Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. foreign policy

Iran’s Gaza Arms Shipment and Obama’s Middle East Diplomacy

The news that Israel has intercepted an Iranian shipment of arms headed for Gaza has been overshadowed, along with just about every other foreign policy story, by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. But this is more than just a routine terror bulletin that will be noted, filed and then forgotten. The decision by Iran to ship missiles from Syria to the Hamas-run strip raises serious questions about a number of Obama administration assumptions about both Iran and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

If, as now appears to be the case, Iran is back in the business of arming Hamas, then that does more than undermine the administration’s narrative about President Hassan Rouhani’s government being more moderate than his predecessors. It demonstrates that Iran is, as it always has been, up to its neck in the business of arming and funding international terrorism. That should make President Obama think twice about his belief that the regime can be trusted to abide by any nuclear accord. Just as important is the very real possibility that the captured arms were part of a rapprochement between Iran and its former close ally Hamas. If Iran is now seeking to strengthen the Islamist terrorist group’s ability to wage war on Israel, that could mean it is using the Gaza enclave as leverage against the possibility of an Israeli or Western attack on its nuclear facilities. But it is also possible that the attempt to create a Gaza arms buildup is aimed at reminding the Palestinian Authority that Hamas and other Islamist forces retain a veto over any peace deal with Israel. The seized arms are a signal to the U.S. and Israel not only of the essentially violent character of Iran but of its ability to create havoc throughout the region to serve its own interests.

Read More

The news that Israel has intercepted an Iranian shipment of arms headed for Gaza has been overshadowed, along with just about every other foreign policy story, by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. But this is more than just a routine terror bulletin that will be noted, filed and then forgotten. The decision by Iran to ship missiles from Syria to the Hamas-run strip raises serious questions about a number of Obama administration assumptions about both Iran and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

If, as now appears to be the case, Iran is back in the business of arming Hamas, then that does more than undermine the administration’s narrative about President Hassan Rouhani’s government being more moderate than his predecessors. It demonstrates that Iran is, as it always has been, up to its neck in the business of arming and funding international terrorism. That should make President Obama think twice about his belief that the regime can be trusted to abide by any nuclear accord. Just as important is the very real possibility that the captured arms were part of a rapprochement between Iran and its former close ally Hamas. If Iran is now seeking to strengthen the Islamist terrorist group’s ability to wage war on Israel, that could mean it is using the Gaza enclave as leverage against the possibility of an Israeli or Western attack on its nuclear facilities. But it is also possible that the attempt to create a Gaza arms buildup is aimed at reminding the Palestinian Authority that Hamas and other Islamist forces retain a veto over any peace deal with Israel. The seized arms are a signal to the U.S. and Israel not only of the essentially violent character of Iran but of its ability to create havoc throughout the region to serve its own interests.

Since 2011 Hamas and Iran have been at odds, as they have backed different sides in the Syrian civil war. In addition to pouring arms, money and some of its own forces into Damascus, Iran has deployed its Hezbollah terrorist proxies to back up the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. But Hamas sided with Islamist rebels and broke with Tehran over the dispute. But prior to that Hamas looked to Iran as its principal supplier of arms and cash during the second intifada fighting with Israel. Though Hamas is Sunni and Iran is Shi’ite, the two bonded over their mutual hatred for Israel and Jews.

Proof of the sophisticated nature of the arms pipeline between Tehran and Gaza came in 2002 when the Israeli Navy seized the Karine A, a ship that was loaded with Iranian missiles and various other types of military hardware intended for use by Hamas. Iran’s intentions were clear. They were prepared to back any force willing to fight Israel and to kill Jews in any manner possible.

The breakup of that alliance demonstrated Hamas’ belief that they no longer needed Iran’s assistance. But things have changed since the start of the Arab Spring when the Islamist group thought it could count on support from Egypt and Turkey to make up for the money and arms it got from Iran. The ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo and its replacement by a military regime that seems determined to shut down the smuggling tunnels into Gaza has placed Hamas under tremendous financial pressure. It has also been disappointed by Turkey whose Islamist government talked big about backing Hamas but now seems too preoccupied with its own domestic troubles to do much to prop up Gaza. That leaves Iran, which seems to have prevailed in Syria and is ready and willing to step back into its old role as Hamas’ funder and arms supplier as well as being the chief instigator of mayhem along Israel’s southern border.

Iran’s re-entry into the Israel-Palestinian conflict is just one more reason why Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative is bound to fail. He and President Obama continue to act as if Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas not only is ready to make peace but has the ability to withstand pressure from Hamas and the rejectionists in his own Fatah to make a deal stick. This is clearly untrue. But now that Hamas has Iran in its corner again, Abbas must understand that any hopes that his rivals in Gaza will collapse are mere pipe dreams. Iran’s backing for Hamas not only makes Kerry’s peace talks look like a fool’s errand, their money and munitions may also be a down payment on the launch of a third intifada.

The standard refrain of Israel-bashers is that more violence will be the fault of the Jewish state’s alleged intransigence. But the real reason for another intifada may have more to do with Iran’s geo-strategic ambitions than West Bank settlements. With Syria and Lebanon still firmly in Tehran’s grasp, adding Hamas to the list of its allies gives the ayatollahs one more weapon to wield in its quest for regional hegemony. Stopping the already remote chances of peace between Israel and the Palestinians is one of their goals. But Iran also sees this as a chance to further complicate Western efforts to exert pressure on their nuclear program.

President Obama may believe he is embarked on a diplomatic quest with Iran that will result in a new détente that will lessen the chances of conflict and allow the United States to ease out of a strategic role in which it stands beside both Israel and moderate Arab states. But Iran has very different goals. The seizure of the arms shipment is a wake-up call for Washington. But it is an open question as to whether President Obama and Secretary Kerry are too besotted with their hopes for détente with Iran to listen to reason.

Read Less

Obama, Ukraine and the Price of Weakness

There may be no way for the United States to reverse the Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. The Obama administration still has the opportunity to send a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin to punish Moscow for this aggression in response to the ouster of one of their stooge in Kiev by a popular uprising. Indeed, he would do well to listen to the advice of Senator Marco Rubio who outlined eight steps the U.S. should take in response to the crisis. But whether or not the president acts appropriately now, it’s probably too late to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine from a predatory Russia. As he did in Georgia in 2008, Putin counted on both America and Europe being too weak and irresolute to stop him from aggression carried on in his own backyard even if meant violating international law by carrying out a unilateral partition of Ukraine to either annex part of that country to Russia or, as is more likely, set up another puppet state in the strategic Crimea. At this moment, there’s little reason to believe that calculation was incorrect.

But even if we take for granted that it’s too late to save Ukraine, the spectacle of Russian aggression should provoke a re-examination of the direction of U.S. foreign policy under President Obama. It should also cause us to think again about the assumption that the American people are, as Senator Rand Paul and a growing chorus of isolationists on both the right and the left have advocated, perfectly happy to retreat from the world stage and let aggressors such as Putin ‘s Russia or Iran have their way.  The lessons of the tragedy unfolding in the Crimea are many, but surely the first of them must be that when dictators don’t fear the warnings of the leader of the free world and when America demonstrates that it is war weary and won’t, on almost any account, take firm action, to defend its interests and to restrain aggression, mayhem is almost certainly always going to follow.

No doubt there will be many, whether they call themselves realists or isolationists, who will in the coming days argue that what happens in the Ukraine is none of our business. Americans who are sick of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan say they want no part of foreign wars or even a strong foreign policy that carries with it the chance of engaging in conflict. They may not cheer when Barack Obama speaks of “leading from behind” but they are entirely comfortable with the general drift toward retreat that has taken place in the last five years under his leadership. But, as we have seen in Syria and now in the Ukraine, there is a price to pay for such weakness and it is not one that will be paid by Bashar Assad or Putin. Nor will others who seek to test the mettle of American resolve, such as the leaders of Iran, fail to observe that the free world is led by a paper tiger. U.S. allies will draw the same conclusion.

Read More

There may be no way for the United States to reverse the Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. The Obama administration still has the opportunity to send a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin to punish Moscow for this aggression in response to the ouster of one of their stooge in Kiev by a popular uprising. Indeed, he would do well to listen to the advice of Senator Marco Rubio who outlined eight steps the U.S. should take in response to the crisis. But whether or not the president acts appropriately now, it’s probably too late to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine from a predatory Russia. As he did in Georgia in 2008, Putin counted on both America and Europe being too weak and irresolute to stop him from aggression carried on in his own backyard even if meant violating international law by carrying out a unilateral partition of Ukraine to either annex part of that country to Russia or, as is more likely, set up another puppet state in the strategic Crimea. At this moment, there’s little reason to believe that calculation was incorrect.

But even if we take for granted that it’s too late to save Ukraine, the spectacle of Russian aggression should provoke a re-examination of the direction of U.S. foreign policy under President Obama. It should also cause us to think again about the assumption that the American people are, as Senator Rand Paul and a growing chorus of isolationists on both the right and the left have advocated, perfectly happy to retreat from the world stage and let aggressors such as Putin ‘s Russia or Iran have their way.  The lessons of the tragedy unfolding in the Crimea are many, but surely the first of them must be that when dictators don’t fear the warnings of the leader of the free world and when America demonstrates that it is war weary and won’t, on almost any account, take firm action, to defend its interests and to restrain aggression, mayhem is almost certainly always going to follow.

No doubt there will be many, whether they call themselves realists or isolationists, who will in the coming days argue that what happens in the Ukraine is none of our business. Americans who are sick of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan say they want no part of foreign wars or even a strong foreign policy that carries with it the chance of engaging in conflict. They may not cheer when Barack Obama speaks of “leading from behind” but they are entirely comfortable with the general drift toward retreat that has taken place in the last five years under his leadership. But, as we have seen in Syria and now in the Ukraine, there is a price to pay for such weakness and it is not one that will be paid by Bashar Assad or Putin. Nor will others who seek to test the mettle of American resolve, such as the leaders of Iran, fail to observe that the free world is led by a paper tiger. U.S. allies will draw the same conclusion.

A world in which dictators do as they like despite clear American warnings — as President Obama did first in Syria and then again this week about attacks on Ukraine — is not only a far more dangerous place. It also creates a dynamic in which every such American warning or diplomatic initiative is discounted as mere rhetoric, even if those daring to defy the United States are not so well situated as Putin is with his bold stroke in the Crimea. That is especially true with regards to the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

The circumstances of the U.S. diplomatic effort to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions are starkly different from those in the territories of the former Soviet Union. But the basic formula of a bold rogue regime that has no reason to fear the threats or the blandishments of either the U.S. or Europe is present in the P5+1 talks. Lack of credibility in foreign policy cannot be compartmentalized in one region or particular issue. Weakness and irresolution are fungible commodities in international diplomacy. The Obama administration gave up the formidable military, political and economic leverage they had over Iran last fall by signing an interim agreement with Iran that gave Tehran what it wanted in terms of recognizing their right to enrich uranium as well as loosening sanctions in exchange for almost nothing. If the Iranians had good reason to think they had nothing to fear from the Obama administration before this latest humiliation of the president at the hands of Putin, their conviction that they can be as tough as they like with him without worrying about a strong American response can only be greater today.

It is too late to save Ukraine from the theft of its territory. But it is not too late to reverse the U.S. retreat from the world stage that has been going on in the last years. President Obama can begin to regain some of his credibility by taking a strong stand on sanctions against Russia and sticking to it. But if he doesn’t no one should be under the illusion that it won’t affect Obama’s ability to prevail in the Iran talks. The cost of Obama-style weakness and isolationism will not be cheap, either for U.S. allies or for an American people who must now understand what it is like to live in a world where no one respects or fears their government.

Read Less

Robert Malley and the Shift to Appeasement

Back in 2008 when Barack Obama first ran for president, one of the many signals he sent to Jewish groups to reassure them of his good will toward Israel and his foreign-policy bona fides was to sever ties with Robert Malley. Malley, a Clinton-era National Security Council staffer, is best known for his stand blaming Israel rather than Yasir Arafat for the collapse of the 2000 Camp David peace summit. His position as an informal advisor to the Obama campaign was a major liability for a candidate desperate to reassure Jewish Democrats that he could be relied upon to maintain the alliance with Israel. But when it became known in May of 2008 that Malley had met with Hamas terrorists, the Obama campaign severed ties with Malley.

It turned out that those who worried that Malley’s presence in the Obama foreign-policy shop was a sign of future trouble with the Jewish state were right. Despite his campaign promises and the fact that he failed to give an inveterate Israel-basher like Malley a job in his administration, President Obama spent most of his first term picking fights with the State of Israel before a reelection-year charm offensive. But now well into his second term, the president is finally rewarding Malley for falling on his sword for him during his first campaign. This afternoon it was announced that Malley is heading back to the White House to serve as a senior director at the National Security Council where he will be tasked with managing relations between the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies. While we are told the administration is making an effort to bolster its traditional ties to the region, Malley’s appointment sends a very different signal, especially to Israel.

At a time when Saudi Arabia and other allies in the region are worried that the U.S. has turned its back on them as part of the president’s misguided pursuit of détente with Iran, the president has called back to service one of the foremost defenders of appeasement of terror. Though Malley is merely one more member of a second-term team that is increasingly hostile to Israel, his joining the NSC removes any remaining doubt about where American foreign policy is heading.

Read More

Back in 2008 when Barack Obama first ran for president, one of the many signals he sent to Jewish groups to reassure them of his good will toward Israel and his foreign-policy bona fides was to sever ties with Robert Malley. Malley, a Clinton-era National Security Council staffer, is best known for his stand blaming Israel rather than Yasir Arafat for the collapse of the 2000 Camp David peace summit. His position as an informal advisor to the Obama campaign was a major liability for a candidate desperate to reassure Jewish Democrats that he could be relied upon to maintain the alliance with Israel. But when it became known in May of 2008 that Malley had met with Hamas terrorists, the Obama campaign severed ties with Malley.

It turned out that those who worried that Malley’s presence in the Obama foreign-policy shop was a sign of future trouble with the Jewish state were right. Despite his campaign promises and the fact that he failed to give an inveterate Israel-basher like Malley a job in his administration, President Obama spent most of his first term picking fights with the State of Israel before a reelection-year charm offensive. But now well into his second term, the president is finally rewarding Malley for falling on his sword for him during his first campaign. This afternoon it was announced that Malley is heading back to the White House to serve as a senior director at the National Security Council where he will be tasked with managing relations between the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies. While we are told the administration is making an effort to bolster its traditional ties to the region, Malley’s appointment sends a very different signal, especially to Israel.

At a time when Saudi Arabia and other allies in the region are worried that the U.S. has turned its back on them as part of the president’s misguided pursuit of détente with Iran, the president has called back to service one of the foremost defenders of appeasement of terror. Though Malley is merely one more member of a second-term team that is increasingly hostile to Israel, his joining the NSC removes any remaining doubt about where American foreign policy is heading.

At the time he was working for the Obama campaign, his defenders, including a gaggle of high-ranking Clinton foreign-policy officials, denounced Malley’s critics for what they claimed were unfair personal attacks. But the problem with Malley was never so much about his motives or his father’s role as a supporter of the Egyptian Communist Party and the Nasser regime as it was his own beliefs and policies.

By claiming as he did in an infamous article in the New York Review of Books in August of 2001 that the Camp David summit’s failure was Israel’s fault rather than that of Arafat, Malley demonstrated extraordinary bias against the Jewish state as well as a willingness to revise recent history to fit his personal agenda. Malley absolved Arafat from blame for refusing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. In doing so he not only flatly contradicted the testimony of President Bill Clinton and other U.S. officials present, but his justification of Arafat’s indefensible behavior also served to rationalize the Palestinian terror offensive that followed their rejection of peace.

In the years since then, Malley has remained a virulent critic of Israel and an advocate for recognition and acceptance of the Hamas terrorists who rule Gaza as well as engagement with Iran and other rejectionist states.

All this should have been enough to keep him out of any administration that professed friendship for Israel. But by putting him in charge of relations with the Gulf states, President Obama is also demonstrating that he is determined to continue a policy of downgrading relations with traditional allies in favor of better relations with Iran and other radicals. As much as Israel has cause for concern about the headlong rush to embrace Iran, the Saudis have just as much reason to worry, especially because of the administration’s failure to act in Syria, where Iran’s ally Bashar Assad appears to be winning his war to hold on to power. The Saudis are right to dismiss the president’s attempts to reassure them on Iran. Now that he has appointed a longtime advocate of embracing America’s foes, it’s not likely they will feel any better about U.S. policy.

The return to a position of influence of an Arafat apologist like Malley is one more sign of just how far the president has strayed from his campaign pledges on the Middle East. The U.S. drift toward appeasement of radical Islamists is no longer a matter of speculation but a fact. Any constraints on administration policies based in concern about alienating America’s allies are now a thing of the past.

Read Less

Obama’s Disappearing Pacific Pivot

Talk about a disappearing agenda.

Back in the fall of 2011 and the early part of 2012, the Obama administration was busy announcing a “rebalancing” of American foreign policy from the Middle East to the Pacific region. In November 2011, Obama told the Australian parliament that he wanted to ensure that “the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region [the Asia-Pacific] and its future.”

In his 2014 State of the Union address the “pivot” to the Pacific had been relegated to one short paragraph near the end of the speech:

And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster, as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America.”

The Asia-Pacific region, it must be noted, received less notice than Iran or Afghanistan, to say nothing of the president’s many domestic priorities.

Read More

Talk about a disappearing agenda.

Back in the fall of 2011 and the early part of 2012, the Obama administration was busy announcing a “rebalancing” of American foreign policy from the Middle East to the Pacific region. In November 2011, Obama told the Australian parliament that he wanted to ensure that “the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region [the Asia-Pacific] and its future.”

In his 2014 State of the Union address the “pivot” to the Pacific had been relegated to one short paragraph near the end of the speech:

And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster, as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America.”

The Asia-Pacific region, it must be noted, received less notice than Iran or Afghanistan, to say nothing of the president’s many domestic priorities.

The relative unimportance of the “Pacific pivot” in his speech is matched by a lack of action to bulk up U.S. forces in the region, even as the U.S. downsizes in the Middle East–something that military officers and observers have been noticing. But then it’s hard to see how the U.S. can do more in the Pacific, or anywhere else, at a time when the defense budget is falling as fast as it is.

An increased U.S. commitment in the region is appropriate, especially coming at a time when delegates at Davos are buzzing about the possibility of conflict between China and Japan—a situation that Japan’s premier has compared to the relationship between Germany and Britain before 1914. But a U.S. commitment to the Pacific shouldn’t come at the expense of the U.S. commitment to the Middle East, which is in greater turmoil than ever.

In reality, the U.S. commitment to both regions is decreasing; it is just that the decline of U.S. power in the Middle East is happening faster than in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. will not be able to exert more power in either area until the president and Congress rethink their plans to shrink the defense budget and with it our military capability.

Read Less

The White House Iran War Canard

The Obama administration has been playing hardball in its attempt to stop the Senate from adopting a new and tougher sanctions law aimed at Iran, but it has now gone too far even for one of its leading congressional loyalists. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the minority whip in the House of Representatives cried foul over a statement by the spokesperson for the National Security Council that accused sanctions supporters of pushing for war. But Hoyer’s call for Bernadette Meehan to retract her comments is a little unfair to the NSC staffer. Meehan was doing nothing more than articulating the same slander that has been put into circulation by a variety of administration sources and their press cheerleaders when she said the following in response to questions about the growing congressional support for sanctions:

If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be upfront with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.

This is a straw argument if there ever was one. The argument against sanctions is utterly illogical since the only possible path to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear threat that President Obama has vowed to thwart is via the pressure of tough economic restrictions. By loosening the sanctions in the interim nuclear deal signed in November, Secretary of State John Kerry lost some of that leverage. But by staging an all-out effort to stop a bill that would not go into effect until after the current process is seen to have failed, the administration is taking Iranian threats about ditching the negotiations so seriously that it has, in effect, become Tehran’s hostage. The problem here is not just about over-the-top-rhetoric or competing strategies. As many in Congress are beginning to suspect, the effort to brand all those calling for more pressure on Iran as war-mongers only makes sense in the context of a foreign-policy shift in which the president will seek to weasel out of his commitment to force Tehran to give up its nuclear dream.

Read More

The Obama administration has been playing hardball in its attempt to stop the Senate from adopting a new and tougher sanctions law aimed at Iran, but it has now gone too far even for one of its leading congressional loyalists. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the minority whip in the House of Representatives cried foul over a statement by the spokesperson for the National Security Council that accused sanctions supporters of pushing for war. But Hoyer’s call for Bernadette Meehan to retract her comments is a little unfair to the NSC staffer. Meehan was doing nothing more than articulating the same slander that has been put into circulation by a variety of administration sources and their press cheerleaders when she said the following in response to questions about the growing congressional support for sanctions:

If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be upfront with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.

This is a straw argument if there ever was one. The argument against sanctions is utterly illogical since the only possible path to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear threat that President Obama has vowed to thwart is via the pressure of tough economic restrictions. By loosening the sanctions in the interim nuclear deal signed in November, Secretary of State John Kerry lost some of that leverage. But by staging an all-out effort to stop a bill that would not go into effect until after the current process is seen to have failed, the administration is taking Iranian threats about ditching the negotiations so seriously that it has, in effect, become Tehran’s hostage. The problem here is not just about over-the-top-rhetoric or competing strategies. As many in Congress are beginning to suspect, the effort to brand all those calling for more pressure on Iran as war-mongers only makes sense in the context of a foreign-policy shift in which the president will seek to weasel out of his commitment to force Tehran to give up its nuclear dream.

If the president is serious about keeping his numerous campaign pledges to force Iran to give up its nuclear program, then it is obvious that more pressure is needed to convince its leaders that the U.S. means business. As I discussed yesterday, the triumphalist rhetoric emanating from Iran, including its President Hassan Rouhani, about the interim nuclear deal being a victory for the Islamists isn’t just an embarrassment for the president. That the man the administration has claimed is a moderate who represents a real chance for change in Iran is mocking the president in this manner ought to have set off alarms in the White House, despite yesterday’s attempt by spokesman Jay Carney to downplay it.

The Iranians are making no secret of the fact that they believe Obama is more concerned about achieving a new détente with them than he is in shutting down their nuclear facilities. Given the fact that the deal Kerry signed in Geneva tacitly recognizes Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium while also weakening sanctions it’s hard to argue with that conclusion. The ayatollahs believe they have the whip hand in the next round of talks with the West that begin soon, and the administration’s slavish devotion to the notion that any further sanctions would “break faith” with their new partners in Tehran lends credence to that conclusion. Under these circumstances, it’s difficult to imagine that the talks can possibly produce a new deal that will permanently shut down the Iranian centrifuges or dismantle their nuclear facilities. Only a dramatic toughening of sanctions that would put a damper on a reviving Iranian economy by a total embargo of the sale of oil would give the P5+1 negotiators any hope in their quest to persuade Tehran to finally give in.

Since the administration is determined not to put that arrow in its quiver, it’s fair to ask what U.S. diplomats think they can possibly achieve through further negotiations. Without more sanctions, the U.S. will be faced with only two options: the use of force or acceptance of Iran as a nuclear power. Since neither the president nor Congress has any appetite for a conflict with Iran, without more sanctions, containment of a nuclear Iran seems the only likely result despite the president’s promises not to accept such an outcome.

But the only way to pave the way for Congress and the American people to accept a policy that would pose a threat to U.S. security as well as endanger allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia is to convince them that anyone who cares about the issue is a warmonger. Seen in that light, Meehan’s war canard isn’t a gaffe. It’s a vital element in a clear administration strategy aimed at delegitimizing opponents of the appeasement oft. 

The choice facing the country on Iran isn’t between diplomacy and war but between a congressional majority that is intent on giving the diplomats the only tools that will help them succeed and an administration that is determined to prevent that from happening. Rather than criticizing Meehan, pro-Israel Democrats like Hoyer and other members of the Democratic caucus that lament the noxious nature of this administration tactic must understand that what is at stake here is nothing less than the entire direction of U.S. foreign policy. If a rush to détente with the Islamist regime and an acceptance of Iranian nukes is to be stopped, it will require a full-scale Democratic mutiny against an administration that seems determined to keep faith with Iran while breaking its word both to its allies and the American people.

Read Less

Kerry’s Iranian Mosaic of Appeasement

Yesterday while speaking to reporters about his ongoing efforts to promote negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry described his ideas for a possible solution to the conflict as a “puzzle” whose pieces “actually fit together like a mosaic.” The Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn makes it increasingly clear that this puzzle is virtually insoluble, but the mosaic metaphor seems an apt way to characterize Kerry’s approach to other contentious issues in the region. That was made clear by another shoe that Kerry let drop during the course of his remarks that, understandably, attracted more international attention than his latest ruminations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As the New York Times reports, Kerry’s bombshell about a decision to possibly involve Iran in the upcoming international talks about the future of Syria is an ominous sign of how important improving relations with the radical Tehran regime has become to Washington. Some have foolishly treated President Obama’s decision to embrace an effort to walk away from confrontation over Iran’s nuclear-weapons drive as a one-off policy. But it’s now apparent (if it wasn’t already) that the astonishingly weak deal Kerry cut in Geneva in November with the Iranians comports nicely with the administration’s decision to back down on the president’s previous determination to do something about Syria. If there’s any pattern here, it’s part of a mindset that regards opposition to the Islamist regime’s drive for regional hegemony as something that no longer interests the United States.

Read More

Yesterday while speaking to reporters about his ongoing efforts to promote negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry described his ideas for a possible solution to the conflict as a “puzzle” whose pieces “actually fit together like a mosaic.” The Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn makes it increasingly clear that this puzzle is virtually insoluble, but the mosaic metaphor seems an apt way to characterize Kerry’s approach to other contentious issues in the region. That was made clear by another shoe that Kerry let drop during the course of his remarks that, understandably, attracted more international attention than his latest ruminations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As the New York Times reports, Kerry’s bombshell about a decision to possibly involve Iran in the upcoming international talks about the future of Syria is an ominous sign of how important improving relations with the radical Tehran regime has become to Washington. Some have foolishly treated President Obama’s decision to embrace an effort to walk away from confrontation over Iran’s nuclear-weapons drive as a one-off policy. But it’s now apparent (if it wasn’t already) that the astonishingly weak deal Kerry cut in Geneva in November with the Iranians comports nicely with the administration’s decision to back down on the president’s previous determination to do something about Syria. If there’s any pattern here, it’s part of a mindset that regards opposition to the Islamist regime’s drive for regional hegemony as something that no longer interests the United States.

The talks to which Kerry may be inviting the ayatollahs’ representatives are not nearly as significant as the nuclear talks because they are based in a scenario that may have already been overtaken by events. As the Times notes:

Mr. Kerry said there would be limits on Iran’s involvement unless it accepted that the purpose of the conference should be to work out transitional arrangements for governing Syria if opponents of President Bashar al-Assad could persuade him to relinquish power. Iran has provided military and political support to Mr. Assad.

All of which means that the talks being held in Switzerland in the next week on this issue are pointless since Assad is in no danger of being pushed out of power by a fragmented opposition. Indeed, with the anti-Assad forces increasingly dominated by radical Islamists that Western foes of the tyrannical Damascus regime want no part of, the chances that either the U.S. or Western European nations will act to topple Assad are virtually nil.

As analysts like our Max Boot and Michael Rubin have repeatedly pointed out, it didn’t have to be this way. Had the U.S. acted decisively when the Arab Spring protests quickly led to an open rebellion against the Assad clan’s four-decade-long reign of terror, the chances that he might have been replaced by forces that the West could have lived with were far higher than they are today. But instead, all President Obama did was to vainly predict that Assad “must fall” and then sit back and watch as Tehran came to its Syrian ally’s rescue with an unlimited flow of aid and shock troops in the form of its Lebanese Hezbollah auxiliaries.

When Assad used chemical weapons against his own people last year in direct contravention to President Obama’s warning that such a crime would cross a “red line” that would trigger U.S. action, the administration was forced to threaten strikes against Syria. But faced with Russian and Iranian opposition as well as by his inability to rally either Congress or the American people behind a much-needed policy, Obama gave up. The result was a fig leaf of a diplomatic process that allowed the Russians to take charge of any chemical weapons Assad might surrender. But the big winners were both Assad and Iran since the bottom line of the negotiations was that they made Western intervention against a regime that had already killed more than 100,000 of its own people impossible.

Just as the Iranian nuclear deal has granted implicit Western recognition to Iran’s “right” to refine uranium, setting the stage for an eventual nuclear breakout by Tehran, so, too, has the deal over Syria ensured the survival of the ayatollahs’ main regional ally.

Even contemplating inviting Iran to participate in the talks about a theoretical replacement for Assad is yet another overt acknowledgement that the U.S. has abandoned a policy aimed at isolating this brutal regime, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, a threat to both Israel (at which it continues to spew anti-Semitic venom and threaten with annihilation) as well as to moderate Arab governments. Instead, the U.S. has chosen to try for a new détente with Iran. Though this decision was sold to Congress and the American people as a reaction to the election of the so-called “moderate” Hassan Rouhani to the largely symbolic post of president in 2013, the secret nuclear talks the administration conducted last year predated that faux election.

All the U.S. gains from this détente is an excuse for President Obama to slink ignominiously away from a confrontation with Iran over either its nukes or over Syria. But the reality of a situation in which an even more powerful Iran dominates Syria as well as Lebanon is one in which Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are clearly less safe even if one believes, based on no discernible evidence, that the U.S. is actually doing something to postpone the nuclear threat. This is a policy mosaic that has accomplished nothing but to make the Middle East an even more dangerous place than it had already become. But given the determination of Obama and Kerry to pursue it, it appears the only chance the mosaic will fall apart would be if Tehran’s rulers tire of stringing along the Americans and move quickly to go nuclear. While that potential should not be discounted, given Iran’s success in letting the administration give them what they want with no great effort or sacrifice on Tehran’s part, it would be a colossal mistake to rely on this dubious strategy.

Read Less

Is Kerry the Worst Secretary of State Ever?

During his first term in office, President Obama was criticized by conservatives for conducting what they dubbed apology tours in which he always seemed to find something in American history for which he felt compelled to make amends. To his surprise, neither apologies nor the magic of his personality and historic status were able to conceal the fact that he was far better at alienating America’s traditional allies than winning new friends. But as awkward as the president proved to be at diplomacy, even that experience did not prepare the world for John Kerry. In less than a year, he has not only already repeated these mistakes but also exceeded them. Currently on yet another apology tour of his own in the Middle East, where he is desperately trying to reassure moderate Arab countries that he has not sold them down the river in his vain quest for a nuclear deal with Iran, American prestige and trust in Washington’s word are at a low point in recent history.

In just the last week, Kerry has personally exacerbated tensions between Israel and the Palestinians that were already complicated by his lust for a peace deal that no one else thought possible. He stabbed both Israel and the moderate Arab states in the back by publicly accepting the terms of a weak nuclear deal with Iran that would have likely started the collapse of sanctions against Tehran and put in motion a process that would have made it possible for the Islamist state to reach their nuclear goal. He then added to that folly by rushing to Geneva to sign that agreement only to be embarrassed by the insistence of the French—of all countries—that there at least be a fig leaf of accountability for the arrangement. That blew up the P5+1 talks and left Kerry trying to explain both his appeasement and the failure while also obviously fibbing about the last-minute conditions being his idea rather than the brainchild of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. It must be admitted that to have done so much damage to American interests in so little time is quite an accomplishment. Though he has plenty of competition for the title, John Kerry may have already become America’s worst secretary of state in history.

Read More

During his first term in office, President Obama was criticized by conservatives for conducting what they dubbed apology tours in which he always seemed to find something in American history for which he felt compelled to make amends. To his surprise, neither apologies nor the magic of his personality and historic status were able to conceal the fact that he was far better at alienating America’s traditional allies than winning new friends. But as awkward as the president proved to be at diplomacy, even that experience did not prepare the world for John Kerry. In less than a year, he has not only already repeated these mistakes but also exceeded them. Currently on yet another apology tour of his own in the Middle East, where he is desperately trying to reassure moderate Arab countries that he has not sold them down the river in his vain quest for a nuclear deal with Iran, American prestige and trust in Washington’s word are at a low point in recent history.

In just the last week, Kerry has personally exacerbated tensions between Israel and the Palestinians that were already complicated by his lust for a peace deal that no one else thought possible. He stabbed both Israel and the moderate Arab states in the back by publicly accepting the terms of a weak nuclear deal with Iran that would have likely started the collapse of sanctions against Tehran and put in motion a process that would have made it possible for the Islamist state to reach their nuclear goal. He then added to that folly by rushing to Geneva to sign that agreement only to be embarrassed by the insistence of the French—of all countries—that there at least be a fig leaf of accountability for the arrangement. That blew up the P5+1 talks and left Kerry trying to explain both his appeasement and the failure while also obviously fibbing about the last-minute conditions being his idea rather than the brainchild of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. It must be admitted that to have done so much damage to American interests in so little time is quite an accomplishment. Though he has plenty of competition for the title, John Kerry may have already become America’s worst secretary of state in history.

Some observers are wondering today whether Kerry’s decision to essentially recognize Iran’s “right” to refine uranium and his reluctance to include Iran’s plutonium nuclear plans in the proposed agreement will complicate the Middle East peace process that he has spent so much effort promoting. But to claim that America’s decision to prioritize détente with Iran over its obligation to allies will make it harder for an agreement to be reached between Israel and the Palestinians. But those who are making this argument are misreading the situation. Israelis are understandably aggrieved about a U.S. policy shift that seems to have accepted Iran’s nuclear program as a fait accompli. But the peace talks were already a disaster before Kerry further alienated Israelis and moderate Arabs over his failed attempt to appease Iran. It was possible to argue that a strong American stand on Iran could have made Israel feel more comfortable making more concessions to the Palestinians. But even before he had announced his betrayal on Iran, Kerry vented his spleen about the standoff against Israel in a way that made no secret of his belief that only they were to blame for the failure of his idea. Having forced both parties into talks that were clearly fated to fail due to the division among Palestinians and their obvious unwillingness to accept statehood on generous terms that they’ve already rejected three times, Kerry can’t own up to the fact that his idea never had a chance and thus prefers to blame Israel for his own errors.

The problem here is twofold.

The first is Kerry’s exalted vision of his own diplomatic skills. As soon he was sworn in, he threw caution to the winds and embarked on a course that a wiser man would have understood was merely a repeat of the mistakes of the past. Better men and more skillful diplomats than Kerry have failed under more propitious circumstances than the current situation, in which Hamas rules Gaza and a weak and fearful Fatah holds onto the West Bank only with the help of Israel. But Kerry’s hubris is such that he appears to be genuinely shocked by the apparent failure of his initiative and is now lashing out wildly and going so far as to threaten Israel with more Palestinian violence if Prime Minister Netanyahu does not bend to his will.

That flaw in Kerry’s makeup is compounded by another fatal shortcoming in a diplomat: his naked zeal for the deal. The Iranians have read him perfectly and found it possible to get the West to come much closer to their position on their right to enrich uranium without having to budge an inch. If Tehran’s envoys refused to accede to France’s reasonable concerns it was because they believe Kerry and President Obama will eventually cave in to their demands just as they’ve moved off of their previous insistence that sanctions will not be weakened.

All this was bad enough, but the ham-handed way Kerry’s has barged around the Middle East making enemies was made even more foolish looking by Kerry’s lame post-Geneva explanations for his behavior. That he did all this only months after presiding over the administration’s disastrous retreat on Syria and the collapse of its influence in Egypt on his watch renders his recent tenure one of the most disastrous in modern American history.

Kerry’s conduct must even have the White House starting to rethink the decision to give him the freedom to carry out his plans. Though his predecessor Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments in her four years at Foggy Bottom were slim (other, that is, than racking up frequent flier miles), right now she is starting to look like a foreign-policy giant by comparison. The only question now is whether at some point President Obama will have to step up and rein in Kerry before he does his already troubled second term the kind of damage that will not only harm America’s standing abroad but hurt it at home.

Read Less

Obama’s “Modest Strategy” Good For Putin

For those seeking an explanation for the puzzling turn that American foreign policy has taken during Barack Obama’s second term, the New York Times has one today. In a front-page feature in their Sunday edition, the Times’s Mark Landler provides National Security Advisor Susan Rice with the kind of puff piece the paper’s readers have come to expect when such analyses of administration policy are provided. Rice’s “blueprint” for a change from the president’s more ambitious goals of his first term was, we are told, formed at a series of Saturday morning bull sessions where those involved decided that they wanted to “avoid having events in the Middle East swallow [Obama’s] foreign policy agenda, as it had those of presidents before him.” So they chucked the “freedom agenda” of George W. Bush that Obama had tentatively embraced at the time of the outbreak of the Arab Spring protests as well as any interest in Egypt. As the Times reported:

At the United Nations last month, Mr. Obama laid out the priorities he has adopted as a result of the review. The United States, he declared, would focus on negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria. Everything else would take a back seat.

In theory, that might make sense. But given that the Iranians only use diplomacy to buy themselves more time to build their nuclear program; the Israeli-Palestinian talks are widely believed to be a fool’s errand (and were included in the agenda only because Secretary of State John Kerry had already committed the U.S. to another round of diplomacy with all of its risks and dangers regardless of what Rice or anyone else wanted to do); and the administration has already punted on Syria, this is not a promising agenda. Indeed, it looks to be even more of a disaster than the more wide-ranging to-do-list of the president’s first term that no one is claiming was exactly a great success.

But unfortunately for Rice and her boss, their “modest strategy”—as the headline of the Times feature puts it—just got a little shakier today. Earlier this month, I was one of many administration critics who warned that the president’s decision to cut aid to Egypt could open the door for Russia to step back into the alliance that Anwar Sadat trashed back in the 1970s as he strove to make peace with Israel. It appears Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to do that. At the same time that Rice was using the Times to send a message to Egypt that it is no longer a U.S. priority, reports are circulating that the Russian autocrat is planning a visit to Cairo where he will attempt to revive the military alliance that existed between Russia and Egypt. If he succeeds in getting the Russian fleet back into Egypt’s Mediterranean ports, he should send a thank you note to Rice and the president. But, of course, he already owes them one for the administration’s retreat on Syria.

Read More

For those seeking an explanation for the puzzling turn that American foreign policy has taken during Barack Obama’s second term, the New York Times has one today. In a front-page feature in their Sunday edition, the Times’s Mark Landler provides National Security Advisor Susan Rice with the kind of puff piece the paper’s readers have come to expect when such analyses of administration policy are provided. Rice’s “blueprint” for a change from the president’s more ambitious goals of his first term was, we are told, formed at a series of Saturday morning bull sessions where those involved decided that they wanted to “avoid having events in the Middle East swallow [Obama’s] foreign policy agenda, as it had those of presidents before him.” So they chucked the “freedom agenda” of George W. Bush that Obama had tentatively embraced at the time of the outbreak of the Arab Spring protests as well as any interest in Egypt. As the Times reported:

At the United Nations last month, Mr. Obama laid out the priorities he has adopted as a result of the review. The United States, he declared, would focus on negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria. Everything else would take a back seat.

In theory, that might make sense. But given that the Iranians only use diplomacy to buy themselves more time to build their nuclear program; the Israeli-Palestinian talks are widely believed to be a fool’s errand (and were included in the agenda only because Secretary of State John Kerry had already committed the U.S. to another round of diplomacy with all of its risks and dangers regardless of what Rice or anyone else wanted to do); and the administration has already punted on Syria, this is not a promising agenda. Indeed, it looks to be even more of a disaster than the more wide-ranging to-do-list of the president’s first term that no one is claiming was exactly a great success.

But unfortunately for Rice and her boss, their “modest strategy”—as the headline of the Times feature puts it—just got a little shakier today. Earlier this month, I was one of many administration critics who warned that the president’s decision to cut aid to Egypt could open the door for Russia to step back into the alliance that Anwar Sadat trashed back in the 1970s as he strove to make peace with Israel. It appears Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to do that. At the same time that Rice was using the Times to send a message to Egypt that it is no longer a U.S. priority, reports are circulating that the Russian autocrat is planning a visit to Cairo where he will attempt to revive the military alliance that existed between Russia and Egypt. If he succeeds in getting the Russian fleet back into Egypt’s Mediterranean ports, he should send a thank you note to Rice and the president. But, of course, he already owes them one for the administration’s retreat on Syria.

This is a potential disaster for U.S. foreign policy.

The Egyptian military seems to have succeeded in not only ousting the Muslim Brotherhood government that threatened to turn the most populous Arab nation into an Islamist regime but in keeping the group from organizing a rebellion. Though the process by which they have done so is not easy to defend, they at least understood something the president and Rice seem not to have learned: that the struggle with the Brotherhood is a zero-sum game. By taking out the Brotherhood, clamping down on terror in the Sinai, and squeezing Hamas in Gaza, the military has made the region safer. But they’ve gotten no thanks for this from Washington. Not only has Obama distanced the U.S. from Cairo and cut aid, Rice has now announced, via the front page of the Sunday New York Times, that what happens in Egypt isn’t all that important anyway.

While the Egyptian military will be loath to swap up-to-date U.S. hardware for Russian knockoffs, who can blame them for shopping around for new friends after the snubs they’ve received from President Obama?

Though his staff wants to save the president from being swamped by events in the Middle East, by putting all their chips on the slim hopes of an acceptable nuclear deal with Iran and the virtually non-existent chances of an Israeli-Palestinian accord, they have only set him up for more failure. Worse than that, by granting Putin a victory in Syria—where Russian and Iranian ally Bashar Assad looks more secure than ever thanks to Obama’s backing away from striking at his chemical-weapons stockpile—and setting him up to win back Egypt, President Obama has made the Middle East much less stable for U.S. allies like Israel and Arab nations like Jordan and Saudi Arabia. That’s a formula for exactly the kind of blow-up Rice and her buddies had hoped to spare the president.

Read Less

Delayed Egypt Aid Decision Causes Concern

Context matters in international affairs, as in other areas. That’s why, although I understand why he acted as he did, I’m troubled by the impact of President Obama’s decision to cut off some military aid to Egypt.

If he had taken this action when the military first staged their coup back in July, that would have been one thing. He could have cited U.S. law that forbids providing aid after a military coup and the world would have understood if not necessarily agreed with him. But by waiting and dithering for three months, his decision is harder to explain or defend because it is happening in the context of other U.S. actions that are alienating all of our traditional allies in the Middle East.

Read More

Context matters in international affairs, as in other areas. That’s why, although I understand why he acted as he did, I’m troubled by the impact of President Obama’s decision to cut off some military aid to Egypt.

If he had taken this action when the military first staged their coup back in July, that would have been one thing. He could have cited U.S. law that forbids providing aid after a military coup and the world would have understood if not necessarily agreed with him. But by waiting and dithering for three months, his decision is harder to explain or defend because it is happening in the context of other U.S. actions that are alienating all of our traditional allies in the Middle East.

Obama has won hosannas from many Americans for refusing to stage air strikes on Syria and instead striking a deal with Bashar Assad to supposedly eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. He has won even more praise for his now-famous phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his willingness to strike a deal with Iran. But, whatever the merits of those policies (and, in defense of Obama, it must be said that it is possible that the deal with Assad could succeed and that, even if the Iranian deal doesn’t work out, it is one that any president would have to explore), they are not being greeted warmly in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait City, Jerusalem, Amman, and other American-allied capitals. Neither is the partial cutoff to the Egyptian military that will encompass only “nonessential” aid (e.g., F-16 fighters, Apache helicopters) while allowing crucial spare parts and counter-terrorism aid to flow.

America’s allies believe they are locked in an existential struggle with both Sunni and Shiite theocrats—al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood on one side, Hezbollah and the Quds Force on the other. They are in favor of suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood and in favor of bombing the Iranian nuclear program. That doesn’t mean that the U.S. has to adopt their policy preferences. But we need to be aware of them, and to be aware, moreover, that the dominant perception of the U.S. in the region is of a superpower in retreat–a superpower that refuses to uphold red lines and that wants to pursue diplomatic deals of dubious reliability as a cover for full-scale disengagement.

Unfortunately the partial Egypt military aid cutoff–part of an Obama tendency to split the difference on difficult foreign-policy decisions (remember the Afghan surge timeline?)—will only feed that narrative. On the merits, Obama’s decision is defensible; indeed, after initially opposing an aid cutoff, I reluctantly came around to supporting it. But now I’m having second thoughts. I’m afraid the consequence of announcing the aid pullback now is that it will reinforce the tendency of our allies to be a lot less willing to rely on us and to listen to us. They may well wind up taking actions that Washington argues against—in the case of Israel, bombing the Iranian nuclear program; in the case of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have already provided billions in aid to the Egyptian military despite a lack of American support, pursuing their own nuclear programs; in the case of Iraq, Turkey, and Qatar, cozying up to Iran; and so on. A couple of commando raids in Libya and Somalia will not dispel the impression of an America in retreat; it may even reinforce that view by showing how the U.S. prefers to engage in hit-and-run raids rather than in deeper engagement.

Read Less

A Leadership Vacuum? Obama Created It

President Obama’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations today contained much of the usual boilerplate material we’ve come to expect from any American president. The laundry list of international issues touched upon was voluminous. We learned that the president is almost as concerned about the situation in Mali as he is the Middle East peace process. He favors human rights whenever possible (no, we’re not cutting off ties with Egypt’s military government and rightly so) and would like very much to have some sort of diplomatic process with Iran so as to avoid having to keep his promise to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

There was much in the address that was commendable and some points that were risible, especially his insistence that diplomacy with Iran must be given a chance–as if more than a decade of futile efforts that have been used by Tehran to buy more time for their nuclear program had never happened. But one got the feeling that the most important audience for this speech was not so much at the world body but Congress and the American people. After Benghazi, the missteps in Egypt, the flubbed Syria crisis, and with every indication that he is about to punt on the imperative to stop Iran, it is increasingly difficult to make the argument that the president has a coherent foreign policy that can be defended. But lost in the middle of his lengthy oration, Obama did at least try to come to grips with one of the core issues being debated in the country now: isolationism.

The danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or to take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is, that the United States after a decade of war, rightly concerned about issues aback home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world, may disengage creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe such disengagement would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security, but I also believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree. But I believe America is exceptional. In part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self interest, but for the interest of all.

Obama is largely right on both counts. But one of the main reasons why the spirit of isolationism is posing such a threat to a strong American foreign policy is five years of uninspiring leadership and administration failures that have made Rand Paul’s point of view look like a rational alternative.

Read More

President Obama’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations today contained much of the usual boilerplate material we’ve come to expect from any American president. The laundry list of international issues touched upon was voluminous. We learned that the president is almost as concerned about the situation in Mali as he is the Middle East peace process. He favors human rights whenever possible (no, we’re not cutting off ties with Egypt’s military government and rightly so) and would like very much to have some sort of diplomatic process with Iran so as to avoid having to keep his promise to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

There was much in the address that was commendable and some points that were risible, especially his insistence that diplomacy with Iran must be given a chance–as if more than a decade of futile efforts that have been used by Tehran to buy more time for their nuclear program had never happened. But one got the feeling that the most important audience for this speech was not so much at the world body but Congress and the American people. After Benghazi, the missteps in Egypt, the flubbed Syria crisis, and with every indication that he is about to punt on the imperative to stop Iran, it is increasingly difficult to make the argument that the president has a coherent foreign policy that can be defended. But lost in the middle of his lengthy oration, Obama did at least try to come to grips with one of the core issues being debated in the country now: isolationism.

The danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or to take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is, that the United States after a decade of war, rightly concerned about issues aback home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world, may disengage creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe such disengagement would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security, but I also believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree. But I believe America is exceptional. In part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self interest, but for the interest of all.

Obama is largely right on both counts. But one of the main reasons why the spirit of isolationism is posing such a threat to a strong American foreign policy is five years of uninspiring leadership and administration failures that have made Rand Paul’s point of view look like a rational alternative.

Faced with a president who is committed to avoiding confrontation with the nation’s foes and rivals while also eager to use executive power to spy and employ drone attacks, it’s not hard to understand why so many Americans have grown weary and cynical about the need to engage with the world. Part of that was the fruit of the Bush administration’s unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But having run for office declaring his lack of interest in fighting terror or in promoting democracy abroad, it is difficult for this president to turn around and explain to the American people why the hated neo-cons were basically right to speak about American exceptionalism and the necessity for the U.S. to act on behalf of human rights.

If there is a potential leadership vacuum in the world it is the one that Barack Obama created with the incoherent zigzag course on which he has steered the country from crisis to crisis. After claiming credit for ending the war in Iraq that Bush had largely won by the time he left office, insulting allies like Israel and the Czech Republic, leading from behind in Libya, angering both the Islamists and the military in Egypt, and not leading at all on Syria and Iran, does Obama wonder why Americans think the government can’t be trusted to act abroad?

There is no doubt that the isolationist caucus in the Senate and House is gaining supporters on both sides of the aisle. But that is due as much to Barack Obama’s inability to make a case for a strong American foreign policy and to sustain it with action as it is to the ability of people like Rand Paul to call into question the need for the nation to remain engaged in the great struggle against Islamist terror and other totalitarian threats to freedom. But it is hard for the man who just got played like a piano by Vladimir Putin and seems ready to lie down for Hassan Rouhani’s fake charm offensive to issue a call to engage with the world that anyone can take seriously.

Rather than talking to his beloved U.N. about the need for a strong America in an address that was characteristically laced with caveats about grievances with the U.S. being justified, he should be telling this to Congress. Even better, perhaps he should give the same pep talk to himself the next time he feels himself about to punt on yet another foreign crisis.

Read Less

Congress Can’t Fill Obama’s Leadership Void

In recent decades, many political observers and historians have often lamented the creation of an “imperial presidency” whose power was virtually unchecked by other branches of the government. Concerns along these lines have grown in the last five years as President Obama seemed even less concerned with respecting the limits the Constitution placed on the executive branch than most of his predecessors as he sought to enlarge the scope and the power of the federal government on domestic issues, especially with regard to his signature health care legislation, ObamaCare. But as we have learned in the last week, when it comes to foreign policy this is a president who has gone in a completely different direction.

As John, Peter, and Max noted over the weekend, the president’s vacillation over whether to respond to Syria’s crossing of the “red line” he had enunciated last year over the use of chemical weapons culminated in a last-minute decision to postpone a strike on the Assad regime and to instead wait for unnecessary congressional approval. In doing so, he made a laughingstock of America’s credibility and caused allies and enemies to question whether this administration had the will to act or could be trusted to keep its word. Optimists may say that the president’s efforts to sell Congress on backing his plan for limited strikes as well as the statements of some congressional leaders will undo the damage done by the White House’s Hamlet act. But it must be understood that not even decisive statements, like that of House Speaker John Boehner offering support this morning to the president, cannot save the situation.

Read More

In recent decades, many political observers and historians have often lamented the creation of an “imperial presidency” whose power was virtually unchecked by other branches of the government. Concerns along these lines have grown in the last five years as President Obama seemed even less concerned with respecting the limits the Constitution placed on the executive branch than most of his predecessors as he sought to enlarge the scope and the power of the federal government on domestic issues, especially with regard to his signature health care legislation, ObamaCare. But as we have learned in the last week, when it comes to foreign policy this is a president who has gone in a completely different direction.

As John, Peter, and Max noted over the weekend, the president’s vacillation over whether to respond to Syria’s crossing of the “red line” he had enunciated last year over the use of chemical weapons culminated in a last-minute decision to postpone a strike on the Assad regime and to instead wait for unnecessary congressional approval. In doing so, he made a laughingstock of America’s credibility and caused allies and enemies to question whether this administration had the will to act or could be trusted to keep its word. Optimists may say that the president’s efforts to sell Congress on backing his plan for limited strikes as well as the statements of some congressional leaders will undo the damage done by the White House’s Hamlet act. But it must be understood that not even decisive statements, like that of House Speaker John Boehner offering support this morning to the president, cannot save the situation.

The implications of the congressional debate that will ensue on the future of American foreign policy are clear. Given the growth of isolationism on the right and the left, Obama’s decision to punt on Syria has opened the gates for those who have advocated for an American retreat from global responsibilities to gain more influence. Even if, as it is to be hoped, a majority of both houses of Congress vote to back American action in Syria, it’s not likely that the result of what will follow in the coming days will convince the world that America is still prepared to lead. Although there are good reasons to worry about any intervention in Syria, the arguments for inaction are unpersuasive. Given the stakes involved in letting Assad survive in terms of increasing the power of his Iranian and Hezbollah allies and the precedent set in terms of allowing the use of chemical weapons, the case for action in Syria is powerful.

Boehner deserves credit for speaking up after meeting with the president and making it clear the leadership of the House of Representatives is not prepared to bow to the growing chorus of politicians who are more concerned with placing limits on the executive or opposing Obama at every turn than the need to stand up against genocidal dictators. Given the refusal of many Republicans to stand up to the Rand Paul wing of their party, it is refreshing for the normally cautious House speaker to show his willingness to put the national interest above partisan concerns.

But no matter what Boehner or people like John McCain or Peter King say this week, there is no substitute for presidential leadership. As I wrote last week, it is axiomatic that liberal Democrats are far better placed to convince a majority of Americans that military action is needed in any circumstance than a conservative Republican. Though the left is just as uncomfortable with the assertion of American power as many on the right, there is little doubt that the president is far better placed than his predecessor was or any Republican might be to rally the country behind a policy that would draw a line in the sand about weapons of mass destruction. But with Obama faltering, no one should labor under the illusion that a divided Congress can either stiffen his spin or step into the leadership vacuum he has left.

The implications of the president’s bungling of Syria for the Iranian nuclear threat are clear. Even if the president actually does intend to keep his word to prevent Tehran from gaining a nuclear weapon, his ability to deter Iran or to get them to take his threats seriously has been materially damaged in the last month. For all of the often-justified worries about the dangers of an unchecked “imperial presidency,” there is no substitute in our system for a president who is willing to lead in the midst of a foreign crisis. Until President Obama leaves the White House, that is a handicap this nation and the world that looks to the United States for leadership cannot overcome. 

Read Less

Arabs Give Obama the Bush Treatment

There may be some Americans who still cling to the image of Barack Obama as a magical figure with the power to transform his country’s image. That was the Obama we were told five years ago the world would embrace because his election would signal a return to America’s status as the defender of all that was good after eight years of George W. Bush’s evil cowboy act that had caused everyone to distrust us. But if there is anything to be learned from the prelude to whatever it is that the administration will do about Syrian chemical attacks, it is that the myth of Obama’s ability to make the U.S. loved in the Third World is officially dead.

As it turns out, Arabs and Muslims are today reviling Barack Obama’s America for proposing military action that is aimed at protecting Arabs and Muslims from atrocities in Syria. That is more or less the same thing that happened when George W. Bush sought to overthrow the Taliban oppressors of Afghanistan and Iraq’s madman tyrant Saddam Hussein. Whatever it is that the U.S. winds up doing in Syria will not have the imprimatur of the United Nations, and it will be opposed by the Arab League even though that august body has been vocal in its criticism of the Assad regime and supportive of efforts to effect regime change in Damascus. But the use of U.S. force to punish an Arab government for using chemical weapons against its own people is still a bridge too far for them. As the U.S. prepares to attack Syria, it will do so without a U.N. endorsement or even encouragement from those Arab governments that hate Assad. What exactly is the difference between this and Bush’s “coalition of the willing” that the American left (including Obama himself) mocked so much? Not much.

Read More

There may be some Americans who still cling to the image of Barack Obama as a magical figure with the power to transform his country’s image. That was the Obama we were told five years ago the world would embrace because his election would signal a return to America’s status as the defender of all that was good after eight years of George W. Bush’s evil cowboy act that had caused everyone to distrust us. But if there is anything to be learned from the prelude to whatever it is that the administration will do about Syrian chemical attacks, it is that the myth of Obama’s ability to make the U.S. loved in the Third World is officially dead.

As it turns out, Arabs and Muslims are today reviling Barack Obama’s America for proposing military action that is aimed at protecting Arabs and Muslims from atrocities in Syria. That is more or less the same thing that happened when George W. Bush sought to overthrow the Taliban oppressors of Afghanistan and Iraq’s madman tyrant Saddam Hussein. Whatever it is that the U.S. winds up doing in Syria will not have the imprimatur of the United Nations, and it will be opposed by the Arab League even though that august body has been vocal in its criticism of the Assad regime and supportive of efforts to effect regime change in Damascus. But the use of U.S. force to punish an Arab government for using chemical weapons against its own people is still a bridge too far for them. As the U.S. prepares to attack Syria, it will do so without a U.N. endorsement or even encouragement from those Arab governments that hate Assad. What exactly is the difference between this and Bush’s “coalition of the willing” that the American left (including Obama himself) mocked so much? Not much.

While the Arab League is not the most consequential institution in the world, its opposition to Obama’s plans is telling. As the New York Times notes:

The vast majority of Arabs are emotionally opposed to any Western military action in the region no matter how humanitarian the cause, and no Arab nation or leader has publicly endorsed such a step, even in countries like the Persian Gulf monarchies whose diplomats for months have privately urged the West to step in. In the region, only Turkey has pledged to support intervention.

This is important not so much because it illustrates the hypocrisy of the Arab League and the opinion of the so-called Arab street but because it demonstrates the utter lack of success of President Obama’s efforts to appease them during the course of his administration. Not his Cairo speech which sought to validate Muslim myths of victimization at the hands of the West, nor his fights with Israel, his efforts to work with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or his withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan have convinced anyone there that Obama’s America is any less of an inherent enemy to the Arabs than Bush’s America.

Just as Muslims claimed that American wars fought to save Muslim lives in Somalia, Kuwait, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq were really expressions of American imperialism, now Obama’s war in Syria is treated the same way. If the injustice of this charge rankles the president, he should remember that Bush had just as much if not more reason to complain of unfair treatment abroad and at home from critics like his successor.

Of course, despite the fears of the president’s American critics, these Arab opponents of America have a point. Though, as Elliott Abrams writes in the September issue of COMMENTARY, the president has sought to portray himself as a “citizen of the world” rather than an American exceptionalist in the manner of his predecessors, the world understands that this is an artificial construct that is doomed to fail.

What we are about to witness in Syria is not only what appears to be a symbolic expression of American temper that will do nothing to change the situation on the ground and possibly strengthen a dictator and his dangerous allies if they are seen as surviving or defeating an American attack. It is also a demonstration of the bankruptcy of Obama’s foreign-policy approach. Though he will never admit it, Syria is the final proof that the magical Obama many Americans thought they elected was a figment of their imagination.

Read Less

Obama on Egypt: The Clueless Presidency

There’s some soul searching going on in the Obama administration as it ponders how they got sidelined in Egypt as the situation there got out of control in a spiral of violence. As the New York Times details in a post-mortem of U.S. policy, the administration went all out to persuade the military that had overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood to compromise and allow the Islamists to rejoin the government. Among other efforts to cajole them or to threaten aid cutoffs, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made 17 often-lengthy phone calls to Egyptian General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi trying to get him to make nice with the Brotherhood. They even sent two Republican senators—John McCain and Lindsey Graham—to continue the pressure in person in Cairo. And they’re baffled as to why they were ignored as Sisi ordered police and troops to clear out the Brotherhood’s armed camps in Cairo this week.

The easy answer to their questions is that unlike Sisi and the military, President Obama and his foreign policy-team continue to fail to understand that the conflict in Egypt is a zero-sum game. The choice there is between the military and the Brotherhood and the transformation of a key Arab country into an Islamist stronghold. This failure to comprehend the nature of the conflict has led inevitably to paralysis. This spectacle of American impotence is worrisome no matter what you think the U.S. should do about Egypt. But it’s not unrelated to the administration’s other foreign-policy failures that are piling up in the Middle East. Having failed to act decisively to try to avoid a far bigger bloodbath in Syria, and content to waste years on futile diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear threat while devoting disproportionate effort on reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks that have little chance to succeed, it’s obvious that Egypt isn’t the only venue where Obama has demonstrated his cluelessness. As Sisi prepares to decide whether to enact a ban on the Brotherhood that might bring the confrontation in Egypt to a head, it’s important to understand that Obama’s failure in Egypt is not unrelated to his problems elsewhere. The common thread is a refusal to abandon its preconceptions and to look at facts rather than fiction inspired by ideology.

Read More

There’s some soul searching going on in the Obama administration as it ponders how they got sidelined in Egypt as the situation there got out of control in a spiral of violence. As the New York Times details in a post-mortem of U.S. policy, the administration went all out to persuade the military that had overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood to compromise and allow the Islamists to rejoin the government. Among other efforts to cajole them or to threaten aid cutoffs, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made 17 often-lengthy phone calls to Egyptian General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi trying to get him to make nice with the Brotherhood. They even sent two Republican senators—John McCain and Lindsey Graham—to continue the pressure in person in Cairo. And they’re baffled as to why they were ignored as Sisi ordered police and troops to clear out the Brotherhood’s armed camps in Cairo this week.

The easy answer to their questions is that unlike Sisi and the military, President Obama and his foreign policy-team continue to fail to understand that the conflict in Egypt is a zero-sum game. The choice there is between the military and the Brotherhood and the transformation of a key Arab country into an Islamist stronghold. This failure to comprehend the nature of the conflict has led inevitably to paralysis. This spectacle of American impotence is worrisome no matter what you think the U.S. should do about Egypt. But it’s not unrelated to the administration’s other foreign-policy failures that are piling up in the Middle East. Having failed to act decisively to try to avoid a far bigger bloodbath in Syria, and content to waste years on futile diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear threat while devoting disproportionate effort on reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks that have little chance to succeed, it’s obvious that Egypt isn’t the only venue where Obama has demonstrated his cluelessness. As Sisi prepares to decide whether to enact a ban on the Brotherhood that might bring the confrontation in Egypt to a head, it’s important to understand that Obama’s failure in Egypt is not unrelated to his problems elsewhere. The common thread is a refusal to abandon its preconceptions and to look at facts rather than fiction inspired by ideology.

In Egypt, Obama’s main problem is his lack of understanding of the threat that the Muslim Brotherhood poses to both the non-Islamist majority in that country as well as to the region. Having bought into the myth that the Brotherhood’s rise in the aftermath of the fall of the Mubarak regime was an expression of democratic sentiment, it refused to see that if it was allowed to take power it would quickly move to destroy any opposition. The U.S. pressured the military to let Mohamed Morsi take office and then continued to urge them to stand aside as he proceeded to demonstrate that the Brotherhood had little interest in democracy. Even as 14 million people took to the streets to demand that Morsi step down, the president continued to preach restraint and then stood by in puzzlement when the military realized that this was probably their last chance to save their country. Even now, the administration seems stuck in the same mythical “Arab Spring” mindset that is predicated on the idea that a totalitarian movement like the Brotherhood is compatible with liberal democracy. Since they don’t understand what led to the events of the last week, how can we expect the Obama team to put forward a coherent position on what happened and what may unfold in the days to come?

This is a familiar pattern.

Obama came into office thinking that he could charm the Iranians into giving up their nuclear ambitions and that American pressure on Israel could magically create peace with the Palestinians. If problems arose elsewhere in the Middle East, he thought they would be easily resolved with bad guys like Bashar Assad conveniently leaving the stage because President Obama said he “must go.” So as we now peruse the Middle East, we see an Iran that thinks it can go on fooling the West with a diplomatic process intended to stall talks until they can build a nuke while the United States invests precious time and energy on muscling Israel into making concessions to a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in ever signing a peace agreement. And Bashar Assad, with the help of his Iranian and Hezbollah allies, remains in power while winning a civil war that Obama could have spiked two years ago with a timely push.

While critics from both the left and right assail Obama’s indecision that–as I noted on Friday–protects neither American interests nor values in Egypt, this is yet another symptom of an administration that remains besotted with the same preconceptions that it brought to Washington in 2009. While he laments his lack of good choices and the fact that America’s ability to influence events is limited, it is the president’s refusal to face facts about the Brotherhood and some of his other blind spots that is most to blame for the fact that he has left American foreign policy hanging in the wind at a decisive moment in history.

Read Less

Peter King Points Out GOP Weakness

It’s doubtful that any of the prominent Republicans thinking about running for president in 2016 are shaking in their boots about the prospect of Peter King joining the race. The congressman from New York has many virtues, but it’s unlikely that too many people outside of the circle of his closest friends regard him as a future president or even a candidate who could make even a minor splash in GOP caucuses and primaries. To say that he hasn’t a prayer of winning the nomination would be to understate the odds facing such an effort. Nor does it appear that even King thinks that much of his chances, since the trial balloon he floated yesterday in an interview with ABC news made it very clear that his purpose is not so much to put together a serious effort to win the presidency as it is to give voice to mainstream views on foreign policy in his party that he feels are being given short shrift.

While it’s easy to scoff at a man whose ambitions clearly outstrip his national appeal, King is right about the vacuum in the party on foreign policy issues. The Long Island representative who has earned a reputation as one of the Republicans’ leading spokesmen on national defense and issues relating to the threat from terrorism is worried that the isolationist views of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul are not only gaining support in the GOP but are not being contested by leading figures who are thinking about the White House. At the moment, none of the leading contenders are taking issue with the ideas being floated by Paul and to a lesser extent by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, or speaking up about the dangers of such a course that is bad policy and bad politics. As much as the national debate is understandably focused on domestic issues involving the need to cut back on President Obama’s drive to expand the scope and the power of government, Republicans cannot hope to win in the future by abandoning their traditional position as the party that believes in a strong American defense and a forward posture toward foreign threats.

Read More

It’s doubtful that any of the prominent Republicans thinking about running for president in 2016 are shaking in their boots about the prospect of Peter King joining the race. The congressman from New York has many virtues, but it’s unlikely that too many people outside of the circle of his closest friends regard him as a future president or even a candidate who could make even a minor splash in GOP caucuses and primaries. To say that he hasn’t a prayer of winning the nomination would be to understate the odds facing such an effort. Nor does it appear that even King thinks that much of his chances, since the trial balloon he floated yesterday in an interview with ABC news made it very clear that his purpose is not so much to put together a serious effort to win the presidency as it is to give voice to mainstream views on foreign policy in his party that he feels are being given short shrift.

While it’s easy to scoff at a man whose ambitions clearly outstrip his national appeal, King is right about the vacuum in the party on foreign policy issues. The Long Island representative who has earned a reputation as one of the Republicans’ leading spokesmen on national defense and issues relating to the threat from terrorism is worried that the isolationist views of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul are not only gaining support in the GOP but are not being contested by leading figures who are thinking about the White House. At the moment, none of the leading contenders are taking issue with the ideas being floated by Paul and to a lesser extent by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, or speaking up about the dangers of such a course that is bad policy and bad politics. As much as the national debate is understandably focused on domestic issues involving the need to cut back on President Obama’s drive to expand the scope and the power of government, Republicans cannot hope to win in the future by abandoning their traditional position as the party that believes in a strong American defense and a forward posture toward foreign threats.

The problem King is pointing out here is that a lot of conservatives are either distracted by domestic priorities or intimidated by the Paul drive to bring the isolationist ideas first championed by his crackpot father into the mainstream from the fever swamps where they have always dwelt. The natural cynicism about government felt by most Republicans has grown during the Obama presidency to the point that Paul’s aberrant views about counter-terror policy are starting to look rational. No one likes foreign conflicts or the burden of paying for national defense, but a failure to address these concerns is a formula for even worse problems in the future. As much as the Kentuckian made a splash with his filibuster over the use of drone strikes, his idea that ordinary citizens need to fear a U.S. drone strike on people sitting in Starbucks is not only absurd; it is a direct blow aimed at America’s capacity to defend itself against genuine threats.

But rather than denouncing Paul’s attempt to undermine the national consensus on the war against Islamist terror, most prominent Republicans have ignored it or given it tacit support. Like former ambassador John Bolton, who sent up some smoke signals of his own last month about a presidential run, all King is doing is alerting us to the fact that someone needs to put forward a coherent response to Paul that will assure the country that the GOP hasn’t retreated into an isolationist funk that will undermine any hope that it can appeal to moderates or Reagan Democrats who will never vote for an isolationist.

Of course, there are possible Republican candidates who can stand up to Paul on foreign and defense policy. One such person is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is an outspoken advocate of a freedom agenda and strong defense. But King still holds a grudge against Rubio for voting against the initial package of aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy because it contained the usual litany of earmark projects that had little to do with helping those affected by the storm. Others, such as Paul Ryan, Chris Christie or Jeb Bush, might also eventually take on Paul’s views. But until one of these potential contenders starts publicly disagreeing with Paul and Cruz on these issues, people like King and Bolton are going to think there is no alternative but to jump in to provide an alternative to the isolationist trend.

Read Less

Obama Looking for Love in Wrong Places

After a miserable May in which he found himself beset by a trio of scandals, President Obama sought solace in foreign policy this month. But June hasn’t proved to be much better for the president as a disastrous meeting with the president of China was followed by an equally problematic confrontation with Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the G-8 summit in Ireland. Nor was he likely to do better elsewhere in Europe, where he was once held in high esteem. Today’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin only emphasized the contrast between the ecstatic reaction he received there from a huge audience in 2008 and the tepid response he got today to a laundry list of foreign policy proposals including a call for reductions in nuclear weapons that will likely go nowhere. As even the president’s cheering section at the New York Times noted today in an astonishingly frank assessment of the failure of Obama’s foreign policy initiatives, the president has been looking for love in all the wrong places abroad and now finds himself alienated from allies, despised by America’s foes and saddled with friendships with Middle East Islamists that are as embarrassing as they are unproductive.

The string of foreign policy setbacks on the heels of a domestic meltdown shows that Obama is already deep into the usual second term malaise suffered by presidents who won reelection. But the problem here isn’t just a run of bad luck. As the Times discusses, Obama has trouble relating to foreign leaders and has made some astoundingly bad choices in selecting those to whom he became close. The bad chemistry not only makes for silly photo ops, like the awkward confrontation with Putin that was a clinic in how to read bad body language. Nobody expects an authoritarian like Putin to favor America or its policies. But what we are witnessing again this week is a president who is unable to muster significant foreign support for his policies or to mend fences with friends. That Obama’s election was greeted abroad with joy only makes it that much more noticeable that his former fan base no longer has any use for him. Where once we were told that Obama would end America’s isolation, now even the Times is willing to concede that George W. Bush was a better diplomat:

Mr. Obama differs from his most recent predecessors, who made personal relationships with leaders the cornerstone of their foreign policies. The first George Bush moved gracefully in foreign capitals, while Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush related to fellow leaders as politicians, trying to understand their pressures and constituencies.

“That’s not President Obama’s style,” said James B. Steinberg, Mr. Clinton’s deputy national security adviser and Mr. Obama’s deputy secretary of state.

Read More

After a miserable May in which he found himself beset by a trio of scandals, President Obama sought solace in foreign policy this month. But June hasn’t proved to be much better for the president as a disastrous meeting with the president of China was followed by an equally problematic confrontation with Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the G-8 summit in Ireland. Nor was he likely to do better elsewhere in Europe, where he was once held in high esteem. Today’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin only emphasized the contrast between the ecstatic reaction he received there from a huge audience in 2008 and the tepid response he got today to a laundry list of foreign policy proposals including a call for reductions in nuclear weapons that will likely go nowhere. As even the president’s cheering section at the New York Times noted today in an astonishingly frank assessment of the failure of Obama’s foreign policy initiatives, the president has been looking for love in all the wrong places abroad and now finds himself alienated from allies, despised by America’s foes and saddled with friendships with Middle East Islamists that are as embarrassing as they are unproductive.

The string of foreign policy setbacks on the heels of a domestic meltdown shows that Obama is already deep into the usual second term malaise suffered by presidents who won reelection. But the problem here isn’t just a run of bad luck. As the Times discusses, Obama has trouble relating to foreign leaders and has made some astoundingly bad choices in selecting those to whom he became close. The bad chemistry not only makes for silly photo ops, like the awkward confrontation with Putin that was a clinic in how to read bad body language. Nobody expects an authoritarian like Putin to favor America or its policies. But what we are witnessing again this week is a president who is unable to muster significant foreign support for his policies or to mend fences with friends. That Obama’s election was greeted abroad with joy only makes it that much more noticeable that his former fan base no longer has any use for him. Where once we were told that Obama would end America’s isolation, now even the Times is willing to concede that George W. Bush was a better diplomat:

Mr. Obama differs from his most recent predecessors, who made personal relationships with leaders the cornerstone of their foreign policies. The first George Bush moved gracefully in foreign capitals, while Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush related to fellow leaders as politicians, trying to understand their pressures and constituencies.

“That’s not President Obama’s style,” said James B. Steinberg, Mr. Clinton’s deputy national security adviser and Mr. Obama’s deputy secretary of state.

If Obama can’t get his way on economic issues with China, or on Syria or Iran with Europe, it’s not exactly a surprise. The list of foreign leaders who apparently can’t stand the former apostle of hope and change is getting longer every day.

Obama came into office determined to pick fights with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and succeeded in creating a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations that he has spent the last two years seeking to fix. He has always had problems with Germany’s Angela Merkel but now is also in trouble with France’s Francois Hollande, in spite of the fact that he looked to the new French president as an ally against the German chancellor.

But the real key to America’s foreign policy woes in the age of Obama is not so much the enemies that Obama has made as it is his choice of friends.

As the Times rightly recalls, a big part of the deep chill with Putin—with whom the supposedly confrontational cowboy Bush managed to maintain cordial relations and open communications despite deep differences on the issues—is the way Obama went out of his way to cultivate Dmitry Medvedev, the functionary that Putin put into the Russian presidency while he was term-limited out of the office. Even foreign policy novices knew that Medvedev was a cipher but, as the Times notes, Obama decided he was the man America needed to cultivate:

Mr. Obama spent nearly four years befriending Mr. Putin’s predecessor, Dmitri A. Medvedev, hoping to build him up as a counterweight to Mr. Putin. That never happened, and Mr. Obama now finds himself back at square one with a Russian leader who appears less likely than ever to find common ground with the United States on issues like Syria.

Even a foreign policy neophyte would have known that no good would come of such a foolish initiative but Obama, who even told Medvedev that he would have more flexibility to help Russia after being reelected, now finds himself with a Russian rival that is not only opposed to his policies but bearing a personal grudge.

Similarly, Obama bragged openly that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was his best foreign buddy and thought his close relationship with the Islamist would bear fruit in Middle East peace as well as help on Syria and Iran. But not only has Erdoğan made peace between Israelis and Palestinians even less likely and undermined sanctions against Iran, his repression of peaceful demonstrators protesting the drift to authoritarianism in Turkey gives the lie to Obama’s pose as a friend of freedom. His embrace of Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi, whose push for total power for his Muslim Brotherhood government was eased by Obama’s support, is just as much of an embarrassment.

After less than five years in office, it’s not just that European idealists are disillusioned with Obama because he has chosen to continue and even expand Bush’s counter-terrorism policies while still trying to pretend to be different. What we witnessed at the G-8 and virtually every other foreign encounter of this president is a man who is in completely over his head. Far from fixing the country’s problems abroad, he has worsened them with arrogant dismissals of friends, weakness that has encouraged enemies and friendships with leaders that no American president should embrace. Abroad, this isn’t just a case of second term blues; Barack Obama’s incompetence is a problem that keeps getting worse.

Read Less

Obama’s Multiplying Foreign Policy Failures

On April 23, 2007, then-Senator and future presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in which he said this:

Until we change our approach in Iraq, it will be increasingly difficult to refocus our efforts on the challenges in the wider region – on the conflict in the Middle East, where Hamas and Hezbollah feel emboldened and Israel’s prospects for a secure peace seem uncertain; on Iran, which has been strengthened by the war in Iraq; and on Afghanistan, where more American forces are needed to battle al Qaeda, track down Osama bin Laden, and stop that country from backsliding toward instability… Now it’s our moment to lead – our generation’s time to tell another great American story. So someday we can tell our children that this was the time when we helped forge peace in the Middle East.

It hasn’t quite turned out that way, has it?

Just yesterday the Obama administration admitted what our allies have long said – that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against opposition forces. At least 80,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, there are almost 1.5 million refugees, and the number of internally displaced persons has rise to more than four million. (Tony Blair discusses Syria in this op-ed.) Moreover, as the Washington Post reports 

As fighters with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement wage the battles that are helping Syria’s regime survive, their chief sponsor, Iran, is emerging as the biggest victor in the wider regional struggle for influence that the Syrian conflict has become… after the Assad regime’s capture of the small but strategic town of Qusair last week — a battle in which the Iranian-backed Shiite militia played a pivotal role — Iran’s supporters and foes alike are mulling a new reality: that the regional balance of power appears to be tilting in favor of Tehran, with potentially profound implications for a Middle East still grappling with the upheaval wrought by the Arab Spring revolts.

That’s not all.

The Syrian civil war is badly destabilizing our most reliable Arab ally, Jordan. Lebanon is increasingly fragile. In Egypt and across North Africa the Muslim Brotherhood has gained power. Since Mr. Obama withdrew American forces in Iraq, sectarian violence has markedly increased there, with the hard-won gains from the Bush administration’s surge being washed away. The war in Afghanistan is going poorly, while relations with the Karzai regime are quite bad, limiting American leverage in that nation (our much-trumped retreat of forces from Afghanistan have of course limited our leverage as well). Turkey is struggling to contain a political crisis that has threatened the nation’s economy and paralyzed the government. There are no prospects for genuine peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Libyan people are weary of two years of militia violence that has kept the country in chaos and stalled reform, with the government weak and unstable. And al Qaeda is ascendant in North Africa.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

Read More

On April 23, 2007, then-Senator and future presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in which he said this:

Until we change our approach in Iraq, it will be increasingly difficult to refocus our efforts on the challenges in the wider region – on the conflict in the Middle East, where Hamas and Hezbollah feel emboldened and Israel’s prospects for a secure peace seem uncertain; on Iran, which has been strengthened by the war in Iraq; and on Afghanistan, where more American forces are needed to battle al Qaeda, track down Osama bin Laden, and stop that country from backsliding toward instability… Now it’s our moment to lead – our generation’s time to tell another great American story. So someday we can tell our children that this was the time when we helped forge peace in the Middle East.

It hasn’t quite turned out that way, has it?

Just yesterday the Obama administration admitted what our allies have long said – that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against opposition forces. At least 80,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, there are almost 1.5 million refugees, and the number of internally displaced persons has rise to more than four million. (Tony Blair discusses Syria in this op-ed.) Moreover, as the Washington Post reports 

As fighters with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement wage the battles that are helping Syria’s regime survive, their chief sponsor, Iran, is emerging as the biggest victor in the wider regional struggle for influence that the Syrian conflict has become… after the Assad regime’s capture of the small but strategic town of Qusair last week — a battle in which the Iranian-backed Shiite militia played a pivotal role — Iran’s supporters and foes alike are mulling a new reality: that the regional balance of power appears to be tilting in favor of Tehran, with potentially profound implications for a Middle East still grappling with the upheaval wrought by the Arab Spring revolts.

That’s not all.

The Syrian civil war is badly destabilizing our most reliable Arab ally, Jordan. Lebanon is increasingly fragile. In Egypt and across North Africa the Muslim Brotherhood has gained power. Since Mr. Obama withdrew American forces in Iraq, sectarian violence has markedly increased there, with the hard-won gains from the Bush administration’s surge being washed away. The war in Afghanistan is going poorly, while relations with the Karzai regime are quite bad, limiting American leverage in that nation (our much-trumped retreat of forces from Afghanistan have of course limited our leverage as well). Turkey is struggling to contain a political crisis that has threatened the nation’s economy and paralyzed the government. There are no prospects for genuine peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Libyan people are weary of two years of militia violence that has kept the country in chaos and stalled reform, with the government weak and unstable. And al Qaeda is ascendant in North Africa.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

My point in running through this parade of horribles isn’t to blame President Obama for every one of them. That would be silly. But it would be just as silly to pretend that Mr. Obama isn’t responsible for much, and in some cases most, of the multiplying failures we’re seeing sweep the world.

This much is clear: The president’s policies have, by almost every objective measure, failed. And they have failed by his own standards, his own promises, and his own words. What he said would happen has not; and the things he complained about have gotten worse. His incompetence in international affairs is staggering; and in some of these circumstances it will take years, in some cases decades, and in some cases generations to undo the damage, if we ever do.

What Barack Obama must know, at least in his quiet, private moments, is that conducting foreign policy turned out to be a lot harder than critiquing someone else’s foreign policy. That words aren’t substitutes for actions. That preening arrogance and empty threats don’t actually shape events on the ground. And that there is a high human cost to ineptitude.

After eight years the damage of the Obama legacy will be extraordinary. But the damage may be most acute in foreign policy, where events are continuing to spin out of control and our commander-in-chief doesn’t have any idea how to stop it.

This is not what America’s “moment to lead” and its “new beginning” was supposed to look like. 

Read Less

Rand Paul’s Dangerous Approach to Iran

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

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Third Intifada Would Derail Obama Policy

Behind much of the Obama government’s pressure on Israel over the past four years has been the idea that concessions to the Palestinian Authority would strengthen moderates and increase the chances of peace. Of course, 20 years of such concessions have done no such thing, as even the so-called moderates are unwilling or incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Though the U.S. split from its European allies on the question of supporting an upgrade of the PA’s status at the UN, the administration appears ready to back a new push for peace in the coming year aimed at boosting PA President Mahmoud Abbas against his Hamas rivals. But as Khaled Abu Toameh reports, a shift in the strategy employed by Abbas’s Fatah may render the president’s plans moot.

As Abu Toameh writes in his blog for the Gatestone Institute, Fatah and Hamas may be working together in the coming months rather than against each other. Their common goal will be to capitalize on the “victories” won by Hamas in its military standoff with Israel and Fatah at the UN by launching a new round of violence whose purpose will be to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. If this is true, it won’t silence those who will persist in believing that Israeli settlements or other distractions from Palestinian intransigence are the real obstacle to peace. But it will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the president to sell the Israelis on the idea that Fatah is a partner for peace.

Read More

Behind much of the Obama government’s pressure on Israel over the past four years has been the idea that concessions to the Palestinian Authority would strengthen moderates and increase the chances of peace. Of course, 20 years of such concessions have done no such thing, as even the so-called moderates are unwilling or incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Though the U.S. split from its European allies on the question of supporting an upgrade of the PA’s status at the UN, the administration appears ready to back a new push for peace in the coming year aimed at boosting PA President Mahmoud Abbas against his Hamas rivals. But as Khaled Abu Toameh reports, a shift in the strategy employed by Abbas’s Fatah may render the president’s plans moot.

As Abu Toameh writes in his blog for the Gatestone Institute, Fatah and Hamas may be working together in the coming months rather than against each other. Their common goal will be to capitalize on the “victories” won by Hamas in its military standoff with Israel and Fatah at the UN by launching a new round of violence whose purpose will be to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. If this is true, it won’t silence those who will persist in believing that Israeli settlements or other distractions from Palestinian intransigence are the real obstacle to peace. But it will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the president to sell the Israelis on the idea that Fatah is a partner for peace.

As Abu Toameh writes:

Emboldened by the “victories,” Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal recently reached a secret agreement on the need to launch a “popular intifada” against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources in Ramallah revealed.

The two men believe that such an intifada at this stage would further isolate Israel and earn the Palestinians even more sympathy in the international arena, the sources said.

Abbas and Mashaal are aware, the sources noted, that the Palestinians are now not ready for another military confrontation with Israel — neither in the West Bank nor in the Gaza Strip.

That is why the two men agreed that the best and only option facing the Palestinians these days is a “popular intifada” that would see Palestinian youths engage in daily confrontations with Israeli soldiers and settlers, especially in the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership knows they are best served by televised violence that pits a powerful Israeli military against seemingly helpless Palestinians rather than by terror attacks or missile strikes. But it isn’t likely that their concerted campaign of low-level violence won’t soon escalate to the sort of attacks on Jewish targets that have always bolstered the popularity of the Palestinians groups that carry them out.

Nor is it likely than even a re-elected Barack Obama, who would no longer need to fear a backlash from Jewish voters over Israel, would be able to sustain a diplomatic campaign against a re-elected Benjamin Netanyahu while Fatah and Hamas were engaged in a competition over which presented the toughest approach to the Israelis.

The motivation for Abbas to join forces with Hamas is clear. As Haaretz reports today, a new poll shows Abbas would lose an election against Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh if an election were held. While Abbas, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, may have no intention of allowing a free vote that would give the Islamist dictators of Gaza a chance to run the West Bank too, the poll shows Hamas’s violence gives it a crucial electoral advantage. The same survey said that were Haniyeh to face Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader serving multiple life-in-prison terms for the murders he ordered during the second intifada, he would lose.

As Abu Toahmeh writes, Hamas and Fatah do have different short-term goals. Fatah hopes to force Israel to retreat from all of the territory it won in 1967, including in Jerusalem and its suburbs where they would hope to create an independent Palestinian state, albeit not one prepared to end the conflict. On the other hand, Hamas still believes it can destroy Israel altogether.

This demonstrates the foolishness of the discussion on the left about the need for the U.S. to join Egypt and Turkey and recognize Hamas. But it should also illustrate the folly of a new diplomatic initiative whose Fatah beneficiaries have made common cause with the so-called extremists of Hamas. The illusions that many Israelis harbored about Fatah’s peaceful intentions were exploded by the terror of the second intifada. It remains to be seen whether the fantasies of foreign liberals, including those in the administration, will survive a third.

Read Less

More Questions About the Pauls and Israel

Last week, Senator Rand Paul went to some lengths to try and convince readers of COMMENTARY that the qualms that I expressed about his record on Israel were unfounded. Suffice it to say that I think despite his expressions of friendship to the Jewish state, most Republicans, as well as most Americans, are going to have a hard time reconciling his opposition to military aid to Israel as well as support for defense cuts and a reduced role for America around the world with the idea that he supports the alliance. But if the senator is serious about convincing his party that he can be relied upon to have Israel’s back, he has a much bigger problem than anything I have to say about the issue: his father, Rep. Ron Paul.

Though Senator Paul has tried to carve out a different, more establishment-friendly niche for himself in Washington than his gadfly father, his support for the latter’s presidential runs and clear admiration for the man’s principles and positions are a matter of record. And in case anyone forgot about the erstwhile presidential challenger’s stands on Israel, he gave us a reminder today with a blog post on his official congressional website. Titled, “How to End the Tragedy in Gaza,” Rep. Paul does not blame Hamas for starting the latest fighting. Instead, he blames Israel and, more to the point, American backing for Israel, for enabling the conflict. Though his son has not said anything like that in recent years, this is the sort of false and destructive rhetoric that is catnip to many of the extremist libertarians who form the family fan base and who will, no doubt, be the foot soldiers in Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential run. While it may be unfair to expect any man to distance himself from his father, unless the senator makes a clear effort to disavow his father’s positions on the Middle East, his attempts to portray himself as a friend to Israel will flop.

Read More

Last week, Senator Rand Paul went to some lengths to try and convince readers of COMMENTARY that the qualms that I expressed about his record on Israel were unfounded. Suffice it to say that I think despite his expressions of friendship to the Jewish state, most Republicans, as well as most Americans, are going to have a hard time reconciling his opposition to military aid to Israel as well as support for defense cuts and a reduced role for America around the world with the idea that he supports the alliance. But if the senator is serious about convincing his party that he can be relied upon to have Israel’s back, he has a much bigger problem than anything I have to say about the issue: his father, Rep. Ron Paul.

Though Senator Paul has tried to carve out a different, more establishment-friendly niche for himself in Washington than his gadfly father, his support for the latter’s presidential runs and clear admiration for the man’s principles and positions are a matter of record. And in case anyone forgot about the erstwhile presidential challenger’s stands on Israel, he gave us a reminder today with a blog post on his official congressional website. Titled, “How to End the Tragedy in Gaza,” Rep. Paul does not blame Hamas for starting the latest fighting. Instead, he blames Israel and, more to the point, American backing for Israel, for enabling the conflict. Though his son has not said anything like that in recent years, this is the sort of false and destructive rhetoric that is catnip to many of the extremist libertarians who form the family fan base and who will, no doubt, be the foot soldiers in Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential run. While it may be unfair to expect any man to distance himself from his father, unless the senator makes a clear effort to disavow his father’s positions on the Middle East, his attempts to portray himself as a friend to Israel will flop.

Ron Paul’s position on Israel has been consistent. Though he, too, occasionally tries to paint his stand as one that is friendly to the Jewish state, he does more than just oppose military aid. He believes the U.S. is at fault for being Israel’s steadfast ally. The congressman’s belief in the moral equivalence of the two sides in the conflict is clear:

US foreign policy being so one-sided actually results in more loss of life and of security on both sides. Surely Israelis do not enjoy the threat of missiles from Gaza nor do the Palestinians enjoy their Israel-imposed inhuman conditions in Gaza. But as long as Israel can count on its destructive policies being underwritten by the US taxpayer it can continue to engage in reckless behavior. And as long as the Palestinians feel the one-sided US presence lined up against them they will continue to resort to more and more deadly and desperate measures. 

One needn’t waste time pointing out that the idea of “inhuman conditions in Gaza” is a myth fostered by Israel’s enemies or that there is nothing “reckless” about a nation reacting to the firing of hundreds of missiles on its citizens and sovereign territory with a counter-attack. But the most telling point about this piece is that the libertarian leader’s ideas about moral equivalence extend beyond his hostility to Israel. They also apply to American measures of self-defense against terrorists:

Last week, as the fighting raged, President Obama raced to express US support for the Israeli side, in a statement that perfectly exemplifies the tragic-comedy of US foreign policy. The US supported the Israeli side because, he said, “No country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” Considering that this president rains down missiles on Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and numerous other countries on a daily basis, the statement was so hypocritical that it didn’t pass the laugh test. But it wasn’t funny.

This goes to the heart not only of Ron Paul’s hostility to the exercise of American power but also to that of his son. Plenty of so-called foreign policy “realists” share their prejudice against Israel and willingness to buy into Arab propaganda about the Middle East conflict. But both the Pauls have a problem with American efforts to combat al-Qaeda, or to restrain rogue Islamist regimes like the one in Iran. That puts them clearly outside the mainstream of the Republican Party and renders Rand Paul’s presidential hopes and growing influence a threat to any hopes of the GOP recapturing the White House in the future.

Rand Paul’s comments don’t usually come across as parodies of far-left rants the way his father’s usually do. But he has made it clear that he shares the elder politician’s core beliefs about American foreign policy. So long as the senator fails to clearly oppose his father’s ideas about the Middle East and the role of the U.S. in the world, friends of Israel won’t believe what he says about Israel. Nor should they.

Read Less

Rand Paul Bombs on Defense Analysis

In an interview with CBS, Sen. Rand Paul argued that the GOP’s “bomb everyone tomorrow” policy is hurting it on the East and West coasts:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Monday that Republicans can win in New England and on the West Coast if they’re willing to drop a “we need to bomb everybody tomorrow” foreign policy.

“I think one of the problems we face, as a Republican party, is that we’re behind the eight-ball to begin with,” Paul said on CBS’ “This Morning.” “We’re not winning the West Coast. We’re not winning New England. Maybe we need to embrace more Ron Paul Republicans, more libertarian Republicans. … It means people who are little bit less aggressive on foreign policy. They believe in defending the country, but they don’t believe we need to be everywhere all the time.”

If the Obama’s election illustrated anything, it’s that there’s not a major difference between the GOP and Democratic Party when it comes to a general willingness to intervene and a willingness to use force.

Read More

In an interview with CBS, Sen. Rand Paul argued that the GOP’s “bomb everyone tomorrow” policy is hurting it on the East and West coasts:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Monday that Republicans can win in New England and on the West Coast if they’re willing to drop a “we need to bomb everybody tomorrow” foreign policy.

“I think one of the problems we face, as a Republican party, is that we’re behind the eight-ball to begin with,” Paul said on CBS’ “This Morning.” “We’re not winning the West Coast. We’re not winning New England. Maybe we need to embrace more Ron Paul Republicans, more libertarian Republicans. … It means people who are little bit less aggressive on foreign policy. They believe in defending the country, but they don’t believe we need to be everywhere all the time.”

If the Obama’s election illustrated anything, it’s that there’s not a major difference between the GOP and Democratic Party when it comes to a general willingness to intervene and a willingness to use force.

The differences are much more apparent when it comes to where, when and how they choose to intervene, and in areas like diplomacy. The Obama administration has ramped up the drone program, gone into Libya, and surged in Afghanistan. And it’s the Obama administration that leaked stories about the “Kill List” and worked with Hollywood on a movie about the Osama bin Laden raid. By Rand Paul’s logic, Obama should be losing New York and California, which he obviously is not.

Of course Americans don’t want the military getting entangled in unnecessary conflicts. But most would probably disagree with what Ron and Rand Paul view as legitimate reasons for national defense. For example, polls show the majority Americans say they would support a preemptive U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear program, if it came to that.  People generally understand that sometimes preemptive action needs to be taken to prevent larger conflicts down the road.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.