Commentary Magazine


Topic: Elliott Abrams

Still Time to Shape a Better Future for Egypt

Developments in Egypt continue to take an ominous turn a year after the widely hailed revolution which ousted Hosni Mubarak. Not only have Islamist parties won two-thirds of the seats in the new parliament, but the military, which still retains a dominant voice in government, is intent on blaming foreign agitators for the discontent that continues to be felt in the streets. In particular, it has turned on non-governmental organizations which receive U.S. funding, forcing three employees of the International Republican Institute to seek refuge at the U.S. embassy in Cairo for fear they will be arrested. The fact that one of the refugees is Sam LaHood, son of the U.S. transportation secretary, shows how little the current Egyptian regime seems to fear offending even senior members of the U.S. government.

In response, I imagine there will be some “I told you so’s” from conservatives—including many in Israel—who thought the Obama administration should have stuck with Mubarak through thick and thin. My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams effectively debunks that argument in this compelling Foreign Policy article.

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Developments in Egypt continue to take an ominous turn a year after the widely hailed revolution which ousted Hosni Mubarak. Not only have Islamist parties won two-thirds of the seats in the new parliament, but the military, which still retains a dominant voice in government, is intent on blaming foreign agitators for the discontent that continues to be felt in the streets. In particular, it has turned on non-governmental organizations which receive U.S. funding, forcing three employees of the International Republican Institute to seek refuge at the U.S. embassy in Cairo for fear they will be arrested. The fact that one of the refugees is Sam LaHood, son of the U.S. transportation secretary, shows how little the current Egyptian regime seems to fear offending even senior members of the U.S. government.

In response, I imagine there will be some “I told you so’s” from conservatives—including many in Israel—who thought the Obama administration should have stuck with Mubarak through thick and thin. My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams effectively debunks that argument in this compelling Foreign Policy article.

He points out that the Mubarak regime and other stalwarts of the Middle East’s Old Guard “were not overthrown because Bush criticized them or President Barack Obama failed to shore them up, but because they lacked a coherent defense of their own rule. Thus the neocons, democrats, and others who applauded the Arab uprisings were right, for what was the alternative? To applaud continued oppression? To instruct the rulers on better tactics, the way Iran is presumably lecturing (and arming) Syria’s Bashar al-Assad? Such a stance would have made a mockery of American ideals, would have failed to keep these hated regimes in place for very long, and would have left behind a deep, almost ineradicable anti-Americanism.”

I think Abrams is right, but even if he is wrong, we cannot roll back history. We have to deal with the new Middle East on its own terms. Luckily, we still have a lot of leverage we can use to shape events in the right direction—as another Council colleague, Ed Husain, argues in this Wall Street Journal op-ed. In the case of Egypt, we control $1.3 billion in annual aid which is one of the country’s biggest sources of foreign income. Egypt also needs our backing for a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund it is seeking to prop up its stalled economy. Apparently, the Egyptian generals do not think we would dare cut them off. Unless they relent and quickly lift the threat of prosecution from LaHood and the others—and let the NGOs get back to their work of promoting democracy and civil society—Congress and the administration will have no choice but to show we mean business by holding up the money. That threat should also be employed to pressure the new regime from breaking its peace treaty with Israel or violating minority rights and the emerging norms of democracy.

There is still a chance to shape a better future for Egypt, and we should not hesitate to grab it for fear of being seen as pushy or overbearing. That’s better than being seen as a pushover.

 

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Where Are Our Pro-Israel Leaders?

This morning, Elliott Abrams calls out both Tom Friedman and Joe Klein for offering up Walt/Mearsheimer conspiracy theories about American Jewry in the place of reasoned analysis. Friedman had said that Benjamin Netanyahu’s standing ovations from members of Congress last May were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Klein wrote this: “I don’t meet many neoconservatives outside of Washington and New York. It’s one thing to just adore Israel, as the evangelical Christians do; it’s another thing entirely to send American kids off to war, yet again, to fight for Israel’s national security.” Alarmed, Abrams asks the following:

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This morning, Elliott Abrams calls out both Tom Friedman and Joe Klein for offering up Walt/Mearsheimer conspiracy theories about American Jewry in the place of reasoned analysis. Friedman had said that Benjamin Netanyahu’s standing ovations from members of Congress last May were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

Klein wrote this: “I don’t meet many neoconservatives outside of Washington and New York. It’s one thing to just adore Israel, as the evangelical Christians do; it’s another thing entirely to send American kids off to war, yet again, to fight for Israel’s national security.” Alarmed, Abrams asks the following:

Once upon a time, William F. Buckley banned Pat Buchanan from the pages of National Review and in essence drummed him out of the conservative movement for such accusations. Today, where are the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Committee, and all the Jewish “defense” organizations?  Where are all the Jewish groups which have given Klein and Friedman awards, demanding them back? Where are Jewish Democrats in Congress, who have no doubt wined and dined both Klein and Friedman in a thousand dinner parties, and congressional leaders from Nancy Pelosi to Harry Reid? And what about our other supposed moral leaders, religious, intellectual, or political?

It’s a good question. Klein subsequently clarified that he didn’t mean to suggest that Americans have previously been sent to war to protect Israel. He said he thought his commas made that clear. That, however, doesn’t actually answer Abrams’ objection, which was the suggestion that American Jewish neoconservatives want Americans to be sent to war in Iran to protect Israel. Klein also said he wants Jews to uphold our tradition of “tolerance and understanding in a world too often hateful and barbaric.” In the next paragraph, he calls Abrams “a feckless shmuck.”

I’ll leave it to Abrams to decide if the latter comment deserves a response, but in his defense of Tom Friedman, Klein adds: “The reaction from assorted Israel First/Likudnik bloviators to Tom Friedman’s comment has been absurd.” Here are three quotes about the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis of the Israel lobby, which Friedman was echoing:

  • “[P]ortrays the Israel lobby as a nebulous, all-powerful force subverting America’s interests for the sake of Israel.”
  • “But their announced objectives have been badly undermined by the contours of their argument—a prosecutor’s brief that depicts Israel as a singularly pernicious force in world affairs.”
  • “Mearsheimer and Walt are a classic example of pundits hatching a thesis and then hacking away at the facts to make them fit.”

The first was Jonathan Chait, writing in the New Republic. The second was David Remnick, writing in the New Yorker. The third was Daniel Lazare, writing in the Nation. According to Klein, are these fellows “Israel First/Likudnik bloviators”? The fact remains that the mainstream left does not believe in the Walt/Mearsheimer view of the world, and that dissent from Friedman’s and Klein’s nonsense is not evidence of dual loyalties.

But that begs Abrams’ question: Where is everyone? Why would the reaction to this deeply paranoid assault on the loyalty of American Jews be to quibble over the placement of a comma–or worse, silence? Siding with Friedman and Klein just because you share their dislike of pro-Israel conservatives is as yet the clearest example of politicizing the issue and turning Israel into a partisan wedge.

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About Those ‘Likudniks’

The theory that a powerful cabal of Jewish intellectuals pressured President Bush into launching wars on behalf of Israel is one that’s become associated with the anti-Semitic political fringe. But it wasn’t long ago that this idea was being promoted in mainstream publications — for example, the 2003 Washington Post cover story entitled “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.”

The article was about a so-called group of “Likudniks” — loyalists to the right-wing Israeli government — who allegedly pulled the foreign-policy strings in the Bush administration. According to the report, the faction included Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Elliott Abrams.

“Some Middle East hands who disagree with these supporters of Israel refer to them as ‘a cabal,’ in the words of one former official,” reported the Post. “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.”

“The Likudniks are really in charge now,” the story quoted an anonymous senior U.S. official as saying.

In certain circles, the term Likudnik has been used interchangeably with neoconservative, and both have carried allegations of dual loyalty to Israel.

“What these neoconservatives seek is to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel,” wrote Pat Buchanan in the American Conservative. “They want the peace of the sword imposed on Islam and American soldiers to die if necessary to impose it.”

Obviously, these charges were nonsense. And this is illustrated, once again, by the very different positions the Israeli government and neoconservatives have taken on the crisis in Egypt.

As Max has pointed out, Israel has come out in support of the Mubarak regime:

The newspaper said Israel’s foreign ministry told its diplomats to stress that it is in “the interest of the West” and of “the entire Middle East to maintain the stability of the regime in Egypt.”

“We must therefore curb public criticism against President Hosni Mubarak,” the message sent at the end of last week said, according to Haaretz.

The newspaper said the message was sent to Israeli diplomats in at least a dozen embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries.

And yet the alleged “Likudniks” from the Bush administration haven’t been out disseminating pro-Mubarak propaganda of some sort on Fox News.

Instead, Abrams has come out strongly in support of the Egyptian people. As have Wolfowitz and Feith. In fact, neoconservatives are overwhelmingly in favor of democratic reform in Egypt, just as they were under Bush. And that makes the old allegations of dual loyalty look even more shameless.

The theory that a powerful cabal of Jewish intellectuals pressured President Bush into launching wars on behalf of Israel is one that’s become associated with the anti-Semitic political fringe. But it wasn’t long ago that this idea was being promoted in mainstream publications — for example, the 2003 Washington Post cover story entitled “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.”

The article was about a so-called group of “Likudniks” — loyalists to the right-wing Israeli government — who allegedly pulled the foreign-policy strings in the Bush administration. According to the report, the faction included Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Elliott Abrams.

“Some Middle East hands who disagree with these supporters of Israel refer to them as ‘a cabal,’ in the words of one former official,” reported the Post. “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.”

“The Likudniks are really in charge now,” the story quoted an anonymous senior U.S. official as saying.

In certain circles, the term Likudnik has been used interchangeably with neoconservative, and both have carried allegations of dual loyalty to Israel.

“What these neoconservatives seek is to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel,” wrote Pat Buchanan in the American Conservative. “They want the peace of the sword imposed on Islam and American soldiers to die if necessary to impose it.”

Obviously, these charges were nonsense. And this is illustrated, once again, by the very different positions the Israeli government and neoconservatives have taken on the crisis in Egypt.

As Max has pointed out, Israel has come out in support of the Mubarak regime:

The newspaper said Israel’s foreign ministry told its diplomats to stress that it is in “the interest of the West” and of “the entire Middle East to maintain the stability of the regime in Egypt.”

“We must therefore curb public criticism against President Hosni Mubarak,” the message sent at the end of last week said, according to Haaretz.

The newspaper said the message was sent to Israeli diplomats in at least a dozen embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries.

And yet the alleged “Likudniks” from the Bush administration haven’t been out disseminating pro-Mubarak propaganda of some sort on Fox News.

Instead, Abrams has come out strongly in support of the Egyptian people. As have Wolfowitz and Feith. In fact, neoconservatives are overwhelmingly in favor of democratic reform in Egypt, just as they were under Bush. And that makes the old allegations of dual loyalty look even more shameless.

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Sputnik, Egypt, and the Consensus

I do agree with Ted Bromund’s conclusion on the default mentality of the center-left: it’s both a symptom and a cause of our educational system. Ted puts it this way:

The consensus on the value of often-politicized expert opinion — a consensus that derives from the Progressive Era — is so strong that even when the Cold War ended, and the so-called experts were demonstrably proved to have been wrong about it, the consensus endured.  It’s not really a belief, per se. It’s a default mentality.

This is one reason I have sympathy and concern for the Obama administration as it tries to grapple with the problems piling up in 2011. Its highest hurdle may be the default mentality Ted refers to: a mentality that has a reflexive way of seeing everything but admits little audit from reality.

The divorce between the conventional-left consensus and reality has been startlingly clear over the past few weeks. Confronted with reality, the consensus — or the Consensus — is out of ideas. To drum up enthusiasm for new deficit spending, a 20th-century Consensus remedy with the track record of 16th-century medical procedures, President Obama reached backward past decades of left-wing “debunking” to invoke Sputnik. Soon he’ll be rallying us with the cry of “Better dead than Red!” The Consensus knows only that the spending must be done; selling it need not be accomplished with thematic consistency.

Faced now with the Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, Obama is simply silent. It’s as if he and his advisers are waiting for a new consensus to form. The old, reliable Consensus would tell them only that popular unrest is noble and positive, and the American government invariably does the wrong thing about it when it erupts abroad. These can be satisfying conclusions in an academic or editorial environment, but they offer no useful framework for official policy.

There is still great inertia behind the Consensus. It has been proclaimed dead often throughout the last 30 years, but the continuation of the Pax Americana — with everything that means at home and abroad — has just as often rescued it. Coexistence with an often antithetical reality has been possible because, for the most part, the Consensus has thrived as a self-appointed dissenting opposition, in a stasis maintained on the principles of others.

As the Consensus would have it, Team Obama is now on the hook for choosing the “wrong” thing America does about Egypt. That intellectual limitation certainly poses a challenge to policy. We’ll see in the coming days if the administration can transcend it. Alana Goodman notes that Obama has invited Robert Kagan and Elliott Abrams to participate in his deliberations, which is a good start. Obama has sometimes proposed to listen to conventional, “neoconservative,” or hawkish voices in foreign-policy matters, rather than hear solely from an ideologically unified core of advisers. But the Consensus long ago adopted the views of Marxism on the meaning and utility of national responses, traditional diplomacy, alliances, and the defense of national interests. Having seen these concepts devalued for decades, those schooled in the Consensus are likely to find the learning curve steep.

I do agree with Ted Bromund’s conclusion on the default mentality of the center-left: it’s both a symptom and a cause of our educational system. Ted puts it this way:

The consensus on the value of often-politicized expert opinion — a consensus that derives from the Progressive Era — is so strong that even when the Cold War ended, and the so-called experts were demonstrably proved to have been wrong about it, the consensus endured.  It’s not really a belief, per se. It’s a default mentality.

This is one reason I have sympathy and concern for the Obama administration as it tries to grapple with the problems piling up in 2011. Its highest hurdle may be the default mentality Ted refers to: a mentality that has a reflexive way of seeing everything but admits little audit from reality.

The divorce between the conventional-left consensus and reality has been startlingly clear over the past few weeks. Confronted with reality, the consensus — or the Consensus — is out of ideas. To drum up enthusiasm for new deficit spending, a 20th-century Consensus remedy with the track record of 16th-century medical procedures, President Obama reached backward past decades of left-wing “debunking” to invoke Sputnik. Soon he’ll be rallying us with the cry of “Better dead than Red!” The Consensus knows only that the spending must be done; selling it need not be accomplished with thematic consistency.

Faced now with the Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, Obama is simply silent. It’s as if he and his advisers are waiting for a new consensus to form. The old, reliable Consensus would tell them only that popular unrest is noble and positive, and the American government invariably does the wrong thing about it when it erupts abroad. These can be satisfying conclusions in an academic or editorial environment, but they offer no useful framework for official policy.

There is still great inertia behind the Consensus. It has been proclaimed dead often throughout the last 30 years, but the continuation of the Pax Americana — with everything that means at home and abroad — has just as often rescued it. Coexistence with an often antithetical reality has been possible because, for the most part, the Consensus has thrived as a self-appointed dissenting opposition, in a stasis maintained on the principles of others.

As the Consensus would have it, Team Obama is now on the hook for choosing the “wrong” thing America does about Egypt. That intellectual limitation certainly poses a challenge to policy. We’ll see in the coming days if the administration can transcend it. Alana Goodman notes that Obama has invited Robert Kagan and Elliott Abrams to participate in his deliberations, which is a good start. Obama has sometimes proposed to listen to conventional, “neoconservative,” or hawkish voices in foreign-policy matters, rather than hear solely from an ideologically unified core of advisers. But the Consensus long ago adopted the views of Marxism on the meaning and utility of national responses, traditional diplomacy, alliances, and the defense of national interests. Having seen these concepts devalued for decades, those schooled in the Consensus are likely to find the learning curve steep.

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Look Who’s Back at the White House

Who could have imagined, back in 2008, that President Obama would ask some of the most prominent neoconservatives from the Bush administration for foreign-policy advice just a few years later?

Laura Rozen is reporting that Obama has invited Brookings Institute scholar Robert Kagan and former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams to the White House to discuss the situation in Egypt today:

Just got late word that Dunne, Kagan and others from their group including former Bush NSC Middle East hand Elliott Abrams, as well as George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, and the National Security Network’s Joel Rubin, formerly a U.S. Egypt desk officer, have been invited to the White House Monday.

Kagan and Abrams are meeting with Obama because of their involvement in the Egypt Working Group, an organization that was prophetic in predicting the current crisis in Egypt. Last November, the group was already anticipating the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and called on the Obama administration to push the Egyptian leader for human-rights reforms.

The group is now advising the Obama administration to cut foreign aid to Egypt. At Robert Gibbs’s press conference last Friday, he said that Obama was open to going in that direction, and this is a good indication that the administration is seriously considering the idea.

Who could have imagined, back in 2008, that President Obama would ask some of the most prominent neoconservatives from the Bush administration for foreign-policy advice just a few years later?

Laura Rozen is reporting that Obama has invited Brookings Institute scholar Robert Kagan and former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams to the White House to discuss the situation in Egypt today:

Just got late word that Dunne, Kagan and others from their group including former Bush NSC Middle East hand Elliott Abrams, as well as George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, and the National Security Network’s Joel Rubin, formerly a U.S. Egypt desk officer, have been invited to the White House Monday.

Kagan and Abrams are meeting with Obama because of their involvement in the Egypt Working Group, an organization that was prophetic in predicting the current crisis in Egypt. Last November, the group was already anticipating the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and called on the Obama administration to push the Egyptian leader for human-rights reforms.

The group is now advising the Obama administration to cut foreign aid to Egypt. At Robert Gibbs’s press conference last Friday, he said that Obama was open to going in that direction, and this is a good indication that the administration is seriously considering the idea.

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A Consequential Event, a Tectonic Shift, a Silent President

Elliott Abrams writes that Hezbollah’s power grab in Lebanon is a “consequential event” — reflecting the continuing reduction of American influence in the Middle East as Iranian influence continues to rise:

The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm the Administration’s candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

It is not clear that the administration has learned anything either from two years of insults and rebuffs by Iran. Iran deigns to take a meeting in Istanbul: the Minutes of the prior meeting 15 months ago are read and approved; Iran refuses to discuss any New Business unless sanctions are ended; the meeting ends without scheduling another one. A Turkish nuclear expert says the walkout means Iran is going to ride out the sanctions, which no one describes as “crippling.” Bad Rachel has a devastating summary of Obama’s “efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies.”

Boker tov, Boulder! has an illustrated round-up, with a comment by Mannie Sherberg that Lebanon may signal a “tectonic shift” in Middle East politics — with “much more quivering and quaking in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt” than Israel:

Throughout modern history, we in the West have assumed that the Middle East was — and would remain — a Sunni region of the world with a small and insignificant minority of Shi’ites. That changed, of course, in 1979, but even then — with the single exception of Iran — the Middle East remained predominantly Sunni. Suddenly, with Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, it and Iran — with a compliant Syria in-between — make up a very large chunk of the Middle East. … With Tunisia facing a very uncertain future, and with Egypt on the brink of what could be radical change, the next few years could see unimaginable turmoil in the Muslim world.

Barry Rubin writes that it is a very sad day for the Middle East and Western interests:

What do you think the rest of the region is going to take away from this? America cannot or will not protect you. Islamism and Iran are the wave of the future. Submit or die. And that’s even before Tehran gets nuclear weapons. The way things are going, maybe Iran doesn’t even need them.

And where is the United States? Asleep. … An American government that will put all of its resources into preventing the construction of apartment buildings in east Jerusalem can barely be roused to prevent the construction of an Islamist-dominated state in a country of tremendous strategic significance.

In a one-hour, 7,000-word speech to Congress and the nation last night, President Obama devoted one sentence to Iran, saying that because of a “diplomatic effort,” it now faces “tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” In last year’s speech, he emphatically promised “growing consequences” if Iran continued to ignore its obligations. Last night, he made no such promise.

About Lebanon, he had nothing to say.

Elliott Abrams writes that Hezbollah’s power grab in Lebanon is a “consequential event” — reflecting the continuing reduction of American influence in the Middle East as Iranian influence continues to rise:

The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm the Administration’s candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

It is not clear that the administration has learned anything either from two years of insults and rebuffs by Iran. Iran deigns to take a meeting in Istanbul: the Minutes of the prior meeting 15 months ago are read and approved; Iran refuses to discuss any New Business unless sanctions are ended; the meeting ends without scheduling another one. A Turkish nuclear expert says the walkout means Iran is going to ride out the sanctions, which no one describes as “crippling.” Bad Rachel has a devastating summary of Obama’s “efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies.”

Boker tov, Boulder! has an illustrated round-up, with a comment by Mannie Sherberg that Lebanon may signal a “tectonic shift” in Middle East politics — with “much more quivering and quaking in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt” than Israel:

Throughout modern history, we in the West have assumed that the Middle East was — and would remain — a Sunni region of the world with a small and insignificant minority of Shi’ites. That changed, of course, in 1979, but even then — with the single exception of Iran — the Middle East remained predominantly Sunni. Suddenly, with Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, it and Iran — with a compliant Syria in-between — make up a very large chunk of the Middle East. … With Tunisia facing a very uncertain future, and with Egypt on the brink of what could be radical change, the next few years could see unimaginable turmoil in the Muslim world.

Barry Rubin writes that it is a very sad day for the Middle East and Western interests:

What do you think the rest of the region is going to take away from this? America cannot or will not protect you. Islamism and Iran are the wave of the future. Submit or die. And that’s even before Tehran gets nuclear weapons. The way things are going, maybe Iran doesn’t even need them.

And where is the United States? Asleep. … An American government that will put all of its resources into preventing the construction of apartment buildings in east Jerusalem can barely be roused to prevent the construction of an Islamist-dominated state in a country of tremendous strategic significance.

In a one-hour, 7,000-word speech to Congress and the nation last night, President Obama devoted one sentence to Iran, saying that because of a “diplomatic effort,” it now faces “tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” In last year’s speech, he emphatically promised “growing consequences” if Iran continued to ignore its obligations. Last night, he made no such promise.

About Lebanon, he had nothing to say.

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Bringing Change to Foreign Policy

At his Council on Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams notes that Obama’s “engagement” policy suffers from an inherent contradiction:

[H]e believes in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council [HRC], in treaties like the NPT and START, in the IAEA, in multilateral cooperation. But the regimes with which he wishes to engage do not, so that Asad tries to ruin the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program threatens to destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA. The president is in this sense in the position of those who for decades sought “world peace” primarily by engaging with the Soviet Union, which did not share that goal.

So the question for the next two years is whether the president will remain wedded to policies that cannot achieve his stated goals.

In the prior Congress, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cheered on the Obama engagement policy — at one point writing to all 435 House members that “sustained engagement” with the HRC (and UNESCO) had “reaped important dividends” for the U.S. and Israel, proving that “engagement works.” He cited the “hard-fought” victory to keep Iran off the HRC. The next month, the HRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel (again) in harsh language, and then called for an “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned; the State Department spokesman responded that the U.S. had only one vote on the HRC but would continue to “engage.”

The new Congress may require the administration to start changing its policy. In “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” written after the November election, Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer recommended, among other steps, withholding funds from the HRC, since it has “proved to be no better — and in some ways, worse — than the commission it replaced”:

The Obama Administration engaged the HRC believing that the U.S. would be able to improve the HRC from within. Unfortunately, the performance of the HRC with the U.S. as a member has been virtually indistinguishable from its performance absent U.S. membership.

Next Tuesday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will chair a full-committee hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” The lead-off witness will be Brett Schaefer.

At his Council on Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams notes that Obama’s “engagement” policy suffers from an inherent contradiction:

[H]e believes in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council [HRC], in treaties like the NPT and START, in the IAEA, in multilateral cooperation. But the regimes with which he wishes to engage do not, so that Asad tries to ruin the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program threatens to destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA. The president is in this sense in the position of those who for decades sought “world peace” primarily by engaging with the Soviet Union, which did not share that goal.

So the question for the next two years is whether the president will remain wedded to policies that cannot achieve his stated goals.

In the prior Congress, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cheered on the Obama engagement policy — at one point writing to all 435 House members that “sustained engagement” with the HRC (and UNESCO) had “reaped important dividends” for the U.S. and Israel, proving that “engagement works.” He cited the “hard-fought” victory to keep Iran off the HRC. The next month, the HRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel (again) in harsh language, and then called for an “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned; the State Department spokesman responded that the U.S. had only one vote on the HRC but would continue to “engage.”

The new Congress may require the administration to start changing its policy. In “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” written after the November election, Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer recommended, among other steps, withholding funds from the HRC, since it has “proved to be no better — and in some ways, worse — than the commission it replaced”:

The Obama Administration engaged the HRC believing that the U.S. would be able to improve the HRC from within. Unfortunately, the performance of the HRC with the U.S. as a member has been virtually indistinguishable from its performance absent U.S. membership.

Next Tuesday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will chair a full-committee hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” The lead-off witness will be Brett Schaefer.

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Lebanese Must Do More to Help Themselves

So Hezbollah fears the United Nations tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That is the obvious implication of its decision to withdraw its ministers from the Lebanese government in protest of what are said to be upcoming indictments that could link the Party of God to the murder of the most acclaimed  and successful political leader in Lebanon’s recent history. All the more reason for the U.S. and our allies to support the tribunal and the embattled prime minister of Lebanon, Rafki’s son, Saad Hariri, in their commitment to see justice done.

Not that Hariri has much of a choice. As my colleague Elliott Abrams notes on his terrific new blog: “If Hariri complies with Hizballah’s demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family’s, and his country’s honor.” Actually, it’s not even clear that he could comply with Hezbollah’s demands, since he does not control the UN tribunal.

In any case, Lebanon is now in the midst of its umpteenth political crisis, and we have little choice but to hang tough even if there is little we can do to affect the outcome. Hezbollah is well-armed by Syria and Iran. It is undoubtedly the strongest military force in the entire country — stronger than the Lebanese armed forces. It could perhaps be defeated by a Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition with American-French-Israeli support, but the result would be to propel the country back into the throes of civil war — something no one wants.

But the desire to avert civil war can also work against Hezbollah because it constrains its ability to use force against its internal opponents. Its supporters were willing to go on a rampage in Beirut in 2008, but it is not clear how much further they will decide to go. Moreover, Hezbollah obviously feels vulnerable if it is so concerned about the rumored indictments from the UN. That can give leverage to the many Lebanese who do not want to be dominated indefinitely by this Iranian-backed terrorist organization. But to effectively resist Hezbollah will first of all require a united front from the opposition, something that has been hard to come by in Lebanon’s fractious politics, where Hezbollah has even succeeded in forging an unlikely alliance with the Christian general Michel Aoun. It is hard for outsiders to help the Lebanese unless they do more to help themselves.

So Hezbollah fears the United Nations tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That is the obvious implication of its decision to withdraw its ministers from the Lebanese government in protest of what are said to be upcoming indictments that could link the Party of God to the murder of the most acclaimed  and successful political leader in Lebanon’s recent history. All the more reason for the U.S. and our allies to support the tribunal and the embattled prime minister of Lebanon, Rafki’s son, Saad Hariri, in their commitment to see justice done.

Not that Hariri has much of a choice. As my colleague Elliott Abrams notes on his terrific new blog: “If Hariri complies with Hizballah’s demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family’s, and his country’s honor.” Actually, it’s not even clear that he could comply with Hezbollah’s demands, since he does not control the UN tribunal.

In any case, Lebanon is now in the midst of its umpteenth political crisis, and we have little choice but to hang tough even if there is little we can do to affect the outcome. Hezbollah is well-armed by Syria and Iran. It is undoubtedly the strongest military force in the entire country — stronger than the Lebanese armed forces. It could perhaps be defeated by a Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition with American-French-Israeli support, but the result would be to propel the country back into the throes of civil war — something no one wants.

But the desire to avert civil war can also work against Hezbollah because it constrains its ability to use force against its internal opponents. Its supporters were willing to go on a rampage in Beirut in 2008, but it is not clear how much further they will decide to go. Moreover, Hezbollah obviously feels vulnerable if it is so concerned about the rumored indictments from the UN. That can give leverage to the many Lebanese who do not want to be dominated indefinitely by this Iranian-backed terrorist organization. But to effectively resist Hezbollah will first of all require a united front from the opposition, something that has been hard to come by in Lebanon’s fractious politics, where Hezbollah has even succeeded in forging an unlikely alliance with the Christian general Michel Aoun. It is hard for outsiders to help the Lebanese unless they do more to help themselves.

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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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Why the Silly Deal Is a Bad Deal

Some genuine friends of Israel have shrugged their shoulders over the latest foolish attempt by the Obami to lure the parties back to the non-peace talks. OK, they concede, it won’t work and is absurd (another 90 days won’t matter), but what is the harm? Besides, Israel gets those planes (but what if after 90 days the talks end?). Elliott Abrams succinctly explains in a Voice of America interview why the deal is not just ludicrous but also dangerous:

“They have been negotiating for a very long time and they have not been able to overcome the differences on some critical issues like Jerusalem or security arrangements,” said the former foreign policy advisor to U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. “It may be too optimistic to expect the Israelis and Palestinians to come to an agreement by 2011 on all issues which separate them when they have not yet started negotiations.” …

“It is the linkage.” he says. “The Israeli agreement to extend their construction freeze in the West Bank by 90 days is now linked to a squadron of jets and to U.S. vetoes in the U.N. Security Council.”

Abrams believes neither of these linkages should be connected with the issue of a West Bank construction freeze by the Israelis.  He said the U.S. should be making decisions in the Security Council on the basis of principle.

“If it is a bad resolution we should veto it,” the Middle East scholar says. “Similarly the U.S. should give Israel what it needs, but it should not be linked to a 90 day extension of the freeze.”

For the same reason that it is unseemly for the U.S. to make the offer, it is unwise for the Israelis to play along.

And really, isn’t it time to pull the plug on this destructive and distracting sideshow? If the U.S. and our allies spent half the time and effort on constructing a viable plan to prevent Iran from going nuclear as they do trying to badger Israel into making concessions to Palestinian “leaders” who can’t and won’t make a deal, we’d all be a lot safer, and Obama’s reputation abroad might rebound. Pro-Israel groups and lawmakers would do well to start making that point.

Some genuine friends of Israel have shrugged their shoulders over the latest foolish attempt by the Obami to lure the parties back to the non-peace talks. OK, they concede, it won’t work and is absurd (another 90 days won’t matter), but what is the harm? Besides, Israel gets those planes (but what if after 90 days the talks end?). Elliott Abrams succinctly explains in a Voice of America interview why the deal is not just ludicrous but also dangerous:

“They have been negotiating for a very long time and they have not been able to overcome the differences on some critical issues like Jerusalem or security arrangements,” said the former foreign policy advisor to U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. “It may be too optimistic to expect the Israelis and Palestinians to come to an agreement by 2011 on all issues which separate them when they have not yet started negotiations.” …

“It is the linkage.” he says. “The Israeli agreement to extend their construction freeze in the West Bank by 90 days is now linked to a squadron of jets and to U.S. vetoes in the U.N. Security Council.”

Abrams believes neither of these linkages should be connected with the issue of a West Bank construction freeze by the Israelis.  He said the U.S. should be making decisions in the Security Council on the basis of principle.

“If it is a bad resolution we should veto it,” the Middle East scholar says. “Similarly the U.S. should give Israel what it needs, but it should not be linked to a 90 day extension of the freeze.”

For the same reason that it is unseemly for the U.S. to make the offer, it is unwise for the Israelis to play along.

And really, isn’t it time to pull the plug on this destructive and distracting sideshow? If the U.S. and our allies spent half the time and effort on constructing a viable plan to prevent Iran from going nuclear as they do trying to badger Israel into making concessions to Palestinian “leaders” who can’t and won’t make a deal, we’d all be a lot safer, and Obama’s reputation abroad might rebound. Pro-Israel groups and lawmakers would do well to start making that point.

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How’s the Peace Process Going?

The direct non-peace talks stopped being direct more than a month ago. Obama has tried to bribe and cajole Bibi into extending the settlement moratorium. It hasn’t worked, and the longer the hiatus, the less likely it seems that the talks would resume. And don’t expect things to improve, given the midterm elections’ results.

Elliott Abrams explains:

There is one clear bottom line from this election: Obama emerges from it a weakened president. And that, says ex-U.S. diplomat Elliott Abrams, means that “anyone who is trying to resist him feels probably that resistance is a little easier.” That will probably hold true in the case of the Middle East peace talks, where the U.S. president has been pushing the Israelis and Palestinians to come to an accord.

Now, says Abrams, “both sides out there [will] feel a little bit freer to push back.” And they’re almost certainly not the only ones who will see it that way. This election clearly does not make Barack Obama’s job as America’s diplomat in chief any easier.

In fact, there is so much downtime for the peace-talk negotiating team that its members are actually spending time talking to outside experts on efforts to promote democratization in Egypt. Maybe this is for real and bespeaks a recognition that their current sloth is a moral embarrassment and a strategic error. Or maybe this is just for show. But it also says something about the state of the non-peace, non-talks:

The fact that the key NSC regional officials participated in Tuesday’s meeting was interpreted by the outside foreign policy experts as a significant indicator that the Obama administration is giving more serious and high-level policy attention to the issue.

It may also be a sign as well that [Dennis] Ross and [Dan] Shapiro basically had both time and reason to devote to the issue because the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is currently on hold, and the Obama administration is “looking for a positive agenda in the region to talk about,” a participant posited. The Obama administration is also concerned, he suggested, that its previous diplomatic efforts to press Cairo in private conversations and in written statements to repeal its Emergency Law and to accept international elections monitors have been rejected or ignored.

I suspect there’s going to be a whole lot more rejecting and ignoring going on in the next two years. Obama has proven himself weak internationally and politically vulnerable at home; that is a recipe for international mischief-making by our foes and recalcitrance from our allies.

The direct non-peace talks stopped being direct more than a month ago. Obama has tried to bribe and cajole Bibi into extending the settlement moratorium. It hasn’t worked, and the longer the hiatus, the less likely it seems that the talks would resume. And don’t expect things to improve, given the midterm elections’ results.

Elliott Abrams explains:

There is one clear bottom line from this election: Obama emerges from it a weakened president. And that, says ex-U.S. diplomat Elliott Abrams, means that “anyone who is trying to resist him feels probably that resistance is a little easier.” That will probably hold true in the case of the Middle East peace talks, where the U.S. president has been pushing the Israelis and Palestinians to come to an accord.

Now, says Abrams, “both sides out there [will] feel a little bit freer to push back.” And they’re almost certainly not the only ones who will see it that way. This election clearly does not make Barack Obama’s job as America’s diplomat in chief any easier.

In fact, there is so much downtime for the peace-talk negotiating team that its members are actually spending time talking to outside experts on efforts to promote democratization in Egypt. Maybe this is for real and bespeaks a recognition that their current sloth is a moral embarrassment and a strategic error. Or maybe this is just for show. But it also says something about the state of the non-peace, non-talks:

The fact that the key NSC regional officials participated in Tuesday’s meeting was interpreted by the outside foreign policy experts as a significant indicator that the Obama administration is giving more serious and high-level policy attention to the issue.

It may also be a sign as well that [Dennis] Ross and [Dan] Shapiro basically had both time and reason to devote to the issue because the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is currently on hold, and the Obama administration is “looking for a positive agenda in the region to talk about,” a participant posited. The Obama administration is also concerned, he suggested, that its previous diplomatic efforts to press Cairo in private conversations and in written statements to repeal its Emergency Law and to accept international elections monitors have been rejected or ignored.

I suspect there’s going to be a whole lot more rejecting and ignoring going on in the next two years. Obama has proven himself weak internationally and politically vulnerable at home; that is a recipe for international mischief-making by our foes and recalcitrance from our allies.

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Middle East Chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And speaking of Lebanon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And speaking of Lebanon:

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

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

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

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

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

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Foreign Policy Alternatives

Foreign Policy has a symposium on “Plan B” for Obama’s foreign policy. The assumption is, of course, that what he’s tried hasn’t worked very well.

Elliott Abrams suggests:

Forget the peace talks. A lasting, final Israeli-Palestinian agreement is nowhere in sight. With the negotiations as background music, Barack Obama should get serious. The rest of his term should be spent building the institutions of a Palestinian state in the West Bank — not chasing a dream.

That’s one of the smartest entries. From the left we also get Bob Shrum (yes, that Bob Shrum), who actually is on to something:

On critical issues like Afghanistan and Iran, Obama will need to take his case to the people directly, as he did so convincingly as a candidate. This means a continuing conversation in town halls and speeches that connect both emotionally and logically with a majority of Americans. … Obama needs to become the diplomat-in-chief — not just for U.S. allies overseas, but for his own citizenry at home.

But then again, Obama is not convincing Americans of much of anything, so it’s not clear that this would prove a productive exercise. And of course Obama first would have to decide what he wants to do about Iran.

Another helpful contribution comes from Ellen Laipson, who recommends:

Barack Obama needs to rethink his approach to engaging the Muslim world. After the promise of his seminal June 2009 Cairo speech, his administration has not focused on any serious initiatives and has fallen into the trap of fawning over Muslims in ways that are contrary to America’s core values. … The case of Egypt and its upcoming presidential election is a good place to start. The White House must try to ensure that the 2011 contest be fair and legitimate, for Egypt’s sake and ours. But America’s good work with grassroots activists needs to be complemented by a bolder public stance and even tough measures when governments fail to advance the most basic democratic reforms.

One of the more horrid suggestions come from Will Marshall, who wants a new Geneva Convention. One can only imagine what rules they would come up with to further impede America’s and Israel’s security. Nearly as bad is Christopher Preble (demonstrating the danger of the “austerity trap“), who wants massive defense cuts. But don’t worry, he says: “The hawks will scream, but America will be just fine.”

It’s a hard choice, but my vote for the dopiest recommendation comes from Joseph Cirincione:

Obama should unilaterally reduce the active U.S. arsenal to 1,000 weapons (which is still three times more than U.S. Air Force experts judge are necessary) and remove the 200 U.S. nuclear bombs that remain in Europe. Such cuts won’t hurt U.S. or global security in the least — and Obama has plenty of bipartisan, expert support for cuts of this size. They would put him on the road to fulfilling his compelling promise of a truly nuclear-free world.

Except for all the other countries that have nukes.

Get the sense that the left isn’t very serious about foreign policy? Me too. And it’s not just the left. As we correctly turn our attention to our massive deficits, the pressure will be on from the right and the left to bring troops home, cut defense spending, and return to Fortress America. But there is no return. Our enemies are real, and we need to rise to meet the challenges they pose to the U.S. and our allies.

Foreign Policy has a symposium on “Plan B” for Obama’s foreign policy. The assumption is, of course, that what he’s tried hasn’t worked very well.

Elliott Abrams suggests:

Forget the peace talks. A lasting, final Israeli-Palestinian agreement is nowhere in sight. With the negotiations as background music, Barack Obama should get serious. The rest of his term should be spent building the institutions of a Palestinian state in the West Bank — not chasing a dream.

That’s one of the smartest entries. From the left we also get Bob Shrum (yes, that Bob Shrum), who actually is on to something:

On critical issues like Afghanistan and Iran, Obama will need to take his case to the people directly, as he did so convincingly as a candidate. This means a continuing conversation in town halls and speeches that connect both emotionally and logically with a majority of Americans. … Obama needs to become the diplomat-in-chief — not just for U.S. allies overseas, but for his own citizenry at home.

But then again, Obama is not convincing Americans of much of anything, so it’s not clear that this would prove a productive exercise. And of course Obama first would have to decide what he wants to do about Iran.

Another helpful contribution comes from Ellen Laipson, who recommends:

Barack Obama needs to rethink his approach to engaging the Muslim world. After the promise of his seminal June 2009 Cairo speech, his administration has not focused on any serious initiatives and has fallen into the trap of fawning over Muslims in ways that are contrary to America’s core values. … The case of Egypt and its upcoming presidential election is a good place to start. The White House must try to ensure that the 2011 contest be fair and legitimate, for Egypt’s sake and ours. But America’s good work with grassroots activists needs to be complemented by a bolder public stance and even tough measures when governments fail to advance the most basic democratic reforms.

One of the more horrid suggestions come from Will Marshall, who wants a new Geneva Convention. One can only imagine what rules they would come up with to further impede America’s and Israel’s security. Nearly as bad is Christopher Preble (demonstrating the danger of the “austerity trap“), who wants massive defense cuts. But don’t worry, he says: “The hawks will scream, but America will be just fine.”

It’s a hard choice, but my vote for the dopiest recommendation comes from Joseph Cirincione:

Obama should unilaterally reduce the active U.S. arsenal to 1,000 weapons (which is still three times more than U.S. Air Force experts judge are necessary) and remove the 200 U.S. nuclear bombs that remain in Europe. Such cuts won’t hurt U.S. or global security in the least — and Obama has plenty of bipartisan, expert support for cuts of this size. They would put him on the road to fulfilling his compelling promise of a truly nuclear-free world.

Except for all the other countries that have nukes.

Get the sense that the left isn’t very serious about foreign policy? Me too. And it’s not just the left. As we correctly turn our attention to our massive deficits, the pressure will be on from the right and the left to bring troops home, cut defense spending, and return to Fortress America. But there is no return. Our enemies are real, and we need to rise to meet the challenges they pose to the U.S. and our allies.

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Avoiding a Huge Mistake

Some have surmised that President Obama’s request for a 60-day extension of Israel’s settlement moratorium — combined with a promise not to request any further extensions — is simply a transparent attempt to avoid an embarrassing collapse of the peace process a month before U.S. elections. But Leslie Susser reports that Benjamin Netanyahu has a “major strategic concern” regarding the request:

According to confidants, [Netanyahu] fears that as soon as any new 60-day freeze ends, the Americans will put a “take it or leave it peace plan” of their own on the table. With the U.S. midterm elections over, Obama might feel able to publicly present parameters for a peace deal that Netanyahu would find impossible to accept.

Israel might then find itself totally isolated and under intolerable international pressure. That is a scenario Netanyahu hopes the current negotiations with the Americans will help him avoid.

The continuing failure of the Obama administration to endorse the 2004 Bush letter — a document negotiated at great length, line by line, between the U.S. and Israel, and then  endorsed by both houses of Congress in a concurrent resolution, and then relied upon by Israel both in approving and proceeding with the Gaza withdrawal – is obviously one of the causes for Netanyahu’s concern. The proposed Obama letter lacks assurances to Israel of the “defensible borders” to which both the Bush and Clinton administrations committed the United States (as well as the other commitments memorialized in the Bush letter).

Susser writes that the U.S. might have to “sweeten the pot” to secure the approval of the seven-member Israeli “Septet,” the 19-member Israeli Security Cabinet, and the full 29-member Cabinet, all of which currently oppose the proposed deal. What is necessary, however, is not simply a “sweetened pot” but an acknowledgment of obligations the U.S. has already incurred.

And there is an even more fundamental point involved: a peace agreement that does not involve defensible borders will be one that repositions the parties for another war. As Elliott Abrams wrote in August, the 1967 lines will not produce peace, and those who back away from the idea of defensible borders are “making a huge mistake.”

Some have surmised that President Obama’s request for a 60-day extension of Israel’s settlement moratorium — combined with a promise not to request any further extensions — is simply a transparent attempt to avoid an embarrassing collapse of the peace process a month before U.S. elections. But Leslie Susser reports that Benjamin Netanyahu has a “major strategic concern” regarding the request:

According to confidants, [Netanyahu] fears that as soon as any new 60-day freeze ends, the Americans will put a “take it or leave it peace plan” of their own on the table. With the U.S. midterm elections over, Obama might feel able to publicly present parameters for a peace deal that Netanyahu would find impossible to accept.

Israel might then find itself totally isolated and under intolerable international pressure. That is a scenario Netanyahu hopes the current negotiations with the Americans will help him avoid.

The continuing failure of the Obama administration to endorse the 2004 Bush letter — a document negotiated at great length, line by line, between the U.S. and Israel, and then  endorsed by both houses of Congress in a concurrent resolution, and then relied upon by Israel both in approving and proceeding with the Gaza withdrawal – is obviously one of the causes for Netanyahu’s concern. The proposed Obama letter lacks assurances to Israel of the “defensible borders” to which both the Bush and Clinton administrations committed the United States (as well as the other commitments memorialized in the Bush letter).

Susser writes that the U.S. might have to “sweeten the pot” to secure the approval of the seven-member Israeli “Septet,” the 19-member Israeli Security Cabinet, and the full 29-member Cabinet, all of which currently oppose the proposed deal. What is necessary, however, is not simply a “sweetened pot” but an acknowledgment of obligations the U.S. has already incurred.

And there is an even more fundamental point involved: a peace agreement that does not involve defensible borders will be one that repositions the parties for another war. As Elliott Abrams wrote in August, the 1967 lines will not produce peace, and those who back away from the idea of defensible borders are “making a huge mistake.”

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A Mess of His Own Making

The non-peace talks are on hiatus while Mahmoud Abbas goes running to the Arab League for instructions. Elliott Abrams explains why we shouldn’t much care:

The sky is not falling. Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations were suspended on Sunday, perhaps briefly and perhaps for months, after Israel’s 10-month moratorium on settlement construction expired. Palestinian officials said they would refuse to talk if construction restarted, and so they did. Yet war hasn’t broken out, nor will it. …

Also last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reminded his people that “we tried the intifada and it caused us a lot of damage.” Hamas, the terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, can commit acts of terror at any time. But with Israeli and Palestinian officials working together to keep the peace, Hamas can’t create a general uprising.

Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have been an on-again, off-again affair since they began with the Oslo Accords in 1993. During the Arafat years talks alternated with terrorism, for Arafat viewed both as useful and legitimate tactics. After the so-called second intifada of 2000-2001 and the 9/11 attacks, Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ran out of patience with that game, as did President George W. Bush. From then on they worked to push Arafat aside.

As Abrams points out, the Bush team oversaw negotiations for five years, under the “in and up” but not “out” understanding on settlements:

The Obama administration junked that deal, and its continuing obsession with a settlement freeze—Mr. Obama mentioned it again at the U.N. last week—has cornered Mr. Abbas. The Americans are effectively urging him back to the table while making it impossible for him to get there. This diplomatic problem is what medical science calls “iatrogenic”: a disease caused by the physicians themselves.

Whether or not the parties return to the table, Abrams explains, it is important to keep our eyes on the real world. On the West Bank, economic progress continues. Security has improved. (“Most of this good news came, of course, during 18 months when there were no peace negotiations at all.”) So long as the Obami manage not to get in the way of all that, there is hope that one day there will be a Palestinian society that supports a peace deal. But not now. So let the diplomats shuttle. Or not.

The greatest danger right now is not to “peace” but to Obama’s prestige and credibility. And frankly, that’s an iatrogenic phenomenon, too. Or in common parlance, Obama has made his bed, and unless the Arab League and Bibi rescue him out, he will be forced to lie in it.

The non-peace talks are on hiatus while Mahmoud Abbas goes running to the Arab League for instructions. Elliott Abrams explains why we shouldn’t much care:

The sky is not falling. Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations were suspended on Sunday, perhaps briefly and perhaps for months, after Israel’s 10-month moratorium on settlement construction expired. Palestinian officials said they would refuse to talk if construction restarted, and so they did. Yet war hasn’t broken out, nor will it. …

Also last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reminded his people that “we tried the intifada and it caused us a lot of damage.” Hamas, the terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, can commit acts of terror at any time. But with Israeli and Palestinian officials working together to keep the peace, Hamas can’t create a general uprising.

Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have been an on-again, off-again affair since they began with the Oslo Accords in 1993. During the Arafat years talks alternated with terrorism, for Arafat viewed both as useful and legitimate tactics. After the so-called second intifada of 2000-2001 and the 9/11 attacks, Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ran out of patience with that game, as did President George W. Bush. From then on they worked to push Arafat aside.

As Abrams points out, the Bush team oversaw negotiations for five years, under the “in and up” but not “out” understanding on settlements:

The Obama administration junked that deal, and its continuing obsession with a settlement freeze—Mr. Obama mentioned it again at the U.N. last week—has cornered Mr. Abbas. The Americans are effectively urging him back to the table while making it impossible for him to get there. This diplomatic problem is what medical science calls “iatrogenic”: a disease caused by the physicians themselves.

Whether or not the parties return to the table, Abrams explains, it is important to keep our eyes on the real world. On the West Bank, economic progress continues. Security has improved. (“Most of this good news came, of course, during 18 months when there were no peace negotiations at all.”) So long as the Obami manage not to get in the way of all that, there is hope that one day there will be a Palestinian society that supports a peace deal. But not now. So let the diplomats shuttle. Or not.

The greatest danger right now is not to “peace” but to Obama’s prestige and credibility. And frankly, that’s an iatrogenic phenomenon, too. Or in common parlance, Obama has made his bed, and unless the Arab League and Bibi rescue him out, he will be forced to lie in it.

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Not So “Direct” After All

If you had any doubt about the efficacy of the “peace talks,” this should remind you that precious little is being accomplished:

[T]he “direct talks” between Israel and the Palestinians are taking more the form of negotiations between each side and the Americans, with both the Palestinians and Israel trying to convince the US of the reasonableness of their respective positions.

This is something that became evident looking at the slate of meetings held in Sharm on Tuesday. …

What was sorely absent from that rich menu of talks was a private meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu. That meeting might take place Wednesday in Jerusalem, but then again it might not.

As Elliott Abrams explained recently, the “mistake is to intrude too deeply and too often in what must be a bilateral negotiation.” So long as the parties are talking mostly to George Mitchell, nothing productive is being accomplished:

As Nahum Barnea wrote in the widest-circulation Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth … “In all the talks that Israeli governments held in the past, with the Arab states and with the Palestinians, the Americans only got into the thick of the talks at the last stage. The talks were direct and bilateral. … Not this time. This time the Americans intend to sit at the negotiating table and to stay there. The talks will be direct, but trilateral.”

Not only will there be no progress in the talks, but, in proceeding this way, we’ll merely emphasize that the collapse of the talks is a failure of the Obama team. While predictable, there is no reason to welcome the Obami’s humiliation. After all, we need some veneer of credibility and the appearance of effectiveness if we are to continue to maintain alliances and confront the real national security crises we face.

If you had any doubt about the efficacy of the “peace talks,” this should remind you that precious little is being accomplished:

[T]he “direct talks” between Israel and the Palestinians are taking more the form of negotiations between each side and the Americans, with both the Palestinians and Israel trying to convince the US of the reasonableness of their respective positions.

This is something that became evident looking at the slate of meetings held in Sharm on Tuesday. …

What was sorely absent from that rich menu of talks was a private meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu. That meeting might take place Wednesday in Jerusalem, but then again it might not.

As Elliott Abrams explained recently, the “mistake is to intrude too deeply and too often in what must be a bilateral negotiation.” So long as the parties are talking mostly to George Mitchell, nothing productive is being accomplished:

As Nahum Barnea wrote in the widest-circulation Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth … “In all the talks that Israeli governments held in the past, with the Arab states and with the Palestinians, the Americans only got into the thick of the talks at the last stage. The talks were direct and bilateral. … Not this time. This time the Americans intend to sit at the negotiating table and to stay there. The talks will be direct, but trilateral.”

Not only will there be no progress in the talks, but, in proceeding this way, we’ll merely emphasize that the collapse of the talks is a failure of the Obama team. While predictable, there is no reason to welcome the Obami’s humiliation. After all, we need some veneer of credibility and the appearance of effectiveness if we are to continue to maintain alliances and confront the real national security crises we face.

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Obama’s Middle East Policy: Incompetence Continues

The Obami have, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at virtually every turn, made the wrong decision and then botched the execution of that decision. Beginning with the decision to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than the Iranian nuclear threat and continuing through to the public bullying of Israel and the NPT declaration (and its walk-back), all followed by the charm campaign (when all that preceded it proved a bust and domestically harmful to boot), the Obami have made matters worse not better.

Now that they have struggled to pick up where the Bush team left off two years ago — direct talks – they are making new errors. Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser who helped devise and maintain productive and warm U.S.-Israeli relations for eight years, tries to help the Obami avoid more missteps. (He is too polite to mention his own handiwork, but the administration might start with recognizing and confirming the agreement that Bush and Sharon reached in 2004 on settlements.)

Abrams warns the Obami team that in direct talks between the parties, it is best not to “intrude too deeply and too often.” This is good advice even for an administration that is respected and trusted by the parties. (“The Israelis and Palestinians do not negotiate seriously when U.S. officials are in the room; instead, they take positions designed to elicit American approval.”) George Mitchell has not yet figured this out, however.

Abrams also warns (as Tony Blair did at the March AIPAC conference, in very similar language) that what really matters is what is going on in the West Bank. He explains, “A Palestinian state will be built not at Camp David or Sharm el-Sheikh but in the West Bank, which is where our greatest efforts should be focused.” Again, Mitchell has not yet grasped this essential truth.

But Abrams’s most important piece of advice is this: the decision to work on a framework agreement is wrong. He quotes Mitchell’s explanation of such an agreement: “It’s more detailed than a declaration of principles, but is less than a full-fledged treaty. Its purpose is to establish the fundamental compromises necessary to enable the parties to then flesh out and complete a comprehensive agreement that will end the conflict and establish a lasting peace.” Abrams writes:

The difficult compromises necessary for a final-status agreement that resolves all the core issues will be made at the very end. The only way Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can defend such compromises is by delivering to Palestinians their own state; the only way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can do so is by saying Israel will now get peace, not only with Palestinians but with all Arab states.

All this cannot possibly happen until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their “fundamental compromises” on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide.

In other words, whatever slim chance there might be for a peace deal (I personally think it’s close to zero) is reduced, once again, by an incompetent (is there any other adjective to describe him?) envoy and a flawed negotiating strategy. The most, I think, we can hope for is that the end of the talks don’t trigger another intifada, that the progress on the ground in the West Bank continues, and that sooner rather than later, a U.S. negotiating team will emerge that knows what it is doing.

The Obami have, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at virtually every turn, made the wrong decision and then botched the execution of that decision. Beginning with the decision to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than the Iranian nuclear threat and continuing through to the public bullying of Israel and the NPT declaration (and its walk-back), all followed by the charm campaign (when all that preceded it proved a bust and domestically harmful to boot), the Obami have made matters worse not better.

Now that they have struggled to pick up where the Bush team left off two years ago — direct talks – they are making new errors. Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser who helped devise and maintain productive and warm U.S.-Israeli relations for eight years, tries to help the Obami avoid more missteps. (He is too polite to mention his own handiwork, but the administration might start with recognizing and confirming the agreement that Bush and Sharon reached in 2004 on settlements.)

Abrams warns the Obami team that in direct talks between the parties, it is best not to “intrude too deeply and too often.” This is good advice even for an administration that is respected and trusted by the parties. (“The Israelis and Palestinians do not negotiate seriously when U.S. officials are in the room; instead, they take positions designed to elicit American approval.”) George Mitchell has not yet figured this out, however.

Abrams also warns (as Tony Blair did at the March AIPAC conference, in very similar language) that what really matters is what is going on in the West Bank. He explains, “A Palestinian state will be built not at Camp David or Sharm el-Sheikh but in the West Bank, which is where our greatest efforts should be focused.” Again, Mitchell has not yet grasped this essential truth.

But Abrams’s most important piece of advice is this: the decision to work on a framework agreement is wrong. He quotes Mitchell’s explanation of such an agreement: “It’s more detailed than a declaration of principles, but is less than a full-fledged treaty. Its purpose is to establish the fundamental compromises necessary to enable the parties to then flesh out and complete a comprehensive agreement that will end the conflict and establish a lasting peace.” Abrams writes:

The difficult compromises necessary for a final-status agreement that resolves all the core issues will be made at the very end. The only way Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can defend such compromises is by delivering to Palestinians their own state; the only way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can do so is by saying Israel will now get peace, not only with Palestinians but with all Arab states.

All this cannot possibly happen until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their “fundamental compromises” on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide.

In other words, whatever slim chance there might be for a peace deal (I personally think it’s close to zero) is reduced, once again, by an incompetent (is there any other adjective to describe him?) envoy and a flawed negotiating strategy. The most, I think, we can hope for is that the end of the talks don’t trigger another intifada, that the progress on the ground in the West Bank continues, and that sooner rather than later, a U.S. negotiating team will emerge that knows what it is doing.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

So much for the “Summer of Recovery.” “Forty-eight percent of Americans rated current economic conditions as “poor” during the week ending Aug. 22 — approaching the highest levels of the year. This is marginally worse than the early August reading, is in line with the full July average of 47%, and is marginally worse than at this time in 2009.”

So much for Obamanomics. Lawrence Lindsey explains just how bad the housing numbers are: “‘More ominously, it is a very negative reflection on people’s expectation for the future. Remember, interest rates are very, very low. So the cost of carrying a mortgage is down. … People must be better or assuming that house prices have further to fall. … I don’t think these narrowly targeted programs have really helped,’ Lindsey says of the Obama administration’s policies. ‘I think at this point the issue comes back to jobs, jobs, jobs.’”

So much for predictions of a competitive Missouri Senate race. “Republican Congressman Roy Blunt for the first time holds a double-digit lead over Democrat Robin Carnahan in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Missouri Voters shows Blunt earning 51% of the vote. Carnahan, Missouri’s secretary of state, picks up 40% support, her poorest showing to date.”

So much for an “agreement” on peace talks. Eli Lake reports: “Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians that are set to begin next week in Washington may be scuttled before they even get going. Israel has yet to commit to extending a freeze on construction of settlements that the Palestinian side says it needs to continue negotiations.”

So much for the Democrats’ best chance in Florida. “Charlie Crist had better hope Jeff Greene pulls off a miraculous comeback in his primary against Kendrick Meek if the Republican-cum-independent governor hopes to edge GOP nominee Marco Rubio in the general election Senate contest. Among likely voters, Rubio has a slim 37-36 lead over Crist if Greene is the Democratic nominee, but Rubio pulls ahead 40-32 if Meek wins tonight.” But Meek won big, so will Democrats throw in the towel on Crist?

So much for the Goldstone II–like UN Human Rights Council investigation of the flotilla incident. Israel tells investigators to forget interrogating its troops. (Maj. General Giora Eiland, however, gave extensive testimony to the Turkel Committee, the internal Israeli review with some international reps who aren’t out to vilify the Jewish state.)

So much for the left’s arguments (as set forth by Marc Lynch) that everything is Israel’s fault. Elliott Abrams writes: “Marc ignores the opinion polls showing that something under 10% of Israelis now trust Obama, for that striking figure does not fit the story line. Is it possible, is it conceivable, that Obama has done something to undermine Israeli trust in his Administration’s policies and world view? Not to Marc. Then there’s this: ‘if Israel’s leadership genuinely believes that Iran poses the greatest existential threat which Israel has ever faced … why has it taken so many steps over the last year and a half to alienate the world and to isolate itself?’ So many steps. Are the partial freeze on construction in settlements (called ‘unprecedented’ by the Obama Administration), permission for thousands of Israeli Arabs to shop once again in the West Bank and help its economy grow, and removal of scores of barriers to mobility in the West Bank, among them? Presumably they don’t count for Marc, as they do not count for anyone disposed to blame Israel for everything.” Read the whole thing – if blood on the floor doesn’t bother you.

So much for the “Summer of Recovery.” “Forty-eight percent of Americans rated current economic conditions as “poor” during the week ending Aug. 22 — approaching the highest levels of the year. This is marginally worse than the early August reading, is in line with the full July average of 47%, and is marginally worse than at this time in 2009.”

So much for Obamanomics. Lawrence Lindsey explains just how bad the housing numbers are: “‘More ominously, it is a very negative reflection on people’s expectation for the future. Remember, interest rates are very, very low. So the cost of carrying a mortgage is down. … People must be better or assuming that house prices have further to fall. … I don’t think these narrowly targeted programs have really helped,’ Lindsey says of the Obama administration’s policies. ‘I think at this point the issue comes back to jobs, jobs, jobs.’”

So much for predictions of a competitive Missouri Senate race. “Republican Congressman Roy Blunt for the first time holds a double-digit lead over Democrat Robin Carnahan in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Missouri Voters shows Blunt earning 51% of the vote. Carnahan, Missouri’s secretary of state, picks up 40% support, her poorest showing to date.”

So much for an “agreement” on peace talks. Eli Lake reports: “Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians that are set to begin next week in Washington may be scuttled before they even get going. Israel has yet to commit to extending a freeze on construction of settlements that the Palestinian side says it needs to continue negotiations.”

So much for the Democrats’ best chance in Florida. “Charlie Crist had better hope Jeff Greene pulls off a miraculous comeback in his primary against Kendrick Meek if the Republican-cum-independent governor hopes to edge GOP nominee Marco Rubio in the general election Senate contest. Among likely voters, Rubio has a slim 37-36 lead over Crist if Greene is the Democratic nominee, but Rubio pulls ahead 40-32 if Meek wins tonight.” But Meek won big, so will Democrats throw in the towel on Crist?

So much for the Goldstone II–like UN Human Rights Council investigation of the flotilla incident. Israel tells investigators to forget interrogating its troops. (Maj. General Giora Eiland, however, gave extensive testimony to the Turkel Committee, the internal Israeli review with some international reps who aren’t out to vilify the Jewish state.)

So much for the left’s arguments (as set forth by Marc Lynch) that everything is Israel’s fault. Elliott Abrams writes: “Marc ignores the opinion polls showing that something under 10% of Israelis now trust Obama, for that striking figure does not fit the story line. Is it possible, is it conceivable, that Obama has done something to undermine Israeli trust in his Administration’s policies and world view? Not to Marc. Then there’s this: ‘if Israel’s leadership genuinely believes that Iran poses the greatest existential threat which Israel has ever faced … why has it taken so many steps over the last year and a half to alienate the world and to isolate itself?’ So many steps. Are the partial freeze on construction in settlements (called ‘unprecedented’ by the Obama Administration), permission for thousands of Israeli Arabs to shop once again in the West Bank and help its economy grow, and removal of scores of barriers to mobility in the West Bank, among them? Presumably they don’t count for Marc, as they do not count for anyone disposed to blame Israel for everything.” Read the whole thing – if blood on the floor doesn’t bother you.

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That Particular State

George Will shines a light on the essence of much of the left’s revulsion — and it is certainly that — over the Jewish state. It’s the “Jewish” part — that is, a nation-state born of a 3,000-year history and dedicated to the survival of a particular people — that gnaws at what passes for the leftist intelligentsia. Will explains:

Israel, with its deep sense of nationhood, is beyond unintelligible to such Europeans; it is a stench in their nostrils. Transnational progressivism is, as much as welfare state social democracy, an element of European politics that American progressives will emulate as much as American politics will permit. It is perverse that the European Union, a semi-fictional political entity, serves — with the United States, the reliably anti-Israel United Nations and Russia — as part of the “quartet” that supposedly will broker peace in our time between Israel and the Palestinians. …

No one is less a transnational progressive, less a post-nationalist, than Binyamin Netanyahu, whose first name is that of a son of Jacob, who lived perhaps 4,000 years ago. Netanyahu, whom no one ever called cuddly, once said to a U.S. diplomat 10 words that should warn U.S. policymakers who hope to make Netanyahu malleable: “You live in Chevy Chase. Don’t play with our future.”

But it’s not simply Netanyahu who provokes the left’s queasiness over nationalism. It is the entire Zionist undertaking, the Jewish state. Some months ago, Elliott Abrams dismantled Peter Beinart, explaining: “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.” But the left (its Jews and non-Jews) has no intention of growing up, any more than Israelis have any intention of committing national suicide.

Obama has desperately tried to avoid — by cajoling, threatening, and his platitudinous speechifying — choosing between his and his ideological soul mates’ internationalist, multilateral vision and America’s democratic ally in the Middle East. The conflict reappears in various incarnations (settlements, the flotilla, etc.), but the fundamentals are the same. This is a circle that can’t be squared. He’s either going to stand in the face of a howling international community bolstered by the anti-Israel left or he’s not. He’s either going to cede American leadership of the Free World or not. No wonder Obama displays such animus toward the Jewish state; it refuses to knuckle under to his demands. And it forces Obama to confront the unworkability of his own dream of a world in which nation-states (and America in particular) recede in favor of an “international community.”

George Will shines a light on the essence of much of the left’s revulsion — and it is certainly that — over the Jewish state. It’s the “Jewish” part — that is, a nation-state born of a 3,000-year history and dedicated to the survival of a particular people — that gnaws at what passes for the leftist intelligentsia. Will explains:

Israel, with its deep sense of nationhood, is beyond unintelligible to such Europeans; it is a stench in their nostrils. Transnational progressivism is, as much as welfare state social democracy, an element of European politics that American progressives will emulate as much as American politics will permit. It is perverse that the European Union, a semi-fictional political entity, serves — with the United States, the reliably anti-Israel United Nations and Russia — as part of the “quartet” that supposedly will broker peace in our time between Israel and the Palestinians. …

No one is less a transnational progressive, less a post-nationalist, than Binyamin Netanyahu, whose first name is that of a son of Jacob, who lived perhaps 4,000 years ago. Netanyahu, whom no one ever called cuddly, once said to a U.S. diplomat 10 words that should warn U.S. policymakers who hope to make Netanyahu malleable: “You live in Chevy Chase. Don’t play with our future.”

But it’s not simply Netanyahu who provokes the left’s queasiness over nationalism. It is the entire Zionist undertaking, the Jewish state. Some months ago, Elliott Abrams dismantled Peter Beinart, explaining: “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.” But the left (its Jews and non-Jews) has no intention of growing up, any more than Israelis have any intention of committing national suicide.

Obama has desperately tried to avoid — by cajoling, threatening, and his platitudinous speechifying — choosing between his and his ideological soul mates’ internationalist, multilateral vision and America’s democratic ally in the Middle East. The conflict reappears in various incarnations (settlements, the flotilla, etc.), but the fundamentals are the same. This is a circle that can’t be squared. He’s either going to stand in the face of a howling international community bolstered by the anti-Israel left or he’s not. He’s either going to cede American leadership of the Free World or not. No wonder Obama displays such animus toward the Jewish state; it refuses to knuckle under to his demands. And it forces Obama to confront the unworkability of his own dream of a world in which nation-states (and America in particular) recede in favor of an “international community.”

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Where Is Mahmoud Abbas’s Bir Zeit Speech?

As Jen notes, Elliott Abrams identified the critical issue in the “peace process” — the character of the Palestinian state, not simply its borders.

Israel — having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to face rockets from new forward positions and two new wars — is not about to agree to a Palestinian state that is not demilitarized, with borders and other arrangements that enable Israel to defend itself, or that does not formally recognize a Jewish state and an end of claims. Anything less would simply reposition the parties for a third war. But even these two conditions are more than the peace-partner Palestinians are willing to accept.

At the Council on Foreign Relations last week, Richard Haass questioned Netanyahu about his insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state: “Why can’t they secretly harbor a goal that Israel will disappear so long as they don’t pursue those goals with violent means?” Here was a portion of Netanyahu’s response:

What is the true, underlying source of this conflict? It is not Israel’s possession of the territories, even though it is widely held to be that issue. It’s certainly an issue that has to be resolved, and I’m prepared to resolve it, but if you really understand the source of this conflict, it actually goes back to 1920. The first attack against the Jewish presence took place in 1920, and it continued in the 1930s, continued in the great upheavals; obviously, in 1948 in the combined Arab attack against the embryonic Jewish state; continued in the Fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, continued with the creation of the Fatah and the PLO before 1967.

So it actually ranged from 1920 till 1967. That’s nearly 50 years before there was a single Israeli soldier in the territories in Judea, Samaria or the West Bank, before there was a single Israeli settlement. Why did it go on for half a century? Because there was an opposition to a Jewish sovereignty in any border, in any shape, in any form. …

Now, the more moderate Palestinian Arab elements, they don’t talk about liquidating Israel, they don’t talk about firing rockets, and they’re different from Hamas. But they don’t say, we’ll end the conflict. They don’t say, Israel will be here to stay. They don’t say, we recognize the Jewish state of Israel and it’s over. …

They have to openly say it, not for our sake but for the sake of actually persuading their people to make the great psychological change for peace. I’ve said it. I’ve stood before my people and before my constituency and I said what my vision of peace includes, and I did that not without some consequence, I can tell you that. But this is what leaders have to do. They have to educate their people. …

I’d like President Abbas to make, if not his Bar-Ilan speech, I’d like to hear the Bir Zeit speech in which he says these things very clearly.

The peace process is conducted by the Palestinians in English for the benefit of ever-credulous peace processors, and things are said that are not repeated to the Palestinian public or reported in the PA-controlled media. But even in English, the Palestinians will not accept the minimal conditions of a bona fide process.

As Jen’s e-mail correspondent notes, only a bottom-up approach can ever succeed, and no such approach is possible until Palestinian leaders make the minimal public concessions necessary to start it. Abbas needs to make his Bir Zeit speech, and make it in Arabic.

As Jen notes, Elliott Abrams identified the critical issue in the “peace process” — the character of the Palestinian state, not simply its borders.

Israel — having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to face rockets from new forward positions and two new wars — is not about to agree to a Palestinian state that is not demilitarized, with borders and other arrangements that enable Israel to defend itself, or that does not formally recognize a Jewish state and an end of claims. Anything less would simply reposition the parties for a third war. But even these two conditions are more than the peace-partner Palestinians are willing to accept.

At the Council on Foreign Relations last week, Richard Haass questioned Netanyahu about his insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state: “Why can’t they secretly harbor a goal that Israel will disappear so long as they don’t pursue those goals with violent means?” Here was a portion of Netanyahu’s response:

What is the true, underlying source of this conflict? It is not Israel’s possession of the territories, even though it is widely held to be that issue. It’s certainly an issue that has to be resolved, and I’m prepared to resolve it, but if you really understand the source of this conflict, it actually goes back to 1920. The first attack against the Jewish presence took place in 1920, and it continued in the 1930s, continued in the great upheavals; obviously, in 1948 in the combined Arab attack against the embryonic Jewish state; continued in the Fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, continued with the creation of the Fatah and the PLO before 1967.

So it actually ranged from 1920 till 1967. That’s nearly 50 years before there was a single Israeli soldier in the territories in Judea, Samaria or the West Bank, before there was a single Israeli settlement. Why did it go on for half a century? Because there was an opposition to a Jewish sovereignty in any border, in any shape, in any form. …

Now, the more moderate Palestinian Arab elements, they don’t talk about liquidating Israel, they don’t talk about firing rockets, and they’re different from Hamas. But they don’t say, we’ll end the conflict. They don’t say, Israel will be here to stay. They don’t say, we recognize the Jewish state of Israel and it’s over. …

They have to openly say it, not for our sake but for the sake of actually persuading their people to make the great psychological change for peace. I’ve said it. I’ve stood before my people and before my constituency and I said what my vision of peace includes, and I did that not without some consequence, I can tell you that. But this is what leaders have to do. They have to educate their people. …

I’d like President Abbas to make, if not his Bar-Ilan speech, I’d like to hear the Bir Zeit speech in which he says these things very clearly.

The peace process is conducted by the Palestinians in English for the benefit of ever-credulous peace processors, and things are said that are not repeated to the Palestinian public or reported in the PA-controlled media. But even in English, the Palestinians will not accept the minimal conditions of a bona fide process.

As Jen’s e-mail correspondent notes, only a bottom-up approach can ever succeed, and no such approach is possible until Palestinian leaders make the minimal public concessions necessary to start it. Abbas needs to make his Bir Zeit speech, and make it in Arabic.

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