Commentary Magazine


Topic: real strategist

Imposed Arrogance

David Ignatius writes: “Despite recent turbulence in U.S. relations with Israel, President Obama is ‘seriously considering’ proposing an American peace plan to resolve the Palestinian conflict, according to two top administration officials.” As frightful as this sounds, it smacks of just the sort of arrogance we have come to expect from this administration. The gang that deplored “cowboy diplomacy” and said we should be more attuned to our allies’ concerns has devoted itself to bullying and blustering — but, of course, not when it comes to despotic regimes. There, it’s all smiles and bows.

Who might be the architect of such a scheme — one that presupposes there is a Palestinian negotiator with the authority to make a deal and enforce the peace? Why, Ignatius tells us, “the real strategist in chief is Obama himself. If he decides to launch a peace plan, it would mark a return to the ambitious themes the president sounded in his June 2009 speech in Cairo.” That would be the speech in which he skipped over 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism, analogized Palestinians to enslaved African Americans, and posited that Israel’s legitimacy rested on Holocaust guilt.

Ignatius concludes:

A political battle royal is likely to begin soon, with Israeli officials and their supporters in the United States protesting what they fear would be an American attempt to impose a settlement and arguing to focus instead on Iran. The White House rejoinder is expressed this way by one of the senior officials: “It’s not either Iran or the Middle East peace process. You have to do both.”

This is poppycock, of course. The Obami can’t come up with an effective Iran approach. And now they want to add to their overwhelmed and underperforming foreign-policy apparatus by imposing a Middle East plan? It is apparent that the latter is an excuse and diversion from doing anything about the former. It is also very dangerous.

Writing last fall, Barry Rubin (no relation) explained the fallacy of a get-tough-with-Bibi approach, a less extreme variation on an imposed settlement presumably under contemplation:

It never enters the minds of these people that a “peace” agreement that was broken or had dangerous provisions (giving up strategic territory; east Jerusalem; empowering a radical regime in a next-door Palestinian state; opening the door to foreign Arab or Iranian armies entering; bringing in millions of Palestinian Arabs to Israel) could leave Israel far worse off.

Or perhaps it does, and the Obami simply don’t care. They’ve shown very little sympatico for Israel of late, and perhaps the increased peril that an imposed settlement (With what Palestinian entity, by the way? Is Hamas in on this?) would inflict on the Jewish state is not of great concern to the president, who has made Muslim outreach, not the U.S.-Israel alliance, the cornerstone of his Middle East policy. And why would Obama be able to divine a magical solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? As Rubin reminded us last year (and his points are even more on point with the passage of time):

As for those giving advice, here’s what we’ve seen in the last six months from those who want to “save” others by imposing their own vision:

–The idea that stopping construction on Jewish settlements would bring some Arab concession has already proven wrong.

–The idea that engagement with Iran would work has already proven wrong.

–The idea that the United States could successfully engage Syria in a set of mutual compromises has already proven wrong.

–The idea that an Obama charm offensive would bring higher levels of Arab support has already proven wrong. And that’s just in six months!

Let’s have a little humility and readiness to listen, please, from those who would play with the lives of other people.

But humility is not a trait in the Obama repetoire. Saner heads who forsee the unworkability of an imposed peace (Is the U.S. going to disarm the Palestinians and enforce the peace?) may prevail in the administration, but it would behoove Israel’s supporters to register their loud and unequivocal objection — and enlist Congress if need be — to make clear that an imposed “peace deal” against Israel’s will is a non-starter. Moreover, talk of such a deal (perhaps just another form of public bullying of Israel) only encourages the same Palestinian rejectionism and violence that has deprived the Palestinians of their own state for over six decades.

David Ignatius writes: “Despite recent turbulence in U.S. relations with Israel, President Obama is ‘seriously considering’ proposing an American peace plan to resolve the Palestinian conflict, according to two top administration officials.” As frightful as this sounds, it smacks of just the sort of arrogance we have come to expect from this administration. The gang that deplored “cowboy diplomacy” and said we should be more attuned to our allies’ concerns has devoted itself to bullying and blustering — but, of course, not when it comes to despotic regimes. There, it’s all smiles and bows.

Who might be the architect of such a scheme — one that presupposes there is a Palestinian negotiator with the authority to make a deal and enforce the peace? Why, Ignatius tells us, “the real strategist in chief is Obama himself. If he decides to launch a peace plan, it would mark a return to the ambitious themes the president sounded in his June 2009 speech in Cairo.” That would be the speech in which he skipped over 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism, analogized Palestinians to enslaved African Americans, and posited that Israel’s legitimacy rested on Holocaust guilt.

Ignatius concludes:

A political battle royal is likely to begin soon, with Israeli officials and their supporters in the United States protesting what they fear would be an American attempt to impose a settlement and arguing to focus instead on Iran. The White House rejoinder is expressed this way by one of the senior officials: “It’s not either Iran or the Middle East peace process. You have to do both.”

This is poppycock, of course. The Obami can’t come up with an effective Iran approach. And now they want to add to their overwhelmed and underperforming foreign-policy apparatus by imposing a Middle East plan? It is apparent that the latter is an excuse and diversion from doing anything about the former. It is also very dangerous.

Writing last fall, Barry Rubin (no relation) explained the fallacy of a get-tough-with-Bibi approach, a less extreme variation on an imposed settlement presumably under contemplation:

It never enters the minds of these people that a “peace” agreement that was broken or had dangerous provisions (giving up strategic territory; east Jerusalem; empowering a radical regime in a next-door Palestinian state; opening the door to foreign Arab or Iranian armies entering; bringing in millions of Palestinian Arabs to Israel) could leave Israel far worse off.

Or perhaps it does, and the Obami simply don’t care. They’ve shown very little sympatico for Israel of late, and perhaps the increased peril that an imposed settlement (With what Palestinian entity, by the way? Is Hamas in on this?) would inflict on the Jewish state is not of great concern to the president, who has made Muslim outreach, not the U.S.-Israel alliance, the cornerstone of his Middle East policy. And why would Obama be able to divine a magical solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? As Rubin reminded us last year (and his points are even more on point with the passage of time):

As for those giving advice, here’s what we’ve seen in the last six months from those who want to “save” others by imposing their own vision:

–The idea that stopping construction on Jewish settlements would bring some Arab concession has already proven wrong.

–The idea that engagement with Iran would work has already proven wrong.

–The idea that the United States could successfully engage Syria in a set of mutual compromises has already proven wrong.

–The idea that an Obama charm offensive would bring higher levels of Arab support has already proven wrong. And that’s just in six months!

Let’s have a little humility and readiness to listen, please, from those who would play with the lives of other people.

But humility is not a trait in the Obama repetoire. Saner heads who forsee the unworkability of an imposed peace (Is the U.S. going to disarm the Palestinians and enforce the peace?) may prevail in the administration, but it would behoove Israel’s supporters to register their loud and unequivocal objection — and enlist Congress if need be — to make clear that an imposed “peace deal” against Israel’s will is a non-starter. Moreover, talk of such a deal (perhaps just another form of public bullying of Israel) only encourages the same Palestinian rejectionism and violence that has deprived the Palestinians of their own state for over six decades.

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The Harmony Isn’t the Problem

Granted, Leslie Gelb is frustrated with Obama. After all, many in the foreign-policy establishment (from Gelb to Colin Powell) were convinced that Obama would correct the misjudgments of the Bush administration, restore our standing in the world, practice smart diplomacy, and most of all, not embarrass foreign-policy establishment types who touted him. So one can understand that Gelb is upset, but that’s really no excuse for his theory that the problem with the Obami foreign policy is that there isn’t enough conflict among the central players.

His theory goes like this: other presidents had more dissension within their foreign-policy teams, and other presidents were more successful in conducting foreign policy — so Obama should have more dissension within his team, too. Gelb then really veers into the abyss:

To the extent that anyone within the administration is challenging the conventional or consensual wisdom on any major policy, it seems to be Biden himself. Probably the only real strategist among Obama’s senior advisers, he fought hard to keep the number of new troops heading to Afghanistan well below the 30,000 level Obama finally approved.

So we should be thankful that Biden is there to make inane suggestions that are overridden and that merely delay the decision-making process, causing the president to look irresolute? Hmm. (And if Biden is the “only real strategist” in the administration, that might be the root of the problem.)

All this is silliness on stilts, of course. The problem is not lack of conflict but bad, dangerous ideas carried out ineptly. It’s hard for some Obama-philes to acknowledge the obvious and so much easier for them to blame the staff or, as Obama has done, whine that issues like the Middle East are so darn hard. But in point of fact the Obama administration is a foreign-policy toxic-waste dump of awful ideas and tactics (e.g., Iran engagement, bullying Israel, cutting missile defense and pulling the rug out from allies, pushing aside human rights). Agreement or lack thereof is not the problem. The problem is that the president has some very mistaken ideas about how the world works, what motivates our foes, and how America can exercise its influence in the world. But acknowledging all that would mean that those who backed Obama and spun for him for a very long time got it very, very wrong. So better to come up with crackpot theories, I suppose.

Granted, Leslie Gelb is frustrated with Obama. After all, many in the foreign-policy establishment (from Gelb to Colin Powell) were convinced that Obama would correct the misjudgments of the Bush administration, restore our standing in the world, practice smart diplomacy, and most of all, not embarrass foreign-policy establishment types who touted him. So one can understand that Gelb is upset, but that’s really no excuse for his theory that the problem with the Obami foreign policy is that there isn’t enough conflict among the central players.

His theory goes like this: other presidents had more dissension within their foreign-policy teams, and other presidents were more successful in conducting foreign policy — so Obama should have more dissension within his team, too. Gelb then really veers into the abyss:

To the extent that anyone within the administration is challenging the conventional or consensual wisdom on any major policy, it seems to be Biden himself. Probably the only real strategist among Obama’s senior advisers, he fought hard to keep the number of new troops heading to Afghanistan well below the 30,000 level Obama finally approved.

So we should be thankful that Biden is there to make inane suggestions that are overridden and that merely delay the decision-making process, causing the president to look irresolute? Hmm. (And if Biden is the “only real strategist” in the administration, that might be the root of the problem.)

All this is silliness on stilts, of course. The problem is not lack of conflict but bad, dangerous ideas carried out ineptly. It’s hard for some Obama-philes to acknowledge the obvious and so much easier for them to blame the staff or, as Obama has done, whine that issues like the Middle East are so darn hard. But in point of fact the Obama administration is a foreign-policy toxic-waste dump of awful ideas and tactics (e.g., Iran engagement, bullying Israel, cutting missile defense and pulling the rug out from allies, pushing aside human rights). Agreement or lack thereof is not the problem. The problem is that the president has some very mistaken ideas about how the world works, what motivates our foes, and how America can exercise its influence in the world. But acknowledging all that would mean that those who backed Obama and spun for him for a very long time got it very, very wrong. So better to come up with crackpot theories, I suppose.

Read Less




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