Commentary Magazine


Topic: Senate Foreign Relations Committee

The Gap Between Kerry’s Rhetoric and Obama’s Plans

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry put forth a compelling and at times eloquent argument on behalf of U.S. action in Syria. But as was the case with Kerry’s statements last week that seemed to be the prelude to swift and decisive U.S. action in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, the secretary’s remarks to the committee seemed out of proportion to what the administration seemed to be promising if Congress acceded to the president’s request for an authorization of force.

If American credibility is on the line in Syria now that Assad has used chemical weapons, as Kerry rightly noted, what the administration is failing to adequately explain is how a military plan that would leave the dictator in place and with his armed forces largely intact is commensurate with the secretary’s ringing neoconservative rhetoric about the need for action. The problem is that having established a rationale for action about chemical weapons and repeating that President Obama’s policy was that “Assad must go,” how can the administration pretend that a shower of missiles will be enough to match Kerry’s “never again means never” stance. Any military response—even a purely symbolic one—would deny Assad the “impunity” that Kerry correctly fears would be the result of American inaction. But the administration’s attempt to justify a course of action that would avoid any American casualties and could not be interpreted as a full-fledged intervention and would not do much to destroy Assad’s main forces seems to be disconnected from the principles the secretary articulated.

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In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry put forth a compelling and at times eloquent argument on behalf of U.S. action in Syria. But as was the case with Kerry’s statements last week that seemed to be the prelude to swift and decisive U.S. action in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, the secretary’s remarks to the committee seemed out of proportion to what the administration seemed to be promising if Congress acceded to the president’s request for an authorization of force.

If American credibility is on the line in Syria now that Assad has used chemical weapons, as Kerry rightly noted, what the administration is failing to adequately explain is how a military plan that would leave the dictator in place and with his armed forces largely intact is commensurate with the secretary’s ringing neoconservative rhetoric about the need for action. The problem is that having established a rationale for action about chemical weapons and repeating that President Obama’s policy was that “Assad must go,” how can the administration pretend that a shower of missiles will be enough to match Kerry’s “never again means never” stance. Any military response—even a purely symbolic one—would deny Assad the “impunity” that Kerry correctly fears would be the result of American inaction. But the administration’s attempt to justify a course of action that would avoid any American casualties and could not be interpreted as a full-fledged intervention and would not do much to destroy Assad’s main forces seems to be disconnected from the principles the secretary articulated.

Part of the explanation for the yawning gap between Kerry’s words and the sort of minimal U.S. action indicated by the various leaks coming from administration sources about the details of the proposed attack lies in the fact that the secretary of state seems to have little influence with the president. After all, Kerry’s speeches last week seemed to promise swift action on Syria only to be followed by the president’s public agonizing and ultimate decision to shift responsibility for the attack to Congress rather than taking action on his own.

The chain of events that led up to today’s hearings left Kerry open to the most acute embarrassment as it was revealed that he had little influence with the president and seemed to be out of the loop when it came to the White House’s decision-making process. That places Kerry’s major policy initiative—the revived Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians—in a troubling perspective that ought to worry those who have urged Israel to gamble its security on America’s credibility.

But the main question raised by Kerry’s soaring words is whether an action that is limited to “degrading” Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons and to “deter” him from future use, while avoiding any mention of regime change, can be squared with an argument on its behalf that seems to promise dire consequences should the butcher of Damascus survive Obama’s offensive.

The administration’s main priority is obvious: not do anything that could be interpreted as a new war or “tipping the scale” in the Syrian civil war against Assad. Given the widespread unpopularity of any such intervention, this reluctance is understandable. But despite the verbal gymnastics of Kerry, Secretary of Defense Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Dempsey, in which they have sought to differentiate their proposal from a military solution, logically there is no way to achieve the president’s goals by the kind of action he is proposing. After waiting so long to act and then to put on a spectacle of a debate in which the growing faction of isolationists in Congress will be able to further undermine any notion of national unity on this question, it’s hard to see why Assad should fear Kerry’s threats. After all, the dictator is far more assured of continued backing from Iran and Russia (which has prevented a United Nations seal of approval) than Obama is of an American consensus on behalf of his position.

As dangerous as a congressional vote to refuse an authorization of force against Syria would be, it’s hard not to avoid thinking about the consequences of a brief U.S. missile barrage that does nothing to alter the tide of war that has seemed to swing inexorably in favor of victory for Assad. This resolution may be the best Obama can do now that he has hesitated and turned to Congress for authorization rather than acting decisively, as he could have, on his own authority. But if a year from now we look back on Kerry’s words and ponder a Middle East in which Iran has secured the survival of its ally Assad, the gap between words and action will seem even greater.

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Morning Commentary

On Saturday, P5+1 officials will meet with Iranian leaders to push them to ensure that their nuclear program is peaceful. But it looks like Iran is doing everything in its power not to cooperate: “Iran, however, is coming to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. ‘There is nothing to discuss’ about Iran’s nuclear program, an Iranian official said. ‘In Istanbul, we will speak about something else.’”

The day after President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner by President Obama, the Chinese leader met privately with lawmakers who pressed him on China’s poor record on human rights: “Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu’s recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.”

Richard Falk, the UN’s Palestine investigator, once again came out as a supporter of the 9/11 “Truth movement” on his blog last week (he’s been making “truther” statements since 2004). UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire Falk, especially in light of Ki-moon’s condemnation of Ahmadinejad for endorsing similar theories: “The effect of Mr. Falk’s conspiracy-mongering is to deny and excuse the terrorist acts committed by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It insults the memories of those who perished on 9/11, and deeply offends their families and loved ones — as well as all decent men and women worldwide. Mr. Falk’s repulsive comments violate UNHRC Resolution 5/2, which require U.N. experts to uphold the highest standards of integrity, probity, and good faith. Indeed, they shame the United Nations.”

Rep. Steve Cohen should probably avoid making any more public statements for the next few days, because he just keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. Cohen, who compared Republicans to Nazis earlier this week, apologized that his words are being used as a “distraction” by his political opponents, in a statement he released yesterday afternoon: “It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand — health care for 32 million Americans.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, Mike Pence talked to National Review about how the former president inspired him: “Reagan is the reason I’m a Republican. … I was active in local Democratic politics when I was a teenager in Columbus, Indiana. Then I started to hear the voice of a B-movie actor, turned governor, turned candidate. He gave voice to the ideals and values that I was raised to believe in.”

On Saturday, P5+1 officials will meet with Iranian leaders to push them to ensure that their nuclear program is peaceful. But it looks like Iran is doing everything in its power not to cooperate: “Iran, however, is coming to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. ‘There is nothing to discuss’ about Iran’s nuclear program, an Iranian official said. ‘In Istanbul, we will speak about something else.’”

The day after President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner by President Obama, the Chinese leader met privately with lawmakers who pressed him on China’s poor record on human rights: “Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu’s recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.”

Richard Falk, the UN’s Palestine investigator, once again came out as a supporter of the 9/11 “Truth movement” on his blog last week (he’s been making “truther” statements since 2004). UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire Falk, especially in light of Ki-moon’s condemnation of Ahmadinejad for endorsing similar theories: “The effect of Mr. Falk’s conspiracy-mongering is to deny and excuse the terrorist acts committed by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It insults the memories of those who perished on 9/11, and deeply offends their families and loved ones — as well as all decent men and women worldwide. Mr. Falk’s repulsive comments violate UNHRC Resolution 5/2, which require U.N. experts to uphold the highest standards of integrity, probity, and good faith. Indeed, they shame the United Nations.”

Rep. Steve Cohen should probably avoid making any more public statements for the next few days, because he just keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. Cohen, who compared Republicans to Nazis earlier this week, apologized that his words are being used as a “distraction” by his political opponents, in a statement he released yesterday afternoon: “It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand — health care for 32 million Americans.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, Mike Pence talked to National Review about how the former president inspired him: “Reagan is the reason I’m a Republican. … I was active in local Democratic politics when I was a teenager in Columbus, Indiana. Then I started to hear the voice of a B-movie actor, turned governor, turned candidate. He gave voice to the ideals and values that I was raised to believe in.”

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RE: New START Treaty

With the perfervid push underway to get the New START treaty on the lame-duck Senate’s schedule, I would add this to the discussion between Jennifer, John, and Max: it’s not clear why the Obama administration is pushing for quick action. The Senate deliberations to date make it inadvisable.

The uneasy accord represented by the April 8 treaty signing is already falling apart. For the Russians, the opt-out clause in the preamble was of paramount concern. That clause makes their adherence to the treaty contingent on Russian approval of America’s plans for missile defense. The treaty stipulates that neither side will convert old ICBM silos for use in a strategic missile-defense system, but the preamble makes it clear that, for Moscow, U.S. missile-defense programs will actually be an open-ended source of conditions on the arms accord.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, in the official “understandings” included with its resolution on the treaty, has directly contradicted that Russian expectation. The three “understandings” were proposed by Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican, and adopted by the full committee in September. One of them articulates the committee’s belief that the treaty imposes no limitations on U.S. missile defenses other than the prohibition on the use of ICBM silos. The committee also “understands” that the treaty places no limits on American use of strategic weapon systems in a conventional (non-nuclear) role, and that if Russia resurrects its rail-mobile ICBM system, the treaty will apply to that as well as to the systems explicitly addressed in it.

Russia finds these understandings unpalatable. In late October, an Interfax report quoted the leader of the Duma’s international-affairs committee as planning “to suggest to committee members that they reconsider the ratification of the Russian-U.S. New START Treaty in view of new circumstances.” The new circumstances he cited were the three understandings adopted by the U.S. Senate committee.

Senator Lugar was an early advocate of the treaty; he didn’t propose these understandings with the intention of torpedoing it. Realistically, the treaty won’t be ratified without the understandings. The concerns reflected in them are predominant among Republicans, but a number of Democrats (and Independent Joe Lieberman) share them as well.

It’s not clear what Russia will do if New START is ratified with the U.S. Senate understandings. Medvedev and Putin might well consider it to their advantage to let a lengthy rejection process unfold in the Duma, rather than repudiating the Senate understandings immediately. But Obama’s abysmal record of obtaining difficult agreements makes it a virtual certainty that the treaty can’t be rescued for the purpose of actual arms limitation. The administration’s best option now is probably to accept the delay in Senate consideration and look for a way to revisit the treaty itself with Russia.

With the perfervid push underway to get the New START treaty on the lame-duck Senate’s schedule, I would add this to the discussion between Jennifer, John, and Max: it’s not clear why the Obama administration is pushing for quick action. The Senate deliberations to date make it inadvisable.

The uneasy accord represented by the April 8 treaty signing is already falling apart. For the Russians, the opt-out clause in the preamble was of paramount concern. That clause makes their adherence to the treaty contingent on Russian approval of America’s plans for missile defense. The treaty stipulates that neither side will convert old ICBM silos for use in a strategic missile-defense system, but the preamble makes it clear that, for Moscow, U.S. missile-defense programs will actually be an open-ended source of conditions on the arms accord.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, in the official “understandings” included with its resolution on the treaty, has directly contradicted that Russian expectation. The three “understandings” were proposed by Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican, and adopted by the full committee in September. One of them articulates the committee’s belief that the treaty imposes no limitations on U.S. missile defenses other than the prohibition on the use of ICBM silos. The committee also “understands” that the treaty places no limits on American use of strategic weapon systems in a conventional (non-nuclear) role, and that if Russia resurrects its rail-mobile ICBM system, the treaty will apply to that as well as to the systems explicitly addressed in it.

Russia finds these understandings unpalatable. In late October, an Interfax report quoted the leader of the Duma’s international-affairs committee as planning “to suggest to committee members that they reconsider the ratification of the Russian-U.S. New START Treaty in view of new circumstances.” The new circumstances he cited were the three understandings adopted by the U.S. Senate committee.

Senator Lugar was an early advocate of the treaty; he didn’t propose these understandings with the intention of torpedoing it. Realistically, the treaty won’t be ratified without the understandings. The concerns reflected in them are predominant among Republicans, but a number of Democrats (and Independent Joe Lieberman) share them as well.

It’s not clear what Russia will do if New START is ratified with the U.S. Senate understandings. Medvedev and Putin might well consider it to their advantage to let a lengthy rejection process unfold in the Duma, rather than repudiating the Senate understandings immediately. But Obama’s abysmal record of obtaining difficult agreements makes it a virtual certainty that the treaty can’t be rescued for the purpose of actual arms limitation. The administration’s best option now is probably to accept the delay in Senate consideration and look for a way to revisit the treaty itself with Russia.

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Is There a Replacement for Syria’s Friend in the Senate?

As the calendar ticks off the last days of Arlen Specter’s 30-year reign in the United States Senate, it appears that one of his colleagues might be assuming a role that the Pennsylvanian had long cherished: that of the Assad clan’s American interlocutor.

For decades, Specter embarrassed the Senate and many of his Jewish supporters and donors with his regular visits to Damascus, where he schmoozed with Syrian dictator Hafez Assad and then, after the elder Assad’s death, his son Bashar, who succeeded his father as that country’s leader. It was a good deal for both the senator and the Syrians. Specter got to play diplomat, with the United States Treasury picking up the tab, while the Syrians had a permanent advocate for engagement with the Assad regime no matter how atrocious its behavior had been. To his credit, Specter did use his cordial relationship with the Assads to help rescue the remnants of Syrian Jewry, but that was accomplished 18 years ago. Since then, Specter’s frequent flyer miles to Damascus served no constructive purpose other than to further inflate the senator’s considerable ego.

But with Specter headed to retirement after losing his bid for re-election, Sen. John Kerry appears to be picking up the slack in the Syrian appeasement category. Today’s New York Times quoted the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate as saying that his recent trip to Damascus encouraged him to believe that engagement with Syria was a good idea. Syria’s return to control in Lebanon and successful efforts to undermine the international investigation of the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as its refusal to distance itself from Iran as the Obama administration had hoped, have discouraged many of even the most determined Arabists in Washington. But Kerry said, “I remain absolutely convinced there is an opportunity to have a different relationship with Syria.”

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Kerry can muster up a better rationale for his international travels than Specter did, and reportedly went to Syria at the behest of an Obama administration that remains desperate to preserve the illusion that its engagement policies are not a complete bust even if it is evident that Syria has no interest in abandoning its ally Iran, allowing Lebanon to be free, or making peace with Israel.

While back-channel diplomacy can have its uses every once in a while, the sort of freelance diplomacy practiced by Specter served Syria’s interests more than those of the United States. Now that he’s out of the picture, it would be unfortunate if Kerry, or any of his other colleagues who love to spend congressional recesses on taxpayer-financed road trips, allowed the Assad clan to think that they can continue to bamboozle Washington. The message from everyone in the capital to Damascus must be crystal clear: if it wants better relations with the United States, it will have to alter its behavior.

As the calendar ticks off the last days of Arlen Specter’s 30-year reign in the United States Senate, it appears that one of his colleagues might be assuming a role that the Pennsylvanian had long cherished: that of the Assad clan’s American interlocutor.

For decades, Specter embarrassed the Senate and many of his Jewish supporters and donors with his regular visits to Damascus, where he schmoozed with Syrian dictator Hafez Assad and then, after the elder Assad’s death, his son Bashar, who succeeded his father as that country’s leader. It was a good deal for both the senator and the Syrians. Specter got to play diplomat, with the United States Treasury picking up the tab, while the Syrians had a permanent advocate for engagement with the Assad regime no matter how atrocious its behavior had been. To his credit, Specter did use his cordial relationship with the Assads to help rescue the remnants of Syrian Jewry, but that was accomplished 18 years ago. Since then, Specter’s frequent flyer miles to Damascus served no constructive purpose other than to further inflate the senator’s considerable ego.

But with Specter headed to retirement after losing his bid for re-election, Sen. John Kerry appears to be picking up the slack in the Syrian appeasement category. Today’s New York Times quoted the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate as saying that his recent trip to Damascus encouraged him to believe that engagement with Syria was a good idea. Syria’s return to control in Lebanon and successful efforts to undermine the international investigation of the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as its refusal to distance itself from Iran as the Obama administration had hoped, have discouraged many of even the most determined Arabists in Washington. But Kerry said, “I remain absolutely convinced there is an opportunity to have a different relationship with Syria.”

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Kerry can muster up a better rationale for his international travels than Specter did, and reportedly went to Syria at the behest of an Obama administration that remains desperate to preserve the illusion that its engagement policies are not a complete bust even if it is evident that Syria has no interest in abandoning its ally Iran, allowing Lebanon to be free, or making peace with Israel.

While back-channel diplomacy can have its uses every once in a while, the sort of freelance diplomacy practiced by Specter served Syria’s interests more than those of the United States. Now that he’s out of the picture, it would be unfortunate if Kerry, or any of his other colleagues who love to spend congressional recesses on taxpayer-financed road trips, allowed the Assad clan to think that they can continue to bamboozle Washington. The message from everyone in the capital to Damascus must be crystal clear: if it wants better relations with the United States, it will have to alter its behavior.

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Another Questionable Appointee, Another Recess Appointment

Obama is using the recess appointment again. Recall that is how he got the SEIU’s lawyer on to the National Labor Relations Board and how he got Donald Berwick past the Senate’s scrutiny. (“‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ [Max] Baucus said in a statement.”)

Now he’s at is again, this time to get an ambassador to El Salvador through. What was her problem? Josh Rogin explains that Mari Carmen Aponte is going to be pushed through “despite lingering GOP concerns about her long-ago relationship with a Cuban operative.” Obama’s not serious, is he? Oh, yes indeed:

Aponte’s nomination had been stalled as of April due to objections by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the nomination because he was worried about a romantic involvement she had in the 1990s with Robert Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Fidel Castro’s intelligence apparatus.

DeMint and other Republicans wanted access to all of the FBI’s records on the relationship. The FBI interviewed both Aponte and Tamayo about the matter back in 1993, but Aponte has admitted she declined to take a lie-detector test. She withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998 after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, citing “personal reasons.”

Translation: the Clinton administration was not going to go to bat for this woman. But not Obama. Off she will go, with no examination of her ties to Castro.

This is yet another instance of both Obama’s preference for appointing questionable characters and his need (which likely will intensify with time) to resort to strong-arm tactics. (After all, none of the Democrats in the Senate really wanted to vote for this woman, did they?) This does not seem to be the sort of president who’s going to tack to the center and learn the art of compromise after November. But we’ll see.

Obama is using the recess appointment again. Recall that is how he got the SEIU’s lawyer on to the National Labor Relations Board and how he got Donald Berwick past the Senate’s scrutiny. (“‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ [Max] Baucus said in a statement.”)

Now he’s at is again, this time to get an ambassador to El Salvador through. What was her problem? Josh Rogin explains that Mari Carmen Aponte is going to be pushed through “despite lingering GOP concerns about her long-ago relationship with a Cuban operative.” Obama’s not serious, is he? Oh, yes indeed:

Aponte’s nomination had been stalled as of April due to objections by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the nomination because he was worried about a romantic involvement she had in the 1990s with Robert Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Fidel Castro’s intelligence apparatus.

DeMint and other Republicans wanted access to all of the FBI’s records on the relationship. The FBI interviewed both Aponte and Tamayo about the matter back in 1993, but Aponte has admitted she declined to take a lie-detector test. She withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998 after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, citing “personal reasons.”

Translation: the Clinton administration was not going to go to bat for this woman. But not Obama. Off she will go, with no examination of her ties to Castro.

This is yet another instance of both Obama’s preference for appointing questionable characters and his need (which likely will intensify with time) to resort to strong-arm tactics. (After all, none of the Democrats in the Senate really wanted to vote for this woman, did they?) This does not seem to be the sort of president who’s going to tack to the center and learn the art of compromise after November. But we’ll see.

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Peace in Our Time: All Trust, No Verify

With the Senate Foreign Relations Committee scheduled to vote on the New START treaty on August 3, pundits left and right are using the State Department’s most recent report on arms-treaty compliance to make their respective points about the new treaty’s advisability. Sarcasm, disdain, and semantic disputes seem to be taking center stage in the argument, but there is a very clear bottom line to the whole debate, and it can be expressed in one word: verification — and specifically the lack thereof.

The State Department report acknowledges disagreements between the U.S. and Russia over some compliance measures specified in the old START treaty (which expired in December 2009), along with a persistent inability to verify Russian compliance with provisions of the international conventions on biological and chemical weapons. Technically, these concerns don’t amount to evidence that Russia violated the old START treaty, as claimed in a Washington Times headline yesterday. On the other hand, they cast doubt on the State Department assertion that Russia was in compliance with the treaty’s central provisions for strategic-arms limitation.

The most significant compliance measures in question involved verifying the number of re-entry vehicles on a Russian warhead, measuring the canisters mounted on mobile ICBM launchers, and Russia’s failure to provide all the test-launch telemetry data required by the old treaty. The Bush administration listed these as open issues in its 2005 compliance report. In 2010, the first two are implied to have been “resolved,” with no explanation. Resolution of the telemetry issue is not explicitly addressed at all. These are not minor or picayune concerns; they bear directly on the integrity of the verification process.

While Russia considered itself bound to the ongoing START process, and saw its own performance as a means of securing U.S. commitments, verification disputes like these were a tolerable form of low-level friction. But New START would be inaugurated under much different circumstances: verification measures that are considerably relaxed and a Russia with little incentive to show good faith.

In September, President Obama dealt away his biggest bargaining chip — the silo-based missile-defense array in Europe — without obtaining any concessions in return. In signing New START in April, he agreed to additional limits on America’s latitude to improve our national missile defenses. He has already made the principal concessions desired by Russia’s leaders, while accepting a verification regime much less stringent than that of the old START treaty. The question of supreme importance for New START, therefore, is precisely what right-wing critics suggest it is: can Russia be trusted?

In the best of circumstances, concluding a treaty of questionable verifiability with a partner who lacks incentive to keep it is a bad idea. And as Russia’s record on START and the other weapons conventions indicates, these are not the best of circumstances. Skeptical Republican senators are right to view the New START treaty with profound concern. However the treaty’s advocates try to shift the argument with inverted reasoning, the bottom line on it is that it abandons the Reagan principle — trust, but verify — in favor of a principle with a terrible track record: trust, period.

With the Senate Foreign Relations Committee scheduled to vote on the New START treaty on August 3, pundits left and right are using the State Department’s most recent report on arms-treaty compliance to make their respective points about the new treaty’s advisability. Sarcasm, disdain, and semantic disputes seem to be taking center stage in the argument, but there is a very clear bottom line to the whole debate, and it can be expressed in one word: verification — and specifically the lack thereof.

The State Department report acknowledges disagreements between the U.S. and Russia over some compliance measures specified in the old START treaty (which expired in December 2009), along with a persistent inability to verify Russian compliance with provisions of the international conventions on biological and chemical weapons. Technically, these concerns don’t amount to evidence that Russia violated the old START treaty, as claimed in a Washington Times headline yesterday. On the other hand, they cast doubt on the State Department assertion that Russia was in compliance with the treaty’s central provisions for strategic-arms limitation.

The most significant compliance measures in question involved verifying the number of re-entry vehicles on a Russian warhead, measuring the canisters mounted on mobile ICBM launchers, and Russia’s failure to provide all the test-launch telemetry data required by the old treaty. The Bush administration listed these as open issues in its 2005 compliance report. In 2010, the first two are implied to have been “resolved,” with no explanation. Resolution of the telemetry issue is not explicitly addressed at all. These are not minor or picayune concerns; they bear directly on the integrity of the verification process.

While Russia considered itself bound to the ongoing START process, and saw its own performance as a means of securing U.S. commitments, verification disputes like these were a tolerable form of low-level friction. But New START would be inaugurated under much different circumstances: verification measures that are considerably relaxed and a Russia with little incentive to show good faith.

In September, President Obama dealt away his biggest bargaining chip — the silo-based missile-defense array in Europe — without obtaining any concessions in return. In signing New START in April, he agreed to additional limits on America’s latitude to improve our national missile defenses. He has already made the principal concessions desired by Russia’s leaders, while accepting a verification regime much less stringent than that of the old START treaty. The question of supreme importance for New START, therefore, is precisely what right-wing critics suggest it is: can Russia be trusted?

In the best of circumstances, concluding a treaty of questionable verifiability with a partner who lacks incentive to keep it is a bad idea. And as Russia’s record on START and the other weapons conventions indicates, these are not the best of circumstances. Skeptical Republican senators are right to view the New START treaty with profound concern. However the treaty’s advocates try to shift the argument with inverted reasoning, the bottom line on it is that it abandons the Reagan principle — trust, but verify — in favor of a principle with a terrible track record: trust, period.

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Beyond Sanctions

There was bipartisan praise for the sanctions resolution that emerged from the long-delayed House-Senate conference committee. AIPAC cheered the passage of the “toughest sanctions ever passed.” Its news release asserted:

The new legislation seeks to exploit Iranian economic vulnerabilities in order to persuade Iran’s regime to curtail its nuclear ambitions and support of terrorism. CISAD [the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act] explicitly targets the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), requiring financial sanctions on entities that facilitate any IRGC activity. CISAD also mandates broad financial sanctions on any entity involved with Iran’s nuclear weapons program or support for terrorism. CISAD seeks to limit investments in Iran’s energy sector by sanctioning offending companies and barring them from federal contracts. The bill presumes denial of export licenses to countries permitting sensitive technology diversions to Iran. CISAD also prohibits U.S. nuclear technology export licenses to any country assisting Iran’s nuclear weapons pursuit.

CISAD provides the President with a narrow diplomatic window to significantly curb Iran’s refined petroleum imports and its ability to expand its own refinery operations; if diplomacy fails, the President must impose sanctions on companies in violation of CISAD.

But what do sanctions really mean at this stage? Not all that much, as this report explains:

Senior US officials have acknowledged that newly imposed sanctions against Iran would not be enough to end its quest for nuclear capabilities, but told Congress that the approach was bearing fruit.

“It will certainly not change the calculations of the Iranian leadership overnight, nor is it a panacea,” William Burns, under-secretary for political affairs at the State Department, said of US-backed sanctions passed by the UN Security Council earlier this month during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “But it is a mark of the potential effect that Iran has worked so hard in recent months to avert action in the Security Council and tried so hard to deflect or divert the steps that are now under way.”

And the administration still wishes to see changes to the sanctions deal:

“We will continue to work with the Congress over the coming days as it finalizes work on this important bill, and in our ongoing efforts to hold Iran accountable,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in a statement.

The administration has long had reservations that the legislation would restrict the president’s ability to provide exemptions to countries considered helpful on international sanctions and which he would not want to alienate.

“It is no secret that our international partners contain their enthusiasm for extra-territorial applications of US legislation, and that’s why we continue to work closely with you and your colleagues to try to ensure that the measures are going to be targeted in a way that maximizes the goal here,” Burns told the Senate panel.

So to sum up, we have UN sanctions and are on the verge of passing unilateral sanctions. What we don’t have is an effective, timely means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program. As Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative explained via e-mail, “The bottom line with this is that it is good it is finally moving and will become law, but in reality, the impact will be minimal.”

We had other options — vigorous support for the Green Movement, a full-court press to isolate Iran diplomatically, and the use of force (or the realistic threat of force) — but instead Obama chose prolonged “engagement” and sanctions that are unlikely to slow progress on Iran’s nuclear program.

The administration must now be pressed to answer two questions: how will we know if sanctions are working? And what are we prepared to do if they don’t? One suspects the administration doesn’t have a ready answer for either and that neither Congress nor Jewish groups are all that eager to pose them. But both lawmakers and Jewish groups need to keep their eyes on the ball. The goal here was not to pass sanctions; the goal was to stop Iran from going nuclear. The former is means to the end, although “smart” diplomats often get confused when asked to distinguish between lovely paper documents and effective policy.

Those who cannot conceive of an effective “containment” policy for a nuclear Iran had better think ahead. Unless they begin to forcefully press the administration to think about options if and when sanctions fail and to commit to supporting Israel in the event that the Jewish state is forced to act on its own, they will be ill prepared for the day when Obama, as he certainly will,  moves from deterrence to containment and announces: “We tried everything we could but we told you sanctions might not work.”

There was bipartisan praise for the sanctions resolution that emerged from the long-delayed House-Senate conference committee. AIPAC cheered the passage of the “toughest sanctions ever passed.” Its news release asserted:

The new legislation seeks to exploit Iranian economic vulnerabilities in order to persuade Iran’s regime to curtail its nuclear ambitions and support of terrorism. CISAD [the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act] explicitly targets the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), requiring financial sanctions on entities that facilitate any IRGC activity. CISAD also mandates broad financial sanctions on any entity involved with Iran’s nuclear weapons program or support for terrorism. CISAD seeks to limit investments in Iran’s energy sector by sanctioning offending companies and barring them from federal contracts. The bill presumes denial of export licenses to countries permitting sensitive technology diversions to Iran. CISAD also prohibits U.S. nuclear technology export licenses to any country assisting Iran’s nuclear weapons pursuit.

CISAD provides the President with a narrow diplomatic window to significantly curb Iran’s refined petroleum imports and its ability to expand its own refinery operations; if diplomacy fails, the President must impose sanctions on companies in violation of CISAD.

But what do sanctions really mean at this stage? Not all that much, as this report explains:

Senior US officials have acknowledged that newly imposed sanctions against Iran would not be enough to end its quest for nuclear capabilities, but told Congress that the approach was bearing fruit.

“It will certainly not change the calculations of the Iranian leadership overnight, nor is it a panacea,” William Burns, under-secretary for political affairs at the State Department, said of US-backed sanctions passed by the UN Security Council earlier this month during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “But it is a mark of the potential effect that Iran has worked so hard in recent months to avert action in the Security Council and tried so hard to deflect or divert the steps that are now under way.”

And the administration still wishes to see changes to the sanctions deal:

“We will continue to work with the Congress over the coming days as it finalizes work on this important bill, and in our ongoing efforts to hold Iran accountable,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in a statement.

The administration has long had reservations that the legislation would restrict the president’s ability to provide exemptions to countries considered helpful on international sanctions and which he would not want to alienate.

“It is no secret that our international partners contain their enthusiasm for extra-territorial applications of US legislation, and that’s why we continue to work closely with you and your colleagues to try to ensure that the measures are going to be targeted in a way that maximizes the goal here,” Burns told the Senate panel.

So to sum up, we have UN sanctions and are on the verge of passing unilateral sanctions. What we don’t have is an effective, timely means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program. As Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative explained via e-mail, “The bottom line with this is that it is good it is finally moving and will become law, but in reality, the impact will be minimal.”

We had other options — vigorous support for the Green Movement, a full-court press to isolate Iran diplomatically, and the use of force (or the realistic threat of force) — but instead Obama chose prolonged “engagement” and sanctions that are unlikely to slow progress on Iran’s nuclear program.

The administration must now be pressed to answer two questions: how will we know if sanctions are working? And what are we prepared to do if they don’t? One suspects the administration doesn’t have a ready answer for either and that neither Congress nor Jewish groups are all that eager to pose them. But both lawmakers and Jewish groups need to keep their eyes on the ball. The goal here was not to pass sanctions; the goal was to stop Iran from going nuclear. The former is means to the end, although “smart” diplomats often get confused when asked to distinguish between lovely paper documents and effective policy.

Those who cannot conceive of an effective “containment” policy for a nuclear Iran had better think ahead. Unless they begin to forcefully press the administration to think about options if and when sanctions fail and to commit to supporting Israel in the event that the Jewish state is forced to act on its own, they will be ill prepared for the day when Obama, as he certainly will,  moves from deterrence to containment and announces: “We tried everything we could but we told you sanctions might not work.”

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Is Biden Cover?

A friend writes:

Friends of Israel are expressing their satisfaction with Vice President Biden’s comments on Charlie Rose about the flotilla incident, and Politico is describing him as the West Wing’s most fervent supporter of the Jewish state. I have a different take on this.  Jewish donors all over the country have been telling Members of Congress how upset they are with Obama and with the White House. Reportedly, Jewish fundraising is way down. At the same time, in a lot of the country, candidates don’t want Obama to campaign for them, affecting turnout at local mega events. How to fix these two problems? Have good old Uncle Joe be the good cop and let him both reinforce that he is a friend of the Jews (even though that is a relative concept and he did nothing when head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to move Iran sanctions forward) and be the draw for local mega events.Biden assuages Jewish concerns about Obama and strokes the donors enough to get them to write checks again while the administration changes tone but no policies. Obama doesn’t get the Arab League upset, Members of Congress get the Jewish money shoveled into their accounts and in November all policy options are available to Obama to return to the “No more Mr. Nice Guy” role he feels most comfortable playing vis-à-vis Israel.

A friend writes:

Friends of Israel are expressing their satisfaction with Vice President Biden’s comments on Charlie Rose about the flotilla incident, and Politico is describing him as the West Wing’s most fervent supporter of the Jewish state. I have a different take on this.  Jewish donors all over the country have been telling Members of Congress how upset they are with Obama and with the White House. Reportedly, Jewish fundraising is way down. At the same time, in a lot of the country, candidates don’t want Obama to campaign for them, affecting turnout at local mega events. How to fix these two problems? Have good old Uncle Joe be the good cop and let him both reinforce that he is a friend of the Jews (even though that is a relative concept and he did nothing when head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to move Iran sanctions forward) and be the draw for local mega events.Biden assuages Jewish concerns about Obama and strokes the donors enough to get them to write checks again while the administration changes tone but no policies. Obama doesn’t get the Arab League upset, Members of Congress get the Jewish money shoveled into their accounts and in November all policy options are available to Obama to return to the “No more Mr. Nice Guy” role he feels most comfortable playing vis-à-vis Israel.

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Mia Farrow Speaks Up Again

Mia Farrow has been sounding the alarm about Sudan and risking the ire of her movie pals by calling out Obama for his abominable human rights record. She is at it again:

Last week U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that although he remains supportive of “international efforts” to bring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to justice, the Obama administration is also pursuing “locally owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union’s high-level panel on Darfur.” … Perversely, Mr. Gration has now thrown U.S. government support to a [African Union] tribunal that does not and probably will never exist. Even if it did, the “locally owned accountability” he refers to is not feasible under prevailing political conditions, as any Sudan-based court will be controlled by the perpetrators themselves.

This is a far cry from candidate Obama. And Farrow isn’t shy about reminding her readers that Obama has badly let down human rights activists — and more important, the suffering 3 million Sudanese:

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, hope abounded, even in Darfur’s bleak refugee camps. Darfuris believed this son of Africa could understand their suffering, end the violence that has taken so much from them, and bring Mr. Bashir to justice. The refugees hoped that “Yes we can” was meant for them too. They believed President Obama would bring peace and protection to Darfur and would settle for nothing less than true justice. … Such hopes did not last long.

Her advice is clear-headed and equally applicable to many rogue regimes that continue to brutalize their people: “lead a diplomatic offensive to convince the world to isolate [war criminal Omar] al-Bashir as a fugitive from justice.” (I’m not a fan of the International Criminal Court, in which she suggests trying him, but in this case, there may be no alternative.) But the Obama team is not in the isolating business. Rather, Obama engages thugs, sends envoys hither and yon to accomplish nothing, and leaves the oppressed to their own devices. Obama’s academic exercise in “smart diplomacy” has failed, and in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Eygpt, China, and elsewhere, the despots cheer.

Mia Farrow has been sounding the alarm about Sudan and risking the ire of her movie pals by calling out Obama for his abominable human rights record. She is at it again:

Last week U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that although he remains supportive of “international efforts” to bring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to justice, the Obama administration is also pursuing “locally owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union’s high-level panel on Darfur.” … Perversely, Mr. Gration has now thrown U.S. government support to a [African Union] tribunal that does not and probably will never exist. Even if it did, the “locally owned accountability” he refers to is not feasible under prevailing political conditions, as any Sudan-based court will be controlled by the perpetrators themselves.

This is a far cry from candidate Obama. And Farrow isn’t shy about reminding her readers that Obama has badly let down human rights activists — and more important, the suffering 3 million Sudanese:

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, hope abounded, even in Darfur’s bleak refugee camps. Darfuris believed this son of Africa could understand their suffering, end the violence that has taken so much from them, and bring Mr. Bashir to justice. The refugees hoped that “Yes we can” was meant for them too. They believed President Obama would bring peace and protection to Darfur and would settle for nothing less than true justice. … Such hopes did not last long.

Her advice is clear-headed and equally applicable to many rogue regimes that continue to brutalize their people: “lead a diplomatic offensive to convince the world to isolate [war criminal Omar] al-Bashir as a fugitive from justice.” (I’m not a fan of the International Criminal Court, in which she suggests trying him, but in this case, there may be no alternative.) But the Obama team is not in the isolating business. Rather, Obama engages thugs, sends envoys hither and yon to accomplish nothing, and leaves the oppressed to their own devices. Obama’s academic exercise in “smart diplomacy” has failed, and in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Eygpt, China, and elsewhere, the despots cheer.

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Obama’s Iraq Hypocrisy

In his commencement address at West Point, President Obama said this:

For many years, our focus was on Iraq. And year after year, our troops faced a set of challenges there that were as daunting as they were complex. A lesser Army might have seen its spirit broken. But the American military is more resilient than that. Our troops adapted, they persisted, they partnered with coalition and Iraqi counterparts, and through their competence and creativity and courage, we are poised to end our combat mission in Iraq this summer.

Even as we transition to an Iraqi lead and bring our troops home, our commitment to the Iraqi people endures. We will continue to advise and assist Iraqi security forces, who are already responsible for security in most of the country. And a strong American civilian presence will help Iraqis forge political and economic progress. This will not be a simple task, but this is what success looks like: an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign and stable and self-reliant.

It’s perhaps worth pointing out that the things Obama celebrates — an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists and that is democratic, sovereign, stable, and self-reliant — would have been unachievable if we had followed the counsel of then Senator Barack Obama, who was among the fiercest and most visible critics of the so-called surge, which turned around the course of the war and has made success there possible.

For the record (which is documented here), on January 10, 2007, the night the surge was announced, Obama declared: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” A week later, he insisted the surge strategy would “not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly.” And in reaction to the president’s January 23 State of the Union address, Obama said:

I don’t think the president’s strategy is going to work. We went through two weeks of hearings on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; experts from across the spectrum–military and civilian, conservative and liberal–expressed great skepticism about it. My suggestion to the president has been that the only way we’re going to change the dynamic in Iraq and start seeing political commendation is actually if we create a system of phased redeployment. And, frankly, the president, I think, has not been willing to consider that option, not because it’s not militarily sound but because he continues to cling to the belief that somehow military solutions are going to lead to victory in Iraq.

And as late as July 2007, after it was clear that the surge was working, Obama insisted the opposite. “My assessment is that the surge has not worked,” he said.

I’m delighted Obama was wrong in both his analysis and his predictions and that, unlike so many things since he’s been president, in Iraq he has not made the situation he inherited markedly worse. And perhaps at some point, Mr. Obama — who promised that, unlike past presidents he would be quick to admit the errors of his ways — will admit he was profoundly mistaken about the surge. If he had had his way, after all, the Iraq war would have been lost, mass death and genocide would have engulfed that nation by now, and jihadists would have chalked up their most important victory against America.

It’s also worth pointing out, I suppose, that a gracious, classy, and large-spirited president would have tipped his cap to his predecessor, whose political courage and wisdom on the surge has made success in Iraq possible. But that would require Obama to act against his basic character.

In his commencement address at West Point, President Obama said this:

For many years, our focus was on Iraq. And year after year, our troops faced a set of challenges there that were as daunting as they were complex. A lesser Army might have seen its spirit broken. But the American military is more resilient than that. Our troops adapted, they persisted, they partnered with coalition and Iraqi counterparts, and through their competence and creativity and courage, we are poised to end our combat mission in Iraq this summer.

Even as we transition to an Iraqi lead and bring our troops home, our commitment to the Iraqi people endures. We will continue to advise and assist Iraqi security forces, who are already responsible for security in most of the country. And a strong American civilian presence will help Iraqis forge political and economic progress. This will not be a simple task, but this is what success looks like: an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign and stable and self-reliant.

It’s perhaps worth pointing out that the things Obama celebrates — an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists and that is democratic, sovereign, stable, and self-reliant — would have been unachievable if we had followed the counsel of then Senator Barack Obama, who was among the fiercest and most visible critics of the so-called surge, which turned around the course of the war and has made success there possible.

For the record (which is documented here), on January 10, 2007, the night the surge was announced, Obama declared: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” A week later, he insisted the surge strategy would “not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly.” And in reaction to the president’s January 23 State of the Union address, Obama said:

I don’t think the president’s strategy is going to work. We went through two weeks of hearings on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; experts from across the spectrum–military and civilian, conservative and liberal–expressed great skepticism about it. My suggestion to the president has been that the only way we’re going to change the dynamic in Iraq and start seeing political commendation is actually if we create a system of phased redeployment. And, frankly, the president, I think, has not been willing to consider that option, not because it’s not militarily sound but because he continues to cling to the belief that somehow military solutions are going to lead to victory in Iraq.

And as late as July 2007, after it was clear that the surge was working, Obama insisted the opposite. “My assessment is that the surge has not worked,” he said.

I’m delighted Obama was wrong in both his analysis and his predictions and that, unlike so many things since he’s been president, in Iraq he has not made the situation he inherited markedly worse. And perhaps at some point, Mr. Obama — who promised that, unlike past presidents he would be quick to admit the errors of his ways — will admit he was profoundly mistaken about the surge. If he had had his way, after all, the Iraq war would have been lost, mass death and genocide would have engulfed that nation by now, and jihadists would have chalked up their most important victory against America.

It’s also worth pointing out, I suppose, that a gracious, classy, and large-spirited president would have tipped his cap to his predecessor, whose political courage and wisdom on the surge has made success in Iraq possible. But that would require Obama to act against his basic character.

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A Sanctions Deal — but for Whose Benefit?

Sensing that a sanctions deal was slipping away and the president was cornered by Iran’s diplomatic coup, the Obama team rushed to complete an agreement with China and Russia on sanctions against the Iranian regime:

The Obama administration announced Tuesday morning that it had struck a deal with other major powers, including Russia and China, to impose new sanctions on Iran, a sharp repudiation of the deal Tehran offered just a day before to ship its nuclear fuel out of the country.

“We have reached agreement on a strong draft with the cooperation of both Russia and China,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, without giving any details of the pact. “We plan to circulate that draft resolution to the entire Security Council today. And let me say, Mr. Chairman, I think this announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide.”

Swell, now what’s in it? And will the Obama administration stop its effort to delay and water down additional congressional sanctions?

Maybe they really are crippling and Obama convinced the Chinese and Russians to go after petroleum sanctions, perhaps the only meaningful tool available that would impact Iran. And maybe it will sail through the Security Council, have a swift impact, and halt the mullahs in their tracks. Or then again, maybe the sanctions aren’t even biting, will only provide cover and more time for the mullahs to work away on their nuclear program, will silence criticism from Jewish groups (OK, they were already silent), will help Obama stave off unilateral sanctions by Congress, and will provide him with further leverage to squash an Israeli military strike. I hope I’m wrong about which alternative will play out.

Sensing that a sanctions deal was slipping away and the president was cornered by Iran’s diplomatic coup, the Obama team rushed to complete an agreement with China and Russia on sanctions against the Iranian regime:

The Obama administration announced Tuesday morning that it had struck a deal with other major powers, including Russia and China, to impose new sanctions on Iran, a sharp repudiation of the deal Tehran offered just a day before to ship its nuclear fuel out of the country.

“We have reached agreement on a strong draft with the cooperation of both Russia and China,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, without giving any details of the pact. “We plan to circulate that draft resolution to the entire Security Council today. And let me say, Mr. Chairman, I think this announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide.”

Swell, now what’s in it? And will the Obama administration stop its effort to delay and water down additional congressional sanctions?

Maybe they really are crippling and Obama convinced the Chinese and Russians to go after petroleum sanctions, perhaps the only meaningful tool available that would impact Iran. And maybe it will sail through the Security Council, have a swift impact, and halt the mullahs in their tracks. Or then again, maybe the sanctions aren’t even biting, will only provide cover and more time for the mullahs to work away on their nuclear program, will silence criticism from Jewish groups (OK, they were already silent), will help Obama stave off unilateral sanctions by Congress, and will provide him with further leverage to squash an Israeli military strike. I hope I’m wrong about which alternative will play out.

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The Innocents Pack for Damascus

Lebanese scholar Tony Badran quotes Robert Ford, President Barack Obama’s unconfirmed pick for ambassador to Syria, and Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making statements last week that are breathtaking in their disconnection from reality.

Kerry said he believes Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, “understands that his country’s long-term interests … are not well served by aligning Syria with a revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran and its terrorist clients.” Ford, at the same time, said the U.S. “must persuade Syria that neither Iran nor Hezbollah shares Syria’s long-term strategic interest in … peace.”

These statements are simply off-planet. Either Kerry and Ford don’t know the first thing about how the Syrian government perceives its own interests, or they’re making stuff up for the sake of diplomacy.

It could be the latter. That happens. In Baghdad in 2008, a U.S. Army officer told me that the U.S. said things that weren’t strictly true about Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia to make it easier for him to save face, climb down out of his tree, and cut a deal. The American and Iraqi armies were still fighting his men in the streets but pretended they were only battling it out with rogue forces called “Special Groups.”

“We are giving the office of Moqtada al-Sadr a door,” the officer said. “We want them to be a political entity, not a military entity. So if you’re fighting coalition forces or the Iraqi army, we’ll say you’re a Special Groups leader or a Special Groups member.”

“So,” I said, “this is like the make-believe distinctions between military wings and political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. That’s exactly it.”

I’d like to give Kerry and Ford the benefit of the doubt here and assume that that’s what they’re doing with Assad, that they know Syria’s alliance with Iran is three decades old and therefore well thought-out and durable, that they know his foreign policy goal is one of “resistance” rather than peace, but I have my doubts. They otherwise shouldn’t find engaging him worth the humiliation and bother.

The U.S. military used diplomatic fictions to help convince Sadr to cool it, but he was actively losing a war at the time. He was, shall we say, open to constructive suggestions. Assad is not losing anything. On the contrary, he has all but reconsolidated his overlordship in Lebanon through terrorism and warlordism, and his patron regime in Tehran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed mini regional superpower. Kerry and Ford should know they can no more flip Syria into our column than they could have lured East Germany out of the Soviet bloc during the Brezhnev era.

Diplomatic fictions have their time and place, but there’s a downside. Unsophisticated players, observers, and analysts begin to believe them and no longer understand what is actually happening. Residents of the Washington, D.C., bubble are especially susceptible, but I’ve met American journalists who live in the Middle East who don’t understand that Assad strives not for peace and stability but rather for revolution, terrorism, and war. (They might want to reread The Truth About Syria by Barry Rubin and Syria’s Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process by Marius Deeb.)

If some Americans who live in and write about the Middle East have a hard time with this, I am not optimistic that the truth has fully penetrated the Beltway, especially when policy, as well as public statements, seems to be based on this fantasy.

Kerry and Ford are undoubtedly intelligent people, or they’d be in a different line of work, but getting leverage and results in the Middle East requires something more. “American elites have a hard time distinguishing between intelligence and cunning,” Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse, said to me recently, “largely because their lives do not depend on them outwitting murderous rivals. In hard places, intelligent people is what the cunning eat for lunch.”

Engaging Syria and describing Assad as a reasonable man would make sense if something epic had just happened that might convince him to run his calculations again, such as the overthrow or collapse of Ali Khamenei’s government in Iran. Otherwise, the administration is setting itself up for another failure in the Middle East that will damage its — no, our — credibility. One good thing will probably come of it, though. The naifs will learn. They’ll learn it the hard way, which seems to be the only way most of us learn anything over there. But they’ll learn.

Lebanese scholar Tony Badran quotes Robert Ford, President Barack Obama’s unconfirmed pick for ambassador to Syria, and Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making statements last week that are breathtaking in their disconnection from reality.

Kerry said he believes Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, “understands that his country’s long-term interests … are not well served by aligning Syria with a revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran and its terrorist clients.” Ford, at the same time, said the U.S. “must persuade Syria that neither Iran nor Hezbollah shares Syria’s long-term strategic interest in … peace.”

These statements are simply off-planet. Either Kerry and Ford don’t know the first thing about how the Syrian government perceives its own interests, or they’re making stuff up for the sake of diplomacy.

It could be the latter. That happens. In Baghdad in 2008, a U.S. Army officer told me that the U.S. said things that weren’t strictly true about Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia to make it easier for him to save face, climb down out of his tree, and cut a deal. The American and Iraqi armies were still fighting his men in the streets but pretended they were only battling it out with rogue forces called “Special Groups.”

“We are giving the office of Moqtada al-Sadr a door,” the officer said. “We want them to be a political entity, not a military entity. So if you’re fighting coalition forces or the Iraqi army, we’ll say you’re a Special Groups leader or a Special Groups member.”

“So,” I said, “this is like the make-believe distinctions between military wings and political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. That’s exactly it.”

I’d like to give Kerry and Ford the benefit of the doubt here and assume that that’s what they’re doing with Assad, that they know Syria’s alliance with Iran is three decades old and therefore well thought-out and durable, that they know his foreign policy goal is one of “resistance” rather than peace, but I have my doubts. They otherwise shouldn’t find engaging him worth the humiliation and bother.

The U.S. military used diplomatic fictions to help convince Sadr to cool it, but he was actively losing a war at the time. He was, shall we say, open to constructive suggestions. Assad is not losing anything. On the contrary, he has all but reconsolidated his overlordship in Lebanon through terrorism and warlordism, and his patron regime in Tehran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed mini regional superpower. Kerry and Ford should know they can no more flip Syria into our column than they could have lured East Germany out of the Soviet bloc during the Brezhnev era.

Diplomatic fictions have their time and place, but there’s a downside. Unsophisticated players, observers, and analysts begin to believe them and no longer understand what is actually happening. Residents of the Washington, D.C., bubble are especially susceptible, but I’ve met American journalists who live in the Middle East who don’t understand that Assad strives not for peace and stability but rather for revolution, terrorism, and war. (They might want to reread The Truth About Syria by Barry Rubin and Syria’s Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process by Marius Deeb.)

If some Americans who live in and write about the Middle East have a hard time with this, I am not optimistic that the truth has fully penetrated the Beltway, especially when policy, as well as public statements, seems to be based on this fantasy.

Kerry and Ford are undoubtedly intelligent people, or they’d be in a different line of work, but getting leverage and results in the Middle East requires something more. “American elites have a hard time distinguishing between intelligence and cunning,” Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse, said to me recently, “largely because their lives do not depend on them outwitting murderous rivals. In hard places, intelligent people is what the cunning eat for lunch.”

Engaging Syria and describing Assad as a reasonable man would make sense if something epic had just happened that might convince him to run his calculations again, such as the overthrow or collapse of Ali Khamenei’s government in Iran. Otherwise, the administration is setting itself up for another failure in the Middle East that will damage its — no, our — credibility. One good thing will probably come of it, though. The naifs will learn. They’ll learn it the hard way, which seems to be the only way most of us learn anything over there. But they’ll learn.

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The Climb-Down?

Perhaps a mini climb-down has begun by the Obami. After all, they encountered a “firestorm” of criticism from Jewish groups and a bipartisan selection (although many more Republicans) of elected officials and candidates. Rep. Steve Israel is the latest Democrat to weigh in, declaring: “Israel is a close friend and ally and our relationship is based on mutual interests and benefits. We need to reaffirm the American-Israeli relationship as Vice President Biden did at Tel Aviv University last week. The Administration, to the extent that it has disagreements with Israel on policy matters, should find way to do so in private and do what they can to defuse this situation.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand issued a more mild statement, but one expressing concern nevertheless: “The close bond between the United States and Israel remains unbreakable, and America will continue to show unyielding support for Israel’s security. While the timing of the East Jerusalem housing announcement was regrettable, it must not cloud the most critical foreign policy issue facing both counties — Iran’s nuclear threat. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I am focused on strengthening international pressure on Iran’s regime to derail its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Republican Tom Price also issued a stern statement imploring Obama to stop “condemning our allies and started aggressively cracking down on those who sponsor terrorist groups and are ruthlessly pursuing nuclear weapons.”

So maybe someone in the administration took all that in and decided that allowing David Axelrod to play Chicago bully on the Sunday talk shows was not a good idea. As this report explains:

The Obama administration pledged Monday that Israel remained a US ally as congressional rivals rallied behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a feud over the construction of settlements. …

“Israel is a strategic ally of the US and will continue to be so,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters. “Our commitment to Israel’s security remains unshakeable.”

He also declined to comment on Netanyahu’s remarks to his Likud Party that construction would go ahead, saying that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was waiting for a “formal” reply to a tense telephone call on Friday.

“When she outlined what she thought appropriate actions would be to the prime minister, she asked for a response by the Israeli government. We wait for the response,” Crowley said.

Without prompting from reporters, Crowley criticized unnamed Palestinians for their remarks on Israel’s reopening of a landmark synagogue in Jerusalem’s walled Old City that had been destroyed in fighting 62 years ago.

Message received? Well, if so, then who’s running our Middle East policy and how did things escalate to this level? Certainly, a climb-down is preferable to continued escalation, but after a week of this, the Obami amateur hour leaves Israel, the Palestinians, Obama’s domestic supporters, the American Jewish community, and every nation looking on (some with horror, others with delight) baffled. If there is a game plan here or a set of permanent concerns and interests at play, it’s hard to discern. In the feckless and reckless Obama foreign policy, uncertainty is the order of the day. Allies should be forewarned: they may be on thin ice at any time. And our foes? Well, they must marvel that the U.S. is so cavalier with its friends and so willing to adopt the rhetoric and positions of its enemies. And for those nations on the fence, why would they have confidence in the U.S. administration? Being a “friend” of the U.S. is a dicey business these days.

Perhaps a mini climb-down has begun by the Obami. After all, they encountered a “firestorm” of criticism from Jewish groups and a bipartisan selection (although many more Republicans) of elected officials and candidates. Rep. Steve Israel is the latest Democrat to weigh in, declaring: “Israel is a close friend and ally and our relationship is based on mutual interests and benefits. We need to reaffirm the American-Israeli relationship as Vice President Biden did at Tel Aviv University last week. The Administration, to the extent that it has disagreements with Israel on policy matters, should find way to do so in private and do what they can to defuse this situation.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand issued a more mild statement, but one expressing concern nevertheless: “The close bond between the United States and Israel remains unbreakable, and America will continue to show unyielding support for Israel’s security. While the timing of the East Jerusalem housing announcement was regrettable, it must not cloud the most critical foreign policy issue facing both counties — Iran’s nuclear threat. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I am focused on strengthening international pressure on Iran’s regime to derail its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Republican Tom Price also issued a stern statement imploring Obama to stop “condemning our allies and started aggressively cracking down on those who sponsor terrorist groups and are ruthlessly pursuing nuclear weapons.”

So maybe someone in the administration took all that in and decided that allowing David Axelrod to play Chicago bully on the Sunday talk shows was not a good idea. As this report explains:

The Obama administration pledged Monday that Israel remained a US ally as congressional rivals rallied behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a feud over the construction of settlements. …

“Israel is a strategic ally of the US and will continue to be so,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters. “Our commitment to Israel’s security remains unshakeable.”

He also declined to comment on Netanyahu’s remarks to his Likud Party that construction would go ahead, saying that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was waiting for a “formal” reply to a tense telephone call on Friday.

“When she outlined what she thought appropriate actions would be to the prime minister, she asked for a response by the Israeli government. We wait for the response,” Crowley said.

Without prompting from reporters, Crowley criticized unnamed Palestinians for their remarks on Israel’s reopening of a landmark synagogue in Jerusalem’s walled Old City that had been destroyed in fighting 62 years ago.

Message received? Well, if so, then who’s running our Middle East policy and how did things escalate to this level? Certainly, a climb-down is preferable to continued escalation, but after a week of this, the Obami amateur hour leaves Israel, the Palestinians, Obama’s domestic supporters, the American Jewish community, and every nation looking on (some with horror, others with delight) baffled. If there is a game plan here or a set of permanent concerns and interests at play, it’s hard to discern. In the feckless and reckless Obama foreign policy, uncertainty is the order of the day. Allies should be forewarned: they may be on thin ice at any time. And our foes? Well, they must marvel that the U.S. is so cavalier with its friends and so willing to adopt the rhetoric and positions of its enemies. And for those nations on the fence, why would they have confidence in the U.S. administration? Being a “friend” of the U.S. is a dicey business these days.

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Are They Being Smart Yet?

Joe Biden arrived in Israel. A ticker-tape parade he did not receive. As this report notes:

Vice President Biden arrived in Israel on Monday to boost U.S. efforts to mediate talks between Israelis and Palestinians amid criticism that the Obama administration has set back the peace process.

Biden’s four-day visit — in addition to reassuring Israeli leaders about the U.S. commitment to curb Iran’s nuclear program — is designed to prod Israel and the Palestinians to get talks moving again. With a speech in Tel Aviv on Thursday, he will also try to court the Israeli public, some of whom felt snubbed in the past year by President Obama, who has visited Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia but has yet to come to Israel.

All George Mitchell could muster were so-called “proximity” talks, indirect discussions between parties that have little to discuss and, in the case of the Palestinians, little authority or willingness to make a “deal.” So the grousing has begun:

After so many years of direct talks that wrestled with the core issues of the future of Jerusalem, borders, security and Palestinian refugees, Mitchell’s announcement felt to some observers more like a setback than a success.

“It’s hardly a cause for celebration that after 17 years of direct official talks we are regressing to proximity talks,” said Yossi Alpher, co-editor of a Middle East blog and a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Saeb Erekat, the longtime Palestinian negotiator, told Israel’s Army Radio that the indirect talks were a last attempt “to save the peace process.”

My, what a comedown from the previous administrations, which at least were adept at getting the parties in the same room. But then all this is silliness squared. There is no deal to be had and no peace to be processed. That said, it’s painfully obvious that the Obami have made a bad situation worse. In case there was any doubt as to the diplomatic belly flop performed by the Mitchell-Axelrod-Clinton-Emanuel-Obama brain trust, we learn, “Israel announced construction of 112 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit. The administration had pushed hard — but unsuccessfully — last year for a complete freeze on settlements, and Israel’s new announcement came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting with Mitchell.” Message delivered.

Even those enamored of Obama and so benighted as to believe that peace is within sight at this juncture are rather disgusted with the Obama effort:

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. mediator and ambassador to Israel and Egypt who served both Democrat and Republican presidents, took a more skeptical view. He said it’s “not understandable why we would now have them sit in separate rooms and move between them.”

“I have been disappointed this past year with the lack of boldness and the lack of creativity and the lack of strength in our diplomacy with respect to this peace process. We have not articulated a policy, and we don’t have a strategy,” Kurtzer, who advised Obama’s presidential campaign, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

And like so many other allies (an entire coalition of the slighted might be assembled), the Israelis can’t quite believe they got a Biden visit. (“‘While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel,’ said Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, ‘we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.'”)

When does the smart diplomacy start?

Here’s something smart: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s alternative vision. It goes like this:

Last August he announced what has come to be known as the “Fayyad Plan” under the heading: “Palestine — Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State.” The idea is to build a de facto Palestinian state by mid-2011, with functioning government and municipal offices, police forces, a central bank, stock market, schools, hospitals, community centers, etc. Fayyad’s watchword is transparency, and his aim is institutions that are corruption-free and provide an array of modern government services.

Then, in mid-2011, with all the trappings of statehood in place, he intends to make his political move: Invite Israel to recognize the well-functioning Palestinian state and withdraw from territories it still occupies, or be forced to do so by the pressure of international opinion.

In February, at the 10th Herzliya Conference, an annual forum on Israel’s national security attended by top decision-makers and academics, Fayyad, the lone Palestinian, gave an articulate off-the-cuff address, leaving little doubt as to what he has in mind.

Now which track do we think has a better chance of success — Mitchell’s or Fayyad’s? And since the answer is so obvious, the mystery remains why Mitchell is still there and why we are still pursuing a fruitless and counterproductive policy.

Joe Biden arrived in Israel. A ticker-tape parade he did not receive. As this report notes:

Vice President Biden arrived in Israel on Monday to boost U.S. efforts to mediate talks between Israelis and Palestinians amid criticism that the Obama administration has set back the peace process.

Biden’s four-day visit — in addition to reassuring Israeli leaders about the U.S. commitment to curb Iran’s nuclear program — is designed to prod Israel and the Palestinians to get talks moving again. With a speech in Tel Aviv on Thursday, he will also try to court the Israeli public, some of whom felt snubbed in the past year by President Obama, who has visited Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia but has yet to come to Israel.

All George Mitchell could muster were so-called “proximity” talks, indirect discussions between parties that have little to discuss and, in the case of the Palestinians, little authority or willingness to make a “deal.” So the grousing has begun:

After so many years of direct talks that wrestled with the core issues of the future of Jerusalem, borders, security and Palestinian refugees, Mitchell’s announcement felt to some observers more like a setback than a success.

“It’s hardly a cause for celebration that after 17 years of direct official talks we are regressing to proximity talks,” said Yossi Alpher, co-editor of a Middle East blog and a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Saeb Erekat, the longtime Palestinian negotiator, told Israel’s Army Radio that the indirect talks were a last attempt “to save the peace process.”

My, what a comedown from the previous administrations, which at least were adept at getting the parties in the same room. But then all this is silliness squared. There is no deal to be had and no peace to be processed. That said, it’s painfully obvious that the Obami have made a bad situation worse. In case there was any doubt as to the diplomatic belly flop performed by the Mitchell-Axelrod-Clinton-Emanuel-Obama brain trust, we learn, “Israel announced construction of 112 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit. The administration had pushed hard — but unsuccessfully — last year for a complete freeze on settlements, and Israel’s new announcement came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting with Mitchell.” Message delivered.

Even those enamored of Obama and so benighted as to believe that peace is within sight at this juncture are rather disgusted with the Obama effort:

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. mediator and ambassador to Israel and Egypt who served both Democrat and Republican presidents, took a more skeptical view. He said it’s “not understandable why we would now have them sit in separate rooms and move between them.”

“I have been disappointed this past year with the lack of boldness and the lack of creativity and the lack of strength in our diplomacy with respect to this peace process. We have not articulated a policy, and we don’t have a strategy,” Kurtzer, who advised Obama’s presidential campaign, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

And like so many other allies (an entire coalition of the slighted might be assembled), the Israelis can’t quite believe they got a Biden visit. (“‘While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel,’ said Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, ‘we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.'”)

When does the smart diplomacy start?

Here’s something smart: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s alternative vision. It goes like this:

Last August he announced what has come to be known as the “Fayyad Plan” under the heading: “Palestine — Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State.” The idea is to build a de facto Palestinian state by mid-2011, with functioning government and municipal offices, police forces, a central bank, stock market, schools, hospitals, community centers, etc. Fayyad’s watchword is transparency, and his aim is institutions that are corruption-free and provide an array of modern government services.

Then, in mid-2011, with all the trappings of statehood in place, he intends to make his political move: Invite Israel to recognize the well-functioning Palestinian state and withdraw from territories it still occupies, or be forced to do so by the pressure of international opinion.

In February, at the 10th Herzliya Conference, an annual forum on Israel’s national security attended by top decision-makers and academics, Fayyad, the lone Palestinian, gave an articulate off-the-cuff address, leaving little doubt as to what he has in mind.

Now which track do we think has a better chance of success — Mitchell’s or Fayyad’s? And since the answer is so obvious, the mystery remains why Mitchell is still there and why we are still pursuing a fruitless and counterproductive policy.

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Here We Go Again

As the Obama administration is poised to proceed with “indirect” talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the chances for success in the foreseeable future are virtually nil. The PA president (a) is in the 62nd month of his 48-month term, unable to hold (and in any event unwilling to risk) new elections; (b) heads a party still corroded by corruption; (c) governs only half the putative Palestinian state; and (d) is unable to dismantle the Iranian proxy that rules Gaza. Even if an agreement could be reached on any “core” issues, the PA would be in no position to carry it out.

As Robert Malley noted in useful testimony last week in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:

Mahmoud Abbas is President, though his term has expired; he heads the PLO, though the Organization’s authority has long waned. Salam Fayyad, the effective and resourceful Prime Minister, cannot govern in Gaza and, in the West Bank, must govern over much of Fatah’s objection. Hamas has grown into a national and regional phenomenon, and it now has Gaza solidly in its hands. But the Islamist movement itself is at an impasse — besieged in Gaza, suppressed in the West Bank, at odds with most Arab states, with little prospect for Palestinian reconciliation. …

All of which leaves room for doubt whether the Palestinian national movement, as it currently stands, can confidently and effectively conduct negotiations for a final peace agreement, sell a putative agreement to its people, and, if popularly endorsed, make it stick.

Malley’s testimony also noted that Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions reflect a broad Israeli consensus — one that emerged after withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza resulted in new wars and after the Palestinian Authority in 2008 rejected (yet again) an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank after land swaps. Israel’s rejection in the new negotiations of the indefensible 1967 borders and a “right of return” will be positions that extend far beyond the Israeli right wing:

Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state as much as his demands for far more stringent security — and thus, territorial — arrangements — are not mere pretexts to avoid a deal and are far more than the expressions of a passing political mood. They reflect deep-seated popular sentiment regarding the yearning for true Arab recognition and acceptance and fear of novel, unconventional security threats. New coalition partners or new elections might change the atmosphere. They are not about to change the underlying frame of mind.

In the past 10 years, the PA received three formal offers of a state — at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer — and rejected them all. The Fayyad plan to build the institutions of a Palestinian state over the next two years is an implicit admission that the three offers of a state were made to an entity that did not have the basic institutions necessary for one — and does not have them now. The Malley testimony makes it clear that the entity also does not have the ability or authority to negotiate a peace agreement, much less implement one.

As the Obama administration is poised to proceed with “indirect” talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the chances for success in the foreseeable future are virtually nil. The PA president (a) is in the 62nd month of his 48-month term, unable to hold (and in any event unwilling to risk) new elections; (b) heads a party still corroded by corruption; (c) governs only half the putative Palestinian state; and (d) is unable to dismantle the Iranian proxy that rules Gaza. Even if an agreement could be reached on any “core” issues, the PA would be in no position to carry it out.

As Robert Malley noted in useful testimony last week in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:

Mahmoud Abbas is President, though his term has expired; he heads the PLO, though the Organization’s authority has long waned. Salam Fayyad, the effective and resourceful Prime Minister, cannot govern in Gaza and, in the West Bank, must govern over much of Fatah’s objection. Hamas has grown into a national and regional phenomenon, and it now has Gaza solidly in its hands. But the Islamist movement itself is at an impasse — besieged in Gaza, suppressed in the West Bank, at odds with most Arab states, with little prospect for Palestinian reconciliation. …

All of which leaves room for doubt whether the Palestinian national movement, as it currently stands, can confidently and effectively conduct negotiations for a final peace agreement, sell a putative agreement to its people, and, if popularly endorsed, make it stick.

Malley’s testimony also noted that Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions reflect a broad Israeli consensus — one that emerged after withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza resulted in new wars and after the Palestinian Authority in 2008 rejected (yet again) an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank after land swaps. Israel’s rejection in the new negotiations of the indefensible 1967 borders and a “right of return” will be positions that extend far beyond the Israeli right wing:

Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state as much as his demands for far more stringent security — and thus, territorial — arrangements — are not mere pretexts to avoid a deal and are far more than the expressions of a passing political mood. They reflect deep-seated popular sentiment regarding the yearning for true Arab recognition and acceptance and fear of novel, unconventional security threats. New coalition partners or new elections might change the atmosphere. They are not about to change the underlying frame of mind.

In the past 10 years, the PA received three formal offers of a state — at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer — and rejected them all. The Fayyad plan to build the institutions of a Palestinian state over the next two years is an implicit admission that the three offers of a state were made to an entity that did not have the basic institutions necessary for one — and does not have them now. The Malley testimony makes it clear that the entity also does not have the ability or authority to negotiate a peace agreement, much less implement one.

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What if They Got Away?

Eli Lake reports:

U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating. . .

Said one official: “It’s safe to say that Abdulmutallab is not the only bullet in the chamber for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” the Islamist terrorist group based in Yemen.

“Farouk took a month to get operational. Once he left [training in Yemen], it did not take very long,” the official said.

So in the five weeks of silence, did the other English-speaking terrorists go into hiding? Are the leads still good? We don’t know, but it is precisely this concern and the danger of leads gone cold that strike at the core of the Obami’s approach. They are concerned about extending constitutional principles to terrorists (and gaining convictions); they should have been focused like a laser on getting all the actionable data as soon as possible to prevent future attacks. Now it seems as though we are scrambling to catch up — and the Obami are trying to prepare us in the event we can’t catch up:

The data about the additional terrorist plots is thought to be one factor behind alarming congressional testimony two weeks ago from senior U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair.

Mr. Blair said he was “certain” that it was al-Qaeda’s priority to attempt an attack on the United States within three to six months.

The increased threat of terrorism emanating from Yemen was outlined in a majority staff report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made public last month. The report warned that U.S. criminals were migrating to Yemen for terrorist training.

A smart national security observer makes an additional point: “Enhanced interrogation is something also envisioned by Obama and it need not be torture. The HIG–high value interrogation group–was chartered for this kind of non torture/enhanced interrogation. It was not set up. So getting to him need not have meant waterboarding.” Conservatives would dispute whether waterboarding is torture, but the point is correct: even under the Obami’s own interrogation rules, it is hard to condone this missed opportunity.

So the question comes down to this: what if in the five weeks of the Christmas Day bomber’s Mirandized silence other terrorists got away? And if the unimaginable happens and one of these should strike, what then? Even the potential for such a calamity should convince all but the most hardened Obama sycophants that we are in danger now, greater danger than we would otherwise be, had the search for mass-murders-in-training begun weeks earlier.

There is no excuse for such malfeasance. Those officials who came up with this cockeyed scheme and have now put Americans in greater danger should be sacked. And the American people, once the full account comes out, may well conclude that this includes Obama. He is commander in chief after all.

Eli Lake reports:

U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating. . .

Said one official: “It’s safe to say that Abdulmutallab is not the only bullet in the chamber for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” the Islamist terrorist group based in Yemen.

“Farouk took a month to get operational. Once he left [training in Yemen], it did not take very long,” the official said.

So in the five weeks of silence, did the other English-speaking terrorists go into hiding? Are the leads still good? We don’t know, but it is precisely this concern and the danger of leads gone cold that strike at the core of the Obami’s approach. They are concerned about extending constitutional principles to terrorists (and gaining convictions); they should have been focused like a laser on getting all the actionable data as soon as possible to prevent future attacks. Now it seems as though we are scrambling to catch up — and the Obami are trying to prepare us in the event we can’t catch up:

The data about the additional terrorist plots is thought to be one factor behind alarming congressional testimony two weeks ago from senior U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair.

Mr. Blair said he was “certain” that it was al-Qaeda’s priority to attempt an attack on the United States within three to six months.

The increased threat of terrorism emanating from Yemen was outlined in a majority staff report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made public last month. The report warned that U.S. criminals were migrating to Yemen for terrorist training.

A smart national security observer makes an additional point: “Enhanced interrogation is something also envisioned by Obama and it need not be torture. The HIG–high value interrogation group–was chartered for this kind of non torture/enhanced interrogation. It was not set up. So getting to him need not have meant waterboarding.” Conservatives would dispute whether waterboarding is torture, but the point is correct: even under the Obami’s own interrogation rules, it is hard to condone this missed opportunity.

So the question comes down to this: what if in the five weeks of the Christmas Day bomber’s Mirandized silence other terrorists got away? And if the unimaginable happens and one of these should strike, what then? Even the potential for such a calamity should convince all but the most hardened Obama sycophants that we are in danger now, greater danger than we would otherwise be, had the search for mass-murders-in-training begun weeks earlier.

There is no excuse for such malfeasance. Those officials who came up with this cockeyed scheme and have now put Americans in greater danger should be sacked. And the American people, once the full account comes out, may well conclude that this includes Obama. He is commander in chief after all.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

This is what baffles average Americans: “A new focus on Yemen as a potential terrorist haven renewed an old debate on Sunday over whether the United States should have transferred or released some of its Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. The White House has signaled it would be ‘mindful’ of changing security conditions in those states as it makes those key decisions, but the Obama administration made no commitment this weekend to stop the transfer of about 40 prisoners to Yemen this year, as part of its larger plan to shutter the Gitmo detention facility.” Not even Rep. Jane Harman thinks it’s a good idea to keep sending detainees to Yemen. (Sen. Diane Feinstein also wants to halt the transfers.) Really, is this so hard to figure out?

But meanwhile Brennan tells us: “We have good intelligence that Al Qaida is training individuals in Yemen. We are pulling the threads on a number of these reports to make sure that we stay on top of it. And over the past week in particular, we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.” Nevertheless, he can’t definitively rule out sending more detainees back to Yemen.

On the other hand, we are closing our embassy in Yemen because it is a very dangerous place. “The weak central government has little control over vast lawless areas that provide an ideal haven and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Besides militants, the government is confronted with a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south that is stretching its resources.” So it was a mistake to release all those detainees there? And we should stop? You’d think so.

On Meet the Press it got even worse. Brennan: “Every other day the system has worked this year….The system is working. It’s just not working as well as it needs to constantly.” If we only knew which days it was working.

Bill Kristol, on whether there was a “smoking gun” on Abdulmutallab : “His father comes, gives the CIA station chief in Africa his name. He — a month later, he goes to Yemen, says he’s in Yemen. He’s in Yemen. He’s with this cleric whom we’re monitoring in Yemen, trying to kill in Yemen, Awlaki, who’s the same guy who’s been in touch with Major Hasan.He goes to an airport using his own name, no disguise, no alias, buys with cash a one-way ticket to the U.S…. No luggage. That — he is the smoking gun. And frankly, for Mr. Brennan to say, ‘Well, no smoking gun,’ that itself shows a kind of not-serious-about-the-war mentality.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman gets it right: “That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war. He should be held in a military brig. And — and, in fact, he should be questioned now and should have been ever since he was apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get the people in Yemen who directed him to do what he did, so, yes, we — we should follow the rule of law, but the rule of law that is relevant here is the rule of the law of war.” And on Guantanamo: “I’m one who believes that Guantanamo should not be closed. It — it is a — I know it has a bad reputation. I know the president promised during the campaign that he would close it. But the president is in charge of what happens at Guantanamo now, so some of the abuses of the past are not going to happen. You could not find a better, more humane facility when it comes to a detention center in the world. It seems like a waste to me to take these people to Illinois.”

The Obama era is not working out as planned for the Democrats: “In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports. Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That’s down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. . . The number of Republicans inched up by a point in December to 34.0%. That’s the highest total for Republicans since December 2007, just before the 2008 presidential campaign season began.”

Thank goodness: “Iranian legislators on Sunday decided to not allow a visit from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to Iranian media.” Let’s just pray the Obami don’t give the mullahs something to get them to change their minds. Unfortunately, that’s the logic of “engagement” — we prostrate ourselves for the sake of getting intransigent enemies to talk to us.

First it was Fox News. Then it was Gallup. Now liberals are whining about Rasmussen’s polling. What’s next — Pollster.com? I think their real beef is with the voters.

This is what baffles average Americans: “A new focus on Yemen as a potential terrorist haven renewed an old debate on Sunday over whether the United States should have transferred or released some of its Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. The White House has signaled it would be ‘mindful’ of changing security conditions in those states as it makes those key decisions, but the Obama administration made no commitment this weekend to stop the transfer of about 40 prisoners to Yemen this year, as part of its larger plan to shutter the Gitmo detention facility.” Not even Rep. Jane Harman thinks it’s a good idea to keep sending detainees to Yemen. (Sen. Diane Feinstein also wants to halt the transfers.) Really, is this so hard to figure out?

But meanwhile Brennan tells us: “We have good intelligence that Al Qaida is training individuals in Yemen. We are pulling the threads on a number of these reports to make sure that we stay on top of it. And over the past week in particular, we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.” Nevertheless, he can’t definitively rule out sending more detainees back to Yemen.

On the other hand, we are closing our embassy in Yemen because it is a very dangerous place. “The weak central government has little control over vast lawless areas that provide an ideal haven and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Besides militants, the government is confronted with a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south that is stretching its resources.” So it was a mistake to release all those detainees there? And we should stop? You’d think so.

On Meet the Press it got even worse. Brennan: “Every other day the system has worked this year….The system is working. It’s just not working as well as it needs to constantly.” If we only knew which days it was working.

Bill Kristol, on whether there was a “smoking gun” on Abdulmutallab : “His father comes, gives the CIA station chief in Africa his name. He — a month later, he goes to Yemen, says he’s in Yemen. He’s in Yemen. He’s with this cleric whom we’re monitoring in Yemen, trying to kill in Yemen, Awlaki, who’s the same guy who’s been in touch with Major Hasan.He goes to an airport using his own name, no disguise, no alias, buys with cash a one-way ticket to the U.S…. No luggage. That — he is the smoking gun. And frankly, for Mr. Brennan to say, ‘Well, no smoking gun,’ that itself shows a kind of not-serious-about-the-war mentality.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman gets it right: “That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war. He should be held in a military brig. And — and, in fact, he should be questioned now and should have been ever since he was apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get the people in Yemen who directed him to do what he did, so, yes, we — we should follow the rule of law, but the rule of law that is relevant here is the rule of the law of war.” And on Guantanamo: “I’m one who believes that Guantanamo should not be closed. It — it is a — I know it has a bad reputation. I know the president promised during the campaign that he would close it. But the president is in charge of what happens at Guantanamo now, so some of the abuses of the past are not going to happen. You could not find a better, more humane facility when it comes to a detention center in the world. It seems like a waste to me to take these people to Illinois.”

The Obama era is not working out as planned for the Democrats: “In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports. Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That’s down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. . . The number of Republicans inched up by a point in December to 34.0%. That’s the highest total for Republicans since December 2007, just before the 2008 presidential campaign season began.”

Thank goodness: “Iranian legislators on Sunday decided to not allow a visit from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to Iranian media.” Let’s just pray the Obami don’t give the mullahs something to get them to change their minds. Unfortunately, that’s the logic of “engagement” — we prostrate ourselves for the sake of getting intransigent enemies to talk to us.

First it was Fox News. Then it was Gallup. Now liberals are whining about Rasmussen’s polling. What’s next — Pollster.com? I think their real beef is with the voters.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sen. Ben Nelson, holding firm for now, “on Thursday rejected a proposed compromise related to abortion coverage, but Democratic leaders said that they remain confident that the matter would be resolved and that the chamber could still push an overhaul of the health-care system to final passage by Christmas.” And what about the other concerns Nelson says he has?

An informative report on the middle-class workers who will be impacted by the Senate’s “Cadillac tax” on  generous health-care plans explains: “A senior Democratic House aide said this week that the choice by the Senate to pay for health care reform with an excise tax that could hit middle-class workers, as opposed to the choice of the House to tax the highest earners, represents a fundamental philosophical difference between the two chambers that could endanger the entire bill if it is a part of the final conference report.”

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights takes time out from bird-dogging the Justice Department on the New Black Panther case to write a letter to the president and Senate chiding them for including illegal racial preferences for medical schools in the health-care bill. “No matter how well-intentioned, utilizing racial preferences with the hop of alleviating health care disparities is inadvisable both as a matter of policy and as a matter of law.”

The Washington Times has the low-down on the firing of AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin, in which “we get a glimpse of the tangled web of interests and embarrassments of Obama allies on which the firing of Mr. Walpin put a kibosh. In logic if not in law, this raises the specter of obstruction of justice.”

Mark McKinnon on how quickly the 2012 GOP field has changed: “What is most interesting, comparing the list today with the one a year ago, is who has fallen off it or otherwise lost altitude. Mark Sanford and John Ensign, once bright lights, have been doomed by the ancient curse of infidelity. Jon Huntsman got detailed to China. Bobby Jindal gave a painful speech which reminded voters of Kenneth from 30 Rock. And Mike Huckabee’s chances took a serious blow when a prisoner he freed as Arkansas governor allegedly shot and killed four policemen before being gunned down himself.” Could it possibly be that it’s just too early to start talking about 2012?

Republican congressional candidates in the suburbs are already running against Nancy Pelosi. With an approval rating like hers, you can understand why.

Another sterling Obama nominee: “President Obama’s recent nominee for ambassador to El Salvador was forced to withdraw her nomination to another diplomatic post a decade ago following concerns about ties to Cuba, raising red flags as her name heads to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee once again for approval. … The selection has started to draw some attention given that former President Clinton nominated her for ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998, only to see the nomination fizzle after the foreign relations panel questioned her over her past relationship with someone who had apparently caught the attention of the FBI.” According to one source, Cuban intelligence had tried to recruit her through her boyfriend.

The mysteries of science: “There are 20 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne and every one of them alters the taste, scent and fluid dynamics of the sparkling wine, say researchers studying the chemistry of carbonation and the physics of fizz.” Read the whole thing and lap up … er … savor slowly: “Each exploding bubble sprays hundreds of droplets of concentrated compounds into the air, wreathing anyone drinking it in a fragrant mist, mass spectroscopy studies show.” But don’t tell the EPA : it’s all about carbon dioxide.

Sen. Ben Nelson, holding firm for now, “on Thursday rejected a proposed compromise related to abortion coverage, but Democratic leaders said that they remain confident that the matter would be resolved and that the chamber could still push an overhaul of the health-care system to final passage by Christmas.” And what about the other concerns Nelson says he has?

An informative report on the middle-class workers who will be impacted by the Senate’s “Cadillac tax” on  generous health-care plans explains: “A senior Democratic House aide said this week that the choice by the Senate to pay for health care reform with an excise tax that could hit middle-class workers, as opposed to the choice of the House to tax the highest earners, represents a fundamental philosophical difference between the two chambers that could endanger the entire bill if it is a part of the final conference report.”

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights takes time out from bird-dogging the Justice Department on the New Black Panther case to write a letter to the president and Senate chiding them for including illegal racial preferences for medical schools in the health-care bill. “No matter how well-intentioned, utilizing racial preferences with the hop of alleviating health care disparities is inadvisable both as a matter of policy and as a matter of law.”

The Washington Times has the low-down on the firing of AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin, in which “we get a glimpse of the tangled web of interests and embarrassments of Obama allies on which the firing of Mr. Walpin put a kibosh. In logic if not in law, this raises the specter of obstruction of justice.”

Mark McKinnon on how quickly the 2012 GOP field has changed: “What is most interesting, comparing the list today with the one a year ago, is who has fallen off it or otherwise lost altitude. Mark Sanford and John Ensign, once bright lights, have been doomed by the ancient curse of infidelity. Jon Huntsman got detailed to China. Bobby Jindal gave a painful speech which reminded voters of Kenneth from 30 Rock. And Mike Huckabee’s chances took a serious blow when a prisoner he freed as Arkansas governor allegedly shot and killed four policemen before being gunned down himself.” Could it possibly be that it’s just too early to start talking about 2012?

Republican congressional candidates in the suburbs are already running against Nancy Pelosi. With an approval rating like hers, you can understand why.

Another sterling Obama nominee: “President Obama’s recent nominee for ambassador to El Salvador was forced to withdraw her nomination to another diplomatic post a decade ago following concerns about ties to Cuba, raising red flags as her name heads to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee once again for approval. … The selection has started to draw some attention given that former President Clinton nominated her for ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998, only to see the nomination fizzle after the foreign relations panel questioned her over her past relationship with someone who had apparently caught the attention of the FBI.” According to one source, Cuban intelligence had tried to recruit her through her boyfriend.

The mysteries of science: “There are 20 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne and every one of them alters the taste, scent and fluid dynamics of the sparkling wine, say researchers studying the chemistry of carbonation and the physics of fizz.” Read the whole thing and lap up … er … savor slowly: “Each exploding bubble sprays hundreds of droplets of concentrated compounds into the air, wreathing anyone drinking it in a fragrant mist, mass spectroscopy studies show.” But don’t tell the EPA : it’s all about carbon dioxide.

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Not So Fast on Sanctions

The House voted overwhelmingly, 412-12, in favor of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act authorizing the president to impose penalties on foreign companies that sell oil to Iran or that help the country with its oil-producing capacity. AIPAC applauded the move. (“The United States and our allies must do everything we can to use crippling diplomatic and economic pressure to peaceably prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and avoid confronting more distressing alternatives.”) The J Street crowd was quiet because the administration isn’t thrilled with the move. (Whatever the most dovish position in the administration might conceivably be, we have learned, will bear an uncanny resemblance to the line of the day from J Street.) Wait — didn’t we turn a corner? Isn’t the administration hinting at sanctions? For now, at least, the administration is pulling back on the reins. This report explains:

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, said the Obama administration was “entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran.” Sanctions legislation “might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts,” Steinberg’s letter said.

This is a crowd that’s allergic to leverage. Because the Foggy Bottom team is pleading or getting ready to plead with Russia, China, and the rest, the administration doesn’t even want the authority to act on its own should the “international community” wimp out. Such authority, never mind action, might rattle or annoy our sanctions “partners.” Rep. Howard Berman, who sponsored the measure, doesn’t buy that. (“The House passage of this legislation empowers the administration to point out that, ‘Here is a way a lot of people in Congress want to go, and we think there is a better way, but this issue will not go away.’ “) Berman diplomatically said that the administration neither encouraged or discouraged him, leaving unsaid that the administration is doing what it can to halt any Senate action.

Meanwhile, one gets the sense that the Obami haven’t quite turned that corner yet. We learn:

One European diplomat said a senior White House official had recently told him that the Obama White House seeks to use what it calls the pressure track to try to get Iran back on the engagement track over the next several months. The senior White House official also said that U.S. and international credibility would be hurt if they didn’t demonstrate that they were serious after weeks of telegraphing the end of the year deadline for Iran to show progress on the engagement track, or face consequences.

Yes, if we can only get the mullahs back to the bargaining table, then we can certainly solve this! There’s a pathetic and deeply unserious quality to all this, an afraid-of-our-own-shadow feel to the administration’s efforts. Don’t want to make the Europeans mad. Don’t want to look like we mean business. It doesn’t bode well for vigorous action that would convey to the Iranian regime the negative consequences of proceeding with its nuclear program. But after a year of dithering, engagement, and playing dumb at the bargaining table, we’ve already left an impression of irresolution and weakness with the mullahs. It’s not one the administration seems eager to undo.

The House voted overwhelmingly, 412-12, in favor of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act authorizing the president to impose penalties on foreign companies that sell oil to Iran or that help the country with its oil-producing capacity. AIPAC applauded the move. (“The United States and our allies must do everything we can to use crippling diplomatic and economic pressure to peaceably prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and avoid confronting more distressing alternatives.”) The J Street crowd was quiet because the administration isn’t thrilled with the move. (Whatever the most dovish position in the administration might conceivably be, we have learned, will bear an uncanny resemblance to the line of the day from J Street.) Wait — didn’t we turn a corner? Isn’t the administration hinting at sanctions? For now, at least, the administration is pulling back on the reins. This report explains:

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, said the Obama administration was “entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran.” Sanctions legislation “might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts,” Steinberg’s letter said.

This is a crowd that’s allergic to leverage. Because the Foggy Bottom team is pleading or getting ready to plead with Russia, China, and the rest, the administration doesn’t even want the authority to act on its own should the “international community” wimp out. Such authority, never mind action, might rattle or annoy our sanctions “partners.” Rep. Howard Berman, who sponsored the measure, doesn’t buy that. (“The House passage of this legislation empowers the administration to point out that, ‘Here is a way a lot of people in Congress want to go, and we think there is a better way, but this issue will not go away.’ “) Berman diplomatically said that the administration neither encouraged or discouraged him, leaving unsaid that the administration is doing what it can to halt any Senate action.

Meanwhile, one gets the sense that the Obami haven’t quite turned that corner yet. We learn:

One European diplomat said a senior White House official had recently told him that the Obama White House seeks to use what it calls the pressure track to try to get Iran back on the engagement track over the next several months. The senior White House official also said that U.S. and international credibility would be hurt if they didn’t demonstrate that they were serious after weeks of telegraphing the end of the year deadline for Iran to show progress on the engagement track, or face consequences.

Yes, if we can only get the mullahs back to the bargaining table, then we can certainly solve this! There’s a pathetic and deeply unserious quality to all this, an afraid-of-our-own-shadow feel to the administration’s efforts. Don’t want to make the Europeans mad. Don’t want to look like we mean business. It doesn’t bode well for vigorous action that would convey to the Iranian regime the negative consequences of proceeding with its nuclear program. But after a year of dithering, engagement, and playing dumb at the bargaining table, we’ve already left an impression of irresolution and weakness with the mullahs. It’s not one the administration seems eager to undo.

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Obama Gives No Due Credit to Bush

In the Wall Street Journal today, we read that

The Obama administration, faced with mounting Congressional criticism, is trying to build support for its new Afghan strategy by explicitly linking the planned escalation to the Bush administration’s 2007 Iraq surge.

I have a couple of thoughts on this, the first being that it would be appropriate for President Obama to admit (as his secretary of defense has) that his Afghan strategy is based in large part on the Bush strategy in Iraq. But that acknowledgment apparently will not pass his lips.

Second, it’s worth recalling that Obama himself was a fierce critic of the surge/counterinsurgency strategy he now embraces. On January 10, 2007, the night the surge was announced, Obama declared, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” A few days later he insisted the surge strategy would “not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly.” And responding to President Bush’s January 23 State of the Union address, Obama said

I don’t think the president’s strategy is going to work. We went through two weeks of hearings on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; experts from across the spectrum — military and civilian, conservative and liberal — expressed great skepticism about it. My suggestion to the president has been that the only way we’re going to change the dynamic in Iraq and start seeing political accommodation is actually if we create a system of phased redeployment. And, frankly, the president, I think, has not been willing to consider that option, not because it’s not militarily sound but because he continues to cling to the belief that somehow military solutions are going to lead to victory in Iraq.

As late as July 2008, when asked by ABC’s Terry Moran whether, “knowing what you know now, would you support the surge?” Obama answered, “No.” This was one of the most misinformed and foolish comments of the entire campaign.

I’m of course delighted that President Obama has changed his mind, that he’s seen the errors of his ways, and that he’s now embraced the wisdom of his predecessor when it comes to COIN strategy. But he appears far too arrogant to either admit his past mistakes or to give credit where it is due. Both would be impressive things to do — and with Obama, both are impossible things to expect.

I fully expected Barack Obama would be arrogant as president; what genuinely surprises me is how graceless he has turned out. This is but one way — and not the only way — in which Barack Obama resembles Jimmy Carter.

In the Wall Street Journal today, we read that

The Obama administration, faced with mounting Congressional criticism, is trying to build support for its new Afghan strategy by explicitly linking the planned escalation to the Bush administration’s 2007 Iraq surge.

I have a couple of thoughts on this, the first being that it would be appropriate for President Obama to admit (as his secretary of defense has) that his Afghan strategy is based in large part on the Bush strategy in Iraq. But that acknowledgment apparently will not pass his lips.

Second, it’s worth recalling that Obama himself was a fierce critic of the surge/counterinsurgency strategy he now embraces. On January 10, 2007, the night the surge was announced, Obama declared, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” A few days later he insisted the surge strategy would “not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly.” And responding to President Bush’s January 23 State of the Union address, Obama said

I don’t think the president’s strategy is going to work. We went through two weeks of hearings on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; experts from across the spectrum — military and civilian, conservative and liberal — expressed great skepticism about it. My suggestion to the president has been that the only way we’re going to change the dynamic in Iraq and start seeing political accommodation is actually if we create a system of phased redeployment. And, frankly, the president, I think, has not been willing to consider that option, not because it’s not militarily sound but because he continues to cling to the belief that somehow military solutions are going to lead to victory in Iraq.

As late as July 2008, when asked by ABC’s Terry Moran whether, “knowing what you know now, would you support the surge?” Obama answered, “No.” This was one of the most misinformed and foolish comments of the entire campaign.

I’m of course delighted that President Obama has changed his mind, that he’s seen the errors of his ways, and that he’s now embraced the wisdom of his predecessor when it comes to COIN strategy. But he appears far too arrogant to either admit his past mistakes or to give credit where it is due. Both would be impressive things to do — and with Obama, both are impossible things to expect.

I fully expected Barack Obama would be arrogant as president; what genuinely surprises me is how graceless he has turned out. This is but one way — and not the only way — in which Barack Obama resembles Jimmy Carter.

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