Commentary Magazine


Topic: foreign policy chief

EU Prepares to Repeat Its Cyprus Mistake in the Middle East

If insanity means doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then many leading European officials are certifiably insane.

A new WikiLeaks cable reveals that in January 2010, then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proposed that the West promise “to recognize a Palestinian state within a defined timeline, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.” Nor is he alone. This month, 26 former senior European officials, including several former presidents and prime ministers, advocated recognizing a Palestinian state as an alternative to negotiations. And in July 2009, then-EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana proposed that the UN Security Council set a deadline for negotiations, and then, if no agreement were reached, dictate its own final-status arrangement and recognize a Palestinian state in those parameters.

But the EU has tried unilateral recognition before, in Cyprus. And it proved disastrous.

In April 2004, Cyprus voted on a UN-brokered deal to reunite its Greek and Turkish halves. The deal overwhelmingly favored the Greeks: it required Turks to cede 22 percent of their territory after evicting all Turkish residents; let half the 200,000 Greek refugees return to their former homes in Turkish Cyprus; and gave Greeks a two-thirds majority on the united island’s presidential council. Yet 75 percent of Greeks rejected the deal, while 65 percent of Turks approved it.

Why? Because Greek Cyprus was promised immediate EU membership regardless of how it voted, while Turkish Cyprus was offered admission only if both Turks and Greeks approved the deal. Since the Greeks would pay no penalty for voting no, they had every incentive to hold out for an even better deal. Specifically, they wanted all their refugees returned to Turkish Cyprus, so they could outnumber and outvote Turks even in the federation’s Turkish half.

But the decision to admit Greek Cyprus regardless didn’t just scuttle the peace deal. Next, it destroyed the credibility of EU promises because Greek Cyprus, now a member, vetoed promised moves to ease the Turkish half’s economic isolation in reward for its vote. Then it scuttled accession negotiations with Turkey because Nicosia quickly vetoed further progress due to its ongoing dispute with Ankara over Turkish Cyprus — a rejection some have blamed for Turkey’s subsequent turn eastward. Finally, it effectively killed EU-NATO cooperation because NATO member Turkey won’t recognize EU member Cyprus until the Cyprus dispute is resolved, and therefore vetoes cooperative initiatives.

The EU’s Palestine plan would clearly have the same result. By promising recognition without negotiations, it would certainly scuttle any chance of peace: if Palestinians can get most of what they want without an agreement and still keep agitating for the rest, they would have no incentive to make any concessions, even on such deal breakers as the “right of return.”

But since Israelis and Palestinians, unlike Greek and Turkish Cypriots, aren’t already separated into two de facto states, it might also spark a war — thereby fomenting precisely the kind of bloodshed that Europeans claim to want to prevent. In short, the consequences could be even worse than they were in Cyprus.

Unfortunately, the EU seems incapable of learning from past mistakes. And Israelis and Palestinians will pay the price.

If insanity means doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then many leading European officials are certifiably insane.

A new WikiLeaks cable reveals that in January 2010, then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proposed that the West promise “to recognize a Palestinian state within a defined timeline, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.” Nor is he alone. This month, 26 former senior European officials, including several former presidents and prime ministers, advocated recognizing a Palestinian state as an alternative to negotiations. And in July 2009, then-EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana proposed that the UN Security Council set a deadline for negotiations, and then, if no agreement were reached, dictate its own final-status arrangement and recognize a Palestinian state in those parameters.

But the EU has tried unilateral recognition before, in Cyprus. And it proved disastrous.

In April 2004, Cyprus voted on a UN-brokered deal to reunite its Greek and Turkish halves. The deal overwhelmingly favored the Greeks: it required Turks to cede 22 percent of their territory after evicting all Turkish residents; let half the 200,000 Greek refugees return to their former homes in Turkish Cyprus; and gave Greeks a two-thirds majority on the united island’s presidential council. Yet 75 percent of Greeks rejected the deal, while 65 percent of Turks approved it.

Why? Because Greek Cyprus was promised immediate EU membership regardless of how it voted, while Turkish Cyprus was offered admission only if both Turks and Greeks approved the deal. Since the Greeks would pay no penalty for voting no, they had every incentive to hold out for an even better deal. Specifically, they wanted all their refugees returned to Turkish Cyprus, so they could outnumber and outvote Turks even in the federation’s Turkish half.

But the decision to admit Greek Cyprus regardless didn’t just scuttle the peace deal. Next, it destroyed the credibility of EU promises because Greek Cyprus, now a member, vetoed promised moves to ease the Turkish half’s economic isolation in reward for its vote. Then it scuttled accession negotiations with Turkey because Nicosia quickly vetoed further progress due to its ongoing dispute with Ankara over Turkish Cyprus — a rejection some have blamed for Turkey’s subsequent turn eastward. Finally, it effectively killed EU-NATO cooperation because NATO member Turkey won’t recognize EU member Cyprus until the Cyprus dispute is resolved, and therefore vetoes cooperative initiatives.

The EU’s Palestine plan would clearly have the same result. By promising recognition without negotiations, it would certainly scuttle any chance of peace: if Palestinians can get most of what they want without an agreement and still keep agitating for the rest, they would have no incentive to make any concessions, even on such deal breakers as the “right of return.”

But since Israelis and Palestinians, unlike Greek and Turkish Cypriots, aren’t already separated into two de facto states, it might also spark a war — thereby fomenting precisely the kind of bloodshed that Europeans claim to want to prevent. In short, the consequences could be even worse than they were in Cyprus.

Unfortunately, the EU seems incapable of learning from past mistakes. And Israelis and Palestinians will pay the price.

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“Never Helpful”

That’s how Obama described Israel’s continued building in its own capital. As Jonathan observed, while reaching out to Muslims in Indonesia, Obama scolded Israel, which, darn it, isn’t listening to him – again:

US President Barack Obama criticized Israel on Tuesday at a news conference in Indonesia, following Monday’s announcement that that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 homes in east Jerusalem.

“This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” Obama said during a visit to Jakarta.

What is never helpful is Obama’s approach to the Middle East, which has elevated and maintained settlements as the end-all and be-all of negotiation. Unlike every other administration that managed to avoid escalating the issue, Obama insists on exacerbating it. The inevitable Palestinian intransigence and European heckling followed:

Also on Tuesday, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to counter Israel’s latest construction plans by recognizing a Palestinian state.

“Israeli unilateralism is a call for immediate international recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added her comments on the issue, saying she is “extremely concerned by the announcement by Israel of a plan for the construction  of 1,300 new housing units in east Jerusalem,” in a statement.

“This plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed,” the statement read.

Who can be surprised? Neither the Palestinians nor the Israel-bashers around the world can be less obsessed over settlements than the president. So non-direct non-talks remain the order of the day while the UN prepares to dismantle Israel. (Sort of like if the League of Nations had extracted the Sudetenland from another small democracy.)

Let’s see how Congress and pro-Israel groups react to yet another round of decidedly un-smart Obama diplomacy. His political aura has faded at home, so those who have bristled at the Obama assault on Israel but have bitten their tongues might think about speaking up. Preferably before the UN starts redrawing Israel’s boundaries.

That’s how Obama described Israel’s continued building in its own capital. As Jonathan observed, while reaching out to Muslims in Indonesia, Obama scolded Israel, which, darn it, isn’t listening to him – again:

US President Barack Obama criticized Israel on Tuesday at a news conference in Indonesia, following Monday’s announcement that that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 homes in east Jerusalem.

“This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” Obama said during a visit to Jakarta.

What is never helpful is Obama’s approach to the Middle East, which has elevated and maintained settlements as the end-all and be-all of negotiation. Unlike every other administration that managed to avoid escalating the issue, Obama insists on exacerbating it. The inevitable Palestinian intransigence and European heckling followed:

Also on Tuesday, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to counter Israel’s latest construction plans by recognizing a Palestinian state.

“Israeli unilateralism is a call for immediate international recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added her comments on the issue, saying she is “extremely concerned by the announcement by Israel of a plan for the construction  of 1,300 new housing units in east Jerusalem,” in a statement.

“This plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed,” the statement read.

Who can be surprised? Neither the Palestinians nor the Israel-bashers around the world can be less obsessed over settlements than the president. So non-direct non-talks remain the order of the day while the UN prepares to dismantle Israel. (Sort of like if the League of Nations had extracted the Sudetenland from another small democracy.)

Let’s see how Congress and pro-Israel groups react to yet another round of decidedly un-smart Obama diplomacy. His political aura has faded at home, so those who have bristled at the Obama assault on Israel but have bitten their tongues might think about speaking up. Preferably before the UN starts redrawing Israel’s boundaries.

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Where Oh Where Is Hillary?

Nile Gardiner at the Daily Telegraph writes: “The White House should send a search party to track down Hillary Clinton. America’s foreign policy chief has been missing from the world stage for several days, and has become as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel at the height of the French Revolution.”

Come to think of it, we haven’t seen or heard from her since the Flight 253 bombing attack. Nada on the issue of the State Department’s own role in the security debacle that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get onto the plane. (As Elliott Abrams noted, “His multiple-entry visa to the U.S. was not canceled by State, not even after his own father alerted U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria of the danger he might present.”) And not a peep on Iran. The “Where in the World is the Secretary” locator (I am not making this up) on the State Department website puts her in the environs of Washington D.C.

Maybe she is hiding at home, assuming, correctly, that anyone who shows up on camera (e.g., Janet Napolitano, the president) gets savaged. Maybe she is the fall-gal when we get the “how we messed up” report. (Prediction: It won’t say that treating terrorists like criminal defendants or releasing terrorists to Yemen is a problem.) Or perhaps she is studying up on the 2010 senate and gubernatorial races. There must be a race in some state she could run in and win, right? After all, she is the most admired woman in America (well, she’s in a statistical tie with Sarah Palin). She might not stay that way if she hangs out with the Obami much longer.

Nile Gardiner at the Daily Telegraph writes: “The White House should send a search party to track down Hillary Clinton. America’s foreign policy chief has been missing from the world stage for several days, and has become as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel at the height of the French Revolution.”

Come to think of it, we haven’t seen or heard from her since the Flight 253 bombing attack. Nada on the issue of the State Department’s own role in the security debacle that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get onto the plane. (As Elliott Abrams noted, “His multiple-entry visa to the U.S. was not canceled by State, not even after his own father alerted U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria of the danger he might present.”) And not a peep on Iran. The “Where in the World is the Secretary” locator (I am not making this up) on the State Department website puts her in the environs of Washington D.C.

Maybe she is hiding at home, assuming, correctly, that anyone who shows up on camera (e.g., Janet Napolitano, the president) gets savaged. Maybe she is the fall-gal when we get the “how we messed up” report. (Prediction: It won’t say that treating terrorists like criminal defendants or releasing terrorists to Yemen is a problem.) Or perhaps she is studying up on the 2010 senate and gubernatorial races. There must be a race in some state she could run in and win, right? After all, she is the most admired woman in America (well, she’s in a statistical tie with Sarah Palin). She might not stay that way if she hangs out with the Obami much longer.

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Europe to Step Up?

For quite a while — for decades, in fact — it has been fashionable to predict the eclipse of American power. What’s changed over the years is the identity of the country that would knock us off the top perch. In the 1930s and for a long time afterward progressive opinion viewed the Soviet Union as the power that would rise to dominance. Then it was Japan. Now it’s China. But another popular claimant for the top spot has also been Europe, especially since European integration has gotten tighter over the course of the last decade. Many pundits expect — and no doubt hope — that the EU will supplant the U.S. as the world’s most influential actor. There are many problems with this analysis but not the least of them is the EU itself, which shows no desire to wield substantial military power and can’t even achieve much policy coherence to make use of the hard and soft power at its disposal.

The latest evidence of this chronic shortcoming is the selection of the EU’s leadership under its new constitution. As the New York Times notes, “The combination of Belgium’s prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy, for the bloc’s presidential post and Catherine Ashton, the European commissioner for trade, who is British, as foreign policy chief leaves the Union without the high-profile leadership for which many had yearned.”

It would have been a very different situation if Tony Blair had been chosen for the top spot and if, say, Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, had been chosen as the foreign-policy representative. They would have been a high-profile duo who could have maximized European power. So why choose instead two unknowns of little stature or influence? One suspects that the Europeans chose Van Rompuy and Ashton precisely because they are unlikely to threaten national prerogatives over foreign policy. For all their talk of unity and their actions to achieve some in economic policy, European states remain intensely nationalistic when it comes to the core prerogatives of a nation-state, such as defense and foreign policy. They have little desire to subcontract out those responsibilities to bureaucrats in Brussels. As long as that remains the dominant attitude on the continent — and it shows little sign of changing — the nations of the EU will never achieve the aggregate power that, in theory, the size of their population and economy (both larger than those of the U.S.) would entitle them.

For quite a while — for decades, in fact — it has been fashionable to predict the eclipse of American power. What’s changed over the years is the identity of the country that would knock us off the top perch. In the 1930s and for a long time afterward progressive opinion viewed the Soviet Union as the power that would rise to dominance. Then it was Japan. Now it’s China. But another popular claimant for the top spot has also been Europe, especially since European integration has gotten tighter over the course of the last decade. Many pundits expect — and no doubt hope — that the EU will supplant the U.S. as the world’s most influential actor. There are many problems with this analysis but not the least of them is the EU itself, which shows no desire to wield substantial military power and can’t even achieve much policy coherence to make use of the hard and soft power at its disposal.

The latest evidence of this chronic shortcoming is the selection of the EU’s leadership under its new constitution. As the New York Times notes, “The combination of Belgium’s prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy, for the bloc’s presidential post and Catherine Ashton, the European commissioner for trade, who is British, as foreign policy chief leaves the Union without the high-profile leadership for which many had yearned.”

It would have been a very different situation if Tony Blair had been chosen for the top spot and if, say, Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, had been chosen as the foreign-policy representative. They would have been a high-profile duo who could have maximized European power. So why choose instead two unknowns of little stature or influence? One suspects that the Europeans chose Van Rompuy and Ashton precisely because they are unlikely to threaten national prerogatives over foreign policy. For all their talk of unity and their actions to achieve some in economic policy, European states remain intensely nationalistic when it comes to the core prerogatives of a nation-state, such as defense and foreign policy. They have little desire to subcontract out those responsibilities to bureaucrats in Brussels. As long as that remains the dominant attitude on the continent — and it shows little sign of changing — the nations of the EU will never achieve the aggregate power that, in theory, the size of their population and economy (both larger than those of the U.S.) would entitle them.

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Iran Fails Another Test

IAEA director general Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, interviewed by Newsweek in October 2007 a few weeks after he negotiated a workplan with Iran on its nuclear program, said that

[i]f Iran were to prove that it was using this period for delaying tactics and it was not really acting in good faith, then, obviously, nobody–nobody–will come to its support when people call for more sanctions or for punitive measures. That is a point that has been made very clear to them by everybody, including myself. If we come [back] with a negative report after three months, I don’t see that anybody will come and say, well, give them another chance.

ElBaradei proposed this as a “litmus test.” This test–as all diplomatic tests should–had a timeline and a deadline: three months. Today, nearly nine months later, a Washington Post editorial notes that Iran has failed.

Will El Baradei hold to the resolution he proposed in 2007? Hard to believe. After all, Iran was given deadlines aplenty by the international community to come clean on its nuclear cover-up. And each time, deadlines came and went, with the international community scrambling for months afterwards to find a new consensus to pressure Iran once again. This was true of the June 6, 2006 incentives that Iran was offered in exchange for suspending enrichment. This was true of the August 31, 2006 deadline set by Security Council Resolution 1696 as well. And it is true today of the workplan that El Baradei negotiated in October 2007. Every time, the IAEA and the Security Council have shown that their deadlines are not serious. Now, unsurprisingly, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is about to embark on a trip to Tehran, where he will offer Iran a more attractive incentive package than the one offered two years ago.

The New York Times hopes that this package will be more enticing than the previous one: “Before Mr. Solana goes, the major powers need to come up with a more compelling list of rewards and punishments.” But it’s the list of punishments that needs the most work from the international community. Otherwise, Tehran will never even begin to take the West seriously.

IAEA director general Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, interviewed by Newsweek in October 2007 a few weeks after he negotiated a workplan with Iran on its nuclear program, said that

[i]f Iran were to prove that it was using this period for delaying tactics and it was not really acting in good faith, then, obviously, nobody–nobody–will come to its support when people call for more sanctions or for punitive measures. That is a point that has been made very clear to them by everybody, including myself. If we come [back] with a negative report after three months, I don’t see that anybody will come and say, well, give them another chance.

ElBaradei proposed this as a “litmus test.” This test–as all diplomatic tests should–had a timeline and a deadline: three months. Today, nearly nine months later, a Washington Post editorial notes that Iran has failed.

Will El Baradei hold to the resolution he proposed in 2007? Hard to believe. After all, Iran was given deadlines aplenty by the international community to come clean on its nuclear cover-up. And each time, deadlines came and went, with the international community scrambling for months afterwards to find a new consensus to pressure Iran once again. This was true of the June 6, 2006 incentives that Iran was offered in exchange for suspending enrichment. This was true of the August 31, 2006 deadline set by Security Council Resolution 1696 as well. And it is true today of the workplan that El Baradei negotiated in October 2007. Every time, the IAEA and the Security Council have shown that their deadlines are not serious. Now, unsurprisingly, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is about to embark on a trip to Tehran, where he will offer Iran a more attractive incentive package than the one offered two years ago.

The New York Times hopes that this package will be more enticing than the previous one: “Before Mr. Solana goes, the major powers need to come up with a more compelling list of rewards and punishments.” But it’s the list of punishments that needs the most work from the international community. Otherwise, Tehran will never even begin to take the West seriously.

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Obama Sacks Malley After Meeting With Hamas

One of Barack Obama’s Middle East advisors Robert Malley was sacked after it came to light that he had held meetings with Hamas. The Times reports:

One of Barack Obama’s Middle East policy advisers disclosed today that he had held meetings with the militant Palestinian group Hamas – prompting the likely Democratic nominee to sever all links with him.

Robert Malley told The Times he had regularly been in contact with Hamas, which controls Gaza but is listed by the US State Department as a terrorist organisation. Such talks, he stressed, were related to his work for a conflict resolution think tank and had no connection with his position on Mr Obama’s Middle East advisory council. “I’ve never hidden the fact that in my job with the International Crisis Group I meet all kinds of people,” he added.

But Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Mr Obama, responded swiftly, saying: “Rob Malley has, like hundreds of other experts, provided informal advice to the campaign in the past. He has no formal role in the campaign and he will not play any role in the future.”

The rapid departure of Mr Malley from the campaign followed 48 hours of heated clashes between John McCain, the Republican nominee-elect, and Mr Obama, on the issue of Middle East policy.

Mr Obama, who has been trying to assuage suspicion towards him among the influential Jewish and pro-Israel lobby, spoke at a Washington reception marking the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence yesterday when he promised his commitment to the country’s security would be “unshakeable”.

But Mr McCain has highlighted the Democrat’s pledge to negotiate directly with nations such as Iran – whose leaders talk of wiping Israel off the map – and a statement from Hamas saying that it hoped Mr Obama would win the presidency.

This was denounced as an offensive “smear” by Mr Obama, who repeated earlier statements saying that Hamas is “a terrorist organisation [and] we should not negotiate with them unless they recognise Israel, renounce violence”
. . .
Today, asked if Obama campaign was aware of his contact with Hamas, he replied: “They know who I am but I don’t think they vet everyone in a group of informal advisers.”

Randy Scheunemann, Mr McCain’s foreign policy chief, suggested Mr Malley was part of an emerging pattern which has seen other advisers repudiated after throwing confusion over policies on trade and Iraq.

“Perhaps, because of his inexperience, Senator Obama surrounds himself with advisers that contradict his stated policies,” said Mr Scheunemann.

But of course this should have come as no surprise to the Obama camp. Malley has openly advocated engaging Hamas. Malley has been the subject of much discussion here and elsewhere on the blogosphere and yet the Obama campaign never previously sought to separate itself or distinguish Malley’s views from Obama’s.

And although the Obama camp would now like to create the impression that Malley’s association with the campaign was tangential they have in the past acknowledged that he did advise the campaign although not as a “formal advisor”( what makes someone a “formal advisor” is unclear, and I suspect entirely artificial). Moreover, if there were no relationship it would hardly have been necessary for Malley to contact the campaign to inform them that he was ending that relationship. (Who severed the relationship it seems is a matter of dispute.)

The decision to sack Malley raises several issues. First, did the Obama campaign know of Malley’s visits previously? Second, what advice did Malley provide Obama ( and why would his advice be sought) if Obama claims his policy regarding Hamas is identical to McCain’s? Finally, what did Malley communicate to Hamas and did Malley’s contacts with Hamas have anything to do with the endorsement of Obama by Hamas’ Ahmed Yousef?

The notion that McCain had somehow “smeared” Obama for reciting the fact of Hamas’ endorsement can now be seen for what it truly is: the tried and true political tactic of attacking your enemy when faced with a serious controversy of your own. But now that media outlets have reported the latest development in the ongoing saga of Obama and Hamas, it seems that simply attacking McCain for mentioning it will no longer suffice. Unless, of course, the media show no interest in following up and Obama is never forced to answer questions on the topic.

One of Barack Obama’s Middle East advisors Robert Malley was sacked after it came to light that he had held meetings with Hamas. The Times reports:

One of Barack Obama’s Middle East policy advisers disclosed today that he had held meetings with the militant Palestinian group Hamas – prompting the likely Democratic nominee to sever all links with him.

Robert Malley told The Times he had regularly been in contact with Hamas, which controls Gaza but is listed by the US State Department as a terrorist organisation. Such talks, he stressed, were related to his work for a conflict resolution think tank and had no connection with his position on Mr Obama’s Middle East advisory council. “I’ve never hidden the fact that in my job with the International Crisis Group I meet all kinds of people,” he added.

But Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Mr Obama, responded swiftly, saying: “Rob Malley has, like hundreds of other experts, provided informal advice to the campaign in the past. He has no formal role in the campaign and he will not play any role in the future.”

The rapid departure of Mr Malley from the campaign followed 48 hours of heated clashes between John McCain, the Republican nominee-elect, and Mr Obama, on the issue of Middle East policy.

Mr Obama, who has been trying to assuage suspicion towards him among the influential Jewish and pro-Israel lobby, spoke at a Washington reception marking the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence yesterday when he promised his commitment to the country’s security would be “unshakeable”.

But Mr McCain has highlighted the Democrat’s pledge to negotiate directly with nations such as Iran – whose leaders talk of wiping Israel off the map – and a statement from Hamas saying that it hoped Mr Obama would win the presidency.

This was denounced as an offensive “smear” by Mr Obama, who repeated earlier statements saying that Hamas is “a terrorist organisation [and] we should not negotiate with them unless they recognise Israel, renounce violence”
. . .
Today, asked if Obama campaign was aware of his contact with Hamas, he replied: “They know who I am but I don’t think they vet everyone in a group of informal advisers.”

Randy Scheunemann, Mr McCain’s foreign policy chief, suggested Mr Malley was part of an emerging pattern which has seen other advisers repudiated after throwing confusion over policies on trade and Iraq.

“Perhaps, because of his inexperience, Senator Obama surrounds himself with advisers that contradict his stated policies,” said Mr Scheunemann.

But of course this should have come as no surprise to the Obama camp. Malley has openly advocated engaging Hamas. Malley has been the subject of much discussion here and elsewhere on the blogosphere and yet the Obama campaign never previously sought to separate itself or distinguish Malley’s views from Obama’s.

And although the Obama camp would now like to create the impression that Malley’s association with the campaign was tangential they have in the past acknowledged that he did advise the campaign although not as a “formal advisor”( what makes someone a “formal advisor” is unclear, and I suspect entirely artificial). Moreover, if there were no relationship it would hardly have been necessary for Malley to contact the campaign to inform them that he was ending that relationship. (Who severed the relationship it seems is a matter of dispute.)

The decision to sack Malley raises several issues. First, did the Obama campaign know of Malley’s visits previously? Second, what advice did Malley provide Obama ( and why would his advice be sought) if Obama claims his policy regarding Hamas is identical to McCain’s? Finally, what did Malley communicate to Hamas and did Malley’s contacts with Hamas have anything to do with the endorsement of Obama by Hamas’ Ahmed Yousef?

The notion that McCain had somehow “smeared” Obama for reciting the fact of Hamas’ endorsement can now be seen for what it truly is: the tried and true political tactic of attacking your enemy when faced with a serious controversy of your own. But now that media outlets have reported the latest development in the ongoing saga of Obama and Hamas, it seems that simply attacking McCain for mentioning it will no longer suffice. Unless, of course, the media show no interest in following up and Obama is never forced to answer questions on the topic.

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Tehran’s Big Deal

Swiss energy giant EGL just disclosed what is perhaps the biggest energy contract with Iran in recent history–between 28 and 42 billion dollars, according to its spokesman, who insisted that the exact figure not be revealed. Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Tehran to crown the deal. Calmy-Rey–photographed wearing a veil alongside her male Iranian counterparts–praised Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA and generally speaking scored a great own goal for the international community’s efforts to push Iran into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747 and 1803.

Faced with international criticism, Calmy-Rey was adamant that Switzerland was not violating any law. True–but what kind of signal does a Western foreign minister send by going to Iran to bless a business deal two weeks after the UN adopted a sanctions resolution? Switzerland has slapped the world in the face. Europe, apparently, should not shy away from Iranian markets. Business, after all, is business.

The next weeks and months will tell whether European business will follow suit or if this is a lamentable one-off. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana-a nuclear physicist by training and the man officially appointed by the UN Security Council to negotiate with Iran-defined Iran’s nuclear program as a “strategic threat” to Europe on Sunday during a conversation with David Ignatius at the Brussels Forum. Asked by Steve Erlanger of the New York Times whether George W. Bush’s description of a nuclear Iran as “intolerable” was shared in Europe, Solana laconically and bluntly responded “Yes!” Barely a day later, Calmy-Rey was in Tehran, dressed so as not to offend her hosts, to sign a giant deal. Clearly, Switzerland begs to differ. And if the Swiss view were to take hold again in Europe (Europe remains Iran’s biggest trade partner, let’s not forget), it would not be long before that threat either materializes thanks to European technological sales and funds–or before someone acts upon the operational consequences of the world “intolerable.”

Swiss energy giant EGL just disclosed what is perhaps the biggest energy contract with Iran in recent history–between 28 and 42 billion dollars, according to its spokesman, who insisted that the exact figure not be revealed. Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Tehran to crown the deal. Calmy-Rey–photographed wearing a veil alongside her male Iranian counterparts–praised Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA and generally speaking scored a great own goal for the international community’s efforts to push Iran into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747 and 1803.

Faced with international criticism, Calmy-Rey was adamant that Switzerland was not violating any law. True–but what kind of signal does a Western foreign minister send by going to Iran to bless a business deal two weeks after the UN adopted a sanctions resolution? Switzerland has slapped the world in the face. Europe, apparently, should not shy away from Iranian markets. Business, after all, is business.

The next weeks and months will tell whether European business will follow suit or if this is a lamentable one-off. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana-a nuclear physicist by training and the man officially appointed by the UN Security Council to negotiate with Iran-defined Iran’s nuclear program as a “strategic threat” to Europe on Sunday during a conversation with David Ignatius at the Brussels Forum. Asked by Steve Erlanger of the New York Times whether George W. Bush’s description of a nuclear Iran as “intolerable” was shared in Europe, Solana laconically and bluntly responded “Yes!” Barely a day later, Calmy-Rey was in Tehran, dressed so as not to offend her hosts, to sign a giant deal. Clearly, Switzerland begs to differ. And if the Swiss view were to take hold again in Europe (Europe remains Iran’s biggest trade partner, let’s not forget), it would not be long before that threat either materializes thanks to European technological sales and funds–or before someone acts upon the operational consequences of the world “intolerable.”

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Dangerous Dialogue

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, spent a couple of hours gabbing with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, on Monday. According to the prevailing political wisdom in Washington—and within large sectors of the newly-chastened Bush administration itself—this kind of “dialogue” will somehow transform the situation in Iraq for the better. It will also, the theory runs, lead gradually to the resolution of our other major differences with Iran, such as its implacable pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The prevailing wisdom in Tehran is rather different. There, it seems, such talks merely provide another opportunity to humiliate the United States and underline our inability to stop the Iranian quest for regional dominance. In case anyone didn’t get the memo, the Iranian government charged three Iranian-Americans with spying the day after this grand dialogue convened in Baghdad. As noted by the Washington Post, “The three individuals charged are prominent Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari, social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh of the New York-based Open Society Institute, and correspondent Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda.”

None of them, needless to say, is an actual spy. But grabbing hostages has by now become a well-entrenched tradition in Iran—one proven to work over the years in bringing the West to its knees, whether through the seizure of the U.S. Embassy personnel in 1979, numerous Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980’s, or the more recent detention of British sailors in the Persian Gulf.

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The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, spent a couple of hours gabbing with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, on Monday. According to the prevailing political wisdom in Washington—and within large sectors of the newly-chastened Bush administration itself—this kind of “dialogue” will somehow transform the situation in Iraq for the better. It will also, the theory runs, lead gradually to the resolution of our other major differences with Iran, such as its implacable pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The prevailing wisdom in Tehran is rather different. There, it seems, such talks merely provide another opportunity to humiliate the United States and underline our inability to stop the Iranian quest for regional dominance. In case anyone didn’t get the memo, the Iranian government charged three Iranian-Americans with spying the day after this grand dialogue convened in Baghdad. As noted by the Washington Post, “The three individuals charged are prominent Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari, social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh of the New York-based Open Society Institute, and correspondent Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda.”

None of them, needless to say, is an actual spy. But grabbing hostages has by now become a well-entrenched tradition in Iran—one proven to work over the years in bringing the West to its knees, whether through the seizure of the U.S. Embassy personnel in 1979, numerous Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980’s, or the more recent detention of British sailors in the Persian Gulf.

To make this “up yours” a little more explicit, Ali Larijani, the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, told the world’s press that he “rejected the possibility of Iran suspending its uranium enrichment program.” This, coming on the eve of talks between Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, will hardly improve the atmosphere for negotiations.

The only people who could possibly be surprised by the Iranian attitude are the architects of the Iraq Study Group report and other conveyors of wishful thinking in Washington. Naturally, their response will be that we should make even more concessions to Iran to overcome their “suspicions” about American behavior. What this rather naïve reasoning ignores are the big benefits that many in the Iranian leadership, especially in the Revolutionary Guard Corps, derive from the continuing Iranian policy of isolation and hostility. Not only does enmity with the West help to maintain their justification for a theocratic dictatorship, but, as Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace explains in this interview, it also helps well-connected Iranians to profit by looting the economy.

It takes quite an effort of will to convince oneself that the real issue between the U.S. and Iran is a lack of understanding. The reality is that the U.S. and Iran have radically divergent interests. In the case of Iraq, Iran’s interest is to foment strife that will weaken the U.S. and our democratic allies and expand its sphere of control. It is currently achieving that goal. Why would it, suddenly, want to help the U.S. achieve its objectives in Iraq? Until someone can answer that question convincingly, perhaps we should hold off on any further coffee klatches with the mullahs.

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