Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Kerry

Too Late for Obama to Get Right with Egypt

If there has been one thing that has been consistent about the Obama administration’s policies toward Egypt, it has been bad timing. The latest shift in the U.S. attitude toward Cairo came yesterday when Secretary of State John Kerry said after a meeting with the country’s leaders that the U.S. was ready to repair its relations with the military government that has ruled the country since last summer’s coup. Read More

If there has been one thing that has been consistent about the Obama administration’s policies toward Egypt, it has been bad timing. The latest shift in the U.S. attitude toward Cairo came yesterday when Secretary of State John Kerry said after a meeting with the country’s leaders that the U.S. was ready to repair its relations with the military government that has ruled the country since last summer’s coup. Given that the regime led by President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi is clearly ensconced in power and seems to have the support of most of its people, this decision is a good idea even if it comes far too late to do much to actually do the U.S. much good. President Obama’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood government that Sisi overthrew was a mistake that was compounded by Washington’s futile efforts to head off the coup and then impose cuts in aid to Egypt’s military. These measures did nothing to make the military respect human rights or increase support for democracy in Egypt. But they did convince most Egyptians that the U.S. was out of touch with their desire to end the ill-fated experiment with an Islamist government. But by making this belated statement on the eve of the Cairo government’s sentencing of journalists for assisting the Brotherhood, Kerry lost whatever little leverage or standing he might have had in pushing Sisi not to go overboard in his campaign against the Brotherhood. Bad timing has been the hallmark of the administration’s path to its current dilemma. Obama stuck too long with the old regime led by Hosni Mubarak to suit most Egyptians who were ready for change during the 2011 Arab Spring protests that swept the country. But by pushing hard for Mubarak’s ouster after being on his side for so long convinced no one of America’s good intentions. But once Mubarak was out, the president shifted his ground and began working to pave the way for a Muslim Brotherhood-led regime against the wishes of the country’s military that hoped to avert that outcome. Washington was ruthless in threatening dire consequences against the army when it tried to stop the Brotherhood from winning Egypt’s first election and then seemed to support the Islamists once they were firmly in power. When a year of Mohamed Morsi’s government convinced tens of millions of Egyptians to take to the streets in the summer of 2013 to urge the Brotherhood’s ouster, Obama again waited too long to recognize this reality. He was seen as seeking to stop the mass movement aimed at averting the country’s slide into unchecked Islamist tyranny. When the U.S. punished the military government that overthrew Morsi to popular acclaim, that ended any chance of regaining American influence in the world’s most populous Arab nation. Sisi’s government’s ruthless suppression of the Brotherhood makes sense to Egyptians who understand that they must choose between the military and the Islamists. Sisi is right to regard the Brotherhood as a deadly foe that must be crushed now if Egypt is not going to have to face more violence in the future. But it hardly enhances the image of the U.S. as a friend to freedom everywhere for Obama to have finally given in on this point just as Sisi was imprisoning journalists and sentencing large numbers of Brotherhood members to death. Second guessing any president is easy, but the plain fact is that this administration has managed to mess up even those decisions that were correct. At this point, President Obama has alienated virtually everyone in Egypt. Sisi’s government has the power to help influence the Palestinians to reject Hamas as well as providing an anchor for regional stability if it survives, as it probably will, the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to take back power. Though the U.S. retains the leverage that its large annual aid to the country gives it, there is little chance anyone in Cairo takes Obama’s admonitions seriously, even when he is right. Egypt is far from being the only foreign-policy disaster that can be laid at the feet of this president. The collapse in Iraq, failure in Afghanistan, throwing away its leverage to stop Iran’s nuclear threat, abandoning Syria and then backing away from efforts to punish the Assad regime in Syria, and a foolish “reset” of relations with Russia that led to more aggression from Moscow loom larger than Obama’s streak of bad timing in Egypt. But, like those other examples, Egypt has highlighted the president’s inability to make a decision and his poor choices when he does make up his mind. Having first articulated his flawed vision of a new Middle East policy in a 2009 speech in Cairo, it is both ironic and fitting that Egypt is also a reminder of just how amateurish this administration’s approach to foreign policy has always been.

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The Consequences of Appeasing Hamas

Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry rightly condemned the kidnapping of three Israeli teens by what both the U.S. and Israel believe to be Hamas terrorists. But Kerry’s willingness to reiterate standing U.S. policy that classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization rings false. After deciding in the last month that U.S. aid would continue to flow to the Palestinian Authority despite the fact that it is now run by a Fatah-Hamas coalition, the Obama administration cannot pretend that it is an innocent bystander as the Islamist rulers of Gaza revert to what even Kerry pointed out was a history of kidnapping.

By deciding to buy into the fiction that Hamas could be co-opted by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and help him unify the Palestinian people behind a push for peace, the U.S. didn’t just make a colossal error of judgment. In doing so, the administration abandoned a decades-long principled stand against the Islamist group that may not be resurrected even after this latest atrocity. Washington cannot be said to be directly responsible for Hamas’s decision to revert to terrorism even though the U.S. seemed to be saying that it could be trusted to behave. But the kidnapping illustrates once again what happens when terrorists are appeased. As such, the Obama administration must shoulder some of the responsibility for the violence that followed their seal of approval for Hamas’s presence in the Palestinian government.

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Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry rightly condemned the kidnapping of three Israeli teens by what both the U.S. and Israel believe to be Hamas terrorists. But Kerry’s willingness to reiterate standing U.S. policy that classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization rings false. After deciding in the last month that U.S. aid would continue to flow to the Palestinian Authority despite the fact that it is now run by a Fatah-Hamas coalition, the Obama administration cannot pretend that it is an innocent bystander as the Islamist rulers of Gaza revert to what even Kerry pointed out was a history of kidnapping.

By deciding to buy into the fiction that Hamas could be co-opted by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and help him unify the Palestinian people behind a push for peace, the U.S. didn’t just make a colossal error of judgment. In doing so, the administration abandoned a decades-long principled stand against the Islamist group that may not be resurrected even after this latest atrocity. Washington cannot be said to be directly responsible for Hamas’s decision to revert to terrorism even though the U.S. seemed to be saying that it could be trusted to behave. But the kidnapping illustrates once again what happens when terrorists are appeased. As such, the Obama administration must shoulder some of the responsibility for the violence that followed their seal of approval for Hamas’s presence in the Palestinian government.

As I noted earlier, despite the decision of Abbas to embrace Hamas rather than Israel, the U.S. has chosen to treat that choice as an acceptable one. The conceit behind this policy was the notion that Hamas was too broke to pose much of a threat to Abbas’s Fatah faction and that its incorporation into the PA would strengthen the man they continued to call a peace partner, despite his lack of interest in negotiating with Israel. Tension between the two factions continued to simmer and may now overflow as Israel pressures Abbas to cooperate in the search for the kidnapped Israeli kids. But this spring the U.S. position toward both the PA and Hamas had become one that amounted to one in which Washington was resolutely determined to see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil about the new Palestinian regime.

This faith in Abbas was partly the result of Obama’s unwillingness to look clearly at a man who has been determined to avoid signing a peace treaty at all costs since he succeeded Yasir Arafat in 2005. But it was also, at least in part, the function of the administration’s innate hostility to Abbas’s Israeli counterpart Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president’s preference for the veteran terrorist associate now serving the 10th year of a five-year term of office over the man whose three election victories represent the will of Israeli democracy is no secret. But Obama’s antipathy for the prime minister has morphed in the past six years from a quirk to a clear liability for U.S. policymakers. It has blinded Washington to the reality of Palestinian politics, especially after Kerry’s initiative was torpedoed by Abbas’s end run around the U.S. talks by going back to the United Nations as well as by the pact with Hamas.

U.S. policymakers may chalk up the attempt to bolster Abbas even after his Hamas pact as just another well-intentioned effort that was doomed to failure by the intransigence of both sides in the conflict. But the decision to give a Hamas government Washington’s seal of approval may have more far-reaching consequences than the State Department realizes.

Though the kidnapping of the Israeli teens has a lot more to do with Hamas’s long-range plans to supplant Fatah in the West Bank than with U.S. policy, it did not escape their notice, nor that of anyone else, that in doing so the Americans had abandoned a core principle of peacemaking. If Hamas’s continued refusal to abandon its genocidal charter or to cease terrorism didn’t render any government it was part of ineligible for U.S. aid, is there anything the Palestinians can do that would motivate Washington to cut them off?

In this context, Kerry’s condemnation of the kidnapping means nothing more than Abbas’s belated decision to repudiate it. Unless the United States follows up this statement with a demand that Abbas throw Hamas out of his government, Palestinians may be forgiven for thinking that Kerry’s statement was a meaningless bow in the direction of Israel and its friends. The consequences of appeasing Hamas may be measured not only in the decision of the group to up the ante in the West Bank with a spectacular terror operation but in the end of any U.S. influence over the PA. Obama and Kerry may not have intended for their decision to treat Hamas as just another Palestinian political party to be a green light for more terrorism. But, like it or not, that’s exactly what has happened. The only question now is whether it is too late for the administration to walk this terrible error back.

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Does Obama Believe He Is Irrelevant?

I agree with Andrew McCarthy over at National Review that George W. Bush deserves some of the blame for the cascade of events in which Iraq now finds itself. Bush thought by agreeing to a drawdown and withdrawal of combat troops, he would be doing the gentlemanly thing and would allow his successor a fresh start. Alas, it is always a mistake to try to force international problems to conform to the American political calendar, and that is exactly what Bush did.

But those on the left who circulate talking points absolving President Barack Obama of any responsibility for what has happened in Iraq, and those who those who propagate them, seem to suggest that Obama and his national security team are irrelevant. Iraq’s fate was decided in 2003, they imply, and Obama bears no responsibility for what has occurred since he won the presidency. That is wrong: While the world does not revolve around Washington, American decisions can and do matter as does the choice of inaction.

Obama has at least been principled in his objection to the Iraq war. Unlike Secretary of State John Kerry or his predecessor in Foggy Bottom, Hillary Clinton, Obama was not for it before he was against it. But his disdain for George W. Bush’s decision to use force to oust Saddam Hussein trumped any desire to reach the best possible outcome. He was cynical: By refusing to take yes for an answer in retaining any U.S. forces in training or support capacities in Iraq (the Iraqi government was willing to grant immunity, but the White House demand to have the Iraqi parliament ratify that was both unnecessary and a bridge too far) Obama condemned Iraq to greater bloodshed. For Obama, it was a political calculation: He would fulfill his campaign pledge to withdraw from the “bad war” completely. If Iraq fell apart, he could blame Bush. And if it managed to hold together, he could claim credit for having the foresight to leave. In effect, he was willing to gamble a country of great geopolitical interest and a state in which the United States had invested heavily in blood and treasure for cynical political motives. He treated Iraqis like pawns, and forfeited the responsibility to make decisions which could nudge Iraq toward a more stable, pro-Western outcome.

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I agree with Andrew McCarthy over at National Review that George W. Bush deserves some of the blame for the cascade of events in which Iraq now finds itself. Bush thought by agreeing to a drawdown and withdrawal of combat troops, he would be doing the gentlemanly thing and would allow his successor a fresh start. Alas, it is always a mistake to try to force international problems to conform to the American political calendar, and that is exactly what Bush did.

But those on the left who circulate talking points absolving President Barack Obama of any responsibility for what has happened in Iraq, and those who those who propagate them, seem to suggest that Obama and his national security team are irrelevant. Iraq’s fate was decided in 2003, they imply, and Obama bears no responsibility for what has occurred since he won the presidency. That is wrong: While the world does not revolve around Washington, American decisions can and do matter as does the choice of inaction.

Obama has at least been principled in his objection to the Iraq war. Unlike Secretary of State John Kerry or his predecessor in Foggy Bottom, Hillary Clinton, Obama was not for it before he was against it. But his disdain for George W. Bush’s decision to use force to oust Saddam Hussein trumped any desire to reach the best possible outcome. He was cynical: By refusing to take yes for an answer in retaining any U.S. forces in training or support capacities in Iraq (the Iraqi government was willing to grant immunity, but the White House demand to have the Iraqi parliament ratify that was both unnecessary and a bridge too far) Obama condemned Iraq to greater bloodshed. For Obama, it was a political calculation: He would fulfill his campaign pledge to withdraw from the “bad war” completely. If Iraq fell apart, he could blame Bush. And if it managed to hold together, he could claim credit for having the foresight to leave. In effect, he was willing to gamble a country of great geopolitical interest and a state in which the United States had invested heavily in blood and treasure for cynical political motives. He treated Iraqis like pawns, and forfeited the responsibility to make decisions which could nudge Iraq toward a more stable, pro-Western outcome.

Working in the Pentagon between September 2002 and April 2004, I was involved (admittedly, at a pretty low level) in many policy debates. A few I came out on the winning side. Most—including with regard to the longer term occupation of Iraq—the team on which I served lost. But taking the cards we were dealt and seeking the best possible outcome given that new hand was a guiding principle. Unfortunately, Obama stopped engaging the moment he entered the White House because of a 2003 decision with which he disagreed. Leadership is not claiming the buck stopped ten years ago; leadership is about making decisions and taking responsibility for them now.

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Obama’s International Legacy: Fait Accompli

President Obama entered office promising to renew America’s respect for multilateralism and the international system. He will leave the White House as the man whose legacy has been instead ushering in the “Age of Fait Accompli.” Russia now occupies Crimea and effectively dominates eastern Ukraine. Last night, Peshmerga from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)—the political party of Jalal Talabani’s family—occupied Kirkuk, a city over which diplomats long wrung their hands given its volatile ethnic and sectarian mix. (Fortunately for Kirkuk, its governor Najmaldin Karim, while a PUK member, has distinguished himself as a leader for all citizens regardless of sect or ethnicity, and not as a narrow ethnic or sectarian chauvinist as so many of his Kurdish and Iraqi Arab counterparts.) China, meanwhile, is on the warpath, seeking to create facts on the seas and ground in disputed maritime areas from Japan to the Philippines.

Obama sees international threats through the lens of grievance, not ideology. Often he seems to assume it is the presence of United States forces or its power projection that is the source of such grievance. He does not understand that the real threat is the maximalist, aggressive, and nihilistic ideology of America’s opponents and that for decades, United States power has been the proverbial finger in the dyke, holding off the deluge. Isolationism doesn’t bring security; it brings chaos.

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President Obama entered office promising to renew America’s respect for multilateralism and the international system. He will leave the White House as the man whose legacy has been instead ushering in the “Age of Fait Accompli.” Russia now occupies Crimea and effectively dominates eastern Ukraine. Last night, Peshmerga from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)—the political party of Jalal Talabani’s family—occupied Kirkuk, a city over which diplomats long wrung their hands given its volatile ethnic and sectarian mix. (Fortunately for Kirkuk, its governor Najmaldin Karim, while a PUK member, has distinguished himself as a leader for all citizens regardless of sect or ethnicity, and not as a narrow ethnic or sectarian chauvinist as so many of his Kurdish and Iraqi Arab counterparts.) China, meanwhile, is on the warpath, seeking to create facts on the seas and ground in disputed maritime areas from Japan to the Philippines.

Obama sees international threats through the lens of grievance, not ideology. Often he seems to assume it is the presence of United States forces or its power projection that is the source of such grievance. He does not understand that the real threat is the maximalist, aggressive, and nihilistic ideology of America’s opponents and that for decades, United States power has been the proverbial finger in the dyke, holding off the deluge. Isolationism doesn’t bring security; it brings chaos.

With United States power in retreat and with populists and dictators across the globe concluding that they can act with impunity, never has the danger been so real, not only in the current crisis spots but in Taiwan, the Falkland Islands, the Baltics, and other lands aggressors and dictators crave. All that matters in the new world order is brute strength and the will to use it. The most intractable diplomatic problems will no longer be solved by diplomacy, but rather by unilateralism. Of course, some critics might say unilateralism is simply what America engaged in for decades. That’s more propaganda than reality but, even if so, moral equivalency is a disease. America believed it acted for good; China and Russia clearly do not–their motivations are purely cynical.

One of the most surprising things I encountered when researching my recent study on the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups was that, while the military spends more time in the classroom or the training ground going over its mistakes in order to learn from them, the State Department has never really conducted a full lessons-learned review with the diplomats who actually drive policy. Albert Einstein quipped that insanity was doing the same action repeatedly but expecting different results each time. Unfortunately, that seems to apply to the State Department, not only in the current administration but in the last ten or so.

It would be wrong to blame all chaos on Obama. He may have ceded the ground, but ultimately it is the dictators who are to blame. Nevertheless, perhaps it is time for President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other top administration officials to sit back and consider the state of the world and what the United States might have done differently at key inflection points in order to prevent the current situation. Only then can the United States learn from its mistakes and seek to salvage what is left.

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Clinton’s Task: Spin the Unspinnable

Hillary Clinton’s memoir, Hard Choices, was apparently assembled “with an assist”–according to New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani–from what Clinton calls her “book team.” And if Kakutani’s review is any indication, Clinton’s team was burdened by its task.

The book is understood to be Clinton’s campaign manifesto, and the book’s release–officially, tomorrow–is being treated as a campaign launch. Clinton has been dogged by one question in particular: What did she accomplish as secretary of state? She has even been unable to answer the question herself. And though I (like Clinton, presumably) haven’t read her book, early indications are that her book team was unable to answer it as well.

After an undistinguished and at times dismal term as secretary of state, the book had two basic objectives: show Clinton to have accomplished something–anything really; and dispel the image Clinton cultivated of using the prestigious perch as an Instagram-based travelogue. Readers of the Times review will encounter, early on, the following sentence: “The book itself, however, turns out to be a subtle, finely calibrated work that provides a portrait of the former secretary of state and former first lady as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”

This sounds promising. A few paragraphs later, however, they will be told: “For readers who are less policy-oriented, there are personal tidbits strewn lightly throughout, like small chocolate Easter eggs.” It is unthinkable that a great many readers will press on past that sentence, instead reaching for the ginger ale to calm the rising tide of nausea that accompanies particularly greasy Clinton-worship. For those who couldn’t tough it out, spoiler alert: there are precisely zero examples in the review of anything that even approaches portraying Hillary “as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”

Oh well. What about Hillary’s other defenders in the press, perhaps those with a steady interest and experience in foreign affairs and issues relating to human rights? Enter Nicholas Kristof. He uses his Sunday column to defend Hillary Clinton’s tenure at State. It is a brutally awkward attempted complement that begins to absentmindedly sound more like a personal indictment. It is the Michael Scott wedding toast of pro-Hillary columns.

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Hillary Clinton’s memoir, Hard Choices, was apparently assembled “with an assist”–according to New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani–from what Clinton calls her “book team.” And if Kakutani’s review is any indication, Clinton’s team was burdened by its task.

The book is understood to be Clinton’s campaign manifesto, and the book’s release–officially, tomorrow–is being treated as a campaign launch. Clinton has been dogged by one question in particular: What did she accomplish as secretary of state? She has even been unable to answer the question herself. And though I (like Clinton, presumably) haven’t read her book, early indications are that her book team was unable to answer it as well.

After an undistinguished and at times dismal term as secretary of state, the book had two basic objectives: show Clinton to have accomplished something–anything really; and dispel the image Clinton cultivated of using the prestigious perch as an Instagram-based travelogue. Readers of the Times review will encounter, early on, the following sentence: “The book itself, however, turns out to be a subtle, finely calibrated work that provides a portrait of the former secretary of state and former first lady as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”

This sounds promising. A few paragraphs later, however, they will be told: “For readers who are less policy-oriented, there are personal tidbits strewn lightly throughout, like small chocolate Easter eggs.” It is unthinkable that a great many readers will press on past that sentence, instead reaching for the ginger ale to calm the rising tide of nausea that accompanies particularly greasy Clinton-worship. For those who couldn’t tough it out, spoiler alert: there are precisely zero examples in the review of anything that even approaches portraying Hillary “as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”

Oh well. What about Hillary’s other defenders in the press, perhaps those with a steady interest and experience in foreign affairs and issues relating to human rights? Enter Nicholas Kristof. He uses his Sunday column to defend Hillary Clinton’s tenure at State. It is a brutally awkward attempted complement that begins to absentmindedly sound more like a personal indictment. It is the Michael Scott wedding toast of pro-Hillary columns.

“When politicians have trouble spinning their own glories, that’s a problem,” he begins. That is correct. He continues:

So it was bizarre that Hillary Rodham Clinton, asked at a forum in April about her legacy at the State Department, had trouble articulating it. That feeds into a narrative — awaiting her memoir on Tuesday — that she may have been glamorous as secretary of state but didn’t actually accomplish much.

In fact, that’s dead wrong, for Clinton achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy — just not the traditional kind. She didn’t craft a coalition of allies, like James Baker, one of the most admired secretaries of state. She didn’t seal a landmark peace agreement, nor is there a recognizable “Hillary Clinton doctrine.”

Uh-oh. Is it possible Clinton “achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy” yet that legacy was, at the same time, so subtle as to be unidentifiable even to Hillary herself? Apparently so. But what follows are a series of claims Kristof then, in the next breath, debunks himself.

For example, Kristof says “Clinton recognized that our future will be more about Asia than Europe, and she pushed hard to rebalance our relations.” Yet here’s his very next sentence: “She didn’t fully deliver on this ‘pivot’ — generally she was more successful at shaping agendas than delivering on them — but the basic instinct to turn our ship of state to face our Pacific future was sound and overdue.” She didn’t accomplish her goal, but that’s OK because she recognized, along with everyone else in the entire world, that China is important.

“She was often more hawkish than the White House,” Kristof argues, and notes Clinton’s support for arming Syrian rebels. This was “vetoed” by Obama, Kristof rightly explains, so it’s a bit unclear what part of nonexistent policies established this “hefty legacy” we keep hearing about.

Later, Kristof returns to the well-worn topic of Clinton prioritizing (translation: giving speeches about) the rights of women and girls worldwide. And here’s Kristof’s example: “The kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls in April was the kind of issue Clinton was out front of.” Yes, well, here’s the thing: Clinton wasn’t secretary of state anymore in April; John Kerry was.

It appears Hillary Clinton’s term as secretary of state was so forgettable as to be literally forgotten by her defenders. She is not in office currently, and her impact is, apparently, indistinguishable from when she was actually in office. This is the Clinton “legacy,” such as it is. Even the best “book team” can only dress it up so much.

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Kerry’s Implausible Antiterror Assurances

John Kerry reported for duty on the Sunday morning talk shows to defend the Taliban-for-Bowe Bergdahl swap. On CNN he claimed that the U.S. has the ability to closely monitor the five released Taliban fighters and that if they were to return to terrorism, the U.S. would kill them. He said: “I’m not telling you that they don’t have some ability at some point to go back and get involved (in fighting). But they also have an ability to get killed doing that.”

Technically, Kerry is right–the Taliban Five do have the potential to get killed waging jihad against the U.S. and our allies. But how likely is that? Not very. For one thing, the CIA program of drone strikes in Pakistan has all but ended. According to the New America Foundation, there hasn’t been a single strike since Christmas. 

For another thing, even while the drone strikes were going at full tilt (2010 was the peak year, when an estimated 849 people were killed in drone attacks in Pakistan) senior Taliban commanders were largely exempt from attack. While CIA drones have killed senior members of the Haqqani Network, the group which was holding Bergdahl and which was responsible for the worst terrorist attacks in Kabul, the Quetta Shura Taliban (so-called after the Pakistani city in which their headquarters is located) has not been targeted by American drones (or Special Operations Forces). 

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John Kerry reported for duty on the Sunday morning talk shows to defend the Taliban-for-Bowe Bergdahl swap. On CNN he claimed that the U.S. has the ability to closely monitor the five released Taliban fighters and that if they were to return to terrorism, the U.S. would kill them. He said: “I’m not telling you that they don’t have some ability at some point to go back and get involved (in fighting). But they also have an ability to get killed doing that.”

Technically, Kerry is right–the Taliban Five do have the potential to get killed waging jihad against the U.S. and our allies. But how likely is that? Not very. For one thing, the CIA program of drone strikes in Pakistan has all but ended. According to the New America Foundation, there hasn’t been a single strike since Christmas. 

For another thing, even while the drone strikes were going at full tilt (2010 was the peak year, when an estimated 849 people were killed in drone attacks in Pakistan) senior Taliban commanders were largely exempt from attack. While CIA drones have killed senior members of the Haqqani Network, the group which was holding Bergdahl and which was responsible for the worst terrorist attacks in Kabul, the Quetta Shura Taliban (so-called after the Pakistani city in which their headquarters is located) has not been targeted by American drones (or Special Operations Forces). 

The reasons for this forbearance are a bit mysterious–it’s not as if U.S. intelligence doesn’t have good actionable intelligence on the location inside Pakistan of senior Taliban commanders and it’s not as if those commanders aren’t plotting regular attacks on American forces. Most likely the U.S. has refrained from targeting them for fear of offending Pakistani sensitivities, because the Taliban are so closely linked to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. There is also undoubted concern about operating drones in urban areas where the Taliban hide and where the risk of civilian casualties is much greater.

Whatever the cause, it’s a fact that the U.S. has not tried to kill senior Taliban commanders such as those just released from Guantanamo as long as they have stayed out of Afghanistan. This is unlikely to change in the future, especially now that the U.S. is beginning its pullout from Afghanistan. So as long as the Taliban Five don’t infiltrate Afghanistan–as long as they stay in Pakistan, or even Qatar, to organize attacks–they are de facto freed of the threat of American retaliation. 

The Bergdahl swap may still be defensible on “leave no man behind” grounds. But Kerry and other senior administration officials need to level about the fact that our imperfect intelligence will not allow us to know as soon as the Taliban Five return to terrorism and our self-imposed limitations on the use of force in all likelihood will not allow us to kill them if they do.

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“Lebanonization” and Other Bogus Defenses of Obama’s Hamas Policy

The Obama administration’s strategy to deflect criticism of its support for Hamas’s role in the emerging Palestinian government is becoming clear. American officials will accuse Israel of hypocrisy, and rely on the media to parrot the accusation. There are two elements to the charge, and neither–as would be expected from an Obama-Kerry brainstorm–have merit. But they are revealing nonetheless.

Today’s New York Times story on the matter includes both charges. The first: “The Israeli government, [Kerry] noted, was continuing to send the Palestinian Authority tax remittances.” The implication is that Israel is in no place to protest American funding of a government including Hamas since they are doing so themselves. Yet to suggest that tax remittances are the same, or should be considered the same, as foreign aid is absurd on its face–and, frankly, rather embarrassing for Kerry who may not understand basic economics himself but can afford to hire someone who does.

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The Obama administration’s strategy to deflect criticism of its support for Hamas’s role in the emerging Palestinian government is becoming clear. American officials will accuse Israel of hypocrisy, and rely on the media to parrot the accusation. There are two elements to the charge, and neither–as would be expected from an Obama-Kerry brainstorm–have merit. But they are revealing nonetheless.

Today’s New York Times story on the matter includes both charges. The first: “The Israeli government, [Kerry] noted, was continuing to send the Palestinian Authority tax remittances.” The implication is that Israel is in no place to protest American funding of a government including Hamas since they are doing so themselves. Yet to suggest that tax remittances are the same, or should be considered the same, as foreign aid is absurd on its face–and, frankly, rather embarrassing for Kerry who may not understand basic economics himself but can afford to hire someone who does.

Additionally, the United States and Israel often have different approaches to the Palestinians because of the different roles the two play. Generally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed ending American aid to the Palestinian Authority, and has gone to bat for Obama by lobbying Congress to back off such proposals. The reason is the Palestinians have two primary choices for leadership: Fatah and Hamas. Until now Hamas has been excluded from the broader government, which means any money that flows to Mahmoud Abbas may have been misused in any number of ways, but it at least propped up the far superior alternative to Hamas.

Had Fatah been abandoned by the West, Hamas would have taken over the West Bank too. It can be argued that this process incentivizes Abbas’s misbehavior because it signals to him that he can get away with virtually anything. But actions have consequences, and the consequences of setting Abbas adrift would be disastrous.

The whole point of propping up Abbas was to fund the PA instead of Hamas, in an effort to weaken the latter. Funding a Palestinian government that includes Hamas is, strategically, the opposite of what the United States has been doing. It is not hypocritical of Israel to point this out. Indeed, it should not need pointing out. But if the geniuses running the White House and State Department insist on behaving as though they were born yesterday, they can expect the leaders of the nations that will bear the brunt of the consequences to treat them as such.

The other accusation of hypocrisy concerns the so-called “Lebanonization” of the Palestinian Authority. Here’s the Times:

Nothing illustrated the complexity of the situation for the United States better than Mr. Kerry’s backdrop: He was in Lebanon to underscore American support for the Lebanese government — which includes the Islamic militant group, Hezbollah.

This argument has gained some traction recently, but its popularity is truly puzzling. The implication here is that the United States supports the Lebanese government even though the terrorist group Hezbollah is an influential part of that government. Therefore, how can Israel oppose American support for a similar government in the Palestinian territories when it does not push back against American support for Lebanon?

Can anyone at the State Department guess the difference between the Palestinians and Lebanon? Show of hands? If you said, “The Israeli government is not involved in land-for-peace negotiations, including the possibility of ceding control of holy places and uprooting Israelis from ancient Jewish land, with the Lebanese,” then you get a gold star.

As the Times story notes, this is really a preliminary confrontation. There will supposedly be elections within the next six months or so, and Hamas will want to participate. Wouldn’t that be dangerous? Sure, but here’s an American official putting everyone at ease:

“Can a group that has a political party and a militia of 20,000 troops run in an election?” a senior administration official said. “These are issues that are going to have be dealt with down the road.”

We’ll find out together! It’ll be exciting. Of course, we already know the answer, since Hamas has already participated in elections in what was widely viewed as a mistake back in 2006. And Hamas currently governs its own province of the territories, the Gaza Strip. The Americans have already seen this movie, but they still can’t wait to see how it ends.

That, of course, could be the one silver lining. If Hamas enters the government and Israel refuses to negotiate with them, it’ll put the onus back where it belongs: on the Palestinian leadership to prove it can build a state that would coexist side by side with a Jewish state. It’ll be John Kerry’s chance to prove the Israelis wrong, though I don’t think they’ll be holding their breath.

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Edward Snowden’s Ego Trip

I don’t find myself saying this much these days, but: John Kerry is right. As NSA defector Edward Snowden has become increasingly insufferable (a condition magnified and exacerbated by his decision to speak through the rage-clenched teeth of Glenn Greenwald), the secretary of state and his diplomatic corps have visibly lost patience with the delusions and deceptions of Russia’s newest intel asset.

And who can blame them? The latest set of claims by Snowden, released as an excerpt of his NBC News interview beginning tonight, includes a whopper that the word chutzpah doesn’t begin to cover. Snowden was asked by Brian Williams why he ended up in Moscow. Snowden–a man who violated his terms of employment and stole troves of secret national-security intelligence before fleeing the country–actually blamed Kerry’s State Department:

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I don’t find myself saying this much these days, but: John Kerry is right. As NSA defector Edward Snowden has become increasingly insufferable (a condition magnified and exacerbated by his decision to speak through the rage-clenched teeth of Glenn Greenwald), the secretary of state and his diplomatic corps have visibly lost patience with the delusions and deceptions of Russia’s newest intel asset.

And who can blame them? The latest set of claims by Snowden, released as an excerpt of his NBC News interview beginning tonight, includes a whopper that the word chutzpah doesn’t begin to cover. Snowden was asked by Brian Williams why he ended up in Moscow. Snowden–a man who violated his terms of employment and stole troves of secret national-security intelligence before fleeing the country–actually blamed Kerry’s State Department:

“The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia,” he said in a second excerpt broadcast on NBC’s “Today Show.” “I had a flight booked to Cuba onwards to Latin America, and I was stopped because the United States government decided to revoke my passport and trap me in Moscow Airport. So when people ask why are you in Russia, I say, ‘Please ask the State Department.’ ”

That comment drew a sharp reaction from Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview on the same program. “For a supposedly smart guy, that’s a pretty dumb answer, frankly,” Mr. Kerry said. He added: “He can come home, but he’s a fugitive from justice, which is why he’s not being permitted to fly around the world. It’s that simple.”

Indeed, Secretary Kerry is on the mark. Snowden’s comment is a dumb thing to say, though it’s less likely that Snowden is stupid enough to believe it and more likely that he just assumes the American media and his cheerleaders back in the States are stupid enough to believe it. Kerry isn’t buying it, but his response to Snowden wasn’t done. Later in that story, Kerry adds:

“The bottom line is this is a man who has betrayed his country, who is sitting in Russia, an authoritarian country, where he has taken refuge,” he said. “He should man up and come back to the United States if he has a complaint about what’s the matter with American surveillance, come back here and stand in our system of justice and make his case. But instead he is just sitting there taking potshots at his country, violating his oath that he took when he took on the job he took.”

Shots fired, as they say. Snowden probably thinks this is some sort of victory, since it shows that he got under Kerry’s skin. But it won’t help Snowden or his followers that Washington is pushing back and engaging in the battle to define and frame Snowden and his antics. It may not lure him back home to face the consequences of his actions, but it’s still worth engaging Snowden’s selective smearing of American institutions for the benefit of states like China and Russia.

And the provocations go in both directions. It appears President Obama got under Snowden’s skin as well, leading Snowden to protest that he’s not just some low-level techie but a masterful weapon created by the elite minds at America’s espionage organizations:

“They’re trying to use one position that I’ve had in a career here or there to distract from the totality of my experience,” he said, “which is that I’ve worked for the Central Intelligence Agency undercover overseas, I’ve worked for the National Security Agency undercover overseas and I’ve worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency as a lecturer at the Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy, where I developed sources and methods for keeping our information and people secure in the most hostile and dangerous environments around the world.” …

“I am a technical specialist,” he said. “I am a technical expert. I don’t work with people. I don’t recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I’ve done that at all levels from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top. Now, the government might deny these things, they might frame it in certain ways and say, ‘Oh well, you know, he’s — he’s a low level analyst.’ ”

How dare the president deny the “totality of [Snowden’s] experience.” Surely he’s aware of the work Snowden does when he powers down his laptop, jumps into the nearest phone booth, and emerges with cape flowing. Doesn’t the president know he is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? That he’s the hero Gotham deserves? That he is the terror that flaps in the night?

I’m not sure if Snowden thinks it helps his case to declare that he is a defector of far greater significance than he’s been given credit for thus far. And to be honest, this cry for attention and validation is almost endearing. He just wants to be appreciated, to give his perpetual adolescence some meaning. Kerry’s quest to get Snowden to “man up” is probably futile, but good for Kerry for pointing it out–and for referring to Snowden’s new home as an “authoritarian country.” It’s a welcome dose of clear-eyed straight talk from Foggy Bottom.

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Netanyahu’s Uncomfortable Fig Leaf

Israel’s far-left Meretz Party doesn’t often offer much in the way of insight about either the Middle East peace process or the country’s government, but today one of the group’s leaders, MK Nitzan Horowitz spoke at least a partial truth when he referred to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as nothing more than a “fig leaf” for Prime Minister Netanyahu. In an interview with the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz, the head of what is left of the once dominant “peace camp” decried Livni’s continued presence in the Cabinet. Horowitz’s evaluation of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a man of peace and willingness to place a good deal of the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Netanyahu is divorced from the facts and explains why his party and its allies retain only a small sliver of support from the Israeli public. But his comments were generally on target with respect to the anomalous position of Livni inside the government of the man who has been her nemesis.

An earlier Times of Israel report documented the blowback inside the country’s government about Livni’s decision to meet with Abbas in London last week even though Netanyahu had suspended negotiations with the PA after its alliance with Hamas. Reportedly, Netanyahu was livid at her insubordination and wanted to fire her. But after calming down, the prime minister realized that if he made Livni and her small parliamentary faction walk the plank, she would generate a coalition crisis that would leave him with only a small majority in the Knesset. That would put him at the mercy of his right-wing partner/antagonist Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home Party, who used Livni’s excursion to both call for her resignation and to posture at the prime minister’s expense to the voters.

In the end, Livni accomplished nothing with her mission to Abbas. He is no more willing to budge an inch toward peace now than he was throughout the long months of negotiations during which his representatives stonewalled the eager Livni, who headed Israel’s delegation. But the dustup involving the prime minister and the woman who has always thought that she, and not Netanyahu, should be leading the country is interesting because it illustrates just how wrongheaded the critics who bash Israel’s government as inflexibly right-wing really are.

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Israel’s far-left Meretz Party doesn’t often offer much in the way of insight about either the Middle East peace process or the country’s government, but today one of the group’s leaders, MK Nitzan Horowitz spoke at least a partial truth when he referred to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as nothing more than a “fig leaf” for Prime Minister Netanyahu. In an interview with the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz, the head of what is left of the once dominant “peace camp” decried Livni’s continued presence in the Cabinet. Horowitz’s evaluation of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a man of peace and willingness to place a good deal of the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Netanyahu is divorced from the facts and explains why his party and its allies retain only a small sliver of support from the Israeli public. But his comments were generally on target with respect to the anomalous position of Livni inside the government of the man who has been her nemesis.

An earlier Times of Israel report documented the blowback inside the country’s government about Livni’s decision to meet with Abbas in London last week even though Netanyahu had suspended negotiations with the PA after its alliance with Hamas. Reportedly, Netanyahu was livid at her insubordination and wanted to fire her. But after calming down, the prime minister realized that if he made Livni and her small parliamentary faction walk the plank, she would generate a coalition crisis that would leave him with only a small majority in the Knesset. That would put him at the mercy of his right-wing partner/antagonist Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home Party, who used Livni’s excursion to both call for her resignation and to posture at the prime minister’s expense to the voters.

In the end, Livni accomplished nothing with her mission to Abbas. He is no more willing to budge an inch toward peace now than he was throughout the long months of negotiations during which his representatives stonewalled the eager Livni, who headed Israel’s delegation. But the dustup involving the prime minister and the woman who has always thought that she, and not Netanyahu, should be leading the country is interesting because it illustrates just how wrongheaded the critics who bash Israel’s government as inflexibly right-wing really are.

Americans who buy into the mainstream media’s reflexive dismissal of Netanyahu as “hard-line” (a word that many readers may think is his first name) and intransigent need to understand that the term tells us nothing about his policies. He began his current term in office in 2013, by offering Livni a major Cabinet post (the Justice Ministry) and the portfolio for peace talks with the Palestinians. Doing so was more or less the equivalent of President Obama choosing Mitt Romney to be secretary of state. Such alliances are, of course, less unusual in parliamentary systems, and especially so in Israel where no party has ever won an absolute majority in the Knesset. But it should be understood that Livni campaigned in the last election as a critic of Netanyahu’s peace policies and was then given an opportunity to prove him wrong by being handed the chance to strike a deal with Abbas. While the failure of the initiative championed by Secretary of State John Kerry is rightly considered to be his fiasco, the unwillingness of the Palestinians to come even close to satisfying Livni—the one Israeli that the Obama administration thought was most likely to make peace—tells us everything we need to know about the Palestinians’ responsibility for the collapse of the talks.

Rather than being the beard for Netanyahu whose purpose it is to fool the world into thinking that Israel wanted peace as Meretz and other leftists think, Livni’s presence at the table with the Palestinians is actually the proof that if Abbas wanted peace and an independent state, he could have it.  Livni doesn’t have Netanyahu’s confidence but he did let her conduct the negotiations without too much interference. If he was concerned that she would give away too much to the Palestinians or the American team led by Martin Indyk that is intractably hostile to the Israeli government, he had nothing to worry about. The Palestinians never gave her chance.

Some may think she is serving as a fig leaf for Netanyahu, but if they thought more seriously about her role in the peace process over the past year they would realize that her presence in the government did nothing to ease criticism from Washington or from the usual suspects who like to bash the Jewish state. Instead, she proved her theories and those of other Netanyahu critics wrong by trying and failing to get the Palestinians to take yes for an answer. If she stays in the government, and given her history of rank opportunism and love of office, there’s no reason to think she won’t, it will be to continue to serve as a warning to Netanyahu’s detractors that their accusations of Israeli intransigence are without a factual basis. That isn’t a particularly comfortable role for her or Netanyahu. But it does illustrate how foolish those who still laud Abbas as a man of peace really are.

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The Obama Presidency Descends Into Farce

According to the Washington Post:

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Thursday that he has seen “raw data” indicating that the Syrian government
has used chlorine gas as a chemical weapon in a “number of ­instances” in recent months.

“There will be consequences” if evidence of new chemical use is confirmed, Kerry said, but “we’re not going to pin ourselves down to a precise date, time, manner of action.”

Speaking after a meeting here of the Syrian opposition’s principal international backers, he also said they had agreed to expand humanitarian, diplomatic and military aid to the rebels.

“I’m not going to discuss what specific weapons or what country may . . . be providing or not providing” the arms, he said. “I will say that out of today’s meeting, every facet of what can be done is going to be ramped up. Every facet.”

We have now reached the farcical stage in the Obama presidency.

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According to the Washington Post:

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Thursday that he has seen “raw data” indicating that the Syrian government
has used chlorine gas as a chemical weapon in a “number of ­instances” in recent months.

“There will be consequences” if evidence of new chemical use is confirmed, Kerry said, but “we’re not going to pin ourselves down to a precise date, time, manner of action.”

Speaking after a meeting here of the Syrian opposition’s principal international backers, he also said they had agreed to expand humanitarian, diplomatic and military aid to the rebels.

“I’m not going to discuss what specific weapons or what country may . . . be providing or not providing” the arms, he said. “I will say that out of today’s meeting, every facet of what can be done is going to be ramped up. Every facet.”

We have now reached the farcical stage in the Obama presidency.

Does Secretary Kerry understand how much of a joke it is for him to threaten “consequences” if evidence of new chemical weapons by the Assad regime turns out to be true? Given the Obama administration’s track record on Syria–with “red lines” drawn and erased, with its refusal to arm opposition groups early on, with agreeing to negotiations that have empowered the Syrian regime–it is better that Mr. Kerry keep his mouth shut than to speak and provoke ridicule.

The president and his secretary of state’s words long ago were emptied of meaning. So please, for your sake and ours, give up on the bluster. It only makes a shameful situation worse. 

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Blaming Israel to Preserve a Theory

Secretary of State John Kerry was in London yesterday trying to sweet talk Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas into talking peace again with Israel. But the main front in the peace process appears to be in Washington where the State Department is still spinning the collapse of Kerry’s initiative and placing the primary fault for the failure of his fool’s errand on Israel. While Kerry fired the initial shots of this campaign himself when he had his “poof” moment at a Senate hearing, at which he claimed Israeli housing construction announcements had ended the negotiations, it was then continued by an in-depth interview given by American officials (widely and credibly attributed to Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk) to Yediot Aharonoth in which the Netanyahu government was thoroughly trashed and Abbas’s intransigence rationalized. But not satisfied with that, Kerry’s aides are back reinforcing their attacks on Israel this week helping to generate stories in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The point of the press barrage appears not, as with previous assaults on the Israelis, to pressure them to make more concessions to the Palestinians in future talks since, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no interest in sticking his neck out further on behalf of an effort that has no chance to succeed. Rather, the continued talk about settlements being the obstacle to peace seems to have two purposes. One is to defend Kerry’s reputation against accurate criticisms of his decision to waste so much time and effort on a negotiation that was always doomed to fail. The other is that the administration peace processors who largely repeated the same mistakes made by the Clinton administration during the Oslo period with regard to the Palestinians feel compelled to justify their behavior by blaming Israel. The problem with the focus on settlements is not just that it is both inaccurate and out of context but that railing at Israeli building is the only way to preserve belief in a theory about attaining Middle East peace that has failed again.

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Secretary of State John Kerry was in London yesterday trying to sweet talk Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas into talking peace again with Israel. But the main front in the peace process appears to be in Washington where the State Department is still spinning the collapse of Kerry’s initiative and placing the primary fault for the failure of his fool’s errand on Israel. While Kerry fired the initial shots of this campaign himself when he had his “poof” moment at a Senate hearing, at which he claimed Israeli housing construction announcements had ended the negotiations, it was then continued by an in-depth interview given by American officials (widely and credibly attributed to Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk) to Yediot Aharonoth in which the Netanyahu government was thoroughly trashed and Abbas’s intransigence rationalized. But not satisfied with that, Kerry’s aides are back reinforcing their attacks on Israel this week helping to generate stories in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The point of the press barrage appears not, as with previous assaults on the Israelis, to pressure them to make more concessions to the Palestinians in future talks since, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no interest in sticking his neck out further on behalf of an effort that has no chance to succeed. Rather, the continued talk about settlements being the obstacle to peace seems to have two purposes. One is to defend Kerry’s reputation against accurate criticisms of his decision to waste so much time and effort on a negotiation that was always doomed to fail. The other is that the administration peace processors who largely repeated the same mistakes made by the Clinton administration during the Oslo period with regard to the Palestinians feel compelled to justify their behavior by blaming Israel. The problem with the focus on settlements is not just that it is both inaccurate and out of context but that railing at Israeli building is the only way to preserve belief in a theory about attaining Middle East peace that has failed again.

It cannot be emphasized enough that most of the discussion about the settlements from administration sources and their cheerleaders in the press is not only wrongheaded but also deliberately misleading. A perfect example of that comes today in David Ignatius’s column in the Post in which he writes:

The issue of Israeli settlements humiliated the Palestinian negotiators and poisoned the talks, according to statements by U.S. negotiators. When Israel announced 700 new settlements in early April, before the April 29 deadline for the talks, “Poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry told a Senate panel.

Phrased that way it certainly sounds egregious. But Israel didn’t announce the start of 700 new settlements. It authorized 700 new apartments in Gilo, a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that no one, not even the Palestinians expects would be given to them in even a prospective peace treaty more to their liking than the Israelis. Israel has built almost no new “settlements,” i.e. brand new towns, villages, or cities in the West Bank since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 and claiming anything different isn’t just wrong, it’s a deliberate attempt to poison the atmosphere against the Jewish state. Later in the day, the Post corrected that line to read “settlement apartments,” but the intent to deceive on the part of Ignatius was clear.

More to the point, both Ignatius and the latest op-ed mislabeled as a news story by Times White House correspondent Mark Landler note their narratives of Israeli perfidy but fail to highlight that it was Netanyahu who agreed to Kerry’s framework for further peace talks and Abbas who turned the U.S. down. It was Abbas who refused to budge an inch during the talks even though Israel’s offers of territorial withdrawal constitute a fourth peace offer including independence that the Palestinians have turned down in the last 15 years. His decision to embrace Hamas in a unity pact rather than make peace with Israel sealed the end of Kerry’s effort, not announcements of new apartments in Jerusalem.

The reason for this obfuscation is not a mystery. Acknowledging the truth about the collapse of the talks would force Kerry and his State Department minions to admit that their theory about how to achieve peace has been wrong all along. It was primarily the Palestinians’ refusal to make the symbolic step of recognizing that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people that would live in peace alongside a nation state of the Palestinian people that sunk the talks. But acknowledging that would mean they understood that the political culture of the Palestinians—in which national identity is inextricably tied to rejection of Israel’s existence—must change before peace is possible. Israel, which has already made large-scale territorial withdrawals in the hope of peace, has already dismantled settlements and would uproot more if real peace were to be had. Moreover, since most of the building that Kerry and company blamed for the lack of peace are located in areas that would be kept by Israel, the obsession with them is as illogical as it is mean-spirited.

Just as the Clinton administration whitewashed Yasir Arafat and the PA in the ’90s, so, too, did the Obama crew whitewash his successor Abbas’s incitement and refusal to end the conflict. The result is that the Palestinians believe there will never be any serious consequences for rejecting peace. Throughout the Kerry initiative, Obama and the secretary praised Abbas while reviling Netanyahu but rather than nudging the Palestinians to make peace, it only encouraged them to refuse it. But if the U.S. is ever to help move the Middle East closer to peace, it will require honesty from the administration about the Palestinians and for it to give up its settlement obsession. Seen from that perspective, it was Kerry and Indyk who did as much to sabotage the process as Abbas, let alone Netanyahu. But instead, Obama, Kerry, and Indyk refuse to admit their faults and continue besmirching Israel to their friends in the press. Sticking to a discredited theory is always easier than facing the truth, especially about your own mistakes.

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Lacking Achievements, Hillary Invents One

Last month, in writing about the challenge Hillary Clinton will face in running for president after presiding over foreign-policy disasters at the State Department, I gave her too much credit. With regard to Iran, I said she’d probably act as though she had been “skeptical of Iranian ‘reform,’” since she didn’t negotiate the naïve deal with the Islamic Republic; John Kerry did.

I suppose I had momentarily forgotten she’s a Clinton. This week she reminded us. She won’t merely pretend to have been privately wary of the Iranians. She will just make stuff up and rewrite history, counting on the media’s investment in her election and fear of crossing her to cover for her distortions. Like the daring woman who dodged a phantom shower of gunfire in Bosnia, Hillary is back casting herself as the heroic defender of freedom she has never been. Josh Rogin reports on Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish Committee this week:

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Last month, in writing about the challenge Hillary Clinton will face in running for president after presiding over foreign-policy disasters at the State Department, I gave her too much credit. With regard to Iran, I said she’d probably act as though she had been “skeptical of Iranian ‘reform,’” since she didn’t negotiate the naïve deal with the Islamic Republic; John Kerry did.

I suppose I had momentarily forgotten she’s a Clinton. This week she reminded us. She won’t merely pretend to have been privately wary of the Iranians. She will just make stuff up and rewrite history, counting on the media’s investment in her election and fear of crossing her to cover for her distortions. Like the daring woman who dodged a phantom shower of gunfire in Bosnia, Hillary is back casting herself as the heroic defender of freedom she has never been. Josh Rogin reports on Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish Committee this week:

Hillary Clinton is now claiming to be the architect of crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy. But during her tenure as Secretary of State, her department repeatedly opposed or tried to water down an array of measures that were pushed into law by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Rogin offers a corrective:

What Clinton didn’t mention was that top officials from her own State Department—in conjunction with the rest of the Obama administration—often worked hard against many of the measures she’s now championing. Some bills Foggy Bottom slowed down; others, the State Department lobbied to be made less strict; still others were opposed outright by Clinton’s deputies, only to be overruled by large majorities in the House and the Senate. …

The most egregious example of the administration’s effort to slow down the sanctions drive came in late 2011, when Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez openly chastised top administration officials for opposing an amendment to sanction the Central Bank of Iran that he had co-authored with Sen. Mark Kirk. Leading administration officials including Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman publicly expressed “strong opposition” (PDF) to the amendment, arguing that it would anger allies by opening them up for punishment if they did not significantly reduce their imports of Iranian oil.

Clinton’s top deputies fought the amendment at every step of the legislative process. Clinton’s #2 at the State Department, Bill Burns, even joined an emergency meeting with top senators to urge them to drop the amendment. They refused. The amendment later passed the Senate 100-0. Menendez said at the time that the administration had negotiated on the amendment in bad faith.

The record is quite clear: Hillary Clinton was a powerful obstacle to effective Iran sanctions. It is a tribute to the hard work and determination of those like Kirk and Menendez to be able to get any sanctions through Clinton and Obama’s dedicated obstruction of efforts to use sanctions to stop or slow Iran’s march to a nuclear weapon.

The whole incident is a preview of what 2016 will be like if Hillary does decide to accept her party’s coronation as its new cult leader. The Clinton campaign would indeed be a fairytale ending to a storybook career–just not in the way those terms are traditionally understood. The campaign narrative will be, at best, historical fiction–though closer to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter than the West Wing, in terms of its relationship to the real world.

As Rogin reported, and as ABC News picked up on last night, Kirk is pushing back:

“I worked for months to round-up the votes [in the UN Security Council],” Clinton said. “In the end we were successful… And then building on the framework established by the Security Council, with the help of Congress, the Obama administration imposed some of the most stringent, crippling sanctions on top of the international ones.”

Those sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table earlier this year.

“Secretary Clinton’s comments are a blatant revision of history,” said Kirk, who with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., co-sponsored several sanctions bills in recent years. “The fact is the Obama administration has opposed sanctions against Iran led by Senator Menendez and me every step of the way.”

It’s significant that Kirk is speaking up, because he is neither a conservative firebrand (he is the moderate Republican holding President Obama’s former Senate seat) nor a serial self-promoter, unlike so many of his colleagues. He is also not contemplating running against Clinton for the presidency in 2016.

He is speaking out, quite simply, because Clinton is selling a self-aggrandizing fantasy to the public in hopes of deceiving her way into the White House. In the process, she is demeaning those really responsible for the sanctions. But the silver lining is that her attempt to rewrite history indicates her awareness of just how out of step she is with the American public.

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Time to Give Iran the Human-Rights Test

I’m not necessarily opposed to diplomacy with rogue regimes, but the idea that “it never hurts to talk,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Undersecretary Nicholas Burns, and Bush-era Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage have said is simply false. In my book, I chronicle the costs of engaging rogue regimes so at least policymakers can enter into negotiations with eyes wide open rather than simply assume their outreach is cost-free.

Whether in Clinton and Bush’s outreach to North Korea, Obama’s diplomacy with the Taliban, Reagan’s engagement with Saddam’s Iraq, or today with regard to Iran, diplomats often dispense with human rights in order to suffer no impediment in their drive to deal-making. The current flourish of nuclear deal-making, after all, had its roots in the Critical Dialogue initiated by German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel in 1993. The “critical” portion of that dialogue, European diplomats explained, was because Europe would tie tough discussion of human rights with nuclear talks and trade. Of course, it was just a matter of months before the Europeans dispensed with the critical aspect of their dialogue and nearly tripled trade. Iran took that hard currency windfall and invested it in their nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Obama is different. Or at least he says he is. Both he and John Kerry have colored their careers with flowery rhetoric about human rights. The question is whether they consider such lip service to human rights and religious freedom merely props in their now-fulfilled quest for power.  

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I’m not necessarily opposed to diplomacy with rogue regimes, but the idea that “it never hurts to talk,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Undersecretary Nicholas Burns, and Bush-era Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage have said is simply false. In my book, I chronicle the costs of engaging rogue regimes so at least policymakers can enter into negotiations with eyes wide open rather than simply assume their outreach is cost-free.

Whether in Clinton and Bush’s outreach to North Korea, Obama’s diplomacy with the Taliban, Reagan’s engagement with Saddam’s Iraq, or today with regard to Iran, diplomats often dispense with human rights in order to suffer no impediment in their drive to deal-making. The current flourish of nuclear deal-making, after all, had its roots in the Critical Dialogue initiated by German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel in 1993. The “critical” portion of that dialogue, European diplomats explained, was because Europe would tie tough discussion of human rights with nuclear talks and trade. Of course, it was just a matter of months before the Europeans dispensed with the critical aspect of their dialogue and nearly tripled trade. Iran took that hard currency windfall and invested it in their nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Obama is different. Or at least he says he is. Both he and John Kerry have colored their careers with flowery rhetoric about human rights. The question is whether they consider such lip service to human rights and religious freedom merely props in their now-fulfilled quest for power.  

May 14 marked the sixth anniversary of the imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders in Iran. Their plight is an issue I covered often in the years before I started writing for COMMENTARY. To mark the anniversary, Bahá’ís of the United States and a host of other religious organizations including the American Jewish Committee, the American Islamic Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Baptist World Alliance have sent a letter to Kerry which reads in part:

May 14 will mark the sixth anniversary of the imprisonment of the seven members of the former ad hoc leadership group of the Bahá’ís of Iran… As governments and human rights organizations have attested, their imprisonment is for no other reason than their membership in the Bahá’í Faith and their service to the Bahá’í community… They were convicted on a number of charges, including espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order, acting against the security of the country, and corruption on earth – all of which they categorically denied… Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, over 200 Bahá’ís have been killed, the majority by execution, and thousands have been imprisoned. Bahá’ís are denied government jobs and business licenses, and are excluded from university. Their marriages are not recognized, their cemeteries are desecrated, and their holy places have been destroyed…

Mr. Secretary, the gross mistreatment of the Yaran [imprisoned Bahá’í leadership] and the severe and systematic state-sponsored persecution of the Bahá’ís is emblematic of a deteriorating human rights situation in Iran. In addition to Bahá’ís, other religious minorities, including Christians, Sufis, and Sunnis face persecution; ethnic minorities are repressed; journalists are jailed; lawyers and other human rights defenders are targeted; and executions are on the rise. We are deeply concerned about religious freedom and human rights in Iran. We ask you to call for the release of the Yaran and all prisoners of conscience in Iran, and to speak out for the fundamental rights of all citizens of Iran.

Demanding the release of the Baha’i leaders is the perfect opportunity for Kerry to determine Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s sincerity and his ability to deliver, especially because both Obama and Kerry imagine Rouhani as some sort of Iranian Deng Xiaoping. But if Rouhani isn’t able to release seven Baha’i, then how can they be so sure he will be able to stand up to the supreme leader, the Principalist faction, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to deliver on a nuclear deal, even if Rouhani were sincere? It’s time for a test of Iranian intentions, and if that test results in freedom and liberty for prisoners of faith and conscience, all the better.

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Kerry’s Counterproductive Peace Diplomacy

Give Secretary of State John Kerry credit. His pursuit of Middle East peace may be futile, but it is determined. Weeks after Palestinian decisions to return to the United Nations for an end run around Kerry’s efforts and then a Fatah-Hamas unity pact blew them up, Kerry is back at it. He is scheduled to meet tomorrow in London with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process and the future of the relationship between the United States and the PA. Most observers are treating this meeting as evidence of Kerry’s determination never to give up the search for peace and therefore a praiseworthy act almost by definition.

But even if we are prepared to praise the secretary for never giving up hope for peace, this effort to entice Abbas back to the table to talk with Israel is misguided. While the U.S. has falsely sought to portray the collapse of the talks as being the fault of both sides in the negotiations in order not to alienate the Palestinians, the latest evidence of Kerry’s belief that sweet talking the PA is the only way to go is likely to do more harm than good. After nine months of praise of Abbas as a man of peace coming from the mouths of President Obama and Kerry while they were also trashing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the U.S. is not merely presiding over a standoff; the administration has become one of its main causes. If Kerry isn’t prepared to start pressuring Abbas to make peace and stating that there will be stark consequences for the PA if he fails to do so, the secretary would be better off avoiding the Palestinian leader.

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Give Secretary of State John Kerry credit. His pursuit of Middle East peace may be futile, but it is determined. Weeks after Palestinian decisions to return to the United Nations for an end run around Kerry’s efforts and then a Fatah-Hamas unity pact blew them up, Kerry is back at it. He is scheduled to meet tomorrow in London with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process and the future of the relationship between the United States and the PA. Most observers are treating this meeting as evidence of Kerry’s determination never to give up the search for peace and therefore a praiseworthy act almost by definition.

But even if we are prepared to praise the secretary for never giving up hope for peace, this effort to entice Abbas back to the table to talk with Israel is misguided. While the U.S. has falsely sought to portray the collapse of the talks as being the fault of both sides in the negotiations in order not to alienate the Palestinians, the latest evidence of Kerry’s belief that sweet talking the PA is the only way to go is likely to do more harm than good. After nine months of praise of Abbas as a man of peace coming from the mouths of President Obama and Kerry while they were also trashing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the U.S. is not merely presiding over a standoff; the administration has become one of its main causes. If Kerry isn’t prepared to start pressuring Abbas to make peace and stating that there will be stark consequences for the PA if he fails to do so, the secretary would be better off avoiding the Palestinian leader.

Kerry embarked on his quest for Middle East peace despite advice from nearly every veteran foreign-policy hand that he was wasting his time. The Palestinians were too divided and had demonstrated no sign that they had evolved from the rejectionist stance they adopted when Israel made three separate offers of statehood in 2000, 2001, and 2008. That skepticism was justified when, once again, Abbas refused Kerry’s entreaties to make a symbolic acceptance that Israel was the Jewish state and therefore signaling that the conflict was over. But despite Netanyahu’s willingness to talk about a large-scale withdrawal from the West Bank in exchange for peace, Abbas never budged from his previous positions on territory, Jerusalem, and refugees. He then fled the talks at the first pretext, an announcement of building in a 40-year-old neighborhood of the capital that everyone knows will never change hands even in the event of a peace treaty. In doing so, he walked away from what was, for all intents and purposes, a fourth Israeli offer of peace. He solidified that lack of interest in peace by signing an agreement with the Islamists of Hamas rather than with Israel. The new coalition may provide the Palestinians with unity, but it will be unity in favor of continued conflict, not peace.

At this point the only rational response to these Palestinian decisions ought to be to warn the Palestinians that the unity pact necessitates the end of U.S. aid to the PA. But Kerry has been soft-pedaling the fact that such aid is now illegal under U.S. law and continuing to pretend that Israel, rather than Palestinians, are the main problem. Just as important, even if Obama and Kerry think they must continue to play the even-handed moderator and criticize Israel at every conceivable opportunity, they need to understand that unless they use the considerable leverage the U.S. has over the Palestinians, there is not even a remote chance that Abbas will return to the talks, let alone do what he must to make peace.

If Kerry must meet with Abbas, it is not too late to stop coddling him. The secretary isn’t big on admitting failure, but unless he stops pretending that Abbas is a force for peace when he is anything but, Kerry will remain part of the peace process problem, not its solution. 

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Indyk’s Amoral Kiss-and-Tell Story

Since talks collapsed between Israel and the Palestinians, chief U.S. negotiator Martin Indyk has already gone to the press with at least one kiss-and-tell story, about how Israel sabotaged peace through settlement building. But it seems that Indyk intends to extract still more capital from his role in the doomed negotiations. The business of manipulation and self-promotion that now surrounds the negotiation process has virtually become an end in itself, far outstripping the importance of the always-fruitless negotiations themselves. The talks seem to take place so as to allow individuals on each side to come forward with a drip feed of snippets and revelations, promoting the good will of one side, pouring condemnation on the other.

On Thursday evening, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s founders conference, Indyk offered up a serving of platitudes and obvious statements, dressed up with a particularly provocative barb about how Israel’s settlement building is supposedly risking the future of the Jewish state. Among a whole list of predictable observations, Indyk’s remark that if only the U.S. feels a sense of urgency then “the negotiations will not succeed,” seemed particularly unworthy of having been uttered. Indeed, Indyk bemoaned how leaders on both sides “don’t feel the pressing need to make gut-wrenching compromises.” Well, it’s not as if Indyk and Kerry weren’t warned of this fact before they set out on their ill-advised venture. Neither side trusts the other to think that concessions are really warranted, and yet what does Indyk imagine Israel releasing terrorists was if not “gut-wrenching”? If Indyk can be so flippant about the pain caused by these murderers going free then he has either suspended all moral judgment or is completely indifferent to Israeli suffering; perhaps both.

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Since talks collapsed between Israel and the Palestinians, chief U.S. negotiator Martin Indyk has already gone to the press with at least one kiss-and-tell story, about how Israel sabotaged peace through settlement building. But it seems that Indyk intends to extract still more capital from his role in the doomed negotiations. The business of manipulation and self-promotion that now surrounds the negotiation process has virtually become an end in itself, far outstripping the importance of the always-fruitless negotiations themselves. The talks seem to take place so as to allow individuals on each side to come forward with a drip feed of snippets and revelations, promoting the good will of one side, pouring condemnation on the other.

On Thursday evening, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s founders conference, Indyk offered up a serving of platitudes and obvious statements, dressed up with a particularly provocative barb about how Israel’s settlement building is supposedly risking the future of the Jewish state. Among a whole list of predictable observations, Indyk’s remark that if only the U.S. feels a sense of urgency then “the negotiations will not succeed,” seemed particularly unworthy of having been uttered. Indeed, Indyk bemoaned how leaders on both sides “don’t feel the pressing need to make gut-wrenching compromises.” Well, it’s not as if Indyk and Kerry weren’t warned of this fact before they set out on their ill-advised venture. Neither side trusts the other to think that concessions are really warranted, and yet what does Indyk imagine Israel releasing terrorists was if not “gut-wrenching”? If Indyk can be so flippant about the pain caused by these murderers going free then he has either suspended all moral judgment or is completely indifferent to Israeli suffering; perhaps both.

Some recent comments that have been widely attributed to Indyk framed the Israelis for having allegedly wrecked the peace talks through settlement building. In his speech on Thursday evening it was Israeli settlements that Indyk was especially eager to condemn. Settlements, claimed Indyk, will “drive Israel into an irreversible binational reality.”

In one sense this claim is demonstrably nonsense. The limited settlement building that has taken place has been restricted to the major settlement blocs that the consensus holds would be annexed to Israel under any final-status agreement. Yet it is also true that many proponents of the settlement project see the role of the settlements as being to block the ceding of strategically important territory to a Palestinian state that might use that territory to attack Israel from—as has been the practice in territories already surrendered by Israel. Yet there is no necessary reason why Israeli annexation of the West Bank would end Israel as a Jewish state. True, if carried out right now it would likely create an almost ungovernable situation and present a severe challenge to Israeli democracy. But the claims about demography used by Indyk/Kerry/Obama to terrorize the Israelis are increasingly being called into question. Israeli birthrates have just overtaken those of Palestinians in the West Bank and with Jewish immigration into Israel up, and Palestinian emigration remaining high, the demographic catastrophe is by no means as imminent as Indyk sounds like he hopes it is.

Still the peace process has become totemic for many, and like Kerry, Indyk is among the most pious devotees to this obsession. And so, in the course of his speech, Indyk insisted that talks could be resumed, that there is still hope for an agreement between the two sides. As ever, it is always five minutes to midnight. For the last two decades the Indyks have been telling us, one more settlement expansion, one more suburban neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and peace will be lost forever and Israel inevitably consigned to the history books. Who knows what any of this is based on? Such claims seem as fabricated as Indyk’s suggestion that since negotiations collapsed both sides have shown restraint. But since when did restraint include the Palestinians moving to bring Hamas into the government and pushing ahead with their applications to join international bodies in direct breach of the Oslo accords?

The gap between reality and the picture Indyk and Kerry paint has become so wide that one wonders how it doesn’t simply swallow them both.   

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The Supreme Leader’s Nuclear Veto

It is no secret to anyone who puts reality above wishful thinking that, in Iran, the supreme leader wields the ultimate authority. The president may have won an election—one in which only about one percent of candidates were allowed to run—but the president’s power at best is but a fraction of that of the supreme leader, whose legitimacy comes from being the self-declared deputy of the messiah on earth. Simply put, in Iran, the president is about style, the supreme leader is about substance.

One of the problems with the ongoing nuclear negotiations is that, contrary to what was suggested by the State Department and much of the U.S. media, the supreme leader never blessed nuclear deal-making. Nor, contrary to President Obama’s claims, has he ever issued a nuclear fatwa—at least one he bothered to write down for inspection. So, for all the progress Obama and Kerry claim to be making, it’s not clear they are negotiating with anyone empowered to make a decision.

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It is no secret to anyone who puts reality above wishful thinking that, in Iran, the supreme leader wields the ultimate authority. The president may have won an election—one in which only about one percent of candidates were allowed to run—but the president’s power at best is but a fraction of that of the supreme leader, whose legitimacy comes from being the self-declared deputy of the messiah on earth. Simply put, in Iran, the president is about style, the supreme leader is about substance.

One of the problems with the ongoing nuclear negotiations is that, contrary to what was suggested by the State Department and much of the U.S. media, the supreme leader never blessed nuclear deal-making. Nor, contrary to President Obama’s claims, has he ever issued a nuclear fatwa—at least one he bothered to write down for inspection. So, for all the progress Obama and Kerry claim to be making, it’s not clear they are negotiating with anyone empowered to make a decision.

Hence, it comes as no surprise that senior Iranian parliamentary Alaeddin Borujerdi has announced that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will look at the deal to see whether to oblige. “The last step is a gathering to be held with the Supreme Leader. The framework of the talks will be finalized there and the negotiating team will lead talks according to that framework,” he said.

Now, that’s common sense for anyone who knows Iran. But there’s a pattern among rogue regimes in which negotiators reach agreements, rogue leaders refuse to oblige by the agreements their negotiators supposedly produced, and then the regimes pocket the concessions that were meant to be final, transforming them into the starting point for new talks. Yasir Arafat did that, Saddam Hussein did that, and successive North Korean leaders have done that. That President Obama and John Kerry appear to be allowing themselves to get so played suggests that they have neither studied nor learned from past episodes of American negotiation with rogue regimes.

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“Apartheid”? Blame the Geneva Convention

John Kerry’s infamous apartheid comment continues to make waves in Israel, eliciting pushback from some surprising places–like yesterday’s Haaretz column by Zvi Bar’el. Bar’el, whom nobody could accuse of being an Israel apologist (his column asserts Israeli control over the West Bank is even worse than the apartheid), points out that under apartheid, the legal regime discriminates between citizens of the same country. That’s fundamentally different from an occupation, under which the legal regime discriminates between the occupying power’s citizens and the occupied noncitizens. All occupying powers have given their own citizens more rights than the occupied noncitizens, from the British in India through the French in Algeria to the Americans in Iraq, he noted; yet none of these were ever labeled apartheid. Why should Israel be any different?

But Bar’el neglects to mention one important point: The legal distinction all occupations make between citizens and noncitizens isn’t just a whim of “racist” occupiers; it’s mandated by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

This convention largely bars occupiers from applying their own laws to the occupied population, requiring them instead to maintain the preexisting legal system except where alterations are necessary to ensure the occupier’s security. For instance, Article 64 states “The penal laws of the occupied territory shall remain in force”; Article 51 requires the occupier to uphold the “legislation in force in the occupied country concerning working conditions”; and so forth. One of the most discriminatory practices of all is explicitly mandated by Article 66, which states that if the occupier promulgates laws for its own security in the occupied territory, violators from among the occupied population shall be tried in “properly constituted, non-political military courts.”

Israel has never officially deemed the West Bank occupied territory; it considers it disputed territory to which Israel has a valid claim. But under pressure from the rest of the world, which insists the West Bank is occupied territory, Israel long ago agreed to voluntarily uphold most of the Geneva Convention’s provisions. The ironic result is that in many cases, West Bank Palestinians have fewer rights than Israelis.

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John Kerry’s infamous apartheid comment continues to make waves in Israel, eliciting pushback from some surprising places–like yesterday’s Haaretz column by Zvi Bar’el. Bar’el, whom nobody could accuse of being an Israel apologist (his column asserts Israeli control over the West Bank is even worse than the apartheid), points out that under apartheid, the legal regime discriminates between citizens of the same country. That’s fundamentally different from an occupation, under which the legal regime discriminates between the occupying power’s citizens and the occupied noncitizens. All occupying powers have given their own citizens more rights than the occupied noncitizens, from the British in India through the French in Algeria to the Americans in Iraq, he noted; yet none of these were ever labeled apartheid. Why should Israel be any different?

But Bar’el neglects to mention one important point: The legal distinction all occupations make between citizens and noncitizens isn’t just a whim of “racist” occupiers; it’s mandated by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

This convention largely bars occupiers from applying their own laws to the occupied population, requiring them instead to maintain the preexisting legal system except where alterations are necessary to ensure the occupier’s security. For instance, Article 64 states “The penal laws of the occupied territory shall remain in force”; Article 51 requires the occupier to uphold the “legislation in force in the occupied country concerning working conditions”; and so forth. One of the most discriminatory practices of all is explicitly mandated by Article 66, which states that if the occupier promulgates laws for its own security in the occupied territory, violators from among the occupied population shall be tried in “properly constituted, non-political military courts.”

Israel has never officially deemed the West Bank occupied territory; it considers it disputed territory to which Israel has a valid claim. But under pressure from the rest of the world, which insists the West Bank is occupied territory, Israel long ago agreed to voluntarily uphold most of the Geneva Convention’s provisions. The ironic result is that in many cases, West Bank Palestinians have fewer rights than Israelis.

For instance, Israeli labor law provides more protections than the patchwork of Jordanian and Ottoman law in place when Israel captured the West Bank in 1967. But the world views any application of Israeli law to “occupied territory” as a sign of annexation (see, for instance, the international outcry when Israel applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights in 1981). Thus for fear of sparking international protests, Israel has refrained from applying its own labor laws to the West Bank.

Similarly, human-rights organizations repeatedly slam trials in military courts as inherently inferior to those in civilian courts, and not without reason: Most democratic countries, Israel included, have laws requiring civilians to be tried in civil rather than military courts. That’s why Israeli civilians who commit crimes in the West Bank are tried in Israel’s civil courts rather than military ones–just as American civilians who committed crimes in Iraq were tried in American civil courts rather than military ones. But the Geneva Convention requires Palestinian civilians to be tried in military courts instead.

In short, it’s precisely all those people who insist the West Bank is “occupied territory” who have no grounds to complain about the discriminatory legal system in place there–because occupied territories are supposed to be governed by the Geneva Convention, which mandates this discriminatory regime. That such people are now accusing Israel of “apartheid” for having bowed to their demand to apply the convention is hypocrisy on a truly epic scale.

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Fallout from Kerry’s Debacle Continues

The violence initiated by Yasser Arafat after his rejection of the Clinton-brokered peace deal was a worst-case scenario not only for those whose lives were now in danger in the Middle East but for Western negotiators and supporters of the peace process. It presented them with the nightmarish lesson that there is risk in negotiating; the failure of talks could mean years of war.

But this year’s failed talks pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry are demonstrating another way peace talks aren’t necessarily risk-free: the deterioration of relations between the PA and Israel. As the talks collapsed, Mahmoud Abbas went ahead with a unity deal with Hamas, which immediately raised questions about Israeli support and the sharing of intel with the previously Hamas-less government. And today Haaretz sheds light on the nasty business of the blame game, with a letter apparently written by Israel’s national security advisor to Western governments:

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The violence initiated by Yasser Arafat after his rejection of the Clinton-brokered peace deal was a worst-case scenario not only for those whose lives were now in danger in the Middle East but for Western negotiators and supporters of the peace process. It presented them with the nightmarish lesson that there is risk in negotiating; the failure of talks could mean years of war.

But this year’s failed talks pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry are demonstrating another way peace talks aren’t necessarily risk-free: the deterioration of relations between the PA and Israel. As the talks collapsed, Mahmoud Abbas went ahead with a unity deal with Hamas, which immediately raised questions about Israeli support and the sharing of intel with the previously Hamas-less government. And today Haaretz sheds light on the nasty business of the blame game, with a letter apparently written by Israel’s national security advisor to Western governments:

Attached to the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by Haaretz, is a 65-page document that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat submitted to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on March 9, three weeks before Israel was to release the final batch of Palestinian prisoners. In it, Erekat proposed a strategy for the PA during the final month of negotiations and after April 29, when the talks were originally scheduled to end before their premature collapse.

Erekat recommended applying to join various international conventions, informing the U.S. and Europe that the Palestinians wouldn’t extend the talks beyond April 29, demanding that Israel nevertheless release the final batch of prisoners, intensifying efforts to reconcile with Hamas to thwart what he termed an Israeli effort to sever the West Bank from Gaza politically, and various other diplomatic and public relations moves.

Over the past month, the PA has implemented most of Erekat’s recommendations. This, Cohen wrote in his letter, shows that even while the Palestinians were talking with Washington about the possibility of extending the peace talks, they were actually planning to blow them up, and had been planning to do so even before Abbas met with U.S. President Barack Obama on March 17. …

The document also shows that the Palestinians planned in advance to take unilateral steps in defiance of the commitment they made when the talks were launched in July 2013, he wrote.

The Israeli leadership’s decision to share that information was apparently made in response to the Palestinians’ attempt to blame Israel for the stalled negotiations. Leaking the letter to the press is also a good way to push back on the craven and self-discrediting efforts by Martin Indyk’s team to blame Israel in order to settle old scores. The blame game is, of course, far better than an intifada, which was Arafat’s answer to an offer of peace and mutual coexistence. But that doesn’t make it any less unpleasant.

It’s worth pointing out that the letter isn’t necessarily the smoking gun it appears to be; the Palestinians will no doubt claim that it was a fall-back list of options in case talks fell apart, which they always do. But that’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the talks usually end with the Palestinians walking away.

Yet that’s really a side issue here. The larger implications of this have to do with the fact that Kerry’s obsessive and badly mismanaged drive for a deal that was not in the offing has consequences for just about everyone but Kerry. He and Indyk can turn their attention elsewhere as they hit the Israelis with a sneering parting shot, but their gamble has left the Israelis and Palestinians worse off and scrambling to pick up the pieces.

The fact that there is some risk in negotiations doesn’t mean such negotiations should never take place: it would be courting disaster if a negotiated solution were permanently taken off the table. But neither should peace talks be seen as all upside, the way Western diplomats have tended to believe. Nor should they always focus on grand final-status deals just because an arrogant secretary of state like Kerry wants his Nobel. Kerry and Indyk may be used to others cleaning up their messes for them, but it’s clear both Israel and the Palestinians are getting tired of it.

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Another Try for Kerry’s Middle East Fiasco?

Since the collapse of the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Secretary of State John Kerry has been all dressed up with nowhere to go. But if the administration has anything to do with it, that may be about to change. The State Department is now denying earlier reports that it is dismantling its negotiating team. By all accounts plans are afoot to send them all back again. And if that wasn’t enough, apparently Kerry is still mulling submitting his parameters to the two sides. What on earth for? The last time he came close to doing so PA head Mahmoud Abbas preempted him by issuing his own impossibly outlandish list of red lines.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denies that there are any plans to dismantle “the team” and simply stated, “We’re going to see where this goes from here and, you know, figure out what makes sense in terms of staffing.” Perhaps what would “make sense in terms of staffing” would be for Kerry to let his chief negotiator Martin Indyk go, which after all seems to be what Indyk wants. Rumor has it that after some off-the-record comments were attributed to Indyk, he is looking to resign and is eager to return to the peace and quiet of the Brookings Institution in Washington, away from all those tiresome Israelis. For the comments widely attributed to Indyk certainly make no secret of the speaker’s feelings toward that quarter.

The comments in question were such that they would irreversibly burn any bridges of trust between the Israelis and whoever said them. Would Indyk have intentionally made sure that it became known that the comments had come from him? If so, it would make for a pretty one-directional escape from the sinking ship of Kerry’s hubristic peace mission. Much like President Obama’s now infamous Bloomberg interview, the voice speaking in the Yedioth Aharonoth interview portrays Abbas as a Gandhi-like figure and the Netanyahu government as a cynical pack of colonialists, indifferent to peace, hell-bent on robbing the Palestinians of their land, and outrageously trying to nudge the outcome of the talks in a direction that might protect at least some of Israel’s security concerns.

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Since the collapse of the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Secretary of State John Kerry has been all dressed up with nowhere to go. But if the administration has anything to do with it, that may be about to change. The State Department is now denying earlier reports that it is dismantling its negotiating team. By all accounts plans are afoot to send them all back again. And if that wasn’t enough, apparently Kerry is still mulling submitting his parameters to the two sides. What on earth for? The last time he came close to doing so PA head Mahmoud Abbas preempted him by issuing his own impossibly outlandish list of red lines.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denies that there are any plans to dismantle “the team” and simply stated, “We’re going to see where this goes from here and, you know, figure out what makes sense in terms of staffing.” Perhaps what would “make sense in terms of staffing” would be for Kerry to let his chief negotiator Martin Indyk go, which after all seems to be what Indyk wants. Rumor has it that after some off-the-record comments were attributed to Indyk, he is looking to resign and is eager to return to the peace and quiet of the Brookings Institution in Washington, away from all those tiresome Israelis. For the comments widely attributed to Indyk certainly make no secret of the speaker’s feelings toward that quarter.

The comments in question were such that they would irreversibly burn any bridges of trust between the Israelis and whoever said them. Would Indyk have intentionally made sure that it became known that the comments had come from him? If so, it would make for a pretty one-directional escape from the sinking ship of Kerry’s hubristic peace mission. Much like President Obama’s now infamous Bloomberg interview, the voice speaking in the Yedioth Aharonoth interview portrays Abbas as a Gandhi-like figure and the Netanyahu government as a cynical pack of colonialists, indifferent to peace, hell-bent on robbing the Palestinians of their land, and outrageously trying to nudge the outcome of the talks in a direction that might protect at least some of Israel’s security concerns.

Whoever made these comments either hasn’t been paying attention or is simply fabricating facts, particularly with their claim that talks collapsed on account of the settlements. Freezing settlement activity was never a predicate for the talks, and even after a dispute over prisoner releases and Palestinian moves at the United Nations the negotiations limped on, only finally and definitively collapsing when the Palestinians stunned Kerry and his team by announcing a Fatah-Hamas unity deal. That was the point at which talks were closed; settlements had nothing to do with it.

It is strange, however, that the U.S. official speaking in the Yedioth Aharonoth interview was so praiseful of Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni. If it were true, as the official claims, that Israel had an unreasonable negotiating position then why all the praise for Livni? Or are these comments really just about attacking Netanyahu and the Israeli right? Livni has her own political rivalries to think of and if Netanyahu had really dealt her a bad hand to play wouldn’t she have protested, if not to smear the prime minister then at least to save herself from being setup as the government’s fall guy? Yet Livni’s only real protests were against Abbas and his unreasonable positions.

If there was any doubt about the bad faith coming from the individual who made these comments, that is surely settled by their remarks about how, whether the Israelis like it or not, the Palestinians “will get their state in the end — whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.” This blatant indifference to the repercussions for Israel, and blasé attitude to Palestinian terrorism, would certainly ensure that whoever is speaking here can never come back from this as an impartial negotiator. Not surprising, then, that many have tied these comments to reports of Indyk’s return to Washington. 

If Indyk is to retire from Kerry’s ill-advised foray into the delights of the Israel-Palestinian impasse, then it remains to be seen as to who will replace him. But no matter who Kerry puts on his team, it won’t change the fact that Abbas has just put Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh on his.  

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Assad Misses Chemical-Weapons Deadline

The deadline has come and gone for Bashar Assad to turn over all of his chemical weapons. Naturally, he did not fully comply with his obligations, turning over some 93 percent while holding onto a substantial stockpile. The Washington Post reports that “Syria is holding on to 27 tons of sarin precursor chemicals as leverage in a dispute with the international community over the future of facilities used to store the deadly agents.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing the destruction of the Syrian arsenal, insists that the tunnels and buildings used to hold the weapons should be destroyed. Assad wants to keep them intact and he is holding onto the remaining 27 tons of precursors until he gets his way–in violation, of course, of the agreement reached between Russia and the U.S. back in September.

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The deadline has come and gone for Bashar Assad to turn over all of his chemical weapons. Naturally, he did not fully comply with his obligations, turning over some 93 percent while holding onto a substantial stockpile. The Washington Post reports that “Syria is holding on to 27 tons of sarin precursor chemicals as leverage in a dispute with the international community over the future of facilities used to store the deadly agents.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing the destruction of the Syrian arsenal, insists that the tunnels and buildings used to hold the weapons should be destroyed. Assad wants to keep them intact and he is holding onto the remaining 27 tons of precursors until he gets his way–in violation, of course, of the agreement reached between Russia and the U.S. back in September.

Nor is this Assad’s only apparent violation. There have also been widespread reports of the Syrian government dropping bombs filled with chlorine on residential areas. “The use of the widely available industrial chemical in munitions known as barrel bombs,” the Post notes, “would constitute a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Damascus joined last fall under the threat of U.S. cruise missile strikes.” 

There is no sign of Assad being willing to give up his use of chlorine; indeed there are reports that Iran is replenishing his arsenal with Chinese-made chlorine bombs.

Why would Assad be flouting international norms in this way? Why not? The passing of the American red line on the use of chemical weapons last fall, without any military action on the part of the U.S., signaled clearly that Assad will not face any serious consequences no matter what he does. As long as he sort of–but not really–complies with the international agreement, he knows that President Obama will not launch air strikes. 

Indeed the U.S. has a strong incentive not to kick up too much of a fuss about Assad’s violations because everyone knows that last thing in the world that Obama wants is to get involved in another war. As Obama’s foreign policy goes from failure to failure, pretty much the only thing the president can boast of anymore is that he hasn’t gotten us involved in any fresh wars.

Of course Assad knows this. So does Putin. So does Khamenei. So does Xi Jinping. And Kim Jong-un. And pretty much everyone else who counts. They all know that they can get away with pretty much anything these days–and they are taking advantage of the opportunity.

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