part of a future peace deal. More often, U.S. officials would call such construction “unhelpful,” and note that the future of Jerusalem is an issue to be decided in final status negotiations between the parties.

The reaction of the Obami is even more startling considering the location and strategic importance of Ramat Shlomo. But this administration doesn’t make such fine distinctions and is not like past ones, we are learning. It might have something to do with the fact that Axelrod and the Chicago pols are running foreign policy. It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic (even the Supreme Court Chief Justice). It’s about bullying and discrediting, trying to force the opponent into a corner. And in this case, their opponent is plainly the Israeli government. For that is the party the Obami is now demanding make further concessions to… well, to what end is not clear. Perhaps we are back to regime change — an effort to topple the duly elected government of Israel to obtain a negotiating partner more willing to yield to American bullying.

The language the Obami employ – ”personal,” “insulting,” and “affront” – suggests an unusual degree of personal peevishness and hostility toward an ally. That, I suppose, is the mentality of Chicago pols and of those who regard Israel not as a valued friend but as an irritant. And it is the language not of negotiators but of intimidators.

Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk, now a Senate candidate, issued this statement as the mess unfolded last week:

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, making it official United States policy that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel,” Congressman Kirk said.  “As a staff member, I helped draft this historic legislation; as a Congressman I continue to urge its enforcement.  History teaches us that a divided Jerusalem leads to conflict while a unified Jerusalem protects the rights of all faiths.  I urge the Administration to spend more time working to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs and less time concerned with zoning issues in Jerusalem.  As Iran accelerates its uranium enrichment, we should not be condemning one of America’s strongest democratic allies in the Middle East.

And that really sums it up: what end is served by this conflagration with an ally, and what does it say about the administration’s priorities? The Obami seem to have a strange notion about what motivates our foes and what the key threats to American security are. This exchange with Jake Tapper is telling — both for how extraordinarily irrational and how ill-formulated the administration’s rhetoric has become:

TAPPER:  All right, last question.  Vice President Biden went to Israel this week and he was greeted by a slap in the face, the announcement by the Israeli government of the approval of new housing units in an Arab section of Jerusalem.  President Obama was said to be very upset about it.  Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton made very strong comments about it.  Will there be any consequences, tangible consequences beyond the tough talk?  And does Israel’s intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?

AXELROD:  Well, look, what happened there was an affront.  It was an insult, but that’s not the most important thing.  What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process.  We’ve just gotten proximity, so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was — that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace — and security in the region.

Israel is a strong and special ally.  The bonds run deep.  But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave.  That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president.  I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we’ve had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward.

TAPPER:  I hate to say this, but yes or no, David, does the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue, yes or no, does it put U.S. troops lives at risk?

AXELROD:  I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I’m not going to put it in those terms.  But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.

A squirrely response at the end, revealing that much of what the administration says is irrational and, upon any reflection, ridiculous. It is disturbing indeed to hear an American administration adopt the Arab rhetorical line — Israel’s settlements endanger Americans. Which president has ever given voice to such rubbish? There is, regrettably, a first for everything.

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Heavy Meddle in Iran

The following is not hyperbole: the U.S. secretary of state has praised the freedom and pluralism of Iran’s Khomeinist revolution. In a lamentation for the passing of the good ol’ days, Hillary Clinton told an audience in Doha, Qatar, that today’s Iran is “a far cry from the Islamic republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle.”

However, it’s what this praise is offered in service of that’s most reprehensible: the reassertion of centralized power by Tehran’s autocratic clerics and politicians. Clinton has determined that a Revolutionary Guard coup is underway, and she urged the government to “take back the authority which they should be exercising on behalf of the people.”

Because we know how admirably it wields such authority.

The way the Obama administration sees things, the pre–June 12 mullahgarchy was fine and dandy. Sure, it was “death to America, death to Israel” every day, and there were public child-hangings and other exotic goodies that go with any “great country”; but with a little “mutual respect” and “open-hand” treatment, the mullahs would deal on the nuclear issue. So when hordes of democratic protesters took to the streets to topple Washington’s negotiating partners, the administration would have none of it. President Obama would “bear witness” as the regime broke Iranian skulls and leave things at that. As Reuel Marc Gerecht put it, Obama “gives the distinct impression that he’d rather have a nuclear deal with Khamenei than see the messiness that comes when autocracy gives way to representative government.” A weak argument could be mounted in Obama’s defense if a nuclear deal with Khamenei were even the vaguest possibility.

Meanwhile, Obama fans applauded the president’s prudence and put their faith in, of all things, online social networking to spur regime change in Iran. As we learned from the poor February 11 protest turnout in Iran, it takes more than Twitter to change history.

Iran’s democratic revolution is ailing, yet Hillary Clinton is still worried about weaknesses in the Iranian regime. The Revolutionary Guard, she has decided, has wrested control from clerics and politicians; this cannot stand. Hence, the secretary of State’s confused endorsement.

Among the many points that elude the Obama administration is that the Revolutionary Guard serves as the Praetorian Guard for the very politicians Clinton is now rallying behind. While the internal balance of power of the Iranian regime is fluid, the essential fact remains that a brutal, theocratic machine is engaged in the violent crackdown of a pro-democracy movement. The more disturbing complication here is that America has taken every opportunity to align itself with the former party against the latter. Try to imagine what Iran’s democratic protesters hear when the American administration that gave them no support now urges the regime in Tehran to remain strong.

What a historically tragic test case for “smart power.” Having likely missed the opportunity to support Iran’s democratic revolution before it atomized, the administration now gets behind the Khomeinist Revolution. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remains strong, the Revolutionary Guard sees to his dirty work, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad keeps the centrifuges spinning. Instead of supporting Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in hopes of negotiation, the U.S. should do everything in its power to turn Iran’s virtual democratic revolution into a real one. But that, alas, constitutes meddling. And we don’t do that anymore. This is how things end. Not with a bang but a Twitter.

The following is not hyperbole: the U.S. secretary of state has praised the freedom and pluralism of Iran’s Khomeinist revolution. In a lamentation for the passing of the good ol’ days, Hillary Clinton told an audience in Doha, Qatar, that today’s Iran is “a far cry from the Islamic republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle.”

However, it’s what this praise is offered in service of that’s most reprehensible: the reassertion of centralized power by Tehran’s autocratic clerics and politicians. Clinton has determined that a Revolutionary Guard coup is underway, and she urged the government to “take back the authority which they should be exercising on behalf of the people.”

Because we know how admirably it wields such authority.

The way the Obama administration sees things, the pre–June 12 mullahgarchy was fine and dandy. Sure, it was “death to America, death to Israel” every day, and there were public child-hangings and other exotic goodies that go with any “great country”; but with a little “mutual respect” and “open-hand” treatment, the mullahs would deal on the nuclear issue. So when hordes of democratic protesters took to the streets to topple Washington’s negotiating partners, the administration would have none of it. President Obama would “bear witness” as the regime broke Iranian skulls and leave things at that. As Reuel Marc Gerecht put it, Obama “gives the distinct impression that he’d rather have a nuclear deal with Khamenei than see the messiness that comes when autocracy gives way to representative government.” A weak argument could be mounted in Obama’s defense if a nuclear deal with Khamenei were even the vaguest possibility.

Meanwhile, Obama fans applauded the president’s prudence and put their faith in, of all things, online social networking to spur regime change in Iran. As we learned from the poor February 11 protest turnout in Iran, it takes more than Twitter to change history.

Iran’s democratic revolution is ailing, yet Hillary Clinton is still worried about weaknesses in the Iranian regime. The Revolutionary Guard, she has decided, has wrested control from clerics and politicians; this cannot stand. Hence, the secretary of State’s confused endorsement.

Among the many points that elude the Obama administration is that the Revolutionary Guard serves as the Praetorian Guard for the very politicians Clinton is now rallying behind. While the internal balance of power of the Iranian regime is fluid, the essential fact remains that a brutal, theocratic machine is engaged in the violent crackdown of a pro-democracy movement. The more disturbing complication here is that America has taken every opportunity to align itself with the former party against the latter. Try to imagine what Iran’s democratic protesters hear when the American administration that gave them no support now urges the regime in Tehran to remain strong.

What a historically tragic test case for “smart power.” Having likely missed the opportunity to support Iran’s democratic revolution before it atomized, the administration now gets behind the Khomeinist Revolution. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remains strong, the Revolutionary Guard sees to his dirty work, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad keeps the centrifuges spinning. Instead of supporting Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in hopes of negotiation, the U.S. should do everything in its power to turn Iran’s virtual democratic revolution into a real one. But that, alas, constitutes meddling. And we don’t do that anymore. This is how things end. Not with a bang but a Twitter.

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Our No-Contact Policy

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

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ANNAPOLIS Re Re: Monitoring and Judging

Noah, there is one reason to feel relief about the goings-on at Annapolis so far, and that is this: The negotiations in question are between Israel and the PA, with the United States serving as some kind of road-map referee. In his statement, George W. Bush did not change American policy one iota. It is not the responsibility of the United States government if the prime minister of Israel decides to start talking about the 1967 borders, and it would be foolish to expect any American administration to be more hard-line toward Palestinian demands for land and territory and borders than the government of Israel. The issue now is: What kind of pressure will the Israeli public exert on Olmert to temper his peculiar enthusiasm? Or will it be pressure of another kind that slows things down — pressure from Hamas, in the form of rockets hurled at Israel from Gaza and fomenting more strife in the Abbas-controlled lands of the West Bank?

Noah, there is one reason to feel relief about the goings-on at Annapolis so far, and that is this: The negotiations in question are between Israel and the PA, with the United States serving as some kind of road-map referee. In his statement, George W. Bush did not change American policy one iota. It is not the responsibility of the United States government if the prime minister of Israel decides to start talking about the 1967 borders, and it would be foolish to expect any American administration to be more hard-line toward Palestinian demands for land and territory and borders than the government of Israel. The issue now is: What kind of pressure will the Israeli public exert on Olmert to temper his peculiar enthusiasm? Or will it be pressure of another kind that slows things down — pressure from Hamas, in the form of rockets hurled at Israel from Gaza and fomenting more strife in the Abbas-controlled lands of the West Bank?

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Ricciardone’s Copt-Out

Since the unexpectedly strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in late 2005—and other rough seas that President Bush’s policies encountered in Iraq and Palestine—the administration has pulled in its horns on the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. Tactical retreats are not tantamount to an abandonment of policy, but apparently no one has told this to the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Frances Ricciardone. In recent public comments Ricciardone has gone out of his way to excuse and cover up some of the most serious violations of democracy and human rights in Egypt.

In a television interview (the transcript of which is posted on the embassy’s website), the ambassador was asked about the circumstances of the Coptic Christians who constitute an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Here is the relevant exchange:

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Since the unexpectedly strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in late 2005—and other rough seas that President Bush’s policies encountered in Iraq and Palestine—the administration has pulled in its horns on the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. Tactical retreats are not tantamount to an abandonment of policy, but apparently no one has told this to the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Frances Ricciardone. In recent public comments Ricciardone has gone out of his way to excuse and cover up some of the most serious violations of democracy and human rights in Egypt.

In a television interview (the transcript of which is posted on the embassy’s website), the ambassador was asked about the circumstances of the Coptic Christians who constitute an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Here is the relevant exchange:

Interviewer: Do [Copts] have a problem? Are they a minority who suffers discrimination?

Ambassador: Even in the U.S., minorities may feel that they are discriminated against. This happens in every country of the world. What is important is that there should be legal protection for all minorities. This is found in Egypt. You even have what is more powerful than law, and by that I mean strong traditions, and the Egyptian spirit of tolerance and brotherhood.

Interviewer: Then you see no problem or discrimination against Copts in Egypt? And when you write reports as an American ambassador to the American administration, upon which the Congress or others make decisions, you don’t write that there is discrimination or bias against the Copts in Egypt?

Ambassador: Naturally, here in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech, so it is possible for anyone to complain about any personal or social problem. If there is a problem, there are legal ways to deal with it, whether here or in the U.S.

Interviewer: But you don’t see that there is a Coptic problem or discrimination in Egypt?

Ambassador: Of course, I have not seen that personally, as I am not a Coptic Egyptian citizen.

Interviewer: If the American administration asked you one day, “We are writing a religious-freedom report in Egypt, and we need to know the position of the Copts in Egypt. Are they discriminated against or not?” How would you answer them? What would your report be here from the embassy in Egypt?

Ambassador: I will say that it is normal to have social issues, as with any place in the world. But I do not think that there is organized discrimination by the Egyptian state. There might be individual discrimination, or people who lack good manners, and as a result, complaints are voiced. This happens everywhere, even in the U.S. Egypt is no exception. This is something we must all stand against.

Here are a few items about the status of Copts that have no analogue in the U.S., items that Ricciardone seems to have overlooked:

• The Egyptian constitution specifies that Islamic law is “the main source” of Egyptian law.

• Copts do not have the right to build churches. They must get approval from the president of the country or from a regional governor. Such approval is not routinely granted. In one town, Asyut, the Christians have been waiting since 1935. There are also constraints on the height and location of churches vis à vis nearby mosques. The requirement for high government approval applies not only to building new churches but also to renovating or even repairing existing ones. Needless to say, there are no comparable constraints on mosque building or repair.

• Compulsory military service in Egypt is for three years—unless you can recite the Qur’an by heart, in which case it is reduced to one year.

• Al Azhar University is funded by the state, including the taxes of Christians. Although it is best known as a center of Sunni scholarship, you can also study medicine or history or other subjects there—but only if you are a Muslim. Non-Muslims are not admitted.

• Muslim clergy—like other employees in Egypt—receive social insurance from the state; Christian clergy do not.

Bad “manners,” indeed. Ricciardone’s whitewash of all this is bad enough, but his comment that “here in Egypt, as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech” adds insult to injury, coming just when the Egyptian government has begun imprisoning bloggers. One of them, Abdel Kareem Suleiman, was given three years* for insulting Islam. What is the penalty for insulting Christianity?

*Suleiman’s sentence length was originally misstated.

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