Commentary Magazine


Topic: Council on Foreign Relations

A Plausible Theory Concerning Karzai’s Behavior

Elizabeth Rubin, a former colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations and one of the savviest press observers of Hamid Karzai, floats a theory about what’s behind the resignations of Afghanistan’s minister of the interior and intelligence chief. She quotes a letter she received from a “well-placed Afghan insider,” who claims:

You are not going to believe this but Karzai believes that ISAF [NATO] was trying to scare or warn him by lobbing rockets at the Jirga tent on June 2. He believes that once ISAF was assured of him not making an anti-Western statement the rocketing stopped. He then went on to accuse his two security chiefs (Amrullah Saleh and Hanif Attmar) of colluding with ISAF.

Amrullah rejected this outright, arguing that if they wanted to get Karzai they would not have used an old rocket! He also declared that he could no longer work for him (the President).

He then walked out and resigned in a press conference later in the afternoon. Atmar followed suit an hour later.

This story is so bizarre that it just might be true. If so, it actually reinforces a point I made in my earlier posting on this subject: to wit, the dangers of letting Karzai feel isolated and alienated. If he has truly gotten to the point of thinking the U.S. may be trying to kill him, that is all the more reason for him to seek out unsavory alliances elsewhere to assure his survival. This confirms my impression that the key to handling Karzai is making him feel secure — something that the Obama administration has badly bungled.

Elizabeth Rubin, a former colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations and one of the savviest press observers of Hamid Karzai, floats a theory about what’s behind the resignations of Afghanistan’s minister of the interior and intelligence chief. She quotes a letter she received from a “well-placed Afghan insider,” who claims:

You are not going to believe this but Karzai believes that ISAF [NATO] was trying to scare or warn him by lobbing rockets at the Jirga tent on June 2. He believes that once ISAF was assured of him not making an anti-Western statement the rocketing stopped. He then went on to accuse his two security chiefs (Amrullah Saleh and Hanif Attmar) of colluding with ISAF.

Amrullah rejected this outright, arguing that if they wanted to get Karzai they would not have used an old rocket! He also declared that he could no longer work for him (the President).

He then walked out and resigned in a press conference later in the afternoon. Atmar followed suit an hour later.

This story is so bizarre that it just might be true. If so, it actually reinforces a point I made in my earlier posting on this subject: to wit, the dangers of letting Karzai feel isolated and alienated. If he has truly gotten to the point of thinking the U.S. may be trying to kill him, that is all the more reason for him to seek out unsavory alliances elsewhere to assure his survival. This confirms my impression that the key to handling Karzai is making him feel secure — something that the Obama administration has badly bungled.

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How to Stand Up to Israel-Bashers

On Fareed Zakaria’s show on CNN this morning Elliott Abrams faced off Peter Beinart and Zakaria (who, frankly, was the more virulent of the two Israel-bashers). He demonstrated how to engage and decimate those whose mission is now to propound in “polite” company the notion that Israel is a pariah state.

First, don’t let them define the terms of the debate:

ZAKARIA: Elliott, let me ask you — Peter, in a recent article — I think it was in “The Daily Beast” — points out that the Gaza blockade which Israel has imposed is not simply a blockade against munitions and arms. It blockades, among other things — these are the things Israel will not permit to enter into Gaza: cilantro, jam, sage, chocolate, dried fruits, notebooks. What is the purpose of a blockade of such goods?

ELLIOTT ABRAMS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: The purpose of the blockade of Gaza, of course, is to prevent Gaza, which is already “Hamastan,” from firing another 10,000 rockets and missiles into Israel.

ZAKARIA: And how will the jam and cilantro help them make those rockets?

ABRAMS: You know, I’m sure that you can find equal examples in the U.S. and U.N. blockade of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. You can always find in any government action some marginal activity, some list that you don’t like. That’s not the point.

The point is that Israel has stopped two Iranian ships from carrying arms to Gaza. Israel interfered, thank God, this week with a group of armed Turks who came prepared for a fight with iron bars, night vision devices, ceramic vests, despite what, frankly, are the lies that the Turkish foreign minister told on this show today.

Why is it that only Turks out of the 32 nationalities got hurt? It is because only Turks were involved in the violence.

If there is to be an international investigation, it needs to start where the ships started, in Turkey. We need to know what the Turkish government did in helping this armed group of men hijack what was supposed to be a humanitarian effort.

Second, debunk ridiculous arguments. Zakaria asks why Bibi isn’t agreeing to an international investigation. Abrams responds:

I mean, who is kidding whom, Peter? Peter knows, you know, Fareed, and [Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoglu knows himself there isn’t going to be a fair international investigation. There wasn’t a fair investigation of the Gaza war. There isn’t going to be a fair international investigation of the Turkish role in this. Let us not kid ourselves about this. Israel, if it followed the whims of the international community, would have disbanded long ago after the international community voted at the U.N. that Zionism is a form of racism. It is not going to get fair treatment. I think everybody knows that. And the attitude of the Turkish foreign minister on this show today, simply denying the fact that there was a group of 40 or 50 armed Turkish jihadis on the largest ship, proves that there is really no room here for an international investigation that is going to be at all fair.

Third, counteract vile accusations with facts:

ZAKARIA: But that suggests you accept, Elliott, that the blockade is not nearly to prevent weapons from coming in, but to deliberately starve the people in Gaza to make them feel worse off.

ABRAMS: No, I would suggest that the purpose of the blockade is actually twofold.

First, security. And second, to get the kidnapped corporal, Gilad Shalit, out.

You know, those people on those ships last week were asked by Israel, by Israelis, to carry messages or food or solidarity to that boy who has been four years in solitary confinement, and they said no. That’s a real measure of what kind of humanitarians they are.

Can this blockade be improved, can it be better run? Sure. And it will be.

I have no doubt that there will be changes made. But let us not turn our selves into useful idiots here and make believe that those 50 or 40 or 30 armed Turkish jihadis were there because they believe in the cause of peace any more than the people on those ships who refused solidarity to Gilad Shalit were there because they believe in international solidarity. This was an anti-Israeli activity, and the Israelis had every right to prevent it.

And finally, go on the offense. Zakaria coos over Beinart’s column which asserted that liberals can’t back Israel because of Israel’s conduct. Abrams is having none of it, and turns the tables on Beinart (and, by extension, against the growing cohorts of weaselly critics who now vent Israel-hatred while asserting their Jewish bona fides):

ABRAMS: What Peter is forgetting, that Jewish liberals have never supported Israel. They didn’t support the founding of the state of Israel. The reform movement was anti-Zionist for decades and decades.

Jewish liberals have a problem with particularism, nationalism, Zionism, and they always have. And it isn’t due to anything that is going on in Israel, it’s due to things that are going on inside their heads. They need to grow up and realize that Israel has a right to defend itself.

BEINART: In fact, that’s really not true.

ABRAMS: Well, it is really true.

BEINART: The Democrat Party, for generations, was a bedrock of support for Israel. And it’s these kids parents and grandparents. There is a significant generational shift going on.

ABRAMS: The significant generational shift is that more and more young American Jews are now Orthodox. The percentage under the age of 10 or 20 that is Orthodox is increasingly going, and they are fervently Zionists. If the Jewish liberals want to walk away from Israel, they’re free to do so, but not to blame Israel for it.

And as for Beinart’s assertion about the Democratic Party, he might want to take a look at current polling. It is the Republican Party – and the common sense and decency of average Americans — on whom Israel must rely for vocal support.

A final note on the Abrams interview. He dismembered his opponents without anger or ad hominem jibes. (Goodness knows how.) The secret actually to dismantling the left’s position with regard to Israel is to expose their anti-Israel talking points and gratuitous swipes as factually unsupportable and to reveal that they stem from their biases, not Israel’s conduct. And it helps to be as calm and prepared as Abrams.

On Fareed Zakaria’s show on CNN this morning Elliott Abrams faced off Peter Beinart and Zakaria (who, frankly, was the more virulent of the two Israel-bashers). He demonstrated how to engage and decimate those whose mission is now to propound in “polite” company the notion that Israel is a pariah state.

First, don’t let them define the terms of the debate:

ZAKARIA: Elliott, let me ask you — Peter, in a recent article — I think it was in “The Daily Beast” — points out that the Gaza blockade which Israel has imposed is not simply a blockade against munitions and arms. It blockades, among other things — these are the things Israel will not permit to enter into Gaza: cilantro, jam, sage, chocolate, dried fruits, notebooks. What is the purpose of a blockade of such goods?

ELLIOTT ABRAMS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: The purpose of the blockade of Gaza, of course, is to prevent Gaza, which is already “Hamastan,” from firing another 10,000 rockets and missiles into Israel.

ZAKARIA: And how will the jam and cilantro help them make those rockets?

ABRAMS: You know, I’m sure that you can find equal examples in the U.S. and U.N. blockade of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. You can always find in any government action some marginal activity, some list that you don’t like. That’s not the point.

The point is that Israel has stopped two Iranian ships from carrying arms to Gaza. Israel interfered, thank God, this week with a group of armed Turks who came prepared for a fight with iron bars, night vision devices, ceramic vests, despite what, frankly, are the lies that the Turkish foreign minister told on this show today.

Why is it that only Turks out of the 32 nationalities got hurt? It is because only Turks were involved in the violence.

If there is to be an international investigation, it needs to start where the ships started, in Turkey. We need to know what the Turkish government did in helping this armed group of men hijack what was supposed to be a humanitarian effort.

Second, debunk ridiculous arguments. Zakaria asks why Bibi isn’t agreeing to an international investigation. Abrams responds:

I mean, who is kidding whom, Peter? Peter knows, you know, Fareed, and [Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoglu knows himself there isn’t going to be a fair international investigation. There wasn’t a fair investigation of the Gaza war. There isn’t going to be a fair international investigation of the Turkish role in this. Let us not kid ourselves about this. Israel, if it followed the whims of the international community, would have disbanded long ago after the international community voted at the U.N. that Zionism is a form of racism. It is not going to get fair treatment. I think everybody knows that. And the attitude of the Turkish foreign minister on this show today, simply denying the fact that there was a group of 40 or 50 armed Turkish jihadis on the largest ship, proves that there is really no room here for an international investigation that is going to be at all fair.

Third, counteract vile accusations with facts:

ZAKARIA: But that suggests you accept, Elliott, that the blockade is not nearly to prevent weapons from coming in, but to deliberately starve the people in Gaza to make them feel worse off.

ABRAMS: No, I would suggest that the purpose of the blockade is actually twofold.

First, security. And second, to get the kidnapped corporal, Gilad Shalit, out.

You know, those people on those ships last week were asked by Israel, by Israelis, to carry messages or food or solidarity to that boy who has been four years in solitary confinement, and they said no. That’s a real measure of what kind of humanitarians they are.

Can this blockade be improved, can it be better run? Sure. And it will be.

I have no doubt that there will be changes made. But let us not turn our selves into useful idiots here and make believe that those 50 or 40 or 30 armed Turkish jihadis were there because they believe in the cause of peace any more than the people on those ships who refused solidarity to Gilad Shalit were there because they believe in international solidarity. This was an anti-Israeli activity, and the Israelis had every right to prevent it.

And finally, go on the offense. Zakaria coos over Beinart’s column which asserted that liberals can’t back Israel because of Israel’s conduct. Abrams is having none of it, and turns the tables on Beinart (and, by extension, against the growing cohorts of weaselly critics who now vent Israel-hatred while asserting their Jewish bona fides):

ABRAMS: What Peter is forgetting, that Jewish liberals have never supported Israel. They didn’t support the founding of the state of Israel. The reform movement was anti-Zionist for decades and decades.

Jewish liberals have a problem with particularism, nationalism, Zionism, and they always have. And it isn’t due to anything that is going on in Israel, it’s due to things that are going on inside their heads. They need to grow up and realize that Israel has a right to defend itself.

BEINART: In fact, that’s really not true.

ABRAMS: Well, it is really true.

BEINART: The Democrat Party, for generations, was a bedrock of support for Israel. And it’s these kids parents and grandparents. There is a significant generational shift going on.

ABRAMS: The significant generational shift is that more and more young American Jews are now Orthodox. The percentage under the age of 10 or 20 that is Orthodox is increasingly going, and they are fervently Zionists. If the Jewish liberals want to walk away from Israel, they’re free to do so, but not to blame Israel for it.

And as for Beinart’s assertion about the Democratic Party, he might want to take a look at current polling. It is the Republican Party – and the common sense and decency of average Americans — on whom Israel must rely for vocal support.

A final note on the Abrams interview. He dismembered his opponents without anger or ad hominem jibes. (Goodness knows how.) The secret actually to dismantling the left’s position with regard to Israel is to expose their anti-Israel talking points and gratuitous swipes as factually unsupportable and to reveal that they stem from their biases, not Israel’s conduct. And it helps to be as calm and prepared as Abrams.

Read Less

The Ongoing Korean War

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

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Gulf States and a Nuclear Iran

Having just returned from the Persian Gulf region (the Arabian Gulf to the Arabs), I can echo the points made by John Bolton in this Wall Street Journal op-ed. Bolton suggests that sanctions have no chance of working and that, absent military action, Iran will go nuclear. That certainly is in line with the general view in the Gulf, where they can see up close how porous all attempts to sanction Iran have been. Indeed, the Gulf states most worried about the Iranian nuclear program also actively trade with Iran. They are starting to hedge their bets, too. Qatar, for example, which hosts a giant American military installation, sent representatives to watch recent Iranian war games.

There is a lot of support, albeit beneath the surface, for American military action against Iran, which, in the Gulfies’ view, could deal a decisive setback to the “Persians.” An Israeli strike, on the other hand, they fear, would not inflict much damage and would only allow the mullahs to rally the Arab street behind them. They are also “deathly afraid” (in the words of one American ambassador) that the U.S. will sell them out by reaching a deal with Iran.

With the growing likelihood of a nuclear Iran, talk has turned to containment, with Gulf states demanding more sophisticated air defenses from the U.S. and even talking about somehow turning the Gulf Cooperation Council into a NATO-like alliance to contain Iran. The Obama administration is clearly planning for a nuclear Iran by preparing to extend the American nuclear umbrella to regional allies. But the local leaders that we talked to (I traveled with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations.) made clear that they would place little faith in an American guarantee. They want a Sunni bomb to offset the Shiite bomb, which means that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey would be likely to build their own nuke to counter Iran’s. Thus, at a minimum, the Iranian nuclear program could set off a serious proliferation problem — and that’s without considering the possibility that Iran will share its technology with Syria and other allies.

What is the Obama administration going to do about all this? I agree with Bolton: U.S. airstrikes on Iran are out of the question (unless Iran were to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, but probably not even then). Instead, the administration is pursuing toothless resolutions at the UN and making ridiculous gestures like revealing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and trying to negotiate to make the Middle East a “nuclear-free zone.” The more of this that our Arab allies see, the less confidence they will have in American protection. That, in turn, will cause them to either pursue accommodation with Iran or build their own nuclear arsenal. Maybe both. And that makes the world a much more dangerous place.

Having just returned from the Persian Gulf region (the Arabian Gulf to the Arabs), I can echo the points made by John Bolton in this Wall Street Journal op-ed. Bolton suggests that sanctions have no chance of working and that, absent military action, Iran will go nuclear. That certainly is in line with the general view in the Gulf, where they can see up close how porous all attempts to sanction Iran have been. Indeed, the Gulf states most worried about the Iranian nuclear program also actively trade with Iran. They are starting to hedge their bets, too. Qatar, for example, which hosts a giant American military installation, sent representatives to watch recent Iranian war games.

There is a lot of support, albeit beneath the surface, for American military action against Iran, which, in the Gulfies’ view, could deal a decisive setback to the “Persians.” An Israeli strike, on the other hand, they fear, would not inflict much damage and would only allow the mullahs to rally the Arab street behind them. They are also “deathly afraid” (in the words of one American ambassador) that the U.S. will sell them out by reaching a deal with Iran.

With the growing likelihood of a nuclear Iran, talk has turned to containment, with Gulf states demanding more sophisticated air defenses from the U.S. and even talking about somehow turning the Gulf Cooperation Council into a NATO-like alliance to contain Iran. The Obama administration is clearly planning for a nuclear Iran by preparing to extend the American nuclear umbrella to regional allies. But the local leaders that we talked to (I traveled with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations.) made clear that they would place little faith in an American guarantee. They want a Sunni bomb to offset the Shiite bomb, which means that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey would be likely to build their own nuke to counter Iran’s. Thus, at a minimum, the Iranian nuclear program could set off a serious proliferation problem — and that’s without considering the possibility that Iran will share its technology with Syria and other allies.

What is the Obama administration going to do about all this? I agree with Bolton: U.S. airstrikes on Iran are out of the question (unless Iran were to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, but probably not even then). Instead, the administration is pursuing toothless resolutions at the UN and making ridiculous gestures like revealing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and trying to negotiate to make the Middle East a “nuclear-free zone.” The more of this that our Arab allies see, the less confidence they will have in American protection. That, in turn, will cause them to either pursue accommodation with Iran or build their own nuclear arsenal. Maybe both. And that makes the world a much more dangerous place.

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PowerPoint Run Amok in the Military

I have been spending the past few days with American military forces in the Persian Gulf region. Everywhere I have gone with a group from the Council on Foreign Relations, military briefers have sheepishly prefaced their remarks by saying, “I read that story about PowerPoint, but I have a few PowerPoint slides I’d like to present anyway.” The story they’re referring to is this New York Times article, which suggests that the military is dangerously over reliant on this Microsoft program, which makes it all too easy to substitute glib bullet points for serious thought about pressing issues. Granted, PowerPoint in the right hands can be an efficient way to convey a lot of information, but Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster makes a good point when he says: “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” Undoubtedly true, but as my experience of the past few days demonstrates, PowerPoint isn’t going away anytime soon.

If only officers devoted as much time to the study of military history and strategy as they do to creating PowerPoint presentations, I suspect our armed forces would be even more formidable than they already are. And this is an addiction that is spreading: Armed forces tutored by Americans, including those of Afghanistan and Iraq, are using PowerPoint too. I’m generally a fan of American imperialism, but this is one habit we might be better off not exporting.

I have been spending the past few days with American military forces in the Persian Gulf region. Everywhere I have gone with a group from the Council on Foreign Relations, military briefers have sheepishly prefaced their remarks by saying, “I read that story about PowerPoint, but I have a few PowerPoint slides I’d like to present anyway.” The story they’re referring to is this New York Times article, which suggests that the military is dangerously over reliant on this Microsoft program, which makes it all too easy to substitute glib bullet points for serious thought about pressing issues. Granted, PowerPoint in the right hands can be an efficient way to convey a lot of information, but Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster makes a good point when he says: “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” Undoubtedly true, but as my experience of the past few days demonstrates, PowerPoint isn’t going away anytime soon.

If only officers devoted as much time to the study of military history and strategy as they do to creating PowerPoint presentations, I suspect our armed forces would be even more formidable than they already are. And this is an addiction that is spreading: Armed forces tutored by Americans, including those of Afghanistan and Iraq, are using PowerPoint too. I’m generally a fan of American imperialism, but this is one habit we might be better off not exporting.

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Hillary Clinton: Errand Girl for Disastrous Foreign Policy

Michael Hirsh writes a lengthy piece on Hillary Clinton, confirming that she’s not much of a secretary of state. But then we knew that from the results of her handiwork — an unratifiable START treaty, a wrecked relationship with Israel, offended European allies, a Middle East “peace process” that has succeeded only in encouraging Palestinian intransigence, a failed Syrian-engagement gambit, and a dead-end Iran policy. So it’s not surprising that Hirsh focuses on her relationship with Obama — Starsky and Hutch! — and dwells on minutiae. After all, that’s what Hillary does best. The duo’s great accomplishment? Storming a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the ultimately meaningless Copenhagen global-warming conference. That’s the best Hirsch can come up with.

It’s hard to hide the problem, namely that she’s really not up to the job. Hirsh writes:

“She has no real strategic vision,” says an NSC official. “But she’ll get done what she has to do. She’s the good little Methodist girl. In the end she’ll have her list of the nine or 10 things she has to do and check them off one by one.”

Associates bridle at such condescension, and so do many White House officials, including General Jones. Clinton’s former longtime policy chief, Neera Tanden, sees nothing to apologize for: “She definitely has lists. And she really feels a sense of obligation, duty, responsibility, as part of her general outlook; perhaps it is her Methodism. It’s part of who she is.” Clinton herself ridicules the criticism. “At the end of the day, have you solved the problem or haven’t you? Have you crossed it off the list or haven’t you?”

Hmm. Do you suppose “Thwart Iran’s nuclear program” is on the list? What about “Reorient administration away from Israel”? That one gets a check mark.

Outside observers concede the obvious:

Clinton’s and Obama’s various policies do not yet add up to anything like a doctrine on America’s place in the world. Much of the first year was about “rebuilding the brand, rebuilding political capital,” says one official. And blaming George W. Bush for America’s dire situation, of course. Now, however, fewer world leaders care about the mistakes made by the previous administration. Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says he doesn’t think Clinton is of the caliber of James Baker, the George H.W. Bush secretary of state who was perhaps the last real superstar in the job. “She’s very smart,” he says. “She understands all these issues. You can have a good discussion with her on almost any [subject]. But she doesn’t pretend to be, nor is she, a strategist. When she goes to the National Security Council, she doesn’t bring that to the table.”

So what does she bring? It seems that Obama found the perfect errand girl for his bizarrely counterproductive strategy of cozying up to despots, shoving democracy promotion aside, dissing allies, and focusing on unilateral grand gestures — which suggests that no one in the administration has a workable strategy for promoting American interests and values. Obama imagines himself a great foreign-policy visionary, but the legacy he is creating is an America more estranged from allies and a Middle East on the tipping point of a deadly nuclear-arms race. Hillary might be just the enabler, but she’ll share in that legacy, which for now promises to be the most dismal of any American president’s since (maybe including) Jimmy Carter.

Michael Hirsh writes a lengthy piece on Hillary Clinton, confirming that she’s not much of a secretary of state. But then we knew that from the results of her handiwork — an unratifiable START treaty, a wrecked relationship with Israel, offended European allies, a Middle East “peace process” that has succeeded only in encouraging Palestinian intransigence, a failed Syrian-engagement gambit, and a dead-end Iran policy. So it’s not surprising that Hirsh focuses on her relationship with Obama — Starsky and Hutch! — and dwells on minutiae. After all, that’s what Hillary does best. The duo’s great accomplishment? Storming a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the ultimately meaningless Copenhagen global-warming conference. That’s the best Hirsch can come up with.

It’s hard to hide the problem, namely that she’s really not up to the job. Hirsh writes:

“She has no real strategic vision,” says an NSC official. “But she’ll get done what she has to do. She’s the good little Methodist girl. In the end she’ll have her list of the nine or 10 things she has to do and check them off one by one.”

Associates bridle at such condescension, and so do many White House officials, including General Jones. Clinton’s former longtime policy chief, Neera Tanden, sees nothing to apologize for: “She definitely has lists. And she really feels a sense of obligation, duty, responsibility, as part of her general outlook; perhaps it is her Methodism. It’s part of who she is.” Clinton herself ridicules the criticism. “At the end of the day, have you solved the problem or haven’t you? Have you crossed it off the list or haven’t you?”

Hmm. Do you suppose “Thwart Iran’s nuclear program” is on the list? What about “Reorient administration away from Israel”? That one gets a check mark.

Outside observers concede the obvious:

Clinton’s and Obama’s various policies do not yet add up to anything like a doctrine on America’s place in the world. Much of the first year was about “rebuilding the brand, rebuilding political capital,” says one official. And blaming George W. Bush for America’s dire situation, of course. Now, however, fewer world leaders care about the mistakes made by the previous administration. Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says he doesn’t think Clinton is of the caliber of James Baker, the George H.W. Bush secretary of state who was perhaps the last real superstar in the job. “She’s very smart,” he says. “She understands all these issues. You can have a good discussion with her on almost any [subject]. But she doesn’t pretend to be, nor is she, a strategist. When she goes to the National Security Council, she doesn’t bring that to the table.”

So what does she bring? It seems that Obama found the perfect errand girl for his bizarrely counterproductive strategy of cozying up to despots, shoving democracy promotion aside, dissing allies, and focusing on unilateral grand gestures — which suggests that no one in the administration has a workable strategy for promoting American interests and values. Obama imagines himself a great foreign-policy visionary, but the legacy he is creating is an America more estranged from allies and a Middle East on the tipping point of a deadly nuclear-arms race. Hillary might be just the enabler, but she’ll share in that legacy, which for now promises to be the most dismal of any American president’s since (maybe including) Jimmy Carter.

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Blindness to the Real Syrian Problem

Cliff May wonders whether Dianne Feinstein is dumb or just pretending to be. Feinstein on the shipment of missiles to Hezbollah and the potential for war, pronounces: “There’s only one thing that’s going to solve it, and that’s a two-state solution.” Thunk. As May observes, is it really possible that the “chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, believes that Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria would be satisfied with a two-state solution — assuming that one of those states is Israel”? Well, to be honest, that is not far removed from the claptrap we hear from the administration, which has reduced every issue to a pretext for “focusing” (haven’t we focused for decades?) on the non-existent peace process.

For a saner take on what is really at issue in Syria, read Lee Smith’s compelling piece on the SCUDs and what the administration is doing about that situation. The contrast to the prior administration is stark:

This past week was a bad one for those eager to reach out to Syria. It was reported that Damascus is believed to have transferred to Hezbollah Scud missiles that would be able to reach any part of Israel. “The threat that Syria might transfer more advanced weapons to Hezbollah has existed for a long time,” says Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush White House and is now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “With respect to Scuds, it has been understood the Israelis would interdict such a shipment. I do not recall the Bush Administration ever expressing disagreement with that view.”

The Obama Administration seems to feel differently. Initial reports explained that the White House convinced the Israelis not to attack the arms shipment and promised that Kerry would deliver a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during his visit to Damascus early this month. U.S. officials confirmed Kerry did indeed convey the Americans’ displeasure even as more recent reports suggest that the Obama Administration now believes that the actual transfer may not have occurred.

As Smith notes, the great danger here is that Syria and its senior partner Iran will once again perceive American weakness if we don’t respond (with something more meaningful than a tongue-lashing for the Syrian minister) to this latest act of aggression. (“If we let Syria off the hook for its proven acts of terror against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, as well as U.S. allies in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq, we have all but announced that in the event of future attacks on the U.S. homeland we will never retaliate against the states without which so-called stateless terrorist organizations cannot exist. We will have effectively disabled any deterrence we have against our adversaries and made our cities vulnerable to anyone who can lie his way past the Transportation Security Administration.”) But we should not be reassured that it is John Kerry delivering the message to Damascus, Smith says. He — and his wife, we learn — have a soft spot for Bashar al-Assad.

So Feinstein is not alone in her silliness. Unfortunately, the president and those carrying out his foreign policy are equally confused.

Cliff May wonders whether Dianne Feinstein is dumb or just pretending to be. Feinstein on the shipment of missiles to Hezbollah and the potential for war, pronounces: “There’s only one thing that’s going to solve it, and that’s a two-state solution.” Thunk. As May observes, is it really possible that the “chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, believes that Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria would be satisfied with a two-state solution — assuming that one of those states is Israel”? Well, to be honest, that is not far removed from the claptrap we hear from the administration, which has reduced every issue to a pretext for “focusing” (haven’t we focused for decades?) on the non-existent peace process.

For a saner take on what is really at issue in Syria, read Lee Smith’s compelling piece on the SCUDs and what the administration is doing about that situation. The contrast to the prior administration is stark:

This past week was a bad one for those eager to reach out to Syria. It was reported that Damascus is believed to have transferred to Hezbollah Scud missiles that would be able to reach any part of Israel. “The threat that Syria might transfer more advanced weapons to Hezbollah has existed for a long time,” says Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush White House and is now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “With respect to Scuds, it has been understood the Israelis would interdict such a shipment. I do not recall the Bush Administration ever expressing disagreement with that view.”

The Obama Administration seems to feel differently. Initial reports explained that the White House convinced the Israelis not to attack the arms shipment and promised that Kerry would deliver a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during his visit to Damascus early this month. U.S. officials confirmed Kerry did indeed convey the Americans’ displeasure even as more recent reports suggest that the Obama Administration now believes that the actual transfer may not have occurred.

As Smith notes, the great danger here is that Syria and its senior partner Iran will once again perceive American weakness if we don’t respond (with something more meaningful than a tongue-lashing for the Syrian minister) to this latest act of aggression. (“If we let Syria off the hook for its proven acts of terror against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, as well as U.S. allies in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq, we have all but announced that in the event of future attacks on the U.S. homeland we will never retaliate against the states without which so-called stateless terrorist organizations cannot exist. We will have effectively disabled any deterrence we have against our adversaries and made our cities vulnerable to anyone who can lie his way past the Transportation Security Administration.”) But we should not be reassured that it is John Kerry delivering the message to Damascus, Smith says. He — and his wife, we learn — have a soft spot for Bashar al-Assad.

So Feinstein is not alone in her silliness. Unfortunately, the president and those carrying out his foreign policy are equally confused.

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Containment Is Coming

Two reports today strengthen the argument of those who suspect that sanctions on Iran are too little, too late, and that they are simply another stall for the Obami —  who are slow-walking toward containment. First, we learn that foreign investors are continuing to bolster the Iranian economy:

Forty-one foreign companies had some form of commercial activity in Iran’s energy sector over the past five years, despite American laws that could prompt U.S. sanctions against such firms, according to U.S. government auditors.

The report, to be released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, found that some of the companies are headquartered in some of the U.S.’s closest allies, including Japan and South Korea. A similar GAO study conducted three years ago found half as many companies involved in Iran’s energy sector.

The GAO doesn’t say whether the companies are violating U.S. law but it’s obvious that, to date, we’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful in squeezing Iran. (“The report is likely to add fuel to arguments made by congressional critics that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to punish companies doing business with Tehran.”) Will new international sanctions be any more successful in isolating the regime? Highly unlikely, especially since the most exacting (e.g., restricting sales of refined petroleum) ones are not even under consideration.

Then the Washington Post helpfully assists the administration in laying the groundwork for containment:

After months of first attempting to engage Iran and then wooing Russia and China to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic, the Obama administration appears within reach of winning a modest tightening of U.N. measures targeting Tehran. But administration officials acknowledge that even what they call “crippling” sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable — diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies.

The reporter then dutifully lines up a whole slew of containment advocates, with one lonely note of criticism from the other side. (“So far, said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, the pressure has ‘cost the Iranian economy but not affected Iranian decision-making.’ But he warned that containment will be ‘hard and difficult and may require the use of force to enforce red lines.'” Translation: it won’t work.)

But, but, but . . . Obama said a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable. How could this be that we’re now throwing our hands in the air? Ah, those who took Obama literally — assuming Obama meant that we would not accept an nuclear-armed Iran — missed the “nuance.” Unacceptable plainly doesn’t mean unacceptable. You see, it’s the only option now — the gurus tell us:

Shahram Chubin, director of research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said the accumulation of sanctions is “exacting a price on the Iranians, but it is not going to change its policies.” Iran may make what he called “tactical overtures” — such as indicating renewed interest in a proposed swap of nuclear material desperately needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran. But such overtures would not indicate a shift in its intention to acquire nuclear expertise, he said.

Chubin said the United States and its allies are gambling on the unexpected occurring. “We are trying to buy time so something can happen. But what could that something be?” he said. “One should do as much as you can do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But at the end of the day, this may well be the case that whatever you do makes it worse.”

For months, many of us have been predicting that this is precisely where the administration is heading. They never had a Plan B to engagement — at least not a viable one. Now, the Congress, the American people, Israel, and its supporters will have to decide how to respond to this outrageous abdication of American responsibility.

Two reports today strengthen the argument of those who suspect that sanctions on Iran are too little, too late, and that they are simply another stall for the Obami —  who are slow-walking toward containment. First, we learn that foreign investors are continuing to bolster the Iranian economy:

Forty-one foreign companies had some form of commercial activity in Iran’s energy sector over the past five years, despite American laws that could prompt U.S. sanctions against such firms, according to U.S. government auditors.

The report, to be released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, found that some of the companies are headquartered in some of the U.S.’s closest allies, including Japan and South Korea. A similar GAO study conducted three years ago found half as many companies involved in Iran’s energy sector.

The GAO doesn’t say whether the companies are violating U.S. law but it’s obvious that, to date, we’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful in squeezing Iran. (“The report is likely to add fuel to arguments made by congressional critics that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to punish companies doing business with Tehran.”) Will new international sanctions be any more successful in isolating the regime? Highly unlikely, especially since the most exacting (e.g., restricting sales of refined petroleum) ones are not even under consideration.

Then the Washington Post helpfully assists the administration in laying the groundwork for containment:

After months of first attempting to engage Iran and then wooing Russia and China to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic, the Obama administration appears within reach of winning a modest tightening of U.N. measures targeting Tehran. But administration officials acknowledge that even what they call “crippling” sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable — diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies.

The reporter then dutifully lines up a whole slew of containment advocates, with one lonely note of criticism from the other side. (“So far, said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, the pressure has ‘cost the Iranian economy but not affected Iranian decision-making.’ But he warned that containment will be ‘hard and difficult and may require the use of force to enforce red lines.'” Translation: it won’t work.)

But, but, but . . . Obama said a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable. How could this be that we’re now throwing our hands in the air? Ah, those who took Obama literally — assuming Obama meant that we would not accept an nuclear-armed Iran — missed the “nuance.” Unacceptable plainly doesn’t mean unacceptable. You see, it’s the only option now — the gurus tell us:

Shahram Chubin, director of research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said the accumulation of sanctions is “exacting a price on the Iranians, but it is not going to change its policies.” Iran may make what he called “tactical overtures” — such as indicating renewed interest in a proposed swap of nuclear material desperately needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran. But such overtures would not indicate a shift in its intention to acquire nuclear expertise, he said.

Chubin said the United States and its allies are gambling on the unexpected occurring. “We are trying to buy time so something can happen. But what could that something be?” he said. “One should do as much as you can do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But at the end of the day, this may well be the case that whatever you do makes it worse.”

For months, many of us have been predicting that this is precisely where the administration is heading. They never had a Plan B to engagement — at least not a viable one. Now, the Congress, the American people, Israel, and its supporters will have to decide how to respond to this outrageous abdication of American responsibility.

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Pressuring Israel Will Not Produce Results in Iran

Jen already mentioned it but I want to emphasize this op-ed by my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Ray Takeyh. I often find myself disagreeing with Ray, but he’s on the money in dispelling the spurious linkage between Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and attempts to pressure Iran. He writes:

Although pressuring Israel to restrain its settlements may be a sensible means of gaining constructive Arab participation in the peace talks, it is unlikely to affect the region’s passive approach to Iran. Indeed, should Tehran perceive fissures and divisions in U.S.-Israeli alliance, it is likely to further harden its nuclear stance.

Ray gets it. But I wonder if the Obama administration does? To the extent that there is a strategy behind their get-tough-on-Netanyahu policy, as opposed to pure pique, it would seem to be the notion that the U.S. will reap major dividends in the Arab world by showing that it’s no patsy for Israel. As Ray notes, this is a foolish hope, because Arab rulers base their policies strictly on self-interest — not on a romantic attachment to the Palestinian cause. And until the U.S. shows that it is willing to do more to stand up to Iranian aggression, we will find few regimes in the region willing to step forward and risk Tehran’s wrath. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is a sideshow, but for some reason President Obama, like too many of his predecessors, has mistaken it for the main show.

Jen already mentioned it but I want to emphasize this op-ed by my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Ray Takeyh. I often find myself disagreeing with Ray, but he’s on the money in dispelling the spurious linkage between Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and attempts to pressure Iran. He writes:

Although pressuring Israel to restrain its settlements may be a sensible means of gaining constructive Arab participation in the peace talks, it is unlikely to affect the region’s passive approach to Iran. Indeed, should Tehran perceive fissures and divisions in U.S.-Israeli alliance, it is likely to further harden its nuclear stance.

Ray gets it. But I wonder if the Obama administration does? To the extent that there is a strategy behind their get-tough-on-Netanyahu policy, as opposed to pure pique, it would seem to be the notion that the U.S. will reap major dividends in the Arab world by showing that it’s no patsy for Israel. As Ray notes, this is a foolish hope, because Arab rulers base their policies strictly on self-interest — not on a romantic attachment to the Palestinian cause. And until the U.S. shows that it is willing to do more to stand up to Iranian aggression, we will find few regimes in the region willing to step forward and risk Tehran’s wrath. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is a sideshow, but for some reason President Obama, like too many of his predecessors, has mistaken it for the main show.

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Obama’s Iran Policy: A Dead End

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

Read Less

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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Where’s the Support for U.S. Civilians in Iraq?

In recent years there has been a welcome outpouring of love and admiration for American troops. It has been common to hear, “I may not support the war, but I support the troops.” A commendable sentiment, but why doesn’t it extend to civilians who have risked their necks in war zones?

I was struck by Jim Dwyer’s snarky New York Times column about my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Dan Senor, who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate in New York. There are plenty of reasons for a liberal columnist to disagree with the conservative Senor on matters of policy, but Dwyer chooses instead to launch a very personal attack on Senor’s service in Iraq as chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority during 15 tumultuous months from the spring of 2003 to the summer of 2004. Dwyer sneers: “As Iraq was entering its bloodiest days, Mr. Senor was a prophet and cheerleader for the Bush administration, his daily messages seemingly disconnected from the country that was imploding outside the American headquarters in Baghdad, known as the Green Zone.”

Echoing Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, he goes on to describe the Green Zone “as heavily populated by Republican loyalists” — like Senor — “who brought little experience to the towering task of restoring Iraq to any semblance of normalcy after the invasion.”

Granted, Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer and his senior aides, including Dan Senor, were not well-prepared for the task of governing Iraq. Nor did they have adequate resources for the task. But that was hardly their fault. Blame lay in the senior levels of the administration and the military, where there was an appalling lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq operation. Troop numbers remained grossly inadequate despite Bremer’s pleas for more help.

Bremer & Co. made mistakes of their own (who wouldn’t?), but they were not wrong about everything or even most things. Some of their projects — a new Iraqi constitution, for example — have been standing the test of time. Some of the worst decisions — disbanding the Iraqi army and purging too many Baathists — seem to have been dictated from Washington. Whatever the details, there can be no doubt that Ambassador Bremer and his aides did the best they could in an extremely challenging, dangerous, chaotic environment.

Did Dan Senor put a positive gloss on events? Of course. That was his job. He was the official spokesman. Maybe Jim Dwyer would have preferred that he join the press corps in daily bemoaning Iraq’s woes, but that wasn’t what he was paid to do. His job was to give the official CPA line, and in the process try to calm and improve the situation rather than simply pointing out the numerous deficiencies that were being (for the most part accurately) exposed by the news media.

To read Dwyer and others, you would think that being sent to Iraq was akin to an all-expenses paid holiday in the Bahamas. In fact, it was a dangerous assignment that was, with some heroic exceptions, for the most part avoided by experienced Foreign Service officers who generally opposed the decision to go to war. The largest group of people volunteering to go, aside from those in uniform, were a bunch of young conservative idealists like Senor. Their dedication and idealism reminds me of young liberals who were inspired by JFK to join the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

Scott Erwin, a former Council colleague, was one of them. A onetime White House intern, he postponed his senior year in college to work for CPA — an assignment that ended on June 2, 2004, when he was shot four times in an ambush that killed two Iraqis who were in the same car. He survived but others didn’t. Even the Green Zone, while safer than the surrounding areas, was hardly a pocket of tranquility. It was a constant magnet for rocket and mortar attacks that frequently landed in the embassy parking lot and killed a number of employees over the years. It was generally safer to be on one of the giant Forward Operating Bases, where most Americans in Iraq, troops and contractors alike, were garrisoned.

We should be celebrating those who volunteered to serve in the Iraq war, whether they wore a uniform or not — not demeaning their service to score political points.

In recent years there has been a welcome outpouring of love and admiration for American troops. It has been common to hear, “I may not support the war, but I support the troops.” A commendable sentiment, but why doesn’t it extend to civilians who have risked their necks in war zones?

I was struck by Jim Dwyer’s snarky New York Times column about my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Dan Senor, who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate in New York. There are plenty of reasons for a liberal columnist to disagree with the conservative Senor on matters of policy, but Dwyer chooses instead to launch a very personal attack on Senor’s service in Iraq as chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority during 15 tumultuous months from the spring of 2003 to the summer of 2004. Dwyer sneers: “As Iraq was entering its bloodiest days, Mr. Senor was a prophet and cheerleader for the Bush administration, his daily messages seemingly disconnected from the country that was imploding outside the American headquarters in Baghdad, known as the Green Zone.”

Echoing Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, he goes on to describe the Green Zone “as heavily populated by Republican loyalists” — like Senor — “who brought little experience to the towering task of restoring Iraq to any semblance of normalcy after the invasion.”

Granted, Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer and his senior aides, including Dan Senor, were not well-prepared for the task of governing Iraq. Nor did they have adequate resources for the task. But that was hardly their fault. Blame lay in the senior levels of the administration and the military, where there was an appalling lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq operation. Troop numbers remained grossly inadequate despite Bremer’s pleas for more help.

Bremer & Co. made mistakes of their own (who wouldn’t?), but they were not wrong about everything or even most things. Some of their projects — a new Iraqi constitution, for example — have been standing the test of time. Some of the worst decisions — disbanding the Iraqi army and purging too many Baathists — seem to have been dictated from Washington. Whatever the details, there can be no doubt that Ambassador Bremer and his aides did the best they could in an extremely challenging, dangerous, chaotic environment.

Did Dan Senor put a positive gloss on events? Of course. That was his job. He was the official spokesman. Maybe Jim Dwyer would have preferred that he join the press corps in daily bemoaning Iraq’s woes, but that wasn’t what he was paid to do. His job was to give the official CPA line, and in the process try to calm and improve the situation rather than simply pointing out the numerous deficiencies that were being (for the most part accurately) exposed by the news media.

To read Dwyer and others, you would think that being sent to Iraq was akin to an all-expenses paid holiday in the Bahamas. In fact, it was a dangerous assignment that was, with some heroic exceptions, for the most part avoided by experienced Foreign Service officers who generally opposed the decision to go to war. The largest group of people volunteering to go, aside from those in uniform, were a bunch of young conservative idealists like Senor. Their dedication and idealism reminds me of young liberals who were inspired by JFK to join the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

Scott Erwin, a former Council colleague, was one of them. A onetime White House intern, he postponed his senior year in college to work for CPA — an assignment that ended on June 2, 2004, when he was shot four times in an ambush that killed two Iraqis who were in the same car. He survived but others didn’t. Even the Green Zone, while safer than the surrounding areas, was hardly a pocket of tranquility. It was a constant magnet for rocket and mortar attacks that frequently landed in the embassy parking lot and killed a number of employees over the years. It was generally safer to be on one of the giant Forward Operating Bases, where most Americans in Iraq, troops and contractors alike, were garrisoned.

We should be celebrating those who volunteered to serve in the Iraq war, whether they wore a uniform or not — not demeaning their service to score political points.

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The Times They Are a-Changin’ (Continued)

Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, published an article in Foreign Policy titled, “What the NeoCons Got Right.” Mr. Cook does not include Iraq in what neoconservatives got right, though his dissent is intelligent and reasonable. But he argues that neoconservatives got Syria, Iran, and democracy right. He argues that the real problem we face with Iran is ontological, having to do with the metaphysical nature of that regime. And he argues that neoconservatism’s “forceful advocacy of democracy and freedom in the Middle East may have grated on many, but it did much to advance those causes in a region once described as ‘democracy’s desert.’”

As I said in my earlier post, on the matter of the Iraq war, we’re seeing evidence of a significant (and encouraging) climate change of opinion on national-security matters.

It’s a good reminder that with enough patience, things do have a way of working out.

Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, published an article in Foreign Policy titled, “What the NeoCons Got Right.” Mr. Cook does not include Iraq in what neoconservatives got right, though his dissent is intelligent and reasonable. But he argues that neoconservatives got Syria, Iran, and democracy right. He argues that the real problem we face with Iran is ontological, having to do with the metaphysical nature of that regime. And he argues that neoconservatism’s “forceful advocacy of democracy and freedom in the Middle East may have grated on many, but it did much to advance those causes in a region once described as ‘democracy’s desert.’”

As I said in my earlier post, on the matter of the Iraq war, we’re seeing evidence of a significant (and encouraging) climate change of opinion on national-security matters.

It’s a good reminder that with enough patience, things do have a way of working out.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Democrats  get fingered, again, as much less supportive of Israel than Republicans and Independents. Thankfully, however, overall support for Israel is up, “Which should be a comfort to supporters of the Jewish State, who have felt an icy breeze wafting from the White House over the past year.” Still it does reraise the question, given Jews’ overwhelming identification as Democrats: “Why do they despise their familiars and love The Stranger who hates them—and hates them all the more for their craven pursuit of him?”

The Climategate participants get fingered, again, for playing fast and loose with the facts. “The scientist who has been put in charge of the Commerce Department’s new climate change office is coming under attack from both sides of the global warming debate over his handling of what they say is contradictory scientific data related to the subject. … [A] climatologist affiliated with the University of Colorado who has crossed horns with [newly appointed Thomas] Karl in the past, says his appointment was a mistake. He accused Karl of suppressing data he submitted for the [UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s] most recent report on climate change and having a very narrow view of its causes.”

Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett get fingered, again, as flacks for the Iranian regime. (“The Leveretts’ sensitivity to suggestions they are in touch with Revolutionary Guards representatives is especially curious given that that Flynt Leverett has in the past boasted of his contacts with the Guards.”) And Lee Smith smartly concludes that “Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran has gone nowhere, and true believers are dropping by the wayside. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is calling for regime change, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reviving a promise from her own presidential campaign to extend a nuclear umbrella to protect Washington’s allies in the Persian Gulf. … The United States must stop the Iranians by any means necessary, and it must do so now.”

Barack Obama gets fingered, again, as a hypocrite. In 2005, he said: “You know, the Founders designed this system, as frustrating it is, to make sure that there’s a broad consensus before the country moves forward.”

Sen. Arlen Specter  gets fingered, again, in a poll for defeat. Pat Toomey leads by 10 points in a potential general-election match-up.

Eric Holder gets fingered, again, by Andy McCarthy: “Their typical scandal pattern is: (a) make bold pronouncements about unprecedented transparency, (b) show a little leg, and then (c) stonewall, after which (d) White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel assures some friendly journalist that everything would have been different if only they’d have listened to him. The result is the trifecta: the administration ends up looking hypocritical, sinister and incompetent.”

Nancy Pelosi gets fingered, again, for lacking the votes for ObamaCare II: “There are 15-20 House Democrats who are withholding their support for President Barack Obama’s healthcare proposal, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said Wednesday. Stupak led a broad coalition of anti-abortion rights Democrats in November, demanding that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) include tough abortion restrictions in the lower chamber’s legislation lest she lose a chance of passing the bill. … In an interview on MSNBC Wednesday morning, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) accused [Eric] Cantor of ‘playing games’ but did not say whether House Democrats have the votes to pass the president’s fixes.”

Kirsten Gillibrand gets fingered, again, as a vulnerable Democrat. The newest potential challenger is Dan Senor, foreign-policy guru and co-author of  Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.

Democrats  get fingered, again, as much less supportive of Israel than Republicans and Independents. Thankfully, however, overall support for Israel is up, “Which should be a comfort to supporters of the Jewish State, who have felt an icy breeze wafting from the White House over the past year.” Still it does reraise the question, given Jews’ overwhelming identification as Democrats: “Why do they despise their familiars and love The Stranger who hates them—and hates them all the more for their craven pursuit of him?”

The Climategate participants get fingered, again, for playing fast and loose with the facts. “The scientist who has been put in charge of the Commerce Department’s new climate change office is coming under attack from both sides of the global warming debate over his handling of what they say is contradictory scientific data related to the subject. … [A] climatologist affiliated with the University of Colorado who has crossed horns with [newly appointed Thomas] Karl in the past, says his appointment was a mistake. He accused Karl of suppressing data he submitted for the [UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s] most recent report on climate change and having a very narrow view of its causes.”

Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett get fingered, again, as flacks for the Iranian regime. (“The Leveretts’ sensitivity to suggestions they are in touch with Revolutionary Guards representatives is especially curious given that that Flynt Leverett has in the past boasted of his contacts with the Guards.”) And Lee Smith smartly concludes that “Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran has gone nowhere, and true believers are dropping by the wayside. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is calling for regime change, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reviving a promise from her own presidential campaign to extend a nuclear umbrella to protect Washington’s allies in the Persian Gulf. … The United States must stop the Iranians by any means necessary, and it must do so now.”

Barack Obama gets fingered, again, as a hypocrite. In 2005, he said: “You know, the Founders designed this system, as frustrating it is, to make sure that there’s a broad consensus before the country moves forward.”

Sen. Arlen Specter  gets fingered, again, in a poll for defeat. Pat Toomey leads by 10 points in a potential general-election match-up.

Eric Holder gets fingered, again, by Andy McCarthy: “Their typical scandal pattern is: (a) make bold pronouncements about unprecedented transparency, (b) show a little leg, and then (c) stonewall, after which (d) White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel assures some friendly journalist that everything would have been different if only they’d have listened to him. The result is the trifecta: the administration ends up looking hypocritical, sinister and incompetent.”

Nancy Pelosi gets fingered, again, for lacking the votes for ObamaCare II: “There are 15-20 House Democrats who are withholding their support for President Barack Obama’s healthcare proposal, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said Wednesday. Stupak led a broad coalition of anti-abortion rights Democrats in November, demanding that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) include tough abortion restrictions in the lower chamber’s legislation lest she lose a chance of passing the bill. … In an interview on MSNBC Wednesday morning, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) accused [Eric] Cantor of ‘playing games’ but did not say whether House Democrats have the votes to pass the president’s fixes.”

Kirsten Gillibrand gets fingered, again, as a vulnerable Democrat. The newest potential challenger is Dan Senor, foreign-policy guru and co-author of  Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.

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Congratulations to Mark Kirk

I am greatly cheered to see that Mark Kirk has won the GOP nomination for the Senate seat in Illinois and has a good chance of winning in the general election. I say that not just because Kirk could represent another Republican pickup in the Senate — although given the overweening nature of the Democratic agenda, some more checks and balances would certainly be welcome — but also because he is a very impressive individual. I had the privilege of chatting with him last year when he visited the Council on Foreign Relations, and I found him to be extremely well-informed about world affairs — far more so than the average House member. He was also full of shrewd and sensible insights. Perhaps that should be no surprise given that, in addition to his current congressional duties, he also finds time to serve as a Naval Reserve officer. An intelligence specialist, he was deployed to Afghanistan in December. In the House, he has been a leader on various foreign-policy issues; for example, he is the driving force behind legislation, which has passed both houses, to impose strict sanctions on Iran’s petroleum imports. If he joins the Senate, he should play an important role in steering U.S. national-security policy in the (so to speak) right direction.

I am greatly cheered to see that Mark Kirk has won the GOP nomination for the Senate seat in Illinois and has a good chance of winning in the general election. I say that not just because Kirk could represent another Republican pickup in the Senate — although given the overweening nature of the Democratic agenda, some more checks and balances would certainly be welcome — but also because he is a very impressive individual. I had the privilege of chatting with him last year when he visited the Council on Foreign Relations, and I found him to be extremely well-informed about world affairs — far more so than the average House member. He was also full of shrewd and sensible insights. Perhaps that should be no surprise given that, in addition to his current congressional duties, he also finds time to serve as a Naval Reserve officer. An intelligence specialist, he was deployed to Afghanistan in December. In the House, he has been a leader on various foreign-policy issues; for example, he is the driving force behind legislation, which has passed both houses, to impose strict sanctions on Iran’s petroleum imports. If he joins the Senate, he should play an important role in steering U.S. national-security policy in the (so to speak) right direction.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Lynn Sweet on Obama’s home state: “Never ending ethics scandals and the near insolvency of the state government burst the bubble of any post Obama euphoria months ago. On Saturday, Chicagoans awoke to these stories: a suburban mayor sentenced for bribery; a Chicago alderman taking a bribery plea deal, and a former alderman learning he may face prison time for a real estate kickback scheme. Illinois Democrats are splintered and frazzled in the wake of the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who will be tried this summer on federal public corruption charges for, among other items, trying to auction off Obama’s seat.” Probably doesn’t help that the likely Democratic Senate nominee for state treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias, is Tony Rezko’s banker.

Another precarious Blue State Senate seat: “Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) isn’t yet considered highly vulnerable in 2010. But a new poll, coupled with Scott Brown’s upset win in Massachusetts, has Republicans rethinking their chances against the three-term senator. A poll released Thursday from Moore Insight, an Oregon-based GOP polling firm, showed Dino Rossi, a two-time Republican candidate for governor, leading Murray 45 percent to 43 percent, with 9 percent undecided.”

Not even Chuck Schumer is holding up under the torrent of anti-incumbent anger: “Senator Chuck Schumer’s once rock solid approval rating has taken a slide. For the first time in nearly nine years, Schumer’s approval rating has fallen below 50%. According to the latest Marist Poll in New York, 47% of registered voters statewide report Schumer is doing either an excellent or good job in office. 31% rate the job he is doing as fair, and 17% view him as performing poorly. This is Schumer’s lowest job approval rating since April 2001 when 49% of voters approved of the job he was doing.”

The moment of reckoning: “President Barack Obama’s new $3.83 trillion budget is a chickens-come-home-to-roost moment for Democrats who skipped past the deficit to tackle health care last year and now risk paying a heavy price in November. The great White House political gamble was to act quickly — before the deficits hit home — and institute major changes which proponents say will serve the long-term fiscal health of the country. Instead, a year of wrangling and refusal to consider more incremental steps have brought Obama and Congress to this juncture, where waves of red ink threaten to swamp their boat and drown reform altogether.”

How vulnerable is Obama on the mega-deficit he is proposing? Glenn Reynolds: “One telling indicator is a growing effort by the remaining Obama partisans to paint Bush as an equivalent big spender, even though the Bush deficits were much smaller than Obama’s, and declining throughout most of his second term. Not that Bush was any prize, but Obama’s deficits are of an entirely different magnitude.” This raises another issue — who exactly is still an Obama partisan? Not even Chris Matthews and Jon Stewart are on board.

Shocking as it may be, the Obami are making stuff up. On the number of terrorists they claim to have convicted in the criminal justice system, Andy McCarthy explains: “The DOJ ‘fact sheet’ goes on to tell us there are 300 ‘terrorists’ in custody. But look at what they have to do to get there: (a) gone is the ‘since 9/11′ limitation — the 300 figure represents all terrorists ever convicted who are still in jail; and (b) they have to add in domestic terrorists to goose up the numbers — even though no one is contending that domestic terrorists should be treated as enemy combatants. We are at war with al-Qaeda, not PETA.” Even the lesser figure of 195 is highly suspect. McCarthy has a good idea: have the Justice Department release all the backup data. It would be the transparent thing to do.

Even those who like the idea of civilian trials for terrorists are furious with the Obami. Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations: “There is no question that the Obama administration blundered by failing to ensure that New York’s leaders were fully committed to a civilian trial for KSM in New York City. The result has been a dismal outcome — an embarrassing climb down that leaves the United States looking too scared to mete out justice to the architect of the worst mass murder in U.S. history.”

Unlike Bob McDonnell in Virginia, Rep. Joe Sestak says he’d be “open to the idea” of hosting the KSM trial in his state.

Lynn Sweet on Obama’s home state: “Never ending ethics scandals and the near insolvency of the state government burst the bubble of any post Obama euphoria months ago. On Saturday, Chicagoans awoke to these stories: a suburban mayor sentenced for bribery; a Chicago alderman taking a bribery plea deal, and a former alderman learning he may face prison time for a real estate kickback scheme. Illinois Democrats are splintered and frazzled in the wake of the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who will be tried this summer on federal public corruption charges for, among other items, trying to auction off Obama’s seat.” Probably doesn’t help that the likely Democratic Senate nominee for state treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias, is Tony Rezko’s banker.

Another precarious Blue State Senate seat: “Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) isn’t yet considered highly vulnerable in 2010. But a new poll, coupled with Scott Brown’s upset win in Massachusetts, has Republicans rethinking their chances against the three-term senator. A poll released Thursday from Moore Insight, an Oregon-based GOP polling firm, showed Dino Rossi, a two-time Republican candidate for governor, leading Murray 45 percent to 43 percent, with 9 percent undecided.”

Not even Chuck Schumer is holding up under the torrent of anti-incumbent anger: “Senator Chuck Schumer’s once rock solid approval rating has taken a slide. For the first time in nearly nine years, Schumer’s approval rating has fallen below 50%. According to the latest Marist Poll in New York, 47% of registered voters statewide report Schumer is doing either an excellent or good job in office. 31% rate the job he is doing as fair, and 17% view him as performing poorly. This is Schumer’s lowest job approval rating since April 2001 when 49% of voters approved of the job he was doing.”

The moment of reckoning: “President Barack Obama’s new $3.83 trillion budget is a chickens-come-home-to-roost moment for Democrats who skipped past the deficit to tackle health care last year and now risk paying a heavy price in November. The great White House political gamble was to act quickly — before the deficits hit home — and institute major changes which proponents say will serve the long-term fiscal health of the country. Instead, a year of wrangling and refusal to consider more incremental steps have brought Obama and Congress to this juncture, where waves of red ink threaten to swamp their boat and drown reform altogether.”

How vulnerable is Obama on the mega-deficit he is proposing? Glenn Reynolds: “One telling indicator is a growing effort by the remaining Obama partisans to paint Bush as an equivalent big spender, even though the Bush deficits were much smaller than Obama’s, and declining throughout most of his second term. Not that Bush was any prize, but Obama’s deficits are of an entirely different magnitude.” This raises another issue — who exactly is still an Obama partisan? Not even Chris Matthews and Jon Stewart are on board.

Shocking as it may be, the Obami are making stuff up. On the number of terrorists they claim to have convicted in the criminal justice system, Andy McCarthy explains: “The DOJ ‘fact sheet’ goes on to tell us there are 300 ‘terrorists’ in custody. But look at what they have to do to get there: (a) gone is the ‘since 9/11′ limitation — the 300 figure represents all terrorists ever convicted who are still in jail; and (b) they have to add in domestic terrorists to goose up the numbers — even though no one is contending that domestic terrorists should be treated as enemy combatants. We are at war with al-Qaeda, not PETA.” Even the lesser figure of 195 is highly suspect. McCarthy has a good idea: have the Justice Department release all the backup data. It would be the transparent thing to do.

Even those who like the idea of civilian trials for terrorists are furious with the Obami. Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations: “There is no question that the Obama administration blundered by failing to ensure that New York’s leaders were fully committed to a civilian trial for KSM in New York City. The result has been a dismal outcome — an embarrassing climb down that leaves the United States looking too scared to mete out justice to the architect of the worst mass murder in U.S. history.”

Unlike Bob McDonnell in Virginia, Rep. Joe Sestak says he’d be “open to the idea” of hosting the KSM trial in his state.

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The Unmasking of Barack Obama

The overseas reviews for President Obama’s foreign policy are starting to pour in — and they’re not favorable. Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, has blamed Obama for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Telegraph:

Mr. Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing the U.S. President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban. A “period of hiatus” in Washington — and a lack of clear direction — had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said. Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr. Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defense chiefs echoing the concerns.

The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”

Indeed he has — and only Obama and his increasingly clueless administration seem unaware of this. Read More

The overseas reviews for President Obama’s foreign policy are starting to pour in — and they’re not favorable. Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, has blamed Obama for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Telegraph:

Mr. Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing the U.S. President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban. A “period of hiatus” in Washington — and a lack of clear direction — had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said. Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr. Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defense chiefs echoing the concerns.

The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”

Indeed he has — and only Obama and his increasingly clueless administration seem unaware of this.

On almost every front, progress is nonexistent. In many instances, things are getting worse rather than better. The enormous goodwill that Obama’s election was met with hasn’t been leveraged into anything useful and tangible. Rather, our allies are now questioning America’s will, while our adversaries are becoming increasingly emboldened. The United States looks weak and uncertain. It’s “amateur hour at the White House,” according to Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former official in the Carter administration. “Not only are things not getting fixed, they may be getting more broken,” according to Michael Hirsh at Newsweek. When even such strong Obama supporters as Gelb and Hirsh reach these conclusions, you know things must be unraveling.

It’s no mystery as to why. President Obama’s approach to international relations is simplistic and misguided. It is premised on the belief that American concessions to our adversaries will beget goodwill and concessions in return; that American self-abasement is justified; that the American decline is inevitable (and in some respects welcome); and that diplomacy and multilateralism are ends rather than means to an end.

Right now the overwhelming issue on the public’s mind is the economy, where Obama is also having serious problems. But national-security issues matter a great deal, and they remain the unique responsibility of the president. With every passing month, Barack Obama looks more and more like his Democratic predecessor Jimmy Carter: irresolute, unsteady, and overmatched. The president and members of his own party will find out soon enough, though, that Obama the Impotent isn’t what they had in mind when they elected him. We are witnessing the unmasking, and perhaps the unmaking, of Barack Obama.

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Gelb Sounds Like Cheney

When Leslie Gelb writes a column entitled “Amateur Hour at the White House,” which sounds like he’s channeling Dick Cheney, the White House has a problem. Gelb is no right-winger but rather a dean in the Beltway foreign-policy establishment. The former New York Times columnist, Carter administration official, and now president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations reviews the lame Asia trip and finds that it “suggests a disturbing amateurishness in managing America’s power.” He then blasts away:

On top of the inexcusably clumsy review of Afghan policy and the fumbling of Mideast negotiations, the message for Mr. Obama should be clear: He should stare hard at the skills of his foreign-policy team and, more so, at his own dominant role in decision-making. Something is awry somewhere, and he’s got to fix it.

He rightly observes that it is hard to see much purpose in the trip. Without real progress on issues of consequence, Gelb argues that “Mr. Obama should have taken a well-deserved vacation in Hawaii.” The nub of the problem, he goes on to say, is that Obama doesn’t really have a foreign policy. Invoking “the God of Multilateralism without spelling out America’s leadership role” doesn’t really count. Gelb’s advice is to bring in new advisers.

Well, they can’t do any worse than the current crew has. But the problem, of course, stems from Obama’s obsessive infatuation with that “God of Multilateralism,” an aversion to projecting American power, and a refusal to embrace (or even fake belief in) American exceptionalism. Then there is Obama’s adoption of unhelpful excuse-mongering on behalf of those anxious to be unhelpful (e.g., the Palestinians are like enslaved African Americans, the Russians are fearful of the West), his amoral willingness to jettison human rights in the hopes of gaining favor with tyrants, and his narcissistic view of foreign policy that assumes his personal history and non-George-Bush-ness will be significant in dealing with international powers.

Will new advisers solve all that — and would Obama even listen to those who didn’t share his passive-aggressive predilections? It’s not likely, unless Obama himself acknowledged first that his foreign policy has been an embarrassing bust. No sign of that yet, although Gelb does his best to alert a White House unusually immune to criticism that the complaints are not simply the dreamed-up critiques of right-wingers. One imagines — hard as it may be to — that things will have to get worse before the Obami’s foreign policy gets better.

When Leslie Gelb writes a column entitled “Amateur Hour at the White House,” which sounds like he’s channeling Dick Cheney, the White House has a problem. Gelb is no right-winger but rather a dean in the Beltway foreign-policy establishment. The former New York Times columnist, Carter administration official, and now president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations reviews the lame Asia trip and finds that it “suggests a disturbing amateurishness in managing America’s power.” He then blasts away:

On top of the inexcusably clumsy review of Afghan policy and the fumbling of Mideast negotiations, the message for Mr. Obama should be clear: He should stare hard at the skills of his foreign-policy team and, more so, at his own dominant role in decision-making. Something is awry somewhere, and he’s got to fix it.

He rightly observes that it is hard to see much purpose in the trip. Without real progress on issues of consequence, Gelb argues that “Mr. Obama should have taken a well-deserved vacation in Hawaii.” The nub of the problem, he goes on to say, is that Obama doesn’t really have a foreign policy. Invoking “the God of Multilateralism without spelling out America’s leadership role” doesn’t really count. Gelb’s advice is to bring in new advisers.

Well, they can’t do any worse than the current crew has. But the problem, of course, stems from Obama’s obsessive infatuation with that “God of Multilateralism,” an aversion to projecting American power, and a refusal to embrace (or even fake belief in) American exceptionalism. Then there is Obama’s adoption of unhelpful excuse-mongering on behalf of those anxious to be unhelpful (e.g., the Palestinians are like enslaved African Americans, the Russians are fearful of the West), his amoral willingness to jettison human rights in the hopes of gaining favor with tyrants, and his narcissistic view of foreign policy that assumes his personal history and non-George-Bush-ness will be significant in dealing with international powers.

Will new advisers solve all that — and would Obama even listen to those who didn’t share his passive-aggressive predilections? It’s not likely, unless Obama himself acknowledged first that his foreign policy has been an embarrassing bust. No sign of that yet, although Gelb does his best to alert a White House unusually immune to criticism that the complaints are not simply the dreamed-up critiques of right-wingers. One imagines — hard as it may be to — that things will have to get worse before the Obami’s foreign policy gets better.

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Obama and the Virtues of Kowtowing

Reading the Washington Post‘s survey of Asia experts’ opinions on Obama’s swing through the region, I was struck by the general consensus that the trip was a failure. You would expect to hear such a view from conservatives like Misha Auslin and Dani Pletka at AEI, Michael Green at CSIS, or Victor Cha at Georgetown. But what’s striking is that this was also the view of liberals like Doug Schoen, the Democratic pollster, who writes, “President Obama was unable to secure any lasting agreements on climate change, free trade, revaluing the Chinese currency, or, most important, sanctions on Iran and North Korea…. The president’s failure to achieve any concrete results will impact his standing back at home and in his dealings with Congress over health care.”

Then there is the assessment of my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Liz Economy, another Democrat who offers an unvarnished assessment of this Democratic president’s foray abroad:

It was, optically, one of the worst U.S. presidential visits to Beijing in memory. … Lots of talk, little action — just the way the Chinese like it. Although I’d like to back the president, I’d place my own bet that being nice to the Chinese leadership isn’t going to get us very far. It never has.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the president will take some of these criticisms to heart and rethink the virtues of kowtowing before his next expedition abroad.

Reading the Washington Post‘s survey of Asia experts’ opinions on Obama’s swing through the region, I was struck by the general consensus that the trip was a failure. You would expect to hear such a view from conservatives like Misha Auslin and Dani Pletka at AEI, Michael Green at CSIS, or Victor Cha at Georgetown. But what’s striking is that this was also the view of liberals like Doug Schoen, the Democratic pollster, who writes, “President Obama was unable to secure any lasting agreements on climate change, free trade, revaluing the Chinese currency, or, most important, sanctions on Iran and North Korea…. The president’s failure to achieve any concrete results will impact his standing back at home and in his dealings with Congress over health care.”

Then there is the assessment of my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Liz Economy, another Democrat who offers an unvarnished assessment of this Democratic president’s foray abroad:

It was, optically, one of the worst U.S. presidential visits to Beijing in memory. … Lots of talk, little action — just the way the Chinese like it. Although I’d like to back the president, I’d place my own bet that being nice to the Chinese leadership isn’t going to get us very far. It never has.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the president will take some of these criticisms to heart and rethink the virtues of kowtowing before his next expedition abroad.

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The Meaning of Palestinian Politics

Over at the New Republic, Steven A. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations speaks a few truths about Palestinian politics that aren’t often mentioned. His “The Third Intifada” discusses the likelihood of the current diplomatic standoff between Israel and the Palestinians resulting in a new round of violence. But rather than going the route of conventional wisdom and blaming it all on the hard-hearted Israelis, who won’t make enough concessions to appease their antagonists, Cook goes straight to the heart of Palestinian political culture when he notes that, as in the not-so-distant past, their leaders will resort to bloodshed as a way out of the corner into which they have painted themselves and as a means to bolster their credibility with constituencies that seem only to respect violence.

Another intifada makes no sense for the Palestinians. Another campaign of attacks on Israeli targets has little chance of success and it would, without doubt, cost far more Palestinian than Israeli lives. It would also ruin, as the first and second intifadas did, the economic progress Palestinians have made in recent years and inflict a new round of misery on them. But, as Cook points out, none of that will matter because “if history is any guide, the Palestinian leadership of the West Bank — whether it includes Mahmoud Abbas or not — may again look to a violence to improve its sagging domestic popularity. Throughout contemporary Palestinian history, spilling Israeli blood has often been the best way for competing political factions to burnish their nationalist credentials.”

In an important point often overlooked by apologists for Abbas, Cook also believes that “faith” in the ability or willingness of the new Palestinian Authority security forces to stop anti-Israel terror in the future “seems misguided.” Those forces have been the subject of much positive comment from both Jerusalem and Washington, but Cook understands that in order to maintain their credibility among Palestinians these units will have to turn their guns on their erstwhile Israeli partners if push comes to shove. Since this is exactly what happened in 2000 when the second intifada broke out — when Palestinian policeman who had also received U.S. training joined mobs attacking Israeli positions rather than try to restrain them — why should anyone doubt that another intifada will produce the same result?

But lest anyone conclude that the only alternative to another intifada is a more forthcoming Israeli negotiating position, it is important to remember a few points that go unmentioned in Cook’s article. Far from a lack of diplomatic progress providing a spur to Palestinian violence, it is the Palestinian leadership’s unwillingness to make peace that is the root cause of the problem. Having rejected a state in the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for recognizing Israel’s legitimacy both in 2000 and 2008, it is more than obvious that their real fear doesn’t stem from the unlikelihood of peace but rather from the certainty of a deal if they should actually seriously pursue one. Though Barack Obama gave them a new excuse for dragging their feet this year by trying to make a settlement freeze a precondition for talks, Abbas must follow Arafat’s precedent and choose war over peace because anything less would result in his destruction.

Whether or not Israelis build new homes in their own capital, a point that Cook wrongly acknowledges as a seeming justification for Palestinian unhappiness, rejection of Israel’s existence and belief in the inherent legitimacy of anti-Israel violence is still the core of Palestinian political identity. Unless and until that changes, all we can expect is an endless stream of intifadas undertaken not out of frustration but as a way to avoid making peace.

Over at the New Republic, Steven A. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations speaks a few truths about Palestinian politics that aren’t often mentioned. His “The Third Intifada” discusses the likelihood of the current diplomatic standoff between Israel and the Palestinians resulting in a new round of violence. But rather than going the route of conventional wisdom and blaming it all on the hard-hearted Israelis, who won’t make enough concessions to appease their antagonists, Cook goes straight to the heart of Palestinian political culture when he notes that, as in the not-so-distant past, their leaders will resort to bloodshed as a way out of the corner into which they have painted themselves and as a means to bolster their credibility with constituencies that seem only to respect violence.

Another intifada makes no sense for the Palestinians. Another campaign of attacks on Israeli targets has little chance of success and it would, without doubt, cost far more Palestinian than Israeli lives. It would also ruin, as the first and second intifadas did, the economic progress Palestinians have made in recent years and inflict a new round of misery on them. But, as Cook points out, none of that will matter because “if history is any guide, the Palestinian leadership of the West Bank — whether it includes Mahmoud Abbas or not — may again look to a violence to improve its sagging domestic popularity. Throughout contemporary Palestinian history, spilling Israeli blood has often been the best way for competing political factions to burnish their nationalist credentials.”

In an important point often overlooked by apologists for Abbas, Cook also believes that “faith” in the ability or willingness of the new Palestinian Authority security forces to stop anti-Israel terror in the future “seems misguided.” Those forces have been the subject of much positive comment from both Jerusalem and Washington, but Cook understands that in order to maintain their credibility among Palestinians these units will have to turn their guns on their erstwhile Israeli partners if push comes to shove. Since this is exactly what happened in 2000 when the second intifada broke out — when Palestinian policeman who had also received U.S. training joined mobs attacking Israeli positions rather than try to restrain them — why should anyone doubt that another intifada will produce the same result?

But lest anyone conclude that the only alternative to another intifada is a more forthcoming Israeli negotiating position, it is important to remember a few points that go unmentioned in Cook’s article. Far from a lack of diplomatic progress providing a spur to Palestinian violence, it is the Palestinian leadership’s unwillingness to make peace that is the root cause of the problem. Having rejected a state in the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for recognizing Israel’s legitimacy both in 2000 and 2008, it is more than obvious that their real fear doesn’t stem from the unlikelihood of peace but rather from the certainty of a deal if they should actually seriously pursue one. Though Barack Obama gave them a new excuse for dragging their feet this year by trying to make a settlement freeze a precondition for talks, Abbas must follow Arafat’s precedent and choose war over peace because anything less would result in his destruction.

Whether or not Israelis build new homes in their own capital, a point that Cook wrongly acknowledges as a seeming justification for Palestinian unhappiness, rejection of Israel’s existence and belief in the inherent legitimacy of anti-Israel violence is still the core of Palestinian political identity. Unless and until that changes, all we can expect is an endless stream of intifadas undertaken not out of frustration but as a way to avoid making peace.

Read Less




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