Commentary Magazine


Topic: Prime Minister

Kissinger and the Moral Bankruptcy of Détente

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

Read Less

West Bank Shows There Is a Military Solution to Terror

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

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Good Advice from Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh

I wouldn’t expect the Obama administration to take advice from ideological rivals on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it’s puzzling that it remains equally deaf to advice from two prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

In a moderated conversation published this month, Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh were in complete accord:

OZ: … [T]he first issue we need to deal with is the refugee issue, because this one is really urgent. Jerusalem is not urgent, it can wait. It can go unresolved for another generation, it can be unresolved for three generations. The refugees are hundreds of thousands of people decomposing in dehumanizing conditions in refugee camps. Israel cannot take these refugees back or it would not be Israel. There would be two Palestinian states, and there would be no Israel. But Israel can do something, along with the Arab world, along with the entire world, to take those people out of the camps, into homes and jobs. Peace or no peace, as long as the refugees are rotting in the camps Israel will have no security.

NUSSEIBEH: I agree. Whether there is or isn’t a solution, the refugee problem is a human problem and it needs to be resolved. It cannot just be shelved day after day after day in the hope that something will happen. The human dimension is far more important in this whole conflict than the territorial.

Yet Obama’s team remains fixated on “borders first.” That’s ridiculous on several counts. First, since territory is all that Israel has to trade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be foolish to make all his territorial concessions up front, leaving him without leverage to extract crucial Palestinian concessions on other issues, like the refugees.

Second, since two previous Israeli leaders, Ehud Barak (at Taba) and Ehud Olmert, were that foolish, the entire world ought to know by now that Israel twice offered the equivalent of 100 percent of the territories (with land swaps). Those offers went nowhere because the Palestinians refused to make reciprocal concessions on other issues — especially the refugees.

Specifically, the Palestinians insist that Israel absorb millions of refugees and their descendants under any deal, thereby eradicating the Jewish state by demography. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated this in the Guardian just last week; the governing body of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s “moderate” Fatah party did so last month.

Until this changes, any territorial concessions Netanyahu offers will be meaningless, because no Israeli government will sign a deal that effectively spells the Jewish state’s death warrant. But if the refugee issue were resolved, Netanyahu would either make a generous territorial offer or face certain ouster in the next election. Thus, if Washington actually wants a deal, this is the place to start.

Finally, as Oz and Nusseibeh noted, this is a human tragedy that has already been left to fester far too long. That Palestinian leaders have held the refugees hostage to their maximalist demands for over six decades shows just how little they really care about their own people. And for all its fine talk of human rights, the “enlightened West” is evidently no better.

I wouldn’t expect the Obama administration to take advice from ideological rivals on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it’s puzzling that it remains equally deaf to advice from two prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

In a moderated conversation published this month, Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh were in complete accord:

OZ: … [T]he first issue we need to deal with is the refugee issue, because this one is really urgent. Jerusalem is not urgent, it can wait. It can go unresolved for another generation, it can be unresolved for three generations. The refugees are hundreds of thousands of people decomposing in dehumanizing conditions in refugee camps. Israel cannot take these refugees back or it would not be Israel. There would be two Palestinian states, and there would be no Israel. But Israel can do something, along with the Arab world, along with the entire world, to take those people out of the camps, into homes and jobs. Peace or no peace, as long as the refugees are rotting in the camps Israel will have no security.

NUSSEIBEH: I agree. Whether there is or isn’t a solution, the refugee problem is a human problem and it needs to be resolved. It cannot just be shelved day after day after day in the hope that something will happen. The human dimension is far more important in this whole conflict than the territorial.

Yet Obama’s team remains fixated on “borders first.” That’s ridiculous on several counts. First, since territory is all that Israel has to trade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be foolish to make all his territorial concessions up front, leaving him without leverage to extract crucial Palestinian concessions on other issues, like the refugees.

Second, since two previous Israeli leaders, Ehud Barak (at Taba) and Ehud Olmert, were that foolish, the entire world ought to know by now that Israel twice offered the equivalent of 100 percent of the territories (with land swaps). Those offers went nowhere because the Palestinians refused to make reciprocal concessions on other issues — especially the refugees.

Specifically, the Palestinians insist that Israel absorb millions of refugees and their descendants under any deal, thereby eradicating the Jewish state by demography. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated this in the Guardian just last week; the governing body of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s “moderate” Fatah party did so last month.

Until this changes, any territorial concessions Netanyahu offers will be meaningless, because no Israeli government will sign a deal that effectively spells the Jewish state’s death warrant. But if the refugee issue were resolved, Netanyahu would either make a generous territorial offer or face certain ouster in the next election. Thus, if Washington actually wants a deal, this is the place to start.

Finally, as Oz and Nusseibeh noted, this is a human tragedy that has already been left to fester far too long. That Palestinian leaders have held the refugees hostage to their maximalist demands for over six decades shows just how little they really care about their own people. And for all its fine talk of human rights, the “enlightened West” is evidently no better.

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Gross Diplomatic Malfeasance on Turkey

Halting donations to the JNF undoubtedly ranks high on the list of unhelpful responses to Israel’s Carmel fire. But it pales beside that of Israel’s own prime minister: using the fact that Turkey was one of 18 nations that helped extinguish the blaze as an excuse to “mend relations” with Ankara by apologizing and paying compensation for May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza.

The deal may yet fall through, since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan still insists that Israel “apologize” for the raid, in which nine Turks were killed, while Benjamin Netanyahu wants merely to “regret” the deaths. But Israel has already reportedly agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation to the killed and wounded “activists.”

Netanyahu claims that this will be “humanitarian” compensation, not an admission of fault. That’s tommyrot. When you apologize and pay compensation, you’re admitting fault, whether you say so explicitly or not. That means Israel is tacitly implying either that it was wrong to enforce its naval blockade of Gaza — established to keep Hamas from shipping in boatloads of arms with which to attack it — or that its soldiers were wrong to fire in self-defense when brutally assaulted by the flotilla’s passengers.

Even worse, Israel would thereby absolve the real culprits: the Turkish organization IHH, whose “activists” deliberately laid an ambush, and the Turkish government, which, according to information that emerged after the raid, was involved in the flotilla at the highest levels. None of the numerous other flotillas to Gaza has produced any casualties, because their passengers didn’t attack Israeli soldiers. The Turkish flotilla would have been similarly casualty-free had its “activists” not launched a violent assault.

Indeed, since IHH sent most noncombatants below deck before beginning its assault, the passengers Israel would be compensating were almost certainly active participants in the attack. As Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman correctly said (via his aides), this is “surrendering to terror,” pure and simple.

But it gets even worse — because Israel would also thereby whitewash Turkey’s turn toward Islamic extremism under Erdogan, when it should be leading the effort to get the West to acknowledge this about-face and respond appropriately.

By crawling to Erdogan in this fashion — after six months of correctly insisting that Israel would neither apologize nor pay compensation — Netanyahu implies that Turkey is still a valued ally, both for Israel and, by implication, for other Western countries. Yet in reality, Ankara openly works against Israeli interests in every possible forum (for instance, regarding NATO’s missile defense system); it had halted joint military exercises even before the flotilla; and Jerusalem no longer trusts it not to share Israeli secrets with Iran. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know that even America’s ambassador to Turkey concluded that “Erdogan simply hates Israel.” So what could Israel possibly gain by “mending ties” with it?

Thus, on every possible front, Netanyahu’s overture to Turkey sends exactly the wrong message. This is gross diplomatic malfeasance. And Israel’s friends should make that clear to him before it’s too late.

Halting donations to the JNF undoubtedly ranks high on the list of unhelpful responses to Israel’s Carmel fire. But it pales beside that of Israel’s own prime minister: using the fact that Turkey was one of 18 nations that helped extinguish the blaze as an excuse to “mend relations” with Ankara by apologizing and paying compensation for May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza.

The deal may yet fall through, since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan still insists that Israel “apologize” for the raid, in which nine Turks were killed, while Benjamin Netanyahu wants merely to “regret” the deaths. But Israel has already reportedly agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation to the killed and wounded “activists.”

Netanyahu claims that this will be “humanitarian” compensation, not an admission of fault. That’s tommyrot. When you apologize and pay compensation, you’re admitting fault, whether you say so explicitly or not. That means Israel is tacitly implying either that it was wrong to enforce its naval blockade of Gaza — established to keep Hamas from shipping in boatloads of arms with which to attack it — or that its soldiers were wrong to fire in self-defense when brutally assaulted by the flotilla’s passengers.

Even worse, Israel would thereby absolve the real culprits: the Turkish organization IHH, whose “activists” deliberately laid an ambush, and the Turkish government, which, according to information that emerged after the raid, was involved in the flotilla at the highest levels. None of the numerous other flotillas to Gaza has produced any casualties, because their passengers didn’t attack Israeli soldiers. The Turkish flotilla would have been similarly casualty-free had its “activists” not launched a violent assault.

Indeed, since IHH sent most noncombatants below deck before beginning its assault, the passengers Israel would be compensating were almost certainly active participants in the attack. As Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman correctly said (via his aides), this is “surrendering to terror,” pure and simple.

But it gets even worse — because Israel would also thereby whitewash Turkey’s turn toward Islamic extremism under Erdogan, when it should be leading the effort to get the West to acknowledge this about-face and respond appropriately.

By crawling to Erdogan in this fashion — after six months of correctly insisting that Israel would neither apologize nor pay compensation — Netanyahu implies that Turkey is still a valued ally, both for Israel and, by implication, for other Western countries. Yet in reality, Ankara openly works against Israeli interests in every possible forum (for instance, regarding NATO’s missile defense system); it had halted joint military exercises even before the flotilla; and Jerusalem no longer trusts it not to share Israeli secrets with Iran. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know that even America’s ambassador to Turkey concluded that “Erdogan simply hates Israel.” So what could Israel possibly gain by “mending ties” with it?

Thus, on every possible front, Netanyahu’s overture to Turkey sends exactly the wrong message. This is gross diplomatic malfeasance. And Israel’s friends should make that clear to him before it’s too late.

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Everyone Knows Why Clinton Wouldn’t Put Her Promises in Writing

A day after the news of the Obama administration’s decision to abandon efforts to force Israel to agree to another freeze on building in Jewish settlements became known, we’re starting to learn a bit more about the way events unfolded. Though the Palestinians are predictably blaming it all on Israeli intransigence, it’s interesting to note that the “senior American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s internal deliberations,” admitted to the New York Times that “even if Mr. Netanyahu persuaded his cabinet to accept a freeze — which he had not yet been able to do — the 90-day negotiating period would not have produced the progress on core issues that the United States originally had sought.”

Which is to say that even with Israel making a unilateral concession, there was little or no hope that the Palestinians would negotiate in good faith, let alone be willing to exhibit the sort of flexibility that an actual agreement would require. But then again, why did anyone in Washington think they would? The Palestinians had several months during which a freeze was put in place to demonstrate their willingness to negotiate, but they pointedly refused to do so until the temporary freeze expired. This was no surprise to observers of Palestinian politics who remembered that the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, had already rejected Israel’s offer in 2008 of a state that included virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem.

Though Times reporter Mark Landler uses his interview with the “senior” official to repeat the usual mainstream-media mantra about Netanyahu being inflexible and to sow doubt about his capacity to negotiate a final deal, he also mentions the fact that the prime minister actually did agree to a freeze in direct consultations with Secretary of State Clinton after she made various promises to the Israelis. But, as Landler notes in passing, Clinton wouldn’t put her promises in writing so as to allow Netanyahu to sell the deal to his cabinet.

Why were Obama and Clinton reluctant to do so? The reason ought to be obvious even to a child: they had no intention of keeping their promises and wanted to avoid producing a document that would enable the Israelis to cry foul. At the very least, there’s little doubt that once the freeze was put in place, Clinton would have reinterpreted the terms of the agreement to Israel’s disadvantage, if not to repudiate it altogether in the way they have reneged on previous U.S. commitments to Israel, such as George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon recognizing Israel’s claim to hold on to parts of the West Bank in a peace settlement. Regardless of whether the Obama peace initiative was a good idea in the first place, this episode provides yet another example of this administration’s inept diplomacy, which has made the already remote chances of achieving peace even more unlikely.

A day after the news of the Obama administration’s decision to abandon efforts to force Israel to agree to another freeze on building in Jewish settlements became known, we’re starting to learn a bit more about the way events unfolded. Though the Palestinians are predictably blaming it all on Israeli intransigence, it’s interesting to note that the “senior American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s internal deliberations,” admitted to the New York Times that “even if Mr. Netanyahu persuaded his cabinet to accept a freeze — which he had not yet been able to do — the 90-day negotiating period would not have produced the progress on core issues that the United States originally had sought.”

Which is to say that even with Israel making a unilateral concession, there was little or no hope that the Palestinians would negotiate in good faith, let alone be willing to exhibit the sort of flexibility that an actual agreement would require. But then again, why did anyone in Washington think they would? The Palestinians had several months during which a freeze was put in place to demonstrate their willingness to negotiate, but they pointedly refused to do so until the temporary freeze expired. This was no surprise to observers of Palestinian politics who remembered that the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, had already rejected Israel’s offer in 2008 of a state that included virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem.

Though Times reporter Mark Landler uses his interview with the “senior” official to repeat the usual mainstream-media mantra about Netanyahu being inflexible and to sow doubt about his capacity to negotiate a final deal, he also mentions the fact that the prime minister actually did agree to a freeze in direct consultations with Secretary of State Clinton after she made various promises to the Israelis. But, as Landler notes in passing, Clinton wouldn’t put her promises in writing so as to allow Netanyahu to sell the deal to his cabinet.

Why were Obama and Clinton reluctant to do so? The reason ought to be obvious even to a child: they had no intention of keeping their promises and wanted to avoid producing a document that would enable the Israelis to cry foul. At the very least, there’s little doubt that once the freeze was put in place, Clinton would have reinterpreted the terms of the agreement to Israel’s disadvantage, if not to repudiate it altogether in the way they have reneged on previous U.S. commitments to Israel, such as George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon recognizing Israel’s claim to hold on to parts of the West Bank in a peace settlement. Regardless of whether the Obama peace initiative was a good idea in the first place, this episode provides yet another example of this administration’s inept diplomacy, which has made the already remote chances of achieving peace even more unlikely.

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Obama’s Settlements Freeze Fold Is Blow to President, Not to Peace

On a day when President Obama was forced to acknowledge his defeat at the hands of congressional Republicans on the issue of tax cuts, it appears that he was also bested by another opponent: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The announcement today that the Obama administration has given up on its effort to force Jerusalem to extend a construction freeze of Jewish settlements in the West Bank will be predictably denounced by those who have always equated progress toward peace with Israeli concessions. But the problem with Obama’s push for a freeze had little to do with any actual chance for peace and everything to do with the administration’s obsession with trying to corner Netanyahu.

Since both men were sworn into office last year within weeks of each other, Obama has pursued policies aimed at undermining an Israeli leader he believed was an obstacle to his near-messianic belief in his ability to make peace in the Middle East. But Netanyahu, a wiser man today than he was in his first term in office in the 1990s when he ran afoul of Bill Clinton, has been able to balance his obligation to protect Israel’s vital security interests on the ground with a need to avoid an open conflict with his country’s only ally. While stating his willingness to accept a two-state solution, Netanyahu faced down Obama in 2009 when the latter made an unprecedented attack on Israeli rights to Jerusalem. In 2010, the Israeli again compromised and accepted a temporary freeze on building in the West Bank but not in his country’s capital, Jerusalem.

The problem with Obama’s schemes was not only the president’s pointless antagonism for Israel but also that the other side of the peace process — the Palestinian Authority — had already made it clear that it would not accept a peace deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn or whether or not a single Jew remained anywhere in the West Bank. So rather than use the Israeli freeze as an invitation to negotiate, they stalled and waited for it to expire before demanding its resumption and, following Obama’s lead, its expansion into Jerusalem.

In the past three months, as the United States did its best to push him to renew the freeze, Netanyahu was again criticized by Israel’s critics for not doing enough for peace (while the same people ignored the Palestinians’ record of incitement and refusal to make peace on any terms), as well as by Israeli right-wingers (including some in his government) for being too soft with the Americans. Netanyahu agreed at one point to accept a freeze renewal but insisted that Obama would have to pay for it with assurances on other issues while still pointedly refusing to include Jerusalem in any deal to stop building Jewish homes. Many Israelis saw this as a reckless concession, but in the end it came to nothing, as Obama seems to prefer to fold on the issue rather than meet Israel halfway. While the future is far from certain, at the very least the prime minister can congratulate himself on avoiding a major public confrontation with Washington while keeping his own governing coalition intact.

But whether or not this was a victory for Netanyahu’s cautious diplomacy, this is no blow to peace. Sensible observers have been saying all along that the Palestinians’ lack of interest in a final-status agreement, as well as the split between Hamas and Fatah, ensured the failure of Obama’s initiative no matter how much Netanyahu was willing to give up. While we can expect Obama to regroup at some point in the not-so-distant future and renew his campaign of pressure on Israel, the end of his freeze folly illustrates again the president’s inability to understand the realities of the Middle East. While the blame for the lack of peace belongs to the Palestinians, the collapse of this initiative is more proof that this administration hasn’t a clue about foreign policy.

On a day when President Obama was forced to acknowledge his defeat at the hands of congressional Republicans on the issue of tax cuts, it appears that he was also bested by another opponent: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The announcement today that the Obama administration has given up on its effort to force Jerusalem to extend a construction freeze of Jewish settlements in the West Bank will be predictably denounced by those who have always equated progress toward peace with Israeli concessions. But the problem with Obama’s push for a freeze had little to do with any actual chance for peace and everything to do with the administration’s obsession with trying to corner Netanyahu.

Since both men were sworn into office last year within weeks of each other, Obama has pursued policies aimed at undermining an Israeli leader he believed was an obstacle to his near-messianic belief in his ability to make peace in the Middle East. But Netanyahu, a wiser man today than he was in his first term in office in the 1990s when he ran afoul of Bill Clinton, has been able to balance his obligation to protect Israel’s vital security interests on the ground with a need to avoid an open conflict with his country’s only ally. While stating his willingness to accept a two-state solution, Netanyahu faced down Obama in 2009 when the latter made an unprecedented attack on Israeli rights to Jerusalem. In 2010, the Israeli again compromised and accepted a temporary freeze on building in the West Bank but not in his country’s capital, Jerusalem.

The problem with Obama’s schemes was not only the president’s pointless antagonism for Israel but also that the other side of the peace process — the Palestinian Authority — had already made it clear that it would not accept a peace deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn or whether or not a single Jew remained anywhere in the West Bank. So rather than use the Israeli freeze as an invitation to negotiate, they stalled and waited for it to expire before demanding its resumption and, following Obama’s lead, its expansion into Jerusalem.

In the past three months, as the United States did its best to push him to renew the freeze, Netanyahu was again criticized by Israel’s critics for not doing enough for peace (while the same people ignored the Palestinians’ record of incitement and refusal to make peace on any terms), as well as by Israeli right-wingers (including some in his government) for being too soft with the Americans. Netanyahu agreed at one point to accept a freeze renewal but insisted that Obama would have to pay for it with assurances on other issues while still pointedly refusing to include Jerusalem in any deal to stop building Jewish homes. Many Israelis saw this as a reckless concession, but in the end it came to nothing, as Obama seems to prefer to fold on the issue rather than meet Israel halfway. While the future is far from certain, at the very least the prime minister can congratulate himself on avoiding a major public confrontation with Washington while keeping his own governing coalition intact.

But whether or not this was a victory for Netanyahu’s cautious diplomacy, this is no blow to peace. Sensible observers have been saying all along that the Palestinians’ lack of interest in a final-status agreement, as well as the split between Hamas and Fatah, ensured the failure of Obama’s initiative no matter how much Netanyahu was willing to give up. While we can expect Obama to regroup at some point in the not-so-distant future and renew his campaign of pressure on Israel, the end of his freeze folly illustrates again the president’s inability to understand the realities of the Middle East. While the blame for the lack of peace belongs to the Palestinians, the collapse of this initiative is more proof that this administration hasn’t a clue about foreign policy.

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Turns Out Russia Is Still Russia

You can’t “reset” diplomacy in a diplomatic ghost town. Here’s the New York Times on newly leaked cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow: “The Kremlin displays scant ability or inclination to reform what one cable characterized as a ‘modern brand of authoritarianism’ accepted with resignation by the ruled,” reports C.J. Chivers. “Moreover, the cables reveal the limits of American influence within Russia and an evident dearth of diplomatic sources. The internal correspondence repeatedly reflected the analyses of an embassy whose staff was narrowly contained and had almost no access to Mr. Putin’s inner circle.”

Also exploded is the appealing notion that President Dmitry Medvedev either wields genuine presidential power greater than Putin’s or represents some new, reform-minded Kremlin. “The cables portray Mr. Putin as enjoying supremacy over all other Russian public figures,” and “Mr. Medvedev, the prime minister’s understudy, is the lesser part of a strange ‘tandemocracy’ and ‘plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.’”

So we’ve been hanging our hopes on the boy wonder. In June, Barack Obama praised Medvedev’s “vision for modernization in Russia, especially high-tech innovation as a personal passion of the president.” But the Times notes that “a veritable kaleidoscope of corruption thrived in Moscow, much of it under the protection of a mayor who served at the president’s pleasure.” Chivers writes that “Western businesses sometimes managed to pursue their interests by personally engaging senior Russian officials, including President Medvedev, rather than getting lost in bureaucratic channels.”

That bureaucratic labyrinth is apparently reserved for American diplomats. Meanwhile, liberals rage on about the urgent need to ratify New START so that our helpful Russian partners don’t lose faith in us.

The WikiLeaks fiasco continues to demonstrate the foreign policy naiveté of the Obama administration and confirm the suspicions of conservative critics. Yesterday, in Tablet, Lee Smith detailed eight points on which the “Wikileaks cable dump vindicates the right,” regarding Middle East policy. Today we’re seeing more evidence of this unfortunate vindication in areas beyond. It’s not that this whole episode compromises our standing around the world; rather, it reveals the ways in which we’ve been doing that all by ourselves for two years.

You can’t “reset” diplomacy in a diplomatic ghost town. Here’s the New York Times on newly leaked cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow: “The Kremlin displays scant ability or inclination to reform what one cable characterized as a ‘modern brand of authoritarianism’ accepted with resignation by the ruled,” reports C.J. Chivers. “Moreover, the cables reveal the limits of American influence within Russia and an evident dearth of diplomatic sources. The internal correspondence repeatedly reflected the analyses of an embassy whose staff was narrowly contained and had almost no access to Mr. Putin’s inner circle.”

Also exploded is the appealing notion that President Dmitry Medvedev either wields genuine presidential power greater than Putin’s or represents some new, reform-minded Kremlin. “The cables portray Mr. Putin as enjoying supremacy over all other Russian public figures,” and “Mr. Medvedev, the prime minister’s understudy, is the lesser part of a strange ‘tandemocracy’ and ‘plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.’”

So we’ve been hanging our hopes on the boy wonder. In June, Barack Obama praised Medvedev’s “vision for modernization in Russia, especially high-tech innovation as a personal passion of the president.” But the Times notes that “a veritable kaleidoscope of corruption thrived in Moscow, much of it under the protection of a mayor who served at the president’s pleasure.” Chivers writes that “Western businesses sometimes managed to pursue their interests by personally engaging senior Russian officials, including President Medvedev, rather than getting lost in bureaucratic channels.”

That bureaucratic labyrinth is apparently reserved for American diplomats. Meanwhile, liberals rage on about the urgent need to ratify New START so that our helpful Russian partners don’t lose faith in us.

The WikiLeaks fiasco continues to demonstrate the foreign policy naiveté of the Obama administration and confirm the suspicions of conservative critics. Yesterday, in Tablet, Lee Smith detailed eight points on which the “Wikileaks cable dump vindicates the right,” regarding Middle East policy. Today we’re seeing more evidence of this unfortunate vindication in areas beyond. It’s not that this whole episode compromises our standing around the world; rather, it reveals the ways in which we’ve been doing that all by ourselves for two years.

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Livni’s Hypocrisy and Israel’s PR Problem

Israel was a sideshow in the latest WikiLeaks document dump, but the leaked cables did include one noteworthy nugget from Jerusalem: in January 2007, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who today is leader of the opposition, told two U.S. senators that following some exploratory talks with the Palestinians, she didn’t believe a final-status agreement could be reached with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

This is significant because publicly, Livni always says a peace deal is achievable and lambastes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his failure to produce one. Even yesterday, confronted with the WikiLeaks cable, she continued this line, insisting that a deal wasn’t achievable in 2007, but in 2010 “a peace agreement is possible and it needs to done.”

She didn’t explain this about-face, for the very good reason that no convincing explanation exists: Abbas is no more willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, agree to defensible borders, or cede the “right of return” than he ever was. But this mantra has paid off for her politically, making her the West’s favorite Israeli.

A politician being hypocritical for political gain is nothing new. But in this case, Livni’s personal gain has come at the price of grave damage to her country. If a leading Israeli politician — the woman whose party won the most seats in the last election — claims that Abbas is ready to make a deal, that obviously carries weight overseas. But if Abbas is indeed ready to deal, then it’s clearly Israel’s fault that no deal has ever been signed. And so Israel is painted worldwide as the obstacle to peace, with all the opprobrium that entails.

Livni’s hypocrisy, however, is merely one facet of a much larger problem: virtually the entire Israeli governing class adopts the same tactic. Despite privately believing that Abbas isn’t ready for peace, it publicly insists that he is — and thereby implicitly paints Israel as the party responsible for the ongoing lack of peace. And it does so not only for political gain but also at its own political cost.

Netanyahu, for instance, repeatedly claims that Abbas is his “partner for peace,” with whom he could reach a deal in a year (if only Abbas would agree to negotiate with him). But having insisted that Abbas isn’t the obstacle, the obvious conclusion is that Netanyahu himself must be the problem. After all, some obstacle must exist, since peace clearly hasn’t broken out.

The Palestinians suffer no such pathology: Palestinian leaders blame Israel nonstop for the lack of peace. And since Israel never offers a competing narrative — namely, that Palestinian rejectionism is the real reason for the absence of peace — the Palestinian narrative has inevitably gained worldwide currency.

Thus if Israel is ever to extricate itself from the global dock, its leaders must start telling the truth: that Palestinians aren’t ready to make the compromises peace requires, that they still don’t accept the Jewish state’s right to exist, and that this is why they have rejected every single Israeli offer to date. You can’t win a public relations war by refusing to fight it.

Israel was a sideshow in the latest WikiLeaks document dump, but the leaked cables did include one noteworthy nugget from Jerusalem: in January 2007, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who today is leader of the opposition, told two U.S. senators that following some exploratory talks with the Palestinians, she didn’t believe a final-status agreement could be reached with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

This is significant because publicly, Livni always says a peace deal is achievable and lambastes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his failure to produce one. Even yesterday, confronted with the WikiLeaks cable, she continued this line, insisting that a deal wasn’t achievable in 2007, but in 2010 “a peace agreement is possible and it needs to done.”

She didn’t explain this about-face, for the very good reason that no convincing explanation exists: Abbas is no more willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, agree to defensible borders, or cede the “right of return” than he ever was. But this mantra has paid off for her politically, making her the West’s favorite Israeli.

A politician being hypocritical for political gain is nothing new. But in this case, Livni’s personal gain has come at the price of grave damage to her country. If a leading Israeli politician — the woman whose party won the most seats in the last election — claims that Abbas is ready to make a deal, that obviously carries weight overseas. But if Abbas is indeed ready to deal, then it’s clearly Israel’s fault that no deal has ever been signed. And so Israel is painted worldwide as the obstacle to peace, with all the opprobrium that entails.

Livni’s hypocrisy, however, is merely one facet of a much larger problem: virtually the entire Israeli governing class adopts the same tactic. Despite privately believing that Abbas isn’t ready for peace, it publicly insists that he is — and thereby implicitly paints Israel as the party responsible for the ongoing lack of peace. And it does so not only for political gain but also at its own political cost.

Netanyahu, for instance, repeatedly claims that Abbas is his “partner for peace,” with whom he could reach a deal in a year (if only Abbas would agree to negotiate with him). But having insisted that Abbas isn’t the obstacle, the obvious conclusion is that Netanyahu himself must be the problem. After all, some obstacle must exist, since peace clearly hasn’t broken out.

The Palestinians suffer no such pathology: Palestinian leaders blame Israel nonstop for the lack of peace. And since Israel never offers a competing narrative — namely, that Palestinian rejectionism is the real reason for the absence of peace — the Palestinian narrative has inevitably gained worldwide currency.

Thus if Israel is ever to extricate itself from the global dock, its leaders must start telling the truth: that Palestinians aren’t ready to make the compromises peace requires, that they still don’t accept the Jewish state’s right to exist, and that this is why they have rejected every single Israeli offer to date. You can’t win a public relations war by refusing to fight it.

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Tied Up in Knots — Again

It’s a game of chicken. Bibi has agreed to present to his cabinet the Obami’s harebrained scheme to restart the non-peace talks if he can get it in writing. Why is that so hard? Perhaps the deal isn’t the deal, or the administration is placing conditions upon conditions. Meanwhile, the PA seems nervous that talks might start, so they roll out their best rejectionist tactics:

Israeli officials accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of looking for excuses not to negotiate, after Abbas said Thursday he would return to the negotiations if Israel declared a complete settlement freeze for a defined period of time during which the border issue would be resolved. Abbas reportedly made those comments during a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah.

One Israeli official said that Abbas was “making sure he is high up on the tree. It is a pity he is entrenching himself in his pre-conditions, and we don’t understand the logic. It is almost as if he is searching for excuses not to negotiate.”

It seems that the Obami have gotten a bit tangled up in the specifics of what the 90 days of negotiations would actual be about:

While the Palestinians want the border issue to be the focus of the start of the talks, arguing that once the borders were set it would be clear where Israel could and could not build, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s position is that border issues could not be divorced from other core issues such as security arrangements and Israel’s demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, something that would be tantamount to their accepting the principle that the descendents of Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return to pre-1967 Israel.

Netanyahu is also apparently unwilling to pledge to wrap up an agreement on borders during the time when there is a settlement freeze. And the US, for its part, is reportedly unwilling to commit in writing that this would be the last settlement freeze it would ask for, apparently wanting to keep open the option of another freeze if the border issue was not wrapped up during one 90-day freeze.

Whoa! Wasn’t part of the deal that the Obami would never, ever, cross their hearts, ask for another freeze? If there is a method to this chaotic bribe-a-thon, it’s not yet apparent. Unlike the Bush team, which actually had the parties talking to each other, this crew can only bicker about what it is that they offered Israel in order to induce the PA to return to the table. If there has been a less competent Middle East negotiating team, I can’t recall it.

It’s a game of chicken. Bibi has agreed to present to his cabinet the Obami’s harebrained scheme to restart the non-peace talks if he can get it in writing. Why is that so hard? Perhaps the deal isn’t the deal, or the administration is placing conditions upon conditions. Meanwhile, the PA seems nervous that talks might start, so they roll out their best rejectionist tactics:

Israeli officials accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of looking for excuses not to negotiate, after Abbas said Thursday he would return to the negotiations if Israel declared a complete settlement freeze for a defined period of time during which the border issue would be resolved. Abbas reportedly made those comments during a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah.

One Israeli official said that Abbas was “making sure he is high up on the tree. It is a pity he is entrenching himself in his pre-conditions, and we don’t understand the logic. It is almost as if he is searching for excuses not to negotiate.”

It seems that the Obami have gotten a bit tangled up in the specifics of what the 90 days of negotiations would actual be about:

While the Palestinians want the border issue to be the focus of the start of the talks, arguing that once the borders were set it would be clear where Israel could and could not build, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s position is that border issues could not be divorced from other core issues such as security arrangements and Israel’s demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, something that would be tantamount to their accepting the principle that the descendents of Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return to pre-1967 Israel.

Netanyahu is also apparently unwilling to pledge to wrap up an agreement on borders during the time when there is a settlement freeze. And the US, for its part, is reportedly unwilling to commit in writing that this would be the last settlement freeze it would ask for, apparently wanting to keep open the option of another freeze if the border issue was not wrapped up during one 90-day freeze.

Whoa! Wasn’t part of the deal that the Obami would never, ever, cross their hearts, ask for another freeze? If there is a method to this chaotic bribe-a-thon, it’s not yet apparent. Unlike the Bush team, which actually had the parties talking to each other, this crew can only bicker about what it is that they offered Israel in order to induce the PA to return to the table. If there has been a less competent Middle East negotiating team, I can’t recall it.

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RE: Russian Impunity, Obama’s Indifference

Eli Lake has more on the attack on Boris Nemtsov:

Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, said in an interview that those who assaulted him were linked to a pro-Putin youth group known as the Nashi. In a telephone interview, he said the assailants sneaked up on him at the airport after he retrieved his luggage and cleared customs and threw a fishing net onto him and proceeded to take photos. “I guess I am a big fish,” he told The Washington Times.

Two U.S. senators spoke out forcefully:

“I was disturbed to learn that he was attacked today at a Moscow airport upon his return to Russia after suggesting at the event that top Kremlin advisers, including Vladislav Surkov, be blacklisted from the United States,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Helsinki Commission, said this week.

“In the attack on Mr. Nemtsov, occurring at a major international airport, it would seem there would be ample evidence and eyewitnesses to facilitate a thorough investigation,” Mr. Cardin said. …

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said in an interview that the harassment of Mr. Nemtsov was “part of a continuation of the disappearance of democracy and rights of the individual in Russia, particularly if you were part of previous administrations and speak out in opposition to the present repression of the press and people who are in opposition to the Putin administration.”

And what about the administration? It continues to talk “quietly” to Russian authorities, so quietly that its entreaties have apparently been ignored. The message is unmistakable: in order to preserve “reset,” we are willing to downplay concerns about human rights:

The Obama administration has sought to engage Mr. Medvedev while marginalizing the former president and current prime minister, Mr. Putin. But some critics say the White House approach is too soft on democracy and human rights in Russia.

“We all know one of the major reasons why the Berlin Wall came down in the first place is because of the steadfastness of support for those standing up for risks for freedom behind the Iron Curtain,” Mr. McCain said. “Obviously, this administration is far more interested in pushing the quote reset button.”

If we actually were getting something for our appeasement, the approach would be amoral, but understandable. But we are not — Russian help on Afghanistan is minimal, and it has helped construct the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran. The Nemtsov incident is just the latest example of the Obama administration’s obsequiousness; it has stern words only for our allies.

Eli Lake has more on the attack on Boris Nemtsov:

Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, said in an interview that those who assaulted him were linked to a pro-Putin youth group known as the Nashi. In a telephone interview, he said the assailants sneaked up on him at the airport after he retrieved his luggage and cleared customs and threw a fishing net onto him and proceeded to take photos. “I guess I am a big fish,” he told The Washington Times.

Two U.S. senators spoke out forcefully:

“I was disturbed to learn that he was attacked today at a Moscow airport upon his return to Russia after suggesting at the event that top Kremlin advisers, including Vladislav Surkov, be blacklisted from the United States,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Helsinki Commission, said this week.

“In the attack on Mr. Nemtsov, occurring at a major international airport, it would seem there would be ample evidence and eyewitnesses to facilitate a thorough investigation,” Mr. Cardin said. …

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said in an interview that the harassment of Mr. Nemtsov was “part of a continuation of the disappearance of democracy and rights of the individual in Russia, particularly if you were part of previous administrations and speak out in opposition to the present repression of the press and people who are in opposition to the Putin administration.”

And what about the administration? It continues to talk “quietly” to Russian authorities, so quietly that its entreaties have apparently been ignored. The message is unmistakable: in order to preserve “reset,” we are willing to downplay concerns about human rights:

The Obama administration has sought to engage Mr. Medvedev while marginalizing the former president and current prime minister, Mr. Putin. But some critics say the White House approach is too soft on democracy and human rights in Russia.

“We all know one of the major reasons why the Berlin Wall came down in the first place is because of the steadfastness of support for those standing up for risks for freedom behind the Iron Curtain,” Mr. McCain said. “Obviously, this administration is far more interested in pushing the quote reset button.”

If we actually were getting something for our appeasement, the approach would be amoral, but understandable. But we are not — Russian help on Afghanistan is minimal, and it has helped construct the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran. The Nemtsov incident is just the latest example of the Obama administration’s obsequiousness; it has stern words only for our allies.

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Hezbollah Threatens to Take Over Lebanon

Almost everyone thought that the Syrian government assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005, but most evidence now points to Hezbollah. An investigation just published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes to that conclusion. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is widely expected to soon hand down an indictment against Hezbollah officials, and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is saying he may launch a coup d’etat or a putsch against Lebanon’s government if it happens. “Our options,” he said, “are anywhere between doing nothing and causing a major political change.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Assad’s regime in Damascus is off the hook. Hezbollah is a Syrian and Iranian proxy militia, after all. Both Damascus and Tehran could be considered at least indirectly responsible, if not directly responsible, if it turns out that Hezbollah is, in fact, guilty. And if Nasrallah makes good on his threat and takes over Lebanon on behalf of his foreign masters, the temperature in the Middle East will rise dramatically. Israelis will no doubt be alarmed, as will the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arab states in the Gulf.

I do not, however, expect Hezbollah will ever conquer and rule the whole country as Hamas does in Gaza. Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon by a long shot, but it’s a sectarian Shia militia and is not likely powerful enough to rule hostile Christian, Sunni, and Druze regions.

The Lebanese army is neither powerful nor cohesive enough to disarm Hezbollah by force. It would surely mean war if it tried, and Hezbollah would quickly and decisively win a defensive conflict. That does not, however, mean that Hezbollah can win an offensive war in hostile cities and neighborhoods. Sure, Nasrallah could topple Lebanon’s government easily enough, but then what? He won the short civil war in 2008 when his men took over the western half of the capital, but he did not stick around to govern that area. Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist army, not an occupation force. Counterinsurgency is hardly in its skill set.

If Nasrallah tries to make himself the dictator of Lebanon, he’ll probably learn the hard way what Americans learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when regime change is easy, the aftermath is ferocious.

There’s a reason Lebanon’s Christians, Sunnis, and Druze haven’t fielded their own militias to stand against Hezbollah. The lesson they learned from the 1975-1990 civil war was perhaps best summed up by former president Amin Gemayel: “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.” But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Hezbollah may well be all but unstoppable. Nasrallah talks as though his men are all but unstoppable, and he might even believe it.

It has been a long time since Israel has fought a war against a foreign government rather than against non-state terrorist organizations, but if my analysis here is wrong, if Hezbollah does in fact take over the country, war between Middle Eastern nation-states will likely resume. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah would be a war between Israel and the Lebanese government by definition, and it could happen even if the majority of Israelis and Lebanese would rather it didn’t.

Almost everyone thought that the Syrian government assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005, but most evidence now points to Hezbollah. An investigation just published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation comes to that conclusion. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is widely expected to soon hand down an indictment against Hezbollah officials, and Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is saying he may launch a coup d’etat or a putsch against Lebanon’s government if it happens. “Our options,” he said, “are anywhere between doing nothing and causing a major political change.”

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Assad’s regime in Damascus is off the hook. Hezbollah is a Syrian and Iranian proxy militia, after all. Both Damascus and Tehran could be considered at least indirectly responsible, if not directly responsible, if it turns out that Hezbollah is, in fact, guilty. And if Nasrallah makes good on his threat and takes over Lebanon on behalf of his foreign masters, the temperature in the Middle East will rise dramatically. Israelis will no doubt be alarmed, as will the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the Arab states in the Gulf.

I do not, however, expect Hezbollah will ever conquer and rule the whole country as Hamas does in Gaza. Hezbollah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon by a long shot, but it’s a sectarian Shia militia and is not likely powerful enough to rule hostile Christian, Sunni, and Druze regions.

The Lebanese army is neither powerful nor cohesive enough to disarm Hezbollah by force. It would surely mean war if it tried, and Hezbollah would quickly and decisively win a defensive conflict. That does not, however, mean that Hezbollah can win an offensive war in hostile cities and neighborhoods. Sure, Nasrallah could topple Lebanon’s government easily enough, but then what? He won the short civil war in 2008 when his men took over the western half of the capital, but he did not stick around to govern that area. Hezbollah is a guerrilla and terrorist army, not an occupation force. Counterinsurgency is hardly in its skill set.

If Nasrallah tries to make himself the dictator of Lebanon, he’ll probably learn the hard way what Americans learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when regime change is easy, the aftermath is ferocious.

There’s a reason Lebanon’s Christians, Sunnis, and Druze haven’t fielded their own militias to stand against Hezbollah. The lesson they learned from the 1975-1990 civil war was perhaps best summed up by former president Amin Gemayel: “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.” But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Hezbollah may well be all but unstoppable. Nasrallah talks as though his men are all but unstoppable, and he might even believe it.

It has been a long time since Israel has fought a war against a foreign government rather than against non-state terrorist organizations, but if my analysis here is wrong, if Hezbollah does in fact take over the country, war between Middle Eastern nation-states will likely resume. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah would be a war between Israel and the Lebanese government by definition, and it could happen even if the majority of Israelis and Lebanese would rather it didn’t.

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Another Thumbs Down on Obama’s Middle East Gambit

We’ve yet to find a Middle East expert — right, left, or centrist — who thinks that the Obami’s bribe-a-thon is a swell idea. The latest to weigh in is Leslie Gelb, who objects on the grounds that the deal is too generous and gives up American leverage (such as it is) over Israel. My complaints are different, but I don’t disagree with his ultimate conclusion:

Based on my reading of this torturous history, I would not try to start negotiating between Israel and Palestine by leaning on or bribing Israel for the umpteenth time. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work. What might succeed is a dramatic step not by the Israelis, but by the Palestinians. Their leaders should be emulating Anwar Sadat, the great Egyptian president who went to Jerusalem in 1977. His nation had been defeated in the 1973 war, and Israel occupied the entire Sinai Peninsula, a historic Egyptian territory. There was no prospect that Israel would return this land after Egypt had attacked Israel in 1973. But President Sadat took his pride and his great dream for peace with Israel and stood before the Israeli Knesset. In effect, he put his life, not to mention his popularity at home, on the line and conferred recognition and legitimacy upon the state of Israel. In return, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt, every square inch. …

Today, President Abbas of the Palestinians and his Prime Minister Fayyad also can journey to the Knesset. And there, they can pledge acceptance of “a Jewish state of Israel.” Those very words could not help but unleash a positive Israeli response on the West Bank and even East Jerusalem. That act alone would shrink the haystack of hatred so that the two sides might find the needle of peace.

Well, if you reply that this will never happen, then the question becomes: what are we doing spending precious time and attention on the so-called peace process? If it is inconceivable that the PA leaders would transform themselves into Sadat, then it’s time to stop the charade and focus on improving life in the West Bank and wait for a new generation of leaders and Palestinian citizens to agree that they want the grapes more than they desire to kill the vineyard guard.

We’ve yet to find a Middle East expert — right, left, or centrist — who thinks that the Obami’s bribe-a-thon is a swell idea. The latest to weigh in is Leslie Gelb, who objects on the grounds that the deal is too generous and gives up American leverage (such as it is) over Israel. My complaints are different, but I don’t disagree with his ultimate conclusion:

Based on my reading of this torturous history, I would not try to start negotiating between Israel and Palestine by leaning on or bribing Israel for the umpteenth time. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work. What might succeed is a dramatic step not by the Israelis, but by the Palestinians. Their leaders should be emulating Anwar Sadat, the great Egyptian president who went to Jerusalem in 1977. His nation had been defeated in the 1973 war, and Israel occupied the entire Sinai Peninsula, a historic Egyptian territory. There was no prospect that Israel would return this land after Egypt had attacked Israel in 1973. But President Sadat took his pride and his great dream for peace with Israel and stood before the Israeli Knesset. In effect, he put his life, not to mention his popularity at home, on the line and conferred recognition and legitimacy upon the state of Israel. In return, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt, every square inch. …

Today, President Abbas of the Palestinians and his Prime Minister Fayyad also can journey to the Knesset. And there, they can pledge acceptance of “a Jewish state of Israel.” Those very words could not help but unleash a positive Israeli response on the West Bank and even East Jerusalem. That act alone would shrink the haystack of hatred so that the two sides might find the needle of peace.

Well, if you reply that this will never happen, then the question becomes: what are we doing spending precious time and attention on the so-called peace process? If it is inconceivable that the PA leaders would transform themselves into Sadat, then it’s time to stop the charade and focus on improving life in the West Bank and wait for a new generation of leaders and Palestinian citizens to agree that they want the grapes more than they desire to kill the vineyard guard.

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Russian Impunity, Obama’s Indifference

Last week, Boris Nemtsov spoke to the Foreign Policy Initiative conference on the state of human rights in Russia and the need for the U.S. to step up to the plate. Now we hear:

Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was assaulted but uninjured by a group of thugs at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport earlier today. Nemtsov was returning from a trip to the United States during which he called for U.S. congressional action imposing penalties on Russian officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. Speaking at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s 2010 Forum earlier this week, Mr. Nemtsov discussed Russian Prime Minister Putin’s continuing control over much of the country’s policies and specifically called for Vladislav Surkov, a top Kremlin official, to be placed on a “black list and have no chance to get [a] visa to the States.” Nemtsov said that Surkov is “responsible for censorship. He’s responsible for canceling elections. He’s responsible for [an] atmosphere of hatred.” Nemtsov called it “a pity and very sad” that Surkov is the co-chairman, with National Security Council official Michael McFaul, of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group. Mr. Nemtsov called the commission, one of President Obama’s initiatives under his “reset” policy toward Russia, a “bad joke.”

There could be no better example of the impunity that despotic thugs — and their henchmen — enjoy than this incident. Nemtsov related to Eli Lake the lack of concern, or even interest, that Obama displayed when presented with a human rights report. Nemtsov and his Russian adversaries are in agreement on one thing: there really is no incentive for Russia to democratize and to improve its shabby human rights record. At least not as long as the current administration demonstrates it will do virtually anything — and turn a blind eye toward anything — to preserve “reset.” (If the Russians were cagey enough, they’d ask for 20 F-35s.)

Last week, Boris Nemtsov spoke to the Foreign Policy Initiative conference on the state of human rights in Russia and the need for the U.S. to step up to the plate. Now we hear:

Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was assaulted but uninjured by a group of thugs at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport earlier today. Nemtsov was returning from a trip to the United States during which he called for U.S. congressional action imposing penalties on Russian officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. Speaking at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s 2010 Forum earlier this week, Mr. Nemtsov discussed Russian Prime Minister Putin’s continuing control over much of the country’s policies and specifically called for Vladislav Surkov, a top Kremlin official, to be placed on a “black list and have no chance to get [a] visa to the States.” Nemtsov said that Surkov is “responsible for censorship. He’s responsible for canceling elections. He’s responsible for [an] atmosphere of hatred.” Nemtsov called it “a pity and very sad” that Surkov is the co-chairman, with National Security Council official Michael McFaul, of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group. Mr. Nemtsov called the commission, one of President Obama’s initiatives under his “reset” policy toward Russia, a “bad joke.”

There could be no better example of the impunity that despotic thugs — and their henchmen — enjoy than this incident. Nemtsov related to Eli Lake the lack of concern, or even interest, that Obama displayed when presented with a human rights report. Nemtsov and his Russian adversaries are in agreement on one thing: there really is no incentive for Russia to democratize and to improve its shabby human rights record. At least not as long as the current administration demonstrates it will do virtually anything — and turn a blind eye toward anything — to preserve “reset.” (If the Russians were cagey enough, they’d ask for 20 F-35s.)

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The Value of a Written Commitment

An Israeli official noted on Friday that the U.S. had still not produced a letter confirming the promises made to Benjamin Netanyahu the week before, including the pledge to give Israel 20 F-35 stealth warplanes worth $3 billion, which produced this reaction from Benny Begin:

“It looks like the free stealth fighters have slipped,” said Benny Begin, a minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party who is opposed to the proposed U.S. deal, warning that Washington was setting a trap to extract major concessions later down the line.

“One may wonder if you cannot agree to understandings from one week to the next, what could happen over three months,” Begin told the Army Radio on Friday.

With this administration, it is a good idea to get oral understandings in writing, since Hillary Clinton famously argued last year that a six-year unwritten understanding of a “settlement freeze” (no new settlements or expansion of the borders of existing ones) was “unenforceable” — and that henceforth every new apartment (or announcement of one) would be considered a “settlement.” No wonder the Israeli security cabinet decided that an oral understanding would not be worth the paper it was written on.

Of course, with this administration, the value of a written understanding may not be worth much more. One of the provisions of the 2004 Bush letter was that the “United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” than the Roadmap (emphasis added), with its requirement of a negotiated settlement based on UN Resolution 242. Israel sought the commitment to prevent the possibility that a complete withdrawal from Gaza might eventually lead the UN (or a subsequent U.S. administration) to seek to impose a complete withdrawal from the West Bank, rather than an agreed withdrawal to defensible borders.

Rather than reaffirm that commitment, the new U.S. letter commits only to opposing a UN declaration of a Palestinian state for a year (which coincidentally ends at the same time the Palestinian prime minister says he will have established the institutions of a state). The one-year commitment is thus less a promise than a threat – you’ve got a year to come to an agreement – that will add a perverse influence to the process: pressure on Israel from the time limit and a reverse incentive for the Palestinians to wait for its expiration, in the hope they can then transfer the issue to the UN without opposition from the United States. It is not clear what the value of such a letter is.

An Israeli official noted on Friday that the U.S. had still not produced a letter confirming the promises made to Benjamin Netanyahu the week before, including the pledge to give Israel 20 F-35 stealth warplanes worth $3 billion, which produced this reaction from Benny Begin:

“It looks like the free stealth fighters have slipped,” said Benny Begin, a minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party who is opposed to the proposed U.S. deal, warning that Washington was setting a trap to extract major concessions later down the line.

“One may wonder if you cannot agree to understandings from one week to the next, what could happen over three months,” Begin told the Army Radio on Friday.

With this administration, it is a good idea to get oral understandings in writing, since Hillary Clinton famously argued last year that a six-year unwritten understanding of a “settlement freeze” (no new settlements or expansion of the borders of existing ones) was “unenforceable” — and that henceforth every new apartment (or announcement of one) would be considered a “settlement.” No wonder the Israeli security cabinet decided that an oral understanding would not be worth the paper it was written on.

Of course, with this administration, the value of a written understanding may not be worth much more. One of the provisions of the 2004 Bush letter was that the “United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” than the Roadmap (emphasis added), with its requirement of a negotiated settlement based on UN Resolution 242. Israel sought the commitment to prevent the possibility that a complete withdrawal from Gaza might eventually lead the UN (or a subsequent U.S. administration) to seek to impose a complete withdrawal from the West Bank, rather than an agreed withdrawal to defensible borders.

Rather than reaffirm that commitment, the new U.S. letter commits only to opposing a UN declaration of a Palestinian state for a year (which coincidentally ends at the same time the Palestinian prime minister says he will have established the institutions of a state). The one-year commitment is thus less a promise than a threat – you’ve got a year to come to an agreement – that will add a perverse influence to the process: pressure on Israel from the time limit and a reverse incentive for the Palestinians to wait for its expiration, in the hope they can then transfer the issue to the UN without opposition from the United States. It is not clear what the value of such a letter is.

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It’s Getting Painful to Watch

Those who were supportive of Obama’s latest stunt to keep the “peace process” going argued that at least Israel would get some very expensive fighter aircraft for a mere 90-day extension. Well, not so fast, according to this report:

On Wednesday, Ynet reported of the disagreement between Israel and the US over the F-35 fighter jets which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed will be included in the freeze deal. Sources familiar with the matter said Thursday that progress has been made on the issue and stated that the aircraft will arrive in Israel in 2015. Nevertheless, it appears there still is a misunderstanding regarding the payment for the jets.

In his meetings with the seven ministers Saturday night and the Likud ministers, Netanyahu stressed that the 20 fighter jets will be given as a gift from the US and that Israel will not have to pay for them using funds from the security aid budget.

The parties are still working out the details of the matter, as it appears the US had a different take on the understandings reached between Clinton and Netanyahu in New York. It also appears there were misunderstandings regarding the time in which the aircraft will be provided, as Israel expected to receive them in the coming years while the US planned on supplying them after a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians is achieved.

Got that? The planes aren’t free and are conditioned on a peace deal that is unlikely to be made by 2015 — or 2025, for that matter. Now this seems like a pretty fundamental point, and yet the parties aren’t clear on the contours of the deal? Yes, the more we learn, the more discombobulated the Obama team seems.

Oh, and the promise not to include East Jerusalem in the deal is also sort of up in the air: “The paper is slated to include a US pledge not to demand an additional moratorium at the end of the second freeze. The issue of Jerusalem is not mentioned, however, sources close to the negotiations noted that the document suggests that Jerusalem is not included in the freeze.” So East Jerusalem is simply ignored? “Suggests” suggests that this, too, is fuzzy.

I’m sure professional negotiators must be appalled by all this. Every aspect of the undertaking — the investment of so much presidential prestige in a long-shot proposition, the notion that the PA can make a deal, the obsession with settlements, the frantic last-minute bribe, the lack of clarity, the preposterous assumption that we’ll get a deal in 90 days — reveals a lack of sophistication and understanding of the region. It has taken on the feel of an international-relations exam: how many errors can you find in this undertaking?

And by the way, the parties broke off whatever minimal talks they were having nearly two months ago. At some point, as the U.S.’s haggling with Bibi’s government continues (Well, when we said “give” we didn’t mean for free!), perhaps they will declare a “recess” and all go home to work out the details at the staff level. And then this entire, shabby episode can be left for the history books — and the graduate students — we hope never to be repeated.

Those who were supportive of Obama’s latest stunt to keep the “peace process” going argued that at least Israel would get some very expensive fighter aircraft for a mere 90-day extension. Well, not so fast, according to this report:

On Wednesday, Ynet reported of the disagreement between Israel and the US over the F-35 fighter jets which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed will be included in the freeze deal. Sources familiar with the matter said Thursday that progress has been made on the issue and stated that the aircraft will arrive in Israel in 2015. Nevertheless, it appears there still is a misunderstanding regarding the payment for the jets.

In his meetings with the seven ministers Saturday night and the Likud ministers, Netanyahu stressed that the 20 fighter jets will be given as a gift from the US and that Israel will not have to pay for them using funds from the security aid budget.

The parties are still working out the details of the matter, as it appears the US had a different take on the understandings reached between Clinton and Netanyahu in New York. It also appears there were misunderstandings regarding the time in which the aircraft will be provided, as Israel expected to receive them in the coming years while the US planned on supplying them after a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians is achieved.

Got that? The planes aren’t free and are conditioned on a peace deal that is unlikely to be made by 2015 — or 2025, for that matter. Now this seems like a pretty fundamental point, and yet the parties aren’t clear on the contours of the deal? Yes, the more we learn, the more discombobulated the Obama team seems.

Oh, and the promise not to include East Jerusalem in the deal is also sort of up in the air: “The paper is slated to include a US pledge not to demand an additional moratorium at the end of the second freeze. The issue of Jerusalem is not mentioned, however, sources close to the negotiations noted that the document suggests that Jerusalem is not included in the freeze.” So East Jerusalem is simply ignored? “Suggests” suggests that this, too, is fuzzy.

I’m sure professional negotiators must be appalled by all this. Every aspect of the undertaking — the investment of so much presidential prestige in a long-shot proposition, the notion that the PA can make a deal, the obsession with settlements, the frantic last-minute bribe, the lack of clarity, the preposterous assumption that we’ll get a deal in 90 days — reveals a lack of sophistication and understanding of the region. It has taken on the feel of an international-relations exam: how many errors can you find in this undertaking?

And by the way, the parties broke off whatever minimal talks they were having nearly two months ago. At some point, as the U.S.’s haggling with Bibi’s government continues (Well, when we said “give” we didn’t mean for free!), perhaps they will declare a “recess” and all go home to work out the details at the staff level. And then this entire, shabby episode can be left for the history books — and the graduate students — we hope never to be repeated.

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NATO Going Cold Turkey

More evidence that NATO is in trouble has come alive as the alliance prepares for its summit this weekend. As reported in several news sources, Turkey has gotten its way, and NATO officialdom will make no mention of Iran as a missile threat so as not to complicate things for NATO’s only Islamist member. The whole thing is, of course, a farce. NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (who, as Danish prime minister during the cartoon affair, has already had a flavor of Turkish tolerance), has confirmed that NATO’s new strategic concept, due to be released at the summit, will not name Iran as a particular threat. Pressed by journalists, NATO spokesman James Appathurai was quoted as saying that “[t]here are at least 30 countries, more than 30 countries, acquiring, that have or are acquiring ballistic missile capability,” he replied. “So this is not just about one country. It’s about a growing and, in essence, generic potential threat to our territory.”

Now, we will not argue with the fact that NATO’s readiness to embrace missile defense may be more than just about Iran — after all, Syria and Libya have missiles (Libya actually shot missiles once at a NATO ally — Italy — in 1986, in lame retaliation for the U.S. raid over Tripoli). If Pakistan ever fell into the wrong hands, there would be even more reason to worry. And North Korea may one day have ICBMs to threaten NATO countries (it already threatens NATO allies and partners).

But why not point out Iran, given that Libya has renounced its nuclear program and Syria is an Iran proxy whose nuclear program benefited from Iranian and North Korean support? And the 30-country myth is especially silly — as it includes countries too far away to threaten NATO countries, friendly countries, NATO members, countries with obsolete missile programs, and then, well, and then Iran.

If missile defense is to be an essential component of NATO’s new doctrine of nuclear deterrence in a world populated in the future by rogue states with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, then it would be desirable to recall that another essential element of any deterrence doctrine is some kind of declaratory policy. If all we get from NATO is denial for Turkey’s appeasement’s sake, the credibility of NATO’s deterrence is harmed.

Which all comes down to a simple matter — why is Turkey still a member of the alliance?

More evidence that NATO is in trouble has come alive as the alliance prepares for its summit this weekend. As reported in several news sources, Turkey has gotten its way, and NATO officialdom will make no mention of Iran as a missile threat so as not to complicate things for NATO’s only Islamist member. The whole thing is, of course, a farce. NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (who, as Danish prime minister during the cartoon affair, has already had a flavor of Turkish tolerance), has confirmed that NATO’s new strategic concept, due to be released at the summit, will not name Iran as a particular threat. Pressed by journalists, NATO spokesman James Appathurai was quoted as saying that “[t]here are at least 30 countries, more than 30 countries, acquiring, that have or are acquiring ballistic missile capability,” he replied. “So this is not just about one country. It’s about a growing and, in essence, generic potential threat to our territory.”

Now, we will not argue with the fact that NATO’s readiness to embrace missile defense may be more than just about Iran — after all, Syria and Libya have missiles (Libya actually shot missiles once at a NATO ally — Italy — in 1986, in lame retaliation for the U.S. raid over Tripoli). If Pakistan ever fell into the wrong hands, there would be even more reason to worry. And North Korea may one day have ICBMs to threaten NATO countries (it already threatens NATO allies and partners).

But why not point out Iran, given that Libya has renounced its nuclear program and Syria is an Iran proxy whose nuclear program benefited from Iranian and North Korean support? And the 30-country myth is especially silly — as it includes countries too far away to threaten NATO countries, friendly countries, NATO members, countries with obsolete missile programs, and then, well, and then Iran.

If missile defense is to be an essential component of NATO’s new doctrine of nuclear deterrence in a world populated in the future by rogue states with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, then it would be desirable to recall that another essential element of any deterrence doctrine is some kind of declaratory policy. If all we get from NATO is denial for Turkey’s appeasement’s sake, the credibility of NATO’s deterrence is harmed.

Which all comes down to a simple matter — why is Turkey still a member of the alliance?

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New Reports Show Another Freeze Won’t Buy Israel Quiet with U.S.

When the emerging U.S.-Israel deal on another three-month settlement freeze was first reported, I could understand the argument (ably made by  Jonathan) that despite the freeze’s many negative consequences, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should acquiesce. But if subsequent reports are true, another extension would be disastrous. If Israel is going to spend the next two years fighting with Washington over construction with or without the deal, it can so do more effectively without another freeze.

Yesterday, Haaretz reported that contrary to previous reports, Barack Obama isn’t promising not to seek further moratoriums: his proposed letter to Netanyahu would merely say that “progress over the next three months would render another freeze unnecessary.”

Yet the chances of progress during these months rendering “another freeze unnecessary” are nonexistent. Nothing less than a signed-and-sealed deal on borders would let Israel build in “its” parts of the West Bank without Palestinian objections, and even Washington doesn’t believe that’s achievable in just three months. Thus, when the three months end, Palestinians will once again object to Israeli construction on “their” land — and Obama will once again back them by demanding another freeze.

Then came today’s report — again contradicting earlier ones — that the U.S. won’t really exempt East Jerusalem from the moratorium. A “senior U.S. official” told Haaretz that even if Israel extends the freeze, “we will continue to press for quiet throughout East Jerusalem during the 90 days.”

The official added that President Barack Obama had committed in an oral message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last April that the U.S. expects both sides to refrain from “actions that would seriously undermine trust,” including in East Jerusalem, and would respond with “steps, actions, or adjustments in policy” to any such provocative actions as long as negotiations are underway.

The U.S. administration has defined “actions that would seriously undermine trust” as including major housing announcements, demolitions, or evictions in East Jerusalem.

“This policy will continue if the negotiations resume under a 90-day moratorium and the Israelis know it”, said the US official.

In other words, even if Israel extends the freeze, it won’t get quiet: it will spend the next three months fighting with Obama over Jerusalem, followed by another major fight over the West Bank when the three months end.

And if so, better to have the fight now, when Netanyahu can still reasonably argue that the original 10-month freeze was a one-time gesture that Abbas wasted by refusing to negotiate, and that the onus is therefore now on Abbas, not him, to make the next gesture.

But the minute Netanyahu agrees to another freeze, he accepts two dangerous principles: that the freeze wasn’t an exceptional one-time gesture but instead a tolerable long-term policy, and that it’s never Abbas who needs to make gestures; it’s always and only Israel’s turn. And that leaves him no justification for not extending the freeze again in another three months.

For two years of quiet with Washington, another three-month freeze might be worth it. But if what Israel will really get is just two more years of continued fighting, the only sensible answer is “no.”

When the emerging U.S.-Israel deal on another three-month settlement freeze was first reported, I could understand the argument (ably made by  Jonathan) that despite the freeze’s many negative consequences, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should acquiesce. But if subsequent reports are true, another extension would be disastrous. If Israel is going to spend the next two years fighting with Washington over construction with or without the deal, it can so do more effectively without another freeze.

Yesterday, Haaretz reported that contrary to previous reports, Barack Obama isn’t promising not to seek further moratoriums: his proposed letter to Netanyahu would merely say that “progress over the next three months would render another freeze unnecessary.”

Yet the chances of progress during these months rendering “another freeze unnecessary” are nonexistent. Nothing less than a signed-and-sealed deal on borders would let Israel build in “its” parts of the West Bank without Palestinian objections, and even Washington doesn’t believe that’s achievable in just three months. Thus, when the three months end, Palestinians will once again object to Israeli construction on “their” land — and Obama will once again back them by demanding another freeze.

Then came today’s report — again contradicting earlier ones — that the U.S. won’t really exempt East Jerusalem from the moratorium. A “senior U.S. official” told Haaretz that even if Israel extends the freeze, “we will continue to press for quiet throughout East Jerusalem during the 90 days.”

The official added that President Barack Obama had committed in an oral message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last April that the U.S. expects both sides to refrain from “actions that would seriously undermine trust,” including in East Jerusalem, and would respond with “steps, actions, or adjustments in policy” to any such provocative actions as long as negotiations are underway.

The U.S. administration has defined “actions that would seriously undermine trust” as including major housing announcements, demolitions, or evictions in East Jerusalem.

“This policy will continue if the negotiations resume under a 90-day moratorium and the Israelis know it”, said the US official.

In other words, even if Israel extends the freeze, it won’t get quiet: it will spend the next three months fighting with Obama over Jerusalem, followed by another major fight over the West Bank when the three months end.

And if so, better to have the fight now, when Netanyahu can still reasonably argue that the original 10-month freeze was a one-time gesture that Abbas wasted by refusing to negotiate, and that the onus is therefore now on Abbas, not him, to make the next gesture.

But the minute Netanyahu agrees to another freeze, he accepts two dangerous principles: that the freeze wasn’t an exceptional one-time gesture but instead a tolerable long-term policy, and that it’s never Abbas who needs to make gestures; it’s always and only Israel’s turn. And that leaves him no justification for not extending the freeze again in another three months.

For two years of quiet with Washington, another three-month freeze might be worth it. But if what Israel will really get is just two more years of continued fighting, the only sensible answer is “no.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Get the feeling that Michael Steele has no friends these days? “Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins resigned from his post Tuesday morning with a stinging indictment of Chairman Michael Steele’s two-year tenure at the committee. In a four-page letter to Steele and the RNC’s executive committee obtained by POLITICO, Collins lays out inside details, previously only whispered, about the disorganization that plagues the party. He asserts that the RNC’s financial shortcomings limited GOP gains this year and reveals that the committee is deeply in debt entering the 2012 presidential election cycle.”

Get ready for a really, really tough punishment for Charles Rangel. “A House panel on Tuesday found Representative Charles B. Rangel guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations, ruling that his failure to pay taxes, improper solicitation of fund-raising donations and failure to accurately report his personal income had brought dishonor on the House. … While the committee has the power to recommend expulsion, that is highly unlikely. Ethics experts and committee members have said that Mr. Rangel, 80, is more likely to face a letter of reprimand or a formal censure.” OK, maybe just a hand slap.

Get government to downsize? Puleeze. David Malpass explains what’s so bad about the Fed’s $600B bond-purchase scheme. “By buying longer term assets, whose value will decline when interest rates rise, the Fed is engineering a fundamental change in the nature of U.S. monetary policy. This has undercut global confidence in the Fed, as reflected in high gold prices, dollar weakness, and large-scale investments abroad by U.S. companies and wealthy individuals. … Both fiscal stimulus and Fed asset purchases raise the same giant red flag. As the government expands its role in the economy, business confidence and hiring decline in the knowledge that there’s no free lunch.”

The Obama team simply doesn’t get it: once again, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates throws cold water on the use of military force for preventing Iran from going nuclear. They sure have gone out of their way to give the mullahs assurance that they can defy us without risking a military strike.

Bibi says he needs to get the U.S. bribes promises in writing. “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israeli approval of a 90-day settlement freeze was contingent upon a written US pledge regarding a package of incentives that insured his country’s security and national interests, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post.” Now, there’s a “rock-solid” relationship for you.

House Dems get their anger out. “Disgruntled Democrats finally had a chance to confront Speaker Nancy Pelosi face-to-face for the first time during a raucous closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday, as defeated Rep. Allen Boyd called her ‘the face of our defeat.’ ‘We need new leadership,’ Boyd, a Florida Democrat, told his colleagues, according to sources in the room. … Pelosi, her top elected lieutenants and her aides have been scrambling to defuse discontent following the election. They are actively working to prevent a delay in the leadership vote and to deny support to a slate of proposals by moderate ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats that would weaken her hand in the minority by making top appointive positions subject to caucus election.”

Investors get jittery: “Global stock markets’ steady march higher was interrupted by concerns about growth in China, debt in Europe and the Federal Reserve’s $600 billion plan to stimulate the U.S. economy. Tuesday’s world-wide selling was touched off by a 4% stock drop in Shanghai. It spread to Europe, where markets fell more than 2%, and then to the U.S., pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1.6%, its worst point and percentage decline since August 11.”

Get the feeling that Michael Steele has no friends these days? “Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins resigned from his post Tuesday morning with a stinging indictment of Chairman Michael Steele’s two-year tenure at the committee. In a four-page letter to Steele and the RNC’s executive committee obtained by POLITICO, Collins lays out inside details, previously only whispered, about the disorganization that plagues the party. He asserts that the RNC’s financial shortcomings limited GOP gains this year and reveals that the committee is deeply in debt entering the 2012 presidential election cycle.”

Get ready for a really, really tough punishment for Charles Rangel. “A House panel on Tuesday found Representative Charles B. Rangel guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations, ruling that his failure to pay taxes, improper solicitation of fund-raising donations and failure to accurately report his personal income had brought dishonor on the House. … While the committee has the power to recommend expulsion, that is highly unlikely. Ethics experts and committee members have said that Mr. Rangel, 80, is more likely to face a letter of reprimand or a formal censure.” OK, maybe just a hand slap.

Get government to downsize? Puleeze. David Malpass explains what’s so bad about the Fed’s $600B bond-purchase scheme. “By buying longer term assets, whose value will decline when interest rates rise, the Fed is engineering a fundamental change in the nature of U.S. monetary policy. This has undercut global confidence in the Fed, as reflected in high gold prices, dollar weakness, and large-scale investments abroad by U.S. companies and wealthy individuals. … Both fiscal stimulus and Fed asset purchases raise the same giant red flag. As the government expands its role in the economy, business confidence and hiring decline in the knowledge that there’s no free lunch.”

The Obama team simply doesn’t get it: once again, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates throws cold water on the use of military force for preventing Iran from going nuclear. They sure have gone out of their way to give the mullahs assurance that they can defy us without risking a military strike.

Bibi says he needs to get the U.S. bribes promises in writing. “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israeli approval of a 90-day settlement freeze was contingent upon a written US pledge regarding a package of incentives that insured his country’s security and national interests, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post.” Now, there’s a “rock-solid” relationship for you.

House Dems get their anger out. “Disgruntled Democrats finally had a chance to confront Speaker Nancy Pelosi face-to-face for the first time during a raucous closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday, as defeated Rep. Allen Boyd called her ‘the face of our defeat.’ ‘We need new leadership,’ Boyd, a Florida Democrat, told his colleagues, according to sources in the room. … Pelosi, her top elected lieutenants and her aides have been scrambling to defuse discontent following the election. They are actively working to prevent a delay in the leadership vote and to deny support to a slate of proposals by moderate ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats that would weaken her hand in the minority by making top appointive positions subject to caucus election.”

Investors get jittery: “Global stock markets’ steady march higher was interrupted by concerns about growth in China, debt in Europe and the Federal Reserve’s $600 billion plan to stimulate the U.S. economy. Tuesday’s world-wide selling was touched off by a 4% stock drop in Shanghai. It spread to Europe, where markets fell more than 2%, and then to the U.S., pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1.6%, its worst point and percentage decline since August 11.”

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Netanyahu Chooses the Lesser of Two Evils

The debate over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to renew a settlement-building freeze in the West Bank has been rightly characterized by my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, Evelyn Gordon, and J.E. Dyer as a measure that will not advance the basic interests of the United States or Israel and that will undermine the slim chances for a genuine peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Others are also correct when they point out that this decision, like virtually every other concession made by Israel since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, strengthens the incorrect perception that the Palestinians are the only lawful owners of all of the West Bank.

But as much as Oslo has been completely discredited by the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace, Netanyahu cannot afford to act as if the desire of the United States to pursue another round of peace talks is irrelevant. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be among the last people on Planet Earth to fail to understand that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has neither the will nor the interest in signing a peace accord, no matter where Israel’s borders are drawn. Their decision — to hound Netanyahu to renew the freeze for 90 days even after a 10-month freeze was ignored by the Palestinians — is an absurd policy that mires the administration in a dead-end process that can win them no laurels and few thanks from a Muslim world that Obama is still clearly interested in appeasing.

Yet would it have been prudent of Netanyahu to simply say no indefinitely? Another three months of a freeze won’t do more to undermine Israel’s rights or security than the previous 17 years of fruitless negotiations have done, whereas another spat with the White House that could have been blamed on Israel would worsen the country’s position.

It is true, as Evelyn Gordon has written, that Israel will get no credit from an international community that is hostile to the existence of the Jewish state. But it is also true that actions that highlight the true obstacle to peace — Palestinian irredentism — are essential to maintaining the bipartisan, across-the-board support for Israel here in the United States. As much as Netanyahu would have been justified in bluntly and publicly telling Obama and Clinton that their demand for another freeze was wrong, that would have meant putting his country in the position to be accused of saying “no” to peace. Such a charge would be a lie, but it would have strengthened the hand of those in the Obama administration who want to distance the United States from Israel, and it would also have been exactly what Abbas wanted because it would allow him to avoid being the one to say “no” to more talks or ultimately to an agreement. In the game of chicken being played by Israel and the Palestinians, all the settlement freeze has done is to put more pressure on Abbas to jump out of the talks, illustrating once again that peace is something that will only be achieved by a change in the political culture of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu must live with a situation where his only ally-state is led by a man who is still uncomfortable with Israel and unwilling to abandon his hubristic belief that he can succeed in making peace where all who have gone before him have failed. Obama has another two years left in his current term and 12 months or so before the requirements of his quest for re-election may serve to deter him from further putting the screws to Israel. During this period, Netanyahu may face a decision about whether Israel will strike at Iran’s nuclear project. Another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza may also be forced upon the Jewish state during this time frame.

There are no guarantees that this concession, like all those made by Israel before this, will strengthen Israel’s hand in gaining support for its right of self-defense, but doing so will surely make it easier for Israel to make its case before the American people, especially at a time when the White House must be considered essentially unfriendly to Jerusalem. Under the circumstances, Netanyahu cannot be blamed for deciding that giving in on the freeze — when it is obvious that the Palestinians will not take advantage of the opening — is the lesser of two evils.

The debate over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to renew a settlement-building freeze in the West Bank has been rightly characterized by my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, Evelyn Gordon, and J.E. Dyer as a measure that will not advance the basic interests of the United States or Israel and that will undermine the slim chances for a genuine peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Others are also correct when they point out that this decision, like virtually every other concession made by Israel since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, strengthens the incorrect perception that the Palestinians are the only lawful owners of all of the West Bank.

But as much as Oslo has been completely discredited by the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace, Netanyahu cannot afford to act as if the desire of the United States to pursue another round of peace talks is irrelevant. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be among the last people on Planet Earth to fail to understand that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has neither the will nor the interest in signing a peace accord, no matter where Israel’s borders are drawn. Their decision — to hound Netanyahu to renew the freeze for 90 days even after a 10-month freeze was ignored by the Palestinians — is an absurd policy that mires the administration in a dead-end process that can win them no laurels and few thanks from a Muslim world that Obama is still clearly interested in appeasing.

Yet would it have been prudent of Netanyahu to simply say no indefinitely? Another three months of a freeze won’t do more to undermine Israel’s rights or security than the previous 17 years of fruitless negotiations have done, whereas another spat with the White House that could have been blamed on Israel would worsen the country’s position.

It is true, as Evelyn Gordon has written, that Israel will get no credit from an international community that is hostile to the existence of the Jewish state. But it is also true that actions that highlight the true obstacle to peace — Palestinian irredentism — are essential to maintaining the bipartisan, across-the-board support for Israel here in the United States. As much as Netanyahu would have been justified in bluntly and publicly telling Obama and Clinton that their demand for another freeze was wrong, that would have meant putting his country in the position to be accused of saying “no” to peace. Such a charge would be a lie, but it would have strengthened the hand of those in the Obama administration who want to distance the United States from Israel, and it would also have been exactly what Abbas wanted because it would allow him to avoid being the one to say “no” to more talks or ultimately to an agreement. In the game of chicken being played by Israel and the Palestinians, all the settlement freeze has done is to put more pressure on Abbas to jump out of the talks, illustrating once again that peace is something that will only be achieved by a change in the political culture of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu must live with a situation where his only ally-state is led by a man who is still uncomfortable with Israel and unwilling to abandon his hubristic belief that he can succeed in making peace where all who have gone before him have failed. Obama has another two years left in his current term and 12 months or so before the requirements of his quest for re-election may serve to deter him from further putting the screws to Israel. During this period, Netanyahu may face a decision about whether Israel will strike at Iran’s nuclear project. Another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza may also be forced upon the Jewish state during this time frame.

There are no guarantees that this concession, like all those made by Israel before this, will strengthen Israel’s hand in gaining support for its right of self-defense, but doing so will surely make it easier for Israel to make its case before the American people, especially at a time when the White House must be considered essentially unfriendly to Jerusalem. Under the circumstances, Netanyahu cannot be blamed for deciding that giving in on the freeze — when it is obvious that the Palestinians will not take advantage of the opening — is the lesser of two evils.

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Karzai’s Words, and His Actions

Hamid Karzai has caused considerable consternation with his weekend interview with the Washington Post. He told Post editors and reporters: “The time has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life…. It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly.” He also criticized “night raids”–Special Operations raids that occur at night–as he has in the past.

The Post reports that General Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” as his remarks which seem to fly in the face of NATO’s strategy. Today Karzai’s spokesman was rapidly backtracking, stressing that Karzai’s comments about the desirability of a troop pullout were “conditioned on the ability of the Afghan security forces to take responsibility.” The spokesman made clear that Karzai supports NATO’s goal to begin withdrawing in 2014.

This kerfuffle reminds me of many similar statements made over the years by Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq. As I noted in this 2008 Washington Post op-ed, Maliki, too, has had a history of calling for U.S. troop withdrawals:

In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, “Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.”

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be “only a matter of months” before his security forces could “take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.”

President Bush wisely ignored Maliki. Instead of withdrawing U.S. troops, he sent more. The prime minister wasn’t happy. On Dec. 15, 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn’t want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country, according to U.S. military officials.” When the surge went ahead anyway, Maliki gave it an endorsement described in news accounts as “lukewarm.”

I suggested in the op-ed that it was wise to judge Maliki by what he did, not what he said. For all of his public doubts about the U.S. troop presence he generally supported American actions behind-the-scenes–although often only after considerable arm-twisting from Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Karzai, too, should be judged by his actions, rather than by his occasional expressions of public frustration with the coalition. He has not done anything as dramatic as Maliki, who ordered his security forces to clear Basra and Sadr City of the Sadrist militia, but he has taken some positive steps such as agreeing to the setting up of the Afghan Local Police program to augment the Afghan security forces.

Moreover, some of his criticisms of international forces are on the mark–the U.S. and its allies have done much to fuel corruption in Afghanistan, as he complains, and their employment of local security forces has often been a contributor to instability. Yet at the end of the day Afghanistan would be far more insecure without an America troop presence, and that is something I suspect Karzai, for all his misguided public statements, actually realizes.

Hamid Karzai has caused considerable consternation with his weekend interview with the Washington Post. He told Post editors and reporters: “The time has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life…. It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly.” He also criticized “night raids”–Special Operations raids that occur at night–as he has in the past.

The Post reports that General Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” as his remarks which seem to fly in the face of NATO’s strategy. Today Karzai’s spokesman was rapidly backtracking, stressing that Karzai’s comments about the desirability of a troop pullout were “conditioned on the ability of the Afghan security forces to take responsibility.” The spokesman made clear that Karzai supports NATO’s goal to begin withdrawing in 2014.

This kerfuffle reminds me of many similar statements made over the years by Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq. As I noted in this 2008 Washington Post op-ed, Maliki, too, has had a history of calling for U.S. troop withdrawals:

In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, “Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.”

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be “only a matter of months” before his security forces could “take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.”

President Bush wisely ignored Maliki. Instead of withdrawing U.S. troops, he sent more. The prime minister wasn’t happy. On Dec. 15, 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn’t want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country, according to U.S. military officials.” When the surge went ahead anyway, Maliki gave it an endorsement described in news accounts as “lukewarm.”

I suggested in the op-ed that it was wise to judge Maliki by what he did, not what he said. For all of his public doubts about the U.S. troop presence he generally supported American actions behind-the-scenes–although often only after considerable arm-twisting from Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Karzai, too, should be judged by his actions, rather than by his occasional expressions of public frustration with the coalition. He has not done anything as dramatic as Maliki, who ordered his security forces to clear Basra and Sadr City of the Sadrist militia, but he has taken some positive steps such as agreeing to the setting up of the Afghan Local Police program to augment the Afghan security forces.

Moreover, some of his criticisms of international forces are on the mark–the U.S. and its allies have done much to fuel corruption in Afghanistan, as he complains, and their employment of local security forces has often been a contributor to instability. Yet at the end of the day Afghanistan would be far more insecure without an America troop presence, and that is something I suspect Karzai, for all his misguided public statements, actually realizes.

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