Commentary Magazine


Topic: James Baker

“Solving” Israel to Solve the Conflict

With the Israeli-Palestinian talks at an impasse, now would be the time for some fresh thinking on how to move forward. Two pieces have appeared in recent days offering advice on what could be done to make progress. Both are written in a highly skeptical tone about the probability of success, yet both essentially offer the same suggested remedy. Although they come at it from slightly different angles, when it comes down to it what they both propose is a pretty simple formula: more pressure on Israel. And while these writers may temper their arguments with a certain pessimism toward the process, they still tap into a more commonly held notion about Israeli concessions being the gateway to harmony in the region.

Writing for the Nation, Bob Dreyfuss argues that the United States must first posit its own detailed outline of what a final agreement should look like. Then what will be needed is an almighty amount of pressure to be brought against rejectionist Israel and, in all probability, the bringing down of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “ultra-right” coalition. The other piece that comes to mind here is one by Aaron David Miller that appeared in the New Republic under the title Five Lessons That Could Save John Kerry’s Peace-Process Efforts. Miller served as an advisor to Secretary of State James Baker, and so perhaps unsurprisingly Miller recommends applying Baker’s approach. If it were possible to summarize the Baker doctrine on peace in the Middle East, it might be: the application of unrelenting and non-negotiable pressure on Israel. Miller paints this strategy as having been some unprecedented example of how to operate with success. While U.S.-Israel relations became more strained during that period than they have ever been under Obama, it is not clear what Baker and Miller actually achieved for all their trouble.

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With the Israeli-Palestinian talks at an impasse, now would be the time for some fresh thinking on how to move forward. Two pieces have appeared in recent days offering advice on what could be done to make progress. Both are written in a highly skeptical tone about the probability of success, yet both essentially offer the same suggested remedy. Although they come at it from slightly different angles, when it comes down to it what they both propose is a pretty simple formula: more pressure on Israel. And while these writers may temper their arguments with a certain pessimism toward the process, they still tap into a more commonly held notion about Israeli concessions being the gateway to harmony in the region.

Writing for the Nation, Bob Dreyfuss argues that the United States must first posit its own detailed outline of what a final agreement should look like. Then what will be needed is an almighty amount of pressure to be brought against rejectionist Israel and, in all probability, the bringing down of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “ultra-right” coalition. The other piece that comes to mind here is one by Aaron David Miller that appeared in the New Republic under the title Five Lessons That Could Save John Kerry’s Peace-Process Efforts. Miller served as an advisor to Secretary of State James Baker, and so perhaps unsurprisingly Miller recommends applying Baker’s approach. If it were possible to summarize the Baker doctrine on peace in the Middle East, it might be: the application of unrelenting and non-negotiable pressure on Israel. Miller paints this strategy as having been some unprecedented example of how to operate with success. While U.S.-Israel relations became more strained during that period than they have ever been under Obama, it is not clear what Baker and Miller actually achieved for all their trouble.

Both of these pieces are only able to pursue their line of argument by refusing to acknowledge the full reality of recent events. The line that Israel is impossibly intransigent has simply become enshrined as a doctrine unalterable by real events. Dreyfuss’s recounting of the collapse of the latest talks is an all but unrecognizable version of reality. He protests that Netanyahu breached his commitments by expanding settlements and refused to release the last group of prisoners. But settlements were never subject to the concessions the Palestinians were bribed with before they would consent to their participation in talks. In any case, the last round of prisoners would have been released like all the others had the Palestinians not announced that they were about to leave talks regardless of how many additional terrorists Israel offered to let lose.  

In Dreufuss’s view pressure on the Israeli side is warranted because Palestinian leader Abbas is essentially powerless. Yet if that’s true then it might legitimately be asked whether Abbas really has the ability to give Israelis any reliable assurances of peace in return for concessions that greatly weaken Israel’s security if those assurances aren’t guaranteed. Indeed, in both the case of Miller and Dreyfuss’s article, one wonders why, if the deal on offer is really evenhanded and promises an end to the conflict, would the Israelis need so much pressuring?

Miller’s piece acknowledges that under present circumstances there is little to be gained from pressuring either side. Yet Miller seems convinced that in the event that there was an opening for peace, it would be the Israelis that would need to be forced into it and he expresses his concern that this administration hasn’t got what it takes to get tough with Israel. Not like in the good old days of Baker when the U.S. would withhold loan guarantees needed to help absorb Jews from the former Soviet Union as punishment for Prime Minister Shamir not agreeing to the additional demand of freezing construction in Jerusalem as well as the West Bank. All that any of this achieved was the spectacle of the Madrid conference, which pandered to Arab demands for an international conference from which to condemn Zionism.

Perhaps it would be claimed that Madrid somehow opened the way toward the Oslo accords, but since neither side considers that to have been an overwhelming success, it’s not clear why we should celebrate Baker’s conference. Indeed, a more concrete result of the Baker diplomacy was the move to frame Israel as the problem and thus assault its underlying legitimacy. This is the assumption that both of these pieces rest on; that to solve the conflict you must first solve Israel.

Dreyfuss has a couple of telling things to say about such a solution. As well as claiming that everyone knows what that solution will look like he also claims that “Israel holds all the high cards.” The arguments put forward by Dreyfuss and Miller are really the logical conclusion of believing that this is a territorial conflict, in which case by holding the territory Israel does hold all the high cards, and so, Israel is the problem for blocking peace by retaining territory. As such, Israel will remain vilified until it can make the case that this conflict has never been about two states, but rather the destruction of one state: the Jewish state.  

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Rand Paul’s Dangerous Approach to Iran

Rand Paul’s efforts to establish foreign policy credentials in advance of a likely 2016 presidential campaign escalated yesterday with a major speech at the Heritage Foundation in which he sought to claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan. Paul defined himself as being neither an isolationist like his extremist father Ron nor a neoconservative. He hopes that this address, like his recent trip to Israel, will make it clear that he cannot be dismissed as an outlier on defense and security matters. But his campaign to cast himself as the second coming of Reagan is not believable. Judging by his remarks, his real role models are Cold War containment strategist George Kennan and James Baker, secretary of state under the first President Bush whose “realist” policies did little to prepare the country for the post-Soviet world or the threat from Islamist terror.

Unlike Baker, who made little secret of his contempt for Israel, Paul is being very careful these days to give the Jewish state some love even though his position on aid to it misses the point about its strategic dilemma. But on the most important issue facing Israel—the Iranian nuclear threat—Paul placed himself clearly outside of the mainstream. The key takeaway from the speech was that the Kentucky senator wants to put containment of a nuclear Iran back on the table. Though he tries to couch this in terms that make it seem as if he is being a tough advocate of a true conservative foreign policy, he has put himself even to the left of Barack Obama on Iran.

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Rand Paul’s efforts to establish foreign policy credentials in advance of a likely 2016 presidential campaign escalated yesterday with a major speech at the Heritage Foundation in which he sought to claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan. Paul defined himself as being neither an isolationist like his extremist father Ron nor a neoconservative. He hopes that this address, like his recent trip to Israel, will make it clear that he cannot be dismissed as an outlier on defense and security matters. But his campaign to cast himself as the second coming of Reagan is not believable. Judging by his remarks, his real role models are Cold War containment strategist George Kennan and James Baker, secretary of state under the first President Bush whose “realist” policies did little to prepare the country for the post-Soviet world or the threat from Islamist terror.

Unlike Baker, who made little secret of his contempt for Israel, Paul is being very careful these days to give the Jewish state some love even though his position on aid to it misses the point about its strategic dilemma. But on the most important issue facing Israel—the Iranian nuclear threat—Paul placed himself clearly outside of the mainstream. The key takeaway from the speech was that the Kentucky senator wants to put containment of a nuclear Iran back on the table. Though he tries to couch this in terms that make it seem as if he is being a tough advocate of a true conservative foreign policy, he has put himself even to the left of Barack Obama on Iran.

Paul’s premise is that the U.S. should be unpredictable, but by raising doubts as to whether the Iranians should fear a military action to prevent them from gaining nuclear capability, he is actually telegraphing exactly what he would do about this threat if he were president: nothing. Though he tells us he doesn’t want Iran to go nuclear, his primary objective is to avoid any foreign military entanglements, even those, like Iran, that wouldn’t necessarily involve boots on the ground or a long-term land war. As such, all this talk from him about considering containment is merely an excuse for ignoring a problem that threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East, undermine Western security, and pose an existential threat to the state of Israel.

The senator’s attempt to claim that Israelis are having a debate about Iran that Americans are not also misunderstands what is happening in Israel. It is true that some former intelligence officials there have criticized the Netanyahu government on Iran. But their disagreement is not about whether Iran should be contained but whether Israel can or should act on its own. There is little dissent there about the idea that the U.S. should act to stop Iran, and it is on that point that Paul would like to inject some ambiguity rather than the certainty that is needed if Iran is ever to step back from the nuclear brink.

Just as important as this potential blunder is his misapplication of Kennan’s containment ideas to the conflict with radical Islamists. Kennan’s idea worked to some extent because the two superpowers of the postwar era were prevented by the existence of nuclear weapons from engaging in a traditional direct war against each other. Containment allowed the U.S. to try, not always successfully, to prevent the spread of Communism around the globe without triggering World War III. If, in the end, the West prevailed it was because its efforts to combat Soviet expansionism and its raising of the ante in the arms race made it clear to the Russians they couldn’t win. But the current struggle with the Islamists is nothing like that. Neither the Iranians nor their terrorist auxiliaries and allies can be counted on to behave with the relative restraint exercised by Moscow.

Paul’s call for an unpredictable American policy in which force could potentially be used in some situations and not in others misunderstands the lessons of containment. Though some of the U.S. responses to Communist encroachment, like Vietnam, didn’t turn out well, the results from American decisions not to respond in Africa and Asia were just as disastrous and encouraged further trouble. Though Reagan did not try to liberate captive peoples, a strategy that he derided as unrealistic, he also made sure that the Soviets were resisted everywhere. The long-term impact of these interventions–such as U.S. support to the resistance in Afghanistan–was unfortunate, but allowing them a free hand there would not have advanced American security and might have put off the date of Soviet collapse.

Paul says he wants a strategy to deal with our foes that does not appease them. Some of his instincts on this topic are right, such as his vote against the sale of F-16 aircraft to the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt as well as his general opposition to providing arms to Arab countries that might use them against our ally Israel. But an America that disengages from the Middle East in the way that he envisions and which signals, as he would, that it may tolerate a nuclear Iran, is just as dangerous as appeasement. The only thing about this that is credible is his dedication to avoiding war. Everything else in his vision is merely a rationalization for the principle of non-intervention no matter how grievous the consequences of that stand might be.

The path that he would chart for the country is not a middle way between certain war and appeasement. It is, at best, a charter that would enable Iran to assume regional hegemony without having to worry much about U.S. force and a threatened Israel. At worst, it is a blueprint for American decline that will make the world a much more dangerous place.

Though his speech demonstrates a certain grasp of history and the desire of Americans to avoid replays of Iraq and Afghanistan, when the elements are boiled down to their essentials, it must be seen as merely a sophisticated gloss on the libertarian ideas that his father presented in a much more primitive manner. His call for what he thinks is a Reagan-like constraint abroad is merely an excuse to reduce defense spending and to refuse to engage in conflicts that cannot be wished away.

As wrongheaded as this foreign policy manifest may be, it is a good deal more presentable than Ron Paul’s woolly isolationism and thus will make his quest for the GOP presidential nomination more viable. But it should also end the brief flirtation with the senator that some in the pro-Israel community have been engaging in since November. Paul’s desire to put containment of Iran back on the table is a refreshing change from Chuck Hagel’s inability to articulate the administration’s nominal stand. The administration’s stand on Iran has been all rhetoric and no action so far, but even that is better than what Paul has proposed. Anyone looking to Rand Paul for a fresh Republican face that can put forward a sensible foreign policy strategy needs to keep looking.

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James Baker Keeps Digging

Josh Rogin’s interview with former Secretary of State James Baker is teased at the top of ForeignPolicy.com’s home page with the headline: “The Realists Strike Back.” The Star Wars reference is appropriate, because it seems Baker is having his Admiral Ackbar moment.

The purpose of the interview is Baker’s response to recent reporting by Rogin on the prominence of some foreign policy “realists” in Mitt Romney’s transition team and the discomfort that is causing among other foreign policy advisers. In the interview, Baker explains that he deserves to be mentioned alongside Henry Kissinger, because Baker believes himself to be among the greatest statesmen this country has ever known. Where did he get this idea? From Thomas Friedman. But a glance at the Friedman column in question singing Baker’s praises makes one thing clear that Baker seems not to have noticed in time: It’s a trap!

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Josh Rogin’s interview with former Secretary of State James Baker is teased at the top of ForeignPolicy.com’s home page with the headline: “The Realists Strike Back.” The Star Wars reference is appropriate, because it seems Baker is having his Admiral Ackbar moment.

The purpose of the interview is Baker’s response to recent reporting by Rogin on the prominence of some foreign policy “realists” in Mitt Romney’s transition team and the discomfort that is causing among other foreign policy advisers. In the interview, Baker explains that he deserves to be mentioned alongside Henry Kissinger, because Baker believes himself to be among the greatest statesmen this country has ever known. Where did he get this idea? From Thomas Friedman. But a glance at the Friedman column in question singing Baker’s praises makes one thing clear that Baker seems not to have noticed in time: It’s a trap!

Here is what Friedman writes about Baker:

The three U.S. statesmen who have done the most to make Israel more secure and accepted in the region all told blunt truths to every Israeli or Arab leader: Jimmy Carter, who helped forge a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt; Henry Kissinger, who built the post-1973 war disengagement agreements with Syria, Israel and Egypt; and James Baker, who engineered the Madrid peace conference. All of them knew that to make progress in this region you have to get in the face of both sides. They both need the excuse at times that “the Americans made me do it,” because their own politics are too knotted to move on their own.

As this is the paragraph that mentioned Baker, he should have read it prior to endorsing its message. There’s the moral equivalence that has become a trademark of Friedman’s, and the outlandish claim about Israel’s security and place in the region.

Even if you grant that Carter should get a great deal of credit for the 1979 peace deal–and you shouldn’t, because Carter opposed it, tried to stall and prevent it, and then finally jumped aboard when he could no longer hope to torpedo it–you’d still have to be delusional to believe what was written there. Friedman’s no history buff of course, but he should be familiar with Harry Truman, whose early recognition of the Jewish state was critical to its acceptance and survival in its early days.

Kissinger does belong in that group–but so does his boss, Richard Nixon, who worked with Kissinger to plan and implement Operation Nickel Grass to keep Israel supplied and armed during the Yom Kippur War.

There are others, of course; George W. Bush’s support for Israel during the Intifada, Reagan’s support for Menachem Begin–against the wishes of much of his cabinet–during the first Lebanon war, etc. But the point is that if Baker only read the paragraph mentioning him he should still have known not to brag about it.

But the reason it’s a trap is because of what was written before that paragraph. Here are some choice quotes from it:

  • “Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas? I mean, it was all about money anyway”
  • “They could have constructed a plastic Wailing Wall and saved so much on gas”
  • “In order to garner more Jewish (and evangelical) votes and money, the G.O.P. decided to ‘out-pro-Israel’ the Democrats by being even more unquestioning of Israel”
  • “State Department officials, not to mention politicians, are reluctant to even state publicly what is U.S. policy — that settlements are ‘an obstacle to peace’ — for fear of being denounced as anti-Israel”
  • “the main Israel lobby, AIPAC, has made itself the feared arbiter of which lawmakers are ‘pro’ and which are ‘anti-Israel’ and, therefore, who should get donations and who should not”

You get the point: Most of the column was about the nefarious presence of Jewish money in the election. This is the flag Baker is now running around Washington waving at reporters to prove he’s a statesman. Something tells me it won’t help.

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Registration, Not ID Laws is Vote Obstacle

As part of their effort to derail voter ID laws, liberals treat it as a given that there is no such thing as voter fraud in this country any more. Doing so requires a leap of faith that requires one to ignore American political history as well as human nature, but that hasn’t stopped Democrats from waiving the bloody shirt of Jim Crow in order to convince the public and the courts that what voter ID advocates are doing is a new form of discrimination. The New York Times editorial page has been in the forefront of those taking this disingenuous line of argument, but Ethan Bronner, their former Israel bureau chief, has written an interesting piece for their news pages that places the controversy in a more coherent frame of reference.

While not taking sides in the ID debate, Bronner mentions what many of those who have been saying about the need for voting integrity laws. The debacle of Florida in 2000 shows neither party trusts the other, and the closer the election the more likely it is that “chicanery” will be employed by one or both sides. Some of the arguments put forward by opponents of voter ID laws about large numbers of voters being disenfranchised are closer to myths than truths. He also points out that there may be large numbers of people voting in more than one state, as many are registered in two places. Most important, he gets at something–that those crying wolf about discrimination are ignoring the real problem: the need to put more effort into registering voters as most of those who might theoretically be excluded by voter ID laws have filed to register in the first place.

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As part of their effort to derail voter ID laws, liberals treat it as a given that there is no such thing as voter fraud in this country any more. Doing so requires a leap of faith that requires one to ignore American political history as well as human nature, but that hasn’t stopped Democrats from waiving the bloody shirt of Jim Crow in order to convince the public and the courts that what voter ID advocates are doing is a new form of discrimination. The New York Times editorial page has been in the forefront of those taking this disingenuous line of argument, but Ethan Bronner, their former Israel bureau chief, has written an interesting piece for their news pages that places the controversy in a more coherent frame of reference.

While not taking sides in the ID debate, Bronner mentions what many of those who have been saying about the need for voting integrity laws. The debacle of Florida in 2000 shows neither party trusts the other, and the closer the election the more likely it is that “chicanery” will be employed by one or both sides. Some of the arguments put forward by opponents of voter ID laws about large numbers of voters being disenfranchised are closer to myths than truths. He also points out that there may be large numbers of people voting in more than one state, as many are registered in two places. Most important, he gets at something–that those crying wolf about discrimination are ignoring the real problem: the need to put more effort into registering voters as most of those who might theoretically be excluded by voter ID laws have filed to register in the first place.

In 2005, a bipartisan panel found that 140,000 Florida voters were also registered in other states. Some 60,000 people are also registered in both North and South Carolina. Liberal absentee voting laws have made it possible for these people to vote twice in a national election with no way, not even photo ID, to stop them from doing so. The commission, which was led by Jimmy Carter and James Baker, recommended, among other things, a paper trial for electronic voting machines as well as uniform voter ID requirements. As the executive director of the Carter-Baker commission mentions in the article, only half of eligible voters in the country are registered, and few of them lack photo IDs. The obstacle to voter participation in this country is registration, not a GOP plot to suppress the minority vote.

Both parties ought to follow the Carter-Baker recommendations and work to increase voter registration while also ensuring the integrity of the vote. So long as Democrats keep pretending there is no such thing as fraud, Republican suspicions that urban political machines are manufacturing false totals (such as the infamous results in some Philadelphia precincts where vote totals have exceeded the number of registered voters) or allowing felons or non-citizens to vote will fester. Instead of trying to re-open the wounds of the civil rights era via the Jim Crow canard, Democrats should be putting their energy behind voter registration programs that can ensure no one is disenfranchised and cheating is kept to a minimum.

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The Window for Iran Diplomacy Just Closed

If the Obama administration was seeking to reassure the pro-Israel community, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to make a joint appearance with James Baker on PBS’s Charlie Rose was a curious way to go about it. Baker, who earned a reputation as one of the least sympathetic to Israel of all of Clinton’s predecessors, joined with the current secretary in making it clear the Jewish state should under no circumstances be allowed to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities on its own. Baker was right when he said stopping Iran is an American responsibility rather than that of Israel. But coming as it did in the days following the failure of the administration’s latest diplomatic initiative with Iran, the current secretary’s faith in efforts to keep trying to talk with the Iranians and to wait for them to buckle under the weight of sanctions is evidence that neither she nor the president have a clue as to how to stop the nuclear threat.

Clinton’s assertion to Rose that U.S. policy was to “take this meeting by meeting and pursue it as hard as we can” was an indication that the sense of urgency about the problem is clearly lacking. Clinging to the false belief that the president has expressed in the existence of a “window of diplomacy” with Iran, Clinton seems to regard the international coalition she has assembled to pursue the talks and sanctions as an accomplishment in of itself, even though it seems incapable of bringing about a solution to the problem. It is that attitude that makes it hard to believe even after the latest P5+1 standoff in Moscow, this administration will ever come to grips with the fact that the Iranians don’t think they are serious.

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If the Obama administration was seeking to reassure the pro-Israel community, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to make a joint appearance with James Baker on PBS’s Charlie Rose was a curious way to go about it. Baker, who earned a reputation as one of the least sympathetic to Israel of all of Clinton’s predecessors, joined with the current secretary in making it clear the Jewish state should under no circumstances be allowed to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities on its own. Baker was right when he said stopping Iran is an American responsibility rather than that of Israel. But coming as it did in the days following the failure of the administration’s latest diplomatic initiative with Iran, the current secretary’s faith in efforts to keep trying to talk with the Iranians and to wait for them to buckle under the weight of sanctions is evidence that neither she nor the president have a clue as to how to stop the nuclear threat.

Clinton’s assertion to Rose that U.S. policy was to “take this meeting by meeting and pursue it as hard as we can” was an indication that the sense of urgency about the problem is clearly lacking. Clinging to the false belief that the president has expressed in the existence of a “window of diplomacy” with Iran, Clinton seems to regard the international coalition she has assembled to pursue the talks and sanctions as an accomplishment in of itself, even though it seems incapable of bringing about a solution to the problem. It is that attitude that makes it hard to believe even after the latest P5+1 standoff in Moscow, this administration will ever come to grips with the fact that the Iranians don’t think they are serious.

Though characteristically harsh about Israel and expressing the sort of “realist” views about foreign policy that marked his own unhappy tenure at the State Department during the presidency of the first George Bush, Baker did assert that it would be America’s job to take out the Iranian nuclear program if “at the end of the day” diplomacy failed. That was a bit farther than Clinton, who made the usual noises about keeping all options open, would go. But the reason why the Iranians acted in Moscow as if they had all the cards in their hands is that they think the Obama administration will never admit that “the end of the day” for diplomacy will ever come.

It is true that at the end of the month, the first step toward the implementation of a partial oil boycott of Iran will begin. That’s the sort of sanction that should have been put in place years ago rather than the foolish charade of diplomacy that characterized U.S policy toward Iran under George W. Bush and the farce of Obama’s attempt to “engage” Tehran. Unfortunately, with the Iranians having already stepped up refinement of uranium and now erasing evidence of their military research, it may be too late for even the toughest of sanctions to force them to back down.

That means months more of futile talks and meetings on Obama and Clinton’s watch will only bring the Iranians that much closer to their nuclear goal, with little indication that they are anywhere close to understanding that the “window” they have been trying to exploit closed even before they tried to open it. And so long as she is partnering with the Russians and the Chinese, Clinton should know by now that they have no intention of ever letting the U.S. prevail on this issue.

Though it would certainly be better for all the parties, especially the Iranians, if they were persuaded to give up before it comes to the use of force, it is time for Clinton to start sounding more like Baker when it comes to threatening Iran. Until the Iranians are finally convinced the president knows that “the end of the day” for diplomacy is about to arrive, there is little chance they will be persuaded that the Americans will ever really lift a finger to stop them.

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Galston Talks Sense About Israel

A sensible and intellectually honest  thinker (whose posts appear on a website replete with those who are neither), William Galston has developed a habit of talking political sense to Democrats determined to screen out bad news. He now gives us a report from his trip to Israel. It is more candid and useful than what we’ve been getting from Jewish groups, the administration, and Michael Oren (except when he thinks he’s talking privately).

Galston dispenses with the sugar-coating when explaining the current U.S.-Israeli relationship:

Never before have I sensed such a mood of foreboding, which has been triggered by two issues above all—the looming impasse in relations with the United States and a possible military confrontation with Iran. … There are persistent rumors here that the Obama administration hopes to bring down the current Israeli government and replace it with a more tractable coalition. Don’t hold your breath. … To bring about a new coalition without the hardliners, the Obama administration would have to threaten Israel with measures at least as tough as the ones George H. W. Bush and James Baker implemented two decades ago against the Shamir government, risking a huge domestic political backlash.

On Iran, Galston describes the vast divide between Obama and the Israelis:

Looking farther east, most Israelis—including many who are very dovish vis-a-vis the Palestinians—believe that only military force can prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in the near future, and they cannot understand why the United States resists this conclusion.

A few months ago I participated in a day-long exercise, organized by the Brookings Institution, simulating the aftermath of a surprise Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The outcome wasn’t pretty—a forceful Iranian attack on American allies throughout the region and a serious rift in relations between Israel and the United States. The Israeli team hoped that the United States would back them with military measures against Iran that the American team refused to initiate.

As Galston observes, “the sand in the hourglass is running down quickly. Some time this fall, an administration headed toward a midterm election with a faltering economy and negative developments in two war zones may confront a genuine Middle East crisis. We can only hope that its contingency plans are in place and that they’re better than BP’s.” Unfortunately, we know — thanks to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — that there really isn’t much contingency planning going on.

Whether it is a “shift” or a “rift,” the U.S.-Israel relationship is not what it used to be. There is foreboding in Israel because the realization is sinking in that the Obama administration in all likelihood will not be there to defend the Jewish state — either diplomatically or militarily — when Israel needs America most. You would think American Jewry would be gripped by the same sense of foreboding as their brothers and sisters in Israel — and motivated to do something about it. But like Obama, they are, in Galston’s words, “playing for time.” I hope that they at least have a contingency plan better than BP’s and a sense of urgency to put it into action.

A sensible and intellectually honest  thinker (whose posts appear on a website replete with those who are neither), William Galston has developed a habit of talking political sense to Democrats determined to screen out bad news. He now gives us a report from his trip to Israel. It is more candid and useful than what we’ve been getting from Jewish groups, the administration, and Michael Oren (except when he thinks he’s talking privately).

Galston dispenses with the sugar-coating when explaining the current U.S.-Israeli relationship:

Never before have I sensed such a mood of foreboding, which has been triggered by two issues above all—the looming impasse in relations with the United States and a possible military confrontation with Iran. … There are persistent rumors here that the Obama administration hopes to bring down the current Israeli government and replace it with a more tractable coalition. Don’t hold your breath. … To bring about a new coalition without the hardliners, the Obama administration would have to threaten Israel with measures at least as tough as the ones George H. W. Bush and James Baker implemented two decades ago against the Shamir government, risking a huge domestic political backlash.

On Iran, Galston describes the vast divide between Obama and the Israelis:

Looking farther east, most Israelis—including many who are very dovish vis-a-vis the Palestinians—believe that only military force can prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in the near future, and they cannot understand why the United States resists this conclusion.

A few months ago I participated in a day-long exercise, organized by the Brookings Institution, simulating the aftermath of a surprise Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The outcome wasn’t pretty—a forceful Iranian attack on American allies throughout the region and a serious rift in relations between Israel and the United States. The Israeli team hoped that the United States would back them with military measures against Iran that the American team refused to initiate.

As Galston observes, “the sand in the hourglass is running down quickly. Some time this fall, an administration headed toward a midterm election with a faltering economy and negative developments in two war zones may confront a genuine Middle East crisis. We can only hope that its contingency plans are in place and that they’re better than BP’s.” Unfortunately, we know — thanks to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — that there really isn’t much contingency planning going on.

Whether it is a “shift” or a “rift,” the U.S.-Israel relationship is not what it used to be. There is foreboding in Israel because the realization is sinking in that the Obama administration in all likelihood will not be there to defend the Jewish state — either diplomatically or militarily — when Israel needs America most. You would think American Jewry would be gripped by the same sense of foreboding as their brothers and sisters in Israel — and motivated to do something about it. But like Obama, they are, in Galston’s words, “playing for time.” I hope that they at least have a contingency plan better than BP’s and a sense of urgency to put it into action.

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Hillary Clinton: Errand Girl for Disastrous Foreign Policy

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

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

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

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

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

Outside observers concede the obvious:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outside observers concede the obvious:

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

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

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No Denying White House Animus Toward Israel

This White House likes symbolism. After Barack Obama moved in, one of the first things his staff did was to unceremoniously remove the bronze bust of Winston Churchill that had been in the Oval Office and return it to Great Britain, thus signaling that this president no longer valued the special relationship with the UK, which had been a cornerstone of American diplomacy from the days of FDR to those of George W. Bush. And when Obama finally met with the Dalai Lama last month, the visit was kept low key, with no official welcome and no media allowed to witness the event for fear of offending China. The one picture that was released of the meeting appeared to show the president lecturing the exiled Tibetan so no one might think that a former editor of the Harvard Law Review had anything to learn from a legendary spiritual leader.

But the cold reception of the Dalai Lama now seems like a wild party compared to the way Obama received Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House this week. Oh, I know, Bibi is in the doghouse because we’re all supposed to think that Israel gravely insulted Vice President Joe Biden by allowing the announcement of a housing-project start in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to coincide with his recent visit there. But the reason this is such a “big f@!%ing deal,” as the vice president might put it, is not because it was a real insult but because it was an excuse for the administration to renew its war on Netanyahu.

This is not the first president to dislike an Israeli prime minister or even Israel itself. The elder George Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@!% the Jews” Baker despised Yitzhak Shamir. But never has the leader of America’s ally Israel been treated with such open contempt as shown by Obama to Netanyahu. The Israeli’s visit to the White House was closed to the press — with not even one photo released of their encounter. The fact is that Obama didn’t even want his picture taken with Netanyahu. That’s particularly strange since the president has never any qualms about getting snapped next to a wide variety of international leaders on his travels. In yesterday’s press briefing, spokesman Robert Gibbs was quizzed on this startling behavior by Jake Tapper. In response to repeated questions as to why the White House chose to treat a democratically elected head of the government of a close U.S. ally in this manner, Gibbs did not try very hard to pretend that it was anything but an indication of Obama’s dislike for the Israeli and the country he represents. Coming from a president that has spent his time in office making non-stop efforts to reach out to and engage America’s enemies around the world, this open hostility to Israel is breathtaking in its brazenness.

As for the policy fallout of the meetings, the whole point of the get-together was to bludgeon Netanyahu into conceding that Jews may no longer build homes in parts of their capital. Wisely, the prime minister did not give in to this unprecedented demand, which is something that not even the elder Bush and James Baker ever tried to shove down Shamir’s throat. There was no joint statement released after the talks ended but the White House let it be known that they expected the Israelis to make further concessions as an indication of their willingness to build confidence. Pointedly, the Palestinians, who have refused to even negotiate directly with Israel and who refused only a year and a half ago to accept an Israeli offer of an independent state that would have included part of Jerusalem, have not been asked by Obama to make any gestures of their own to enhance the non-existent chances of peace.

This White House’s cold shoulder to Netanyahu may be just an act of symbolism but not even the most shameless Obama apologist can pretend that it was anything but an indication of the president’s hostility. When the first president Bush used the occasion of an AIPAC conference in Washington in 1991 to show his contempt for Israel, even Jewish Republicans were aghast. Many deserted him at the next election — the GOP’s share of the Jewish vote dropped to a record low in 1992. The question for Jewish Democrats and other liberal friends of Israel is whether they are prepared to hold Barack Obama accountable in the same fashion.

This White House likes symbolism. After Barack Obama moved in, one of the first things his staff did was to unceremoniously remove the bronze bust of Winston Churchill that had been in the Oval Office and return it to Great Britain, thus signaling that this president no longer valued the special relationship with the UK, which had been a cornerstone of American diplomacy from the days of FDR to those of George W. Bush. And when Obama finally met with the Dalai Lama last month, the visit was kept low key, with no official welcome and no media allowed to witness the event for fear of offending China. The one picture that was released of the meeting appeared to show the president lecturing the exiled Tibetan so no one might think that a former editor of the Harvard Law Review had anything to learn from a legendary spiritual leader.

But the cold reception of the Dalai Lama now seems like a wild party compared to the way Obama received Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House this week. Oh, I know, Bibi is in the doghouse because we’re all supposed to think that Israel gravely insulted Vice President Joe Biden by allowing the announcement of a housing-project start in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to coincide with his recent visit there. But the reason this is such a “big f@!%ing deal,” as the vice president might put it, is not because it was a real insult but because it was an excuse for the administration to renew its war on Netanyahu.

This is not the first president to dislike an Israeli prime minister or even Israel itself. The elder George Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@!% the Jews” Baker despised Yitzhak Shamir. But never has the leader of America’s ally Israel been treated with such open contempt as shown by Obama to Netanyahu. The Israeli’s visit to the White House was closed to the press — with not even one photo released of their encounter. The fact is that Obama didn’t even want his picture taken with Netanyahu. That’s particularly strange since the president has never any qualms about getting snapped next to a wide variety of international leaders on his travels. In yesterday’s press briefing, spokesman Robert Gibbs was quizzed on this startling behavior by Jake Tapper. In response to repeated questions as to why the White House chose to treat a democratically elected head of the government of a close U.S. ally in this manner, Gibbs did not try very hard to pretend that it was anything but an indication of Obama’s dislike for the Israeli and the country he represents. Coming from a president that has spent his time in office making non-stop efforts to reach out to and engage America’s enemies around the world, this open hostility to Israel is breathtaking in its brazenness.

As for the policy fallout of the meetings, the whole point of the get-together was to bludgeon Netanyahu into conceding that Jews may no longer build homes in parts of their capital. Wisely, the prime minister did not give in to this unprecedented demand, which is something that not even the elder Bush and James Baker ever tried to shove down Shamir’s throat. There was no joint statement released after the talks ended but the White House let it be known that they expected the Israelis to make further concessions as an indication of their willingness to build confidence. Pointedly, the Palestinians, who have refused to even negotiate directly with Israel and who refused only a year and a half ago to accept an Israeli offer of an independent state that would have included part of Jerusalem, have not been asked by Obama to make any gestures of their own to enhance the non-existent chances of peace.

This White House’s cold shoulder to Netanyahu may be just an act of symbolism but not even the most shameless Obama apologist can pretend that it was anything but an indication of the president’s hostility. When the first president Bush used the occasion of an AIPAC conference in Washington in 1991 to show his contempt for Israel, even Jewish Republicans were aghast. Many deserted him at the next election — the GOP’s share of the Jewish vote dropped to a record low in 1992. The question for Jewish Democrats and other liberal friends of Israel is whether they are prepared to hold Barack Obama accountable in the same fashion.

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This Is Not Progress

Jennifer, I may be wrong, but in the mounting fury of the Obama administration against Israel, the AIPAC factor will not loom that large after all. We all remember former Secretary of State’s James Baker famous quip: “F— the Jews, they didn’t vote for us.”

It looks to me that the current administration’s Israel policy is based on a variant of that quip—namely, “F— the Jews, they’ll vote for us anyway.”

Jennifer, I may be wrong, but in the mounting fury of the Obama administration against Israel, the AIPAC factor will not loom that large after all. We all remember former Secretary of State’s James Baker famous quip: “F— the Jews, they didn’t vote for us.”

It looks to me that the current administration’s Israel policy is based on a variant of that quip—namely, “F— the Jews, they’ll vote for us anyway.”

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Tom Campbell and Israel (Updated)

Philip Klein’s must-read post details more Tom Campbell comments concerning Israel. There was his remark that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, but it’s wrong to say it can’t also be the capital of Palestine.”  And there was his comment to Yasser Arafat, following a minor mishap in the West Bank, that “this makes me the first American to have shed blood in your country.” In isolation, this or that comment might not seem extraordinary. But, in addition to his record of anti-Israel votes, Campbell tosses about praise and encouragement to some extreme figures who are hostile to Israel.

A case in point is his praise for Israel-hater and conspiracy-monger Alison Weir. Others have noted that Weir runs an outfit, If Americans Only Knew, that is replete with her calls to cut aid to Israel and her vile anti-Israel bashing, which includes her fanning of the organ-harvesting libel. This escaped the attention of David Frum, who recently rose in support of Tom Campbell. It was just last week that Frum wrote movingly about a Swedish newspaper that saw fit to give space to a freelance journalist, Donald Bostrom, “to charge that the Israeli army regularly harvested organs from the bodies of slain Palestinians.” Frum explained:

After briefly acknowledging that the vast majority of the world’s illegally harvested organs come from China, Pakistan, and the Philippines, Bostrom then hurled this astounding charge: “Palestinians also harbor strong suspicions that young men have been seized, and made to serve as organ reserve, just as in China and Pakistan, before being killed.”

Jewish vampirism is an ancient fantasy, dating back to the Middle Ages. Yet it remains current in the contemporary Middle East. A Syrian film company created a multipart TV drama out of the story in 2003. The drama was broadcast worldwide on Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite network. Iranian state TV broadcast a drama in 2004 in which the plot turns on an Israeli plan to steal Palestinian children’s eyes.

It’s a winding road from medieval folktales to Hezbollah TV to the New Jersey mob to a Swedish daily to the British House of Lords.

But it’s a road traveled by more and more people. On February 11, Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute presented a paper to the Israeli cabinet warning of “delegitimization” aimed at the Jewish state. As reported by Ha’aretz, the paper warns:

“The ‘delegitimizers’ cooperate with organizations engaging in legitimate criticism of Israel’s policy in the territories such as Amnesty [International] and Human Rights Watch, blurring the line between legitimate censure and delegitimization. … The network’s activists are not mostly Palestinian, Arab or Muslim. Many of them are European and North American left-wing activists,” who portray Israel as a pariah state and deny its right to exist.

It is that very Swedish newspaper report, among many, that Weir touts on her website. Well, I’m sure then Frum would be appalled to learn that Campbell fancies Weir as “an intelligent, careful, and critical” scholar and urges that “American policy makers would benefit greatly from hearing her first-hand observations and attempting to answer the questions she poses.”

Frum also quoted from a recent interview given by Campbell, in which Campbell professes support for Israel. Frum perhaps did not have access to (and hence did not include) the two final questions and responses, which were not included in the web article he cites. However, these have now circulated in the California Jewish community, a copy of which I obtained:

What is Campbellʼs position on his 1990 Jerusalem vote [ opposing support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital]

When George Bush, Sr., was President, then Secretary of State James Baker announced that Israel was not serious about stopping settlements in East Jerusalem, and that when they were serious, they could call the White House. As a rebuke to Secretary Baker, a resolution was introduced by a prominent Democrat in the House recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided, permanent, and not-to-be-shared capital of Israel. The resolution was intended to undermine the position Secretary Baker was attempting to maintain, and which is still official American policy, that the status of Jerusalem is a matter to be resolved between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Declaring all of Jerusalem as sovereign Israeli territory, not to be shared, was equivalent to an endorsement of putting more settlements in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The Bush Administration opposed the resolution, and I voted against it.

What is Campbellʼs position regarding his vote in 1999 against a resolution expressing congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state?

Regarding the resolution disapproving a unilateral declaration of the statehood of Palestine, this was one of those occasions where having taught international law, and studied this particular issue, probably hurt me more than helped me. I know “Wikipedia” is not necessarily the most authoritative source, but look at the selection below dealing with the various legal scholars’ opinions regarding Palestinian statehood. It lays out the complexity of the issue. The international law sources cited support the case that a State of Palestine was already twice declared by the international community, in the Treaty of Lausanne, and then by the UN at the termination of the British Palestinian mandate. Suffice it to say that I could not vote for the proposed resolution, which took absolutely no account of this international history or international law. As things have subsequently worked out, I believe Israel’s official position now is in favor of a State of Palestine.

As to the last answer, I have no idea what Campbell is talking about and how he thinks his opposition to a unilateral declaration of statehood matches Israel’s current position. (Hint: Israel demands the Palestinians actually recognize the Jewish state’s existence and renounce terrorism.)  As one informed staffer and expert on Israel issues put it, “Tom Campbell has the questionable distinction as being the only politician ever to cite the Treaty of Lausanne in order to justify an anti-Israel vote.” And as to his invocation of James “F*** the Jews” Baker and the curious reference to stopping “settlements in East Jerusalem” (What “settlements” is he talking about?), one can only say, as an official of a prominent Jewish organization put it with understated disdain, it suggests “someone with a pronounced anti-Israel perspective.”  (The vote on the measure was not, as Campbell argued, a partisan affair. It passed with 378 votes; Campbell was one of only 34 opposed.) A Jewish official who works on Capitol Hill sums it up:

“I am hard pressed to remember any member of Congress who targeted Israel’s aid to cut, voted the wrong way in an overwhelming bipartisan vote on Jerusalem, supported Hamas terrorist Sami Al-Aryian and others convicted of supporting Islamic Jihad terrorists – even appearing at rallies with Al-Aryian and others as the spewed their anti-Israel bile, took campaign cash from them, wrote letters on Al Ariyan’s behalf, spoke at CAIR events – a group notoriously hostile to Israel and which is at the heart of the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts in America, and publicly supports Alison Weir – lately a purveyor of the organ harvesting blood libel against Israel.  That is quite a public record.  Now maybe Tom Campbell has become more pro-Israel than the Chief Rabbi on Minsk, but that would truly be the world’s most miraculous conversion.  The facts are the facts.  Mr. Campbell’s record speaks for itself and no amount of lipstik can pretty up this pig.”

The voters of California concerned about the candidates’ position on Israel will need to decide for themselves whether Campbell’s record and judgment justify their support. Frankly, he’s got some explaining to do.

UPDATE: Bruce Kesler, who identifies himself as the author of the Tom Campbell  Q&A that David Frum cited, denies that the final two questions and answers I referenced above were part of his interview with Campbell. A document containing those two questions and answers as well as the other questions and answers Kesler did report on his website was circulated in California in the Jewish community by a representative of the Campbell campaign with the purpose of bolstering Campbell’s position on these issues. Campbell’s answers and other materials accompanying the Q&A match other materials that have been sent by the Campbell campaign.

Philip Klein’s must-read post details more Tom Campbell comments concerning Israel. There was his remark that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, but it’s wrong to say it can’t also be the capital of Palestine.”  And there was his comment to Yasser Arafat, following a minor mishap in the West Bank, that “this makes me the first American to have shed blood in your country.” In isolation, this or that comment might not seem extraordinary. But, in addition to his record of anti-Israel votes, Campbell tosses about praise and encouragement to some extreme figures who are hostile to Israel.

A case in point is his praise for Israel-hater and conspiracy-monger Alison Weir. Others have noted that Weir runs an outfit, If Americans Only Knew, that is replete with her calls to cut aid to Israel and her vile anti-Israel bashing, which includes her fanning of the organ-harvesting libel. This escaped the attention of David Frum, who recently rose in support of Tom Campbell. It was just last week that Frum wrote movingly about a Swedish newspaper that saw fit to give space to a freelance journalist, Donald Bostrom, “to charge that the Israeli army regularly harvested organs from the bodies of slain Palestinians.” Frum explained:

After briefly acknowledging that the vast majority of the world’s illegally harvested organs come from China, Pakistan, and the Philippines, Bostrom then hurled this astounding charge: “Palestinians also harbor strong suspicions that young men have been seized, and made to serve as organ reserve, just as in China and Pakistan, before being killed.”

Jewish vampirism is an ancient fantasy, dating back to the Middle Ages. Yet it remains current in the contemporary Middle East. A Syrian film company created a multipart TV drama out of the story in 2003. The drama was broadcast worldwide on Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite network. Iranian state TV broadcast a drama in 2004 in which the plot turns on an Israeli plan to steal Palestinian children’s eyes.

It’s a winding road from medieval folktales to Hezbollah TV to the New Jersey mob to a Swedish daily to the British House of Lords.

But it’s a road traveled by more and more people. On February 11, Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute presented a paper to the Israeli cabinet warning of “delegitimization” aimed at the Jewish state. As reported by Ha’aretz, the paper warns:

“The ‘delegitimizers’ cooperate with organizations engaging in legitimate criticism of Israel’s policy in the territories such as Amnesty [International] and Human Rights Watch, blurring the line between legitimate censure and delegitimization. … The network’s activists are not mostly Palestinian, Arab or Muslim. Many of them are European and North American left-wing activists,” who portray Israel as a pariah state and deny its right to exist.

It is that very Swedish newspaper report, among many, that Weir touts on her website. Well, I’m sure then Frum would be appalled to learn that Campbell fancies Weir as “an intelligent, careful, and critical” scholar and urges that “American policy makers would benefit greatly from hearing her first-hand observations and attempting to answer the questions she poses.”

Frum also quoted from a recent interview given by Campbell, in which Campbell professes support for Israel. Frum perhaps did not have access to (and hence did not include) the two final questions and responses, which were not included in the web article he cites. However, these have now circulated in the California Jewish community, a copy of which I obtained:

What is Campbellʼs position on his 1990 Jerusalem vote [ opposing support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital]

When George Bush, Sr., was President, then Secretary of State James Baker announced that Israel was not serious about stopping settlements in East Jerusalem, and that when they were serious, they could call the White House. As a rebuke to Secretary Baker, a resolution was introduced by a prominent Democrat in the House recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided, permanent, and not-to-be-shared capital of Israel. The resolution was intended to undermine the position Secretary Baker was attempting to maintain, and which is still official American policy, that the status of Jerusalem is a matter to be resolved between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Declaring all of Jerusalem as sovereign Israeli territory, not to be shared, was equivalent to an endorsement of putting more settlements in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The Bush Administration opposed the resolution, and I voted against it.

What is Campbellʼs position regarding his vote in 1999 against a resolution expressing congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state?

Regarding the resolution disapproving a unilateral declaration of the statehood of Palestine, this was one of those occasions where having taught international law, and studied this particular issue, probably hurt me more than helped me. I know “Wikipedia” is not necessarily the most authoritative source, but look at the selection below dealing with the various legal scholars’ opinions regarding Palestinian statehood. It lays out the complexity of the issue. The international law sources cited support the case that a State of Palestine was already twice declared by the international community, in the Treaty of Lausanne, and then by the UN at the termination of the British Palestinian mandate. Suffice it to say that I could not vote for the proposed resolution, which took absolutely no account of this international history or international law. As things have subsequently worked out, I believe Israel’s official position now is in favor of a State of Palestine.

As to the last answer, I have no idea what Campbell is talking about and how he thinks his opposition to a unilateral declaration of statehood matches Israel’s current position. (Hint: Israel demands the Palestinians actually recognize the Jewish state’s existence and renounce terrorism.)  As one informed staffer and expert on Israel issues put it, “Tom Campbell has the questionable distinction as being the only politician ever to cite the Treaty of Lausanne in order to justify an anti-Israel vote.” And as to his invocation of James “F*** the Jews” Baker and the curious reference to stopping “settlements in East Jerusalem” (What “settlements” is he talking about?), one can only say, as an official of a prominent Jewish organization put it with understated disdain, it suggests “someone with a pronounced anti-Israel perspective.”  (The vote on the measure was not, as Campbell argued, a partisan affair. It passed with 378 votes; Campbell was one of only 34 opposed.) A Jewish official who works on Capitol Hill sums it up:

“I am hard pressed to remember any member of Congress who targeted Israel’s aid to cut, voted the wrong way in an overwhelming bipartisan vote on Jerusalem, supported Hamas terrorist Sami Al-Aryian and others convicted of supporting Islamic Jihad terrorists – even appearing at rallies with Al-Aryian and others as the spewed their anti-Israel bile, took campaign cash from them, wrote letters on Al Ariyan’s behalf, spoke at CAIR events – a group notoriously hostile to Israel and which is at the heart of the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts in America, and publicly supports Alison Weir – lately a purveyor of the organ harvesting blood libel against Israel.  That is quite a public record.  Now maybe Tom Campbell has become more pro-Israel than the Chief Rabbi on Minsk, but that would truly be the world’s most miraculous conversion.  The facts are the facts.  Mr. Campbell’s record speaks for itself and no amount of lipstik can pretty up this pig.”

The voters of California concerned about the candidates’ position on Israel will need to decide for themselves whether Campbell’s record and judgment justify their support. Frankly, he’s got some explaining to do.

UPDATE: Bruce Kesler, who identifies himself as the author of the Tom Campbell  Q&A that David Frum cited, denies that the final two questions and answers I referenced above were part of his interview with Campbell. A document containing those two questions and answers as well as the other questions and answers Kesler did report on his website was circulated in California in the Jewish community by a representative of the Campbell campaign with the purpose of bolstering Campbell’s position on these issues. Campbell’s answers and other materials accompanying the Q&A match other materials that have been sent by the Campbell campaign.

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Isn’t Big Labor A Special Interest Group?

As the Democratic presidential candidates jostle for the title of most subservient to the whims of Big Labor, there are some pushback efforts. Not by John McCain, but by independent groups and individuals. On the moribund Colombia free trade agreement, James Baker chides Congress:

As recently as December, Congress displayed the type of bipartisan leadership that Americans desire when it ratified a free trade agreement with Peru that is very similar to the one proposed for Colombia. And yet, this spring, the world is watching to determine if the United States will remain committed to embracing a free-market global economy, or display a growing isolationist attitude that can befuddle and vex our allies around the world.

And what about the pet project of Big Labor–doing away with secret ballot elections in unions–which both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton support? Not much from the McCain camp on this one. However, there is a very vivid and funny ad by the business group Coalition for a Democratic Workplace that pushes back on the notion that secret ballots are good enough for politicians but not unions.

What is the lesson here? For a candidate like Barack Obama who rails about special interests (which, in his taxonomy, kill all the good ideas), it might be worth pointing out that helping a democratic ally and promoting free trade and secret ballots are “good ideas.” Which this particular interest group is, through its supplicants in Congress, seeking to kill.

As the Democratic presidential candidates jostle for the title of most subservient to the whims of Big Labor, there are some pushback efforts. Not by John McCain, but by independent groups and individuals. On the moribund Colombia free trade agreement, James Baker chides Congress:

As recently as December, Congress displayed the type of bipartisan leadership that Americans desire when it ratified a free trade agreement with Peru that is very similar to the one proposed for Colombia. And yet, this spring, the world is watching to determine if the United States will remain committed to embracing a free-market global economy, or display a growing isolationist attitude that can befuddle and vex our allies around the world.

And what about the pet project of Big Labor–doing away with secret ballot elections in unions–which both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton support? Not much from the McCain camp on this one. However, there is a very vivid and funny ad by the business group Coalition for a Democratic Workplace that pushes back on the notion that secret ballots are good enough for politicians but not unions.

What is the lesson here? For a candidate like Barack Obama who rails about special interests (which, in his taxonomy, kill all the good ideas), it might be worth pointing out that helping a democratic ally and promoting free trade and secret ballots are “good ideas.” Which this particular interest group is, through its supplicants in Congress, seeking to kill.

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Look Who’s Talking

Michael Ledeen offers a rejoinder to one of the sillier promises Barack Obama makes about his approach to Iran and Syria:

We have been talking to Iran virtually non-stop for nearly 30 years. This most definitely includes the Bush administration, which has used open and back channels, including dispatching former Spanish President Felipe Gonzales to Tehran on our behalf. You can judge the results for yourself.

Let’s try it again: We have been talking to Iran. We are talking to Iran right now. The proposal that we talk to Iran is neither new nor does it represent any change in American policy. There is apparently a great desire to deny the facts in this matter.

It is also true that we have been talking to Syria. Well, maybe if we talked more earnestly? And at a higher level of representation? That’s exactly what has distinguished our engagement with Syria from that with Iran. And it hasn’t mattered.

The big push started immediately following the first Gulf War, with James Baker in Damascus promising Hafez Assad the return of the Golan plus an American security guarantee of the border if he would only submit himself to the peace process. Assad, after a great deal of drawn-out, exasperating back-and-forth, finally told Baker to take a hike. Clinton went even further, holding, among other parleys, an eight-day summit in Shepardstown, West Virginia, with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and a Syrian delegation headed by the Foreign Minister, and later a one-on-one meeting in Geneva at which Assad brazenly betrayed the terms of a deal to which he had previously agreed.

The Syrian modus operandi both for Hafez and Bashar has been the same: talk and bargain, but give nothing and in the end agree to nothing. This has been the pattern whether the subject of the talks has been Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syrian support for the insurgency in Iraq, or peace with Israel. The latest western leader to get suckered is Nicolas Sarkozy, who this December grew so frustrated trying to negotiate an end to the Lebanese presidential impasse that he declared to the press, “I have reached the end of the road with Assad.”

Obama appears to either not know these details, or thinks that nobody will notice the utter falsity of his claim that we haven’t been “talking to our enemies.” There is thus a Grand Canyon-sized opening for McCain to pummel Obama on the foolishness of this particular trope — an attack that would perfectly complement the wider charge that Obama seems proudly intent on sending the United States wandering naively into the Middle Eastern bazaar.

Michael Ledeen offers a rejoinder to one of the sillier promises Barack Obama makes about his approach to Iran and Syria:

We have been talking to Iran virtually non-stop for nearly 30 years. This most definitely includes the Bush administration, which has used open and back channels, including dispatching former Spanish President Felipe Gonzales to Tehran on our behalf. You can judge the results for yourself.

Let’s try it again: We have been talking to Iran. We are talking to Iran right now. The proposal that we talk to Iran is neither new nor does it represent any change in American policy. There is apparently a great desire to deny the facts in this matter.

It is also true that we have been talking to Syria. Well, maybe if we talked more earnestly? And at a higher level of representation? That’s exactly what has distinguished our engagement with Syria from that with Iran. And it hasn’t mattered.

The big push started immediately following the first Gulf War, with James Baker in Damascus promising Hafez Assad the return of the Golan plus an American security guarantee of the border if he would only submit himself to the peace process. Assad, after a great deal of drawn-out, exasperating back-and-forth, finally told Baker to take a hike. Clinton went even further, holding, among other parleys, an eight-day summit in Shepardstown, West Virginia, with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and a Syrian delegation headed by the Foreign Minister, and later a one-on-one meeting in Geneva at which Assad brazenly betrayed the terms of a deal to which he had previously agreed.

The Syrian modus operandi both for Hafez and Bashar has been the same: talk and bargain, but give nothing and in the end agree to nothing. This has been the pattern whether the subject of the talks has been Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syrian support for the insurgency in Iraq, or peace with Israel. The latest western leader to get suckered is Nicolas Sarkozy, who this December grew so frustrated trying to negotiate an end to the Lebanese presidential impasse that he declared to the press, “I have reached the end of the road with Assad.”

Obama appears to either not know these details, or thinks that nobody will notice the utter falsity of his claim that we haven’t been “talking to our enemies.” There is thus a Grand Canyon-sized opening for McCain to pummel Obama on the foolishness of this particular trope — an attack that would perfectly complement the wider charge that Obama seems proudly intent on sending the United States wandering naively into the Middle Eastern bazaar.

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McCain Conservatism

I just got off a conference a call with a feisty John McCain in South Carolina. The big news in his campaign is today’s endorsement by Senator Tom Coburn. Coburn’s sterling conservative credentials may help McCain get some votes among the fiscal and social conservatives who’ve had their doubts. (The ones who call for his head are another story.) It will certainly enhance McCain’s ability to further blur his version of conservatism with that of the staunch ideologues in his party.

In reviewing Romney’s Michigan win, he cited the hometown angle and the fact that he refused to promise people the return of their old jobs. Here one sees, as John Podhoretz put it in contentions last night, McCain’s “political rigidity based on a sense of his own personal rectitude.”

A questioner challenged the Senator on his 2006 recommendation of James Baker as Middle East peace envoy. McCain took the question as a cheap shot on his support for Israel. The Senator briskly stated that he respects Baker while disagreeing with him on various points, and that he stands on his own decades-long record as a friend of Israel.

Things turned a bit revelatory when the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb asked McCain about his environmental stand. The Senator offered the boilerplate “most scientists etc. . .” but I was surprised and relieved to hear that he considers the question of climate-change severity an open one. I’m eager to see John McCain’s self-confessed truth addiction keep him on point when this comes up in the public arena. He could use some distance between himself and the global warming alarmists on the Left. Things got combative when Goldfarb questioned McCain’s support for a cap-and-trade emissions approach as opposed to a carbon tax. The Senator launched into a hearty defense of cap-and-trade as the obvious free market conservative’s choice. What’s interesting about Senator McCain among all the frontrunners is his detractors have meticulously highlighted his weak spots for him. With targets painted, it’s now a race to cover up before the shots ring out.

I just got off a conference a call with a feisty John McCain in South Carolina. The big news in his campaign is today’s endorsement by Senator Tom Coburn. Coburn’s sterling conservative credentials may help McCain get some votes among the fiscal and social conservatives who’ve had their doubts. (The ones who call for his head are another story.) It will certainly enhance McCain’s ability to further blur his version of conservatism with that of the staunch ideologues in his party.

In reviewing Romney’s Michigan win, he cited the hometown angle and the fact that he refused to promise people the return of their old jobs. Here one sees, as John Podhoretz put it in contentions last night, McCain’s “political rigidity based on a sense of his own personal rectitude.”

A questioner challenged the Senator on his 2006 recommendation of James Baker as Middle East peace envoy. McCain took the question as a cheap shot on his support for Israel. The Senator briskly stated that he respects Baker while disagreeing with him on various points, and that he stands on his own decades-long record as a friend of Israel.

Things turned a bit revelatory when the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb asked McCain about his environmental stand. The Senator offered the boilerplate “most scientists etc. . .” but I was surprised and relieved to hear that he considers the question of climate-change severity an open one. I’m eager to see John McCain’s self-confessed truth addiction keep him on point when this comes up in the public arena. He could use some distance between himself and the global warming alarmists on the Left. Things got combative when Goldfarb questioned McCain’s support for a cap-and-trade emissions approach as opposed to a carbon tax. The Senator launched into a hearty defense of cap-and-trade as the obvious free market conservative’s choice. What’s interesting about Senator McCain among all the frontrunners is his detractors have meticulously highlighted his weak spots for him. With targets painted, it’s now a race to cover up before the shots ring out.

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How Bad is Robert Gates?

America’s twenty-second Secretary of Defense came to prominence in the world of intelligence, having risen up through the ranks of the analytical division of the CIA. To anyone familiar with the intractable problems besetting that side of that agency, this was a background that at the very minimum raised questions about whether Gates would be a yes-man, a timid bureaucrat, or an empty suit.

But back in mid-February, Max Boot gave Gates a favorable review here, citing his handling of himself at a gathering of defense officials in Munich. We’ve now had another month of our new SecDef. It is time to ask again: how is he shaping up?

The war is issue number one. Prior to getting his job, Gates served on the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker, which counseled begging Iran and Syria for assistance—“dialogue” was the code word for this used in the report—in extricating ourselves from the conflict and abandoning Iraq to the wolves: the U.S. “must adjust its role in Iraq to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.”

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America’s twenty-second Secretary of Defense came to prominence in the world of intelligence, having risen up through the ranks of the analytical division of the CIA. To anyone familiar with the intractable problems besetting that side of that agency, this was a background that at the very minimum raised questions about whether Gates would be a yes-man, a timid bureaucrat, or an empty suit.

But back in mid-February, Max Boot gave Gates a favorable review here, citing his handling of himself at a gathering of defense officials in Munich. We’ve now had another month of our new SecDef. It is time to ask again: how is he shaping up?

The war is issue number one. Prior to getting his job, Gates served on the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker, which counseled begging Iran and Syria for assistance—“dialogue” was the code word for this used in the report—in extricating ourselves from the conflict and abandoning Iraq to the wolves: the U.S. “must adjust its role in Iraq to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.”

But Gates was on CBS’s Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer yesterday and made a convincing case for national patience with another direction entirely—the current troop surge:

The way I would characterize it is so far, so good. It’s very early. General Petraeus, the commander out there, has said that it’ll probably be summer before we know whether we’re being successful or not. But I would say that the Iraqis are meeting the commitments that they have made to us. They have made the appointments, the troops that they have promised are showing up, they are allowing operations in all neighborhoods, there is very little political interference with military operations. So here, at the very beginning, the commitments that have been made seem to be being kept.

On Face the Nation, Gates was also exceptionally deft in disarming Democratic calls for withdrawal, as called for in a bill before the House of Representatives. His posture here was disarmingly respectful—even as it threw a punch.

I believe everybody involved in this debate is patriotic and looking for the best thing for America. I think most people agree that, across the political spectrum, that leaving Iraq in chaos would be a mistake, a disaster for the United States, and so we’re all wrestling with what’s the best way to bring about a result that serves the long-term interests, not only of the Iraqi people but of the United States. . . . With respect to the specific bill in the House, the concern I have is that if you have specific deadlines and very strict conditions, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for our commanders to achieve—to achieve their objectives. And frankly, as I read it, the House bill is more about withdrawal, regardless of the circumstances on the ground.

Then there was a side issue that, to judge by the intensity of Schieffer’s questioning, was to CBS not a side issue at all. Last week, General Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that homosexual acts are immoral. Gates was pressed hard about this by Schieffer: “a lot of gay people are saying that that is a slur on thousands of people who are serving in the military right now”; and shouldn’t the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy be revised?

Gates got a bit testy answering this, but acquitted himself well:

Look, I’ve got a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, challenges in Iran and North Korea and elsewhere, global war on terror, three budget bills totaling $715 billion. I think I’ve got quite a lot on my plate.

What Gates said about progress in the war on Iraq can be said about him: “So far, so good. It’s very early.”

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Talking with Tehran

Suddenly, the Bush administration is prepared to sit around a table with Iran and Syria to discuss Iraq. “Better late than never,” crowed Leon Panetta, one of the Democrats who served on the Iraq Study Group chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. So, were Baker and Hamilton right when they proposed talks with Syria and Iran as a way out of our Iraq imbroglio?

The answer is no. The question is not whether to talk to Iran or Syria, but in what context. What else are we doing while talking? The ISG proposed to couple such talks with beginning to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. This would make us the petitioner, looking to Tehran and Damascus to cover our back while we flee.

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Suddenly, the Bush administration is prepared to sit around a table with Iran and Syria to discuss Iraq. “Better late than never,” crowed Leon Panetta, one of the Democrats who served on the Iraq Study Group chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. So, were Baker and Hamilton right when they proposed talks with Syria and Iran as a way out of our Iraq imbroglio?

The answer is no. The question is not whether to talk to Iran or Syria, but in what context. What else are we doing while talking? The ISG proposed to couple such talks with beginning to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. This would make us the petitioner, looking to Tehran and Damascus to cover our back while we flee.

Given that Iran’s official slogan is “death to America,” and its president speaks of his dream of a “world without America,” why do sophisticated men like Baker and Hamilton need to be told the obvious: Iran does not want to help us. They might reply that they do not expect beneficence but rather a diplomatic deal. What, then, would Iran and Syria want in exchange for their help? The price is obvious: acquiescence in the former’s quest for nuclear weapons and the latter’s renewed domination of Lebanon. Is this a price we can afford?

In contrast to the ISG proposal, the Bush administration is, as the Democrats say, “escalating” the U.S. presence in Iraq (albeit not as much as I would like) in pursuit of victory. Along with that, why not talk to whomever?

The position of refusing to talk to some other party is always awkward and hard to defend. Regarding Iran’s nuclear drive, we have said that we will talk to Tehran if it freezes its enrichment activities lest we get drawn into a long, fruitless negotiation that serves only as a cover for the completion of Iran’s bomb. Sensible though this is, we still are chided, most recently by IAEA chief Mohamed el-Baradei, for refusing to talk.

Here is the solution. We should announce that we will talk to Tehran unconditionally, but not as a substitute for stopping Iran from getting the bomb. For its part, Iran can continue enrichment while we talk. For our part, we will continue to plan a military strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, and we will promise to carry it out soon—say, before the 2008 presidential primaries begin—absent some other solution. There is never harm in talking, as long as it doesn’t keep us from acting.

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Riding Hurd

Last year we had to endure James Baker, one of the chief culprits for the genocide in Bosnia, lecturing the Bush administration about Iraq. Now Douglas Hurd, his British counterpart in the early 1990’s, calls for a British equivalent of the Baker-Hamilton report—an inquiry that would ask the question: “How did we [the British] follow the Americans in this gross miscalculation of what would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein?” Hurd insists that “this would not be a ‘trial of Tony Blair,’” but his denial rings hollow. “Under our next prime minister we have to learn again what we have forgotten: the art of working with the United States as an effective junior partner capable of independent thought, and of ensuring that reasonable advice is listened to, and that eventual questions are answered.”

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Last year we had to endure James Baker, one of the chief culprits for the genocide in Bosnia, lecturing the Bush administration about Iraq. Now Douglas Hurd, his British counterpart in the early 1990’s, calls for a British equivalent of the Baker-Hamilton report—an inquiry that would ask the question: “How did we [the British] follow the Americans in this gross miscalculation of what would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein?” Hurd insists that “this would not be a ‘trial of Tony Blair,’” but his denial rings hollow. “Under our next prime minister we have to learn again what we have forgotten: the art of working with the United States as an effective junior partner capable of independent thought, and of ensuring that reasonable advice is listened to, and that eventual questions are answered.”

Can this be the same Douglas Hurd who, as Conservative foreign secretary, was largely responsible for the European Union’s disastrous policy on Yugoslavia, including an arms embargo which prevented the Bosnians from defending themselves against Serbian genocide and ethnic cleansing? The same Douglas Hurd who warned against armed intervention to halt the dictator Slobodan Milosevic, first in Bosnia and then in Kosovo? The same Douglas Hurd who was told at the time by his former boss Margaret Thatcher: “Douglas, Douglas, you would make Neville Chamberlain look like a warmonger”? The same Douglas Hurd who, within a year of retirement, returned to Belgrade in 1996 on behalf of the bank that now employed him, NatWest Markets, to negotiate with Milosevic about the privatization of Serbian utilities? Not only was Mr. (now Lord) Hurd eager to profit from the Serbianctator’s desire to sell state assets in order to generate cash to preserve his brutal tyranny—he even tried to justify it by claiming that his motive was the altruistic one of “liberalizing” Serbia, and that Milosevic “could have been rehabilitated.”

As the historian Brendan Simms points out in his brilliant Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia (London, 2001), there was never any likelihood of Milosevic changing. As for Hurd’s campaign to prevent Western intervention—“the calculated caution and gravitas, the sage warnings, and the weighty caveats: this was all bluff.” Once the Blair government adopted a policy diametrically opposed to that of John Major and Douglas Hurd, which resulted in the Kosovo War and the fall of Milosevic, the bluff was called. Hurd, Baker,and the whole gang of “realists” were discredited: “None of them had the faintest idea what they were talking about.”

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