Commentary Magazine


Topic: Brent Scowcroft

Never the Policy

It’s never the policy. That is the Democrats’ watchword when it comes to explaining failure, whether it is substantive or political.

On domestic policy, Obama is now complaining we’ve all gotten the wrong idea that he is a tax-and-spend liberal. On Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol explained:

Now, it’s a little farcical since he was a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat. He had chances not to be. He could have cut a deal on taxes six weeks ago, accepted the Republican proposal to extend the Bush tax rates and say, “You know what? I’m not your traditional tax- hiking Democrat.”

He insisted on tax hikes. He’s a huge spender. But I think that’s very revealing. When a liberal says, “I can’t look like a tax- and-spend liberal Democrat,” he is conceding you can’t govern this country as a liberal Democrat.

If I were a liberal, I’d be upset about that. It would be as if a conservative president said, “Well, I’ve learned I can’t just look like some conservative.” I mean, the whole point of Barack Obama’s presidency was to be the next wave of liberalism. Isn’t that why they were so excited two years ago?

The foreign policy version of this was set forth by David Ignatius by way of Zbig Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. You get this gobbledygook:

What perplexed both men was the disconnect between Obama’s strategic vision and what he has been able to achieve. “He makes dramatic presidential speeches,” said Brzezinski, “but it’s never translated into a process in which good ideas become strategies.”

They are perplexed because they do not find fault with the underlying assumptions of Obama’s foreign policy. So it’s distraction by the economy or failure to “implement” his foreign policy vision that is the problem. And they’re very miffed, of course, that Obama didn’t cram a peace deal down the Israelis’ throats.

The domestic and foreign policy excuses abound — the Republicans undermined Obama, Bibi wrecked the peace process, the 24/7 news cycle makes governing impossible, and the country is ungovernable or irrational. The degree to which the president and his team lack virtually any ability to reflect on and evaluate the substance of their agenda is remarkable. There is, of course, no one in the White House who does not embrace a leftist ideology. They therefore must ignore populist unrest, ample polling, and any evidence that suggests that their economic policy and foreign policy vision is fundamentally flawed, not to mention politically untenable.

Republicans should keep their fingers crossed that this obtuseness is heartfelt and long-lasting. Should the White House internalize the lessons of the past two years (e.g., Keynesian economics is a bust, the Palestinians aren’t ready for a peace deal, the public resists the vast expansion of the public sector), they might be able to adjust course and rescue the Obama presidency. But so far, I see no danger of that occurring.

It’s never the policy. That is the Democrats’ watchword when it comes to explaining failure, whether it is substantive or political.

On domestic policy, Obama is now complaining we’ve all gotten the wrong idea that he is a tax-and-spend liberal. On Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol explained:

Now, it’s a little farcical since he was a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat. He had chances not to be. He could have cut a deal on taxes six weeks ago, accepted the Republican proposal to extend the Bush tax rates and say, “You know what? I’m not your traditional tax- hiking Democrat.”

He insisted on tax hikes. He’s a huge spender. But I think that’s very revealing. When a liberal says, “I can’t look like a tax- and-spend liberal Democrat,” he is conceding you can’t govern this country as a liberal Democrat.

If I were a liberal, I’d be upset about that. It would be as if a conservative president said, “Well, I’ve learned I can’t just look like some conservative.” I mean, the whole point of Barack Obama’s presidency was to be the next wave of liberalism. Isn’t that why they were so excited two years ago?

The foreign policy version of this was set forth by David Ignatius by way of Zbig Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. You get this gobbledygook:

What perplexed both men was the disconnect between Obama’s strategic vision and what he has been able to achieve. “He makes dramatic presidential speeches,” said Brzezinski, “but it’s never translated into a process in which good ideas become strategies.”

They are perplexed because they do not find fault with the underlying assumptions of Obama’s foreign policy. So it’s distraction by the economy or failure to “implement” his foreign policy vision that is the problem. And they’re very miffed, of course, that Obama didn’t cram a peace deal down the Israelis’ throats.

The domestic and foreign policy excuses abound — the Republicans undermined Obama, Bibi wrecked the peace process, the 24/7 news cycle makes governing impossible, and the country is ungovernable or irrational. The degree to which the president and his team lack virtually any ability to reflect on and evaluate the substance of their agenda is remarkable. There is, of course, no one in the White House who does not embrace a leftist ideology. They therefore must ignore populist unrest, ample polling, and any evidence that suggests that their economic policy and foreign policy vision is fundamentally flawed, not to mention politically untenable.

Republicans should keep their fingers crossed that this obtuseness is heartfelt and long-lasting. Should the White House internalize the lessons of the past two years (e.g., Keynesian economics is a bust, the Palestinians aren’t ready for a peace deal, the public resists the vast expansion of the public sector), they might be able to adjust course and rescue the Obama presidency. But so far, I see no danger of that occurring.

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Are Jews That Gullible?

Ben Smith says that he was dubious about the Obama team’s charm offensive with American Jews. After all, how could they be so foolish as to take puffery seriously and be wowed by a lunch with Elie Wiesel? Aren’t Jews, you know, supposed to be smarter than that? After all, the underlying policy hasn’t changed one iota. And in fact the administration is flaunting its anti-Israel connections.

Smith also picks up this tidbit:

Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber drew the camera flashes at the White House Correspondents dinner, but foreign policy geeks took closer note of the TPM table, where National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough — probably the most powerful foreign policy staffer in the administration — was seated with the two grand old men of “realist politics,” former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Also at the table, New America’s Steve Clemons, who qualified that he and the others are “progressive realists” and added that the table also included “Sex and the City” creator Darren Starr and TPM founder Josh Marshall, the host.

Scowcroft and Brzezinski have been vying for influence in the Obama White House since Obama introduced the latter in Iowa, then distanced himself from him over Israel. They’re currently central to the efforts to persuade Obama to advance his own Mideast peace plan.

McDonough, who came up on the process-oriented Hill, tends to keep his own broader views on foreign policy close to the vest.

To translate: one of the administration’s key foreign-policy hands goes to the most highly publicized event in town to hob-nob with the advisor who Obama had sworn during the campaign not to be an advisor, who has suggested that we shoot down Israeli planes if they cross Iraqi air space on the way to Iran, and who wants to impose a peace deal on Israel. And, for good measure, he sits with the purveyors of a website infamous for puff pieces on terrorists and committed to a hard-left anti-Israel line. It was an act of defiance — see who our friends are? Well, I guess we do.

So the question remains whether the Jewish community is as easily lulled into passivity as the Obama administration believes. Can a few carefully worded speeches get American Jews off their backs? After all, they’ve been so mute about the effort by Obama to undermine sanctions. And really, they were able to “condemn” Israel without being condemned in turn by the Jewish groups, which have clung so dearly to the Democratic Party. Smith shouldn’t be skeptical: American Jewish officialdom is falling over themselves to make up with the administration. Whether rank-and-file members and the larger Jewish community are as easily swayed, remains to be seen.

Ben Smith says that he was dubious about the Obama team’s charm offensive with American Jews. After all, how could they be so foolish as to take puffery seriously and be wowed by a lunch with Elie Wiesel? Aren’t Jews, you know, supposed to be smarter than that? After all, the underlying policy hasn’t changed one iota. And in fact the administration is flaunting its anti-Israel connections.

Smith also picks up this tidbit:

Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber drew the camera flashes at the White House Correspondents dinner, but foreign policy geeks took closer note of the TPM table, where National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough — probably the most powerful foreign policy staffer in the administration — was seated with the two grand old men of “realist politics,” former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Also at the table, New America’s Steve Clemons, who qualified that he and the others are “progressive realists” and added that the table also included “Sex and the City” creator Darren Starr and TPM founder Josh Marshall, the host.

Scowcroft and Brzezinski have been vying for influence in the Obama White House since Obama introduced the latter in Iowa, then distanced himself from him over Israel. They’re currently central to the efforts to persuade Obama to advance his own Mideast peace plan.

McDonough, who came up on the process-oriented Hill, tends to keep his own broader views on foreign policy close to the vest.

To translate: one of the administration’s key foreign-policy hands goes to the most highly publicized event in town to hob-nob with the advisor who Obama had sworn during the campaign not to be an advisor, who has suggested that we shoot down Israeli planes if they cross Iraqi air space on the way to Iran, and who wants to impose a peace deal on Israel. And, for good measure, he sits with the purveyors of a website infamous for puff pieces on terrorists and committed to a hard-left anti-Israel line. It was an act of defiance — see who our friends are? Well, I guess we do.

So the question remains whether the Jewish community is as easily lulled into passivity as the Obama administration believes. Can a few carefully worded speeches get American Jews off their backs? After all, they’ve been so mute about the effort by Obama to undermine sanctions. And really, they were able to “condemn” Israel without being condemned in turn by the Jewish groups, which have clung so dearly to the Democratic Party. Smith shouldn’t be skeptical: American Jewish officialdom is falling over themselves to make up with the administration. Whether rank-and-file members and the larger Jewish community are as easily swayed, remains to be seen.

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Jewish Voters Deceived

Those disturbed by President Obama’s habit of saying one thing in the campaign and doing another while in office have another example, this one on foreign policy. And those disturbed by the talk of the president issuing his own Arab-Israeli peace plan have another, related question to ponder: what is Carter-administration official Zbigniew Brzezinski doing in the room? During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama addressed the issue of Brzezinski’s role directly at least twice when asked about it by concerned Jewish voters. Relations between Brzezinski and the Obama campaign were already an issue, with Alan Dershowitz having publicly called on Obama to repudiate Brzezinski when he met with about 100 members of the Cleveland Jewish Community on February 24, 2008. Here’s what he said:

I know Brzezinski. He’s not one of my key advisors. I’ve had lunch with him once, I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe 3 times. … I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally….

Then, on April 16, 2008, candidate Obama met with Jewish leaders from the Philadelphia area. This is how the New York Sun reported the April 16 meeting:

Rabbi Neil Cooper of Beth Hillel-Beth El Synagogue came away skeptical. He said he buttonholed the candidate as he was leaving the event and asked him about the connection between Mr. Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the Obama campaign. “From my perspective, the devil here is going to be in the details,” Rabbi Cooper said. “The questions I have have to do with his very pronouncements on Israel on the one hand, which are positive, and then he seems to attract all kinds of other people who have a different agenda on Israel, like Brzezinski. I said, ‘Why don’t you get rid of Brzezinski?’ He says he listens to Brzezinski on certain things but not when it comes to Israel. (Emphasis added.)

Now comes a report in the New York Times according to which, at a White House meeting, President Obama asked Mr. Brzezinski for his advice on whether to put forward an American plan for Arab-Israeli peace. Worse, present at this same meeting was Brent Scowcroft, whom, back during the campaign, Obama proxies were criticizing Senator McCain for listening to. President Obama says consumers need a new regulatory agency to protect them from being conned by greedy bankers. But as far as fraudulent sales jobs go, the one that the Democrat pulled on Jewish voters in 2008 is one for the ages.

Those disturbed by President Obama’s habit of saying one thing in the campaign and doing another while in office have another example, this one on foreign policy. And those disturbed by the talk of the president issuing his own Arab-Israeli peace plan have another, related question to ponder: what is Carter-administration official Zbigniew Brzezinski doing in the room? During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama addressed the issue of Brzezinski’s role directly at least twice when asked about it by concerned Jewish voters. Relations between Brzezinski and the Obama campaign were already an issue, with Alan Dershowitz having publicly called on Obama to repudiate Brzezinski when he met with about 100 members of the Cleveland Jewish Community on February 24, 2008. Here’s what he said:

I know Brzezinski. He’s not one of my key advisors. I’ve had lunch with him once, I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe 3 times. … I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally….

Then, on April 16, 2008, candidate Obama met with Jewish leaders from the Philadelphia area. This is how the New York Sun reported the April 16 meeting:

Rabbi Neil Cooper of Beth Hillel-Beth El Synagogue came away skeptical. He said he buttonholed the candidate as he was leaving the event and asked him about the connection between Mr. Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the Obama campaign. “From my perspective, the devil here is going to be in the details,” Rabbi Cooper said. “The questions I have have to do with his very pronouncements on Israel on the one hand, which are positive, and then he seems to attract all kinds of other people who have a different agenda on Israel, like Brzezinski. I said, ‘Why don’t you get rid of Brzezinski?’ He says he listens to Brzezinski on certain things but not when it comes to Israel. (Emphasis added.)

Now comes a report in the New York Times according to which, at a White House meeting, President Obama asked Mr. Brzezinski for his advice on whether to put forward an American plan for Arab-Israeli peace. Worse, present at this same meeting was Brent Scowcroft, whom, back during the campaign, Obama proxies were criticizing Senator McCain for listening to. President Obama says consumers need a new regulatory agency to protect them from being conned by greedy bankers. But as far as fraudulent sales jobs go, the one that the Democrat pulled on Jewish voters in 2008 is one for the ages.

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Obama’s Diplomatic War on Israel Is Just Getting Started

Apparently, David Ignatius of the Washington Post isn’t the only recipient of White House leaks about an Obama peace plan. Helen Cooper of the New York Times chimed in with her own piece this afternoon about the president’s desire to jump into the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to Cooper, the trigger for this latest instance of administration hubris was a recent gathering of former national-security advisers including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Samuel Berger, and Colin Powell, who were called in to consult with the president and his adviser General James L. Jones. The consensus (only Powell seems to have dissented) was that Obama must put forward his own scheme that would state exactly what the parameters of a peace deal would be. The idea is that peace can only be obtained by the United States imposing it on the parties. The plan is, of course, along the lines of past Israeli peace offers rejected by the Palestinians, plus extra Israeli concessions. The Palestinians give up their “right of return,” and Israel “would return to its 1967 borders,” including the one that divided Jerusalem, with only “a few negotiated settlements” as an exception. The supposed sweetener for Israel is that the United States or NATO, whose troops would be stationed along the Jordan River, would guarantee Israeli security.

Cheering from the sidelines is former Clinton staffer Robert Malley, who advised Obama on Middle East issues during the 2008 campaign until he was put aside to reassure Jewish voters worried about the Democrats having a man on staff who had served as an apologist for Yasser Arafat in the aftermath of the 2000 Camp David talks. For Malley, the logic of an American diktat is simple: “It’s not rocket science. If the U.S. wants it done, it will have to do it.”

This fits in with the messianic self-confidence of the president, and with the vision of his presidency that his staffers exude. They are not interested in the fact that such attempts have always failed because of Palestinian intransigence, or that such attempts have ultimately led to more, not less, violence. It isn’t clear whether they truly believe that weak figures like Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad can sign any peace deal that recognizes Israel’s existence within any borders. But the administration’s simmering resentment against Israel seems to be driving this development more than anything else. Even if such a plan failed, as it surely would, the mere exercise of attempting to shove it down a reluctant Israel’s throat would appear to be deeply satisfying to figures like Brzezinski and Malley and perhaps Obama, whose predilection for trumped-up bitter disputes with the Jewish state and its leaders is now an established fact.

The effort to leak this story to multiple outlets appears to be a continuation of Obama’s feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Having failed to make Netanyahu bend to his will on the building of homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Obama is now raising the stakes by pointedly holding out the possibility that he will impose his own partition on Israel’s capital after the certain failure of the so-called “proximity talks” — so named because the Palestinians will not even sit in the same room to talk peace with Israelis.

It goes without saying that such a plan from Obama would, itself, constitute the baseline of future Arab demands on Israel because, as even Cooper points out, “once Mr. Obama puts American parameters on the table, the Palestinians will refuse to accept anything less.”

The prospect of an Obama dictat aimed at Israel again raises the question of what Jewish Democrats think about all this. Some may have thought that Obama’s rage at Netanyahu and the histrionics that the president and his staff have engaged in during the last month was just a passing phase, to be forgotten as the administration moved on to other issues. But apparently, Obama’s anger at Israel and his desire to bring down Bibi and to force the Jewish state to surrender on Jerusalem has not diminished. Obama’s diplomatic war on Israel seems to be just beginning.

Apparently, David Ignatius of the Washington Post isn’t the only recipient of White House leaks about an Obama peace plan. Helen Cooper of the New York Times chimed in with her own piece this afternoon about the president’s desire to jump into the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to Cooper, the trigger for this latest instance of administration hubris was a recent gathering of former national-security advisers including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Samuel Berger, and Colin Powell, who were called in to consult with the president and his adviser General James L. Jones. The consensus (only Powell seems to have dissented) was that Obama must put forward his own scheme that would state exactly what the parameters of a peace deal would be. The idea is that peace can only be obtained by the United States imposing it on the parties. The plan is, of course, along the lines of past Israeli peace offers rejected by the Palestinians, plus extra Israeli concessions. The Palestinians give up their “right of return,” and Israel “would return to its 1967 borders,” including the one that divided Jerusalem, with only “a few negotiated settlements” as an exception. The supposed sweetener for Israel is that the United States or NATO, whose troops would be stationed along the Jordan River, would guarantee Israeli security.

Cheering from the sidelines is former Clinton staffer Robert Malley, who advised Obama on Middle East issues during the 2008 campaign until he was put aside to reassure Jewish voters worried about the Democrats having a man on staff who had served as an apologist for Yasser Arafat in the aftermath of the 2000 Camp David talks. For Malley, the logic of an American diktat is simple: “It’s not rocket science. If the U.S. wants it done, it will have to do it.”

This fits in with the messianic self-confidence of the president, and with the vision of his presidency that his staffers exude. They are not interested in the fact that such attempts have always failed because of Palestinian intransigence, or that such attempts have ultimately led to more, not less, violence. It isn’t clear whether they truly believe that weak figures like Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad can sign any peace deal that recognizes Israel’s existence within any borders. But the administration’s simmering resentment against Israel seems to be driving this development more than anything else. Even if such a plan failed, as it surely would, the mere exercise of attempting to shove it down a reluctant Israel’s throat would appear to be deeply satisfying to figures like Brzezinski and Malley and perhaps Obama, whose predilection for trumped-up bitter disputes with the Jewish state and its leaders is now an established fact.

The effort to leak this story to multiple outlets appears to be a continuation of Obama’s feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Having failed to make Netanyahu bend to his will on the building of homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Obama is now raising the stakes by pointedly holding out the possibility that he will impose his own partition on Israel’s capital after the certain failure of the so-called “proximity talks” — so named because the Palestinians will not even sit in the same room to talk peace with Israelis.

It goes without saying that such a plan from Obama would, itself, constitute the baseline of future Arab demands on Israel because, as even Cooper points out, “once Mr. Obama puts American parameters on the table, the Palestinians will refuse to accept anything less.”

The prospect of an Obama dictat aimed at Israel again raises the question of what Jewish Democrats think about all this. Some may have thought that Obama’s rage at Netanyahu and the histrionics that the president and his staff have engaged in during the last month was just a passing phase, to be forgotten as the administration moved on to other issues. But apparently, Obama’s anger at Israel and his desire to bring down Bibi and to force the Jewish state to surrender on Jerusalem has not diminished. Obama’s diplomatic war on Israel seems to be just beginning.

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Carter’s Historic Relationship with Hamas

In defending his meetings with high-ranking members of Hamas, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has argued that Hamas’s participation is essential to any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

For Carter, this is a useful argument. After all, in the aftermath of Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and subsequent coup in Gaza last June, many in the policy world have reached the same conclusion. For example, in the run-up to the Annapolis peace conference in November, prominent foreign policy figures from both Republican and Democratic administrations–including Thomas Pickering, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Lee Hamilton–similarly wrote that “a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas’s cooperation.”

But Carter’s current round of meetings with Hamas officials is not the result of pragmatism. Rather, it represents the most recent–and most public–chapter in Carter’s longtime relationship with the organization. According to the Jerusalem Post‘s archives, Carter has advocated for Hamas’ legitimization since at least 1990, when he called on Yasser Arafat to include Hamas in the PLO. And according to a Voice of Palestine transcript retrieved on Lexis-Nexis, Carter met with top-ranking Hamas officials–including the organization’s co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar–six years later, exacting a promise that the group wouldn’t disrupt the first-ever Palestinian Authority elections.

Interestingly, these early interactions with Hamas left a bad taste in Carter’s mouth. As Carter wrote in a 2004 New York Times op-ed, Hamas ultimately rejected his efforts to have them accept Arafat’s leadership, instead undertaking a campaign of suicide bombings that derailed the Oslo peace process. As a consequence, Carter declined to meet with Hamas officials for nearly a decade, lifting his boycott in the weeks prior to the 2006 elections.

Yet, by this time, Carter was ripe for Hamas’s courtship. In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter gives a typically uncritical account of his meeting with Hamas official Mahmoud Ramahi:

When I questioned him about the necessity for Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel, he responded that they had not committed an act of violence since a ceasefire was declared in August 2004 and were willing and able to extend and enforce their cease-fire (hudna) for “two, ten, or fifty years” if Israel would reciprocate by refraining from attacks on the Palestinians. He added that there had been no allegations of terrorism or corruption among their serving local leaders, and that Israel had so far refused to recognize the Palestinian National Authority (only the PLO) and had rejected the key provisions of the Oslo Agreement. Hamas’s first priorities would be to form a government, to maintain order, and to deal with the financial crisis.

Of course, contrary to Ramahi’s promises to Carter, Hamas’s priorities hardly changed following the elections. Indeed, Hamas has strengthened its relationship with Iran, dedicated substantial resources to building its arsenal and smuggling weapons, and intensified its rocket attacks against Israel.

In short, Carter’s own dealings with Hamas have twice proven that engaging terrorists is detrimental to peace prospects. This should silence the growing chorus that views dialogue with Hamas as a pragmatic necessity. After all, aside from winning elections, how has Hamas–or its openness to peaceful compromise–changed?

In defending his meetings with high-ranking members of Hamas, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has argued that Hamas’s participation is essential to any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

For Carter, this is a useful argument. After all, in the aftermath of Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and subsequent coup in Gaza last June, many in the policy world have reached the same conclusion. For example, in the run-up to the Annapolis peace conference in November, prominent foreign policy figures from both Republican and Democratic administrations–including Thomas Pickering, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Lee Hamilton–similarly wrote that “a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas’s cooperation.”

But Carter’s current round of meetings with Hamas officials is not the result of pragmatism. Rather, it represents the most recent–and most public–chapter in Carter’s longtime relationship with the organization. According to the Jerusalem Post‘s archives, Carter has advocated for Hamas’ legitimization since at least 1990, when he called on Yasser Arafat to include Hamas in the PLO. And according to a Voice of Palestine transcript retrieved on Lexis-Nexis, Carter met with top-ranking Hamas officials–including the organization’s co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar–six years later, exacting a promise that the group wouldn’t disrupt the first-ever Palestinian Authority elections.

Interestingly, these early interactions with Hamas left a bad taste in Carter’s mouth. As Carter wrote in a 2004 New York Times op-ed, Hamas ultimately rejected his efforts to have them accept Arafat’s leadership, instead undertaking a campaign of suicide bombings that derailed the Oslo peace process. As a consequence, Carter declined to meet with Hamas officials for nearly a decade, lifting his boycott in the weeks prior to the 2006 elections.

Yet, by this time, Carter was ripe for Hamas’s courtship. In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter gives a typically uncritical account of his meeting with Hamas official Mahmoud Ramahi:

When I questioned him about the necessity for Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel, he responded that they had not committed an act of violence since a ceasefire was declared in August 2004 and were willing and able to extend and enforce their cease-fire (hudna) for “two, ten, or fifty years” if Israel would reciprocate by refraining from attacks on the Palestinians. He added that there had been no allegations of terrorism or corruption among their serving local leaders, and that Israel had so far refused to recognize the Palestinian National Authority (only the PLO) and had rejected the key provisions of the Oslo Agreement. Hamas’s first priorities would be to form a government, to maintain order, and to deal with the financial crisis.

Of course, contrary to Ramahi’s promises to Carter, Hamas’s priorities hardly changed following the elections. Indeed, Hamas has strengthened its relationship with Iran, dedicated substantial resources to building its arsenal and smuggling weapons, and intensified its rocket attacks against Israel.

In short, Carter’s own dealings with Hamas have twice proven that engaging terrorists is detrimental to peace prospects. This should silence the growing chorus that views dialogue with Hamas as a pragmatic necessity. After all, aside from winning elections, how has Hamas–or its openness to peaceful compromise–changed?

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Annapolis: Engaging With What?

Yesterday I attended two Annapolis-related presentations in Washington, the first at the New America Foundation and the second at the National Press Club, sponsored by The Israel Project. The events offered a useful contrast in the way that two camps view not just the state of the peace process, but the conflict itself. The Israel Project symposium featured Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz, Tamara Cofman Wittes of Brookings, and David Wurmser, the former Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney. This was by far the more interesting presentation, as the three participants were serious people trafficking in serious ideas.

The New America event, on the other hand, was intended to publicize the “re-release” of a letter first published in the New York Review of Books on October 10th, most notably signed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, and Brent Scowcroft, which has now attracted a couple dozen more signatories. It was ignored the first time it was published, and it’s enjoyable to predict that the addition of the signatures of Joseph Wilson and Gary Hart is going to further cement its irrelevance.

In any event, the New America panelists were Daniel Levy, Robert Malley, Ghaith al-Omari, and Steve Clemons, and they lodged as their major criticism the United States and Israel’s refusal to “engage” Hamas. That refusal is shaping up, for the realist and leftist critics of the peace process, as a primary objection, and in the coming months it will likely be invoked by the same critics as a major reason why Annapolis accomplished nothing. This faction is positioning its argument so that the failure of Annapolis can be leveraged to undermine the isolation of Hamas. As such, it is worth wondering whether people like Malley and Levy actually have a point.

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Yesterday I attended two Annapolis-related presentations in Washington, the first at the New America Foundation and the second at the National Press Club, sponsored by The Israel Project. The events offered a useful contrast in the way that two camps view not just the state of the peace process, but the conflict itself. The Israel Project symposium featured Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz, Tamara Cofman Wittes of Brookings, and David Wurmser, the former Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney. This was by far the more interesting presentation, as the three participants were serious people trafficking in serious ideas.

The New America event, on the other hand, was intended to publicize the “re-release” of a letter first published in the New York Review of Books on October 10th, most notably signed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, and Brent Scowcroft, which has now attracted a couple dozen more signatories. It was ignored the first time it was published, and it’s enjoyable to predict that the addition of the signatures of Joseph Wilson and Gary Hart is going to further cement its irrelevance.

In any event, the New America panelists were Daniel Levy, Robert Malley, Ghaith al-Omari, and Steve Clemons, and they lodged as their major criticism the United States and Israel’s refusal to “engage” Hamas. That refusal is shaping up, for the realist and leftist critics of the peace process, as a primary objection, and in the coming months it will likely be invoked by the same critics as a major reason why Annapolis accomplished nothing. This faction is positioning its argument so that the failure of Annapolis can be leveraged to undermine the isolation of Hamas. As such, it is worth wondering whether people like Malley and Levy actually have a point.

The engagement camp says that it wishes to bolster the moderates while engaging the extremists, which is presented as a cost-free way to conduct diplomacy—never mind that U.S. diplomatic attention directed at Hamas thoroughly would discredit Mahmoud Abbas, whose only selling point to the Palestinian people at this point is the fact that he is the Palestinians’ only focal point for American and Israeli attention. That is a rather obvious point, of course. But the one I wish to emphasize involves the incompleteness with which the engagement camp makes its case.

What I have always found strange about the engagers is their reluctance to make arguments that move beyond bumper-sticker bromides about the need to talk to your enemies, and to explain precisely what would be up for discussion with Hamas. The Hamas charter seems to preempt diplomacy insofar as it says that “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.” I say “seems,” because perhaps in practice Hamas does not hew to the strict language of its founding declaration—but alas, there is no historic or contemporary evidence for this conceit. Hamas is famous for denying the right of Israel to exist, but not many people seem to pay much regard to the fact that Hamas also denies the right of Palestine to exist: Hamas has always been abundantly clear that its goal is the violent imposition of an Islamic caliphate throughout the Middle East—not the establishment of a Palestinian state.

So what, pray tell, do people like Daniel Levy and Robert Malley propose is up for negotiation with Hamas? In the face of both Hamas’s plainly stated antipathy to diplomacy, in addition to decades of concrete experience of the same, would it not behoove Levy and Malley to pay special attention to this particular aspect of engaging Hamas? Shouldn’t an explanation about the contours of, and prospects for, a successful pursuit of diplomacy with Hamas indeed be the very first thing to which Levy and Malley set themselves? I know that if I were arguing in good faith for engagement, this is where I would be compelled to start: to provide an answer to the question, What can Israel offer Hamas other than its own suicide?

At yesterday’s event, as he has elsewhere, Levy proposed an Israel-Hamas cease-fire as a starting measure…and then changed the subject. Well, what comes after that, Daniel? How many times has Hamas agreed to cease-fires with Israel (and with Fatah) out of its own need to regroup and rearm, only to attack later at a time of its choosing? At what point in the course of the “engagement” process do the leaders of Hamas renounce the basic premises and tactics for which their movement stands? Does Khaled Mashal march down to his local Al Jazeera office in Damascus to announce to the world that because he got a phone call from a member of the Quartet, he’s realized that all the crazy stuff in the Hamas charter—about how the Jews started the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, both World Wars, the League of Nations, the United Nations, the Rotary Club and the Freemasons, all in pursuit of Zionist world domination—was perhaps a bit too anti-Semitic? Can you tell us, Robert Malley—you who has argued repeatedly that giving money, diplomatic attention, and concessions to Hamas will change the group—of a single instance in which Hamas permanently has moderated a position or altered its behavior because of diplomatic pressure? As people who continuously are banging on the table about “genuine engagement” with Hamas, is it too much to ask, you know, for some genuine details?

As it stands right now, the intellectual output of the Levy-Malley faction involves bromides about “engagement” that are quickly buried in an avalanche of ambiguous diplomatic jargon designed to avoid the possibility of having to commit themselves to engaging in a serious explanation of how diplomacy is going to transform Hamas from a genocidal Islamic supremacist group to a peaceful Palestinian nationalist movement. This is an act of alchemy that Levy and Malley cannot credibly perform, and it is the reason why all of their voluminous babble about engagement never manages to rise above the level of the vague cliché.

There are dozens of reasons why Annapolis will be unable to achieve anything close to its stated goals, but, contrary to popular opinion, one of them is not the absence, next week, of representatives of Hamas at the Naval Academy. Nevertheless, that absence will emerge, from the Scowcrofts and Malleys, as a major source of the peace process’s failure. I propose a different failure: the refusal of the most prolific advocates for engagement to display a little intellectual courage and put themselves on the record explaining how their concessions are going to transform Hamas. Because if that actually works, and one of the most intransigent Islamist groups in the world can be defeated by diplomacy, then clearly there are two other diplomatic summits that should be convened—between Israel and Hizballah, and the United States and al Qaeda.

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Giuliani vs. Edwards

Rudolph Giuliani has acquired a reputation as a tough terrorist-fighter, but he hasn’t sketched out a comprehensive vision of his foreign policy—until now. The new issue of Foreign Affairs features an essay, “Toward a Realistic Peace,” which lays out his agenda.

(Before proceeding further, a couple of disclosures are in order: First, Foreign Affairs is published by the Council on Foreign Relations, where I work, though I have no say in its content. Second, I’ve offered foreign policy advice to Giuliani. But assuming you’re not bothered by those incestuous relationships, read on.)

The title, with its invocation of “realism,” which is used by so many to bludgeon President Bush’s policies, might raise hackles among some contentions readers. But never fear. Giuliani is most definitely not making a plea for realpolitik of the kind that Brent Scowcroft might endorse. In fact, he says: “A realistic peace is not a peace to be achieved by embracing the ‘realist’ school of foreign-policy thought. That doctrine defines America’s interests too narrowly and avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values.” Instead of eschewing idealism, Giuliani pledges to pursue it, well, realistically: “Idealism should define our ultimate goals; realism must help us recognize the road we must travel to achieve them.”

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Rudolph Giuliani has acquired a reputation as a tough terrorist-fighter, but he hasn’t sketched out a comprehensive vision of his foreign policy—until now. The new issue of Foreign Affairs features an essay, “Toward a Realistic Peace,” which lays out his agenda.

(Before proceeding further, a couple of disclosures are in order: First, Foreign Affairs is published by the Council on Foreign Relations, where I work, though I have no say in its content. Second, I’ve offered foreign policy advice to Giuliani. But assuming you’re not bothered by those incestuous relationships, read on.)

The title, with its invocation of “realism,” which is used by so many to bludgeon President Bush’s policies, might raise hackles among some contentions readers. But never fear. Giuliani is most definitely not making a plea for realpolitik of the kind that Brent Scowcroft might endorse. In fact, he says: “A realistic peace is not a peace to be achieved by embracing the ‘realist’ school of foreign-policy thought. That doctrine defines America’s interests too narrowly and avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values.” Instead of eschewing idealism, Giuliani pledges to pursue it, well, realistically: “Idealism should define our ultimate goals; realism must help us recognize the road we must travel to achieve them.”

What does that mean in practice? Giuliani calls for an unapologetic war on “radical Islamic fascism,” which means, first of all, victory in Afghanistan and Iraq (“the emergence of stable governments and societies”), but also much more. Among other proposals, Giuliani suggests: increasing the size of the army (by “a minimum of ten new combat brigades,” or about 40,000 troops, beyond the increase of 40,000 or so troops already in the pipeline); deploying a national missile defense; expanding counterproliferation programs; and increasing support for public diplomacy and foreign broadcasting. Giuliani also offers a proposal near and dear to my heart—creating a new nation-building agency, a Stabilization and Reconstruction Corps, which would be “staffed by specially trained military and civilian reservists.”

Giuliani professes himself ready to negotiate with Iran, but also to walk away from talks if they don’t produce results. He also warns: “The theocrats ruling Iran need to understand that we can wield the stick as well as the carrot, by undermining popular support for their regime, damaging the Iranian economy, weakening Iran’s military, and, should all else fail, destroying its nuclear infrastructure.”

Perhaps the most newsworthy aspect of the article is Giuliani’s call for expanding NATO membership far beyond Europe: “We should open the organization’s membership to any state that meets basic standards of good governance, military readiness, and global responsibility, regardless of its location. The new NATO should dedicate itself to confronting significant threats to the international system, from territorial aggression to terrorism.” This proposal heads in the same direction as John McCain’s call for a League of Democracies. I’m agnostic about which is the better path, but the imperative to create alternative multilateral structures outside the U.N. is clear, and Giuliani’s endorsement of a global NATO is an interesting development.

By contrast, John Edwards’s article in the same issue of Foreign Affairs is filled with pure pablum that will be familiar to anyone who recalls the Kerry campaign. He calls for a “strategy of reengagement” with the world, and even advocates greater military intervention in Darfur, at the same time that he advocates disengagement from Iraq, the central front in the war on terrorism. He even calls the “war on terror” “a bumper sticker, not a plan.” Actually, Edwards favors bumper stickers himself, writing, at one point, “we need substance, not slogans.”The only part of Edwards’s essay that struck a chord with me was his endorsement of an expanded nation-building capacity similar to that outlined by Giuliani. Edwards calls his version the “Marshall Corps” (a good name), and says it “will consist of at least 10,000 civilian experts who could be deployed abroad to serve in reconstruction, stabilization, and humanitarian missions.” At least that’s one area where there seems to be some bipartisan consensus.

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