Commentary Magazine


Topic: Daniel Kurtzer

Flotsam and Jetsam

An unnamed NBC exec explains what’s wrong with a talk show host making campaign donations. It’s sort of like Pete Rose betting on baseball. “The minute that a paid commentator starts betting on an outcome, you call into question your credibility in Republican primaries or Democratic primaries, you call into question whether an elected hopeful/official is coming on your air to win a favor, to win your endorsement and then it defeats the purpose of why you have a show in the first place.”

Jon Stewart explains to the media what’s wrong with picking on politicians’ kids. (Yes, it’s pathetic that Stewart is now among the best MSM ombudsmen out there.)

Sounds like he’s figured out what’s wrong with the RNC. “In his announcement [for RNC chairman], Saul Anuzis promised to be ‘a nuts & bolts type of Chairman.’ ‘Of course I will be happy to discuss politics and elections with the media,’ he wrote, ‘but I won’t be competing with valuable airtime from the men and women on our ticket.’ He also pledged to serve only one term.”

John Yoo’s take (which I am delighted matches my own) on what’s wrong with Obama’s anti-terror policies: “The near-total acquittal of an al Qaeda agent by a New York jury this week should, at a minimum, be the last gasp for President Obama’s misguided effort to wage the war on terrorism in the courtroom. But it should also spell the end for a broader law-enforcement approach that interferes with our effective prosecution of the conflict. The best course now is simply to detain al Qaeda members, exploit them for intelligence, and delay trials until the end of hostilities.”

Nothing better sums up what’s right and what’s wrong with Sarah Palin than Matt Labash’s brilliant piece on her new reality show. A sample: “Gravitas, it’s safe to say, is the enemy of freedom. And freedom is about motion—being in it, staying in it. On the show, this involves seein’, and doin’, and experiencin’ things that don’t require a ‘g’ on the end of them, such as shootin’, and rock climbin’, and snow machinin’, and clubbin’ halibut over the head (‘let me see the club, you look crazy,’ says Bristol to her mom when they do the deed on a commercial fishing boat) and media-critiquin’ and BlackBerryin’, which Palin gets caught doing even in the midst of wilderness adventures.” Read the whole thing — and prepare to roar.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth explains what’s wrong with ObamaCare: “If Obamacare offered as much choice as federal health plans, there would be no need to repeal it. Obamacare is a mandatory, one-size-fits-all, expensive, Cadillac plan. The federal health plan allows workers to sign up for low-cost catastrophic plans with health savings accounts (illegal under Obamacare) or high-cost plans with more coverage, all at different prices. Or workers can opt out altogether and pick another system without penalty (again, illegal under Obamacare). Sign-ups and plan changes are once a year, not if you get sick. If Congress replaced Obamacare with the federal plan, everyone would be better off.”

Daniel Kurtzer’s diagnosis of what’s wrong with the Obama peace-plan bribe is screwy. He thinks it “rewards” Israel for settlement-building. But it is instructive in one sense: no one seems to agree it’s a smart move.

What’s wrong with the Obama peace-plan gambit? Elliott Abrams and Michael Singh explain: “The most worrying aspect of Obama’s package is the linkages it establishes between Israeli concessions on settlements (and apparently on the pace of construction in Jerusalem as well) and other unrelated policy matters. Washington has long opposed, and frequently vetoed, U.N. Security Council initiatives targeting Israel. … The suggestion that unless there is a construction freeze America will no longer do so will make it far harder for U.S. negotiators to defeat or soften drafts put forward in the council in future years, and encourage further assaults on Israel there. Leaving Israel undefended in the United Nations will make successful negotiations less, not more, likely, for an Israel that is under constant attack will batten down the hatches not ‘take risks for peace.’” Read the whole thing.

An unnamed NBC exec explains what’s wrong with a talk show host making campaign donations. It’s sort of like Pete Rose betting on baseball. “The minute that a paid commentator starts betting on an outcome, you call into question your credibility in Republican primaries or Democratic primaries, you call into question whether an elected hopeful/official is coming on your air to win a favor, to win your endorsement and then it defeats the purpose of why you have a show in the first place.”

Jon Stewart explains to the media what’s wrong with picking on politicians’ kids. (Yes, it’s pathetic that Stewart is now among the best MSM ombudsmen out there.)

Sounds like he’s figured out what’s wrong with the RNC. “In his announcement [for RNC chairman], Saul Anuzis promised to be ‘a nuts & bolts type of Chairman.’ ‘Of course I will be happy to discuss politics and elections with the media,’ he wrote, ‘but I won’t be competing with valuable airtime from the men and women on our ticket.’ He also pledged to serve only one term.”

John Yoo’s take (which I am delighted matches my own) on what’s wrong with Obama’s anti-terror policies: “The near-total acquittal of an al Qaeda agent by a New York jury this week should, at a minimum, be the last gasp for President Obama’s misguided effort to wage the war on terrorism in the courtroom. But it should also spell the end for a broader law-enforcement approach that interferes with our effective prosecution of the conflict. The best course now is simply to detain al Qaeda members, exploit them for intelligence, and delay trials until the end of hostilities.”

Nothing better sums up what’s right and what’s wrong with Sarah Palin than Matt Labash’s brilliant piece on her new reality show. A sample: “Gravitas, it’s safe to say, is the enemy of freedom. And freedom is about motion—being in it, staying in it. On the show, this involves seein’, and doin’, and experiencin’ things that don’t require a ‘g’ on the end of them, such as shootin’, and rock climbin’, and snow machinin’, and clubbin’ halibut over the head (‘let me see the club, you look crazy,’ says Bristol to her mom when they do the deed on a commercial fishing boat) and media-critiquin’ and BlackBerryin’, which Palin gets caught doing even in the midst of wilderness adventures.” Read the whole thing — and prepare to roar.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth explains what’s wrong with ObamaCare: “If Obamacare offered as much choice as federal health plans, there would be no need to repeal it. Obamacare is a mandatory, one-size-fits-all, expensive, Cadillac plan. The federal health plan allows workers to sign up for low-cost catastrophic plans with health savings accounts (illegal under Obamacare) or high-cost plans with more coverage, all at different prices. Or workers can opt out altogether and pick another system without penalty (again, illegal under Obamacare). Sign-ups and plan changes are once a year, not if you get sick. If Congress replaced Obamacare with the federal plan, everyone would be better off.”

Daniel Kurtzer’s diagnosis of what’s wrong with the Obama peace-plan bribe is screwy. He thinks it “rewards” Israel for settlement-building. But it is instructive in one sense: no one seems to agree it’s a smart move.

What’s wrong with the Obama peace-plan gambit? Elliott Abrams and Michael Singh explain: “The most worrying aspect of Obama’s package is the linkages it establishes between Israeli concessions on settlements (and apparently on the pace of construction in Jerusalem as well) and other unrelated policy matters. Washington has long opposed, and frequently vetoed, U.N. Security Council initiatives targeting Israel. … The suggestion that unless there is a construction freeze America will no longer do so will make it far harder for U.S. negotiators to defeat or soften drafts put forward in the council in future years, and encourage further assaults on Israel there. Leaving Israel undefended in the United Nations will make successful negotiations less, not more, likely, for an Israel that is under constant attack will batten down the hatches not ‘take risks for peace.’” Read the whole thing.

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NY Times: Tax-Exempt Status Only for Groups That Agree with the Administration

In an astonishing (and absurdly long) front-page story today, three New York Times reporters breathlessly offer an account of the fact that West Bank settlements and settlers are supported by nonprofit American organizations despite the fact that the Obama administration, and administrations before it, oppose them (or most of them):

As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.

There are three astounding aspects to these paragraphs, and to the story as a whole.

First is the open and explicit suggestion that tax-deductible dollars should only support policies with which the sitting administration agrees or wishes to foster. Taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean pro-choice organizations should not have a tax exemption during an explicitly pro-life administration, like George W. Bush’s, for example — or that an organization opposing the Iraq war or the government’s approach in terrorist interrogation should be stripped of its tax exemption.

Second is the notion that Americans who offer donations to settlers who are using them for self-defense — “guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas” — are doing something that is a) wrong and b) in contravention of U.S. policy. Is it U.S. policy that settlers should take no measures to protect themselves? No, it isn’t, and it is demented of the Times to suggest otherwise.

Third is the notion that tax-exempt dollars belong to the U.S. Treasury and are, in effect, given as a gift by the government to whomever receives them. The general proposition behind it is that any private-sector dollar not confiscated by the government is in essence a gift from the government. This is an idea gaining currency on the left in the United States, especially in regard to philanthropy (see David Billet’s piece on the subject in the magazine from last year), but aside from being wrong and offensive, it is certainly arguable. The Times piece simply asserts it as though it were fact.

The article quotes anonymous Israelis complaining about the U.S. aid, as well as former ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, who didn’t like the fact that Americans with a passionate interest in Israel took steps with their own dollars to upset his attempts to convince Israel and Israelis that the populace of the United States felt as he feels about these matters:

“It drove us crazy,” he said. But “it was a thing you didn’t talk about in polite company.”

Us? Polite company? Which polite company would that have been?

Don’t read the whole thing. Life is too short.

In an astonishing (and absurdly long) front-page story today, three New York Times reporters breathlessly offer an account of the fact that West Bank settlements and settlers are supported by nonprofit American organizations despite the fact that the Obama administration, and administrations before it, oppose them (or most of them):

As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.

There are three astounding aspects to these paragraphs, and to the story as a whole.

First is the open and explicit suggestion that tax-deductible dollars should only support policies with which the sitting administration agrees or wishes to foster. Taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean pro-choice organizations should not have a tax exemption during an explicitly pro-life administration, like George W. Bush’s, for example — or that an organization opposing the Iraq war or the government’s approach in terrorist interrogation should be stripped of its tax exemption.

Second is the notion that Americans who offer donations to settlers who are using them for self-defense — “guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas” — are doing something that is a) wrong and b) in contravention of U.S. policy. Is it U.S. policy that settlers should take no measures to protect themselves? No, it isn’t, and it is demented of the Times to suggest otherwise.

Third is the notion that tax-exempt dollars belong to the U.S. Treasury and are, in effect, given as a gift by the government to whomever receives them. The general proposition behind it is that any private-sector dollar not confiscated by the government is in essence a gift from the government. This is an idea gaining currency on the left in the United States, especially in regard to philanthropy (see David Billet’s piece on the subject in the magazine from last year), but aside from being wrong and offensive, it is certainly arguable. The Times piece simply asserts it as though it were fact.

The article quotes anonymous Israelis complaining about the U.S. aid, as well as former ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, who didn’t like the fact that Americans with a passionate interest in Israel took steps with their own dollars to upset his attempts to convince Israel and Israelis that the populace of the United States felt as he feels about these matters:

“It drove us crazy,” he said. But “it was a thing you didn’t talk about in polite company.”

Us? Polite company? Which polite company would that have been?

Don’t read the whole thing. Life is too short.

Read Less

Blaiming America First for No Middle East Peace

Foreign Policy has posted a forum online on why we have failed to achieve Middle East peace. It’s an odd question, which reveals the foreign policy establishment’s predilection to see this as something we control. The real answer is, obviously, because the Palestinians and their enablers don’t want peace. But that’s not the answer from many of the participants who say the problem is — I know you’ll be shocked! — the U.S. just isn’t trying hard enough or we haven’t browbeaten Israel sufficiently. Zbigniew Brezinski says the U.S. is at fault because we just haven’t gotten “seriously engaged” and haven’t come out with a plan to impose on the parties. Daniel Kurtzer echoes this claptrap: “When we are active diplomatically, Arab states are more willing to cooperate with us on other problems; when we are not active, our diplomatic options shrink.” Some willfully distort history, as Robert Malley does when he insists that “Americans, Palestinians, and Israelis were all to blame for the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks.” Hmm. I thought it was Yasir Arafat who walked away from the deal and started killing Jews instead of accepting a Palestinian state.

Now there are some voices of sanity. Gen. Anthony Zinni: “By now, we should realize what doesn’t work: summits, agreements in principle, special envoys, U.S.-proposed plans, and just about every other part of our approach has failed. So why do we keep repeating it?” (You can see why he didn’t get an administration job — too much realism.) And then Michael Oren rightly challenges the entire premise of the discussion:

Calling this an Arab-Israeli conflict today is largely a misnomer. We have two states that have peace treaties with Israel. The largest antagonist is Iran, which is not an Arab state. … I don’t think assigning blame is productive, but I think the main obstacle is getting the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. It’s quite extraordinary: We now have a situation that existed before Oslo in ’93 and before Madrid in ’91 — we can’t get the Palestinians to sit down face to face with us and discuss the issues.

Well, you can see the divide between those who would willfully ignore the experience of the past 60 years and those who plead for the others to pay attention to it. The administration is in the first camp, which explains why the Obami are heightening tensions, unraveling the U.S.-Israel relationship, and making the Middle East a more dangerous place. They dare not acknowledge Oren’s point — that the threat to Middle East peace is not the Palestinian conflict but Iran — for that would require that they do something about it. And that’s not happening.

Foreign Policy has posted a forum online on why we have failed to achieve Middle East peace. It’s an odd question, which reveals the foreign policy establishment’s predilection to see this as something we control. The real answer is, obviously, because the Palestinians and their enablers don’t want peace. But that’s not the answer from many of the participants who say the problem is — I know you’ll be shocked! — the U.S. just isn’t trying hard enough or we haven’t browbeaten Israel sufficiently. Zbigniew Brezinski says the U.S. is at fault because we just haven’t gotten “seriously engaged” and haven’t come out with a plan to impose on the parties. Daniel Kurtzer echoes this claptrap: “When we are active diplomatically, Arab states are more willing to cooperate with us on other problems; when we are not active, our diplomatic options shrink.” Some willfully distort history, as Robert Malley does when he insists that “Americans, Palestinians, and Israelis were all to blame for the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks.” Hmm. I thought it was Yasir Arafat who walked away from the deal and started killing Jews instead of accepting a Palestinian state.

Now there are some voices of sanity. Gen. Anthony Zinni: “By now, we should realize what doesn’t work: summits, agreements in principle, special envoys, U.S.-proposed plans, and just about every other part of our approach has failed. So why do we keep repeating it?” (You can see why he didn’t get an administration job — too much realism.) And then Michael Oren rightly challenges the entire premise of the discussion:

Calling this an Arab-Israeli conflict today is largely a misnomer. We have two states that have peace treaties with Israel. The largest antagonist is Iran, which is not an Arab state. … I don’t think assigning blame is productive, but I think the main obstacle is getting the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. It’s quite extraordinary: We now have a situation that existed before Oslo in ’93 and before Madrid in ’91 — we can’t get the Palestinians to sit down face to face with us and discuss the issues.

Well, you can see the divide between those who would willfully ignore the experience of the past 60 years and those who plead for the others to pay attention to it. The administration is in the first camp, which explains why the Obami are heightening tensions, unraveling the U.S.-Israel relationship, and making the Middle East a more dangerous place. They dare not acknowledge Oren’s point — that the threat to Middle East peace is not the Palestinian conflict but Iran — for that would require that they do something about it. And that’s not happening.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Eric Cantor blasts Obama’s change in Israel policy: “While Israel continues its search for a reliable partner in peace, Palestinian terrorism is still celebrated in the West Bank and Gaza. Despite this reality, since day one the White House has applied a severe double standard that refuses to hold the Palestinians accountable for their many provocations. It makes one wonder where the responsible adults are in the administration? The administration’s troubling policy of manufacturing fights with Israel to ingratiate itself with some in the Arab world is no way to advance the cause of Mideast peace.  What kind of message is sent to the world when our country appears to turn its back on key strategic allies who share our values?”

Michael Rubin dissects Daniel Kurtzer’s defense of Syria engagement: “Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel and a proponent of engagement, argues that recent concerns about Syrian behavior should not stop the Obama administration from sending its ambassador nominee to Syria. … The simple fact is that restoring an ambassador legitimizes Syria and its stonewalling into the investigation surrounding Rafik Hariri’s assassination as well as its support for Hezbollah, a terrorist group responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other but Al Qaeda. The simple fact is that engagement with the Assads of Syria is a fool’s game with a record of consistent failure (in contrast to a spotty but still more positive record of coercion against Syria).”

John McCain unloads on Obama for his “whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower” comment: “That’s one of the more incredible statements I’ve ever heard a president of the United States make in modern times. We are the dominant superpower, and we’re the greatest force for good in the history of this country, and I thank God every day that we are a dominant superpower.”

Voters in New Jersey want to uproot ObamaCare: “Fifty-one percent (51%) of voters in New Jersey, a state Barack Obama carried handily in 2008, now favor repeal of the recently-passed national health care bill. That includes 41% who strongly favor repeal.”

More bad news for Democrats in 2010 (subscription required): “Red states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming will once again have Republican Governors, while bluer states like Hawaii seem on track to elect a Democrat. At the end of the day, though, it appears that Republicans will gain between three and five governorships, giving them a majority.”

This has been clear for some time: “companies aren’t on a hiring binge.”

Sens. Judd Gregg and Ron Wyden propose a tax-simplification plan that “reduces the number of tax brackets for individuals from six to three – namely, 15 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent — and eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax, which forces millions of taxpayers to calculate their taxes twice and pay the higher amount. This simplification will save taxpayers the considerable time and money they currently spend on tax compliance.”

Creative: “An Ohio death row inmate is attempting to postpone his imminent appointment with the lethal injection gurney by claiming a possible allergy to the anaesthetic used by the state to dispatch its condemned prisoners.”

Eric Cantor blasts Obama’s change in Israel policy: “While Israel continues its search for a reliable partner in peace, Palestinian terrorism is still celebrated in the West Bank and Gaza. Despite this reality, since day one the White House has applied a severe double standard that refuses to hold the Palestinians accountable for their many provocations. It makes one wonder where the responsible adults are in the administration? The administration’s troubling policy of manufacturing fights with Israel to ingratiate itself with some in the Arab world is no way to advance the cause of Mideast peace.  What kind of message is sent to the world when our country appears to turn its back on key strategic allies who share our values?”

Michael Rubin dissects Daniel Kurtzer’s defense of Syria engagement: “Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel and a proponent of engagement, argues that recent concerns about Syrian behavior should not stop the Obama administration from sending its ambassador nominee to Syria. … The simple fact is that restoring an ambassador legitimizes Syria and its stonewalling into the investigation surrounding Rafik Hariri’s assassination as well as its support for Hezbollah, a terrorist group responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other but Al Qaeda. The simple fact is that engagement with the Assads of Syria is a fool’s game with a record of consistent failure (in contrast to a spotty but still more positive record of coercion against Syria).”

John McCain unloads on Obama for his “whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower” comment: “That’s one of the more incredible statements I’ve ever heard a president of the United States make in modern times. We are the dominant superpower, and we’re the greatest force for good in the history of this country, and I thank God every day that we are a dominant superpower.”

Voters in New Jersey want to uproot ObamaCare: “Fifty-one percent (51%) of voters in New Jersey, a state Barack Obama carried handily in 2008, now favor repeal of the recently-passed national health care bill. That includes 41% who strongly favor repeal.”

More bad news for Democrats in 2010 (subscription required): “Red states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming will once again have Republican Governors, while bluer states like Hawaii seem on track to elect a Democrat. At the end of the day, though, it appears that Republicans will gain between three and five governorships, giving them a majority.”

This has been clear for some time: “companies aren’t on a hiring binge.”

Sens. Judd Gregg and Ron Wyden propose a tax-simplification plan that “reduces the number of tax brackets for individuals from six to three – namely, 15 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent — and eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax, which forces millions of taxpayers to calculate their taxes twice and pay the higher amount. This simplification will save taxpayers the considerable time and money they currently spend on tax compliance.”

Creative: “An Ohio death row inmate is attempting to postpone his imminent appointment with the lethal injection gurney by claiming a possible allergy to the anaesthetic used by the state to dispatch its condemned prisoners.”

Read Less

AIPAC Panel: Is Health Care the Key to U.S. Power?

Bill Kristol and former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer appeared on a panel at Sunday’s AIPAC session. The tone was academic and the conversation far-ranging. But one could see the fundamental divide in how Obama’s critics and supporters assess his foreign policy and America’s place in the world.

Kristol, although a tough critic of much of the Obama policy, took the glass-is-half-full approach, reminding the crowd that the U.S. remains quite powerful and that “if we stick with our allies and are clear and resolute,” we will remain so. He cautioned against too much nostalgia for the “American Century,” in which we lost (and then regained) half of Europe to Communism and fought multiple wars. Now we have many “strong and vibrant democracies,” including India, and are still the world’s main military guarantor. However, whatever successes we have had in avoiding nuclear war, combating terrorism, and containing regional conflicts, “all goes very fast if America is in retreat or perceived retreating.” For our success, Kristol credited ordinary Americans, who “haven’t turned xenophobic, isolationist, or protectionist.” He says that is a “tribute to them . . . and how good natured they are.”

Kurtzer spoke of the challenges we face, claiming that we have “devalued diplomacy” (more on that), don’t do intelligence analysis well, and risk eroding our economic position by mismanaging our finances. (“We don’t want to be a debtor country to China.”) There was considerable agreement on the need to bolster alliances.

There were differences, however, on the role of non-state actors. (Kurtzer thinks they are terribly important; Kristol argues that “states matter most,” pointing out that “unless sponsored or harbored,” these non-state groups are not a significant threat.) As for China, Kurtzer argued that it is heading for an inevitable conflict, as political repression will collide with economic liberalization. Kristol chose to stress the positive, the remarkable ability to lift a billion people out of poverty. He called the rise of India and China as economic powers an “amazing achievement.” He also cautioned that we have in recent years allowed “authoritarians to regroup.” There is now a “plausible model” — Iran, Venezuela, or China — that is not democratic. This, Kristol cautioned, is “very dangerous. We don’t want to tell regimes that bullying works.”

The biggest divergence came in the discussion of “smart power.” Kurtzer said we haven’t done enough. Here, to the audible gasps of some conservatives in the room, he proclaimed that we can’t aspire to promote American values when we have 30 million people without health insurance. (The woman next to me declared in a stage whisper, “And he teaches this at a university.”) And, citing the controversial CENTCOM report, he said that the U.S. military was implicitly arguing that the U.S. has been insufficiently dedicated to resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. (More crowd murmuring.) He then bemoaned the Iraq war, which had cost so much and in which we had lost so many lives. Kristol joked that he wanted to defend “dumb power” — that is, the indispensible role of American military power. The issue, Kristol said, is what types of policies work — citing the failure of Iran engagement and the Obami’s Middle East approach.

The Q & A was revealing on two counts. Several questioners went after the Obami for beating up on friends and trying to ingratiate themselves with adversaries. Kristol admitted to a certain sympathy with the questioners. On Israel, Kurtzer proclaimed that the relationship was fine and we had only one difference with Israel — West Bank settlements. (Huh? This was about Jerusalem, of course.) In response to a question on Iran, Kurtzer said the real problem was that we had not engaged Iran enough. One meeting three months ago just isn’t enough, he opined. Kristol declared himself “dubious on sanctions and diplomacy,” and argued that if there is to be military action, it must be by the U.S., both for technical and geopolitical reasons. And that brought the loudest round of applause.

In between the lines, you see the debate now raging: Have we fallen in love with diplomacy for diplomacy’s sake? Have we forgotten friends? Well, at least on one subject, the need for the U.S. to utilize military action, if necessary, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran found consensus in the room. But the Obami clearly don’t agree. What do those activists do about that? That’s going to be the subject of some discussion this week, and thereafter, in the American Jewish community.

Bill Kristol and former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer appeared on a panel at Sunday’s AIPAC session. The tone was academic and the conversation far-ranging. But one could see the fundamental divide in how Obama’s critics and supporters assess his foreign policy and America’s place in the world.

Kristol, although a tough critic of much of the Obama policy, took the glass-is-half-full approach, reminding the crowd that the U.S. remains quite powerful and that “if we stick with our allies and are clear and resolute,” we will remain so. He cautioned against too much nostalgia for the “American Century,” in which we lost (and then regained) half of Europe to Communism and fought multiple wars. Now we have many “strong and vibrant democracies,” including India, and are still the world’s main military guarantor. However, whatever successes we have had in avoiding nuclear war, combating terrorism, and containing regional conflicts, “all goes very fast if America is in retreat or perceived retreating.” For our success, Kristol credited ordinary Americans, who “haven’t turned xenophobic, isolationist, or protectionist.” He says that is a “tribute to them . . . and how good natured they are.”

Kurtzer spoke of the challenges we face, claiming that we have “devalued diplomacy” (more on that), don’t do intelligence analysis well, and risk eroding our economic position by mismanaging our finances. (“We don’t want to be a debtor country to China.”) There was considerable agreement on the need to bolster alliances.

There were differences, however, on the role of non-state actors. (Kurtzer thinks they are terribly important; Kristol argues that “states matter most,” pointing out that “unless sponsored or harbored,” these non-state groups are not a significant threat.) As for China, Kurtzer argued that it is heading for an inevitable conflict, as political repression will collide with economic liberalization. Kristol chose to stress the positive, the remarkable ability to lift a billion people out of poverty. He called the rise of India and China as economic powers an “amazing achievement.” He also cautioned that we have in recent years allowed “authoritarians to regroup.” There is now a “plausible model” — Iran, Venezuela, or China — that is not democratic. This, Kristol cautioned, is “very dangerous. We don’t want to tell regimes that bullying works.”

The biggest divergence came in the discussion of “smart power.” Kurtzer said we haven’t done enough. Here, to the audible gasps of some conservatives in the room, he proclaimed that we can’t aspire to promote American values when we have 30 million people without health insurance. (The woman next to me declared in a stage whisper, “And he teaches this at a university.”) And, citing the controversial CENTCOM report, he said that the U.S. military was implicitly arguing that the U.S. has been insufficiently dedicated to resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. (More crowd murmuring.) He then bemoaned the Iraq war, which had cost so much and in which we had lost so many lives. Kristol joked that he wanted to defend “dumb power” — that is, the indispensible role of American military power. The issue, Kristol said, is what types of policies work — citing the failure of Iran engagement and the Obami’s Middle East approach.

The Q & A was revealing on two counts. Several questioners went after the Obami for beating up on friends and trying to ingratiate themselves with adversaries. Kristol admitted to a certain sympathy with the questioners. On Israel, Kurtzer proclaimed that the relationship was fine and we had only one difference with Israel — West Bank settlements. (Huh? This was about Jerusalem, of course.) In response to a question on Iran, Kurtzer said the real problem was that we had not engaged Iran enough. One meeting three months ago just isn’t enough, he opined. Kristol declared himself “dubious on sanctions and diplomacy,” and argued that if there is to be military action, it must be by the U.S., both for technical and geopolitical reasons. And that brought the loudest round of applause.

In between the lines, you see the debate now raging: Have we fallen in love with diplomacy for diplomacy’s sake? Have we forgotten friends? Well, at least on one subject, the need for the U.S. to utilize military action, if necessary, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran found consensus in the room. But the Obami clearly don’t agree. What do those activists do about that? That’s going to be the subject of some discussion this week, and thereafter, in the American Jewish community.

Read Less

Are They Being Smart Yet?

Joe Biden arrived in Israel. A ticker-tape parade he did not receive. As this report notes:

Vice President Biden arrived in Israel on Monday to boost U.S. efforts to mediate talks between Israelis and Palestinians amid criticism that the Obama administration has set back the peace process.

Biden’s four-day visit — in addition to reassuring Israeli leaders about the U.S. commitment to curb Iran’s nuclear program — is designed to prod Israel and the Palestinians to get talks moving again. With a speech in Tel Aviv on Thursday, he will also try to court the Israeli public, some of whom felt snubbed in the past year by President Obama, who has visited Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia but has yet to come to Israel.

All George Mitchell could muster were so-called “proximity” talks, indirect discussions between parties that have little to discuss and, in the case of the Palestinians, little authority or willingness to make a “deal.” So the grousing has begun:

After so many years of direct talks that wrestled with the core issues of the future of Jerusalem, borders, security and Palestinian refugees, Mitchell’s announcement felt to some observers more like a setback than a success.

“It’s hardly a cause for celebration that after 17 years of direct official talks we are regressing to proximity talks,” said Yossi Alpher, co-editor of a Middle East blog and a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Saeb Erekat, the longtime Palestinian negotiator, told Israel’s Army Radio that the indirect talks were a last attempt “to save the peace process.”

My, what a comedown from the previous administrations, which at least were adept at getting the parties in the same room. But then all this is silliness squared. There is no deal to be had and no peace to be processed. That said, it’s painfully obvious that the Obami have made a bad situation worse. In case there was any doubt as to the diplomatic belly flop performed by the Mitchell-Axelrod-Clinton-Emanuel-Obama brain trust, we learn, “Israel announced construction of 112 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit. The administration had pushed hard — but unsuccessfully — last year for a complete freeze on settlements, and Israel’s new announcement came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting with Mitchell.” Message delivered.

Even those enamored of Obama and so benighted as to believe that peace is within sight at this juncture are rather disgusted with the Obama effort:

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. mediator and ambassador to Israel and Egypt who served both Democrat and Republican presidents, took a more skeptical view. He said it’s “not understandable why we would now have them sit in separate rooms and move between them.”

“I have been disappointed this past year with the lack of boldness and the lack of creativity and the lack of strength in our diplomacy with respect to this peace process. We have not articulated a policy, and we don’t have a strategy,” Kurtzer, who advised Obama’s presidential campaign, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

And like so many other allies (an entire coalition of the slighted might be assembled), the Israelis can’t quite believe they got a Biden visit. (“‘While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel,’ said Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, ‘we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.’”)

When does the smart diplomacy start?

Here’s something smart: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s alternative vision. It goes like this:

Last August he announced what has come to be known as the “Fayyad Plan” under the heading: “Palestine — Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State.” The idea is to build a de facto Palestinian state by mid-2011, with functioning government and municipal offices, police forces, a central bank, stock market, schools, hospitals, community centers, etc. Fayyad’s watchword is transparency, and his aim is institutions that are corruption-free and provide an array of modern government services.

Then, in mid-2011, with all the trappings of statehood in place, he intends to make his political move: Invite Israel to recognize the well-functioning Palestinian state and withdraw from territories it still occupies, or be forced to do so by the pressure of international opinion.

In February, at the 10th Herzliya Conference, an annual forum on Israel’s national security attended by top decision-makers and academics, Fayyad, the lone Palestinian, gave an articulate off-the-cuff address, leaving little doubt as to what he has in mind.

Now which track do we think has a better chance of success — Mitchell’s or Fayyad’s? And since the answer is so obvious, the mystery remains why Mitchell is still there and why we are still pursuing a fruitless and counterproductive policy.

Joe Biden arrived in Israel. A ticker-tape parade he did not receive. As this report notes:

Vice President Biden arrived in Israel on Monday to boost U.S. efforts to mediate talks between Israelis and Palestinians amid criticism that the Obama administration has set back the peace process.

Biden’s four-day visit — in addition to reassuring Israeli leaders about the U.S. commitment to curb Iran’s nuclear program — is designed to prod Israel and the Palestinians to get talks moving again. With a speech in Tel Aviv on Thursday, he will also try to court the Israeli public, some of whom felt snubbed in the past year by President Obama, who has visited Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia but has yet to come to Israel.

All George Mitchell could muster were so-called “proximity” talks, indirect discussions between parties that have little to discuss and, in the case of the Palestinians, little authority or willingness to make a “deal.” So the grousing has begun:

After so many years of direct talks that wrestled with the core issues of the future of Jerusalem, borders, security and Palestinian refugees, Mitchell’s announcement felt to some observers more like a setback than a success.

“It’s hardly a cause for celebration that after 17 years of direct official talks we are regressing to proximity talks,” said Yossi Alpher, co-editor of a Middle East blog and a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Saeb Erekat, the longtime Palestinian negotiator, told Israel’s Army Radio that the indirect talks were a last attempt “to save the peace process.”

My, what a comedown from the previous administrations, which at least were adept at getting the parties in the same room. But then all this is silliness squared. There is no deal to be had and no peace to be processed. That said, it’s painfully obvious that the Obami have made a bad situation worse. In case there was any doubt as to the diplomatic belly flop performed by the Mitchell-Axelrod-Clinton-Emanuel-Obama brain trust, we learn, “Israel announced construction of 112 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit. The administration had pushed hard — but unsuccessfully — last year for a complete freeze on settlements, and Israel’s new announcement came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting with Mitchell.” Message delivered.

Even those enamored of Obama and so benighted as to believe that peace is within sight at this juncture are rather disgusted with the Obama effort:

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. mediator and ambassador to Israel and Egypt who served both Democrat and Republican presidents, took a more skeptical view. He said it’s “not understandable why we would now have them sit in separate rooms and move between them.”

“I have been disappointed this past year with the lack of boldness and the lack of creativity and the lack of strength in our diplomacy with respect to this peace process. We have not articulated a policy, and we don’t have a strategy,” Kurtzer, who advised Obama’s presidential campaign, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

And like so many other allies (an entire coalition of the slighted might be assembled), the Israelis can’t quite believe they got a Biden visit. (“‘While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel,’ said Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, ‘we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.’”)

When does the smart diplomacy start?

Here’s something smart: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s alternative vision. It goes like this:

Last August he announced what has come to be known as the “Fayyad Plan” under the heading: “Palestine — Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State.” The idea is to build a de facto Palestinian state by mid-2011, with functioning government and municipal offices, police forces, a central bank, stock market, schools, hospitals, community centers, etc. Fayyad’s watchword is transparency, and his aim is institutions that are corruption-free and provide an array of modern government services.

Then, in mid-2011, with all the trappings of statehood in place, he intends to make his political move: Invite Israel to recognize the well-functioning Palestinian state and withdraw from territories it still occupies, or be forced to do so by the pressure of international opinion.

In February, at the 10th Herzliya Conference, an annual forum on Israel’s national security attended by top decision-makers and academics, Fayyad, the lone Palestinian, gave an articulate off-the-cuff address, leaving little doubt as to what he has in mind.

Now which track do we think has a better chance of success — Mitchell’s or Fayyad’s? And since the answer is so obvious, the mystery remains why Mitchell is still there and why we are still pursuing a fruitless and counterproductive policy.

Read Less

Here’s Another Difference

Part of Barack Obama’s expressed amazement over his difficulty in attracting Jewish support is his claim to adhere to positions identical to John McCain’s on Israel and Hamas. His willingness to hold direct talks with Hamas’s sponsor Iran without preconditions–and without insisting it renounce its policy of obliterating Israel–is one big difference. But it is not the only one.

Others have noted that Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to Israel and advisor to Obama, has stated that it “will be impossible to make progress on serious peace talks without putting the future of Jerusalem on the table.” In response to my asking whether this approach is “identical” to McCain’s, I received this response from McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann:

It is revealing that Senator Obama’s Middle East adviser is talking about the need for Israeli concessions on Jerusalem to be ‘on the table’ while making no reference to the need for Palestinians to meet basic roadmap obligations on countering terror and providing security. Senator McCain is not going to pressure Israel into making concessions that undermine its security.

It seems there are indeed major differences between the two. Might that have something to do with the level of support Obama is receiving from American Jews?

Part of Barack Obama’s expressed amazement over his difficulty in attracting Jewish support is his claim to adhere to positions identical to John McCain’s on Israel and Hamas. His willingness to hold direct talks with Hamas’s sponsor Iran without preconditions–and without insisting it renounce its policy of obliterating Israel–is one big difference. But it is not the only one.

Others have noted that Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to Israel and advisor to Obama, has stated that it “will be impossible to make progress on serious peace talks without putting the future of Jerusalem on the table.” In response to my asking whether this approach is “identical” to McCain’s, I received this response from McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann:

It is revealing that Senator Obama’s Middle East adviser is talking about the need for Israeli concessions on Jerusalem to be ‘on the table’ while making no reference to the need for Palestinians to meet basic roadmap obligations on countering terror and providing security. Senator McCain is not going to pressure Israel into making concessions that undermine its security.

It seems there are indeed major differences between the two. Might that have something to do with the level of support Obama is receiving from American Jews?

Read Less




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